Wolfire Games develops innovative, independent games for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. It was started by David Rosen in 2003 to organize his open source video game contest entries. After graduating college in 2008, he was joined by his twin brother and three friends and Wolfire Games officially dove into the independent game industry!
Here is the new Overgrowth alpha video!
Don't forget that you can help support us, try out our alphas (such as the one in the video), and chat with other preorderers in the Secret Preorder Forum by preordering Overgrowth. If you'd like to see real-time news about Overgrowth, you can follow me on Twitter at @wolfire.
The features highlighted in the above video are as follows (as well as some that didn't make it into the video):
- Different arena game types; weapon spawns
- Player is handled as just one more arena fighter
- Added arena team colors
- Added multiple rounds for unarmed arena matches
- Added more levels to main menu
- Tintable Turner texture
- Blunt damage can cause face cuts
- Active block catches thrown weapons
- AI can dodge knife attacks
- Improved wounded stances while holding weapons
- Cannot passive block attacks from behind
- Added "ground aggression" parameter so low-level enemies are less likely to hit grounded opponents
- Added active block knockback
- Added "meta event" system for handling high level arena logic
- Added support for levels with no terrain and no sky
- Improved texture conversion speed on Linux
- Fixed challenge level logic
- Fixed "display text" hotspot
- Added "No Save" parameter so that temporary objects are not saved
- Added new temporary arena level
- Fixed leaked file handles
- Ctrl-shift-a selects all objects of the same type
- Fixed problem with group ids and colors
If you liked this video, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Also, feel free to support us by preordering Overgrowth!
In this Art Asset Overview, I show the concept for the main menu UI and talk a bit about some new software I'm using. For a couple of years, I've been interested in trying some alternate workflow methods, but I was concerned that the new assets wouldn't match up well with the older ones. However, I thought it was time to see for myself what it would be like to work with these new techniques:
I bought 3D Coat because I had read on Polycount (my favorite 3D-artist forum) that it was the best program for retopology work (reducing a mesh from millions of triangles down to thousands). While 3D Coat does have some annoying workflow problems, it makes it easy to create some assets that would have been very difficult without it.
My concerns about the new assets looking very different turned out to be unfounded. While it would be possible to make something that looks very different, it's also easy to match the existing style. I have been hard at work on new metagame content and 3D models for next time. Be sure to check out @wolfire for realtime updates!
In this Art Asset Overview, I demonstrate some experiments with 2D/3D art: assets that are painted by hand, but have some 3D structure to support layering and parallax effects. We were thinking this might be an appropriate style for the Overgrowth “metagame”, where the player makes higher-level decisions, compared to the concrete moment-to-moment decisions of stealth and combat.
I’m experimenting with bringing some hand-painted assets into the background of the arena scenes, to visually distinguish important gameplay areas from cosmetic background elements, and to bridge the gap between the metagame and the combat. You can judge for yourself how well the idea is working by checking out the video:
Next time I will show more work on the metagame UI screens! Follow our Twitter feed at @wolfire for realtime updates!
Receiver was finally released on Steam today -- check it out here! There is a one-week launch sale bringing the price down to $3.99. If you already have Receiver or Overgrowth, then you can claim your Steam key on your Humble Store download page (linked from your purchase email).
Whenever a game is greenlit, there are always two questions that come up over and over: "How did it take THIS LONG for this game to get greenlit?", and "How did THIS game get greenlit?" In this post I will try to answer both questions about Receiver!
We put Receiver up on Greenlight the day it was announced, because … why not? There was no fee yet, and we had no luck getting it on Steam via the traditional method. Receiver already had a pretty significant following thanks to our supportive and vocal community, and great ‘Let’s Play’ videos like this one from Robbaz. So, when we got set up on Greenlight, it didn’t take too long to reach the top 20!
Our first thought was that once we’re in the top 20, it’s just a matter of time until we get picked. But that’s not necessarily true! There are great new games joining Greenlight every day, and some of them shoot straight to the top. So, when we were #11, and the top 10 got greenlit, we were briefly in first place! But sure enough, along came 10 super-hot games that pushed us right back to #11 right before the next batch was picked. This happened over and over, until it seemed like Receiver might never get on Steam.
Finally, we got a surge in votes following an Idle Thumbs podcast about Receiver, and that kept us solidly in the top 10, and we got greenlit in the fifth batch! It’s tempting to say that this final surge is what got Receiver greenlit, just like a tie-breaking point wins a sports game, but ultimately every vote is just as important as any other when the total is what matters. In the end, Receiver got Greenlit by accumulating 54,266 "Yes" votes. Let’s consider this graph of daily votes over time for Receiver:
The first thing we see is a massive spike at the very beginning. I suspect this is partly because we got on Greenlight so early, when there were so many users rating games. If you look up Steam Greenlight on Google Trends, you can see that there was a big spike in interest when it was first announced in September 2012, followed by a steep decline. Since only "yes" votes matter, it was a big win to be there for that rush of voters! For the remaining traffic, I don’t have access to any extra analytics data for the Greenlight votes themselves, but I do have access to the stats for "wolfire.com/receiver"! That traffic seems to correlate fairly well with the Greenlight traffic, so I marked some corresponding spikes in the picture above.
There is a pretty significant noise floor of apparently random spikes, from small threads on Reddit, Tigsource, and even TVTropes. However, the first large spike came from a Penny Arcade article about a different game jam, mentioning Receiver as a notable example of what can be done in seven days. Our next significant spike came when we announced Linux support, which got us a lot of traffic from sites like Ubuntu Vibes, and made us a useful example in discussions of the Unity game engine’s Linux support. When we released Desperate Gods, that brought some traffic back to Receiver, because whenever anyone mentioned that game, it made sense to mention our previous work as well.
Finally, the case of the Idle Thumbs podcast is the most interesting, because as an audio stream, it could not drive any direct traffic. However, it did seem to kick off a lot of discussion of the game across the Internet, which manifested as a large spike in traffic from seemingly unrelated viral sources. First there was a spike in Twitter links (blue), then a spike from the SomethingAwful forums (green), and finally, a spike in Google searches (red) along with a video by Giant Bomb. I don’t really know how all these events are related, but they all happened very close together!
To answer the first question we started with, Receiver took so long to get Greenlit because there’s very stiff competition on Greenlight. There are serious contenders joining every day, and only a handful make it through each month, so you can be accumulating thousands of votes, and still see your rank decrease.
To answer the second question, Receiver got Greenlit for several reasons, including help from the faithful Wolfire community that has gathered over the years! Another important factor is that Greenlight voters are starving for novelty, and satiated with polish. Why else would they be spending their time voting on Greenlight instead of playing the latest AAA games? We put a lot of novel ideas in Receiver, and while it wasn’t the most polished game on Greenlight, apparently it was what voters were looking for! Here is the design overview video, for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet:
Thank you everyone who voted for Receiver on Greenlight, and I hope you enjoy adding it to your Steam library!
This talk was really ambitious, attempting to discuss the entire context of animation and story, rather than the mechanics of animation itself. I didn’t take many notes at this point because my phone ran out of batteries, so this is largely from memory. I hope the speakers forgive me if I mixed or left out anything important!
Designing a Performance
Ed Hooks, Acting for Animators Mike Jungbluth, Senior Animator, Zenimax Online
Ed Hooks is an actor who has appeared on screen in over 100 different roles, and is also a renowned acting teacher, famous for his “Acting for Animators” workshops and book of the same name. Mike Jungbluth is a senior animator at Zenimax Online, and organized the whole animation bootcamp. He has worked on a number of games including Elder Scrolls: Online and Call of Duty: Black Ops, and co-hosts the Reanimators podcast.
What is the point of animation? One of the most important goals of animation is to create performances that elicit empathy from the audience towards the character. It’s certainly necessary to succeed at the illusion of life, but that’s only the first ingredient for an effective performance by this metric. A second ingredient is distance.
To evoke empathy, the player must have a certain amount of distance from the character -- it’s not possible to empathize with yourself! The speakers brought up one of the first scenes in Wall-E, when he watches a movie of two lovers having fun and holding hands. He wants to experience the same feeling himself, and looks for someone to hold his hand, but there is nobody else, so he tries to hold his own hand. It’s sad, because it doesn’t work: he can’t connect with himself in that way. However, we, the audience, empathize with him, because we have the distance needed to establish that kind of connection. Additionally, we see him empathizing with the human characters he sees in the screen, and his own empathy opens the door for our own.
Games have a special challenge because we are often controlling the character that the writers want us to empathize with, and like Wall-E holding his own hand, it just doesn’t work. We don’t have distance. They try to establish this distance through cutscenes, but that is usually clumsy, and not very effective -- we need more real-time and in-game tools to enable empathy.
So how do we create an empathetic NPC? We need them to have goals and personality and all of the other characteristics of an actual character, no matter how simple. In Skyward Sword, there is a shopkeeper that bounces excitedly and claps his hands as you approach, eager to make a sale. If you walk away, he slumps down, defeated, and slowly trudges back to his bench. Two animations, and a state change, and we have a more empathetic NPC than most!
Similarly, the Big Daddies in Bioshock are usually peaceful, but they become enraged if you mess with the little sisters, and that is enough to make them somewhat successful as empathetic NPCs. A common misunderstanding is that we have to understand why an emotion is being felt in order to empathize with it. That is irrelevant! It’s the emotion itself that we respond to, and the transitions between them. If someone is happy and then receives a phone call, and suddenly breaks down in tears -- we can empathize. The words themselves are not important. Characters, emotions, and transitions are the keys to empathy, not plot details.
Instead of focusing on plot points, we should focus on showing character through transitions. If a character is going from A to B, the interesting part is how they move -- not necessarily where they are going or where they are coming from. Do they go in a straight line at a uniform speed? Do they zigzag around, and get lost? Do they stop at each point to take in the sights?
So we’ve discussed NPCs a bit, but what about the player character itself? How do we achieve the distance we need for empathy? One technique is to restrict the choices of the player so that they match the choices of the character. In Metal Gear Solid 4, there are key moments where Snake (and the player) has no choice, such as this scene where he must move through a microwave hallway, while being slowly cooked alive. The plot itself might be ridiculous (why would anyone ever build a microwave hallway, let alone enter one?), but we can empathize with his pain, and with the act of sacrifice for a greater cause.
This confusion about the importance of plot results in games that have far too many words. In games, characters tend to have conversations, where they exchange facts. In good stories, conversation is rare, instead there are negotiations: exchanges of power. The words themselves are not important for good acting. Dialogue itself is very often redundant, unnecessary, and unneeded. Again, Wall-E very effectively established empathetic characters and dramatic scenes without any words at all for the most part. Shadow of the Colossus wordlessly created a strong relationship between the player and his horse just through time and cooperation.
Games tend to rely heavily on the techniques of film, and ignore the tools that are unique to their own medium. One such tool is “adrenaline moments”, putting the player in a situation that is important to their future. This is not possible in games that rely heavily on authored moments, because the experience is not unique, and there is only one possible outcome. However, mechanics and systems can allow for adrenaline moments that are unique to each player, like if you spy a creeper in your carefully-built Minecraft house, or a swarm of zombies in Day Z. We need to start crafting better scenarios that are appopriate for games if we want to achieve meaningful, empathetic performances -- it doesn’t matter how skillfully we craft animations if they are undermined by the context.
There was a lot more, but that’s the best I can do from memory of this talk. Sorry to Ed Hook and Mike Jungbluth if I misrepresented your content! This was the last talk of the animation bootcamp, but I’m really looking forward to the next one. If the stars align, I might even be able to participate myself somehow, maybe discussing practical uses for procedural and physics-based animation techniques.