This blog contains some thoughts about about mood and tone. In games, I’m arguing that mood is mostly created by design, whilst tone is created by art. Both have to be interpreted by a player.
For me, RememBear is mostly about mood. The feeling of being in a forest, the feeling of being creeped up on, and the reaction of being attacked. Panic.
The creeping feeling is perhaps the most important. Like creepy old fairytales that seem so sweet but quickly become so sinister. This is the mood that takes the lead.
Faye Simms drew RememBear and had to carry this mood across to tone. She got this spot on. Take a look at her work in action, and then we’ll have a look at how the bears came into being!
To look at the mood to tone journey, let’s take a few steps back and look at the early ptototype. The mood of the game comes through, even with coder art. You probably won’t get the from a screenshot. The game already has a creeping mood, but the antagonist is only menacing after I’ve told the player that they are being hunted by a bear. The tone is pretty much up to the player’s own fantasy.
The mechanic was there, and the feeling of creeping panic came as the game progressed. Adding the art, giving a form to the bears, defining the terror, is what brings the game to life.
Faye sent some early sketches to get a feel for the kind of bears I wanted. The bear needed to look cute and cuddly, but have a vicious side too. The transformation is important to the tone and it reinforces the mood.
Moving from cute and cuddly to big and imposing…
This shape shifting creature fits the mood perfectly. The contrast in the shape outlines is superb. The noses keep the continuity but the creature has transformed. The mood of RememBear is of sweet characters turning sinister. Uncertainty. Fear. Panic.
The tone of these characters matches that.
I’m speaking in general terms, of course. Mood can be set by elements of design outside of the mechanics, but the tone has to come from the art or audio – from the actual assets. This is part of creating a good ‘game feel’, identifying your mood and making sure the tone you are setting fits. I know I’ve made mistakes with this in the past and I’m sure you have too, if you’re honest. I encourage you to look over your project and check that everything – everything is building towards the correct mood.
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.
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.
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.
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!
With the app uploaded and verified with google and apple, I am delighted to announce that RememBear will be available for you to buy on the 3rd September. I even have a new rhyme for you:
Remember RememBear, the third of SeptemBear!
— Michael Bowerman (@Mikey_PB) August 17, 2015
Feel free to retweet that 🙂
The app submission process is straightforward enough, though it can be quite different depending on which platform you are targeting. Whether iOS or Android, as part of the process you must answer questions to receive an app content rating. I have noticed, however, that the two questionnaires can bring about rather differing results:
That’s right, when RememBear launches on Google Play, it will have a PEGI-18 rating. On the App store it will be 12+. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one seems to be this question in Google’s questionnaire:
This is a game in which children will probably get eaten by a bear. Nay, certainly. I can only answer this question honestly, and I do agree with the question, but I’m also interested in what the question is implying:
No, the player isn’t rewarded. The player isn’t actually partaking in the violence, rather, the player is trying to prevent it.
Forgive me if I’m making a huge jump here, but it seems there is an assumption that if a game contains violence, the player must be the perpetrator. The context of the violence isn’t established in the questionnaire, beyond how the player is treated after performing it.
But should that even matter? If RememBear was a film, surely the fact that the violence was appearing on screen would be enough to warrant an 18+ rating.
Jack Reacher, 12a
Star Wars, PG
The Woman in Black, 12a
So why the difference between app stores? The only criteria I can positively answer from Apple’s questionnaire is that it has cartoon/fantasy violence – I cannot say that the violence is either ‘realistic’, nor ‘prolonged graphic or sadistic realistic’. I suppose this is the broader brush stroke that allows someone being executed in a Jack Reacher film to be deemed suitable for a 12a audience, so long as it is detached from any realism or consequence by the lack of blood and gore.
The alternative seems to be a questionnaire that makes incorrect assumptions about the content and penalises all violence equally, when not all violence is equal. Violence can be harmful, harrowing and distasteful but also affirming, heroic or even funny. In RememBear’s case, I hope it is shocking, gross, silly and childish. The game doesn’t glamorise violence, which I consider the most harmful (widespread, and accepted) application of violence in media, rather it exists to set a tone much like the violence in old fairy tales, where exaggeration and gratuity would warn children away from playing with bears.
Should RememBear be an 18+ game? Watch the gameplay video in the tweet above and let me know!
Remember RememBear, the third of SeptemBear!
The new gameplay video shows the game in action – see if you can spot where I went wrong!
My last entry was about how I created the trailer for the RememBear. This post focuses on the trailer’s music composition. If you’ve not seen the trailer yet, I’ll let you catch up below:
In my last post I talked about my storyboarding process and how I blocked out the story I wanted to tell. I approached the music composition with the same mindset, such as I could have written to the final storyboard without any video! I always talk about how important storytelling is in music, as in all art, and a videogame trailer is no exception.
We open with an establishing countryside theme, which is quickly interrupted by a sneaky, atonal bear melody. This is what the entire game is about in musical form – there is no respite from the incoming flood of bears! Since I’m using a woodwind quartet, The bear melody is in my lowest available register on the bassoon – a classic villain trope!
After building tension with a rising semitonal pattern, we switch to the Ranger’s theme, rather American sounding with it’s tuned percussion, military tone and homophonic arrangement. As the voiceover says, the player is the commander of a troop of park rangers and so a disciplined musical score reinforces this idea.
The ranger’s theme is finally interrupted by a bassoon, loudly playing its lowest note, as the bears appear to savage one of the rangers. This is intended to be a shock moment in the trailer and so the bassoon’s return is apt, and narratively this reinforces the concept of the bears interrupting the picnic. The lowest note on the bassoon is also out of key, which heightens the unpleasantness of the savaging.
Writing this score was great fun. Getting the tone right was surprisingly easy, but figuring out the clearest voicings for the different parts was occasionally tricky – I’ve not written much for woodwind quartets in the past! The instrumentation in the game’s title music was chosen to imitate Banjo-Kazooie, so I thought it best to use a similar timbre in the trailer for consistency. Creativity loves boundaries so being unable to introduce a French horn, for example, was both annoying and constructive – I hope you like the music!
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:
I’m at that part in game development where EVERYTHING MUST RHYME!!!
— Michael Bowerman (@Mikey_PB) June 6, 2015
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!
A lot has happened since I last posted on my blog two years ago. My last post was to announce the arrival of Block Stock, a two player iPad game.
My objective with Block Stock was to learn more about games development and to find out more about the games industry. I wanted to learn the skills needed to bring a game to market and demonstrate them in order to get a job in videogames.
Try getting a creative job with no experience. It’s impossible. You have to make your own experience.
After Block Stock was released, I started applying for jobs, and because job applications are *boring*, I started work on Block Stock Solo – a one player iOS game with similar mechanics to Block Stock.
During the development of this game, I was offered a job at the BAFTA winning Plug-in Media. Of course I accepted – now I work with amazingly talented people making amazingly wonderful things. It actually pays me money too, unlike the market for local multiplayer iPad games. (Which are still the best iPad games).
Months after starting my flashy new job, Block Stock Solo was accidentally released. After that, I started working on my latest game, RememBear, which I am announcing tomorrow.
That last paragraph wasn’t the announcement. What is RememBear, I hear you ask?
You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.