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Wadjet Eye Old Skies - time travel adventure game from Wadjet Eye, now 2D again

Boleskine

Arcane
Joined
Sep 12, 2013
Messages
4,045
Ben Chandler (artist on many/most of the Wadjet Eye developed/published AGS games) has resurrected his blog.

https://ben304.blogspot.com/2021/07/planning-project.html

Thursday, July 1, 2021
Planning a project





The beginning stages of any project are an interesting time for an artist, and in my experience usually involve a range of different things. Learning new software or skills, gathering reference material, doing little tests to prepare for what's to come, and reading through the documents to try and get an idea of the setting and characters - all important stuff, and slightly different each time.

Old Skies has had a few false starts for Dave and I. It began as an experiment in learning to work with 3D. Eventually we agreed that we weren't satisfied with our efforts, and decided to go back to 2D. This time, though, I wanted to try for a higher resolution and characters drawn with line art rather than pixels. I have never drawn characters in this style, but it's been in my mind for years to try. I felt that I was ready to learn something new.

I studied the work of comic book illustrators, trying to get a feel for the style and what sort of direction I wanted to go in. I went back to my anatomy books, in a fleeting but good-natured attempt at solidifying my knowledge there, and I learned a new piece of software called Krita. It's hard to find higher res animation software that I get along with. So far this is the best.

Then I jumped into the project, doing a test background and a couple of test characters. They looked good, and people liked them. My confidence was bolstered, and I jumped into production. Though it started well, I found myself regularly hindered by my workflows, both for environments and characters. The methods that I have relied on for years didn't work particularly well, and I found each scene a battle to finish. The character designs just didn't feel right. Most of them were okay, but they were missing something that I didn't have the visual vocabulary to define or fix.

Seeing everything in game, I was disheartened at how the characters looked moving around on screen. It just didn't feel right to me, and I figured a fair bit of tweaking and fixing was in order. Needless to say, after a call with Dave in which he mentioned that he wasn't happy with his script and wanted me to get back to work on Nighthawks while he sorted things out, I saw an opportunity to reflect and try to establish what went wrong.

Months later, and it's time to try again, and this time I think I have it. When Dave came back to me with a redesigned script, and told me that he was cutting all the characters that I had done animations for, I took this as my chance to start with a clean slate. Unburdened by the dead weight of that old work, I decided then to redo everything, even the locations that would be re-used, and I decided that I would take the month of June to study, experiment, and trial ideas.

My goal was to develop a workflow that could reliably produce consistent results in a style that felt cohesive and was manageable for a full game. I wanted to build a vertical slice this time, with characters walking around in a way that felt and looked right this time. I wanted to break painting backgrounds and drawing characters sprites down into a series of efficient, repeatable steps, something I was sorely lacking the first time around. I wanted to try different approaches to animation and see what worked, what looked bad, what took too long.

And now it's July, and I've had my month of study. I've painted scenery that got both Dave and I excited. I have characters walking around in a way that looks and feels so much better than before. I've tried characters with visual effects, built intricate background animations, and animated background characters that don't steal the player's attention. I've done subtle, careful animations with an excessive amount of frames and carefully drawn expressions, and I've done fun, snappy animations with smear frames and a careful approach to timing.

Most importantly, I have found a way to make something that fits both my vision and Dave's vision for this game. That unity of vision, for me, is the most important thing, and it's what we had been missing until now.

This will be my third attempt at making Old Skies. I haven't written on this blog for years, because I was very busy either trying to incorporate the things I'd written about here into my work, or learning things that I'm too inexperienced with to make them worth writing about. But I'm back in learning mode again, and there is much that I want to study. I hope you'll join me!

https://ben304.blogspot.com/2021/07/the-shape-of-people.html

Friday, July 2, 2021
The shape of people

One of the games I've been enjoying quite a bit lately and using as research on non-pixel 2D character designs is the lovely Griftlands. While it's in a very different style to our project, there's still a lot to be gained from looking at the character designs and seeing what makes them work so well.

One thing in particular that impressed me was the fact that despite these characters are all the same size, clad in similar apparel and often with similar colour schemes, I generally find it reasonably easy to recognize the different characters. Here's a few assorted folks from various screenshots I've taken:



I think one of the many things that makes these designs so successful for me personally, is how individual many of the silhouettes are. I wrote about the power of silhouettes in character design some years ago, and it's something I always love seeing done well. And again, while these characters are all roughly the same height and width, and similarly dressed, I bet you can identify one of them from the pack above by silhouette alone:



For me, I think a strong silhouette is a key feature in character designs that I consider particularly successful. Having an identifiable shape isn't just a good default practice for making someone interesting, it allows us to identify them more immediately even when they're far away, facing away from us, poorly lit, or in a crowd. When I think of character designs in adventure games that work for me, they almost always have a clearly readable shape. That doesn't necessarily mean complex - Machinarium's protagonist, for example, is about as simple as you can get, and still very effective. Compare the examples below, and look at the outlines of their form, for example.



Today I was working hard on reworking some poor character designs, and one of my main focuses was trying to make for interesting silhouettes, while still keeping the style grounded. When I showed one of my designs to Daniel Thomas he immediately commented that the silhouette was more interesting. Victory! Feels good to have someone notice that effort spent.

So, how are my silhouettes in Old Skies so far, for main characters in the same pose, facing the same direction?


Not bad, I think! Not exactly the most diverse or dynamic, but definitely all different enough that I can at least tell them apart. Can I do better? I think so! It's good to check these things periodically, just to see how well the theory has sunk in. Knowing a good piece of design wisdom is definitely not the same as being able to use it well, or keeping it as a fundamental part of our workflow. Actively working at these ideas is the only reliable way to use them as tools. That's what I intend to keep doing!
 

Sratopotator

Savant
Joined
Sep 21, 2016
Messages
149
Looking good!
:positive:

Wait, but...
If Unavowed had to be so depressingly shitty to have better visuals than previous Wadjet Eye games, this will have to be like some kind of shit avalanche...
:negative:
 

Boleskine

Arcane
Joined
Sep 12, 2013
Messages
4,045
An update from Ben Chandler's blog:

https://ben304.blogspot.com/2021/09/progress.html

Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Progress!

E9uUpz2UYAUcdd2.jpg



I'm approaching the 'complete' stage on the first section of Old Skies, and it's interesting to see what has changed in the process. In June of this year I spend the entire month just trying to figure out what was necessary to get this game made. I animated some things with far too many frames, with far too few frames, put too much detail into things and also not enough detail into things, and at the end of it all, felt like I had a decent handle on what looked decent, and what did not. I also felt like I had created a better workflow, to be more productive and get my todo lists done without being overwhelmed.

Since then, I've been knee deep in pure production. I also got a new PC, a few new pieces of hardware to make the job easier, and have done a few more bits of experimenting with style to make sure our close-up shots are still cohesive with the rest of the game, but mostly it's just been crossing things off the todo lists. What's interesting about this phase of production is that I feel like my standards shift a bit - I get less ambitious, and realise that I have to cut some corners in order to get everything done on the game in a timely manner. This always happens, but I'd forgotten it, yet again.

Looking at what we have now, though, I think we're going to have a decent looking game. It feels like we're doing what we always did - just now a lot higher resolution. My biggest fear, pre-June, was that the backgrounds and characters just didn't work together, and didn't look that good, individually. Since then this fear has changed, and I have new fears, new things I want to tweak, edit, adjust, redo. I never have enough time to do this, of course, but making something is meant to be a learning process. Of course I'd do it all differently in hindsight.

Overall, though, the response to how Old Skies looks now has been great. My animation still needs some work, my todo lists still feel enormous and there's still a long way to go before I can say I know how to do a game in this exact style, but we're getting a lot closer. Thanks for your support, all! I'll share some more detailed art thoughts soon!
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2019
Messages
23
I feel really bad for this project. Based on what Dave has said recently, it's been false start after false start. They seem to have settled on something they like, but this is now the 3rd complete overhaul? That's got to be demoralizing.

Also, there's this:


Write what you know, I guess!
 

Cyberarmy

Love fool
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Divinity: Original Sin 2
I kinda stop following because of 3d (Don't like 3d in adventure games, lways felt off for me) but now this looks glourious. 2D master race :obviously:

Also dunno why but game kinda reminded me of Beneath a Steel Sky.
 

WallaceChambers

Learned
Joined
Jul 29, 2019
Messages
311
I feel really bad for this project. Based on what Dave has said recently, it's been false start after false start. They seem to have settled on something they like, but this is now the 3rd complete overhaul? That's got to be demoralizing.

Yeah, it's kinda hard to keep track of what the games gonna be like as Dave's been following his muse. At one point the new game wasn't Old Skies, he was going to make a sequel to Unavowed but scrapped that since he was mostly just forcing it due to Unavowed success. Then Old Skies was going to be fully 3D in Unity, which was basically doomed to fail from the outset because Ben was still the only artist under Wadjet Eye's employ -- and he was learning 3D art in tandem with the game's development. After that it transitioned back to 2D in AGS with a focus on (more) in depth time travel puzzles. With Dave tweeting out if anyone had a good program for generation puzzle dependency charts despite never having used them in previous games. At this point the backgrounds had a style and color palette reminiscent of Ghibli films.



To the best of my knowledge the latest overhaul substantially changed the BG art and animation. I've caught tidbits of devstreams where Dave has mentioned changing the time travel mechanic to be less complex than it was initially. But it remains unclear what the exact nature of the changes was/how time travel will work in the game now. IIRC the game also shifted from having an overarching conspiracy plot, to being focused primarily on character-driven individual mystery stories. Which sounds a lot like Blackwell.

I cant say for sure that this game is having most troubled development of all the Wadjet Eye titles, but it feels like it. It seems like Dave is more keen to scrap something and start over rather than put out a crap game, so I'm not worried about that. But it is hard to have a clear idea of what the game might be like.
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2019
Messages
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Sounds like it’s going to be the episodic structure of Unavowed with the helping people/investigation of Blackwell and borrowing the dying multiple times from Strangeland. Can’t really blame him for going back to playing it safe.
 

WallaceChambers

Learned
Joined
Jul 29, 2019
Messages
311
Old Skies: How Wadjet Eye Wants to Reinvent the Point 'n' Click, Again
A look at the next game from adventure game luminary Dave Gilbert.

Dave Gilbert isn’t a huge fan of the “retro throwback” tag his games have been slapped with for the last 16 years. His studio, Wadjet Eye (The Blackwell Legacy, Gemini Rue), may trade in the point ’n’ click adventure space, but his own games tend to stubbornly refuse to stick to the conventions of the ’80s and ’90s games they resemble. His latest, Old Skies, is yet more proof that Gilbert’s games are forward-thinking, not backward-looking.

Sitting down with Gilbert at London’s WASD games convention, I’m quickly shown how. Old Skies adopts a similar structure to Gilbert’s last game, the fantastic Unavowed, showing its characters’ journeys across six self-contained episodes. But where that last game innovated by investing more in branching, BioWare-like dialogue paths than classic puzzling, Gilbert’s early-in-development new game is a whole new experiment.

At Old Skies’ heart is a narrative conceit, woven throughout the game’s mechanics, plot, and even visuals: In the future, time travel is real, but it’s used essentially just for tourism. The game’s lead character, Fia, takes paying customers on trips through time, allowing them to visit periods they could never have experienced, or revisit treasured moments in their lives. Things go wrong very quickly, as things tend to in time travel narratives, and Fia is left to solve problems and paradoxes through a mixture of deduction and sci-fi tech.

The brilliance, even in the short, early sections Gilbert shows me, lies in how time travel is built into how you play. One puzzle asks you to open a safe amid a tense standoff in a Prohibition-era jewellery store robbery – but no one person in the room knows the entire code, and they won’t share their pieces of it with the others. Instead, Fia can demand each of them to help out, learning their sections as they do so – but inevitably ending with her (or sometimes everyone) dying in a hail of Tommy Gun bullets. When Fia dies, however, we don’t see a Game Over screen, but time rewinding, leaving her back where she began, with new information to use, and an increasingly painful headache from being shot so many times in one evening. Eventually, you open the safe yourself, to the room's astonishment.

Gilbert says the unexpected benefit of using time loops as part of puzzle solutions is that it means he can build around less expected solutions – something closer to the infamous adventure game ‘Moon Logic’ of older games like Monkey Island, while retaining fairness in how it’s solved. Players will piece together puzzle solutions over multiple different loops, each with entertaining conclusions – rather than being sat in one place, clicking everything in a static room before brute-forcing the intended goal. One example Gilbert gives is realising Fia needs to stop a stalking enemy and, because the player knows exactly where that person will walk, dropping a nearby billiard ball on the floor to have them spill over in an undignified mess. You likely wouldn’t work this out on a first go, but with multiple passes at the same situation, you’re given the context clues to arrive there on your own.

It’s not just a different game to play from Gilbert, but a very different feeling game too. While it might be a sci-fi yarn, Old Skies is a dark comedy first and foremost. Gilbert tells me an early section includes a moment where Fia decides whether to accept a drink from a date, or buy them one – before a change in the timestream sees her partner erased from history (for reasons I’m not sure of yet, Fia’s immune from such fluctuations). Fia’s reaction depends less on watching someone cease to exist before her eyes, and more on that tiny decision: if you bought them a drink, you get to drink theirs too. If you had one bought for you by a date that no longer exists, the drink no longer exists either, and Fia’s left irritated by the whole affair.


Fia's look on the main menu will alter as you progress through different time periods. (Image credit: Wadjet Eye)

It also comes with a new visual style, dropping the classic pixel art of old and adopting a hand-drawn look, with characters more closely resembling ’90s cartoons than ’90s games. It lets the developer play with character designs a little more – Fia will use another bit of tech to zap her clothing into something period-appropriate when she arrives in a new timezone. In a very neat touch, Gilbert says that even the main menu illustration of Fia will also change to match your current look.

It’s that playfulness, and an excitability around making something new, that proves Gilbert isn’t just making tribute acts to the good ol’ days of adventure games. He’s restless about inventing something new with every game, and Old Skies is already looking to be one of his most drastic reworks of the formula yet.

New Old Skies preview from IGN. There's some new screenshots on the page as well.
 
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Joined
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Screens are looking nice, but holy shit is that article exaggerated.
The brilliance, even in the short, early sections Gilbert shows me, lies in how time travel is built into how you play. One puzzle asks you to open a safe amid a tense standoff in a Prohibition-era jewellery store robbery – but no one person in the room knows the entire code, and they won’t share their pieces of it with the others. Instead, Fia can demand each of them to help out, learning their sections as they do so – but inevitably ending with her (or sometimes everyone) dying in a hail of Tommy Gun bullets. When Fia dies, however, we don’t see a Game Over screen, but time rewinding, leaving her back where she began, with new information to use, and an increasingly painful headache from being shot so many times in one evening. Eventually, you open the safe yourself, to the room's astonishment.
A typical guess the code puzzle, except you just have to talk to each character and die over and over until you get the whole thing? How is that reinventing the genre?
 

LESS T_T

Arcane
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Messages
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Codex 2014
Steam page:



Time Travel is real and history is up for grabs! In this point-and-click, you play Fia Quinn, a time agent for the ChronoZen agency. Your job is to keep close watch on seven travelers who have the desire (and the bank accounts) to sightsee in the past. Some are simply curious. Others have unfinished business to resolve. And they’ve all put down a lot of money for the trip, so it’s vital that you keep them happy while ensuring they follow the rules. But what could go wrong? It's only time travel, after all.

Features:
  • Seven eras of history to visit! From the speakeasies of Prohibition to the gangs of the Gilded Age to the morning of September 11th.
  • High resolution 1920 x 1080 graphics! That's 3x higher than Unavowed.
  • Lots of puzzles that require temporal thinking to solve.
  • Death! You CAN die in this adventure game, but time travel means you can try again. And again. And again.
  • Musical score by Thomas Regin (composer for Unavowed and the Blackwell series)
  • Full voice acting! Our largest cast yet.
 

Morpheus Kitami

Liturgist
Joined
May 14, 2020
Messages
2,586
Screens are looking nice, but holy shit is that article exaggerated.
The brilliance, even in the short, early sections Gilbert shows me, lies in how time travel is built into how you play. One puzzle asks you to open a safe amid a tense standoff in a Prohibition-era jewellery store robbery – but no one person in the room knows the entire code, and they won’t share their pieces of it with the others. Instead, Fia can demand each of them to help out, learning their sections as they do so – but inevitably ending with her (or sometimes everyone) dying in a hail of Tommy Gun bullets. When Fia dies, however, we don’t see a Game Over screen, but time rewinding, leaving her back where she began, with new information to use, and an increasingly painful headache from being shot so many times in one evening. Eventually, you open the safe yourself, to the room's astonishment.
A typical guess the code puzzle, except you just have to talk to each character and die over and over until you get the whole thing? How is that reinventing the genre?
Star Trek Borg did this IIRC, except instead of having to do however many times they want you to do it, Borg just had you do it once. Makes me understand the frustration some developers have with developing puzzles for their games, because practically everything has been done before and probably even better. Having to do the thing even 3 times sounds like they're trying to pad their game out a bit.
 

Starwars

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Sweden
After Unavowed, I wonder whether the "new things" will really make a better game in the end as well. Unavowed has choices to make, party members and different solutions. The whole "RPG-lite package". All potentially good things as far as I'm concerned but, in the cased of Unavowed, didn't really make things all that more interesting I think. Same thing with the setting. I was really looking forward to the game based on that but it just felt rather flat.
All in all it was a competent game but in the end there was very little at its core that was memorable.

And I wonder if that will be the case with Old Skies as well. Nice ideas that seems like they might push the genre forward or whatever, but still just an okay-ish, kinda tepid game.
 

WallaceChambers

Learned
Joined
Jul 29, 2019
Messages
311
Screens are looking nice, but holy shit is that article exaggerated.

A typical guess the code puzzle, except you just have to talk to each character and die over and over until you get the whole thing? How is that reinventing the genre?

Seems to me like the article was just written by someone who hasn't really played adventure games themselves. They also referred to "moon logic" puzzles as if they applied ubiquitously to every game in the 80s and 90s, and adventure games with fair puzzle design were some kind of Unicorn.
 
Joined
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Messages
4,129
Location
Chicago, IL, Kwa
After Unavowed, I wonder whether the "new things" will really make a better game in the end as well. Unavowed has choices to make, party members and different solutions. The whole "RPG-lite package". All potentially good things as far as I'm concerned but, in the cased of Unavowed, didn't really make things all that more interesting I think. Same thing with the setting. I was really looking forward to the game based on that but it just felt rather flat.
All in all it was a competent game but in the end there was very little at its core that was memorable.

And I wonder if that will be the case with Old Skies as well. Nice ideas that seems like they might push the genre forward or whatever, but still just an okay-ish, kinda tepid game.
I think it’s clear that Dave is going to be taking design clues from Unavowed going forward. It was his most successful first-party both critically and commercially. It’s unfortunate for those of us who found Unavowed a disappointment, but what are you going to do? The point and click audience has become considerably more impatient and resistant to any actual difficulty. I replayed Primordia a few months ago, and while I still loved it I found the puzzles a bit on the easy side. And then MRY said that one of the most common criticisms of the game was that the puzzles were too difficult.
 

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