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Archive for category: Solace State
How do I deal with the challenge of creating art about trauma, during a year when challenges seem more insurmountable than ever before?
Solace State in 2021 has seen more production development from both myself and our larger team than in any previous year. But, on the other side of this is the vulnerability of tapping into myself to write fiction about social trauma and transformation, while experiencing my own grief and loss.
I’ve been working on Solace State as the video game’s director for years, and it has become a full-time focus since 2017. I’m a studio owner who balances administration and marketing with development work, which includes leading in writing, art direction, 3D art, game design, and level design. And I’m making this game so much bigger than what I initially anticipated, because I need to tell this story about a young woman coming to grips about how her personal anguish over injustice has a political root. It’s about her journey to find herself in a community and move away from wholesale apathy, and really gain ownership over the choices that she can make.
In writing Solace State, it is like I’m balancing on a knife edge of being too pithy with hope while conversely being too grim. My heart aches with seeing more people in positions of authority backsliding into symptoms of tyranny around the world, which means that there are marginalized populations somewhere who lose badly, through loss of life and liberty. There are countless times when the depths of my own grief circumnavigates my learned academic compartmentalization from my political science degree, that analysing institutional fracture points is far from the experience of perceiving the malaise of their fallouts. There are days when I really dig into my head and grapple with what I think I can offer.
None of us exist in a bubble away from politics, health, art, and work, so all my life I’ve never separated these spheres from each other, and made politics and health my art’s key themes. To me, art is resistance when it seeks to inclusively and intersectionally strive towards equity. And the first step with grappling with this, and actualizing what that ideal can mean in action, is the act of talking to one another. And as pithy as it sounds, it has helped immensely. Talking can be resistance, too.
Secondly, just the act of creating feels like breaking away from a cycle of doom scroll and destruction. Creating feels like distilling and bottling up a bit of hope for now, and for later. Maybe, even, feels a little like reminding myself to hold on fast to those humanizing ideals.
As for Solace State’s core development, our team has gotten larger since the beginning of 2020, bringing five additional specialists to help with Solace State’s production pipeline. And everyone brings with them unique perspectives and experiences. I learn something new weekly from the most junior to the most senior person, and that starts feeling a little like soothing away grief’s clutches.
The narrative now has over 30 characters with narrative lines and character art. I also added in a new main character, Sueli, who has both her own character arc as an experienced community leader, and can be Chloe’s potential love interest. Sueli is uniquely challenging to me as a writer because I’ve lived with the story of Chloe, Rebecka, Torrent, and Alden and how they intertwine for years, but now I cannot imagine how Solace State works without her.
We’ve expanded a lot more narrative nuance into how different characters experience gradual autocratic control, including through increased militarization, misinformation, and crackdowns.
We also improved on a lot of character art rendering, so that the camera can pull in tighter to give you those deeply emotional shots of the character’s expressions. This is combined with a lot of large 3D neighborhoods for Chloe and her gang to explore. Much of the architectural modelling is already complete, though we are working on adding details, colors, and shaders to them to really make them pop.
Speaking of legibility, after some testing, we made the speech bubbles ADV style so that it’s much more easy to read for hours (ADV style is the more typical UI design style of having a screen-space text box at the bottom of the screen). Previously, 3D speech bubbles were rendered at an angle and limited our camera composition as well. The diegetic text and the transitioning cameras are still very much features we’re keeping, of course!
There’s a certain kind of pressure when making art about personal and political trauma. It feels harder to give myself allowances when I don’t hit certain self-imposed milestones. That’s even when we’re creating more progress as a team than ever before. 2021 saw me almost double my own development hours, and use those hours even more efficiently. Each month, I’ve made progress on writing and editing the narrative, art directing, level design, and 3D art, and balancing with administration, producing, funding, budgeting, and marketing.
Writing the entire narrative script is almost done, and there’s a part of my heart that shrieks at that, because how can a story be done? But it will be, and it’s a warming feeling nowadays that, when I re-read through Solace State’s dialogue, I find myself enjoying it. I enjoy its whimsy, its self-reference, its allowance to let its characters breathe and live and make mistakes, and find joy.
The other side of trauma is healing, and that means reminding myself that I’m not just a disembodied idea but a body and soul that can thrive, that I can have stress but also moments of serenity. We’re all actively trying our best, and I’ve got such a good team to remind me that I’m doing the best that I can, too.
Shout-outs to the team members who have put in the most hours this year in Solace State’s development: Gabi’s been working with so much nuance on Solace State as Lead Programmer that they predict many of my questions. Reilly, Character Artist, builds ample intention into each pose and outfit that she creates. Ashley, Writer, helped me reframe the narrative pacing, from our writing room meetings to her first drafts. Lauren, 3D Artist, dives into creating many neighborhoods’ architectural assets and its painterly style. Seamus and Sunny, newest to the team, have moved us forward by leaps and bounds on level design and narrative content integration respectively. And Jayme makes sure we stay focused and capable in taking on our responsibilities every week as Project Manager.
Perhaps at the end of the day, I can’t help but stare into the eye of the storm. I’ve been writing stories all my life. I vividly remember that some of the first pieces of fiction I wrote in pre-teen years were about losing one’s home, family, and the cost of war on civilians. The moment I understood the concept of death, I was struck by the unfairness of an unfinished life, and I have often circled around these concepts.
But perhaps the other thing I can’t help to do is to find the silver linings in every dark cave, and to make it into a conversation. And, what better way for Solace State to do that than through interactive storytelling?
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Production and Marketing work at Vivid Foundry in 2021 has been supported by Ontario Creates
Solace State has seen both challenges and growth in 2019. We’ve also got a chock-full of pictures to share with you. Let’s celebrate our efforts from 2019 – from GDC, to Kinda Funny Games E3 showcase, to TCAF Comics x Games, and more!
Summer 2018 has been a season to remember for Solace State!
In May, Solace State brought on board Gabi (@UndeadOoze) working full-time as a programmer from May through the first week of June, then part time for the rest of the summer. We also worked with Silverstring Media (@Slvrstrng), narrative consultants, and Seage (@Seageart), 2D character artist, on contract throughout the last few months. Everyone has been contributing their utmost; Our first ambitious milestone was to make a submission to Indie MEGABOOTH. Indie MEGABOOTH for PAX West is one of the most competitive pavillions in the world to apply to showcase indie games to excited consumers.
In June, we continued to polish this build, and by the last week of June, I travelled to Utrecht, Netherlands, for the INDIGO 2018 Expo on June 29, along with 40 other games. Run by the Dutch Game Garden, most of the games are by the Dutch, and some are from European developers; Solace State was the only one invited from North America. From the event, we connected with Utomik, had three pieces of press, and was selected by XGN.nl as one of four best-in-show games. Later in July, Utomik even followed up to connect with me to do a live-stream!
On July 13, less than two weeks after my Netherlands trip, I traveled to New York City with an updated build to Game Devs of Color Expo that took in some of the earlier feedback to improve on its choice mechanic. We had been periodically improving on the game build since it has had a lot of public exposure and concentrated feedback from local devs. I also did a talk about how Solace State became a social impact game (full stream here). Both the game and talk were well received, with Solace State mentioned on 7 publications and shows, including Kotaku, NPR, Polygon, and Intelligame Radio. It was shortly after this trip that I realized how much I need someone to help me on vlogging, video promotions of development, and marketing in general.
I received some timely feedback that my business and marketing plan are weak, which is actually a blessing because it coincides with my gut feeling about how I should structure my company and project. After consulting with Ryerson Transmedia Zone (TMZ) Mentors, TMZ teams such as Blackout, Paere, and Cherrydale, non-profit leaders, friends working at tech titans, and other published interactive digital media studio owners in Toronto, I refocused on sharpening the company’s vision to create an audience-community that encourages social healing and advocacy for marginalized stories.
The hard work paid off. In July I received a wonderfully surprising email: That I have been invited to participate at Indie MEGABOOTH. I will be showing the game with new build additions at PAX West, in Seattle on Aug 31 – Sept 1, at the smaller, more experimental pavillion Indie MEGABOOTH’s MINIBOOTH!
I will be showing Solace State at #PAXWest2018‘s @IndieMEGABOOTH at the MINIBOOTH on Aug31-Sept1! #SolaceState is a 3D #visualnovel about a young hacker who comes to her political awakening with her friends in a sci-fi surveillance society. More info here: https://t.co/PWcS86yoMm pic.twitter.com/YPGqaMBi2D
— Tanya Kan 🔜 PAX West (@VividFoundry) August 10, 2018
Please stay tuned! After PAX, we hope to keep building more content and perhaps even a vlog or two about my experiences travelling to show our new Solace State demos!
Peace and love,
Tanya Kan reporting in: There’s been a lot of behind the scenes activity for Solace State! In the past 9 months, I’ve been focusing on a lot of very diverse moving pieces of work that I have not written about in a blog post yet.
First of all, we have a new-ish trailer with new music by Robby Duguay, and lots of new in-game footage. The trailer is edited by yours truly. Don’t worry, the text will slow down to a pace that you’re comfortable with reading in the visual novel for the actual playable build itself.
We’ve been expanding our team. CJ “Seage” Howlett have been working with us to create beautiful character art for Solace State! He has a fantastic fantasy and fashion arts background and he streams some of his art commissions online frequently on Twitch!
Here we are showcasing the game at Bit Bazaar at the CNE.
I haven’t done a speaking engagement since the last half of 2017, but Sept 2017 onwards was very eventful. I spoke at two industry events at Toronto International Film Festival (DIALOGUES 2001: An Immersive Odyssey and CONNECTIONS New Technology & Immersive Storytelling) and connected with documentarians who are doing some incredible work and wish to dive into VR and interactive story-driven experiences. I took the opportunity to describe how politically complex and engaged work is as necessary as ever within even entertainment media. I also spoke at Make Change Conference on social impact games; A talk that I hope to polish – and with more than 3 hours of sleep before its delivery – and harness parts of it later on as well. I also showcased the game at Dames Making Games’ first ever Damage Camp. Finally, a small chapter demo of Solace State was selected as an official selection at the Regent Park Film Festival. The chapter was very well-received and I thoroughly enjoyed the programming at that festival!
Gearing up for #tiff17! Excited that I’ll be presenting as part of a panel and a speed networking event! I’ll be partaking in DIALOGUES 2001: An Immersive Odyssey, and CONNECTIONS New Technology & Immersive Storytelling. Extremely keen to make new networks! #filmindustry #vr #newmedia #immersivetechnologies #solacestate #vividfoundry
A post shared by Tanya (@vividfoundry) on
I have also been working on a lot of writing in November through January, and have grown in my confidence as a writer to develop a story of complexity that presents how difficult it can be for communities to protect each other’s livelihoods and bring about a more peaceable society.
Silverstring Media are always a joy to work with. They have helped me wrestle with some of the hardest questions, including how to write about societal dramas, to how to stay productive and energized as a writer. I can’t wait to share more about my writing process as we get closer to launch, because the questions that the Silverstring team have engaged me with have been so substantial. I have also worked with Silverstring Media on Matt Makes Games’ and Noel Berry’s Celeste to offer narrative consultation on East Asian representation, and this was a most enjoyable and inspiring experience!
At the same time, I have increased the amount of bizdev learning over the course of 2018, including attending an accelerated course at the Artscape Launchpad program and participating in Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone.
CEP Day 3: Protecting Intellectual Property. Full house! Graphic/interactive/jewellery/interior designers, performers #careerartists pic.twitter.com/ZzJU0pf0gK
— Launchpad (@LaunchpadTO) October 18, 2017
Artscape Launchpad’s Creative Entrepreneur Program was fantastic in helping me reframe my mind around how to consider everything from the presentation of my business, to accounting, legal, marketing and grants. Launchpad brought in some great experts to walk artists through the process, and I highly recommend its classes and other events. Our cohort is fantastic and it’s great to learn from other artistic peers about their business directions. The whole experience has been very healing for me.
Transmedia Zone also gave me resources about pitching and offers a huge library of business development resources, and in the future I have their mentorship program to look forward to as well. I have been working with an intern at the Zone and engaging her with directions on branding and social media as I learn the material myself.
Bring that all together, I’ve been teaching myself more about social media use for branding, as well as taking advantage of my contacts in legal and accounting to ask questions to augment my learning. In turn, I have been getting more involved with consultation as an entrepreneurial artist, as well as engaging with community groups and legal thinkers to discuss about education and society. The community involvement helps ground my work as well, in a “bigger-picture” sense, and also helps me think outside of the box as a creative.
For the month of February and March, the bizdev side has been my focus, and it does take a lot of energy out of me. Grants and finding sources of funding have also remained at the forefront the last several months. From April onwards, I will be refocusing on strategizing set hours around writing, while I work on a bit of design during other parts of the day. We aim to have a new build out later this year to share with you all!
I had a great time presenting at U of T Biomedical Communications Alumni Association’s 10th annual Unconference on 2016-Nov-19! I presented a talk entitled “Designing for Narratives in VR and Visual Novels“. I talked about my modus operandi, and my method of designing from narrative-first then follow through with game mechanics, rather than the other way around. Along the way, I offered tips on how to hone in on a meaningful story, how to interview subjects to create great characters, and more.
We’re so happy to have Tanya Kan (@VividFoundry) presenting a keynote on Designing for Narratives in VR and Visual Novels #uncon10 pic.twitter.com/jZFAc7s3n4
— BMCAA (@theBMCAA) November 19, 2016
Doing a long-term indie project? It should have a thesis statement/moral core and be something you believe in.
— @VividFoundry #uncon10
— BMCAA (@theBMCAA) November 19, 2016
Writing characters? Find someone in real life that represents them and talk to them. Builds realism, diversity and empathy. – @VividFoundry
— BMCAA (@theBMCAA) November 19, 2016
Final thoughts from @VividFoundry about narrative-first design. #uncon10pic.twitter.com/BOKvzhiEFM
— BMCAA (@theBMCAA) November 19, 2016
Thank you for inviting me, BMCAA!
I’ve had the honor to be interviewed by Conrad at Kill Screen. Our interview focused on how my political philosophy brought about an unusual aesthetic and game mechanics in Solace State, as well as many of my narrative designs and inspirations. It was such a fun conversation, and I’m so happy that a publication that I’ve been following for years has interviewed me!
Read about it here!
I caught up with Kan as she was returning from a talk about Solace State and the politics of affect at the Different Games Conference in Brooklyn. “The idea is that you affect others and others affect you consistently and continuously,” she said about Solace State. “There’s not one root cause of events, as is in contrast with, for example, Marxism and its modes of production. It’s much more indeterminable. What this means is that politics [are] very open and political change is bound to happen.”
Both of these interviews were a lot of fun and the journalists asked some really interesting questions! They also created interviews that had completely different angles, which was really interesting.A lot of new things have happened since my last update! I have been so busy lining up new builds, collaborating with new specialists, and also organizing around travel and work-vacations.
Pushed a new build in first week of April that has a new, tighter script, with completely revamped 2D art and new camera functionality. The demo build is about 20-30 minutes long gameplay, depending on how fast you read.
I am seeking some help in programming from Andrew Traviss (Fate Tectonics). He’s designed an isometric camera track system that replaces my previous one so that I can tween on a path. Hacking camera sequences are no longer on a linear path, which opens up so many new ways I can design the 3D world.
I am the sole 3D artist in the foreseeable future because of the uniqueness of the hack isometric camera sequences and how I can structure the level build around that, and also putting in the ergodic text associated with my narrative. This build had more texture optimizations and some extensions on primarily the Airport scene (first scene in the game).
A 2D fine artist, Ian Hsu, is very happy to provide conte illustrations for character art. This includes both gestural, full-body drawings as well as character expression portraits. It finally matched the look that I had in my mind, to create a more “mockumentary” or editorial look.
I also illustrated clickable objects in the same style and medium. They are then edited from photograph by me and put into the 3D game world as sprites and buttons.
Showcases and Talks
I talked about the influence of political theory on my game design for Solace State at two conferences: Intersections Cross-Sections Graduate Conference & Art Exhibition (henceforth ISCS, run by Ryerson and York University), and Different Games Conference in Brooklyn. The reception was very positive, and had some good playtesting feedback as well. People are excited to know more about the story and are curious about what they would find by the time they do find Rebecka, and what happened between the main characters.
.@VividFoundry started Solace State not wih game mechanics but social politics 😍 #DifferentGames2016 pic.twitter.com/9M1QE8QVXw
— Kara☽ Stone (@karaastone) April 9, 2016
At #DifferentGames2016, @VividFoundry talking about her game Solace State & politics of affective play. pic.twitter.com/W31AlhBuao
— Ansh (@lightnarcissus) April 9, 2016
Interesting alternatives to standard 1st and 3rd person perspectives from @VividFoundry #DifferentGames2016 pic.twitter.com/YyhvBMIOyI
— CS Wallace (@Hengde) April 9, 2016
Thank u @VividFoundry @gabriela_aveiro @byrne_meagan for captivating talks on your processes at the 2Ludic panel pic.twitter.com/SewNaodbJm
— Priya Rehal (@Preezilla) March 12, 2016
The incredible @VividFoundry talks game-making and storytelling as subversion. #ISCS2016 #NotGDC pic.twitter.com/LsUOQSGo54
— Eileen Mary (@elmahka) March 12, 2016
“Solace State is about the ethics of design complexity rather than good or bad” – guest speaker @VividFoundry pic.twitter.com/jE1jG0DSVe
— LUDIC Arcade (@LUDIC_arcade) March 12, 2016
At ISCS in March, I had to showcase an older build that is very similar to the one shown at Canadian Video Games Awards / Bit Bazaar. At Different Games Conference, we were showing the improved art and camera mechanics for the first time.
Future talks and showcases
I will be attending IndieCade East with my talk and a show-and-tell slot for my game. For more information on my upcoming talk, please click here.
I am very lucky this spring to have received coverage from two different publications:
Femhype asked me about my process and methodologies as a game dev [see part 1 and part 2].
Kill Screen conversed with me about Solace State’s theoretical influences, narrative, and why I designed the gameplay as I did [see here].
Both of these interviews were a lot of fun and the journalists asked some really interesting questions! They also created interviews that had completely different angles, which was really interesting.
I have had the honor to speak with Miss N at Femhype about my unusual game development process and especially about what drove the development for my 3D Visual Novel, Solace State. Read the two-part interview here: [part 1] [part 2]
Miss N: A lot of your work revolves around narrative-driven games.
What drew you to making those kinds of games?
Tanya: I’ve always just made sense of the world through stories for as long as I can remember, as soon as I had the language to form sentences. Undergrad especially sharpened my desire to shape narratives through the study of media forms and power in governance. I’ve always wanted interactive ways to talk about society—even if they happen to be imaginary ones. And governance itself can be seen as having a structure that has constant rules and standards of play.
And much more! I really enjoyed this interview because Miss N knows just how to ask such interesting and diverse questions! Thank you, team at Femhype!
Also received some love and coverage from Hand Eye Society’s Toronto recap in their March and February newsletters. Thank you to @gollydrat for the wonderful writing!
This post has been a long time in coming! My game dev and related work have been thriving. It’s been quite an adventure in December and January: I had a great time showcasing the first build at the Canadian Video Game Awards with Bit Bazaar, and I continued working on some build ideas for Solace State. I took some time off during the winter holidays to relax with family and friends, managed to catch a cold, started writing some short stories, and began a new teaching job at university in intro to 3D game arts. I also started networking a bit more to see if there are any local collaborators who can help me with character art, localization and programming.
On Dec 5th and 6th, Solace State had its first outing with Bit Bazaar and the Canadian Video Game Awards Fanfest. Surprisingly, the vast majority people played through a 20-30 minute gameplay demo, which was beyond my expectations. I had set up the demo so that people can skip between scenes and levels if they wish, and practically no one took me up on that offer (unless they were manning a booth and had to run back to their responsibilities).
There were many experienced devs who shared their insight and feedback to me, and is it ever so valuable! Many people enjoyed the main game mechanic, namely the “hacking-scrolling text environment”. Most people seem to enjoy that part of the gameplay more than the straight-forward visual novel mode, and have asked if that part can be longer. They also “get” it right away as long as they know which keys to press (arrows or WASD), which means that it’s only been my communication about it on devlogs and social media without gameplay input that has been the real problem.
Second, the constructive critique of primarily other gamedev community members have helped me re-scope. A lot of the times, what I see as less-than-ideal in the game are also highlighted by fellow devs. It seems that I’m not far off the mark with my own self-assessment.
As much as I’ve been writing in some academic or professional capacity for about 9 years, writing for a visual novel game is a different beast from all the creative writing that I’ve hitherto completed. I tend to write much more like a novelist than a typical comic book, where a lot of the key identifiers of the protagonist is clear on the first page. Of course, there can be twists and back-stories down the road, but nonetheless, key motivations are already set up in the first ten, fifteen minutes. Solace State doesn’t quite have that. That’s not necessarily game-breaking, as narrative-driven games like Gone Home and arguably Dear Esther has created a much more gradual reveal of their characters’ vivid colours and internal contradictions. But I do need to balance between what I save for later, and what I reveal in the first ten minutes of the game.
On the flip side of the coin, I also have to remind myself to keep conversations and scenes to be more organic, and less utilitarian to the greater arc of the plot. Without a doubt, there should never be “filler material”. But, I also strive to describe those moments and beats that reveal something intrinsic about the characters and how they feel to each other, what they mean to each other. It’s these little moments where relationships can be built, and can fall apart.
What’s interesting, of course, is that games are becoming more of something that doesn’t get consumed in one sitting, whereas plays and films are. The middle ground to all of this is to emulate some inspirations from television drama, which takes a more episodic approach to its narrative arc. At least, this is the way that I have framed it, and it has helped me acknowledge which scenes may have too much detail, and others not enough screen time to develop the right emotional beats.
Again, it’s worlds different from writing an article or novella; My usual playgrounds, where a single line can leave one breathless with its impact.
There’s a few people who have pointed out the incongruity of the semi-cartoony character art with the rest of the universe, including the 3D environment and the tone of the writing. I happen to agree with them.
There are a few approaches that I would like to try out:
- Realistic-styled graphite pencil or ink sketches in black & white , which I am capable of producing myself, but can take half a day for a single expression
- A digital painting in lino-block style in black & white, which I or another artist can produce, and doesn’t take as long as the graphite pencil sketches. This would be in a similar style to what’s already produced in the mood trailer from Feb 2015
- Collaborate with photographers and a lot of modeling talent. This requires a lot of upfront collaboration and is highly reliant on what kind of new faces and talents I can find. I’ve started making some inquiries into this. It may be the most expensive, but may also be the one that creates the nicest effect, giving the game a semi-mockumentary feel. It might also cost me less time (see prototype below)
People seem to love wandering through the 3D environment as a purely artistic experience though, so I’m not going to change anything there. Just going to add more content!
With some feedback, I’ve decided to do a prototype of hack scenes that are more primary, cutting out the traditional dialogue format and UI typical to visual novels. There should be textual puzzles that must be solved within its bounds, as well as clickable objects to reveal more narration and dialogue. This is to ensure that the requisite narrative dialogue is met. Each scene should have an intertitle explaining Chloe’s goals, in her own words, so that the player knows what to expect in terms of narrative goals and broader trajectory.
In practical terms of the intertitles, the textual puzzles, and the clickable objects, it means that I should maintain a key plotline by consistently (re)defining where Chloe might find Rebecka with new sources of information. When we start off, we discover gradually who Rebecka’s last contacts are.
Key stuff on the to-do list: Upgrade from 5.2.4 to 5.3.x; Create Save and Load variables; Create a history log for dialogue; Create a variable mini-encyclopedia for all characters and places as they populate in the narrative; Improve on the pause screen.
More scene assets have been added onto my Unity build since the last post. This is because I’m creating my first showcase demo build for early December! I will have a table at a fan expo with my art prints as well, and it’ll be a great opportunity to gain some valuable feedback from players and members of the dev community. As I want to retain some surprises for people who want to try out the game there, I’ll just report on the following below:
I’ve put in all of the dialogue and narrative in the first 5 scenes, with the proper pacing and click-based interactions. However not all of the 3D and 2D assets are done yet, as I have been working on each of the priorities for each scene. Here’s a screen shot of the second scene! There’s still some foreground UI animations that I’ll need for this scene for the protagonist’s passport. This scene also animates cinematically, as though from the protagonist’s first-person perspective.
Additionally, I want to expand on the second game design that I was experimenting with. It represents when Chloe is hacking and finding out more details of a place. The camera goes into orthographic view in this mode, and you can move around using WASD keys to read snippets of text in the environment, that might disappear or appear depending on where in the environment you are. Later on, I might have some basic point-and-click puzzles. I kind of like this different way of perceiving a 3D space that isn’t first-person, to illustrate that the “hacking” Chloe is doing unnatural, and also gives her an incomplete picture into the world.
It’s also got a somewhat abrasive aesthetic that mimics a glitch image, especially when done to whole buildings.
Finally, I’ve asked a new collaborator to come on board to create some additional character art for me! My original illustration style was softer and didn’t have as many interesting postures and expressions. So we’re exploring a more graphic look for the characters that are also more visible on smaller screens. Additionally, it makes it more manageable for me to focus on 3D assets, writing, and putting the game together. (See: “Rebecka” at left.)
Solace State is in its early production stage. It is an interactive novel where you play as Chloe, a young hacker who must navigate a near-future metropolis to re-unite with her friends, and contend with both the tyranny of the great and the sectarianism of the many. For more information, please see the recent re-introduction post here!
What does it look like? The new screen captures from today show the game mechanics and art style which will stay consistent for most of the rest of the project.
In Solace State, you play from Chloe’s perspective. The core mechanic, as described in a previous post, remains simple and unchanged: You get to chose some of her dialogue and actions through contextual buttons, to try to develop and maintain trust or exploit a character or social group. This plays out in a branching narrative, similar to many story-driven games and interactive fiction.
95% of what will appear on the screen are events through her eyes. This includes the room that you’re in, to the computer hologram pop-ups that greet you. This was a design decision that took a while to articulate, since I do want the protagonist’s face to show up now and then, but I also want to maintain immersion of a singular perspective.
This is a first design for the UI, where one character talks to you. The character will have expressions to match what they are saying, but will generally be static, similar in style with many Visual Novels. The self-cam shows Chloe’s face or nearby proximity as appropriate for the scene, and sometimes no image feed at all. Since this scene is early in the game, I chose to crop in on her eyes and reveal her full appearance over time.
This UI design is still preliminary, and there will be other configurations in other scenes so that the holo-screens do not block a particular focal point in the background. The background is fully 3D in Unity 5, and takes advantage of its physical shaders, and therefore can include atmospheric effects such as shifting light rays, reflective moving surfaces, and much more.
The second major game mechanic that I’ve been testing lately is the ability to find key information and extrapolate emotional narration from our main character without the use of flashbacks. This one is structured around Chloe’s playground – her hackspace – and lets the player scroll through an isometric space to find and read information. Another design consideration is that I have to consider how to write for something that will likely be read out of order – an interesting premise! The player also pieces together the architectural space gradually, which can give more flavour or clues as to what the narrative slices are about.
*Note: The grainy, blurry quality of the GIF above is because it was very compressed for web! Rest assured that the textures look better in Unity realtime, or as a Video file.
I’m quite excited about both of these gameplay trajectories as Solace State starts feeling much more interactive! Thanks for reading!
A lot has changed over the past months for how Solace State looked, told its story, and played out. I had expected development to be a thoroughly transformative process, and it has not disappointed me. I read up on a number of studies that examined political resistance, as well as cyberspace as the new frontier for civil struggles, and it led to a number of broad changes both to narrative and to gameplay itself.
Here’s a new introduction to the project…
“Our future, our design!” In 2038, Abraxa Harbour city-state is hailed by its wealthy as the crowning jewel of thriving markets and cosmopolitan culture, at odds with the increasing number of destitute who live in the shadows of its skyscrapers. But this is the year that even students and workers see their future dwindling away, and they rally to form a society different from what the city’s strongholds have authorized. A young woman, Chloe, is in many ways an outsider, a newcomer who finds Abraxa full of forbidden and cryptic histories. But she must strike deep into the storied urban streets in order to reunite with her friends, who have embedded and braced themselves to defend their livelihoods. Can she reunite them across ideological divisions, or are some of them better off alone with their ambitions? With her machine-aided perception to see into reclusive worlds and associations, how will Chloe negotiate her hopes and fears in the midst of turbulent revolution?
Visual Novel Features
- A unconventional story set in a sci-fi city that focuses on the human stories of negotiation and social trust
- What dialogue and actions you chose matters to the outcome of the game and the characters around you
- Hand-drawn characters and handcrafted 3D backgrounds
- Unique introspective scenes where you must “hack a 3D space” to find the internal monologue
Why a game?:
Solace State is an imaginary vision of participatory citizenship and negotiation between some very differing groups of people. It makes sense that players can engage with the narrative through various menus of choices that are reflexive of their own values. The sci-fi elements of the story allow the protagonist to quickly wrest information from the world and make strategic decisions. But most simply, this is a game with a story about people who often feel like outsiders, who are overlooked, but can come together to create new emergent livelihoods. Because I want to portray both utopic and dystopic elements, I feel like a game form can give me the greatest range of affective outcomes and not just show one tone or atmosphere, given that you can chose a path in the story. Above all, the players can interpret whether the story is utopic or dystopic themselves.
Built in Unity 5, so that I can take advantage of the asset store for visual novel tools, as well as full 3D engine and realtime lighting capabilities.
Pt 2: History of Development:
I started ruminating on the idea of a game about a futuristic student-led society since early 2013, when I had just completed a game arts & VFX internship in Hong Kong. I was traveling in East Asia and was having conversations with friends and artists there about our histories and civil identities. In Nov-Dec 2013, a group of friends and I put together a 5-minute playable level in Unity as a proof-of-concept. Back then, the game was called Babel. It featured point-and-click puzzles and voice-over narration in a 3D environment built for first-person exploration.
Something didn’t quite grasp the agency and atmosphere that I wanted to convey in the first playable demo. The puzzles weren’t very good, and each of us in the team were considering longer-term job opportunities at the time. We put the project on indeterminable hold. In Fall 2014, outside of a couple of short-term freelance engagements, I returned to developing this game.
After some consultation with programming and design friends, I realized that I really needed to hone in the script first for it to be a narrative-driven game, and that my gameplay will be informed by the key characteristics of the narrative. This may seem counter-intuitive for a lot of general how-to-dev guides that demand focus on gameplay first, but for me, interaction cannot be divorced from narrative action in a text-heavy game. Finally, it did not seem like I was fighting with gameplay ideas that could barely move past the prototype stage because the narrative seemed like flavor, not a key feature, and that was not necessarily something I wanted to produce for this particular game.
Thus, through the remaining months of 2014 and early 2015, I drafted a cyberpunk story with an outline for the general arches of narrative action. I had a much better grasp of what I was going for, and Solace State as a name reflects both sci-fi and political overtures. I created a trailer in Feb 2015 to solidify the atmosphere and tone. I knew clearly what I want to highlight for Solace State: Conversations and building relationships and trust between characters. Which brings us to now: As a solo developer, I currently balance my time between design, game engine work, writing, and artwork.
Art style (a continued odyssey):
In Dec 2013, the game was a 3D exploration puzzler, and the models were realistically proportioned but had a very painterly texture to them.
By Feb 2015, I have found a simpler style: Banksy-like graphical style with painterly 2D backgrounds.
Now, I’m finding an in-between: 2D illustrated characters that will have more diverse facial expressions and a hand-drawn look. I am experimenting with 2.5D backgrounds and 3D scenes.
Shown above: A Ren’Py prototype from Aug 2015. The art got a bit too convoluted, and I want a separation between characters and backdrop (kind of like Disney’s different styles between character and background art).
This is a realtime prototype in Unity, created Sept 13, 2015. I want to see how I can push this with 2D flatty character art.
Solace State is the new name for Babel. With this change also comes a new mockup concept trailer, with a new illustration art style that I believe is more distinct and carries consistently through. It’s created right in time for GDC 2015.
After consultation and a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that Solace State is a much more descriptive title for an interactive novel video game. The story remains the bedrock even though my prototype game designs have changed.
Solace State is a coming-of-age story about a young woman’s reunions across a troubled hotbed of ideological dissent. She will come across challenges that bend the very fount of many people’s hopes, dreams, and fears. The city which she knows and does not know may censor secrets, or share too much.
Please watch the trailer in full screen, with sound on. Enjoy!