Tag Archives: unity

Prototyping and Test Areas

Note: The featured content was made in early December of 2020. I don’t have a lot of saved videos or images from before then.

The first image was my starting test area that I worked with for a good long time before moving on. It went through a couple of iterations, none of which I have saved, sadly. What you see here is a further along version. I had originally played around a lot with an isometric camera, which gave the game a much more 2D feel, but finally decided on the standard perspective camera to help give the game a somewhat unusual feel of being 2.5D.
Quick summary since I don’t have much content for this original area: I used this area to test a few scrapped mechanics: mostly UI things like walking up to an area and having text pop up (that always faced the camera) to prompt you to press a button, for example, “Press E to Examine” on the car. I decided on less UI later in the project so this went mostly unused, save for some later in-game icons which use the same method. I also worked a lot with the camera rotations (8-way around the player) and setting up the SpriteMan3D asset to work with Game Creator for player movement.

You may notice Shane is the main player character in the first image. This is a carry-over from the original plan for this “demo”, which was to be a non-canonical testing only demo with slightly different story, as a reference to the original version of this game where Shane was actually the main player character, not Allison. The video in full will be featured in the next post, in which I also showcase boundary testing, character shouts (aka “barks”), a loading screen, and scene switching to this new prototype area. This demo is no longer being used and has been switched over to the canonical story and characters instead.

Eventually, I would need a larger area to start testing the more advanced mechanics like doors, locked area interactions, and basically everything else. So I began prototyping out the second area of the game, which are featured in the last 3 pictures.

Featured in this gallery are some prototype models such as cars and doors featured in free prototyping assets as well as some Synty models; the environments themselves were built by me using ProBuilder. I also started experimenting with some textures in the garage area and outdoors. The flashlight and headlights were created using the Volumetric Light Beams asset.

The screenshots provided were taken throughout December/very early January (Jan 3 was the police car screenshot). I conglomerated a little bit so I don’t have a million posts to look through of similar content.

Game Redesign (2020)

September 27-28, 2020

3AM. As if California hadn’t been hit with enough fires in the past years (the last one being especially close to us was the Tubbs fire back in 2017), a new fire, since named the Glass Fire, breaks out in the hills just over a mile away from our house. It took about a day for this fire to reach us, and yes, it did reach us. I provided images below, taken from driveway, of the evening before (the 27th) and the subsequent night and into the next day.

September-October, 2020

We thankfully did not end up losing our house during all of this. I was evacuated by my parents (taking all of our pets with me and fleeing to a friends house at 4 in the morning) while they stayed behind to do their best to make sure our house didn’t burn down. For some quick context on that matter, my father is a retired firefighter/paramedic, and we own our own firetrucks. My mother is also trained in the use of a good deal of fire equipment, and we had friends come up to help us fight this fire as it was heading our way.
All in all, this actually worked. While the surrounding areas burned, our house was actually saved thanks to my parents staying to fight. I could talk a lot more about this subject, but as this is a game development journal I will refrain from doing so. The comments on this post are open if you’d like any more information on this matter!

After I got back home, needless to say, everything was a mess. Our power was out for 3 weeks, there was ash and bits of charred leaves everywhere, some areas were even still smoldering. With the power out as well as dealing with the cleanup, life was very weird for a good amount of time. We have generators but of course they cannot run all the time, and so electronic usage was at a minimum; we had some lights hooked up and phone chargers, though really that didn’t do much good as the cell towers were also burned up, so in reality we didn’t even get much phone service unless we managed to make it into the next town over where things were slightly better.
Things were very depressing around the house, if that wasn’t obvious. I spent probably a week simple wandering, cleaning, and sleeping. I had no drive to do anything. Not that I could spend that much time on the computer anyway. I could barely even text anyone. It felt like we were stuck in some weird limbo with nothing to do and no way to do it.
Then one day, as I partially starting to restore and clean my room (I had removed a lot during the evacuation), I found my notebook for the game in all my stuff. I had barely touched it for about a year or so; the last time I had worked on it was after I decided on the redesign, and that was just working in Unity for a short while. Also, if I remember correctly, because I had failed to work on this in a while, my notebook was actually more up to date than my Scrivener file was, so I didn’t need my computer to help do anything.

For some reason, this was really inspiring to me, and to this day I have no idea why. I had literally no drive to work on anything until I saw this journal again, and suddenly a ton of new ideas flooded into my head and I just went for it. For the third time now, I redesigned SO much of the game, even started debating on a turn-based combat system which got me thinking a lot more about how I wanted to construct the game and how to ensure it stayed frightening on some level. While I’ve scrapped the idea of being turn-based, the ideas I was getting from one of my favorite turn-based games (Wasteland 2) inspired a lot more of the exploration mechanics now decided upon in the current version of the game. I also rebranded it “Lost Hours” after revisiting a bunch of the story and coming to the conclusion that this title would fit better with an altered story I now had in mind.

I guess on some level you could say the fire was symbolic for the rebirth of this game into what it is now. Since I’m so into symbolism for my game, it’s certainly fitting!
At any rate, you can see now how and why the game was drastically different when I started out so long ago, and I’m very excited (as annoying as this all was to type) to be able to share this projects journey and have it actually feel like it could be going somewhere, despite only being a hobby for me now.

The following few entries will still be playing a little catch up and are somewhat incomplete; again, I didn’t think much about making a record for all this and so I didn’t save too much (yes of course I regret it now that I’m making this log). From October onward, I worked a lot with GC and Unity to start re-designing and re-developing this game pretty much from the ground up again to fit into these new and more tangible ideas I now had, and even within just a few months I got very far in the process (mostly thanks to Game Creator and the GC community!) At a certain point they be “live” again, if you will, as I finally manage to catch up to where I am now.

I promise subsequent entries I will NOT talk this much, only relay what I have done for what I am showcasing and how I achieved it. Much more interesting than listening to me ramble about my life, I know. I hope you will enjoy following this project as much as I enjoy working on it!

The image below was finalized on November 2, 2020!

The redesigned logo (stock photograph used for the background)

Early Dev Summary (2010-2019)

As a quick fore-note, I’d like to mention that these dates are very much estimated. I never really thought the project would have as much interest as it’s seemingly gained, and thus never bothered to keep much of a record for its development until recently.
I have bolded the main points of this point for those of you that would like some basic information without reading this whole wall of text.

2010-2012

When I was younger, I decided that what I wanted to do with my life was make video games. They had done so much for me, and I wanted to make my own worlds and characters just like the ones I had loved so much.
Lost Hours started initially as an idea for a somewhat basic horror game called “Hell’s Hotel”. One area to explore, with gameplay and visuals akin to Silent Hill 2. It was an idea of mine I created for the sake of learning, as pretty much every game dev tutorial or class will tell you: make a basic game first for the sake of learning, getting something done, and then move on to sequentially better and more advanced works.
While I started out following this suggestion, over time I sort of went off the rails with it. I was young; I kept coming up with really cool story ideas I wanted to implement, and the couple of characters I had planned for the game kept getting more and more interesting. So a few years after I had started planning this game, I made the (naive) decision to instead attempt to create a full-fledged game.

I had this newer version layed out in my head as something visually akin to Alan Wake, but still with a lot of story and horror elements from Silent Hill or Resident Evil. I did have SOME level of understanding that I wasn’t going to be able to produce something so detailed though, especially with my art style. Instead, I had planned for the 3D character models to be somewhat cartoon-ish, with drawn on details similar to Borderlands but even more so (animated cartoon faces, similar to some JRPGs or Resident Evil: Code Veronica X). This, at the time, seemed like a decent middle-ground for me to attempt to achieve. At the very least, I’m slightly proud of myself for seeing that I wasn’t immediately going to be able to produce a AAA title like Alan Wake, at least visually, though I wish I had realized what I had planned was still FAR too complicated for my age, knowledge and abilities. I may have been an artist pretty much my whole life, but this just wasn’t gonna happen, at least not by myself (and at this time, around high school and just out of it, I had no one else to help me develop the actual game, only story editors. Spoiler alert: I never really get much help beyond story contributors and the occasional game dev peeps on Discord :P).
This “second version” of the game I titled “Dark Hours” and it had a fairly different plot and versions of characters than what they are now.

2012-2014

This design I worked with for probably a couple of years; basically the end of high school and on into college. It was all fine at this point (in my head): I was learning Unreal Engine at the time, having fun doing concept art and story writing, all the peripheral stuff and even some good artwork using Sculptris (sort of a free version of Z-Brush) which I have included here (a concept model for the first creature in the game, the zombie cats).
When it was time for me to choose a major in college, game development (or really anything related to it) was not an option (that is, my chosen college did not offer anything like that). The closest thing I could get was 3D animation, so that was what I went with. I had always been interested in animation anyway (2D more than 3D but the basic principles are the same) so it was fine.
Unfortunately after a few classes, I realized 3D animation really wasn’t my thing. Not that I wasn’t good at it or hated it, but I had much more fun in the past doing 2D, and while I enjoyed a lot of the 3D modeling process, more complex animations weren’t really things I enjoyed doing very much. On top of that epiphany was also another: that I was spending a lot of time doing other things, not just game dev.

2014-2017

While I had originally wanted to do game design/development as a career, as I was getting out of high school and going through college, I was realizing more and more that while I wanted to make games, I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it. And that’s not how the game development industry works. Not to mention the market is completely flooded with those looking to get in, and it can be excessively hard to get any sort of position you’d actually be happy with, especially for someone like me who wants to do a number of different things for development, not just be stuck with one little job and work forever to get anywhere different.

Basically it wasn’t really my best option to pursue this as a career anymore, and I had more promising things in store at this point. I actually started focusing more on a career in practical effects rather than game dev, moving game dev to something more as a hobby since I didn’t want to give up on my project completely; I put so much time into it already and I still had the interest in development. However, this meant a lot less time dedicated to this project.

2017-2019

I actually ended up not working on this project for a good long time, or at least not very much at a time, probably a year or two, after I decided on this. I got REALLY close to actually throwing the thing away, not because I wanted to but because I felt like I’d never have the time to actually finish it. Unreal was pretty complicated, and I had no actual programming experience, only slight experience with UE’s Blueprints (visual scripting) stuff. And even with the “downgrades” I had made with the graphics, it was still a very complicated and daunting process. Unreal was very focused on graphics, and that alone was intimidating, especially since I had discovered that 3D animation wasn’t my favorite thing anyway.

I have never been one to think that graphics alone made a game good, as many of the horror games I grew up with (especially the original Silent Hill) didn’t have nice graphics at all. Even more interesting, they actually came up with some of their scariest elements due to the lack of graphics processing capabilities on the PlayStation system (the fog was there to mask the lack of draw-distance; it was originally in the design of the game!). I began thinking about this as a possible solution; what could I change with my own graphics to reduce my workload but still make it visually interesting and impactful?

Eventually that answer came to me. Since I wasn’t a fan of doing 3D work, what if I made it 2D? I could essentially reduce my workload on the graphics and do something I had always wanted to do: hand-drawn 2D animations. Yes this was still a lot of work, but it was work I was fully interested in pursuing, unlike most 3D work. As well there are often less discrepancies to deal with working with sprites that you deal with when working with 3D models; things like rigging, etc. This seemed like a great alteration for the game, and I ended up switching to Unity which is much more 2D friendly than Unreal. Within the Unity Asset Store, I even found an amazing little tool called SpriteMan3D, which enabled a 2D sprite to behave like a 3D model; moving around in a fully 3D world and even reacting properly to camera angle changes like rotation around a character. It was amazing (and the basic version was free!) and it gave me a ton of ideas on how to develop this new design around a cast of 2D characters and creatures existing in a 3D world, which is an under-utilized concept and not done all too often, especially for horror games. Despite my worry about the games possible reception (or lack-there-of) and my possible inability to even make it the way I wanted, I was excited about this, and worked with Unity and SpriteMan some to get a feel for what I could work with.

Then, some time in 2018 I discovered an asset for the Unity development engine called Game Creator, made by Catsoft Studios. It was pretty much brand new when I discovered it, it had very few modules available at the time, but regardless, it was advertised and appeared to be perfect for someone like me. In its most basic description, Game Creator was created to allow artists like me the ability to make games in Unity with little to no coding knowledge whatsoever. Rather it was a system based on logic and logic trees. I ended up discussing the ideas for my project with the creator Marti Nogue via Twitter and I was sure it would be able to help me construct the world and characters I had wanted to create for so many years. I knew that if I really wanted to make this project a reality, this was the best way to do it. Still, I was concerned about the cost of it all, as it was not a cheap proposition to purchase the needed assets to build something I wasn’t entirely sure about, especially knowing how much less time I had to work on it, and not even knowing if the game itself would be successful in any way, shape or form. I had shared the ideas with very few people, so I had very little input to go on. But I’m not the kind of artist who easily throws away ideas or characters, so I did end up taking steps later on and risking quite a bit of money to get this project up and running; more information on that will come in a later post.

As a wonderful gift, at the end of 2019 my mom decided to purchase Game Creator for me during a sale, as I was so concerned about the possibility the project would go nowhere and was hesitant to spend much. She had enough faith in it that she was willing to buy the base of what I needed to at least start developing the systems and see where it would go. I also bought myself the first two modules (dialogue and quests) to along with purchase, as they weren’t horrifically expensive to add on. I also knew that at least a little money had to spent on any project in order to start it up; that was a natural risk that would need to be taken with everything.

Still, despite my excitement for Unity and the GC suite, I left the project more or less dropped for a good while, due to my worry revolving around the project (anyone that knows me know how much I second guess myself and my work and worry myself into oblivion). I hadn’t done any real work for it for probably over a year at this point, until 2020 came along.

Sadly 2020 was a very tumultuous year, and for us it wasn’t just because of COVID-19. After not actually touching my game project for a year or two, I was about to delve right back into it, unknowingly, after being left with little else to work on.