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.

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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!

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #9

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
​Great news everyone! The game has been successfully released and started selling. We would like to thank all our backers – your support is greatly appreciated.
​Steam has also given us some support and featured our game on the main page with a huge banner for a while, which was also a great help.
​A few quick words on the pricing – this decision was made by our publisher. Currently we are selling the entire season. We trust the publisher’s opinion. And what’s important for us – the publisher guarantees that the season will be completed and all episodes will be released as planned. The stability is highly important in this regard.
​By the way, the next episode is scheduled for 1st of March! We’ll be waiting together.
​The episode is already in active development. The first testing will begin in January and the episode will be launched according to schedule. And the third episode is coming next summer.
​Also many thanks for your nice feedback. It’s just… WOW, thank you so much! Your feedback is what keeps us going. We are reading everything carefully and planning improvements in the next episodes based on your feedback. If you have an advice or a suggestion – please be sure to let us know. We are reviewing all feedback and we’re very interested in hearing your opinion.
​Now that the game has been launched we are planning to post developer diaries biweekly. Next time we will be talking about the in game art. And once again many thanks to all of you! Until next time 🙂

P.S. Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #8 – available at Steam Community Hub

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #7

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
One of the most important questions we have to discuss is: why episodes? Well, there are perfectly good reasons for that!
Probably the main reason is the time of development. We all know the situation when the development of an indie (or a mainstream!) project goes on and on for a few years. The devs keep making promises to their fanbase and the project release is constantly delayed and keeps on slipping for an indefinite period…
Well then, it’s different with us!
We have a perfect overview of the time of development for our project. Our slowest ship (game art) requires 4-5 months to prepare the required amount of art for an episode. In that case we better show the completed product now, rather than dragging the development for another few years. And if the game proves exciting for the audience, we will find a way to speed the development process.
The second reason would be finances… Game development costs money, that’s a fact. The artist must get his salary. We started using our own money, and now we have the support of our publisher. But until we are not sure about how well the game will be received by the audience, continuing the development for several years is very risky. If the gamers like our project and the game sells well, we will feel much more confident and will be able to work on the game faster.
As for the episode content, I am guided by the classical quests with chapter structure – for example, Monkey Island. The game is divided into several chapters, where each part is an independent logical fragment with its own goals. After completing the first chapter players face a new situation with new locations and objectives. And towards the game finale players open the entire gaming world and travel across all locations.
This is how all episodes of Odysseus are structured. Each episode is a separate chapter of the tale, and all of them are united by the storyline. Each episode includes about 4-6 hours of game play (and the price of each episode is fairly democratic). So having considered all pros and contras we’ve chosen this format.

Odysseus Kosmos – Developer Diaries #6

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Hey there, friends! Welcome back on board of “San Francisco”, a huge spacecraft travelling far, far way from planet Earth.
And now let’s return to our tale of the game’s development.
As we’ve mentioned before, adding new interactions is fairly simple. But these also require hand drawn art content. Our lead artist Roman (also the second person in our dynamic duo of a team 🙂 ) and the game art deserve a separate story, but for now let’s just say that graphics creation is far more complicated than game assembly.
Therefore each episode is first created using placeholder graphics (which sometimes looks quite funny). Later on we gradually replace placeholders with final content.

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The entire process of an episode creation includes the following stages: first we think the current story part through once again. I’m writing down locations required for this chapter, mini games, items and animations that we have to prepare now and which of these should be created first. At that time Roman is already drawing the first location (this is a very time-consuming task that takes a few months to complete).
Next I’m thinking the episode puzzle scheme through. What will the episode flow look like? What puzzles will be solved, which items collected? The answers to these questions turn into a huge document with dozens of pages. We may call it the “technical scenario” of the episode.
Next I’m assembling the logical part of the game using placeholder graphics (which I’m drawing myself, as I wouldn’t want to distract Roman) and writing the interaction script based on the technical scenario.
In result I have the alpha version of the episode that can be played through to the end but without mini games, dialog texts or sound and with placeholder visuals. But at that point we can give the build to QA specialists to get an idea of how much time will the episode walkthrough take and check the global logics for errors. We can even rework some of the puzzles, get rid of the unwanted ones or come up with new ones (which I’m actively working on by the way).
Here is an example – a placeholder mini game that was taken from the game finale. The player goal was to look for repeatedly appearing asteroids.

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As final art is completed I’m adding it to the game, replacing the placeholders, writing dialogs and in-game texts at the same time and scripting mini games in between. We’re ordering sound effects and additional art from outsource sound engineer and artists. This is how gradually the alpha version turns into a nice looking finished episode that will shortly become available to our fans!

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