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Belief & Betrayal - Developer Diary (a retrospective)

It will take you about 11 minutes to read this feature.

Preface

"Sometimes ideas have to be pursued, like in a treasure hunt."

Sergio Rocco

Right. To understand an idea, you have to pursue it, take it apart, and observe it from different angles, up to the point when you can actually focus and make it real. Often, this is how a videogame is created. It starts off as a discussion, and then you have to interpret different people's ideas or trends, talk about a tiny detail, or discuss the latest specific piece of technology that previously didn't exist during a late night chat. Ideas that initially start off as jokes get transformed into real videogames!

We'd been thinking about it for years; we had the idea of creating an adventure story without using famous characters so we wouldn't need licenses. Although well known characters would have had an impact, in some ways this wouldn't have allowed us to create an original story from scratch, and it was thanks to a series of favorable circumstances that we found the motivation to go through with this ambitious project.

The adventure of Jonathan Danter, stage name "JD", is in fact the result of different ideas and experiences. After lengthy research, many suppositions and discussions, this project took off and will soon become, we hope and really believe, one of the best adventures in 2006.

Riccardo Cangini [CEO, Artematica]


 

Belief & Betrayal: Diary of Development

2nd September, 2005

Before I start, I ought to make a dutiful observation. It was a great privilege and honour to coordinate a project like this, since, as well as being the type of game I've enjoyed working on over the years as a developer, this project has actually come about thanks to the contribution of many of my ideas. Therefore, I am very fond of this game and I thought I'd write a few lines of introduction.

Francesco [Fugazzi], who looks after chronology and development processes during the making of a game, will briefly give you a snapshot of the developer's daily life in the following entries, obviously hoping he is describing something that you might find interesting.

So what I'm in charge of is the creation of the different game scenes, and I also have to tie all the parts of the game together, acting as a "server" to the programmers, graphic designers and animators.

To date, we can only be very pleased with how the game has been developing. We are proceeding at a good pace, frenetic but sustainable, and we're churning out game material according to estimated pre-production timetables and deadlines. It has to be said that the post mortem we carried out on our previous game, Martin Mystère: Operation Dorian Gray (also known as MM), has given us an advantage.

S. Rocco [Designer and Product Manager]

 

 

18th December '05

Stylistically speaking, the project we internally call "JD" reproduces the slightly picturesque look in Martin Mystère's scenes. At the same time, it fuses with a darker, grittier atmosphere and more ironic and unconventional situations. It's like a cocktail, which in our opinion could win the approval of fans who enjoyed playing MM, and might even widen the adventurous fan base who love the challenge of solving hidden, cunning tricks and the enigma of Templar knights.

From a technical point of view, we decided to keep the development pipeline as it was, hardly making any changes for game locations, but we boosted the characters considerably and increased the details and special effects, thanks to the technological advances we've seen in the last two years.

The game engine is decidedly more evolved compared to the guaranteed performance of the previous MM. For instance, our programmers Andrea and Stefano considerably improved the pathfinding instruments (through which the game players can move about in the various sets) and they restructured the engine and the management of the inventory in order to allow exchanges between the characters in real time.

That's right! You've got it! In order to solve the JD adventure, the player will be able to use different protagonists -- a real team of usable characters who interact amongst themselves, who help each other in real time to solve the game situations.

 

As we are all incurably nostalgic, we asked ourselves why the fantastic exchange system that was used in some old LucasArts masterpieces like Day of the Tentacle couldn't be used again. Too complex and costly? Perhaps! But the story unfolded thanks to the cooperation of the different characters and... what can I say? When you've got a company of people who really believe in what they are doing, literally everything is done in order to give the players a good product.

For now, we don't want to reveal the various team members so as not to give too much away. What we can tell you is that there is a wide selection of puzzles to solve. There's a bit of everything, and through the experience of the different characters, you'll be able to excitedly piece together all the clues that take you to the... no, we can't and really shouldn't tell you yet!

One thing is certain: we've kept the pace of the narrative very high! The player will find himself in really hard situations without finding even a glimmer of a solution, and the timing is tough, too, as all the events are interconnected and oozing with tension, suspense and emotion. In other words, this game is alongside some of the best modern day cinema or TV storylines.

Franz

As the Belief & Betrayal developer diaries continue, more and more names from the development team will be referenced. To help keep track of who's who on the team, the following is a handy list of the integral Artematica staff members working on the game.

Andrea Barbetti (Andrea B.) -- Lead coder

Andrea Vialardi (Andrea V.) -- Musician

Alessio Fallabrino (Ale) -- Lead animator

Andrea Cuneo (Cunix) -- 2D Artist

Francesco Fugazzi (Franz) -- Cross service & video assistant

Jonathan Gervasi -- Co-Designer

Massimiliano Calamai (Massy) -- Production Director

Paolo Infusini -- Location assembly

Riccardo Cangini (Ricky) -- Managing Director

Roberto Andreoli (Rob) -- 2D-3D Artist

Sergio Rocco -- Designer & Product Manager

6th January '06

Over the last few days, we asked Andrea B. (in charge of project codes) to come up with a feature that really got the programmer's brains working overtime. The creation of two separate inventories for each game player, a standard one for objects and another one for information each player collects.

In order to solve an enigma at any given time, you might have to exchange information you've collected with another character by sending him/her a kind of text message (this operation can be carried out via a digital system available to all the players). By swapping and collecting information or objects, the characters can get out of sticky problems and will be able to resolve various conundrums.

One aspect we've more or less had to deal with for the first time was having to create game scenes depicting real places, because we had to get hold of a great deal of photographic documentation and architectural plans. Obviously we also let our imagination loose by creating entirely imaginary locations, rich in atmosphere and at times a little surreal.

 

At the end of January, the third milestone phase of development will be completed. We've already finished many scenes and characters (nearly 20 sets and about 15 characters) and we're in the process of perfecting the "editing pipeline". We've launched ourselves into the writing of provisional dialogues with enthusiasm and we're about to complete this task, too!

The functioning of the game engine is very satisfactory and we are nearly ready to start the render sequence work that will give the finishing touches to the spectacular 3D animation.

We've already arranged all the sequence storyboards and we're in the process of allocating scene sets and characters to the staff doing the animated scenes.

If everything proceeds as it should, and if there are no unforeseen or nasty surprises, we'll start working on the game's teaser film within a month or two, and we will present this new adventure very soon.

 

24th January '06

When something is going too well, automatically the ever-present Murphy's Law kicks in and there's always some uncomfortable, unforeseen snag waiting to present itself.

Today Sergio's back-up hard disk, containing a large part of our 3D projects and post production material, looked as if it had died, and we were all very worried. As soon as the problem was discovered and resolved (the feeder had gone), it was the C: hard disk's turn to malfunction and consequently more time was wasted sorting out Sergio's computer...

If something has to go wrong, then it obviously has to go wrong where it can cause the most discomfort!

13th February '06

During these first days of February, Andrea B. has made an effort to optimize the engine code, taking care of infrastructural issues such as:

-- collisions enhancement

-- the output from the player

--memory management and cleaning

He has also begun to define the features of a range of tools useful to make things easier for Paolo, who first will assemble the different parts of the game. The new automatic assembling tools will avoid the confusion created by a manual management of that myriad of printouts and files that make the game.

As for graphic work, Ale is making the first real-time JD and Kath [Kathrine McKendall] animations with success, while Sergio continues turning out the locations of the game and, in a particular way, studying the teaser contents.

 

8th March '06

During this period, new stages have been reached. First, the post-production of the images rendering. Within a few days, we'll see them.

After the location pipeline has been set up, the assembling of all the environments will start within a couple of weeks. In addition, Andrea B. and Rob have organized themselves to complete the character face morph assembling so that almost all the characters will have lip-synch in real-time, an upgrade asked by a lot of reviewers and players of Martin Mystère.

Franz

15th March '06

The character of Jonathan Danter (3D real-time version) is almost finished, as well as the character of Kath, which has changed from the first version (we were not yet totally convinced of the chromatic aspect of her clothes, but Cunix's intervention, as usual, has been decisive).

There has also been a lot of agitation for the game presentation, so we have started working on the teaser, which is about 80% of his development. The teaser, conceived mainly to arouse curiosity and expectations, will be presented on the occasion of the next E3.

Just now, Sergio and Andrea V. had a meeting to better define the already clear guidelines of the accompaniment. Everything concerning musical patterns, accents and the "Main Theme" has been successfully faced according to a re-examination of the first prototype tracks suggested by Andrea. Our ears can't wait to hear the results that are certainly coming in the coming months.

Soon we will begin carrying out the first part of the Full Motion Video in render, and in a short time we will also insert all the dialogues and a check of the environments. Jonathan will implement all the cues with the instruments created by Andrea B. The first experimentation of the above-mentioned tools has given excellent results and this makes us optimistic about the assembling that we expect to achieve by the end of May.

 

27th March '06

Sergio is a machine; his work pace is impressive and, while involving and fascinating his colleagues, he is able at the same time to maintain his work pace and to meet the production calendar.

In the pasts days, a first musical theme prototype of the game has arrived and we are trying to work it out so that it will be the most suitable for the game environment.

Ale has just finished the first animated cut scene in real time doing excellent work. We are all eager to try it.

Today Paolo Infusini has joined us. Sergio and Andrea B. provided him with specifications about the work to be done. He will engage in export and assemble the locations.

31st May '06

Work on Belief & Betrayal continues without a stop. You can already see a lot of progress in all of the game characteristics. We have developed tons of material in the last two months!

Alessio has been working nearly full-time on the development of the full motion videos, as during the last few days he started to encounter some little problems caused by the incredibly high amount of polygons and shadings. His computer simply ran out of memory each time he tried to work on these scenes. The problem was easily solved by giving him a new and more powerful computer that manages to render those scenes nearly 8 times faster than the older PC.

Sergio and Jonathan have been working on some little changes to the storyboard to improve the coherence of the plot.

Sergio's, Allessio's and my computers have been really working hard (especially during the night) at the rendering of the FMV scenes. Using some cuts from the first part of the FMV renders, Sergio created a very exciting teaser that made a really good impression at the E3 in Los Angeles.

 

Just back from the E3, Riccardo has reported that the press and the editors were really interested in the presentations of Belief & Betrayal. He was also astonished to see how miserable and poor many people were, and the homeless living in the degraded area around the rich and famous downtown, full of hotels and glass skyscrapers. He said that even though he was near to the rich and beating heart of Los Angeles, it was almost like being in the 'favelas' of Rio de Janeiro or Mexico City.

Andrea has been working really hard on the coding. The editing and the logics of the main menu have been developed using level parallaxes. This creates a really good-looking result. The saving dynamics have been studied, and now it will be possible to save an infinite number of times in an infinite number of slots (this was requested by different reviewers and players). The loading procedure was also changed.

In consequence of all these improvements, Andrea has also upgraded the 2D frame tool (that has nearly reached the 1.0 version). The only missing option is that of re-importing the settings that were formerly exported. Andrea will also finish developing a very important tool used for the assembling and editing of the game. Another interesting upgrade to the code is the introduction of a basic AI that controls the movement of cars and people that follow some pre-arranged trajectories (spline) without colliding against the interactive characters.

In the current release, we have noticed some problems with the shading not being where it should. Strangely, the problem is not to be found in the editing tool, so we think the problem is maybe connected with the way the locations are loaded. (For those not aware: underneath the 2D locations, we always have a 3D structure that controls collisions, the 3D characters and the shading.)

 

We have made a very important upgrade in the engine. We have started using the 3.5 version of Virtools. Obviously this implies (as usual) different changes in the coding.

Other upgrades have been made on the interactive character. Now he has:

-- A more precise and developed pathfinding system calculated on the trajectory (that was previously calculated on the animation movement)

-- A further set of animations for "running" and "picking up objects"

Meanwhile, Paolo has assembled a lot of game locations. This allows us to implement:

-- Look , Use and Pick

-- Full Motion Video (FMV) animations

-- Puzzles

Last but not least, we have started to implement the first puzzles and their solutions.

Franz


The Belief & Betrayal developer diaries originally appeared in Italian on the Artematica website. The articles have been translated and reprinted here with permission. Stay tuned to Adventure Gamers for updated entries in the near future.


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