Diary #1 (March-April 2010)
Making an adventure game is an adventure in itself: one involving individuals from different walks of life. It is here in the Developer’s Diary that we invite you to follow, alongside the Casual Box team, our progress in building Enigma.
In this first issue, we’ll tell you what the game is about and what goes on, we’ll give you a grounding on the layout and you’ll discover how the different team members–in their respective disciplines–have laid the groundwork.
The adventure is well and truly under way so be sure to keep in touch.
Casual Box: Now a team of ghost hunters
Casual Box’s first game, Geisha: The Secret Garden, was built by two full time staff. Sub-contractors were laid on for some of the design and programming and parts of the artwork and music were outsourced to contractors in Romania and Latvia. Given the complexity of working with people far away, the resulting product fell a little short of our expectations.
With Enigma, our aim was to constitute a close-knit team–close geographically and fully involved from the outset. All the more so as the project spec. and scope required more team members.
In all we are eight, all based in France and seven living and working in the same region. The line-up is as follows:
David Mekersa – director of Casual Box, Enigma project instigator, designer and lead programmer
Jennifer d’Alboy – co-designer and production assistant
Nicolas Leger – artist
Yan & Guillem Cleophas –not only brothers, but musicians!
Jean-Noël Aubry – programmer
Jean-Christophe Russier – co-director of Casual Box and producer
And finally myself, Neil Parkinson, copywriter and coach. A conscious decision was made that all communication on the project, dialogue and teasers should be written from the outset in English, this to ensure better linguistic and stylistic coherence.
Monthly meetings are organized with demos, and an overall progress update, in a climate of sharing and conviviality. It is planned that at each meeting, an operational version of Enigma will be presented–beginning with a rudimentary demo in month one.
Casual Box works on the precept that all team members receive a share of the earnings–the better the input, the better the output!
Marketing: make a hit–our Grail!
What we’d like is that when Enigma is launched, it’s already known in some part to a population of gaming professionals and players. This is no mean feat when you run on our scale without on-hand P.R. specialists. But we do intend to spread the word through our modest network of contacts in the Casual community.
Contrary to general practice in the Video Game industry we’ve decided to give you a monthly check on progress with our creative efforts, this in the form of a developer’s diary. We’ll keep you updated artistically, and on technical and commercial aspects. It’s here you’ll be kept up to speed on Enigma.
Also, to jog some initial interest, dare I say, even get pulses racing, we were present at Casual Connect in Hamburg, Germany (10-12 February 2010). We broke ranks by announcing the project for the very first time to a handful of professionals in the form of a teaser, a fake newspaper article dated 1947.
Here was our first opportunity to illustrate, in just two pages, the depth of the Enigma universe we had conceived. In it we made a somewhat enigmatic announcement of the coming game among a series of hair-raising news items involving spirits getting up to no good. Striking visuals introduced our heroine, Ashley Reeves, and her dog Isaac.
The teaser was created in only ten days as the decision to attend Casual Connect was made at the very last moment. David prototyped the teaser in Microsoft Publisher–in only one hour, or so he claims! From there, we laid the foundations for the articles, in French, subsequently reworked in English by yours truly. During this moment of creative frenzy, our artist … or artiste (he is French after all), Nicolas, made some initial sketches. The last phase consisted in giving more substance to the articles–to do this we sought assistance from a scriptwriter based in the U.S. And hey presto–a teaser to be proud of, presenting the game’s advantages, visually engaging, and setting the stage for a compelling and atypical game.
Handed out at the Casual Connect to professionals working in digital distribution channels, the teaser aroused a very vocal « wow » effect. From there, we had to swiftly add substance to our creation: atmosphere, storyline and marketing. This hard work proved its worth over the next few weeks.
Alongside the teaser, we have created a website, enabling interested parties to sign up to the newsletter and get additional info. The site shares the spirit heritage–a must in maintaining atmosphere.
We’ve kept our promise in publishing this 1st Developer’s Diary and pushing it out to as wide a public as possible through our network. If you’re reading the diary today, you’re either part of the video game landscape or the buzz we’d hoped for is now taking root.
We’re hoping that readership will rise for future diaries–here’s where our future aficionados can help out. Go spread the word–we’re serious you hear–otherwise we may resort to black magic!
Storyverse: how it came about
From the very outset, David and Nicolas set about creating a compelling and believable universe for Enigma. A month’s hard work was necessary to get it written and sketched out in detail on paper, with a clear idea of the kind of statement we wanted to make with visuals and color schemes.
Uchronia and dystopia: two words that define our game. A uchronia is an alternate course of history; a dystopia, the opposite of a utopia. Both are common themes in movies and Core Gaming, but rare in the Casual arena. In Enigma, we’ve devised a dark dystopian universe while paying attention to not fall prey to clichés and keeping our macho instincts in check.
A male-female balancing act is in play in the team, handled by one intrepid lady. Jennifer, co-designer and production assistant, faces seven males. Needless to say, vicious and bloody combats ensue (an exaggeration I reassure you!). In fact Jenny brings tremendous harmony and truckloads of good ideas to the table and we believe Enigma will appeal to women and men in equal measures.
A particularly good idea of Jenny’s was to give our heroine Ashley a companion, her dog Isaac. Enigma will be at times quite terrifying, and Isaac will help relieve any sensation of solitude and claustrophobia. He’ll also be there to help Ashley interact with particular characters. To sum up, he’ll be a source of courage and assistance!
Haunted house: a hub for 7 universes
Enigma is divided into chapters in an original way. The player will progress from one beyond, or what we call a universe, to another. Their main mission is to free the young girl held prisoner in the attic of the haunted house, and to do so they have to reach the upper floor. Six ghosts must be liberated in order to accomplish this mission. Communicating and liberating a ghost will necessitate a voyage to a universe.
The house is thus a sort of hub from which the player accesses six universes, on which we’ll be updating you in the diary, and a dramatic climax in the seventh universe. We’re keeping hush on this one for fear of giving you too many nightmares!
7 universes: a new way of travelling into the unknown
Who has never dreamt of travelling through time? The idea has been used over and again in Casual gaming; we’ve decided to look at it differently.
All of us have objects that have sentimental value, perhaps passed down from one generation to another, perhaps with a peculiar story attached… who knows whether that gold ring you’re wearing isn’t made from gold filched by pirates? What if its previous owner were to come back and haunt you? The house you’ll explore in Enigma contains several such objects whose stories go back in time, way back!
Different cultures and civilizations have different beliefs with respect to the afterlife; particularly common is the notion of purgatory–a sort of intermediary zone on the pathway to death, paradise, hell or reincarnation. David is a big fan of horror movies, and wanted to give the player the opportunity to travel into the unknown, embodying a ghost, this in order to solve the puzzles and enigmas that maintain them in purgatory.
The player visits in all seven universes, all very different. All are linked to a ghost whose presence in the house is related to an object that belonged to him in some way or form. Our universes are:
· Ancient Egypt
· A pre-Colombian civilization
· Feudal Japan
· The middle ages
· The Caribbean and its pirates
· Victorian London
· And finally a seventh universe which we won’t reveal just yet!
Some of our universes have been conceived as means to travel, offering evasion and beauty, in stark contrast with the oppressing atmosphere of the haunted house. The island of the pirates is one such universe; another is that of feudal Japan, where the player languishes in romanticism.
Each universe is an adventure in itself, divided into four to six scenes, of which the first is a view of the whole, a landscape or panoramic viewpoint, and representing the starting point. In each, Ashley embodies the ghost at a key moment in his/her real life.
Counting the prelude to each universe, itself comprising a series of puzzles to solve within the house, we have about fourteen game sequences to design and build, distributed across about forty scenes. And that’s not all…
Puzzles and mini-games
A casual game is not a casual game without mini-games… such is the way we see things at Casual Box. So we think that in Enigma they should be part and parcel, only built in with forethought. This is easier said than done.
A reference in enigma based gaming, is « Professor Layton » on Nintendo DS. We have really enjoyed Layton, even though we find the adventure secondary to the puzzles, themselves often quite hard and math based.
Here’s how we’re integrating mini-games in Enigma: Every complex action by Ashley – or the ghost she embodies – represents an effort, for example, repairing a switch, identifying a hidden passage in a wall, grasping an object that is difficult to reach, etc. And depending on the nature of the effort, the skill used by Ashley will be different – observation, deduction and so on. So the player will need similar skills to help Ashley meet the challenges the adventures put before her.
We’re looking for maximum immersion; drawing a parallel between the efforts of the player and those of our protagonist, Ashley, is in our opinion going to be a determining factor for effective gameplay. Devise forty or so puzzles and mini-games? We’re up for the challenge.
David wanted to make Enigma a work of art. So we needed an artist capable of visualizing in his head game concepts and atmosphere, and imposing a uniform handmade style. In this respect, we’re very lucky to be working with Nicolas as he fits the bill perfectly. We weren’t looking for 3D rendering and we didn’t want the hassle of outsourcing. Instead we wanted a personal touch that would make the game, at least in our eyes, the perfect reflection of what we’d imagined.
So far so good.
You’ve gathered that Enigma takes place in a very different postwar America to the one we know. Ghosts are everywhere and politicians are impotent in controlling the chaos. Development is at a standstill. It seemed therefore obvious that we should adopt a pre-war architectural and decorative style. Art Nouveau and Art Deco, fairly dominant at the time, are perfect in creating the atmosphere we wanted; we’re using a cross between these two styles.
Conjure in your mind for one second the furniture that you might use for a séance! Nicolas is doing the same thing right now and putting it all on paper.
Music & Sound Effects
The game’s atmosphere is one of tension and oppression. But it cannot remain so for too long, for fear of freaking out the player. Dividing the game into universes helps; each having its own music and sound effects; transitions also will be made very distinct in terms of sound to ensure everything’s spooky.
In some respects we’ve tried to follow a master in terms of sound on film, David Lynch. The atmosphere created by the sound effects in his first film (Eraserhead)–comparable to a character in themselves–is undeniably a fabulous source of inspiration for our musicians.
Of course we’ve taken careful note of the fact that around half of all Casual Gamers say they turn off the sound when they play. We’ll be displaying a message at the beginning of the game, warning players that they will forever be banished to hell if they turn off the sound. An unconventional form of marketing you might say!
The game is built to run on a Cross-platform (C++) rendering engine designed specifically for Casual gaming. The foundations have been laid and we’re building upon them rapidly. The game will run on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod and iPad. On the engine side, simplicity and “just enough” are our guiding words. It’s far too easy in programming to get overly complex when in fact what we need is products that meet simple economic imperatives. In only a few days, the first fruits of our labors will be visible.
To conclude: progress made in March
Team and budget are in place and work began without delay. Almost four weeks have been devoted to setting the scene: artistry and writing. We’re a little behind on the latter but the foundations are sound. The rest of the writing will be done in parallel with the programming.
Art and Gameplay
Two universes have been designed and almost the entire house storyboarded. We’re working on the task of imagining forty or so puzzles and mini-games. Of course we’re paying attention to progress quickly enough to avoid bottlenecks.
Sound & Music
First tests of ambience have been made and are sounding very promising. The first notes have been laid on paper for the Caribbean universe.
We’ll be back with more news next month. Our adventure is on the move.