Friday, November 30, 2012

ASA full OST release : tomorrow !

December the 1st : that's the day you can listen to the full OST of ASA, an album composed by Stélian Derenne. If you liked the Cobalt-5 "light" album, don't forget to check this blog to get all the info about this release !








In the meantime, you can still listen to the Cobalt-5 album below, or directly on Soundcloud via the cover on the right.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

ASA in numbers

I announced it yesterday : the production of ASA is finished. I'm still busy trying to fix some bugs here and there, but I am less stressed ;)

Yesterday, I played ASA from the beginning to the very end for the first time ! I can tell you that, going through the game peacefully, and solving the puzzles by heart, it took me 4+ hours. In my opinion, that's quite a good result.

ASA in numbers :
 
- 10 hours is the estimated life of the video game (5h if you know it already).
- 108 videos for a total of 25 minutes (including all videos : menu, options, in-game, credits, etc...)
- 970 pictures, used in 1 138 frames in AM
- 20 music tracks
- 19,8 GB occupied on my hard drive
- 5+ months of production = 160 days = 320 cups of tea (0 coffee !)
- 1200+ hours of calculation (rendering) for the 3D videos = 120 nights without sleeping for my notepad!
- 6 hours on writing the full walkthrough... grrr...
- 60+ bugs (or things to improve) detected during the beta... and yet to fix ! argl !
- 1 death : my 250 GB (2,5”) hard drive ! RIP

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Production is completed

The (main) production of ASA is finished ! All that is left to do is some minor improvements and bugs fixing. The game is still to be released in december (forget the previously announced "november" : it was before my hdd crashed).

I take this opportunity to remind that the ASA Original Soundtrack by Stélian Derenne will release the 1st of december ! Stay tuned !

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Maintenance room & Cobalt-5


Today I decided to show the "Maintenance room". I don't want to say too much about it : there are good reasons for it to be closed at the beginning of the game and unaccessible before long.

This area has two levels, and the most important part hides something huge. You can't see it in these pictures, because the story of the game turns around it.

 
And because I didn't show many pictures lately, I also share 4 shots of Cobalt-5, the satellite which was the starting point of the adventure of P. Forté
 



Monday, November 26, 2012

Reactions to friday's article

Friday, I posted an article about "rendering times" in 3D, which is also a time constraint during the production process. I think it was not always well explained - it would have been easier for me in french - but I had the good surprise to receive some reactions by e-mail. I decided to answer some questions here :

50 days of calculation for 20 minutes only of videos : are you serious ???
Yes ! And I think that "only" 20 minutes is quite a good result for a single dev ! Of course, these videos aren't stunning, don't wait for some Pixar... lol

When you say that studios use a renderfarm and that it makes things much easier, then why don't you buy one ?
Hmm... This idea crossed my mind (joke). No, honestly, that's impossible. Think of the price !  I'm not a studio, I can't afford buying one.
You could have sent your renderings on a webiste specialized in this !
Yeah, I could, but that's again a matter of cost.

To be clear, and answer the 2 previous questions, ASA is a very personal project. When I say it's an indie game, I do mean it's an INDIE game. I could almost say it's a personal experiment. I have NO budget, I don't use Kickstarter or anything like that, and I don't give money to anyone to help. The few people (and many thanks to them) who participated in making ASA possible with me made it for free, because they trusted in the project. That's what I call a great adventure :) Not in Space, but in "making things together" !

Does it mean that the game could be better if you had money ?

Yes, of course, undoubtedly. 
I made my choices during the creation process : the graphics of ASA are nice (I hope so), but not great : most 3D models I made for the environments are quite low poly, the character animations might be sometimes irritating to the eyes, and the result himself may seem more amateur than professional...
I made these choices, because I knew the amount of work that it would represent to make ASA in its entirety. And instead of starting a greater project that I wouldn't finished, I chose to concentrate on the most important in order to go to the end. 

Now, I don't want anymore questions about money : I didn't make this game for a matter of money ! :)
 
Is there a way to make rendering times shorter ?
Yes and no. Of course, you can make pictures look less detailed (3d models, textures, lighting...). But I think I found the best compromise for such a project. The grahics of ASA have already been too much lowered in quality. And you know, 15 minutes of calculation per picture (which is the maximum I reached) it's a very small time compared to many professional projects. It's not surprising when you reach 1 hour per picture !

That's all for today ! Thanks to those who asked, and thanks for reading my articles !
Don't hesitate to write me if you have questions about ASA. You can find my contact infos on the right of this blog.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pre-calculated graphics

ASA is a "slideshow" adventure game : it means it doesn't use realtime 3D. Using pre-calculated graphics was a choice to make the development easier, depending on both my skills and the fact that I work on my own.

Pre-calculated 3D is a powerful way to make beautiful graphics in a game. Remember the Final Fantasy series on psx (7 to 9) ? The backgrounds were made of static pictures, and I believe that most people found this stunning. That was the same with most slideshow adventure games, including Myst and its sequel.

When you make a game in realtime, you spend a lot of time on adjusting and optimizing the number of polygons displayed, the quality of textures and shaders, the lighting... You really depend on technical restrictions, that is to say the power of the processor, the amount of memory, etc... For example, most "gamers" are familiar with terms like anti-aliasing, which is a technique to make the realtime 3D look smoother, but is also asking a lot of hardware resources.

If you make pre-calculated graphics, you don't really have this problem. You don't need to care about the amount of polygons in your scene, you can use more realistic lightings with better shadows, etc... That makes things much easier for me, of course, because I can concentrate on making the game, not on technical restrictions... but there's a downside ! All these parameters have to be calculated at a given time, and that's a step called "rendering".

Rendering is somehow "going from the 3D software to the final picture". You can see it as a "compilation" of the "settings" of your 3D scenes, and these "settings" are what I talked about earlier : the polygons, the textures, etc.... And when you want to obtain this final picture, the computer has a lot of calculations to do, so you'd better optimize your 3D scenes a little, in the end ;)

The problem of these calculations is that they require a huge amount of time. Of course, that depends on your work. For a single picture, it's quite fast, but for a video, it's something you have to take in account in your production process. A video is composed of a succession of single pictures, you know it. In ASA, you have 25 pictures per second in the videos.

Now, imagine that "rendering" a single picture can take from 1 to 15 minutes for me (15 is a maximum that I try not to reach). In average, it was something like 3 minutes per picture. Maybe you think it's not an enormous amount of time ? Then you should try to report these 3 min of rendering per picture to the total number of pictures in the game :

ASA counts approximately 20 minutes of video. We said there was 25 pictures per second. That makes us 1200 seconds for 25 pictures/s = 30 000 pictures to calculate !
Still not convinced it's a lot ? Remember, the computer needs an average of 3 minutes to calculate one single picture.. and it had 30k ones to render. That means my poor laptop PC of 5-years old worked on calculating the ASA movies during 30 000 x 3 = 90 000 minutes, or 1 500 hours, or 62 days ! (In fact, it's more 50 days, because I used some tricks to make things shorter)

This is enormous : it's almost 2 months, that is to say almost half of the time I spent on developing ASA (5 months). And the worst is that, when the computer is calculating the final renderings, you can't do anything else !  You can't work ! Because all the resources (processor, ram, graphic card) are required by the calculation !
So, this rendering step always happens in the night. And every night since I started the 3D production, my poor pc is heating up :) Not surprising the hard drive died recently, when you know it has been making all sorts of renderings since the beginning of 2008 !

Note that the rendering times can be reduced significantly if you have a very strong computer. Most societies working with pre-calculated 3D (games, cinema, advertising...) are using "render farms", which are like a network of powerful computers dedicated to the rendering step !


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making ASA

Today I wanted to summarize and share my experience on making ASA, even if it’s still in development. As I’m a single developer, it's quite hard to compare with what a team could have done on a similar project.

First thing I made was the short film 2011: A Space Adventure (see tuesday's article), which received good criticisms, and it encouraged me to make the game a few months later.

Having this film done was a very big help because :
- I knew what people liked/disliked
- I can use it as an opening movie for the game
- It gives me a strong background and a beginning for a scenario

Of course, when I made the film, I just didn't imagine that the project would go so far ! 2011ASA (the short film) released in november 2011, where the production of ASA (the game) only started in july 2012 ! And between them two, I had no project of making this game... The idea went suddenly in june, when I thought of the best way to use the original scenario.

Speaking of scenario, this short film was based on a small book I had written in self-publishing. I don’t say it was a qualitative novel, but I had a strong idea, at least.
Then I developped the game scenario from this point, and didn’t start the 3D production before I had finished the writing ! I know it’s hard to resist to the temptation of going into 3D modeling, but the writing step is very important.

When my scenario was complete, before starting the real prod, I thought for a long time of the best software for programming. I have to be honnest, I’m not good in programming, that’s why I chose to make a slideshow game and that’s why I chose Adventure Maker. That’s probably not the soft everyone would choose nowadays, you know ! But the author and the community are very nice people, and they really helped.


From this point I just made some rough sketches of the world of ASA (the main ship, the planet). And when I say rough, I mean rough ! I didn't draw some great artworks : just made plans in top view, and started placing my main puzzles. The aim was to precise the main idea, and start knowing where the puzzles/enigmas would bring the player when he solves them. That’s how I built ASA. I have drawn it into sketches, from the starting point to the end (or almost… ). Easy when you have your scenario ! Of course, this step was not accurate, and the final game changed a lot compared to my sketches, but I don’t imagine how you can create an adventure game without this step.

That's how I finished the most important and could conclude the "pre-production process" by designing the characters and environments once and for all. Personally I started the real 3D process/programming at this point, and I met no real problem then. I just imagined the final puzzles gradually, depending on what I had made in the environments, in order to integrate them well. The biggest thing was to stay motivated until the end !!!

To make long things short, here is how ASA has been produced, chronologically :
- writing main ideas, searching for references
- scenario
- sketches of the world (top view map) including the place of the main puzzles/steps
- choice of softwares/tools
- pre-production 1 (drawings : characters/environments)
- pre-production 2 (3D : chara modeling, setup, etc…)
- production, including puzzles, 3D and programming
- finalisation (sound, music, videos…)
- beta-testing

If things go well, you just have a few short weeks to wait before the official release !

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ASA & Windows 8

When my hard drive died (recently) I had to reinstall my system. Before, I was working on Windows 7 and everything was working great, I was happy. Seven seems to be quite appreciated by everyone, and I think it deserves it.

In order to be sure that ASA will work on the new Windows, I jumped at the chance and bought the Windows 8 update. Honestly, I was skeptical (I was afraid of the Vista syndrome), but my first surprise was very positive : it's really cheap at this time (30€, but the offer is limited in time) ! The installation went well, and I could install my usual programs without any problem. Even better : all my peripherals were immediately detected and the drivers installed without asking me anything !

And now, I can confirm that ASA will work perfectly on Windows 8 ! Good news, uh!

Maybe you want to ask : what about Win8 itself ?
Well... How many times did I read in the press that "Win8 is the new Vista" ? That it's just "an awful joke from Microsoft" ? That "you'd better stay on Seven until Win9 releases"


What I can answer to this for using Win8 on a normal PC (not a tablet) is that it's a good Seven ++.
That's simple : "8" is exactly the same than its predecessor, but it's better (with better ressource usage, more security...), except for the now well-known Start menu which won its new interface, and some functions here and there that will ask you a bit of time to adapt... for the best. 

So when I read that the new start menu is a sacrilege, I have to disagree, and I even say "thanks" to Microsoft. That's simple, I always thought that the old grey start menu was horrible, unuseful, poorly thought, and absolutely needed an update. Now, you have a nice panel with all the icons you want, colors, and you can go back to your desktop anytime ! It's not perfect yet, but I like the progress.

So I don't see the problem... Really.  Windows 8 is nice.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2011ASA & Blink

You probably read somewhere on this blog that ASA (the game) is based on my short film from last year, 2011: A Space Adventure. This film, originally posted on Vimeo, got over 30k visitors from the first day online, and now shows proudly the "Vimeo Staff Pick" logo ! Thanks to the nice words from the visitors, I was encouraged to continue the Space adventure, and that's how the short film became a game later.

A few months ago, I have been contacted by Juuso from the all new site blinkamovie.com. It is a kind of vimeo/youtube clone, but it's specifically made for short films and their authors. There are various funtionalities that you don't find on other sites, like the arena or the theater, which help you to discover new short films everyday. There's much more to come on blinkamovie.com : the site just opened to the public, and they say it's still in development. I can only wish them good luck.

Finally, I wanted to share the [short version of the] mail from Juuso that I received a few weeks ago, when blinkamovie launched officially.
2011: ASA is on blinkamovie, of course ;)



Hello friends!

We are proud to present – www.blinkamovie.com!

The site is finally open and I hope to have you all with us from this day on. We opened today with 100 free films. 
Anyone who gets this mail will be on our hall of fame for the first directors/producers who started with us.

I can’t overstate how proud I am of this selection of films. Within this year I’ve started to watch maybe 10,000 different short films, I’ve sent about 800 requests for the best films and you were the ones who answered and sent their films first. Even as a cynical and overworked Scandinavian I can truly say that you are a most talented group of individuals and I hope the possible success of the site will boost your careers also.  

And also if you and your friends have more films coming up or in the reserves, I’d love to have them.

Hope to bump into you in Blink Arena!
Juuso

PS : There are three different ways of watching films:

- Regular: You can watch films by yourself like in any other place.

- Blink Arena: You can enter a social cinema where films are shown 24/7 in a continuous stream. There you can also chat with people from all over the world and ask them to be your movie friends. In Blink Arena there’s also a Blink button, a kind of a virtual applause, which you can use if you like a particular moment in the film you’re watching.

- My Theater: You can create your own private show where you can choose a selection of short films to show friends you can invite via Facebook or email.
  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Greenlight : still orange...

The release of ASA is getting closer, but the votes on Steam GL are still stuck around 50%...

I'm sure that most of you, dear visitors, already upvoted the game, but I'd like the others to think of it seriously : if you're not sure of what ASA is, visit this blog to watch pictures or videos of the game, listen to the music, and try the demo. You can also "downvote" ASA if you don't like it!

What's important is your vote on Steam ;) Thanks...

Friday, November 16, 2012

ASA on GOG ?

Good news : ASA has chances to be sold on gog.com, and I do really hope so !
"We think that ASA looks interesting and we’d like to learn more about it."

I remember buying Resonance on GOG for a low price, and that was a great surprise to get free bonuses with the game. ASA would have its own bonuses too : wallpapers, music and the original short film, for example.

But for the moment, nothing is certain !

Thursday, November 15, 2012

3 words from the Beta-testers

Today, I decided to share the words of 3 beta testers who currently play the (almost) full version of the game.


<< ASA captures the isolation of Space in a furtive way; it uses an audio particularly eerie. Simon has created an experience, though subtle at some points, and obscure at other points, which reminds me of that first time playing Myst. It's up to the player to seek out the clues and story to move forward. In that sense ASA is a refreshing experience, supported by a very strong visual/aural foundation working in tandem. >> Matthew


<< ASA is a game that keeps you on the edge of your seat, because you dont know what's next ! It is a bit on the hard side but if you liked the Myst series, you love this game! >> Peter
 
<< I'm really glad that I'm part of this great game's beta team, because the game deserves it! As long as Simon proceeds with his work, this will become a great "professional" game, that would almost deserve a publisher! I like the fact that it's a point and click adventure, because it's one of my favorite genres. The in-game movies are awesome, they really are a great addition to the gameplay. I also like the music, it gives a nice ambient to the game.Really good work Simon! Keep it up! >> Deki

And as a bonus, you get a new picture of the game... and I won't tell you more about it for now :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Demo update

Small changes in the demo of ASA. You won't be concerned if you finished it already.

You can download the updated demo 0.82 via the usual link, on the right of this blog -->



Note that the following updates will also be available in the full version of ASA :

 

 - Videos have been reencoded. I abandoned Xvid for a standard mpeg-4 codec which doesn't require codec installation on Vista, Seven and 8 (on XP I'm not sure, I couldn't test. If someone tries, I'd be interested to know !)

Note : the previous version of this demo (0.8), released in october, contained a file called "silent.exe" which was detected as a possible virus by some protection softwares. It was NOT a virus : silent.exe was a program to install the Xvid codecs silently. To avoid this problem, I released the demo version 0.82, which doesn't use Xvid anymore and so, doesn't contain the silent.exe file. 

- The overall compression of the game has been optimized. The original demo was over 250 MB, where the new updated one is less than 150 MB.

- Added a sound effect when you push the buttons on the digipad near the door.

- You can't skip the in-game movies anymore with a left-click, and the mouse cursor is now hidden while they play. You can still use Esc. to skip the videos.

More updates will be available in the full version, like the possibility to switch fullscreen/windowed any time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Game release delayed

I'm back to work, after almost one week of troubles and fight with my computer, after my hard drive died suddenly. I could get back most of my data from backups, including most of my work on ASA. Unfortunately, there were losses too.

Because of that, the release date of ASA will be delayed in december (officially announced for the end of november). Sorry...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The death of a hard drive

Very bad surprise yesterday evening : my PC refused to boot. After some research, I now know that my hard drive is definetely dead... I hope I can find a way to retrieve some datas, I couldn't save everything, including some ASA files (not all).
I will be offline for an undefined period, as short as possible...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wallpaper #7

Today's new (and last) wallpaper is much more dark, so yor desktop icons can be more visible !

Monday, November 5, 2012

Interview on Ceiga

Hi, today I wanted to bring back an interview I gave to Ceiga magazine a several months ago. I thought you might be interested, because it was about my short film 2011: A Space Adventure.
Click here to read the interview!

In order to illustrate this interview, you can watch my Vimeo Album which regroups my short films. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Demo walkthrough

This is the day where everyone can end the demo of ASA :)
I have to say again that this demo is not difficult compared to the rest of the game, but the game itself is very hard, which makes the difficulty level of the demo quite high already. So don't get disapointed if you didn't beat it yourself!

The way to solve the puzzles is logic and is based on observation and thinking, even if, in some specific cases, you'll have to guess a part of the answer (but still in a logic way). While reading this walkthrough, I hope you'll think "Aaah! Of course ! I didn't see that !!!  --- Why didn't I try this earlier ?!!!!".
If not, don't worry : the beta-testers will probably tell me to change the puzzles, and it will be a little different in the final version ! ;)

Here we go :

ASA: A Space Adventure
Pre-Beta Demo Walkthrough



*********************************************
*********************************************
DEMO #1 : BEGINNING (teleport station)
*********************************************
*********************************************

---------------------------------------------
Introduction
---------------------------------------------
Watch the opening videos and when you can, click at the top of the screen to stand up.

---------------------------------------------
Teleport station
---------------------------------------------
Notice the 2 teleport pods in the corridor. One is out of service (sparkles).
Next to it, you can find a memory card on the floor with the 1st part of Forte’s diary. Read it.

You can also find an important paper with explanations on number translations. Write down the Anterran numbers on a piece of paper (in real life) with the corresponding “crossed-squares” numbers.

Go near the bright door. The thief closed it. Have a look at the numeric panel on the right, where you have to enter a code. Click on the up left corner of the poster next to it. It will show the door combination in crossed-squares numbers. Go back to understand these squared numbers : on the left of the wall of the first teleport from the door (outside wall), you can see a small graffiti. It learns you that a crossed-square means 5, 2 crossed-squares mean 10, etc… That’s a way to count : each side of these squares counts for 1, and they're additive.

Translate the door’s code (from the poster) with the Anterran numbers you found earlier and enter the 5 digits code. The door opens.

---------------------------------------------
Central room
---------------------------------------------
From the central room you can reach 6 new areas, but the demo ends here.



*********************************************
*********************************************
DEMO #2 : SUNBATH (planet Forte)
*********************************************
*********************************************

---------------------------------------------
Introduction
---------------------------------------------
Watch the opening video.

---------------------------------------------
Second island
---------------------------------------------
Go down the platform via the ladder to reach a 360 view. If you go straight away, you reach a pond with a small boat made with the shell of a giant fruit (you can see a tree somewhere with these fruits). Back in the 360 view.

Look around the pond : it is sourrounded by 2 bigger rocks. Visit each of them to see 2 lists of colors. They correspond to the way you have to follow with the boat.
The list on the left is : yellow, red, green, green, red, red, yellow.
The list on the right is : red, white, white, green, yellow, ? [= white, hidden], purple.
[the hidden one must be guessed in situation]

Go back to the boat and get onboard. Click on the colors adjacent to the boat to move, and choose the colors you think good from the combination you found on the rocks. The correct order is :
[list from the right] + [list from the left], which gives :
red, white, white, green, yellow, [white], purple, yellow, red, green, green, red, red, yellow.

If not successful, a trap is activated and you have to try again.
If you made it correctly, you reach the other side of the pond. One more click and the demo ends.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Head out of the stars!

Hey, maybe you've seen here and there one of my other projects : Mon Village est Magique (My Village is Magical). Maybe you're wondering what this is, because it's all in french, and because it has nothing to see with ASA. Am I right ?

Then, this is a beginning of answer :

Mon Village est Magique (MVEM) is a big project I began in 2009 and that is still under development. On the contrary of ASA, it's not a game and it's constantly changing : MVEM started as an amateur book for children, counting a fantasy story which takes place in the french countryside. It tells the story of little Seb and Tommy, two brothers aged 8 & 5, who live in front of the ruins of a castle. The story is very focused on the life in this french country, in an isolated village where the family of the heros lives in harmony with nature. But everything changes when a story of monster in the castle's ruins is reaching the ears of Seb and Tommy. Magic suddenly becomes a part of their life, and they will be drawn into a great adventure !

From this book, MVEM became a project of comic strip, which was abandoned a few month later. Then I decided to continue to write the story, and it has become a series of books in self-publishing, in 5 volumes at the moment, but not ended yet. In parallel, I made a lot of work to bring the books to the screen. With my graphics research, I made a full storyboard for an animated movie! But for a matter of costs, this was abandoned too, and I'm very sad.
Fortunately, I'm working with Chrysalide Studio in France in order to try making a TV series for children! For the moment, we've not done much as we really need to find investors, but I still believe that Seb and Tommy will come to life !

You can watch the books teaser below, and if you speak french, there's the possibility to visit the blog of the project. From there, you can download for free the 1st volume (french, pdf), and if you like it and want to help me, you can buy the sequel for amazon kindle...


Beta-tests

Official : the beta-tests will start monday 5th of november and finish sunday the 25th.
The 11 happy elected ones :
Chistopher, Deki, Giovanni, Juanjo, Peter, Bob, Samuel, Stélian, Mathieu and Matthew, and the last-minute guy : Bruno.
Registrations are now closed!