Author: Pavel Kostin

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #16

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.

Today we’re going to talk about the game story. Unlike other gaming genres (except for RPG, perhaps), where the plot is less important – there is no decent adventure game without a story. It’s not the item hunting or puzzle solving that keeps us going – we all want to know what will happens next!

The plot of Odysseus is no exception. We are carefully building the narrative from episode to episode, developing the storyline, and we really hope that it will turn out interesting. The entire story has been already written and the script is complete, so now we only have to recreate it in the game carefully for an exciting gaming experience.

Here is what I can share about the overall project composition: the first episodes, basically, helped the player to get acquainted with the characters and the circumstances, which our heroes are faced with. The third episode is the central piece for a reason; the same goes for its story. The first and second episodes were slow paced, but events will unravel faster starting with the third episode. I should tell you up front that the number of questions, riddles and secrets to be answered by the player will keep on growing. But in the game finale all the secrets will be revealed!

Naturally an attentive player will be able to guess some of the answers long before the finale. However the narrative includes several main storylines, each evolving from chapter to chapter, and all of them will develop and come to a logical conclusion in the final episode.

And now, perhaps it is time to make an official statement. In the third episode, robot Barton will become the main character! The third episode is already in active development – let’s wait together!

P.S. We’re currently working on Linux version too!

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Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #15

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Hey there, friends! Once again I’m glad to welcome you on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far away from planet Earth.

Today let’s focus on the game play complexity and rough play through time for an episode. The first thing we found out is that this time can be very different for different players. We try very hard to balance the game by alternating simple and more complex moments, but still the gaming experience is different for everyone and it the balance is not perfect.
I personally think it’s a good thing! If you are an experienced, attentive and “old school” fan of adventure genre, you will definitely solve everything faster. The result depends directly on your mind and playing style, and not on the previously scripted “hallway”.
We got some responds from players who solved the episode in two hours (oh, wow!) and feel that the game is too simple. At the same time, we get feedback from players (a lot more people) who get stuck at some point in the game and ask for a hint. I see that the total playing time for them is close to 10 hours. That’s also cool! So the average estimated time for an episode walkthrough is about three to four hours.
I myself have a soft spot for more complex, hardcore adventure games. I like to “get stuck” between three screens, when it feels like “Bah! There’s nothing else I can do!” But then you suddenly discover the solution and it feels great. But nowadays methods like pixel hunting for hidden objects or dumb going through all the options are considered poor design and even unacceptable. Nevertheless, I think it is wrong when the game consists of straightforward or too logical solutions. The entire game play turns into the search and application of obvious objects, whereas the whole point is to think outside the box and find non-standard and fun solutions.
Anyway, each decision should be explainable, and the player should not be engaged in pixel-hunting. That’s a thin line, and I still try to leave a couple of places in each episode where the player could potentially “get stuck”. Considering that an experienced adventure gamer can easily figure things out, and less experienced player will use a hint, I think this is OK.
In the third and later episodes we will have a more dynamic plot development. The events will start to pick up the pace, but we will still try to keep the “three hours per episode” minimum, thus summarizing the total play time of the game to 15 hours of pure gameplay.
By the way, we have successfully released the second episode – and we can already boast 6-7 hours of gameplay, although the main things are still yet to come!

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #14

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
Today I am going to talk about the mini games and additional puzzles in our game. I feel a very special way about mini games. I don’t really like games that are just collections of mini games. Especially when most of these games are just variations of popular game play mechanics. In my opinion this moves them to the category of mediocre games for casual audience. Naturally, there are also good exceptions, but still our game is anything but a collection of mini games.
On the other hand, there is a long-standing tradition of putting small mini games into adventure games as intermediate locations, which I personally find very gracious. Spoiler: we also use this method!
What I find a good option for a quest mini game.
Firstly, it should not be over complicated. The player walks around and solves all kinds of puzzles by combining items throughout the entire game. So we shouldn’t force him to sit around on one screen for half an hour painfully solving a single mini game. Especially since the player will most likely find a solution in Internet eventually. Mini game inside a adventure game should be a kind of rest, a possibility to get away from the usual game play and think “outside the box” for a while.
And secondly, (very important!) the mini game should not come down to mere combinatorics. This happens so often to puzzles. After all, the easiest (and the worst!) way to design a puzzle is to take a popular mechanic – some kind of Sokoban or some shifting gears – pump up the difficulty, and there you go: another boring mini game is ready. Enjoy the next few hours of going through all the options in search of the solution.
I myself enjoy puzzles where you have to guess the solution once, whereas the puzzle itself does not appear very difficult (or it can look that way, but won’t seem complex once you have guessed the solution). So basically it takes a single clever guess about the puzzle principles to solve it
So far we have met these simple rules. In the pilot and the first episodes we have two or three mini games that make the player look at the task at hand from a new perspective or let them rest a while. We are planning to maintain this ratio in the following episodes.
And speaking of next chapters: you just have to update the game and the Ep.2 button will appear in the menu!

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #13

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
Today I am going to talk about the testing of our game, and what we consider “good quality” for the project.
I already explained how the game works from the inside. Here is a quick reminder–the quest logic and action sequences are not implemented directly in the code. Instead, we’ve implements our own engine, which reads a simplified text file with a set of actions. That way I can be sure that dozens and hundreds of logical interactions will not overload the game and it will remain stable even after hundreds of locations.
Nevertheless, we all understand that bugs will be bugs and there is no way you can release a game without testing. So the project has passed the most thorough tests. Of course, the most credit goes to our publisher, HeroCraft, or rather to their QA department. I am an avid quest fan myself with a lot of experience. So I perfectly understand how frustrating are bugs in this particular genre. When you have tried all the options and already reached out to solution and , finally understand that there is a bug in the game that makes it unsolvable, and it is now impossible finish it – what could be worse?! Maybe you are lucky to find an old saved game, but what if there is no saves? What if you saved in a desperate situation? The Horror! A dozen crashes would be better than that!
So, I assure you, we take the game testing extremely serious. When the project was submitted to the tests, QA specialists were given a strict order to search for logical errors with the utmost attention. I even compiled a special list of priorities:
1) Bugs of the highest category: by performing certain actions, including strange ones (by clicking everything, saving and loading, quickly pressing anywhere on the screen), you can “break” the game at any time in any location, which makes its walkthrough impossible;
2) Bugs of the first category: by doing any actions to find the opportunity to break the game at some critical moment and make the walkthrough impossible. Or using all the usual actions find an opportunity to freeze the game or crash it;
3) Bugs of the second category: everything else.
The guys tried their best to flicker, click and press everything in the game! And if something was found, we immediately corrected it. So I can say that the HeroCraft QA engineers did their best. Up until this point not once have we heard about any critical bugs that would not let you finish. Let’s hope that will be the case in the future.
That is all for today, folks. Next time let’s try to talk about mini-games.
Thank you all and have fun, everyone!

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #12

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
Today we are going to discuss sound effects and music in the project. I think, we have been very lucky with the sound design, and main thanks goes to our sound designer Ivan Holodov and the authors of the game’s main theme – Lyuba “Princess” Terletskaya and Mikhail Mishenko.
But why did it go so well?
Let’s find out!
Long before we’ve outsourced the soundtrack, even long before I’ve started developing the game, I already knew how it should start. It would go something like this:
A huge spacecraft is flying slowly somewhere through silent darkness of empty and lonely space and a pure woman’s voice starts singing off-screen.
Yes, I knew how it should go, I knew what kind of voice I needed, but I had no idea where can I find this kind of soundtrack and what the song should be about…
As it’s often the case, chance came to my aid. I discovered Lyuba Terletskaya on YouTube (she is a blogger) and not knowing yet that she is a singer, while reading about her I already found the album and the song “Hold My Hand” that became the opening theme for the first episode. I knew right there – that’s what we need. Lyuba was glad to contribute to the project and sold us non-exclusive rights to the song.

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As for our main sound engineer and composer Ivan Holodov – our publisher (HeroCraft studios) has helped us find him and his studio Creatorium Sound Design. It was truly one of the best discoveries for the project! All the music tracks you hear in the game and all wonderful sounds have been created by Ivan. He was incredibly responsible about his work and delivered superb content. While I was writing a technical task for the sounds I’d like to hear in the game, I’ve created a spreadsheet. When Ivan played through the game, he increased the number of sound three times! And I’ve never regretted it. We were extremely lucky to get such a high quality soundtrack for an indie project. So thanks again, HeroCraft!
I should mention that our simplified game engine has also helped here – credit goes to Ivan, he understood very quickly how things work and placed all the in-game sound in the text file with game logics all by himself, even though he has no programming experience. And the result turned out amazing! I sure hope that Ivan will continue working with us in the future.
All right, thank you for your attention, everyone. There is not much time left until the second episode release. Next time we will discuss the technical stability of the project.

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #11

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
Today we are going to focus on art. I keep hearing all the time that the graphics is not that important for a game and game play is all that counts. But we all know that people judge by the looks.
We have chosen a style for our visuals a long time ago, long before the first location has been drawn. Everybody calls it “pixel art” to be short, although it’s not that simple. If you want to see pixel art, the first thing that come to mind would be 8 or 16-bit retro. It is a pretty cool style, though not entirely what we’ve been looking for. Firstly, usage of a hardcore pixel art creates serious limitations for character art. Just look at the folks faces in Gemini Rue or Gods Will be Watching 🙂 Secondly, we love space and wanted to picture its beauty, and such a minimalistic visual style would not work here.
So finally we’ve settled for graphic modes of mid-nineties: SVGA adjusted for 16:9 screens, more common these days.

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The first draft I’ve created all by myself. I’ve assembled a pixel art demo using simple images and animations from popular cartoons (this I’ve already mentioned in the blog). And a bit later Roman joined the project and Odysseus flourished for real. Of course all of the credit for the wonderful final art of Odysseus with its colorful rich easy to read and definitely stylish visuals goes to Roman Gezerov, our artist. We’ve received a lot of compliments for game art, so we are not the only ones who share that opinion. 🙂

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There is a downside to this – the process takes a long time. The most time consuming part of our entire production is drawing of locations and animation. First I come up with a description of a location with detailed info on items and key points on the scene. The artist renders a temporary 3D placeholder that is used to set the perspective and the final composition of a location.

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Then we discuss and approve the final draft and afterwards all content is drawn by hand in several stages. Often we create multiple layers on a scene to add a parallax effect. As result a single location (a single picture) takes from a week up to ten days, and the entire project will take a bout a year of work. And we still have to add animation for the main character! Sometimes we hire outsource artists, but all content passes through Roma’s hands anyway. Big thanks to him! Without him Odysseus surely wouldn’t be so wonderful.

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Next time we are going to focus on sound design.

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #10

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(few moments from second ep =) )

Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
Today I’d like to discuss the puzzles and riddles in the game. Because no matter how great the game’s visuals, GUI or story are, most importantly the game should be interesting to play.
What are the means to create interesting game play? (Or, should I say, what means are we using? Well, firstly, you have to be creative and think outside the box! For example, we have our item interactions. Yes, items are basically the foundation of the entire quest game play: “find a pair of scissors to cut a ribbon” or “take a wrench to unscrew a nut”. And this could be fun; this is what we like about the quest genre. But when the entire game is played simply by going through all the options – there is no fun in that.
I’m sure that a decent quest requires at least one (ideally several) puzzles that cannot be solved by going through all options. And I don’t mean that players should guess the solution without going through all options. I mean that you literally won’t be able to solve the puzzle without finding some sort of unusual solution beyond the standard “find an item and use it” pattern. An AI “bot” should not be able to play the entire game, only a human being should be able to do that – than it will be fun for a smart player! The metal detector puzzle in “Grim Fandango” is a great example.
Another point that seems important for me is the structure of the game play. I am an avid believer in the classical quest format, and I’ve already mentioned that I don’t like the “scheduled access” to content. Let’s say, we have a lock on the door and players must find a key to open it and go further. The solution is obvious. There is no mystery here whatsoever. Once the door is opened, you get a new portion of dialogue. All players pass the game at a similar pace.
A good quest in my opinion is when having finished examining the locations you can continue playing in your mind, picturing various solutions that seem correct. Than you have a true fun quest. If this is impossible due to the automatically story progress – this game is not a quest.
Next time we are going to talk about the soundtrack or the game’s visuals. Thanks for your interest!