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Necromancer: Rising Up to Create a Dream

March 21, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Founded in June 2011, Other Worlds Software is a three-man team created by two friends with the dream of making video games. After going through a long list of off-the-wall ideas, they decided that Necromancer would be their first commercial release. In this game, the player becomes the necromancer who has started the zombie apocalypse, and they must stop the heroes from turning the tide and beating the zombie horde! Carl Benjamin, programmer at Other Worlds Software, talks about the creation of the game.


Growing Into Mobile

Back in late 2013, The Other Worlds Software team had just started getting into mobile gaming. We come from the old guard, the PC master race, who are slowly evolving to catch up with the rest of the world. We grew up playing Doom, Quake, Dune 2, Command and Conquer, UFO, and Fallout. Rome: Total War became a staple multiplayer game for us, when we weren’t playing D&D or WH40k, and our weekend gaming sessions would get very competitive.

We were skeptical, but we got some tablets. After using them for awhile, we found we enjoyed them. I am sure it is in no way because it made us feel like we’re in Star Trek.

Suddenly, mobile gaming became the next great step in our gaming lives and made our get-togethers a lot easier – no more lugging desktop PCs and CRT monitors around! The only problem is the lack of really good strategic and tactical games on mobile platforms, especially those with co-operative multiplayer features. So we decided to change that.

The Other Worlds Software Team
The Other Worlds Software Team

Playing as the Zombie

Cover art 3 - The Necromancer
I started to wonder what kind of game would you have if you were going to play as the zombies during the zombie apocalypse?

Necromancer began life around six months ago. My girlfriend asked me for a copy of Sims: Supernatural for Christmas, because it had sim zombies in it. I was a bit baffled; what would be the point of being a sim zombie? They don’t eat or sleep or even talk, all they do is eat brains! I was pondering on it, and started to wonder what kind of game would you have if you were going to play as the zombies during the zombie apocalypse?

But we had to leave this idea to simmer on the backburner and turn our hands to larger – and still incomplete – projects, as the Other Worlds Software team all had jobs, families, and responsibilities. We decided to take our time, pace ourselves and work slowly and steadily towards our goal of releasing Drones, a turn-based, double-blind tactical game

Unfortunately, things change and one has to change with them. We carried on working like this for around six months, until the recession cost two of the team their jobs – the lead programmer (me) and the animation director, Russ Jarvis. This left us unemployed and, with the job market as it is, it seemed that circumstances had conspired against us to declare that this is the place and now was the time to make the game we’d been wanting to make for years. Russ, Giuseppe Constantino, and I got to work.

Developing Necromancer

We only started work on Necromancer in December 2013, and it is already nearing completion. Luckily, we’d been working on diverse projects over the years as we honed our skills and we built up a good stockpile of things  we’d need for Necromancer, such as scripts, assets, and hardware.

Necromancer‘s mechanics are based on ideas we have been formulating for years, so before I wrote the first line of code, we already knew that we’d have eight different kinds of undead minion, six different spells, and eight heroes to defeat. Our experience of developing larger projects was very valuable at this point – we are dreamers with big dreams, but this time we knew we had to be very strict about the amount of content we could put into Necromancer. Being such a small team, we’ve got to be realistic. Through this, we were able to make our game, with thanks to Dark Anatomy, Yoeri Veer, and Many-Worlds.co.uk for helping with artwork.

Cover art 1 - Zombie
Thanks to Dark Anatomy, Yoeri Veer, and Many-Worlds.co.uk for helping with artwork!

The major hurdle was that none of the team had developed a game for mobile devices before. Luckily, our experience was built up using the Unity game engine, which is fantastic for cross-platform development. Porting Necromancer to Android was incredibly smooth and easy, with only the most minor of bumps along the way.  It felt like this was going too easily!

The Parts that Make Up Necromancer

Once we had a prototype of the game up and running on Android, it was all systems go on development. AI scripts, 3D assets, and animations went in day by day, with constant playtesting to make sure everything was working as it should. Once we were happy with that, we got down to what, for me, is the most entertaining part: making levels. Even as a teenager, I would spend my evenings creating Doom 2, Quake and Half-Life levels. I don’t know why, but I love it. Initially, we had planned to make procedurally-generated levels for Necromancer, but that idea was phased out in favor of creating levels that presented specific challenges for the player. The procedural levels didn’t look great, and they didn’t allow us to put specific obstacles in the path of the players that made sense. It didn’t fit the style of the game.

AI scripts, 3D assets, and animations went in day by day, with constant playtesting to make sure everything was working as it should.
AI scripts, 3D assets, and animations went in day by day, with constant playtesting to make sure everything was working as it should.

The minions the player will command are one of the most important aspects of Necromancer. We love the classic zombie movies – to us, zombies aren’t the fast-running infected, they are the slow, mindless shamblers that come in hordes. They are the living dead that burst their way up from the ground! We also wanted the player to have hordes of them; you can hardly command armies of zombies if you can only raise one at a time, so each time you raise zombies, you raise a mob. You have a ready supply of these, although the number you can raise and control at one time is limited…at first. As each level progresses, you become a more powerful necromancer with more zombies available to you and more can be raised at a time.

We felt that the special undead minions the player controls were the most important. We particularly don’t like it when upgrades are strictly better than what came before – in any game. We prefer to make our games so that each unit or weapon never becomes obsolete, but performs a different function to the next one. We think it gives the player opportunities to calculate their advantages and use their resources to maximum effect, so tactics really make a difference. So far we have revealed the Wight, Mummy, and Liche.

The player will have access to six spells that can dramatically influence the course of a game. The spells are split into two categories, boons and curses. Boons boost your minions in certain ways and the curses hinder the heroes. You only have a limited number of these, that you can collect throughout the level or purchase between each level, so it is important to use them wisely.

The player will have access to six spells that can dramatically influence the course of a game.
The player will have access to six spells that can dramatically influence the course of a game.

Replayability is very important to us. When we’ve found a multiplayer game we all like, we tend to play it a lot. We wanted to make sure any games we make have the same kind of replayability that we value in the games we enjoy.  We decided on an efficiency system, by which we track the number of heroes killed and zombies lost, as well as how long it took to complete the level, and calculate the player’s overall efficiency. The players get a trophy depending on how well they do – either bronze, silver, or gold.

Going to Kickstarter

We chose Kickstarter because it has the most lively, vibrant community. We cannot afford to release Necromancer without the help of the good people of Kickstarter, who help make dreams happen. The costs of the commercial licenses for the software are much more than we can afford, and we still need to purchase a lot for the game to be finished – voice acting, terrain models and effects.

Cover art 2 - Cemetary scene
We cannot afford to release Necromancer without the help of the good people of Kickstarter, who help make dreams happen.

As you can imagine, we’re very nervous about doing our first Kickstarter campaign. We’re not in marketing, we’re gamers! We are rubbish about talking about ourselves. Of all the challenges we’ve had to surmount in order to reach this point, writing the Kickstarter and trying to sell ourselves is by far and away the hardest part.

We’re planning to have 50 levels, but if our Kickstarter campaign goes better than expected, we’re certainly going to increase this number. The first three environments of the game (10 levels each) will be open, and any further environments will require a certain number of each trophy to unlock. This means that you’ve really got to focus!

If you like the sound of what Other Worlds is doing, keep updated their Facebook page , their website (which is currently in-development, so they ask that you please be gentle), Twitter, or head straight to their Kickstarter page and take a look.

 

Contributions

Dedicated to Game Dialogue – by Richard Rabil

February 14, 2011 — by Mariia Lototska

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Richard Rabil

Richard Rabil is a technical writer, aspiring game writer, RPG enthusiast, and designer and creator of Dialogue Junkie. He has a passion for understanding the power of language in interactive digital media, as reflected by his graduate studies in Technical Communication and his research interests in the way video games engage people. When he’s not at the office, seeing friends, or playing games, he works on game design ideas and writes occasional blog posts at IGN. In his first contribution for Gamesauce, he examines the challenges of writing and evaluating game dialogue, and suggests how the industry could move towards some common criteria for judging its quality.

The ups and (mostly) downs of game dialogue

Figure 1: Aralon HD for iPad is impressive in narrative scope and rich environments. Too bad neither the NPCs nor the dialogue get any more interesting than the cliché lines like this one.
Aralon HD for iPad is impressive in narrative scope and rich environments. Too bad neither the NPCs nor the dialogue get any more interesting than the cliché lines like this one.

Let’s face it. Despite the strides that games like Red Dead Redemption, the Fallout series, and the Mass Effect series have made in the realm of game writing, there is still a lot of stilted, stereotypical, and clichéd dialogue out there. We needn’t look far for examples.

Heavy Rain (2010). Woman with insomnia: A hot shower! That’ll create the magic of sleep!
Bayonetta (2010). Bayonetta: I’ve got a fever, and the only cure is more dead angels!
Infamous (2009). Zeke: Look, I’m being serious man, now DARPA is the mother-load of black-ops crap. If she’s in with those clowns, you better watch out, son. Cole: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Santa Claus shot J.F.K.
Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD for iPad (2010). Elf: Leave me alone, please. Protagonist: Am I bothering you? Elf: Yes, as a matter of fact, you are. Now get lost. And don’t tell anyone you saw me here.
Resident Evil 4 (2005). [after villagers trying to kill him have all left at the sound of a bell] Leon Kennedy: Where’s everyone going? Bingo?

This might seem like a small issue in an industry that earns billions of dollars without much help from interactive dialogue. To succeed, games need to be games first, and this golden rule usually makes dialogue a secondary concern, and rightly so.

“The standards for game dialogue change when producing games that weave intricate narrative into their design .”

However, the standards for game dialogue change when producing games that weave intricate narrative into their design. This holds true primarily for role-playing games, but it could also apply to first-person shooters with complex campaigns like in Call of Duty: Black Ops, or real-time strategy games with substantial cut scenes and plot lines, like StarCraft II. At any rate, as Darby McDevitt (writer of Assassin’s Creed: Bloodline) has argued, if narrative is central to your game, then you must treat writing—and by extension, dialogue—as a vitally important design component. Why? Because in these types of games, bad dialogue can “more or less eject you straight out of the experience” and make you remember you’re just a player in front of a screen.

What counts as ‘good’ game dialogue?

Game dialogue will, ideally, support the interactivity of video games, as in this example of branching dialogue from Fallout 3. This is a tough act to balance in addition to other factors like helpfulness, believability, and depth.
Game dialogue will, ideally, support the interactivity of video games, as in this example of branching dialogue from Fallout 3. This is a tough act to balance in addition to other factors like helpfulness, believability, and depth.

Good dialogue, on the other hand, can strengthen a player’s identification with the characters and the overall virtual world, deepening her emotional engagement and heightening the game’s replay value. Unfortunately, we can’t find quantitative evidence of this. We can, however, point to examples of dialogue that have managed to make an impression on more than a few people in terms of a game’s level of engagement. For example, take this mash-up of Best Nathan Drake lines, which appeared in the Complex Video Game Voice-Over Awards in 2010. Furthermore, we can cite memorable lines from critically-acclaimed video games that have been recognized for excellent writing:

Dragon Age: Origins (2010). Morrigan: “And now we have a dog. And Alistair is still the stupidest member of the party.”
Red Dead Redemption (2010). [Various lines from John Marston.] (General taunt) “I’m gonna give you a chance to kill me, ’cause I’m just that nice.” (Lassoing a lawman) “America! Home of the free!”
Portal (2007). GLaDOS: “You euthanized your faithful Companion Cube more quickly than any test subject on record. Congratulations.”
Baldur’s Gate (1998): Protagonist: “Utterly amazing! You spoke so long, but you didn’t say anything.”

The difficult question, especially for game writers but also for critics, is how do we know what counts as “high quality” dialogue?

The difficult question, especially for game writers but also for critics, is how do we know what counts as “high quality” dialogue? Are there criteria we might apply across all video games? As a technical writer by trade, a game writer by aspiration, and a lover of RPGs, that’s a question that has nagged at me for the past year and half. So I looked into numerous books and played a lot of story-driven games, such as Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and Dragon Age: Origins. As I dug into the topic and reflected on my gaming experiences, at least four criteria kept emerging again and again:

Helpfulness: Does the dialogue meet the minimum requirement to give the player the information he or she needs to learn the rules, obtain a hint, or play the game, while not making things too obvious?
Believability: Are the characters saying things that a real human or sentient being would say?
Depth: Are the characters in the game saying their lines in interesting ways?
“Gameness”/“Interactivity”: Does the dialogue appropriately support the interactive medium of games?

Of course, these criteria are not as straightforward as they sound. Most if not all of them depend on interrelated factors such as genre, visual style, and intended audience. There is also the matter of delivery: the dialogue itself might be well written, but it could be easily hindered by poor voice acting and subpar visual effects. And the “gameness” / “interactivity” criterion is almost entirely dependent on each game’s unique characteristics, generic conventions, and technical challenges. Writers of branching dialogue in complex RPGs will have different challenges than those who are writing non-branching dialogue in relatively linear action-adventure games.

Still, I couldn’t get past the thought that if we are to seriously consider how to judge the quality of game dialogue, that we should try to establish some common analytical criteria. Or, at the very least, to get people talking about game dialogue more critically and examining instances of game dialogue that “work” or “don’t work.”

Thankfully, this isn’t new territory. Some sources that have helped me think more deeply about this topic include Wendy Despain’s Writing for Video Game Genres, Donald Freeman’s Creating Emotion in Games, a variety of blogs and academic journals, and even interviews with game writers at BioWare and Bethesda Softworks (my two favorite game companies). Most of all, though, I’ve found it helpful to pick a specific segment of gameplay (or several related segments), play them through, and analyze then from different angles—taking care, of course, to consider them in the broader context of the game’s narrative and my experience with it as a whole. After all, it’s unfair to make judgments about game dialogue by simply reading scripts or reading over memorable quotes. Game dialogue must be “experienced.” Only then can we start to critically examine whether it is good, bad, or somewhere in the gray area in between.

Conclusion: What’s next?

In sum, even if we gained widespread agreement on the criteria for evaluating game dialogue, it would remain a messy, subjective business. There are a lot of factors to account for, and it’s hard to agree upon the precise ways in which dialogue will benefit the overall immersive effect of a game. Ideally, we could focus on one game at a time, or perhaps one segment at a time, and get data and opinions from a large number of people who have experienced it.

I invite everyone, players and practitioners alike, to visit the web site to share your thoughts and opinions.

That’s why I started Dialoguejunkie.com, where I post videos of game dialogue and ask visitors to rate and/or comment on them. This will, I hope, foster a more community-oriented sense of what works and what doesn’t in game dialogue, and ultimately promote better writing in the industry.

I invite everyone, players and practitioners alike, to visit the Dialoguejunkie.com to share your thoughts and opinions. At a minimum, I hope it will galvanize us gamers to consider not just what the state of game dialogue is at a given point in the history of the medium, but how we can fairly evaluate it after experiencing it, and what we can do to make it better.

References

PR & Marketing

Bethesda’s Pete Hines on his PR philosophies, finding the right people and how sincerity sells.

October 19, 2010 — by Vlad Micu

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Celebrating 11 years of hard work at one of the fastest growing publishers in the game industry this month, Pete Hines, Bethesda’s vice president and head of PR and marketing, has grown his solo operation into a globally operating department. Right before diving into the recent launch of Fallout: New Vegas, Hines took the time to share his stories on building his team, his own philosophies on PR and how a genuine approach can sell more copies.

Development

Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer on Fallout: New Vegas, the Van Buren legacy and learning from mods

September 8, 2010 — by Vlad Micu

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“I’d always wanted to work on a Fallout game ever since I got in the industry,” Obsidian Entertainment’s project director Josh Sawyer admits at the start of our interview. Having worked at BlackIsle during the development of the canceled Fallout ‘Van Buren’ project and having his own shared of canceled projects in the past, Sawyer was rather ‘cautiously’ optimistic about starting on the standalone game Fallout: New Vegas. Now that the game is almost ready for final submission, Sawyer took the time at gamescom to talk with us about his work behind this newest addition to the Fallout franchise.

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