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Jeffrey Ashbrook from Adventure Works discussed some of the details of the game under development that has already attracted gamers’ attention at the early stage.
My dad was really into old film-noir, black and white adventure movies, and we used to watch them together when I was a kid. It gave me a solid respect for the power of the story and I carried that with me to USC where I studied computer science, electrical engineering, and game design.
At the time, USC was known more for its film school with games being thought of more as an offshoot. So I had a decision to make on whether to start my career by telling stories in the game genre or in physical spaces.
As it has turned out, a few of my USC classmates who went right into games have had great success and attained almost a celebrity status based on their work. But I made a very different choice at the time. Instead of trying to make a blockbuster game right out of the gate, I ended up deciding to dig into the physical world of theme parks and try to bring stories to life in physical spaces. I started at Disney Imagineering before founding Adventure Works, and I loved it because you could build these huge elaborate places and even before you break ground you could imagine walking through them and seeing the sights and sounds and physically being there. That led to over a decade of interesting work, but it also meant that Adventure Works has been largely unknown to the video game world and the mass market.
Adventure Works Introduction
Because we’ve operated in relative anonymity for so long, we’re ready to make a splash! Over the last decade, Adventure Works has worked on lots of location-based land-wide theme park and non-theme park installations, interactive games, and some major e-ticket attractions – all of which drew heavily on our visual effects and design work.
We’ve worked with some of the most talented people in the world who have made some of the biggest blockbuster games and films. We’ve also been fortunate to be a part of the huge shift in the location-based space with the rise of VR and AR, and we’ve done some exciting work in those areas.
The talent network we developed through all of this is really what has positioned us to return to our core roots and develop a really compelling adventure story and make a game.
Our game doesn’t have the name yet. It is a story about two brothers on a distant planet in search of an ancient artifact. It’s a classic action-adventure story, with a lot of light-hearted levity and comedy along the way.
We’ve seen a lot of people excited about this game and we’ve really been enjoying the discussion that’s been happening on our Instagram page where we talk about the game and post concepts and updates on our progress.
Instagram is doing a great job of keeping us tightly linked with a lot of game enthusiasts who are very excited about this particular game. We had over 2000 questions asked in a recent Instagram Q&A for example.
The team is focused on adventure and capturing that idea. We’ve drawn inspiration from games like Inside and Uncharted and movies like Indiana Jones. And there are countless other adventure stories that have been told across a spectrum of formats, from written and oral traditions to old comic books and Saturday matinees, serial television shows, and now more modern films and some games. What you see is that many of the enduring stories draw on some common archetypes.
We’re making a light-hearted, story-based action-adventure game, and everything tends to flow from that. We’ve been experimenting with different types of gameplay, including platforming and action elements. We expect the final product to have a variety of things for players to do to keep them immersed in the story.
Crafting the Levels
It’s too early to rule anything out, but we do have a pretty good idea for what kind of adventure story we want to tell. We know the arc. We know the characters. We know pretty much everything about this distant planet we’re creating that informs many of the story elements. Now we’re tasked with bringing all that to life.
The environment itself can be a sort of character, and this game is no exception. Here, we’ve drawn upon some environmental storytelling foundational elements from my time working in theme parks to help use the environment to advance the story. We’re using the environment as a catalyst for major action sequences, so in many ways, the game will be very similar to a ride.
We’ve seen several tutorials on 80.lv that are very detailed and technical for how to create beautiful pieces of art. We’re using a similar process but in the design phase. Starting from the general structure of the game, we use certain film processes like previsualization in the Unreal Engine to test ideas quickly and to iterate rapidly. In parallel, we’re building software systems to capture the findings of our previz scenarios. We’re able to have a previz scene turn into gameplay relatively quickly. This is working well for us.
We’re also using tools like Quill to quickly mockup character animations in 30 minutes to an hour.
We’re aiming for a very cinematic game and we decided early on that the Unreal Engine was the best fit for this. Tim Sweeney started Epic Games close to where I grew up in North Carolina and has really impressively grown that company. The pathway that they’ve outlined for their engine mirrors where we see games going as well. So we’re using their cinematic tools, quick scripting and blueprints, their easy shader network and their very useful VFX pipeline, among other things.
Ultimately we’ll get there because we have a very high bar for how things look and feel. But right now we’re at the stage where we’re still defining what things will actually be. So we’re a little early in the project to know the exact final technical implementation of any of the shaders. Most of the 80.lv tutorials are locked off cameras or slow pans in a single environment. Because our game has to flow without noticeable loading from place to place, we need to do some clever optimizations on the software side to accomplish this.
We’d love to come back and do more technical focused talks/interviews as we progress through game development.
Plans for the Future
We’re still prototyping and defining the vision, so we haven’t announced a release date yet. It’s been great to see the level of engagement and excitement building around this game as we release updates, art, and gameplay on our Instagram page. Actually, the community is so engaged they’re becoming a key influence on some of the decisions we make on characters and game features. We’re humbled to have this level of interest at this stage, and we’re working to make a game that players will really enjoy.
Jeffrey Ashbrook, Founder of Adventure Works
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev