Jul 20, 2018

Historical games and narrative art: an interview with Alain Mercieca, lead writer of Assassin’s Creed Origins

10:00 AM Posted by Felipe Marques No comments

When someone decides to tell a story about other times and societies, what are the limits between the creative liberty and the historical fidelity? It was thinking about this that I came to Alain Mercieca, lead Writer on the worldwide acclaimed Assassin's Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017). My disquietude was born from my experience writing TUAT, a historical game that takes place on the XVIII dynasty of Ancient Egypt. I have asked Alain two questions about storytelling, one about his career and the last about his favorite games in in terms of narrative.

1) I think one of the most difficult challenges of writing a historical game is to adapt the way of thinking (i.e. the mentality, as appointed by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre) of a certain epoch to modern audiences. The Egyptians, for example, have a lot of beliefs that could sound odd to us. How this can be done without a huge anacronism? Does every story we tell should be told by means of Aristotle's Poetic or Campbell's monomyth? Or do we have to find something new according to the time and place we want to talk about?

I believe strongly that in order to avoid massive anachronisms, one must creatively interpret history, and if this creative interpretation stems from a genuine education and love of the historical time period, any liberties taken are liberties that do not detract from a gaming or otherwise artistic storytelling experience, they in fact add to the experience.

Information is only one conduit for creating a picture of history. Artifacts, stories, history, myth and even clichés and stereotypes (yes I do believe they need to be addressed, many are based on fact). Not allowing them to overrun your interpretation of history is what makes us move BEYOND them and create core, immersive experiences that are moving and compelling in a way that is not to the detriment of a people, culture or religion.

The imagination is in fact your best friend. Funnily enough, I believe that objective facts are merely a spring board for a creative interpretation that is not weighed down by fact-checking, and tippy-toeing across history while clenching onto statistics or archeological evidence as if they are meant to demonstrate education and literally brag about research instead of being massaged into a story, into a world, yes, massaged so well in fact that they give birth to new facts, new ideas, new stories, that were hidden underneath the facts, and they of course are fallible in that they MAY not be true. The secret and unknown lives of historical figures and people from different time periods is still what compels more than most known facts. Facts often even feel like they are imagined (take the Cleopatra rug moment), if Cleopatra's rug moment was somewhat documented, imagine the undocumented moments? They are infinite.

Cleopatra and Caesar (1866), by Jean-Léon Gérôme

An interesting exercise speaking to this point: imagine they found a new tomb, let's call it FELIPE'S TOMB, discovered in Egypt recently in a remote tomb in the desert. In Felipe's tomb there is a squirrel bone. No one can explain the reason for this. Red Squirrels were not native to Egypt at all. So the bone must have been a pet squirrel that Pharaoh Felipe found on his travels to Europe? We can infer that Felipe had passed some good times in Eurasia, possibly with Germanic tribes. Let's take one tribe and build a friendship based on squirrels!  Now, by all means this may not even be close to the truth, however it is undoubtedly POSSIBLE based on FACT. Another route would have been: perhaps a Germanic Warlord passing through Alexandria gave him the squirrel as a gift? This creates a memorable Pharaoh, who keeps his squirrel on a leash in the desert and feeds it and treats it like a lion. Another route is that the squirrels DID exist in Egypt. They even had a God associated to them that we NEVER KNEW. We could imagine a name, a set of lore associated to this squirrel.

Now, which one of these creative interpretations goes too far? Which one honors history? Another difficult aspect of writing historical games is that yes, I have read many books and I understand niche elements of archeological elements, but without putting a footnote in the game or having clunky exposition, how do I make the gamer know "yes this is true, but they have used it as a springboard for other creative and inspiring historical hypotheses!"?

2) In your opinion, what component is indispensable for a good story? Conflict? Antagonism? Hard choices? When we are talking about a historical game, how much can we shape the "reality" for narrative purposes?

Despite having a more linear background in storytelling, I do agree that video game storytelling is not simply movies pausing so we can play. The structure is different, the game is different, the art is different.

When talking about a historical game, we can shape it in any which way we want as long as we do not betray history. This notion of betrayal is very touchy, and subjective to the many varying opinions of gamers and devs. I spoke quite extensively of this in this article in Greg Buchanan's blog.

Mythology is a great example here. Mythology does speak of a culture's deep-seeded beliefs, yet it is also extremely fictional and creative. These are the invented stories of a people that explain the unexplained. We are trying to do literally the same thing. So video games are a new mythology based on as much fact as possible.  Mythology is based on translations of interpretations of a diverse culture, so if we shape a reality based on mythology are we embracing history?  If you shape a mythology to serve your narrative are you breaking immersion for the sake of creating something mind-blowing or awe-inspiring? There are no rules, as long as it's good.

Assassin's Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017)

Recently a writer I was reading was talking about what makes a good story, and he simply said "Stakes don't matter when I think about it...I just want to read about some great stuff. Fill your work with great stuff. Talk about a sofa for a few minutes, the history of it, why it means something to our protagonist, as long as its great, I don't need stakes".  I'm paraphrasing but you get the point. There is no "you need conflict, 5 acts, turning point, etc..." These are part of a grammar that is ever-evolving. Think of elegant simplistic plots such as Inside. You don't always need a lot of plot, but sometimes immense plots are engaging. If you told me "In this game about ancient Egypt you will play the sport that Egyptians played called "crocodile wrestling" for the FIRST TIME EVER." I'd probably be interested in a story of a crocodile wrestler. The narrative is thin yet fun. Narratives that are heavy and tragic are also fun. You could write new graphs describing game arches and character stories for every year that video games innovate. Don't rule out new or old formats I say, and hope that you can birth something fresh and original or comfortable and elegant based on proven formulas.

3) There is not a clear path to become a writer in a great studio. How did this work for you? How can we pursue it? What should we know?

Write, read, write, read and write some more. Also: put your writing out into the world. Get panned, get feedback, positive and negative.

When I was just starting out as a writer I was also an avid gamer, and I wrote an entire video game that I still, to this day, would like to produce. Then I plunged into travel, writing, fatherhood and running a theatre. I wrote many plays, literature and worked in various mediums until finally my video game dreams resurfaced. I met some great artists within the gaming community and began to merge the two worlds. I started working on video games with the same passion I approached all art and when a director who had seen my plays saw that I was making video games, he pulled me under his wing.

I guess what I'm saying is always write, and always keep your dreams. You never know which one will stick. I have yet to realize my dream, but it led to realizing another dream: working on Assassin's Creed, which is one I hope to never wake up from. Such is life.

Assassin's Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017)

4) Tell us your favorite game in terms of narrative and why you like it.

Very tough question, without sounding too biased Black Flag was one of my favourite games in terms of narrative, gameplay and overall experience. Raw, visceral narrative definitely goes to The Last of Us, which I believe polishes the notion of emotion and tone inside a story. When I first played it I was blown away especially because Heavy Rain for me, was a bit too bogged down by narrative minutia. Every narrative is different, the fun and simplicity of Uncharted made me realize just how far a narrative genre can seep into every aspect of a game, similar to Resident Evil for the horror genre. The anti-narrative of Stanley's Parable (which for me, I jokingly refer to as the Waiting for Godot of video games) is one of several games that elevated video games further into its own art form and showed the immense possibilities of the medium though I didn't love the experience, I loved the innovation and playfulness of it. Impossible to say really, whenever I am pushed to answer this question I cannot give one! Similar to cinema and many other art forms, it is the entire scope of the art form that blows me away and not one specific game.

The Last of Us (Sony, 2013)


Jogos históricos e a arte da narrativa: uma entrevista com Alain Mercieca, lead writer de Assassin’s Creed Origins

Quando alguém decide contar (ou recontar) uma história que aconteceu no passado, quais os limites entre a liberdade criativa e a fidelidade histórica? Foi pensando nisso que fui atrás de Alain Mercieca, lead writer do mundialmente aclamado Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017). Esta inquietação nasceu a partir da minha experiência escrevendo TUAT, um jogo “histórico” que acontece na XVIII dinastia do Antigo Egito. Perguntei ao Alain duas questões sobre narrativa, uma sobre a sua trajetória e outra sobre os seus jogos favoritos.

Nota de tradução: quando alguma palavra for sucedida por asteriscos (*) é porque, no final do texto, há uma nota explicativa.

1) Eu acho que um dos maiores desafios em escrever um jogo histórico é adaptar a maneira de pensar (ou seja, a mentalidade, conforme definida por March Bloch e Lucien Febvre) de uma certa época para audiências modernas. Os egípcios, por exemplo, tinham uma série de crenças que poderiam soar estranhas para nós. Como isto pode ser feito sem um grande anacronismo? Toda história que contamos deve ser contada por meio da Poética de Aristóteles ou do monomito de Campbell? Ou temos que encontrar algo novo de acordo com a época e o lugar sobre os quais nós queremos falar?

Eu acredito fortemente que, para evitar anacronismos pesados, alguém deve interpretar a história de modo criativo e, se essa interpretação criativa deriva de um conhecimento genuíno e de um amor pelo período histórico, quaisquer liberdades tomadas não depreciam a experiência do game, ou mesmo a experiência artística da narrativa — essas liberdades na verdade acrescentam à experiência geral do jogo.

Informação (como artefatos, histórias, História, mitos e mesmo clichês e estereótipos — sim, eu acredito que eles precisam ser abordados, muitos são baseados em fatos) é apenas uma maneira de criar uma imagem da história. Não permitir que essas coisas ultrapassem a sua interpretação da história é o que nos faz ir ALÉM delas, criando experiências imersivas e únicas que seguem um caminho diferente daquele que leva ao detrimento de pessoas, culturas e religiões.

A stone sarcophagi, inside the recently discovered ancient burial site in Minya, Egypt.
(REUTERS - Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A imaginação é na verdade o seu melhor amigo. Curiosamente, eu acredito que fatos objetivos são simplesmente um ponto de partida para uma interpretação criativa que não fica refém da checagem de fatos. Em outras palavras, é como andar na ponta dos pés através da história estando preso a estatísticas ou evidências arqueológicas, como se elas fossem feitas para demonstrar erudição e, literalmente, enaltecer a pesquisa histórica ao invés de aplicá-las em uma história, em mundo; tão bem aplicadas que elas dão vida a novos fatos, novas ideias, novas histórias que estavam encobertos por esses vestígios, e eles, é claro, podem estar equivocados no sentido de que PODEM não ser verdadeiros. A vida secreta e desconhecida de figuras históricas e pessoas de épocas diferentes é ainda o que desperta interesse mais do que os fatos conhecidos. Os fatos históricos, muitas vezes, parecem que são imaginados — tome como exemplo o episódio de Cleópatra e o tapete*: se esse episódio foi um tanto documentado, imagine então o que não foi. Eles são infinitos.

Um exercício interessante em relação a este ponto: imagine que encontraram uma nova tumba; vamos chamá-la de TUMBA DE FELIPE, descoberta no Egito recentemente em uma área remota no deserto. Na tumba de Felipe há um osso de esquilo. Ninguém consegue explicar o porquê. Esquilos vermelhos não eram nativos do Egito, de modo algum. Então o osso deve ter pertencido a um esquilo de estimação que o faraó Felipe encontrou em suas viagens para a Europa? Nós podemos inferir que Felipe passou uns bons momentos na Eurásia, possivelmente com tribos germânicas. Vamos pegar uma tribo e construir uma amizade baseada em esquilos! Agora, de todo modo isto pode não estar nem próximo à verdade, entretanto é sem dúvida alguma POSSÍVEL baseado em um FATO. Poderia ter sido de outra maneira: talvez um chefe militar germânico passando por Alexandria deu a Felipe um esquilo como presente? Isto cria um faraó memorável, que mantém seu esquilo em uma coleira no deserto e o alimenta e cuida dele como se fosse um leão. Outra rota possível é que os esquilos DE FATO existiram no Egito. Eles até tinham um deus associado a eles que nós NUNCA CONHECEMOS. Nós até poderíamos imaginar um nome, um conjunto de mitos associados a este esquilo.

Agora, qual dessas interpretações criativas vai longe demais? Qual delas faz jus à história? Outro aspecto difícil de escrever jogos históricos é que: sim, eu li muitos livros e entendo elementos particulares de objetos arqueológicos, mas, sem colocar uma nota de rodapé no jogo ou ter uma explicação tosca, como eu faço o jogador saber “sim, isto é verídico, mas eles usaram como um ponto de partida para outra hipótese criativa de inspiração histórica!”?

2) Em sua opinião, qual componente é indispensável para uma boa história? Conflito? Antagonismo? Escolhas difíceis? Quando estamos falando de jogos históricos, o quanto nós podemos moldar a realidade para propósitos narrativos?

Apesar de ter uma narrativa mais linear, eu realmente concordo que a narrativa dos jogos eletrônicos não é simplesmente aquela em que filmes são pausados para podemos jogar. A estrutura é diferente, o jogo é diferente, a arte é diferente.

Quando o assunto é um jogo histórico, nós podemos moldá-lo da maneira que quisermos desde que a gente não traia a história. Esta noção de traição é delicada, e subjetiva às muitas e variantes opiniões de gamers e desenvolvedores. Falei extensivamente sobre isso neste artigo no blog de Greg Buchanan.

Mitologia é um ótimo exemplo. Mitologia fala de crenças profundamente arraigadas em uma cultura, e ainda é algo extremamente ficcional e criativo; são as histórias inventadas de um povo que explicam o inexplicável. Nós estamos tentamos fazer literalmente a mesma coisa: os jogos eletrônicos são uma nova mitologia baseada no que é mais factível possível. Toda mitologia é baseada em traduções de interpretações de uma cultura diversa, então se nós moldamos a realidade baseada na mitologia, estamos levando a história em consideração? Se você molda a mitologia para servir à sua narrativa, você está quebrando a imersão a fim de criar algo alucinante ou inspirador? Não existem regras, desde que fique bom.

Assassin's Creed Origins (Ubisoft, 2017)

Recentemente um escritor que eu estava lendo falava sobre o que torna uma história boa, e ele simplesmente disse: “Stakes** não importam quando eu penso sobre narrativa… Apenas quero ler coisas boas. Preencha seu trabalho com coisas boas. Fale sobre um sofá por alguns minutos, a história dele, por que ele significa algo para o protagonista, desde que seja bom eu não preciso de stakes”. Estou parafraseando, mas você entendeu. Não existem coisas como “você precisa de conflito, de cinco atos, de plot twist etc….” Tudo isso é parte de uma gramática que está em constante evolução. Pense sobre plots elegantes e simples tais como o de Inside. Nem sempre você precisa de um plot complexo, mas algumas vezes plots enormes são envolventes. Se você me dissesse: “Neste game sobre o Antigo Egito você vai jogar o jogo que os egípcios chamavam de ‘luta crocodílica’ pela PRIMEIRA VEZ NA HISTÓRIA. Eu provavelmente estaria interessado na história de um crocodilo lutador. A narrativa é leve mas divertida. Narrativas que são pesadas e trágicas também são divertidas. Você poderia escrever novos gráficos descrevendo arcos narrativos e histórias de personagens a cada ano que os jogos eletrônicos inovam. Não elimine novos ou velhos formatos, eu diria; espero que você possa gerar algo novo e original, ou confortável e elegante, a partir de fórmulas comprovadas.

3) Não há um caminho claro que nos leve à posição de roteirista em um grande estúdio. Como você chegou lá? Como nós podemos chegar lá? O que devemos saber?

Escreva, leia, escreva, leia e escreva um pouco mais. E também: coloque sua escrita no mundo. Seja criticado, receba feedback, positivo ou negativo.

Quando eu estava começando como um escritor, eu era um gamer ávido, e eu escrevi um jogo inteiro — que eu, ainda, até hoje, gostaria de produzir. Então eu mergulhei em viagens, na escrita, na paternidade e na administração de um teatro. Escrevi muitas peças, escrevi literatura e trabalhei em várias mídias até que, finalmente, meus sonhos de video game vieram novamente à tona. Conheci alguns grandes artistas dentro da comunidade gamer e comecei a unir os dois mundos. Comecei a trabalhar com games com a mesma paixão que eu empreguei a todas as outras artes e, quando um diretor (que tinha visto minhas peças) viu que eu estava fazendo jogos, ele me puxou para debaixo da sua asa.

Acho que estou querendo dizer o seguinte: sempre escreva e sempre sonhe. A gente nunca sabe qual deles vai permanecer. Eu ainda tenho que realizar meu sonho, mas ele me levou a realizar um outro: trabalhar em Assassin’s Creed, do qual eu espero nunca acordar. A vida é assim.

4) Diz pra gente o seu jogo favorito em termos de narrativa e por que você gosta dele.

Pergunta muito difícil. Sem querer soar muito tendencioso, Black Flag foi um dos meus games favoritos em termos de narrativa, gameplay e experiência geral. Em relação à narrativa bruta, visceral, definitivamente é The Last of Us, o qual eu acredito que ilustra a noção de emoção e tom dentro de uma história. Quando eu o joguei pela primeira vez fiquei impressionado, especialmente porque Heavy Rain havia me deixado um pouco encalhado nas minúcias da história. Toda narrativa é diferente, a diversão e simplicidade de Uncharted me fez perceber até que ponto um gênero narrativo pode influenciar cada aspecto de um jogo, igual Resident Evil fez com o gênero do horror. A anti-narrativa de Stanley’s Parable (que eu chamo, de brincadeira, de Esperando Godot*** dos video games), um dos vários jogos que elevam os games à sua forma de arte própria, mostrando as imensas possibilidades deste meio — embora não tenha amado a experiência, eu amei a inovação e a ludicidade dele. Impossível dizer todos, sempre que sou obrigado a responder esta questão eu não consigo citar apenas um! Coisa parecida acontece com o cinema e muitas outras formas de arte: é o escopo inteiro que me impressiona, e não um título específico.

Notas explicativas:
* Famoso episódio em que Cleópatra se esconde em um tapete para encontrar Júlio César; é relatado por Plutarco na Vida de César, 49.1-2. Na realidade, segundo o texto grego, não se trata de um tapete, mas de um saco de couro ou de linho no qual as escravas guardavam as roupas de cama (στρωματόδεσμον).

** No vocabulário narrativo, stake é um termo difícil de ser traduzido para a nossa língua. Pode ser entendido como o risco que o personagem corre durante a história, mas também por “motivação” (aquilo que impele o personagem à ação ou, em outras palavras, o que ele pode perder ao longo da narrativa) e por “trama” ou “fórmula narrativa”. Para se ter uma ideia mais precisa do termo, ver https://bit.ly/2LqsQJA.

*** Peça de Samuel Beckett. En attendant Godot, no original francês, ou Waiting for Godot, em inglês.

Jul 12, 2018

The art of TUAT #1: inspirations

10:48 PM Posted by Yvonne No comments

This post is the first of a series in which we are going to talk about the creative process behind the art of TUAT.

When we are talking about the Ancient Egypt the images that usually comes up in our mind are something like these: the pyramids, the texture of the desert, earthy colors, the waters of the Nile, the paintings in the tombs. These are, of course, the basic elements that composed our first research about Ancient Egypt art and identity.

Our initial concern was to understand which shapes, traces, colors, compositions and elements characterized the egyptian aesthetics. We had to make a deep analysis of images in order to create something that was plausible and could transport the player to that context. We wanted the player to feel that characters and the environments seems to belong to what we consider “egyptian” — but in a different style.

But how to show Ancient Egypt with a different look, without repeat the patterns, stereotypes and clichés?

So we decided to explore the death. The dark atmosphere that we attribute to death today is the second identity element that defines TUAT’s art. For this we research and appoint other artistic products that have the same characteristics. These were: the art of Coraline (LAIKA, 2009), Paranorman (LAIKA, 2012), the child book Babadook — the same from the movie — (Causeway films, 2014) and John Kenn Mortensen illustrations (write and direct television shows for kids).

 Something in common in these exemple are the mix of elements of terror with a “childish” style. The illustrations of Babadook, for exemple, have irregular lines, ink marks on black fills, and an aesthetic like it was a drawing made by a child. Despite the terror tone, it’s still a children's book.

Coraline and Paranorman have the same irregular linearts and brush strokes on blank fills. The deliberate choice of this type of finishing adds the "eccentric" tone of the narratives proposed by the two films.

John Kenn’s works show the daily life of children and adults, and this ordinary world is inhabited by strange creatures. They break up all the normality of the scenes, and that monsters gain space and cause a lot of disturbance being shown that way.

This is an interesting contrast that we wanted to put in the TUAT, this feeling of strangeness and annoyance caused by the combination of the childish style and the horror. In this first moment we wanted to bring to you the artistic references that in some way guide and impact the art of TUAT. Soon we will talk about how we technically adapted these inspirations to the style of the game. See you there!

A postagem de hoje é a primeira parte de uma série que vai falar um pouco sobre o processo criativo por trás da arte do TUAT.

A imagem mental que o Antigo Egito nos evoca é muito característica: as pirâmides, a textura do deserto, as cores terrosas, os templos e arquiteturas grandiosos, as águas do rio Nilo, as pinturas nas tumbas. Esses são os elementos básicos que compuseram nossa primeira pesquisa sobre arte e identidade egípcia antiga.

O mais importante nesse primeiro momento foi entender quais eram as formas, traços, cores, composições e os elementos que caracterizavam a estética egípcia. Só assim, através de uma análise imagética, seria possível criar algo que fosse verossímil e que pudesse transportar o jogador para aquele contexto, de modo que tanto os personagens como os ambientes parecessem pertencer de fato ao que nós normalmente consideramos “egípcio”.

Mas como mostrar o Antigo Egito de uma maneira diferente, sem repetir os padrões e estereótipos que já viraram clichê dentro desse tema?

É aí que outro elemento importantíssimo entra em jogo: a morte.

A atmosfera sombria que atribuímos à morte hoje é o segundo elemento identitário que define a arte do TUAT. Para isso, pesquisamos e elegemos outros produtos artísticos que possuem essa característica, sendo os principais deles: a arte de Coraline (LAIKA, 2009), Paranorman (LAIKA, 2012), o livro infantil Babadook, cujo o nome é o mesmo dado ao filme (Causeway Films, 2014), e as ilustrações de John Kenn Mortensen (roterista e diretor de programas de TV infantis).

Uma coisa em comum em todos esses exemplos citados é que eles misturam, de maneira primorosa, elementos de terror com um estilo “infantil”.

As ilustrações de Babadook, por exemplo, têm traçados irregulares, marcas de tinta nos preenchimentos de preto e uma estética quase como se fosse um desenho feito por uma criança. Apesar de um tom de terror, continua sendo um livro infantil.

Já Coraline e Paranoman têm em comum um mesmo tipo de traçado irregular e preenchimentos rabiscados e imprecisos. A escolha deliberada desse tipo de acabamento agrega ao tom “excêntrico” das narrativas propostas pelos dois filmes.

As ilustrações de John Kenn apresentam cotidianos de crianças de adultos com a presença de criaturas estranhas que quebram totalmente com a normalidade daquelas cenas. Aqueles monstros ganham ainda mais destaque e causam ainda mais incômodo estando apresentados dessa maneira.

Esse é um contraste interessante que queríamos colocar no TUAT, essa sensação de estranhamento e incômodo causados pela combinação do traço infantil e do horror.

Neste primeiro momento quisemos trazer a vocês as referências artísticas que de alguma maneira norteiam e impactam a arte do TUAT. Em breve falaremos sobre como nós adaptamos tecnicamente essas inspirações para o estilo do jogo. Até lá!

Jun 27, 2018

TUAT Around the World #1

6:11 PM Posted by Felipe Marques No comments

Two weeks ago we had the opportunity to set up a "booth" for TUAT at RING, a local event based in Rio de Janeiro that puts together indie devs from the whole region. A lot of players could experience our game and they gave us a lot of precious feedback. We also participated in the pitch rounds and could receive a professional commentary about our work. That was very funny and we could learn a lot! Here are some pics we took:

We also released a new trailer for the event! It is focused on the gameplay and the game mechanics. You can check it out below:

Soon we will bring more unique content about our creating process. Stay tuned and see you guys next time!

Jun 8, 2018

Creating Puzzles for TUAT

12:10 PM Posted by Lucas Izumi No comments
In today's post, I would like to show our creative process while creating puzzles for TUAT.

In TUAT, puzzles are much more than simple game elements. If they are not directly connected with the narrative, they are at least connected with cultural elements of Ancient Egypt. In order to create this connection we have to work with a few limitations, like the restricted use of mechanisms, after all, at that time there was still no variety that we know today.

Historical Limitations
A good example of this was during a discussion we had about a puzzle. It would work very well with the use of cogwheels, but by researching on it we discovered that cogwheels did not yet exist at that time. The Predynastic period of Ancient Egypt dates from around 5500 BC and the first reported use of a cogwheel was in the Antikythera mechanism, from around 200 BC.

In a later research, we then found about the defense mechanism used in the Great Pyramid of Giza. It uses a system of huge granite blocks suspended on grooves. When activated, the blocks would be released and slid to close a passage. The puzzle itself was not about closing something, but we could use the core idea of this system and adapt it to fit our puzzle settings, replacing the cogwheels entirely.

Source: Science Channel
Puzzle Design and Ancient Egypt Culture
Our puzzle creation process starts by asking ourselves a few questions:
- What's the purpose of the puzzle? Is it to teach a new mechanic? To obtain an item?
- Where will the puzzle be located?
- Based on the puzzle location, which basic elements fit that environment?
- Which cultural/mythological elements fit that environment?

By putting all these answers together we have a clear view of what to use in that specific puzzle. From here we take a look at our limitations: are all elements good to use? After doing a research and discarding or replacing some elements, we finally come up with an initial idea. This idea is documented and tested using Paper Prototypes (or simply diagrams). We discuss it and when we all find it interesting enough, we implement a prototype of it in the game itself.

The Ancient Egypt rites and the games played in those times are a great source of inspiration when designing a puzzle. Take for instance the Canopic Jars. They were used during the mummification process and each one of them holds a specific purpose. By exploring their purpose we created a puzzle that teaches the player their use and has a conceptual value that calls upon the beliefs of that era. This is something strong in TUAT. We don't want puzzles to be a mere element between the narrative. We want to use them to further dive into the Ancient Egypt culture and present it to the player in different ways.

The Canopic Jars Puzzle
I really wish I could share more about the game puzzles, but I don't want to spoil your experience! I hope you guys enjoy this post and please keep an eye out for TUAT! We shall be releasing a demo soon!

May 27, 2018

Here's our newest project: know TUAT

11:38 AM Posted by Felipe Marques No comments
In the past months we decided to work in a project different from everything we have done before. So far all the Sonera’s games focused in exploring the mechanical potential of game design. Now we just threw caution to the wind and wanted to try something new that could challenge us of every single way. Here is where we bet:

(The trailer is in Portuguese, our native language, but we hope you can feel what we are trying to do. And it is a little bit out of date, since it was done last year and doesn’t reflect the project’s nowadays. But again: try to feel it, not judge it. Btw, you can use English subtitles if you want.)

TUAT is a game about death. This is our leitmotiv. It was born of our desire to talk about death when everything we see rejects death like if we are going to live forever. We choose the Egyptian religion and society as our general theme because we saw something very precious there, a new attitude towards death, and we hope to bring it in our game.

Technically speaking, TUAT is a 2D game that focuses on exploration and storytelling. You are a boy who wakes up in a weird place and you don’t know how the hell you got there. Everything you want is go back for your daily life, but you have no memories: you don’t remember who you really are.

It is important to say that you are an Egyptian boy. We don’t want to tell a story about a North American or European explorer that comes to Egypt searching for rich treasures or magical objects. We want to go deep in the Egyptian mentality and develop a game from within this culture. That’s why I am studying hieroglyphics and Egyptian thought, so everything in the game will be as accurate as possible, trying to avoid at any cost the anachronism, this ghost that haunts all the historians.

Here are some pics of the expositions of TUAT:

Every week one of us will post some content on the blog concerning the development of TUAT. So you guys can take a look at the game from different perspectives. See you all next time!

Sep 11, 2017

Food Eater - AGBIC 2017 entry

7:36 PM Posted by Lucas Izumi , , , , , , No comments
A Game by its Cover is an annual game jam where participants pick a famicase design and turn it into a game! Last time I joined this jam was in 2015, with SHE. This year I'm going with Food Eater!

Komida-chan can't control herself during her trip to FoodIsland. Please, stop her before it's too late!

Food Eater is a casual arcade game created during "A Game By Its Cover 2017" game jam. It was based on the Food Eater famicase by Ezequiel Nietoš.

Picking a Famicase
From the famicase exhibition page, I first picked my favorites. I really really wanted to create games for all of them, but I knew I wouldn't have enough time. Each famicase has a small synopsis of the game (which the dev may or may not follow). Based on these synopsis, I created an idea for each of them.
A game of skill, strategy and wits.

Idea: The idea here was to make the Rock-Paper-Scissors game more dynamic and unforeseen. Each player would have a whole scenario at their disposal and would choose Rock, Paper or Scissors to interact with an object of that scenario. A player's interaction would trigger something that would affect the other player. For instance: Player 1 chooses Rock on a Hydant. Player 2 chooses Rock on a Manhole Cover. The hydrant fires water at Player 2, but Player 2 covers her/himself with the manhole cover, so nothing happens. Trying different combinations and guessing their results could be very fun.
Chop ‘n Click is a point and click game where you play as a detective trying to unravel a series of murders. Every crime scene shares a common element - each victim has had their pointing finger cut off. Will justice be fulfilled? Will our hero fall into the trap of madness? Play and see for yourself!

Idea: In this game I would follow its synopsis. The player would investigate crime scenes in a static screen, interacting with the objects. Between a scene and other, there would be dialogues (visual novel like). The main catch here would be that, the finger that was cut off would be pointing to the most important clue of each crime scene. By realizing this the player would be able to put everything together and solve the mistery.
Thunders, a strong wind, the storm is approaching ... Raijin and Fuujin have arrived! They are Storm Brothers! Sound the drums and ride the strong wind to get to the top of the sky!

Idea: A rhythm game. Raijin would play the drums and Fuujin would fly up to the sky. Each note you don't miss makes Fuujin go higher. Each note you miss makes Fuujin go down. If you miss enough, Fuujin would touch the ground and you would fail the song. By playing perfectly, Fuujin would reach the stars. This one, actually, was going to be my first choice. I even gathered some resources to study how to detect the beats of a music, but as I digged deep into it I realized I wouldn't be able to finish in time. I want to return to this, though, when I have more time.
Komida-chan can't control herself during his trip to FoodIsland. Please! stop her before it's too late!

Idea: My choice for this jam! I really liked the famicase and the synopsis was fun. I had trouble thinking on what to do with this one. First I thought of a platformer where you were supposed to destroy all the foods so Komida-chan woudn't eat anything, and from time to time she would try to eat you and there would be a boss fight, etc. I discarded this idea, in parts, to make it playable on mobile devices (and to try something different). I usually have trouble thinking of small arcade games, but some concepts of the earlier idea led me to this: use different tools (controlled by mouse or touch) to destroy the foods and make Komida-chan snap out of whatever is making her lose control. The idea is very simple and would lead to a very simple game, exactly what I wanted!

Designing the Game
I started designing this game by thinking of its screen. I then made a mockup of it (in MS Paint because I didn't have any paper with me atm)

In this screen I'm trying to balance the visual elements. The conveyor belts are placed at each side of the screen, Komida-chan is at the top center and the Saciety Bar (which diplays your progress towards winning or losing) is placed ate the central point of the screen - where the eyes of the player usually rest. This way the player knows, most of the time, if he/she is winning or losing. The lower area of the screen was reserved for the tools the player would use.

The next step was to define which tools I wanted in the game. I was trying to think of something kitchen-related, but decided it would be more fun if the tools were something different. I then thought of a Torch and a Fan - putting fire and blowing food off seems a good way of making someone stop eating. A hammer to 'destroy' food and a vacuum to suck it also seems pretty good.

With all the elements defined, I started designing a prettier mockup. I would use the objects on it as the backgrounds and sprites for the game later.

For each tool I chose a 'matching' food. Lettuce for the Torch, Fries for the Fan, Cake for the Hammer and a Flan for the Vacuum. By interacting with each of theses foods with the correspondent tool would make it inedible, decreasing Komida-chan's Saciety Bar.

Making the game more interesting
Managing the tools in order to destroy the food before it reaches Komida-chan was pretty fun, but it didn't have any replay element. Once the player wins once, there is absolutely no reason for them to replay the game. To try to fix this I added 2 very common elements: different dificulties and a combo system.

I divided the game into 3 different dificulties: Easy, Medium and Hard. Each of them impacts on the speed of the conveyor belt and how full the Saciety Bar starts. Since it's a reflex based game, the player can try different modes until they find one that suits them. Once that is set, they can try another mode to challenge themselves.

The combo system walks side by side with the different modes. Combos intuitively leads the player to aim for the highest possible value. If they break the combo somehow, some may be motivated to try again and keep the combo going. Mixing this with harder modes creates challenges that increase the game's replayability (like trying to beat Hard Mode with a full combo).

Porting to Winnitron
Winnitron is an open source platform for indie arcade machines and games. This year's AGBIC suggested the devs to make the games created during the jam compatible with Winnitron machines.

Food Eater was primarily designed to be played with mouse or touch controls. Porting the game to an arcade system like Winnitron was quite a challenge. The core of the game would have to change for this to work and at the same time, the changes couldn't be so dramatic to the point of making the game lose in gameplay.

The solution I found to this was to divide the gameplay mechanics in two groups:
- Choosing the tool
- Using the tool
Since Winnitron only uses 2 buttons and a stick, each mechanic has to be simple enough to fit it.

Choosing the tool
A player can choose which tool he/she wants to use at the moment by simply pressing Button 1 or Button 2. Button 1 will select the next tool on the left and Button 2 will select the next tool on the right. This will cycle through all the tools available, meaning that if you have the last tool on the right selected and press Button 2, it will return to the first tool on the left. With this system players can pick tools with more ease during the flow of the game.

Using the tool
Using the tool is the most important part of the game, since it's your winning condition: use the right tools on the right foods. To use a tool a player simply needs to press either LEFT or RIGHT in the stick. Different from the original version, in the Winnitron port you will be aiming ALWAYS at the first plate that contains food in the conveyor belt. This way, if the first plate contains a cake, when pressing the stick in that plate's direction, you will be aiming at it (you will know at all times at which plate you will be aiming because it will have a arrow above it). If a plate contains nothing or inedible food, you will aim in the next plate that contains food of that conveyor belt.

I made several tests using a keyboard, but it will never replace the feeling of playing in a arcade machine. If you end up playing Food Eater in a Winnitron, let me know how was the experience!