Saturday, September 3, 2011

This blog is going to get a complete overhaul, with old news of the old builds of Worry of Newport being archived and instead I will use this as the launchpad for all my horror rants, technical rants, modding news and more. ETA for completion of new blog update: September 5th, 2011.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Worry of Newport - Part 1 has been re-released.

After, surprisingly, less than a month of development the Worry of Newport - Part 1 remake has been completed. I am happy to present this to you all after a rocky first landing in early November. Every complaint, every bug, every issue that you had for part 1 has been fixed or rebalanced in order to provide a better experience.

Blogspot notice: A developer Post-Mortem will be released in two weeks time.

Just blurbing what I have added would seem silly so I'll try to categorize it in importance:

The Newport 2.0 engine is an unofficial term for my adjustment and use of the Cryengine 2 and how I design levels.

  • Using dozens of reference pictures, articles, studying and papers I have created an entirely new atmosphere/lighting/graphics presentation for the Remake. The new visual quality is near photorealistic on very high with an enormous leap in performance as well due to the dozens of tweaks and adjustments to entities and brushes for optimizations sake. Depth of Field, Film Grain, SSAO, mapping techniques and an entirely new water model have been added.

  • Newport 2.0 is also built with five total time of days in it, each bringing a distinct atmosphere and emotion. There's the default, default at night, winter flashback, desert and jungle. Desert and jungle are NOT in the remake, but will be present in part 2. This is in advantage over the original release, which had one time of day, which was a very poor one to boot.
  • Level design has been dramatically improved through use of vegetation, particles, realistic environments, the aforementioned lighting engines and a more experienced eye for natural design. I really, really wanted players to feel immersed and not lost or afraid of making a wrong turn this time and as such open endedness has been replaced by careful balance and linear/nonlinear segments in blend.
Obviously the main key for this section is to tell you that the lagging, stuttering, muddy and purple hued original is a thing of the past and has been replaced by a carefully crafted, here-to-stay, time of day setup I am using for my mods. The most obvious improvement on the remake is aesthetic, the entire island from the graphics to the island itself, looks night-and-day different.

A narrative is the most important aspect when telling a story and because of that importance I have completely readjusted how it ties into the gameplay for the Remake. The narrative hasn't changed much, as this is a remake and not a sequel, but you will find many subtle improvements.

  • You can no longer fall off the port, for example, and get lost in the water.
  • All lanterns have been redesigned to guide you to where to go in a subtle fashion.
  • It autosaves very often and you can only get killed once now.
  • You won't fall off ledges, make impossible jumps, tear your hair out or anything due to level design mingling badly with narrative anymore.
  • Over a dozen new books have been added to flesh out the backstory.
The story is virtually the same but told through a more refined, precisely paced level. From start to finish the story is the same (except for the book reading system and flashbacks, more on that later.)

I struggled with the notion of adding new content to the remake or not and decided in the end to choose a middle ground. I have added more content, sure, but I have also readjusted every single scare or scene to play out more fairly and logically as well as adding an entire book reading system with the help of my graphics artist.

  • The Remake watches how you play and adjusts dozens of little factors accordingly. A scream or a scare in one area, or maybe not, if you didn't pick up the book leading to it. A cave or a creepy barn being unlocked for investigation if you read about them or played a gameplay sequence, or not, if you skipped by. There are 25 audio queues randomized and 3 key gameplay areas adjusted to your playing interest.
  • First is Hamlet. Hamlet is a small, tiny, quaint town in the middle of the pines where a sinister mystery is waiting to be unfolded. It is very short and log based, but sweet, and is akin to Sanitarium or a very mild Fallout 3 quest. You will search the buildings and surrounding small forest looking for clues or logs in a non linear fashion, allowing you to unlock a flashback shrine, a barn, and also just the sense of accomplishment by solving the seriously creepy story to Hamlet.
  • Secondly, the cave from the original is now optional and randomly generated. You'll be happy to know its more "cave like" and has a cool log inside.
  • Thirdly in the new content list is the new book reading system. If you pick up a book a page full of text, decals, etc will be in front of you allowing you to READ the books around Newport instead of watching a hud overlay scroll subtitles for hours on end.
  • Fourth and last is the optional short story, inspired by Amnesia's loading screens but still completely original to Newport's story. They are in non linear fashion, detailed by concept art (which is quite well done in the short notice I gave her to draw them), and are a nice treat if you like to find easter eggs.
And more, obviously, to be found in the game itself. A full blown changelog and maybe other goodies will be added in the coming days for those interested in the technicals, before and after screenshots, etc.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Experiment is over: Anthology of Horror is cancelled with good results.

The idea for this project was to see if the horror told through creepypasta like stories could translate well to "flesh and blood" experience. The answer, in short, is no. There are too many margins for error here including visuals, sound, depth and atmosphere all being dramatically different and harder to control than a simple text narrative is. But why?


People perceive what they see usually as fact, which is why it is hard to scare a lot of people with movies or games. When you rely on audio and visuals to guide your thinking process you get one of two reactions. The first is the negative or cynical one, where the person observing the events or structure you have created is analytical of a ton of flaws that draw them out of the immersion, ultimately lowering and eventually destroying the intended experience's scale of depth. The other reaction is one a branch of horror relies all too much on: The brains defensive mechanism. Making you jump, yell, sceam, feel ill, try to focus, etc. is what many, many creature flicks or "cat out of the bag" horrors need in order to get a reaction. This causes a certain thrill that many people seek, and which is why some people watch the same slosh over and over in theaters like Saw.
But when you're perceiving what is on text, you lose that anayltical value, you lose that cynical attitude, and you only have one companion: your imagination. It is true that the fear of the unknown is the oldest, greatest fear, and when you are describing events so uncanny or so shocking, you can directly manipulate--hell, you can control--someones imagination. This is done through grammar, narrative, linguistics, choice of words and the division of acts to slowly immerse the reader into your concise little nightmare.
Because when you describe something through text, or use minimalism in wording, it makes their imagination run wild. What is the monster? What does the castle look like? What is the protagonist seeing when he went insane? And so forth and so on. Direct control of imagination is literally impossible through something like Anthology of Horror, which is why it has been closed down completely as a project.


In closing, it was a fun experiment. People liked the atmosphere and likened the minimalism of level design to the half life 1 days, which I appreciated, as that was the intended goal. However some people--like on here--were negative about that. I was amused when people had troubles reading the directions, misinterpreting the ending, flying off a purposefully left in cliff edge instead of ignoring it, etc. Shelter was a good experiment though, all things considered, even if the facts I learned disappointed me. I was able to beta test my book reading system which has been refined for the Newport series, as well as introduce myself to modern settings, which I will no doubt use in the future when making mods not set in the 1930's of all things.
Seeing your criticisms and reactions to Shelter was fun. I learned a lot as a game designer and through intentional manipulation of incorrect minimalism and narrative, have learned both what kind of bugs people notice most, and also how creepypasta does *not* work in a game.

Monday, January 10, 2011

62 Days: A look at niche modding, and the future of Newport

 Of Modding

Almost six months ago I embarked on the task of creating my first mod, choosing Crysis as the platform, choosing horror as the genre, and choosing my own writing, lovecraft, and a mixture of others as the inspiration for the then unnamed project. I took to learning the Crysis level editor, relearning ropes I had long forgotten, and looking at ways on how to best put my own ideas into gameplay form.

That is how any modding project is born. Inspiration, dedication, then sticking with a cycle of design. But there is a rapid anomaly I have noticed as I've been around this scene for these 62 days, and it's that modding is quite simply an oversaturated business. I was curious to see the release of Call of the Fireflies impact Crysis modding like few other projects have, and for it to even win an x category mod of the year award, and it still has an extremely dwindling download and view record. Another project, winning a multitude of online awards, Mechwarrior: Living Legends, went on to garner almost zero real life recognition.

But the biggest surprise for me had nothing to do with my own creation or it's tools. It was learning the mod community. How reserved, how quiet, how bizarre and how almost random it is. How isolated a lot of modding teams are from the millions of others, and how there is almost no coherency between any two projects.

But something like Nightmare House 2, for example, has actually gotten the developers real life recognition and awards, presentations in festivals, and so on. I find it really strange that Cryengine 2 is so down in the dumps compared to all other forms of modding that exist, perhaps with only unreal 3 being the most esoteric until very recently, with the recent update and also The Ball and other titles getting business fame.

I think a very large problem is that projects such as Mechwarrior and Nightmare House 2 garner higher publicity and even awards due to the team approach whereas Call of the Fireflies developer' and I have one thing in common: We're alone in what we do, and we don't do it for that.

Or maybe that isn't it? Maybe the engine has something to do with it. Between Source, Cryengine 2 and Unreal 3, there is no question when you ask which is the most popular or which garners the most fame. Now we're coming to the point I've been wanting to make:

To me a mod is best off as a niche project. I believe in the power of small numbers and of projecting your own work to people who actually care about it, rather than throwing it into orbit. I will do nothing in my own power in order to achieve traffic for this blog, for moddb, for crymod or for anything I do modding wise besides talking to my friends about it or making a forum topic here or there. Why is that, though? It's because I feel there is a higher connection in silence then there is rampant feedback or award nonsense. These things give the modders delusions of grandoire, when we do nothing more than create mods for a small community of people.

Even while I am working on three projects at once, I keep them on the down low, under the radar, to the point of them barely appearing on anyone's. And that is where I want them to be. To illustrate a terrible metaphor, there is a difference in experience and quality of getting a pie off grandma's windowsill, or running down to TastyKake and buying six dozen chemical filled preservative pie's.

Of Newport

The flagship of my modding still roots itself within the Worry of Newport series. A fragile, almost theoretical game which combines story telling narrative with sheer boredom and glitches. A series which, currently, hangs at the skin of it's teeth so to speak, as far as people's interest and actual publicity is concerned. It is interesting to think that while my enthusiasm for developing this series has almost tripled since November 9th, actual input and criticsm from the audience I broadcasted it to has shrunk three times, or more, to the point where I'm getting less than one bit of feedback a month.

Newport is a niche if there ever was one. Interestingly enough, even now that an entirely new lighting and level design engine is being worked with and the moddb page is literally being flooded with news and feature updates and screenshots of part 2 and part 1's remakes in an attempt to electrify interest, nothing has been happening. And while I appreciate this silence, I also fear it, because I know if I rerelease Part 1 as polished and consistent as it is even now at 80% done, and no one says anything or bothers to illustrate feedback again, I will lose hope against all odds.

So I find myself, as a new modder, caught in an interesting bind. I appreciate being in a niche and very, very small circle of horror fans. I also appreciate silence and know that award or publicty only drags down a project. But I also know that when the Newport saga is all said and done, and if barely anyone bothers themselves to talk to me about it, it will drive down my enthusiasm to ever mod again quite substantially.

I will undoubtedly throw all of my effort as a modder into finishing the remake and designing part 2 to the extent of my knowledge of cryengine 2, but as for future projects on this platform? I cannot say for sure. Or even maybe as a modder. I will know for sure when Part 1's remake is done and out. Until then, I can only speculate how the tides will turn. Part 1's first release has been cold, at best, reception wise, with the only few people giving feedback negatively eying it or impossibly comparing it to full fledged developed games unfairly like Amnesia.

So we shall see. Until next time, readers.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Anthology of Horror

This post acts as an introduction to my latest side project in the realm of horror modding titled the Anthology of Horror.
I always considered myself a fan of "creepypasta", essentially horror flashfiction with the goal of surprising or creeping out the reader only at the end. And despite my ability to write horror quite easily when in the right mindset, I could never deliver on this form of writing. This is why Anthology of Horror was made. In order to take what makes those stories so good, and put it into gaming form, a realm that I can control and manipulate more successfully.
Each map in the Anthology of Horror will have a distinct, but small, setting. The idea is to write a micro story, apply it to Crysis gameplay, and then wrap up the project as soon as possible (usually 3-5 days per map). This is quite an ambitious endeavor besides for the really small profile of all the maps, so basically once reviews are in for all three of these maps, it will decide whether I even attempt to do it again or not.

Map overview

Each map is designed totest a particular method of game play or level design as it's main crux, essentially letting me teach myself on how to do things successfully. Each map will also have an element to be present in the next Worry of Newport chapter, which will make its debut on these maps as a sort of live trial.
Shelter will be the first map released. It has a beta version of Newport's new time of day and weather effects, is the first debut of the new book reading system through flowgraph, and also debuts the flashlight prefab. All these elements have been tied into a narrative and creepypasta story, and they all seem to work wonderfully.
Voyage is going to be a very cool map. The player starts underwater, searching through ruins and wimming around. Eventually it hits the fan and the truth behind the ruins and ancient book discovered are revealed. Nothing is being trial ran here, actually, which is nice. Voyage will be a no holds barred fresh experience and creepy story.
Wendigo�is going to be the classic tale retold through trackview scenes and survival. As the player slowly grows more and more sickly and frozen, the voice of the wendigo will grow closer and louder, adding to the tension until a fiery finish. Anyone familiar with the tale will know how it will end.�Wendigo is going to feature an absolutely massive view distance and also extremely detailed distant terrain, so I can practice designing snow environments better for Worry of Newport. This will be the least creepy of all three maps, but will have a very polished presentation if I can nail the audio aspect.

I expect all three to be released and if need be, fully patched, by February 1st at the absolute latest.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Worry of Newport Part 1 - Post Mortem Development Log

Welcome to my new blog for all future horror mods I create. First to be discussed as an introduction to it is my first mod, released only a little while ago, titled The Worry of Newport - Part 1. I am going to go through the entire development process, from beginning to end, in a precise manner in order to give you--the inevitable player--a feel for what I wanted to achieve while making this mod and how it turned out and how I feel post-release.

Without further introduction, I present to you the Post Mortem of Part 1.

The Beginning

The Newport project began four months ago when I decided that I wanted to explore further horizons beyond writing horror (which I had been writing up until that point for around two years). I decided quickly I wanted to create a horror mod that would put all my interests, methods and techniques for telling a horror story into an audio visual form. I only needed to come up with an idea for the mod, and I quickly delved into my Lovecraft catalog for inspiration, narrowing down especially hard on his story Shadow over Innsmouth. The first build of the mod was aimed to achieve a fishing port oriented horror story. Essentialy a pseudo sequel/spin on the game Dark Corners of the Earth. Beyond a few concept builds this idea never saw the light of day. Within a few days I took this concept and made it my own.

I instead took inspiration from my own privately written mythos, namely the "Gray" one, which spans four Horror Mystery short stories with little interconnection between them. Edgar Gray, the antagonist of The Worry of Newport, originates from these short stories. It was nice--and slightly creepy--putting a pre-existing character of mine into a game narrative without the player realizing this at all.

Essentially, I wanted to make the mod my own story and own atmosphere immensely quickly. The project went from homage to inspiration. Perhaps in the future I will revisit the Lovecraft scene? Only time will tell.


July 27th: Here we can see the first intended atmosphere. Brown and sepia tone with a bit of grey for unease. The pier destroyed and basic. This was the mod in it's first, most crude and basic, form. I wanted the entire map to take place on this little pier and essentially be a ten minute piece. Quickly, it would seem, the mod would increase in length dramatically.

Destruction and universal decay was a key development philosophy when creating the Port. I wanted, at the beginning, to hint at the sheer destructive force of what hit Newport while also using the fish and other imagery as a foreshadowing technique.  But it was at this point I knew that this would not work or be popular, so I took to the brain storming skies, and decided to graft the entire thing into my mythos and that is when phase two began of the development process.

August 5th: As you can see the entire visual pallet has changed. The time of day has gotten darker, the rain more sinister and sleeker (Hard to tell in a screenshot, I know.). A month after the first build in July was all it took for me to decide to take the project seriously and overhaul it with better visuals and lighting. It was at this point I still wanted to replicate Shadow over Innsmouth and, to be honest, I had it pretty down pat. The green and yellow would have worked perfectly in an urban setting, but it was not meant to be. I did not want my mod being an obvious homage to Dark Corners of the Earth and not much else. This is when all connection to Lovecraft died.

Phase Two of Development: Visual, Story, and Sound design

August 18th: Over the next week I took to completely redesigning the map to better suit the story I wanted to tell, the atmosphere I wanted to relay, and the distinct visual quality I wanted to impair onto the player. All references to Lovecraft were now gone, and it was my own project, which was compelling to me. It was night time, the lighting was more distinct and polished, the textures played better into the time of day settings and overall the entire thing took a vibe of it's own. Basically, the gap of "before and after" represents the two different builds this mod went through. The Lovecraft homage, seen above in the sepia tone july screenshots, and the gloomy and distinct ones now, being my own creation and story.

August 20th: This image speaks volumes about the project I think. The lighting, the angle, the fog, the quality of the image. Through the thick fog one can imagine the doings and plotting of creatures long forgotten by man.  You can almost hear the cries of Newport through the attack on August 5th, 1935, while the face of this port--this picture--stares sullenly, indifferent, uncaring at the bloodshed and raging fires.

Story Design:

The Worry of Newport's story is without fail it's most elaborate part. It was in the first parts of August I finalized it. The story is a very bleak and minimalistic horror mystery about two men conversing, with one retelling events to the other. In the opening narration they strike a deal; it is made clear the protagonist is our hero, suffering through an ungodly amount of horrors and woes to get to the point where he is at, and he has confronted our antagonist Edgar Gray. The deal is our hero will reiterate his entire journey up to this point, showing Gray the evidence and signs he has seen condemning Gray to death (who is in disbelief). And when our hero is done retelling, Gray is free to kill him.

This odd deal, delivered in a brilliant manner by my voice actor, kicks off the story. The player is dropped into the ocean drowning and from here seamlessly plays a retelling. As events happen, books are picked up, etc the narrator is telling Gray it. "I went to the dockhouse from there," for example, is said after an event leading to it happens. Instead of, "I should go to the dockhouse". Indeed, a past tense narrative is what binds The Worry of Newport. The player is in a retelling. They will be told, and expect, what is happening next but will be unable to deviate from the conventional narration.

This allows for an extreme amount of polish and concise narration at the same time. Since the entire game is a retelling visual details can be made oddly obscure. Waterfalls out of no where, mountains in the middle of the ocean, foggy and dreamy flashbacks, hazy memories retold, etc.

But enough about the narration. The story itself is about Newport Colony which had been obliterated before the player arrives. The colony is slaughtered and destroyed by creatures from the sea and a fierce storm. The reason why is the player's main motivation, to discover what Newport worried about all along, what Gray did to condemn them, and so forth.

The game's conclusion is when the past tense becomes present tense. The narratives meet up, the retelling ends, and "what happens next" will be something the player cannot be comforted through or controlled. The entire story is handled in a way to create a sense of unease and tension, but also comfort through routine and having a narrator and knowing "Okay, he survived this, I'll be fine."

That is why there is so much power in having the ending be in real time.

Part 1 is precisely 40% of this story, but still providing a huge chunk of dialog and flashbacks to chew through. Part 2, which is still in development, will conclude that last 60%.

Continuation of the Development Process

August 31st: For almost all of August I was busy working with the same visual pallet I described before. I had tuned it to perfection for the project's purposes and was hard at work designing areas outside of the completed Port section. A phenomenal amount of ideas for game play areas died during this month including a cliffside level, a boat level, a caves system level, and so forth. The final three sections were a Port, a mountainside interlude, and the Forest.

The most interesting of features cut from The Worry of Newport is the monsters. External AI in crysis is ridiculously difficult to make and I could not make voxels, let alone code in lua and python. I opted to use a Jaws approach to the monsters in Newport to basically 50/50 results from the communities. You hear them, see them raging, see their physical influence or hear ito n the world, but never see them. This is a brand new idea that got birthed on the 8th and since I was around 35% done at this point in the map I could not waste TOO much time polishing it. 

The Team Grows

September 9th: From here the project grew and grew, first I was lucky enough to have Yonaton Habte approach me on September 4th about his interest in joining the project which quickly turned into a fluid partnership of me asking for music based on certain emotions or events and him scoring the project based on that. At this point I had the story completely written and panned out, but did not know then it would become a two part project. It was at this state that the project grew and grew, and I knew that I could not complete the project alone without some key partners.

Things began to slow down around the 9th. While I was hard at work with Yonaton discussing key music pieces and design, the map itself was starting to stagnate and inspiration was beginning to dwindle. I did not have a voice actor at this point and auditioning one for nearly a month lead to failure, and the fact I had four builds of the project before reaching the final one was a huge time waste.

Downward Slope

September 23rd: This was the week that I thought for sure I was in this project to a hopeless end. I offered all communities involved in watching the project unfold a chance to beta test the game thus far for me, to make it more polished for release. Three names showed up in my email box, I *needed* many more, and after a week of advertising this it never materialized. I got two key people in real life to come to my computer and play test for me, which was crucial in polishing out the many kinks.

There comes a point in all development cycles that all the parts are lying around on the floor and you're wondering what the hell to do with them all, and how to glue them all together to get what you want. I was at this point in late September. I didn't get to playtest it to the public so I wanted a voice actor to wrap the now horrible project up in my eyes. Four gameplay segments were in tatters at this point, the story was all over the place and incomplete (in game.) and a lot of ideas were coming and dying due to my limitations with the level designing program.

I found a voice actor on moddb and after auditioning for a few delayed weeks I began to take a new light to the project. But luckily a night of brainstorming and writing self-reflected notes to cross exam ideas paid off. I realized that I had to make a lot of changes for the project to see the light of day, let alone for it to be decently received at all.

This is the most crucial phase of a development process, at least to me. Being able to look at all you've made and being able to let go. Slow down, narrow down, make it fit into your brain and what you want to accomplish. I cut off two big areas, *completely* polished the story line and final progression draft overnight, and got hard at work finishing the last area--the forest


First WIP screenshots of the Forest above, cira middle of October

The Final Months

All through October I toyed with experimental ideas and, essentially if it were a movie, cuts and drafts. I changed up scenes, I adjusted progression, I killed off old ideas and realized that in order to make the project as enjoyable as possible I needed to crop it into two parts and make the game play more fitting to the story. I couldn't believe the groove I fell into but I swiftly finished up the entire project by the 25th of October, only needing a few weeks of polishing before I released it.

But all in all things were on the very high up swing. I will conclude this post mortem with the brevity that the project wrapped up on. On late October I realized I would not make my Halloween release date but for the better: I had found a phenomenal new voice actor who did over 50 lines in seven days. Yonaton's soundtrack was complete, and Part 1 itself was as polished as possible for what it was. All the loose ends were wrapping up and it was up to me to put them together and release Part 1.

My only regret was the lack of playtesting, which was the cause for the slight amount of backlash from the community in the opening two days. All bugs are now patched and addressed, but it was rough at first. 

My first mod was complete and released on November 10th, 2010. What originally was intended to be a Lovecraft homage turned into a functional horror mystery, completely devoid of homage or dedication to an existing mythos. It was fully my creation, my own story, my own brief window that I could have others look through.

The Worry of Newport - Part 1 was done. After months and months of trial and alpha builds, weeks of relearning and experimentation, bouts of lack of confidence and bleak outlooks, the project was done. For better or for worse. It is completely my first mapping and modding project for the public, and a very serious attempt at that. It is unbelievably concise, but I always believed in quality over quantity. In the last month of October I got a new voice actor, a new lease on the design direction, a more focused outlook on how to make it and of course, the sheer happiness of releasing it.

The Future

Part 2 will be discussed in future articles and most likely released in Q1 2011, or later. I can't really say, but what I can say is that I'm developing it now as we speak, so I'm not putting it off. If you disliked or liked this mod, if you want to discuss future projects or inquire on the development process further, or whatever you like--the comment box or my email is fully open.