We just finished our final project Remnant, on January 30th last week. To celebrate check out our latest cinematic trailer for Remnant.
So for those of you who don't know, we finalized the production of Remnant on January 30th. To celebrate here's an updated look of some of the gameplay features in Remnant.
Ryan Jones is the Narrative Designer on Remnant, as well as the Systems Designer and secondary coder on the project.
In Part One of this post, I talked at length about both the relevant backstory of Remnant and how it tied into the plot of our short game. Of course, even the best story would be useless without a way of conveying it to the player. Opening up a Word document and spitting out a list of lines would get me exactly nowhere. I needed a plan of attack, a way of moving from the page to the recording booth to the game itself and, finally, to the player. I did a great deal of research on each link in the chain, and I’m excited to finally show the process of how Remnant’s story went from concept to reality.
The Writing Process
I created an Excel document to store all the information I would need for each line of dialogue, both when it came time to record and when I would be implementing the dialogue into the finished product.
Having a sortable list with all the information I would ever need on a line made a big difference. Some of the categories, such as Actor and Cue, are pretty self-explanatory. Describing Context and Inflection for lines of dialogue helped me when it came time to record them, weeks after they had been written. The rest of the categories came out of the need to have good organization when it came time to implement the audio into the game.
It’s important to note that this isn’t the format that was given to our talented voice actors when it came time to record. I knew that if I was going to build up a relationship of trust and creative collaboration with the actors, I would need to hold some of the information you see above a bit closer to my chest. I pulled the Actor and Cue information onto a separate worksheet and made it as readable as possible. I kept the above document on hand during recording sessions, in case actors needed coaching on the context of their lines or had questions about delivery.
Here’s what the actors saw:
I automated some of the formatting process here; the area marked “Lines: Casey” is not just for aesthetics or identifying the document. Instead, it’s a drop-down menu that allows me to select the character for which this particular set of lines is intended. The workbook them automatically greys out any lines that do not belong to that character.
The Recording Process
Recording was incredibly smooth thanks in no small part to the talented voice actors and sound engineers on the project. All told, we recorded seven actors and 429 lines of dialogue over three sessions.
We actually ended up recording one more character than originally planned. On the day of our biggest record, our programmer Elliot was planning on bringing in a few of his actor friends to fill the smaller roles on the project. A few hours before the session, Elliot came to me with a problem: we had too many people coming in for the roles available. Could I possibly write a new female character for the game?
I looked at the current density of lines and was puzzled. How could I possibly add a new character at this late stage without overstuffing the dialogue? If I was going to find an answer, I was going to have to take a wider look at the game. Literally.
The idea was simple: put radio chatter on the Tactical Map between a new character, “AU High Command”, and the fighters that were currently waging war across the system. From the problem of “too many actors” came a solution that actually enhanced the immersion of the game. The tactical map chatter has become one of my favourite stylistic touches in Remnant, and is just one small example of the kind of attention to detail that I love about the project as a whole.
Putting it All Together
I knew that by the time we received all of the finalized audio for the characters in the game, I wouldn’t have the time to fumble through an unfriendly system for implementation. I made it a goal before production even began to have a lightweight solution with usability at its core, the kind of solution that meant dragging and dropping lines of dialogue and linking them to one another, and then allowing an unseen hand move all the pieces into place. I started by looking for ready-made solutions available for the Unity3d engine, but was generally unsatisfied with what I found. I knew that if I was going to have something that worked specifically for Remnant’s needs , I was going to have to build something myself. And so, after looking at how some others had structured their dialogue systems and editor GUIs, I made my own system.
I coded everything above to be usable, readable, and to flow as smoothly as possible. Options appear only when they are needed. Dialogue items can be reordered and deleted, can trigger events, and can have comments attached to them for the level designers. Marking a line as “high priority” helps the system automatically prioritize lines; if a high priority conversation is meant to play while a non-high priority conversation is already playing, the low-priority lines will be stopped to make room for important information. Otherwise, the newly triggered conversation will enter a queue and wait until the previous conversation has finished. Every conversation is passed through and handled by a central Conversation Manager which sends subtitles to the HUD, chooses appropriate portraits for speakers, and plays the sound itself, as well as handling the logic for conversation sorting and dialogue trees.
Yes, I said dialogue trees. One of Remnant’s best-kept secrets is that it features branching dialogue that has real ramifications on the progression of the levels. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed this section in the image above:
Here’s what that translates to in-game (note that some of the art assets below are not final):
Adding this feature took a small amount of effort but had a great payoff. One of the core goals of Remnant was to make a game that felt more like a world than a generic combat arena, one that makes players feel as though events are happening in the universe, irrespective of their own place within it. Having choices means having a meaningful engagement with the story and the world, and increases the sense that the player is a participant within the world and its story, rather than outside observers who just happen to be passing through to get to the next combat set-piece.
The Icing on the Cake
The final pieces of the puzzle were not dialogue-related at all, but rather add flavour to make the world feel more vibrant and alive. When I sat down to create the Tactical View, I knew that I wanted the information contained on this secondary game screen to show a mix of both mission-critical information and interesting flavour text. Would every player end up reading this text? Probably not. But there were two outcomes I was banking on by writing and displaying this information:
- A player decides to read the planetary information pane and/or bottom information feed, is treated to some interesting anecdotes and history, and leaves with a richer understanding of the world in which they are participating.
- A player does not read the information, but sees it at the periphery. The player leaves Tactical View with the impression that there is a lot more to this world than they anticipated, even if they have little or no interest in exploring that information.
Both are equally valid player reactions to this text and while the writing itself is geared towards the former category, their existence and placement on-screen is tailored for the latter.
Ryan Jones is the Narrative Designer on Remnant, as well as the Systems Designer and secondary coder on the project.
When our team first decided to create a game set in space, the idea of building a universe’s worth of story was both an exciting and a frightening prospect. Space is a blank canvas, but one which comes with certain expectations and history. There were a great many questions demanding answers: how can we create a take on spacefaring science fiction that hasn’t been seen before? How can we make it fit the game we have in our heads? And how can we convey a strong story in such a short experience?
When I sat down to answer these questions, I decided to take a hard look at the gameplay experience we were setting out to make. The idea of commanding a large fleet of drones- all of which could be called in to transform into larger, more powerful ships- led me to make an association with one of the mottos of the United States, “E pluribus unum” or, “Out of many, one.” The parallels between America – an association of semi-autonomous states united under a central governing body – and our player ship, the Ambassador, were quite strong.
From that single spark, the floodgates opened and the entire story and history of our universe began to tumble forth and take shape. The design and function of the Ambassador was such that it could take on any form and fulfill any function, which is bombastic and impressive, but also hugely inefficient and nebulous in purpose. Who better to fund such a ship than an American government of the near future, its massive bureaucracy demanding unmatched form while being undecided about function?
From this history, I extrapolated forward and looked at what the universe would look like after being colonized by what we’ve been calling “Space Americans”. I realized that, after twelve thousand years, very little would remain of the original colonizers except the remnants of their once-great empire. (Hey, that’s the name of the game!) Just as very little is known about our own ancestors from over ten thousand years ago, so too is very little remembered about the ancestors of these future settlers, except for what has been passed down in myth.
If there were hundreds of thousands of people onboard the Ambassador, a ship capable of breaking apart into autonomous parts at a moment’s notice, then there must also have been dozens of small mutinies that turned into full-fledged emigrations from the ship itself. Suddenly, I had answered two questions with one answer: how did humanity splinter into so many smaller, autonomous factions and how did the Ambassador’s parts come to rest on such a huge variety of planets?
Finally, once the Ambassador had been completely abandoned, it was left forgotten in a desert, until events were set in motion within the timeline of our game… You can read the entirety of my initial history of the Ambassador here.
Once this history was created, the antagonists began to take shape, and were a lot of fun to create. After thousands of years on a dying Earth, the humans who were “left behind” waited for the Ambassador to return to rescue humanity and deliver them all to the stars. Of course, the Ambassador never returned. Society crumbled, as it is wont to do, and rebuilt around the deification of the Ambassador ship and its position as the Saviour of Humanity. And when you’ve discovered that your god has been left to rot in a desert, thousands of light years away, you’re likely to be more than a bit angry. And so the “Forefathers”, as they began to style themselves, set off on a campaign of vengeance, searching for their God-Ship.
A ship which, when the player takes control, is used to destroy its own worshippers. Exquisite.
For the player character, I wanted to create a fun ‘buddy cop’ dynamic between the ship and its pilot because I knew it would be a blast to write. The ship’s AI core, ABBY, has unimaginable knowledge and a (rather understandable) God complex, but must follow her single, infuriating direction: obey the commands of her human pilot.
Her pilot, an engineer named Edmund Casey, is bright but homespun, with a carefree outlook on life and a great deal of humility. When he crash lands near the Ambassador and uses it as his ticket off of a desert planet, he gets more than he bargains for, setting off the events of the game itself…
Creating Story Moments
I don’t want to spoil a great deal about Remnant’s story itself, except to say that celestial objects will blow up, impossible odds will be faced, and Casey and ABBY will get on each other’s nerves.
When it came to conveying story information, I had a number of priorities to consider:
- Brevity: Can I get the necessary information to the player without unnecessary wordiness?
- Clarity: Can the player understand the thrust of the story, even if they aren’t paying attention to the minutiae?
- Style: Taking the above to priorities into consideration, how can I still make the dialogue engaging and unique?
- Suggestion: Even though I’m saying very little, can I suggest a great deal more about the characters and their world?
Conveying backstory was a bit more challenging. I didn’t want to saddle the player with mandatory history lessons, which break the flow of the experience and are the enemy of fun. Instead, I decided to intersperse backstory into moments of down time, such as when the player is travelling from one objective to the next. Because these conversations were “lower priority”, they would be automatically interrupted once important objective-related information was reached (wait for Part Two for more info on the actual mechanics of the dialogue system!) Because of this, I had to front-load the most important backstory information while still making the conversation sound natural. Take this conversation between Casey and ABBY, for example:
Casey: So if you've been stuck in that desert for such a good long time, how do you know so much about... so much?
ABBY: Our constituents send us a constant stream of data from all parts of colonized space.
Casey: These “constituents”…
ABBY: You want to know they came to rest on so many worlds.
Casey: It has puzzled a historian or two.
ABBY: It’s quite simple, Mister Casey. Your people flew them there.
Casey: Not sure I quite understand.
ABBY: That is shocking to me.
A conversation like this one works because it covers all of its bases: it’s brief enough to occur between objectives, the key information (in this case, the source of ABBY’s vast knowledge) is clearly stated up front, it maintains the adversarial style of these characters’ relationship, and it suggests a lot more that what is spoken.
Here’s another similar example. ABBY frequently refers to herself as “we”, and Casey’s curiosity finally gets the better of him:
Casey: You keep saying "we.”
ABBY: I suppose you should know: I control forty-nine other Artificial Intelligence profiles.
Casey: What kind of moron puts fifty AIs in charge of one ship?
ABBY: The ship's AI was to be modeled after a great figure in its builder's history. And when you are built by a massive bureaucracy, it can be difficult to decide on just one.
Casey: So they threw in all of them.
ABBY: (under her breath) No, John Quincy, that's a terrible idea! ... (to Casey) You try keeping fifty conflicting minds in check.
Casey: Lady, you got more loose screws than a Calderon whorehouse.
In Part Two, I’ll talk a bit more about how all of this dialogue and story actually made it from conception to end product.
As a quick update, we've been back from the holiday break for two weeks now with our Beta Milestone tomorrow. After that it's our last push over the next two weeks to polish and tune our game before our Final Milestone at the end of January.
More great news is that we've been featured on the VFS Blog which you can check out below:
If you didn't catch our last post, we competed in DigiBC's Student Interactive Competition and came second overall.
Over the next two weeks as we finalize our game and prep for industry night we'll be uploading more content on the art and design of Remnant as well as more interviews of the development team itself.
So two months of production sure as hell whipped by fast. Currently we're on the lonely production floor with most of the school having left for Christmas (HOLIDAY) Break and it's weird to look back and reflect back on the last sprint.
SO. Let's recap where we were at Milestone 2 (M2) and bring you up to speed.
So at M2 we had hit our objective of "Player Feature" complete. In-game every ability, weapon,and command had been implemented and was fully playable (with the exception of the railgun particle effects). Additionally we had seen a MAJOR content push on environmental art, user interface, player feedback, and in-game effects. Let's not certainly forget some major enemy A.I. boosts, the Battleship, Fighters, and Assassin ship saw some love and are now pretty compelling enemies to battle against.
So what happened from M2 to Alpha? Here's a quick rundown.
- MASSIVE A.I. OVERHAULS AND ADDITIONS - Enemies saw more in-depth behavioural programming. Assassin ships are smarter and faster, dodging Player fire and blitzing in for its lethal melee strikes (yes, the ship has melee). The Battleship got a new weapon, a rail gun of its own, and if that weren't lethal enough it is now impervious to Player attacks, unless of course you can find its weak spot. We saw the addition of smart mines (mines that will momentarily track the player once tripped), the Inquisitor (the Fighter's younger brother), the Macula (an autonomous recon drone), and the addition of the monstrous final boss, the Liberty Shadow.
- NEW REDESIGNED IN-GAME HUD - After a re-evaluation of the former HUD, we recognized that the information we were trying to pass to the player was simply not getting across. After some help with our mentor (Derek Tam) we redesigned the in-game HUD with simplicity and minimalism in mind. We stripped out the unnecessarily elements and focused on what was most important. What we have now is a radial HUD surrounding the player displaying health and the overcharge meter and a simplified fleet management system.
- IMPROVED FLEET MANAGEMENT - After much thought and consideration, as well as feedback on the HUD, we modified the Drone Fleet. They're smart, faster, more capable, and now move as squadrons. We found this makes command over your drone fleet more intuitive without stripping out the core of its tactical nature.
- NARRATIVE AND CINEMATICS - It's not all run and gun in Remnant; each level saw the treatment with the implementation of voice acting between characters, in-game cinematics, and branching dialogue (yes, we have a branching dialogue system a la Mass Effect/Fallout/Skyrim.) Thanks to our sound designers and friends we've been able to cast and record quite a number of characters, bringing the universe of Remnant to life.
- GUNS, GUNS, GUNS - This may be a little exaggerated, but who wouldn't be more excited? The Rail Gun was given its particle effect, making pulling the trigger on it give it the BOOM and KICK it deserved. Additionally we saw the implementation of the Tier 1 Overcharge. If you effectively use your drone fleet, you'll gain Overcharge for your Tier 1 weapon, effectively turning your blaster into a Turbo Minigun.
- CONTENT AND GAMEFLOW - Our theme for the Alpha Milestone was "Content" and "Gameflow" meaning we wanted to push ourselves to get a fully playable game state of the entire game in by Alpha. With the implementation of our front-end menu system as well as respawning and check pointing, we have a three level playable game from tutorial to 5-min vertical slice to final boss.
That's a quick rundown, we'll be unveiling some updated gameplay footage tomorrow before we're booted off campus for the break.
Also on a final note, we participated in a "Student Interactive" Competition for Digi BC last Thursday at EA where Remnant came in 2nd Place.
After a long wait we finally have the first interview up and running.
First up is Lance Mueller the mission designer on Remnant. Check out the video below to meet him!
- Team Foundry
So after another two quick sprints we've arrived at Milestone #2. In the past few weeks we've made leaps and bounds in all aspects of art, design, and tech. Take a quick look below at the latest footage to see all of the player's abilities in-game.
My name is Elliot Hudson, and I'm the Programmer for our team. After a successful first Milestone, Luke (our trusty Project Manager) has asked me share with you a bit of the magic behind the curtain. We're doing a lot of cool things tech-wise with Remnant, in order to achieve our goal of epic space combat and heavy narrative focus, and I'll cover a lot of those topics here in the blog as production continues. Today I'm going to talk specifically about the toolset used by our designers to implement scripted events and missions. These tools will be familiar to anyone who has used a development kit like Hammer or the Unreal Development Kit (UDK), and it was a fun challenge to create these tools from the ground up for Remnant.
Here's a quick rundown of the current suite of tools, keeping in mind that we are constantly adding more as production continues:
Triggers are the cornerstone of scripted events, and were the first "tool" implemented. Our Triggers can make any number of things happen. They can turn things on or turn them off. Triggers can be activated when the Player enters their radius (the green circle), or when they leave that radius. Triggers can also be set to activate if entities other than the Player enter them (such as hapless NPCs or Enemies). Triggers are simply using Unity's built in collision functions (in the example below, the trigger is using a Sphere Collider to define its area), with some custom code to filter collisions and dispatch custom events.
So after three quick sprints we've already arrived at M1, a milestone set for the teams to show that their on the right path of development. Our in-house mentors are checking to see that we're on schedule and that the game we've designed and tasked out is within our scope.
So where does that leave us, Team Foundry?
As the project manager I can say with confidence that we hit this milestone with flying colours.
When we sat down at the beginning of production three weeks ago and set out to implement several of our key features:
- Implementing the first three tiered weapon abilities (Cannons, EMP, Missile System)
- Implementing the Drone Command Tagger
- Designing and implementing the Enemy A.I. Base as well as implementing the Enemy Fighter
- Whiteboxing and designing the 2nd level of the single player campaign
- Implementing the Tactical Map
- Designing and producing the art for the in-game HUD, Tactical Map, Particles for each weapon system, celestial objects, the list goes on
Check out the video below to see how far the game has come.
Also tomorrow we will begin the long awaited interviews.