Trusted Soil

I recently graduated from the HKU school of game design (thank you, thank you), so I thought it was a good time to point you in the direction of my graduation work.

I’ve been working on an adventure game the past few months with a few people that we’re really excited about called Trusted Soil. You can read all about it on the official webpage or the freshly erected devblog, I won’t reiterate all that here. What I am here for is to give you something to look at.

For Trusted Soil I did all the background art, character designs and animations (and some scripting/design). It was a challenge for me to work in a slightly more realistic style than I am used to. While the lineart is still fairly distinctively my style, the lighting and color is much more detailed than what I am used to doing. I drew a lot of inspiration from Wormworld Saga, and initially I wanted to approach that style even more closely, but we decided it would not have been time-efficient as we wanted a completely functional end product, not just something that looked good.

Below is a sampling of backgrounds I created for Trusted Soil.

In addition to that I also developed a custom dialogue system, about which you can read much more on this page.

We are working now to polish up the build we submitted for our exams, and will soon release the first episode.

What’s been cooking

So last week we wrapped up the school project we’ve been working on for the past two months. It’s called Overleven op Drakeneiland (survive on Dragon Island), and it’s a cardgame based off a well-known children’s books series here in Holland.

Drakeneiland is set on an island off the coast of Greece where difficult children from Holland are sent after they do something bad. The island is completely devoid of adults, so the children have to maintain a society of their own, where everyone contributes to the greater good. It’s very Lord of the Flies, without all the violence.

Writer Lydia Rood wanted a game to accompany her books that would explore a different side of the franchise. It had to be an expanded universe thing, so we couldn’t recreate one of the books as an adventure game for example. But since the books deal mostly with social interaction, we decided a roleplaying cardgame was the perfect solution. A physical game would be much more fun to play for the target audience aswell (kids between the age of 8 and 10).

Client playtest 1

After a lot of research into Greccian architecture, nature, clothing and different visual styles, balancing the cards and a lot of playtesting, we produced a working prototype.

It consists of a deck of cards, money (the copper sticks) and points (the shiny gems). The deck consists of three different types of cards: blue cards, which signify a profession with a special talent each players has to pick at the start of the game, and green and red cards, which respectively have a good or a bad influence on the game. With these cards you have to collect as many of the shiny gems as you can, and you pay for the cards with the copper sticks.

In addition to that, we built a digital companion in Adobe AIR, that scans each card and tracks player stats like karma and number of points. Each profession has it’s own iconic backdrop in there aswell. This allowed us to put more detail into the artwork there that we could not put in the playing cards, because we wanted to keep those as iconic and easy to understand as possible. We use a lot of icons throughout the game anyway, to avoid long blocks of text.

I designed all the playing cards and their illustrations, and my colleague was responsible for the digital companion. This allowed us to put more detail into the companion to complement the iconic simplicity of the cards.

Reactions were very positive, both from the kids and the client alike. In the end we found that no matter what age players were, they all had the same learning curve, and all had the same enjoyable experience.

Final2

The client was so pleased infact that they want to sit down with us after the summer vacation to discuss how we can get this product on the market! So expect to be hearing more about this soon…

Internship report

Having recently completed my internship, I thought it would be nice to draw a dailie (or rather a ..seven..monthlie?) about the whole experience, since I had originally planned to draw dailies all throughout it. But somehow I never got around to that… funny how these things happen.

I made it for personal use at first, but people started telling me I should use it as my internship report for school. So I did! I wasn’t looking forward to writing those ten pages anyway…

Kudos

As you may know by now from my enthusiastic ravings, the HKU is a fantastic game design college, and I am happy to be a part of it every day. That is not to say it doesn’t have it’s flaws.

This year, they completely overhauled the education system. There’s a lot of new staff, and all classes have been redesigned and rearranged. Before, we had four semesters of eight weeks with a number of courses and a project. Now, it’s two semesters with courses of varying durations integrated into the project. And so it could happen we get classes in project management four weeks after actually starting a project, and we have to build a game while hardly anybody knows how to script or model in 3D. But at least we’re really learning something. They’re trying to get us up to speed after last year, but it’s just all still a bit of a mess right now.

And here it shows through that management may not be entirely in touch with the industry anymore. We’re being bombarded with ‘serious games’ and doing research research research, and oh yeah, learn how to work in teams. But nobody is too concerned with teaching us how to use the tools.

That’s why I wanted to give a shout out to Dimme van der Hout, a former student now in charge of everything that has to do with the art side of things, and additionally he runs his own company – Monkeybizniz. I think it’s safe to say he is the most respected man on campus right now, because he’s practically single-handedly trying to fix the entire system. He is very passionate about quality assurance, so he’s organizing all sorts of courses to help us raise the bar on our artwork. If something sucks, he doesn’t mince words and just gives it to us straight (a far cry from some of the teachers we had last year). It’s good to finally have someone who has his shit together and knows what he’s doing. He is by no means the only one, but he’s the most prominent figure for us.

And I wanted to give special mention to some other former students that are helping us with the project; Paul, Erik and Ferdi from De Monsters. I had a chance to sample their project management software called PEF at the graduation exposition last week, and I’ll tell ya: you’re gonna want this product. It’s built on Adobe AIR, and really makes managing a project and it’s files between all team members an easy and fun task. It looks and feels like something Adobe designed. So keep an eye out for the PEF beta sometime soon.