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Luca Dalcò, Game Director of The Town of Light, talked about the creation of the exploration game which was built with the help of Unity 5. The project has already received impressive critical acclaim and was given two awards at Games Connection Europe.
About the Team
This is our first game as a studio and individuals. Before, we were working with Unity to create various kinds of interactive applications. Personally, I have been involved many years in virtual sets for large theater productions and the creation of 3D movies and special effects for television documentaries. This has given me the experience to manage complex projects such as the making of video games.
As we continued to work on the project, additional members joined to the point where now we have over 10 people working on this. In the group we have guys and girls who come from schools of industrial design and computer science and illustration. They are all very young, but have a solid education to back them.
Choosing schizophrenia as the theme, came from a personal interest in everything that has to do with psychological distress and the history of psychiatric institutions.
The gameplay is completely based on the protagonist and her mind, and how the player helps to recover her memories.
The story of Renee was rebuilt in the seemingly insignificant details documenting the historical context of the first half of 1900s. This historiographical research allowed us to “manage” the main character as a presence that actually existed, without falling into simplistic stereotypes about mental health problems.
Renee has her own personality, voice, emotions, fears, and dreams. The stylistic choices themselves, always try to be the mirror of the soul of the hero. The first few minutes into the gameplay, for example, reflects the Renee’s mind; a sunny park with flowers, birds and butterflies with too many dark shadows, create a disturbing contrast with the freshness of nature.
Showing the Game to the Public
Our first public appearance was an unexpected success. We have been awarded for “Best in Story and Storytelling” and “Game Connection Development” at Games Connection Europe. Currently, we are one of the finalists of “The Geekie Awards” in Los Angeles. Recognitions like this have given us the strength to keep the project going with a self-financed model. We wanted to maintain control over all aspects of the product. There are also other encouraging signs coming worldwide. Next week we will unveil the game at the biggest Asian indie event, BitSummit 2015, in Kyoto where we are basically the only European team that was selected. The road will bring us to the Develop Conference (14-17 July in Brighton) and to Gamescom in August, and much more until the games commercial release. Every event or sign of acknowledgement brings promotion and dealing power with commercial partners (publishers, distributors, digital delivery platform owners), and right now we are looking for the best partners to achieve our sales forecasts.
Using Unity 5 to Build a Huge World
The main reason for choosing Unity 5, was due to its simplicity and flexibility. It’s a very useful tool for a small team. With the update to the new version (5) the aesthetic potential is now aligned to the competitors engines. Although, it is still not always easy to pull out the entire potential.
We implemented our management system of the culling of the scene, very quickly and efficiently, which was designed for the specific needs of the environments that we built. In this way, we are able to greatly enrich the environments without excessive encumbrances.
The game setting is huge with 7000 square meters indoor, and over 10 hectares outdoor. Everything you will see in the game has been rebuilt faithfully (based on the Volterra’s Asylum in Italy) and with an obsessive attention to detail. Every room and every corner hides something to see, explore, understand and investigate.
Tools of Development
We used Substance Painter and Designer for textures in some circumstances, SpeedTree for vegetation. For the characters, after various tests with Mixamo and DazStudio, we opted to model and animate directly in Modo and Maya. They are useful tools that I would say are indispensable for a small indie studio, because they allow us to save production times, sometimes drastically.
Setting the Mood with the Lighting
For indoor lighting, we used Unity’s new real-time GI that maintains a dynamic lighting system (combined with the simulation of global illumination( for a yield that is extremely realistic and impressive. We want to keep the maximum dynamicity in the game because light and its variations are a key gameplay element.
We have a unique main game level, where the player is immersed completely. We are in “a place” instead of a “series of places.” There is a strong continuity between external and internal settings, when we are inside the building we can lean out the windows and see the park or the road we just traveled.
These choices are very positive in terms of the player immersion in the experience, while at the same time entailing considerable technical difficulties that have led us to develop a range of tools specifically designed to optimize all without losing details.
Working out the Gameplay and Sound
The Town of Light is a first-person psychological horror game, based on real life events and locations. It talks about Asylum and their patients, who are often treated like animals or objects. You will be able to live their stories, their fears, and their dreams. The main character is a young schizophrenic woman, who spent most of her life in the asylum.
Renèe’s voice will guide you in the game, and through her eyes the player will live her story and her personal drama.
The player will try to recreate her personality while freely exploring the environment, finding documents, reliving her hallucinations, and trying to interpret what her voice communicates.
We initially worked on a vertical slice of the project to develop the environmental management system and the game mechanics. We then tested this part of the game thoroughly to figure out the right way forward. After that, we prototyped the rest of the game in a very raw ways and through various steps, we debugged and made a design revision. In this phase, the testing remained inside. Starting with the alpha version we extended the tests.
The audio is built step-by-step in the gameplay. Our sound engineer has been involved in the game design brainstorming, so music and audio effects are an integral part of the narrative flow. The sound never wants to be invasive. It must be present, incisive, but never intrusive.
The main audio track of the game will change during the evolution of the game itself, according to the player’s choices.
The VR version requires a specific optimization, both in graphics and in game mechanics. The main problem is the missing of a stable and well optimized software/hardware build. Unity 5.1 has just given native support for Oculus and this implies a total excision of the work done. Some parts of the game in VR will add something more than to the version monitor, which remains our building block.
The Town of Light was successfully approved by the community on Steam Greenlight.