Collaborating on RememBear

Remember RememBear, the third of SeptemBear!

As a solo, hobbyist game designer I have made some dreadful games. I have made some OK games. I have seldom followed a game through to its fullest potential. I think this is because we seldom do our best work alone.

I’ll often show people my prototypes at Brighton Indies if the mood is right. So many people’s opinions and ideas have contributed to RememBear, some which have been directly added, some which have been tweaked, and others which have been ignored. In fact, the game was almost finished when someone pointed out that the design itself was broken. That was embarrassing, but this is how we learn.

More importantly than showing your game to people is working closely with others. This is the first time that I have worked a project through to release with other people (professional employment aside). It has taken me a while to realise the importance of this, which is a further embarrassment. You love your game, you think it’s ace. You’re probably not conceited enough to think it’s the best game ever, but still you don’t realise how important other people’s input is.

With that in mind, I really, really need to thank Faye for her work on RememBear. I needed someone to fill in my coder art and she did so much more – coming up with amazing ideas like the bear-mugshot for the score counter, and literally helping me think outside the box with the bear attack effects. The game would not be worth even looking at without her talent and ideas and she is awesome.

I spend a lot of time looking at the art on her website, tintreas.co.uk and I encourage you to. Also please follow her twitter and tumblr accounts.

Secondly, Joe is an amazing writer, who gave the game a voice. The tutorial text in game was a bland “press x to y” instructional text, and by rewriting it in a Drill-Sergeant Ranger character it became so much more engaging and just as instructional. He also advised and revised the tutorial design, because RememBear is a pretty difficult game to explain to someone – as easy as it is to play. Joe also helped when writing the verse for the trailer (and came up with the idea), tidying my terrible rhymes into something more sensible.

Follow Joe’s twitter and read his stories.

If you’re making a game on your own and you want to release it, find incredible people to work with. You’ll thank them.

RememBear SFX

As someone with a background in audio for games, SFX were always going to be an important part of RememBear. Audio for mobile games needs to be chosen carefully so as to not be intrusive, since players may be running background audio from other apps. Audio should not be vital to gameplay as many players will not have their device’s volume turned on.

With this in mind, the audio in RememBear is quite minimal, but, I hope, very effective. I’m going to have a quick look at how the SFX were put together, but in the meantime please watch the gameplay trailer to familiarise yourself with the soundscape:

With the visual art style I was trying to juxtapose the cute, cartoon, fairytale illustration with the bloody gruesomeness of being eaten by a bear. This is reflected in the sound palette too – the childish xylophone jingles clash with the fierce bear roars and blood splats. I’m going to talk about how the sounds were made and why I chose them.

The game opens into background ambience, some quiet birdsong. I wanted to set the player in a location of a forest and have set a slightly silly tone. I recorded the birdsong myself, using a whistle bought from this man. The whistles used in the game are the few successful takes from about 15 minutes of recording time!

The next sound is a rising semitone xylophone pattern, in the style of the opening music. It is a playful, childlike phrase and it mimics the animation of the approaching bears. Three seconds later it plays again, a semitone higher, as the bears get closer and the game gets harder.

This is the main audio in the game. It is useful, since it indicates where turns have ended, but it is not essential. It is hopefully not annoying either, being tied to the animation and level progression. I hope that users will want to play with it active, but I included the option to mute sfx since I can’t assume the user’s sole attention when playing on a mobile phone.

If the player is doing well, the next sound they will hear is the ‘tinkle’ of the ‘ranger awarded’ sfx. This is accompanied with a little icon flash to show that a ‘good thing’ has happened. The sound fits in place with the game, coming from the same xylophone source.

Most likely, before too long, the player will make an error and a ranger will be eaten by a bear. The audio for this is made up of a few layers, firstly the ROAR of a hungry bear.

How to record a bear roar? What do bears even sound like?

Terrifying. I needed a short sound with a quick attack, a quick impact to shock the player and let them know they’ve done something wrong. To recreate this sound, I snorted into a microphone and applied a layer of overdrive to the bass. This is in stark contrast to the other, more playful sounds in the game.

Another layer in this sound is the ranger screaming. This is mildly amusing (as the bloody visual effects are) but can be disturbing. I also added the sound of a fruit salad being destroyed, to represent the sound of blood and guts flying about the place. This adds a level of comedic violence or gruesomeness. I hope the player’s mind translates this into something disgusting. Audio is a wonderful tool to enhance a player’s imagination.

The final sound you’re likely to hear is that of the children being eaten. This is the same as the rangers, only the screams are of a boy and a girl and are pitch shifted up in order to sound like cartoon children. A final musical cadence refers back to the theme music and rounds off the experience nicely.

This covers all of the SFX in RememBear. There is not much to it, but it is all focused and functional. I hope you enjoy playing once it is released and let me know what you think of my bear roars!

The Making of RememBear’s Trailer

Hello!

By now you’ve probably seen the trailer for RememBear. This post is going to discuss how it came together and look at some of the decisions I made whilst creating it. Just in case you haven’t watched it yet, it’s linked below:

The original creative direction for RememBear was to revisit woodland characters as they might have been portrayed in old fairytales. No child should survive an encounter with a bear. This fairytale element led Joe (the game’s writer) to suggest delivering the tutorial in rhyme.

This was a brilliant idea and caused me to make this remark on twitter:

But is was not to be. It’s more important for a tutorial to be clear than it is for it to be awesome. Nevertheless, the seed had been planted and come trailer time, I knew that I had to explain the core concepts of the game through rhyming prose.

But how to go about that? I’m lucky to have been working on some animation production at work recently, so I’ve gotten quite handy with After Effects and Premiere Pro. It would be great to have seen my characters fully animated, but I’d run out of art budget and I believe that a game’s trailer should reflect its content, so I had to compile something awesome just using the in-game sprites.

I flick through the asset source. This is going to be easy.

First off, I storyboarded the trailer in a few panels, just to get a feel for the story I was telling. The image below is an early revision, but is the tidiest(!) image I have to share of this. On a small & personal project, this process is more like brainstorming and its aim is to create the foundation of the story you are telling. Putting your ideas into shots helps visualise the narrative.

(If you’re working with an animation team, please make sure your storyboards are tidy and well composed. Please.)

With the structure in place, I moved on to the script. Since I had my framework, knew I had to set the scene, introduce the baddies (bears), introduce the heroes (rangers) and end on a cliffhanger. Easy. “It’s picnic time in Bearsville park…”

I handed my completed script to Joe who smoothed a few things out. Meanwhile I wrote a quick ExtendScript that would let me generate a large forest scene in Photoshop (using the 4x Assets for the iPad) to use as my background. I needed a larger forest than the game’s play area to allow for lots of camera movement to keep the viewer’s interest. The production pipeline became clear:

I’d create a set in Photoshop, direct the actors in After Effects, then choose my shots in Premiere.

Just as I’d finished exporting the forest foreground into After Effects, Joe got back to me and I started recording voiceover.  

I recorded the voiceover to a metronome because the poem was very rhythmic and I knew I’d be adding music. This would prevent me from having to retime my animation at a later date! I added the sprites in time with the script recording and got ready to export. At this point, I could see everything coming together. Very exciting!

The next job was adding zooms and pans in Premiere, much as I was tempted to start on the music. I’m used to receiving a final cut of a video when I work as a freelance composer, so I thought I’d treat myself in the same fashion! Of course I knew I had the luxury of adjusting any cuts that weren’t quite fitting with the music.

Music composition will be the subject of my next blog post.

With everything timed, cut and looking beautiful, I added the app store buttons, blood splats, some SFX from the game and exported at good settings. Video encoding can be an artform in itself, so I took great care with this step and I advise you to.

How long did the process take? Working evenings and weekends, I’d say the Trailer took about a week to produce. It’s time well spent and I got to exercise my skills in areas outside of game development too. I’m really pleased with my trailer and I hope that you have enjoyed watching it!

If you’d like to know more about RememBear you can follow me on twitter, like the Facebook page or subscribe to my blog.