#002 - Marie's Room - ... and how it evolved

So, a room is being made. Taking up loads of hours, and in the end, the result would be still images or a fly through video? No, I didn't like that prospect at all. But what could I do more than that, with just one room? A complete game? No, probably not a good idea. I would continue alone, and make sure that players could walk around in the room, as an artist I would figure out a way to do just that. Nothing more, just walking.
I know better now...

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Chronologically, it wasn't like: "I've finished the room now art wise. Let's start coding!". No, as a matter of fact making the room started to get a little 'boring'. Most of the challenges were conquered by then. It was just a matter of 'making' the room. Modeling enough props.
The lighting was set up, the workflow in Unreal 4 was figured out, the atmosphere/style was set.
So I started doing some blueprints in between all the art work. For people who don't know what blueprints are, I'll try to explain as simple as possible. 'Blueprints' is a gameplay scripting system in Unreal 4, where nodes are being used to create complete chains of 'code'.
All of the logic in Marie's Room uses this system. In other words, I didn't write a single line of code!
Because a drawing can tell so much more than words, here a quick sketch of a simplified situation, so you might get a better idea.

A simplified example of a 'Blueprint'. The visual scripting system used for 'Marie's Room'

A simplified example of a 'Blueprint'. The visual scripting system used for 'Marie's Room'

An example of one of the many blueprints. This one is used to start up a monologue sequence for Kelsey.

I'm not going too deep into the topic of the relevance and/or pros and cons of visual scripting in this blog post. All I know is that it enabled me to eventually make the game I wanted. In my experience it's just one way of 'writing code'. Yes, the syntax is very different. But a lot of the ideas and concepts still exist in visual scripting. But more on that later.
At the time I had a basic knowledge of the principals of programming. I studied 'Digital Arts & Entertainment' at Howest Kortrijk, Belgium. In the first of three years we got programming lessons in C++, and although my knowledge of C++ itself was pretty far gone by then, most of the concepts I saw there were still fresh in my mind and easily translatable to blueprints.

First version of the main menu

For a few months I worked on these blueprints without asking for external feedback. I enabled the player to move, look around and started working on the first version of UI. I rolled into UI design because I started working on some optimisations. Since it started to get annoying to constantly use console commands for this, I started making a simple menu, what eventually would become the options menu.

After finishing the first version of interacting with objects, I started asking for feedback on the 'blueprint architecture' to Dries Vienne (yes, the same guy who made the music). He was from then on a sounding board for the technical side of things.

Whenever I was stuck or doubting if I was using the correct approach, I asked him for feedback. He never actually touched or even saw the blueprints. I just explained what I did and the situation I was in and he nudged me in the right direction again. These 'code architecture reviews' helped me a lot. But I always tried without any help first. It was important to me to fail first, to understand why the correct approach was better in the first place.

By then Dagmar Blommaert had started writing the story. It was kind of a weird situation we were in. Visually, the room was almost done. So she dropped in a project where a lot was already established. But at this point Kelsey didn't even exist yet. That's all her doing. She found a great way to give the project more 'meat' than it had upon till that point. I think she did a great job with the setting of just 'the one room'. Marie's Room wouldn't have been the same without her joining the team.
She also suggested that her friend Lauren could do voice acting. Now Kelsey had a voice! All recorded with a Neat Bumblebee microphone at Lauren's house. You see, our budget was pretty low.

The original music was getting made by Dries Vienne and I could use two tracks by Simon Alexander. Dries is a great colleague and friend, Simon I met on Twitter. I liked his music and just asked if I could use it!
I felt that music would be of great importance in the game. To convey the right emotions at the right time. We discussed this quiet a bit actually. What music, when it needed to play and especially, when NOT to play as well. Silence can be super powerful during a narrative experience. That's something I'll definitely keep in mind for future projects.

The project kept on growing like this, all very organic in a way. I remember Dagmar asking me how 'big' I wanted this experience to be. The conclusion there was she was going to keep it very small, simple story, so there wouldn't be much more coding/art work for me. But still, we ended up with something larger than we'd anticipated. I guess our love and attachment to the project was greater than we both thought at the time. A true passion project.

That concludes this post. Their might be one more I write about Marie's Room. Dealing with the experience of Steam (Greenlight), the run-up to release and the aftermath.

I hope this was somewhat informative and you've enjoyed reading this far. Again, ask away if there is something you'd like to know or when you'd like to know something more in depth.