Redesigning Emma

Do you ever find yourself wishing that the game allowed you turn the safety off when pointing your gun at friendly NPC's? Do you find yourself smacking the 'skip' button over and over again every time they open their mouths to excrete a never ending stream of expositional dialogue? Many game developers have suffered from the uphill struggle of getting allied AI to be likable in games. 

Players don't want to be sub-servant to bland characters that constantly interrupt the flow of natural progression. Even if the character is the most colorful and vivid of personalities it can be REALLY difficult to get players to admire the NPC if they are slowing down progress in any way. Even if the story requires it. And now we're dealing with this issue in Emma.

Without really giving away any plot, Emma is an NPC that will follow Kiba through a large portion of our saga. She will be talking and interacting with you A LOT. If she is even slightly irritating in any way, we are screwed and we will be getting scathing reviews that could hurt us greatly in the long run. Even Valve and Irrational had a difficult time getting people to like Alyx and Elizabeth respectively. "Naggy" was the word I believe a lot of early playtesters used. So if those guys had a tough time with all the talent and resources they had at their fingertips how do we stand a chance? I think the answer is in personality and how it relates to the core gameplay and story. It must be all relevant. So here's the basic rundown on Emma's personality:

- She's inventive.

- She's brutally honest and blunt.

- She's the miscreant adventurer with a heart o' gold.

Now conveying those traits accurately story-wise is up to our excellent writer Jenni, but I'm here to talk about visual design. Below was her old design/model. Dear god it's hideous. 

Well not TOTALLY hideous but it was done in a rush without much thought. It didn't really give the her the sense of creativity that we were going for. She just looked... meh. We want her to be this tough, doesn't-take-crap-from-no-one kind of chick and here she just looks whiny and boring. I brought this up with Eric and he immediately saw it. I also think he kind of hated the model before and just didn't have the heart to tell me. So he did a redesign with the intent of making her more memorable and just more entertaining to look at. (Also we ditched the bag because screw rigging that up.)

We gave her a crazy hat and made her look more fit for exploration. Got rid of the baggy clothes and strapped on some actual boots and gloves so she wouldn't have issues treading the forest floor. We also decided to brighten up her color scheme a bit because before we redesigned her she was no match for Kiba's crazy red scarf and bright blue hair. This was ze result - 

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I think it's better and but we won't really know what people think until playtesting. This could be a step backwards for all we know. In terms of conveying who she is I think the new look is more representative. She's definitely a lot more vibrant but because she will be teaching Kiba a lot about himself through this journey we want to shy away from the 'manic-pixie-dream-girl' syndrome. To combat that trope we made her look a little grumpy and ready to kick some ass. If anything looks off-kilter to you, post a comment. The more feedback the better!

So I suppose the moral of this post is to not design things haphazardly. ESPECIALLY friendly NPCs. Because we didn't put a lot of thought into how she came across we ended up having to redo a lot of work. The upside was that seeing the deformed mess she was before really taught us to take a step back and consider what we were doing. And such is the life of a game designer. Iteration upon iteration upon iteration. 

The Sudden Shift in SO7’s Visual Style

When I joined the project in early 2015 I was to be the character modeler under a simple freelance contract. Eric, our lead dev, would send me the concepts and I would model and texture from them. Shortly after I got my hands on a build of the game.

While Eric had done some amazing work on The Song of Seven thus far it quickly became apparent that he was doing ALL the modeling, sculpting, texturing, rigging, animation, world design, level design, and logic for the game (plus more). While Eric is an amazing 3D artist, he only had time to create assets that were incredibly barebones. So I offered to make him a couple more assets here and there and before anyone knew it I was modeling and texturing a good 90% of the game’s new assets.

Before & after of Kiba's house

As you can imagine the consistency of the visual design was waning at this point. You’d have a very detailed model of an old, rusty barrel sitting next to a tree that was made from a couple cylinders and a mesh that vaguely resembled a clump of leaves. This caused us to completely re-think our approach to how we wanted to present Kiba’s world. After the Kickstarter we decided to completely replace all of the old meshes and textures with newer and more detailed ones.

Everyone else on the team was busy filling their roles for the development process and had no time to send me concepts or descriptions of EVERY asset so Eric gave me pretty much free reign over how I wanted each asset to look. As much as I loved the old art direction, my style was much more visceral and grungy and so I had to make a lot of small visual compromises that brought more realism and detail to the world while still remaining stylized and somewhat whimsical.

 For example, the old model for the fence around Kami Village had rounded tops like a tongue depressor. This didn’t really make sense to me with the village’s inhabitants all being mildly agoraphobic and scared of anything outside the fences. When I redesigned the fence I took this into account and modeled the fences like they were tree trunks that had been whittled to a sharp point at the top.

This instantly but subconsciously conveyed the villager’s irrational fear much more effectively. It’s these tiny changes that add up to make the world a convincing one. While the game’s style is still incredibly colorful and lighthearted, there’s a lot more grime around the edges now. Looking at these old screenshots makes me cringe so to make myself (and I’m sure the team as well) feel better I’m gonna post some updated ones for you guys. We’ve got a long way to go and we can’t wait to show you what we have in store.

Kami Village and the Forest Ruins.

Hey there choir of the Seven! 

I hope you're enjoying the beautiful weather! It's been a couple months since the campaign ended, and we thought this would be a great time to touch base. Now that we have ourselves completely organized, scheduled, and in production - we will have more regular updates from here on out.


As a team we spent the first couple of weeks refocusing ourselves from the campaign to full production. Running a KS campaign can be incredibly taxing. Between the constant marketing, emailing, and updates, it sort of breaks the flow to normal production flows. After taking a few days off to rest, we immediately hit the ground running. We also made this silly thank you video in case you missed it. :D

 

First, we broke down everything we needed in order to complete the first chapter. Then taking that information to create the entire production schedule - the short, mid, and long terms goals are all laid out for the next 8+ months of our lives. Each milestone (which has already been time budgeted) has a specific area in the game we are either doing a first pass, alpha, or beta. The team member is responsible for filling out their own tasks for the week. Which looks something like this.

 

The opening section of the game (Kami Village) is fully playable from start to finish. There is still a great deal of polish (mostly animation) we still need to accomplish, but the foundation is there. Here's a bunch of screenshots/gifs of our progress!

1.PNG

 

The last few weeks we've been focusing on the conceptual phase/building of the next area. I put together a reference/inspiration video compilation of the entire game for the team. It's something that I'll share once the first chapter is released, as I think it could sort of spoil the experience. 

Next, I was inspired by Pixar and Journey to create a color key art progression throughout the game. This allows us to make sure that each environment has its own color palate and personality. (I blurred out the names of the later areas of the game for spoilers)

 

The Forest Ruins

The next area of the game has its first pass complete - here's a first look at the concept art and screenshot of the level. :)


 As always - thank you for your support! Stay tuned for future updates regarding progress, workflow, and more! Back to work! :D

<3,
Eric & the EG team

PS : For those of you who have been asking, I promise I will start streaming again soon!

Welcome to the new and improved "The Song of Seven" Website and Blog!

Hey there everyone!

Welcome to our new development blog and website. We decided we needed to start fresh and upgrade from previous setup. Here you will be able to see our development, find announcements, pre-orders, and more! Once again this was all possible from the generous support of our backers. We can't wait to show you more!