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3:00am Dead Time™
December 17, 2017 - Irreverent Software

Hi again!

In this article, we will cover the different changes and issues we experienced with Unity 2017.2, the reasons behind our decision to stick with Unity 5.2 after these tests, the new tools we have added to our workflow and the plans we have for 2018 and the new features we are rolling out for the game.

The struggle with Unity 2017


A few weeks ago and after a lot of reluctance on our part, we started to upgrade the game towards a newer, faster and more feature rich Unity version. During our early tests porting the scenes and our custom tools we found no problems, however, everything changed when it came time to prepare a test build.



There was no way around it. Unity 2017 took in average 400% longer to build a simple scene than Unity 5.2, and the more custom shaders we added to the project (for skin, eyes, hair, etc) the longer it took. Soon, it came to a point where our test build of the first scene would take up to 8 hours to build in a fairly new PC, while also giving a bunch of shader-related errors due mostly to Unity's new Post-Processing stack.









After several days of trying to find workarounds to these issues, it became clear that any time we would save on making the game with the new Unity would be wasted on build times, since we have at times the need to make several builds in a day (especially when testing out the multiplayer).

Faced with this problem, we decided to roll back the game and continue developing it with Unity 5.2, a much more stable release of the engine which we are also much more comfortable with.

There was a downside to this, however, and it was that we would lose many of the exciting features and ease of use that came with unity 2017. But then, our programmer decided to step up to the task and slowly but surely develop several alternatives and replacement for those unavailable features so we could make full use of them in the game, with the added advantage of a greater flexibility since it has been developed entirely by our own team.

New features for Unity 5.2+


After all the time we had to spend with Unity 2017 and its shader management issues, we also had to make multiple iterations of our own skin rendering systems. This had the happy result of improving greatly both its quality and performance.



We now have a fully functional skin shading technique with real translucency and physically accurate lighting, highly detailed surface irregularities and distortions, as well as with full support for facial expression maps.









New tools


To add even more detail to all the art in the game, we have added 2 new tools to our workflow that will take the game to a new level of quality. These tools are Allegorithmic's Substance Painter and Susbtance Designer.









These are tools that we've tried to use in the past, but both our budget and our hardware made it impossible. Now, as we push hard to bring our game to a much more refined and polished state, we see it is time to give a big push to the graphics and gameplay.

Another core feature that we had in Unity 2017 and lost when going back to Unity 5.2 was the called "Post Process Stack", which is an easier and more efficient way of rendering all the filter effects for the game.

Currently, we have been working on a solution of our own that creates a similarly easy way to manage post process effects in a game while also being able to see them and edit them in real-time while making the game, which greatly reduces the time it takes to make a scene have the right feeling.





Modern effects and features such as Screen Space based reflections, improved ambient occlusion, tessellation, GPU particles, dynamic hair etc are all being currently added to the game, as well as an expanded and revamped deferred rendering to guarantee that the game can have all the effects and complex lighting situations we require without compromising the performance.

What's next, for 2018?


Next year will come the release of Episode 1. We don't have an exact release date yet, due to the size of our team and the huge amounts of technical work ahead of us. As we hurry up with all the details and polishing the technical stuff around the game, the gameplay elements are mostly ready as well as all the story beats. The dialogues have been fully recorded and prepared, the music and collectibles are in place, and it is mostly a matter of building, testing, and putting everything together for the best experience.

In January, we will release new videos from both the game and the multiplayer tests we have been making, and soon afterwards the first trailers for Ep. 1 will be ready for the public. We are very excited for you all to see and play the game we've been working so hard on for all these years, and hopeful that once it is released it will surpass your expectations.

Our budget is still the main and most pressing issue we face right now, and as such, the tools and Unity extensions we have been developing to sell on the Asset Store will still be a big focus of our work during next year, as a means to secure that the game can be developed to completion without depending exclusively on our day time jobs, crowdfunding nor any unstable sources.

However, and excluding a few days off for the Holidays, this month will be a big push towards the game's development trying to smooth all the rough edges that the project has right now, tweaking the AI and a few story elements for a more straight-forward experience, as well as optimizing our net code to make sure that, no matter if you play the game alone or with your friends, the first time you play 3:00am Dead Time it becomes a memorable and exciting horror experience.

This is all we have for now. There will be a last development article right before the end of the year, but for now we only want to thank you all for sticking with us during this year and following the game with such interest. It is your support which keeps driving us forward to overcome all the many obstacles we have found, and fight hard to make this game the best we possibly can. Thank you for all your support and kind words during this 2017, and let's hope 2018 is much much better!

Happy Holidays!

The Irreverent Software team

August 20, 2017 - Irreverent Software

Gameplay Features and Graphical Improvements

These last two months we've moved to work heavily on the animation process of the different creatures and characters. At this moment, we are animating the monsters and animals of Episode 1 as well as making the generic Humanoid animations required for all the gameplay actions in the game. This includes animations for the many dangers that you will face in the levels. Unlike in our previous demos, the upcoming Early Access release features a lot of different dangers to avoid as well as many close encounters with the different phenomena.



With so much work being put into the animations of the characters, we've also moved to improve the overall quality of the scene to bring it closer to the release quality we want to offer for this Early Access. This means better post-process effects, more carefully crafted lighting, complex environment effects and a currently in-development weather system. New characters have been modeled and are being added to crucial points of the story, the dialogues and cutscenes are being worked, and everything is taking form in this first Episode of 3:00am Dead Time.



Extending the Unity Engine

3:00am Dead Time is a big game. It has extremely large maps combining open areas and closed environments, dozens of real-time lights, heavy use of shadows, tons of interactive objects and a very complex sound design to make it a truly immersive experience.

But while making a game of this scope we have hit several barriers. In previous articles we've discussed a few ( the lack of a more customizable deferred pipeline, artifacts in the shadows, performance issues ) but today we will cover some new additions we've made for the game.

PIDI AUDIO. EXTENDED AUDIO SYSTEM

During April and May we designed a full set of tools to extend Unity's standard audio system. Sound design is arguably the most important part of any horror game, and for 3:00am Dead Time we knew we had to step up our game and create a daunting and credible atmosphere to get a full immersion.

With this in mind, we've made a simple yet powerful toolset that allows us to create custom audio clips, each one with its own volume, pan, pitch and loop values as well as different additional functionality that is not present in Unity (complex fades, random/sequential play of different sources, audio grouping and layering ). These audio clips are played by custom audio sources that include a whole array of unique features designed for the game, including audio zoning and procedural effects to make indoors and outdoors scenes adjust the sounds landscapes on the fly.

Multiplayer tests

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vD60GyrZItI

Special thanks to Libby Moffett and Lottie Dance, the two talented actors who lent their voices for the characters of Sarah Green and Danna Williams (respectively) in the full game and the video above.

During June-July we have been extremely busy adding all the core multiplayer functionality of the game. For months we have been testing several backends for the game's multiplayer. Unity 5 offers a new API for networking in games that we tested but turned out to be unusable due to several bugs and lack of documentation. Besides, working for it would be quite rigid and would have required us to make 2 versions of our netcode, one for local network connections in the DRM-Free version of the game, and one for Online gameplay through Steamworks.







Improved Facial Expressions

With our new techniques for texture management and the new improved shading methods we are using ( focused mostly on DirectX11 hardware, with most features being backwards compatible with older hardware ) we have also improved the rendering quality of the facial expressions in all the characters, including some basic micro-details sampling for the skin during close ups.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4tPhzHGAgU

The eyes shading has also been completely rewritten to allow for a much higher level of detail on the surface as well as light adaption, reflection (for scenes using the camera's nightvision ) and even a few paranormal-related effects.



ANNOUNCING OUR NEW WEBSITE



During the last days we have been working very hard to revamp and greatly improve our website. As we prepare for the new stages on the development of the game and the announcement of a few small projects we've prepared for the Unity Asset Store, we knew that we had to greatly renew our presence online.

That's why we are very happy to share with all of you our brand new website, now fully integrated with SSL protection, mobile version, a highly improved support section to make it much easier to contact us, and much more!

Irreverent Software Official Website[irreverent-software.com]

But that is not all. We have also prepared and launched this week our official forums, with special boards for the game, our projects, tools, etc. We recommend you to visit and join, as we will start posting exclusive content there since July, and all upcoming development diaries will be available there a few hours earlier than here on IndieDB ( due to the approval process ).

Irreverent Sofware Community Forum[www.irreverent-software.proboards.com]

The next development recap, this time for August-September will be ready soon with lots of information about the actual gameplay of 3:00am Dead Time and the features we are adding for this first release. We can't wait to show you all the progress that has been made, and everything that you will face in 3:00am Dead Time.

Thanks for reading!

The Irreverent Software team

April 15, 2017 - Irreverent Software

During March we've made tons of progress in the game, and now we are already starting with the first private tests for single and multiplayer. We are adding the last touches to the many scenes of Episodes 1 and finishing the second part of the episode, as well as adding and syncing the voices to the different characters. In this article we will talk about the new design for the main scene of EP1, the new scenery being developed for the story, the monster designs, new story bits, graphics improvements to our content and the engine. Let's start :

Designing the scenes for Episode 1



When designing the new map for Episode 1 we wanted to achieve a high quality scene with a lot of detail. The full map is a 6.5~ square miles landscape of open terrain plus several buildings, crops and forests all available to be freely explored.



Besides sculpting a custom, high detail terrain, we also modeled dozens of individual trees and plants which were then placed by hand in many key spots to create the best gameplay possibilities while also matching closely the moments required by our story.







Besides the main scene, we are also developing many secondary areas to explore and that will be crucial part of the story, along with their props and models.







But we have done a lot more than just props this last month.


Graphical improvements, IK and custom game frameworks.


As the development of the game progressed, we noticed a very serious limit on Unity's design, being this the shadow filtering used. Our scenes require many different dynamic point lights with shadows as the levels occur in many indoors locations. However, Unity's default shadow quality for point shadows is not anywhere close to the quality we required. After spending some time working with the default shaders and the rendering pipeline, we managed to add a custom soft filter to our shadows that greatly improves the quality and performance of the game.



But once we started changing the default rendering system of Unity, we decided to go one step beyond. After a couple of weeks of hard work we managed to extend the deferred rendering pipeline of the engine to support custom lighting models features such as skin rendering, anisotropic highlights, translucency... We also added dithered alpha mapping to many of our custom shaders to make sure all of our rendering pipeline works on deferred mode. In the end, this will give the game a great boost performance while also opening many new possibilities for our artists.



This month we also developed a custom biped and multi-limb IK system to help us achieve better and more believable movements in the human / animal / paranormal characters of the game while reducing the need for animations.





Currently, after all this work, we are also adding the new monsters and creatures for the game as well as adding tons of hints, collectibles and secrets that add more content and depth to the story.





On a more technical note, a good chunk of the development time has been spent in a full game framework used to simplify the development of 3:00am Dead Time and the addition of future content (EP2 through 6). This game framework is a complex development tool that handles multiplayer, Steamworks integration, networking and net code, game building, content databases, level streaming, AI procedural behaviors, scene design, game control, input, settings configuration, UI and audio extensions etc. While it is true that it had required a big investment on time and research, we are also seeing the results already. The creation of new playable characters, their IK configurations and world interactions can be set up in minutes, our dynamic rendering handling has also improved the performance by 60% even on the highest quality settings while the work pipeline used by it has made a lot faster to track bugs and iterate through different versions of the game.

For now this is everything on this month's recap, as we keep working on our private tests and getting ready for the upcoming release of 3:00am Dead Time, Episode 1. Stay tuned for our next article and recap, and have a great week!

The Irreverent Software team.

March 5, 2017 - Irreverent Software

Welcome to a new monthly recap for 3:00am Dead Time. This last month was full of great progress in the development of the game, mainly on the art. While a good portion of this progress has some serious spoilers, we have a lot to show for this one. Let's begin.


Dynamic Normal maps in Unity3D

One of the techniques we researched and included in the game was the use of dynamic normal maps for all the character expressions. This technique allows us to add a completely new level of detail to every character, making their expressions produce different wrinkles and finer elements to make them more believable.

To develop this technique in a way that didn't compromise the performance of the rest of the game, we had to once again improve our skin rendering shader, adding real surface scattering as well as translucency and support for 8 different expression areas. The shader was also reduced to have a DX9 version, much simpler, to guarantee that low-end PC's can still have a stable performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZlPM2hfd3c



Developing each expression map for each character means a new 3D sculpture made specifically for this purpose. It is a difficult and time consuming process, but the results are completely worth it. While we are using this technique for the facial expressions, we have plans to expand its use to the character's clothes, environment effects etc.



Hair modelling

One of the most difficult parts of modelling a human character is the hair. While designing our characters we considered two different approaches for this problem. We could either go with DX11 level hair simulation through tesellation or use a less demanding approach with polygon based hair cards. We chose the later, as it frees more resources in the hardware that will be used for more complex effects, while keeping the game's requirements low enough for a better range of PCs.



Hair modelling is, as we said, a very difficult task. Each character has its very own hairstyle with an average of 300 to 2,000 hair cards which are individually placed by hand. The hair textures we use are also hand painted and designed for each character.





Then, the hair is rendered using our custom made shader using simple Kajiya-Kay anisotropic highlights approximation, basic translucency and volumetric lighting, as well as soft-edged alpha tested transparency.




Main Characters & this month's development milestones.


Finally, to end this recap of February's development, we want to introduce you for the first time to the 5 protagonists of 3:00am Dead Time.



They are, from left to right :

Erik Villalobos (voiced by Mark Daane), Sarah Green (voiced by Libby Moffett), Danna Williams (voiced by Lottie Dance), Matt Rodriguez (voiced by Michael Karrangus) and Naya Jindal (voiced by Madison Lee).

These characters have their very own stories and motivations, their own attitudes and findings during the story. From Erik's troubled past, to Naya's inquisitive attitude or Matt's carefree spirit, each one of them have a lot to contribute to the team and the investigation. During the game, playing as any of them will provide you with a unique insight into the different story, a unique perspective that, in many cases, can change the course of a mission.

Before the end of this article, let's us recall this month's milestones for the development of the game :

  • Full gamepad support for the game.
  • All shaders and graphics code was moved to DX11. The old features on DX9 are still supported as a fallback for low end PCs.
  • Localization system fully functional. English and Spanish languages are available in the game, with just the subtitles being added right now.
  • Voice acting for the first episode completed.
  • Facial animations and syncing to the voice acting is right now in progress.
  • New graphics code and rendering upgrades for the scenes and environments (in progress)
  • Paranormal creatures for Episode 1 are now ready, rigged and in the animation process.
  • Interfaces have been improved to work with gamepads and to be easier to navigate.
  • New character controller systems, more responsive.
  • New shading techniques for better facial expression, cheaper hair rendering and better lighting/shadowing.
  • New dynamic rendering system to improve the game's performance in ~60%
  • New dynamic settings adjusting to improve the game's performance.
  • New post process effects added.
  • 5 main characters finished, another 10 secondary characters for episodes 1 and 2 are in progress.
  • Animal characters ready.
  • AI in progress.
WHAT LIES AHEAD

The plan for this month is simple. The artwork of the game will keep being developed at full speed, both in the secondary characters and the environments (pictures coming soon). We are developing several new techniques to improve the overall look of all the levels of the game. After this, private testing will start for the full Episode 1 to get it ready and as stable as possible for the Early Access Release on Steam.

We hope you liked this Development Diary, it was a really long one, while we keep working at full force and speed in this game and hope to see you by the end of March with another recap.

Thank you very much for reading, and have a great week :

The Irreverent Software Team

December 4, 2016 - Irreverent Software

To everyone :

To start with this announcement, we want to first thank all of the people who sent their auditions to be part of our game. We were overwhelmed and incredibly humbled by the enthusiasm and interest that you showed towards our project, and we were also constantly impressed by the talent of the different actors and actresses. It was an amazing experience for us, and we hope that it was also a great experience for all of you.

As a tiny team of developers, with only 4 members working on the game and only 2 of them being able to work on it on a regular, daily basis, the road has been full of challenges. That's why we want to give a warm welcome to all the voice actors and actresses that now form part of the game, as we know that with their great talent and motivation the game will be greatly improved and reach its potential.


To select 23 actors from more than 300 different auditions we received was an extremely difficult task. To all the actors and actresses that we could not include in our game, we encourage you to keep doing the amazing work you do, to keep using your talents. We know that any project, either a future one from us or from any other developer, will be greatly improved with your work. Again, our most sincere thank you to all of you for being part of this audition process.

Main Characters :
The investigation team :


  • Lottie Dance as the character of Dana Williams
  • Libby Moffett as the character of Sarah Green
  • Madison Lee as the character of Naya Jindal
  • Mark Daane as the character of Erik Villalobos
  • Michael Karrangus as the character of Matt Rodriguez

The support team :
  • Joe Armstrong as the character of John Aron
  • Dorothy Jean Thompson as the character of The Producer


Secondary / Episodic Characters :

  • Kyle Wallace as the character of Collins
  • William Harmar as the character of the Sheriff
  • Carlos Moreno as the characters of the Doctor and Father Joseph
  • Angelina Marie as the characters of Paula and Kevin
  • Manuel Benavidez as the character of Michael Emhart
  • Courtney White (aka Misty Carter) as the character of Amy
  • Ali (AliVentura) as the character of Roger
  • Kelsey Mata (aka Kalaska) as the character of the Mother
  • Danny Alexander Barrera as the character of Kyle
  • Matyas Job Gombos (aka OldManCricky) as the character of Ethan
  • Shon Green as the character of Neil
  • Sarah Dunham as the character of Susan
  • Ice Queen as the character of the Interpreter / Female Guide
  • Zelda10001 as the character of Cemetery Guide
  • Nina Sumter as the character of Amanda
  • Tom Doughty (aka The Uncertain Man) as the character of the Englishman 1


Once again, thank you to all the voice actors and actresses members of this cast, we look forward to start working with you and make 3:00am Dead Time become a reality.

Please read the full announcement and article here.

Thank you for reading,
The Irreverent Software Team

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