Wednesday’s Report 19th of February

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This week in Belladonna

Cemetery Art Fix

One of the levels is set in a huge, spooky graveyard. It is meant to be an epic outdoors environment shot, but it also has a grave which has been dug up and grave robbed. Problem was, everyone who saw this scene had to ask what that thing in the middle was. This week I have revisited the backgrounds and hopefully the open grave is now a bit clearer.

cemeteryFix

Intro Cinematic

Two weeks ago I talked about a storyboard for an intro cinematic. This week I have started the work on turning that into an actual film. I’m not nearly finished yet, but I have worked quite a bit on the first half of it.

 

Wednesday’s Report 12th of February

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This week in Belladonna

Main character animations

Though this is a 2D game I am creating a 3D model of the main character. The idea is to animate it and render the frames into 2D sprites, in order to avoid having to draw every single frame by hand in eight different angles.

When it comes to animations I have asked my friend Stina Boberg for help. She is a very good animator and I am excited to have her assistance in this endeavour. There is still a long way left until we have a finished character walking around in the game, especially the considering the time it will take for me to render all this and importing the frames correctly, but during this week we have started to really bite into the animation work.

Cat added into the game

On a related note, this is actually precisely what I have been working on myself. The cat model I mentioned a few weeks ago has now been rigged and skinned. There is indeed more than one way to skin a cat! With a proper rig I could animate the cat, render it just as planned and put inside the game.

The cat will wag its tail and play with a small object it has found somewhere. If you go near it, however, it will be very angry and aggressive, and it will not let you near its treasure.

Cats have always been thought of as having very keen senses when it comes to the supernatural, and this cat reacts strongly to the phenomena Prometeans the Created calls “Disquiet”. You are playing as a reanimated corpse, and the cat senses how your very existence is just fundamentally wrong.

The cat gives you a taste of how you will be met with nothing but hate from living creatures, but the question is; how will you handle that?

 

Wednesday’s Report 5th of February

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This week in Belladonna

The Journal Pages

Last week I quickly added a new level in Belladonna to make room for the multitude of journal pages in the beginning of the game. This week I have rearranged the pages a bit, and returned to an older order. This means that it will take some time before you get to hear Belladonna’s own narrative, but also that the letter density is more evenly distributed throughout the game. This was the original idea anyway.

Writing these texts are hard work, because it is really this literary aspect that determines the quality of this particular game, but this week I have made an effort to at least put the first five or so letters into the playable game.

The Storyboard

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I am planning a short and simple intro cinematic, to establish that the player character is in fact waking up in the laboratory just before the game starts. I had planned to visualise a few different ideas in storyboard form (for instance, my plan for a long time was to do some sort of first person perspective) but I ended up just doing this one storyboard and started planning out what assets would be needed.

The Main Menu

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As you may have noticed, this week has been focused on getting the very first part of the game shipshape. Along with that I have also worked on the main menu. It is very minimalistic, but rather effectual if you ask me.

If you think her stare is intensive and spooky, just wait until she suddenly blinks, and thus proving she is not a still image but is in fact sitting perfectly tranquil, staring at you.

I am also still using the old logo I made a long while back, and haven’t gotten around changing. It is growing on me, and I don’t really see how I can make it much better, but it wasn’t really intended to be the final logo. It doesn’t even feature the correct flower!

The flower you see in the logo is the Amaryllis Belladonna, a quite harmless lily, where it should naturally be the poisonous and ominous Atropa Belladonna.

So change the flower then! Well, the Atropa doesn’t have a very spectacular look, and the logo will actually look more ugly and boring with the correct flower. I have tried.

Wednesday’s Report 29th of January

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This week in Belladonna

The Script

When you interact with various objects in a scene in Belladonna the player character will say something relevant, profound or funny. This week I have begun the work of writing out these little lines and comments in script form. This is in preparation for my dream of finding an actor and have voice acting for every spoken line in the game.

I have not yet started to work on the issue of finding such an actor. It will have to be a woman, and she would preferably live close to me, for effective collaboration. I can get access to a recording studio here in Stockholm. She will also have to have decent English pronunciation. I live in Sweden, and a strong Swedish accent won’t exactly contribute to the game. That said, a subtle German accent could actually be pretty cool. The game is rather loosely set in Austria.

Another idea is to find a voice actor online; one who has access to her own recording equipment.

 The Cat

One interesting character in Belladonna is the Cat. Admittedly, the only feature making the cat interesting is that it is the only thing in the whole castle that is technically alive. It will not have a great impact on the story, compared to Belladonna herself and the other big characters, but it still adds some thought-provoking details to the game.

This week I have started the work of creating the cat in 3D. It will then be animated, rendered and put into the game.

 The Gallery

Apart from the spoken comments mentioned above, most of the writing for this game takes the form of diaries and journals written by the characters themselves. I have had all these letters outlined for quite some time, but as I am writing the final versions they are growing increasingly complex and intricate.

This week I sat down and tried to map out in what room which letter will be found. Some letters are associated with specific game events, and their placement is thus static. Between these there are more letters which are more dynamic.

It turns out you have a baffling eight journal pages to find over the course of only two rooms. That means four pages per room, and you can literally pick up a piece of paper every second step you take.

To fix this I quickly added an extra room: the Gallery. In its present state this room is basically a straight corridor with three journal pages lying on the floor like breadcrumbs.

In the future I might manage to create some sort of self contained puzzle in the Gallery, to mix gameplay and narrative more eloquently.

I’m not really a good person

I’m not bad person either. I’m more like… chaotic neutral.

I started working on Belladonna in early 2013, and shortly after that Anita Sarkeesian began releasing her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. This means that by the time I watched the first episode I already had the whole story and all the characters of Belladonna planned out. Since then every new episode has presented me with new tropes and terminology, and admittedly Belladonna features practically every single one of these toxic tropes.

But! I have worked hard from the very start to make sure that it is an upside-down take on them.

I have a damsel-in-distressed character. She is even damsel’d twice.

However, the first time she engineers her own escape. She observes her situation, identifies an opportunity, formulates a careful plan and executes it to win her freedom.

Her new-won freedom is short-lived, and being the damsel she is she soon finds herself once again incapacitated by an external force. And this time she can only sit around and wait for her rescuer.

However, her rescuer is another woman!

And I do have a Woman in a Refrigerator – an underdeveloped female character whose only purpose is to get killed off and thus trigger the events of the main story. This character is mentioned briefly with a name, and presented as a love interest, but nothing much is said about her before she is murdered in cold blood just to anger and provoke her lover.

However, this is a story about bringing the dead back to life, after all, and this refrigerator’d woman later turns out to be the primary agent of the whole narrative!

Saarkasien’s latest video is about Ms Male Characters and the Smurfette principle. Belladonna uses these tropes as well. (Although no character will wear a pink or purple bow!)

msFrankenstein

The very first thing that happens in the game is that you are presented with a female version of Frankenstein’s monster. You are given some back-story, which also mentions a female Frankenstein, and the natural assumption is that they are the same person, since a game like this with as much as two interesting female characters is, in your prior experience, very unlikely. But what is the Smurfette is not in fact a Smurfette? What if there is more than one woman in this story? And if they both are female versions of a male Frankenstein’s monster, how is it that they are different from each other, unless they actually have other character traits than “being a woman”?

I’m walking on dangerous ground here. Sarkeesian’s general advice seems to be to avoid damsels-in-distress altogether and make games about other things. I am going the opposite direction, choosing to add a damsel on purpose and use the tropes to prove a point.

But who am I to handle delicate issues like this?

If you only play through the first half of Belladonna, lose interest and leave it, the game will appear really sexist and regressive. If you only see the part where the problems are presented, and skip the part where they are discussed, they will simply look like problems.

Moreover, if I fail to present the discussion part properly, and do not manage to provoke the player to analytic thought, similar scenario occurs.

I am not really a good person. I do not have great empathy, or a genuine interest in other people and their well-being. My approach to issues like these comes from the other axis of the D&D chart.

Not from Good or Evil, but from Lawful or Chaotic.

Like many indie game developer I want to be provocative, questioning and anarchistic. But here’s the thing:

Edmund McMillen, of Team Meat and Super Meat Boy, talks about this desire in Indie Game the Movie, and as example of provocative game design we are shown his earlier game “Cunt”. In this game you play as a disembodied penis firing projectiles at a grotesque monster vagina in the centre of the screen.

Does it upset the player? Yes.

Does it force the player to rethink her values? No.

This game only serves to reinforce the patriarchy and the rape-culture that we already have going. The penis is a brutal agent, and the vagina a passive and alien enemy. You may think you are chaotic, but you are simply following the already establish laws.

Joseph Fink, creator of the Welcome to Nightvale podcast, puts it like this:

fink

This is why I whole-heartedly support Sarkeesian’s cause. Because it is a challenge to game developers to rise up and change the medium, to question the established order and revolutionize the industry. Because following the same old patterns is lazy and cowardly, and if you truly want to be innovative and forward-thinking, these are the sort of systems you have to question.

And as an effect, a lot of people, of all genders and demographics, will also be a lot happier after the change. I guess that’s nice too.

Thank you for reading. Comments goes here: @HallinNiklas


Character Full Body Sculpt

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Okay, so it has been a really long time since I made any public update to this project.

In the meantime I have been on a short vacation in Spain, and participated in a Game Jam. Thieves beneath the Face is the title of the short adventure game that ate almost two weeks of my time (ten days making, four days recovering!). And I spy a new little Game Jam on the horizon, so no rest for the wicked.

Back on subject! I have earlier shown the head of the main character,  and I have kept working and can now proudly present the rest of the body. The head stitched to the shoulders nicely, just as planned.

The loose, cloth-y parts of her dress looks a bit boring at the moment, but they will be simulated to follow the animation, and will get a lot of interesting folds and creases from that.