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Oh hello there!

In this last fortnight the Design Guys have written a little about the level design of the Tsar Project. As Beto said, today I’ll show something of the translation of the architecture researches we’ve done and the level design created in the background concept arts. And even more, I’ll talk about a really great software we’re using, the japanese Easy Paint Tool SAI.

So, it all started with 17th century maps like this one above (a crop of a dutch map published in 1662 that covers the area between Beklemishevskaya and Nikolskaya Towers of the Moscow Kremlin). Those maps show us the Kremlin just after the start of the Romanov Era, when it past for several changes. The exact period in which we focused our researches for the Tsar Project is considerably blurred by time, we’ve had a hard time in finding what we needed to start the reconstruction of the palaces proper. It was then, and continues to be, a great luck and reason of happiness to us, to count with the collaboration of Julia Tarabarina, a historian of russian architecture and editor of the Russian Architectural News Agency.

With the proper orientation we’re able to continue the development of the level design, according to the architecture of the 16th century buildings, and start creating those schematic maps Beto told you about. The next step was then to translate plans, references and level design into concept arts. The point here was to create imagery that would both communicate the mood of the game and be a preview of the different types of tiles, textures and lightning effects that we would use later on the project.

And then SAI came up. A good friend of Aduge, a fish from the design college called Okazaki, presented me this tiny software (it’s installer being smaller than 3Mb) that is tremendously useful. As the name emphatically tells, Easy Paint Tool SAI is a user-friendly digital painting software. What the name doesn’t say is that, despite the minute size of the software and of it’s Tokyo based development team, Systemax’s SAI is, imo, far more precise and powerful than Adobe’s Photoshop and stratospherically more intuitive and fluid to use and configure than Corel’s Painter.

To be continued…

Giving sequence to the series of posts about the Tsar Project, today the subject is Level Design which is the development of the game’s setting and background from the most wide scope (location) to the most specific details (desk positioning).

The Level Design of Tsar Project was conceived after a thorough research of the Moscow Kremlin architecture circa XVI century, done mainly by our Art Director, Maperns. The continuous drive for accurate textual and pictorial information to compose our historical fiction made us reach a russian architect and historian, Julia Tarabarina. With  her kind support we managed to gather information about the building layout and structure, and architectural blueprints of that century and posterior ones.

Building from this knowledge we started the development of the Level Design properly, designing the necessary modifications to make game interesting but always trying to preserve the historical accuracy. The first step was to gather all information that we had collected by drawing blueprints of all floors of all of the Kremlin main palaces, in order to create a better understanding of the game space. These blueprints then were simplified to help the work of the game designers and programmers.

After this, we started to work on the game events, placing them on the game space. We also designed a huge mind map with all rooms and their connections, NPC placement, item placement and guard routes and routines. Both were also tested on our software prototype and Lego mock-ups. These maps also helped the development of the first background concepts which Maperns is doing directly on Paint Tool SAI, a very powerful (and cheap) japanese painting software which he will present on his next post.

I’ve been silent for a while now, but now I’m here. My name is Thiago, but you can call me Beto, and I am Aduge’s game designer. I will try to be more present on this distinct blog from now on.

Last time I spoke briefly about the Tsar Project’s themes of aloneness and patience and how they are thought to be integrated with the gameplay and other aspects of the game. Now it’s time to talk about the gameplay itself, more on general terms rather than on specific details. What it means is that I will talk about how the game will be played/experienced on a general level, trying to not spoil too much of the experience proper.

To begin with, Tsar is an infiltration mission.  The protagonist is an outsider, an invisible summoned creature inside the heavily guarded and tense Moscow Kremlin Palaces. A mission is presented, but it hardly matters, the character is where it shouldn’t be, and there are people that will attack anything that don’t belongs there. Thus, the game objective is quite clear: avoid all guards, civilians, animals (read: everyone) and reach your destination within a set time limit. Failing to elude the obstacles means a very hard time for the player, or simply failing the game itself.

And what means this character has to complete its objective? As said above, it is an invisible creature. No human can see it under normal conditions. Although particles, debris, snow, blood or and any other mundane object over this creature’s body remains visible. So it’s for the best to avoid getting dirty. And even if invisible, the character still makes sounds which can be heard by any attentive guard, so silent movements are still important. Also, the protagonist (it’s name shall remain a mystery, for now) is very athletic and agile, being capable of exploring the environment with great mobility. Now it may seems pretty easy, right? Not that much. There’s one major vulnerability in this playable character that enforces the game as a “sneaking mission”. The protagonist is fragile. Fragile to the point that any wound can mean it’s death. A direct combat situation is extremely adverse to the player and even if this character is powerful enough to kill or incapacitate most humans in one single strike, this kind of situation remains a risky gamble that should be avoided.

Another interesting aspect of the game is related to it’s time limit. The player has one in-game night to complete the mission. All characters (and I mean all of them) that inhabit the Moscow Kremlin have their routines and their stories on this particular night, as the time progresses. The player can simply watch everything or take action and see the results, whichever he wants. Guards will stand watch, workers will do their jobs, everyone will sleep, eat, or do whatever else people do. There is also a behavior system which conducts every character’s actions and reactions that will result in a very complex AI system, where enemy characters will not be as dumb as players are used to.

To sum it up, the Tsar Project is a stealth game where the player must elaborate routes and actions that are the most efficient to reach a destination without being seen or raising suspicions. Killing guards seems easy, but it’s not a very good idea most of the time (as it can cause a full scale alert, locking paths and whatnot) or going the most obvious and guarded route is not as efficient as using other sneaky and more subtle paths. When playing Tsar, remember: you are invisible, you are alone, you are deadly, but you still breath and is mere flesh and blood as any other. Better tread carefully.

Hello again!

As promised, today I’ll present a more complete review of what we’ve seen in Rio during the SBGames. Yesterday we had our weekly meeting and basically discussed about the Symposium. Undoubtedly the most important aspect of our participation in the event was the networking we did there: game industry consultants, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture (MinC), publishers incubating programs, fellow developers, students and researchers. Secondly we agreed that the panels, as Bruno said three days ago, were the highlights of the event. Two of them, on Game Development Education and Governmental Policies, promoted some good discussion, but sadly also highlighted some misconceptions that are still deeply stuck in the minds of many in the Brazilian Game Industry and Educational System. Some of these include: the belief that is by trying to do the “Next Halo” – as put by Jason Della Rocca – that new developers will prevail, that there is no opportunity in remaining independent and in small business, that games should be viewed as simple entertainment industry goodies, that the artistic aspect of a game is limited to it’s visual aesthetics, that sound design is something alien to game development, that Game Design has more affinities to Product Design than with Chess, and so on. But don’t worry, as a coin has two faces there’s always the bright side. We discovered that the MinC has a very interesting opinion of Games and their artistic value, found some small developers and starter teams with some nice ideas and made some good acquaintances. Jason’s keynote was a very interesting and provoking exposition. Talking about the trends and the innovative cycles that permeates our industry, Jason urged the Brazilian developers to ignore the mainstream box (big budget, big teams, blockbuster AAA titles) and look for other ventures (indie, casual, advergames, etc.) to flourish. We hope that those wise words will be heard by the Brazilian developers.

Other remarkable pieces of the Symposium were the Indie Game Festival and the VideoGame Art Exhibition. Despite the short time we had to appreciate all the material in them, both seem to be great initiatives and had some good material to present. The sad part is the huge disparity of the contents. The Art Exhibition presented some concept arts and visual assets with artsy aesthetics (although in general the final assets tend to completely destroy the most beautiful and experimental concepts trying to look “realistic”), a nice character design competition (with both good ideas and childish-awesome-super-ultra-characters) and specially good exemplars of games with artistic meaning, such as the indies Passage, Gravitation and I Wish I Were The Moon. On the other hand, the games in the Indie Festival, as we were able to percieve them, lacked in general the deeper meaning and potential to transform a player through reflection and/or more experimental mechanics that are among the key features of many indie games done around the world. Many of the games in the Indie Festival had more garage-made-like, low budget features, and a clear desire to be a mainstream game, instead of focusing on innovative and experimental ideas, creative freedom or meaningful experiences. Once again we spot the evilness of the “Next Halo” Syndrome, even small teams tend to believe that the best way to go is, with a team of less than 20 people and a small budget, try to do something that will compete with EA, Ubisoft and Activision-Blizzard. So, remember Jason’s words and let’s start thinking out of the box or, even better, show us that there’s already more than meets the eye in the Brazilian industry. As I said in the first lines of the post, the greatest treasure of the Symposyum was networking, and people we met in this and the past SBGames give us hope that the second option is true. Some of them are our friend Guilherme Xavier and his team from Donsoft, the developers of the great winner of the Festival, the promising Capoeira Legends.

So, creative minds, bold designers, indie developers from Brazil, we call you all, we ask you to show yourselves!

So, we are back from Rio! (actually, we arrived in Curitiba late saturday) The highlights of the event I would say it was Jason Della Roca’s provocative keynote about the current state and trends of the games industry, and the panels about important issues of game development in Brazil. Both resulted in pretty useful discussions!
Besides that we heard some good news about funding opportunities and met a lot of nice and promising fellow developers and students (networking is key, right?).
So, despite the uninterrupted rain, sprained ankles, organizational flaws and overall below-par content, the Symposium was fairly nice.

Well, this is just to say that we came back alive and are safe and sound. More information and specific details about SBGAMES 2009 and Aduge’s trip to Rio in general will be posted later. See ya.


The last fortnight was a productive one. The game prototype is now running in 0.1 version, we’ve got the pathfinding algorithms improved and our test dummy character; a Kremlin Guard warmheartedly called Josino, Iosifka in Russian; is getting it’s first scratches of a.i., starting with the ability of hearing, which, by the way, will be of great importance for both NPCs and the Player in Tsar Project.

Another important Milestone achieved in this last week is that all the initial ConceptArts for the Characters are done, that means that we’ve completely defined the aesthetics of the game and the appearance of all the classes of characters and the individual special ones. At this stage the Visual Art Department changes it’s focus to the Backgrounds, and Character Design will be on hold ’til we got the initial development of the Concepts for the rooms of the Kremlin, which is scheduled to end at the end of the Month. Talking about schedules, the Project Schedule has just been revised and optimized in a new project management tool this week.

In the other Departments, Beto and Bruno finished the most important aspects about the Game Dynamics (combat and ambient interactions, to be specific), the Enemies descriptions, and have planned the next steps of the Level Design documentation. Aural Art Department just finished the plot of the Conceptual Soundscape. And, last but not least, our dear Screenwriter is heavily working in the creation and development of the many scenes and dialogues of Tsar Project including the multiple endings of the game. Of course, her work is highly confidential as it is a torrent of spoilers.

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