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December 11 - Best Milkshake
Creating a working, living, breathing city is the most difficult task I've ever done. It requires many key ingredients to bake seamlessly together. Of course there are many of these ingredients to properly flesh out a game, but I've narrowed it down to the 5 that stand out the most and are critically important.
Why is your city there? Who were the people responsible for the outcome? What political stance did they charge in order to gather the ideologies of making such project? What inspired them? You have to ask yourself these questions and answer every single one of them. You can't just pull these things out of thin air and expect some sort of gratifying output.
The environments have to make sense. By no means should you skip on architectural balance and properly constructed atmosphere. Each building along with every asset in the game has an architectural purpose. Unless the strict design of your idea calls for something else, these rules really have to apply. Every building was influenced by actual 1900's era structures. Having robust pillars and support beams in the right placed make it look that much more complete and realistic. Even if the city doesn't apply to being as “real” as possible, creating content such as assets that are developed for certain structures within the game's art design makes that much more sense.
Each section of New Manhattan is very different from the last. However, creating 100% new models and assets for each level would of not been the best idea. Why? Consistency. Even though these levels are different, there's a familiarity between all of them. The player knows not only they are in the same city, but the same game. They can admire the new structures and city sites that each section inhabits, but they have to also feel comfortable with the progression. Where's the Transporters? Where's the health station? Where's this, where's that? Of course all the important gameplay assets are cleverly integrated, but it doesn't mean I should break that pattern because of some “cool idea”. If New Manhattan was just a “cool idea”, it would completely fail, because it has before. One of the most difficult things to do was open multiple routes for multiple perspectives of gameplay and not just my own. This world isn't going to survive only carrying your vision.
Now you have to give the city its purpose. Writing characters can be fun, especially when you can finally execute on that concrete story you “supposedly” have. Nothing puts more holes in your story more than your own characters, especially when there's over 40 of them... What makes this character special? What are their thoughts on this subject or another? What are their goals and aspirations? What's vital to story-telling is an interesting and well written narrative. But just because you know how to write a half descent story, doesn't necessarily mean you can write a game narrative. A story to game narrative is like going from a tricycle to rocket-ship. The jump from one to another is astronomical and shouldn't really be pursued unless you've done some studying on scripting for a few years. Not saying it can't be done, but the result can be somewhere between slightly refined and utterly abysmal. It's also important and very difficult to write the game only as deep as the player wants to go. Having the advantage of skipping insightful audio logs but still managing to deliver the full narrative is a talent not everyone has.
5: Self Awareness
Self Awareness is like the icing on the cake. At first it can be very odd having your own characters be effected by your own story, but that passes with time. Filling the world with propaganda, audible characters, etc, really fills all the last remaining cracks and makes everything seem complete. Having them talk about the city's various side stories or small but interesting pockets of personal emotion towards a subject or another settles quite nicely.
There is plenty more I can delve into, but I'd rather keep this developer note to one subject. But I'll just chime in on a small update... Anomaly 1921 is moving along very quickly and safely thus far. A working 10 to 15 minute in-game gameplay video is slated for Spring of 2014 but not set in stone. Some new screenshots have been posted here on the page as well. Like I've mentioned before, there was going to be some time where things were just quiet for a while. This only happens when things are cooking, so being patient is the only thing I can ask for.
Stay tuned and Happy Holidays.
September 29 - Best Milkshake
Anomaly 1921 has come a long way. Within the last 2 years it's gone through many stages. And that's what I'm going to share briefly today...
New Manhattan used to be a lot like a suburban New York City. Vivid in color, diverse in shapes and design. Running fountains, birds chirping, public parks with finely cut hedges and smiling faces. I began to build this city going right into that vision of the early 1900's, but little did I know what I was going into. This certain vision of the city was short lived with only a few months of actual visual construction. Simply putting it, it was much too simple of a world, very one dimensional and ordinary. And by then, the game itself was also much different. So when rewrites reworked the environments, so did the story.
The second construction of New Manhattan was a very basic, darker, noir environment. This you can vaguely see in the older screenshots in the comparisons between the alpha and beta on the Facebook page. This version I was sure was going to be it, but sadly, lived as just about as short as the initial version.
The third construction of the city is what you see today. An even blend of art-deco, steampunk, suburban New York City and a neo-noir landscape. It had to be reworked from the ground up entirely. New buildings, new assets, new story, new narrative, etc. This installment took a TON of effort to give into. As I've mentioned before, it was responsible for all the stress, anxiety and giving up. But as you can see, the storm calmed down and the clouds parted for you to see what you see today. But I'm extremely glad that those terrible things happened, because it changed things for the better, for the WAY better. Even though the game isn't finished, the city in its entirety is complete, and may I say, glowing with pride.
I will admit that I had initially bit off way more than I could chew. But as a writer, it was a story that had to exist and not just in my head forever waiting to be told on paper. It needed to be explored, exploited, seen from more than one linear dimension. So I think back to where I was and how far it has come and it just amazes me. New Manhattan is a city that has to be explored by other people when finally out of my hands. And there's no other direction to go now but forward.
Thanks to everyone who support this project. Like I mentioned before, expect little updates for a little while longer until I can debut something big and worth the wait. Thanks for being patient and reading these developer notes if you do, it means a lot. Also feel free to check out my website for a handful of my other works if you're interested. See you in a little while and happy early holidays.
September 1 - Best Milkshake
Anomaly 1921 is full of music and armed to the teeth in ambient sounds. I've worked on an entirely original soundtrack excluding the many wonderful songs that filled the early nineteen hundreds era.
I wrote out many of the gameplay action to the sounds of dramatic music scores featured in films like Road to Perdition, Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption, etc. But I couldn't see myself replicating that emotion without trying to capture what was special about it.
The soundtrack is done in-house using a wide array of synthesizers consisting of various instruments. A few of these instruments include Pianos, Violins, Bells, and so on. And that's just the classical side of New Manhattan. There's much more surprising synth music to hear inspired primarily from Vangelis and his incredible work preformed for the film Blade Runner.
It may seem like a strange blend at first, but I only hope you can trust me that they fit perfectly together in harmony. What Anomaly 1921 offers in its music alone I think will come across as a pleasant surprise to some and a tasteful expectation to others.
I believe when finally matched up with the game, the music itself will give the player the feeling that no matter how beautiful the city, there's always a dark corner. And whatever resides in that dark corner can be illuminated or left forgotten.
August 17 - Best Milkshake
Believe it or not, Anomaly 1921 is a remnant of past story-telling. How it all actually began was from two separate stories written by myself back in 2008 – 2009.
The first of which was called “Apnea”, about a man whom was hosting a house-warming party when suddenly a strong gust of wind ripped apart his house. The house strangely enough, rebuilt itself out of playing cards just before he himself was about to fly out with all the others. Alone in his house he spotted a secret door that lead to what you now see as the “Pacific Odyssey” in the Initial Gameplay Trailer. He takes this cart into an upside down city that stands taller than the clouds. The man was then given a choice to leave his dream by murdering prime suspects within “Silver City”, such as Realtor's and Bank Owners. However, during the process, the city began shifting sideways and the man was hanging from a curtain to save himself from death. The remainder of the story was a mystery, but let's just say it never was completed.
The second story written about a year later was just called “New Manhattan”. It consisted of three of the main characters within Anomaly 1921 now. It went through their corrupt ways and explained the city in such exponential detail that the fifty pages it was hadn't been enough. The book began to demand more and more to the point of it being impossible to support what the city was offering to the reader.
My only solution to this story was in order to fulfill it rightfully, it had to be a video game. It demanded attention unlike any other thing I had written before. But sadly, those fifty pages were forgotten for a few years until I returned to it a few years later, circa 2011. And when I began writing the game in detail, it started this birth of the city I never saw before.
From 2008 to 2013, New Manhattan isn't even remotely the same, but the core ideas have remained in tact. It amazes me how far it has come, and only makes me that much more excited to get it out there. I can't wait to see what comes down the road for its future.
July 31 - Best Milkshake
I thought I'd take a few minutes and express briefly how I feel about indie games and the people that surround it.
Indie games are wonderful and often better than half the Triple A titles that are released. But that's just my opinion. However, as someone who plays games often, a lot of them are never the thing I was looking for. Not to just say with a blanket statement that they're bad, they just don't strike my type of game style.
I will say that I believe a lot of indie game developers are in the industry for the wrong reasons. Some of the examples being too focused on building a game on personal attachment, life stories, and nothing but art. From what I've observed, doing any of those things, if not all of them, are immediately setting you up for imminent failure. There's so much more to making a game than having it only be personal. When you begin to say to yourself you're making it for you, why bother to think that it's going to a smashing success?
I think one of the most boldest and most honest things I can say is something pretty much directly taken from the movie “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. It's a scene where Kirk says “I have no idea what I'm supposed to do... I only know what I can do.” That statement says so much to how much truth is behind the development of Anomaly 1921.
I live from creating convincing atmospheres. Whether I did that successfully is up to you, even though at the end of the day what I think of it becomes the final verdict when it's done. No matter how much I love the atmosphere of New Manhattan, the taste is subjective, like all things. I should not expect every single person to enjoy its story experience. I should also not say that it's not a game for everyone, because that limits the audience and makes it a niche thing, which is bad.
I don't call myself an indie game developer, because I personally, hate the term. I really don't know what to call myself but a science fiction story-teller. Sure not all the stories are going to be for everyone, but I sure don't begin writing them automatically assuming that and rolling with it. I write them because I believe they are interesting stories to tell.
If people's views on the world change day to day, how can I expect to design a game that will absolutely please everyone? It's impossible, but that's okay. But it's not okay to design the game because it's only the way how I see the world. That's when the imminent failure comes in and takes over. And it's rather easy to fix, but difficult to design.
Designing an intuitive, visually pleasing, interesting, convincing atmosphere with good narrative is the most difficult thing I've ever done. Because the further I am into the project, the less and less it becomes personal, and more of an experience specific to the player rather than I. What would the player want? What would the player see? What would the player think to do in this situation? Being that it's nearly impossible to tell apart those differences yourself, you start to design in a multiple avenue type way. Giving the player freedom of how they feel I think can be most effective rather than slamming how they should feel into their throats.
I could say I've learned a lot from this. Sure I now know a lot about game design, but on a grand scale, I know nothing. And that's the most honest thing I could say. But it's true for every developer that makes a game. There is in no way, shape or form any way to tell that you built a world worth exploring besides it being in the players hands. You can never tell ahead of time how engaging or deep it is without having other people experience it. It's about the more work you put into it, the better chance there is for people to notice. But that also shouldn't directly pronounce you a failure, because all you have to do is listen. Take a step back and watch what they do. It's hard knowing that negative feedback and compromising certain attachments to your game. But when all said and done, sacrifice is in most cases for the better.
What was once New Manhattan is nearly no more. The break I took to learn what was lacking or bad design really hit me hard to the point of quitting a hundred times. I was stressed and Anomaly 1921 was looking pretty bad to say the least. But I examined it closely from alternate perspectives, trying to understand it from multiple points of view. That's when about six or so months ago I began etching away what I had done to completely redesign a proper structure. It's safe to say that seventy to eighty percent of what was written and built was completely scrapped. It was tough to see what I had was now nothing, but what I have now succeeds it by a thousand percent.
You're not going to be noticed just solely because you know C++ or you've been in the industry for ten years. Just because you can program or draw doesn't mean you know anything about game design. Listening to developer diaries, commentaries, let's plays, podcasts, interviews, etc, has exponentially put me in the right direction. Even if they're for games you don't care about, listen to what the designers and players have to say about the process and what it takes to create it from the ground up.
I hope this doesn't come across as a smack in the face to any indie developers out there. But be well aware that what you're doing is not the beginning or the end. If you're passionate about something, that's great, you'll need it. But it's only the start of an unpredictable scape. By no stretch of the imagination am I making a perfect game, of course not. But I do know for a fact that I'm going to get as close as I can get.