In the Valley of Gods

por Campo Santo
The studio
Choosing their own adventure

It’s not surprising that storytelling sits at the core of Campo Santo. The team, which includes alums from Telltale, Irrational, Double Fine, and Lionhead (among others), lives at the crossroads where place, people, and stories meet. “One of the things that drives us is our fascination with how transportive games can be,” says Campo Santo co-founder Jake Rodkin. “It’s not just about telling a story, it’s about making the person playing it feel a real connection to the character and story being told.”

Indeed, one of Campo Santo’s main design philosophies is making sure players comfortably settle into the skin of the main character. Ideas like body awareness and intricate animations for hands help make that connection between player and game, allowing them to get lost and adopt the character’s perspective as their own.

The self-described “scrappy” Campo Santo team in San Francisco

The self-described “scrappy” Campo Santo team in San Francisco

Campo Santo learned a lot developing their first title – the award-winning narrative adventure Firewatch – making them confident embarking on the even more ambitious In the Valley of Gods, where they’re introducing an AI-controlled actor who has many adventures. And while their focus is currently on how the story unfolds, Campo Santo is taking steps to ensure it’s truly compelling with plenty of meaningful character interactions.

The project
Out of the trees and into the desert

In the Valley of Gods tells the story about the challenges of friendship, placing players in the boots of Rashida, a documentary filmmaker in the 1920s who is trying to get her career out of a slump. Though her boots are covered in Egyptian sand rather than the dirt of Firewatch’s mountainous Wyoming forests, the character still brings all of the rich and complicated history and baggage you’d expect to find in a real person’s life story.

As with Firewatch, character development is central to In the Valley of Gods

As with Firewatch, character development is central to In the Valley of Gods

With this, their sophomore effort, Campo Santo is hoping to refine and improve the techniques developed in Firewatch to connect players directly to Rashida, while introducing even more complexity via Rashida’s companion character Zora, a former friend whom Rashida had vowed never to work with again.

The revived relationship progresses as players interact with Zora, who responds based on player choices. “In Firewatch, Henry’s relationship with Delilah was really great and fun, but having a disembodied voice along with you for yet another story could wear thin. There are probably only so many times you can get away with that,” remarks Rodkin. “We knew the next big step was introducing a fully animated, emoting NPC that reacts to player actions. Zora isn’t just there to staunch the feeling of loneliness, but to offer a more impactful way to express the story and the characters’ relationship.”

Assistir o trailer de In the Valley of Gods
The reveal
The luxury of planning

With In the Valley of Gods, Campo Santo has spent the majority of the game’s early development in preproduction: Fleshing out the story and characters, building out visual style, and developing the unique tools they need to deliver on their aspirations, which you can see in the trailer released during the 2017 Game Awards.

This is different than the approach they took on Firewatch, where all phases of development happened more or less at the same time. Once production got underway, most of the gameplay and level design was built side by side with story and dialogue. “Though that was partly just a necessity. A big reason we developed Firewatch that way was because the simpler design of that game allowed us to.” For In the Valley of Gods, the team has aimed its sights at achieving lofty goals, which tend to require meticulous planning.

“The development of the scenes for the trailer was a way for the people working on art, tech, and rendering to figure out how to take the concept paintings and make them a reality in-engine, and they really ‘knocked it out of the park.’ Now we’re busy taking all of those learnings and improving on everything even more. We’re working with Unity fairly closely on much of this, with the hope that what we’re doing will make its way back into the community, and hopefully Unity itself – if not our literal code then at least our discoveries.”

Research leading to better options

Most of what we’re looking at in the trailer, while already running in real-time in Unity at a high frame rate, is merely a first pass that allowed the team to work on the look of the game and explore new technologies and shaders.

The companion character Zora was particularly eye-catching. Not only for her smooth animation and memorable silhouette, but also for facial animation and her dramatic hair, which looked as though it had real volume thanks to some custom shaders and interesting baking techniques to get the rim light to look exactly right (you can read about it here).

Um teste de retroiluminação para o cabelo de Zora

And while the hair was hand-animated for the trailer, if you look closely, you can also see a preview of the simple physics spring system in Zora’s earrings, which will eventually provide a more realistic and dynamic bounce to those beautiful locks.

Even sequences eventually cut from the final trailer were beneficial to levels planned for the final game, including one that had the two characters wading through waist-high, fully simulated water in a flooded underground tomb. “It was one of the most technical pieces of the trailer but it didn’t really fit with the story we wanted to tell at the time so it was cut,” says Rodkin. “It’s something we’re very excited to evolve as we go farther down the development road.”

São as pequenas coisas que importam

Visuais ambiciosos de alto nível são muito bons: locais bonitos, pessoas detalhadas, luz e sombra tão realistas que fazem o jogador se misturar com o ambiente. Mas na maior parte do tempo, o sucesso depende das pequenas coisas, recursos tecnológicos menos chamativos. Este foi o caso da animação de personagens de Campo Santo. Eles fizeram a transição de uma imensa máquina de estado de animação, usada em Henry em Firewatch para máquinas de estado localizadas, animações únicas e timelines baseadas em API Playables, que foi lançada aos poucos em 2017.

"Com Henry em Firewatch, nosso animador queria realmente passar a experiência de um corpo completo o tempo todo, o que significa que ao olhar para baixo em primeira pessoa, você veria uma pessoa inteira andando, subindo uma corda, pegando objetos, etc", explica Rodkin.
"Firewatch era um grande espaço contínuo, sem telas de carregamento ou oportunidades para descarregar partes do jogo só porque você atravessou parte do mundo. E, na época, isso significava uma imensa e confusa máquina de estado Mecanim para considerar cada interação que poderia acontecer a qualquer momento no jogo, o que era difícil de ler e mais difícil ainda de manipular."

 Like Zora, the team has its eyes on the horizon

Like Zora, the team has its eyes on the horizon

A API Playables, para quem não conhece, fornece uma forma de organizar e compartilhar fontes de dados ao longo de múltiplas funções. Scripts de jogo, animação e som podem ser visualizados através de um diagrama para manter tudo organizado entre as funções.

"Do jeito que as coisas funcionam agora, significa que personagens carregam muito menos dados. Significa que a organização do mundo é mais fácil. Significa que objetos podem compartilhar dados de forma rápida e eficiente. Animações ainda podem ser combinadas, mas os dados agora podem ser fixados a objetos específicos."

"Por exemplo: caso você queira sentar naquela cadeira, a animação de combinação da cadeira pode ser compartilhada enquanto o personagem interage com o objeto em si. Felizmente, isso significa que as máquinas de estado da animação são muito menores em comparação a uma teia gigante toda emaranhada, onde os fios são difíceis de seguir. Ainda estamos trabalhando na organização dos detalhes do nosso pipeline, mas a exploração inicial é muito promissora!", conclui Rodkin.

It’s a long road

The development journey of In the Valley of Gods has only just begun. Keep your eyes on this page for details as the game progresses, and we’ll also share how Campo Santo is using Unity’s new features to make this already stunningly beautiful adventure come to life in 2019.

Campo Santo usa uma extensa gama de funcionalidades Unity para dar vida aos personagens Rashida e Zora.

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