Arabic is fixed!
We've been averaging about a blog post a month -- not by design, it just works out that way -- which means if we stick to that pace, then in just one more posting, the launch of the game will be imminent.
Well, I think we will post a little more frequently, because we'll have increasing amounts to say about the game as we get closer to release. In the meantime, here's:
(It is longer than Long Screenshot #1!)
This week we just finished recording the majority of the final voiceover. We're going to do a little more in early January, but most of it is in the can. After New Year's we'll make some postings where we announce who the voice actors are (you may know some of them from other recent games!)
Physical Box Release
We've had some people asking us whether there will be a physical retail release of The Witness. It's seeming likely, as we have been in talks with a couple of parties for a while about that possibility. *However*, it looks like if there is a retail release, it won't happen until a little bit after the digital release. The reason is just that we need all the time we can get up until the release date in order to get all the finishing touches into the game; but because of the lead-time involved in physical manufacturing and distribution, we would have to freeze the game right about now in order to have it on store shelves for the release date. *Or* we could delay the digital release date in order to wait for the physical. But I don't see a good reason to do either of those things. I would rather just focus our energy on making the game as good as we can make it, and a retail version can lag behind by a little bit.
What Else is Going On
We've gotten the bulk of the translations into the game for all the languages mentioned in the previous blog posting. There is a small percentage of text that will come in a little later, but for the most part those languages are in. Also, we will be adding Hungarian to the list of languages suppoorted at release.
Here are some screenshots of Arabic and Russian:
Of all the languages, supporting Arabic took by far the most programming work, and as you can see from some gaps between the letters, and a couple of cases where letters are too close to each other, it's not quite done yet. I will be working on that as soon as I finish with this blog posting! But I think even with these issues it is starting to look nice.
We're doing *lots* of little gameplay fixes all around the island, like, what does collision feel like in this area when you bump into things, what happens if you are standing in this doorway and the door tries to close on top of you, all that kind of thing.
Visuals are mostly locked down at the moment; we are no longer changing big things about how the game looks, we're more making spot-fixes here and there every time we see something we don't totally like.
Music and Sound Effects
Once in a while I get a question, from someone who really liked the music in Braid, what the soundtrack in The Witness is like. The answer to this question is that there isn't one. There is (almost) no music in the game. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact very important to the coherence of the thing we are making.
The Witness is a game about being perceptive: noticing subtleties in the puzzles you find, noticing details in the world around you. If we slather on a layer of music that is just arbitrarily playing, and not really coming from the world, then we're adding a layer of stuff that works against the game. It'd be like a layer of insulation that you have to hear through in order to be more present in the world.
Instead, we put a great deal of care into the sounds of the world around you, in a way that maximizes immersion in the game. This is made trickier by the game's setting: you are alone on this island, and there are not even any other animals. There are no birds in the trees! In everyday life if we imagine the sound of nature, we'll think of some elements that have no place on the island: a forest naturally has the sounds of birds, plains with smaller shrubbery will have crickets, a marsh will have the sounds of many insects. There's none of that in this game because in this game you are really alone, and it has forced us to be very creative with the audio in order to ensure things have depth and texture to them. This work is being done by Wabi Sabi Sound, who did the sound for the very atmospheric Dead Space series, and more recently some smaller, artier games like Ori and the Blind Forest.
We thought it would be fun to release a few more small videos to give you more of a feel of what the world of the game is like, so here's:
Story and Voicework
Lately I have been doing a lot of work on story and voice acting stuff. When wandering around the island, you may find voice recordings that were placed by ... well, at the outset of the game, you don't know who; and as the game goes along, there is an interesting mystery to unfold about who these people are or were. In the game currently we have what is known as "temp voice", which is me reading all the parts under very noisy conditions and just getting them into the game so we can make sure the data works properly with the engine, to get all the subtitles into the game and roughly synced with the audio (which we need to do sooner than later so we can give the translators those subtitles, which they will translate into many different languages).
We have cast the real actors and starting tomorrow we'll do our first test readings with those actors. We'll use this to get a new layer of temp voice in the game, which will get it closer to final; this will allow me to see how the game really feels with this stuff in there, possibly to adjust the nuances of the way the recordings appear in the game and the way they are played back. When everything feels good we'll do a set of final recording sessions. There's not a whole lot of time until release, and we have several holidays coming up, but we'll get it done!
We are working with Warner Brothers Game Audio in Burbank, California to do the voice stuff; they are providing the facilities and voice direction and production assistance. After we do a few recording sessions I will have more details to share in this department.
Earlier, I mentioned subtitles. As many games do, we will be localizing our game so that people who speak many different languages will be able to understand the words. We are not recording voice acting in different languages, mainly because it is pretty hard to make sure quality is high when you do that. It is hard enough making sure acting is good in just *one* language. We generally seem to feel the same way about movies: a foreign-language dub of a movie is generally considered to be inferior to a subtitled version, because the acting is so important.
Our localization efforts will involve menu text and subtitles, just as for a good movie.
This is not 100% final, but here's the list of languages we are planning to have translations for, at launch:
- Spanish (Spain)
- Spanish (Latin America)
- Portuguese (Portugal)
- Portuguese (Brazil)
- Chinese (Simplified)
- Chinese (Traditional)
We may add more languages later but man this stuff is expensive, so there is a limit to how many languages we can do at once.
We will have more news for you before too long!
Deanna Van Buren, who worked with us designing the buildings for The Witness, has a blog posting on Gamasutra about video games seen through the eyes of an architect.
This week we have been working on a new trailer that we hope to release before too long.
It will not only show the game in a further state of visual development than the previous trailer (which is two and a half years old now -- wow!), it'll also show lots of scenes you probably haven't seen before.
The trailer isn't done yet, but here are a few stills:
Ignore the debug text in the upper-right (including the frame rate; these were taken on a monitor that's locked at 30Hz; the game runs much faster on higher-end PCs.) Also, the actual trailer will be produced at much sharper image quality and higher resolution. These are just snippets of the non-final footage we are using to figure out the composition and flow of the trailer.
We are in full bug extermination mode.
A few months ago, only a few of Jon's friends were playing the game and checking for major problems, but now we have Francis as a game tester, and we have an other guy starting later this month as a tester too. With someone testing the game full time, the bugs are really piling up. This is great because we are getting the game in shape for release, but it's also wearing us down a bit because it's non-creative, discouraging work, since for every bug we solve there are usually more that appear on our list.
There are many different kinds of bugs, some really major and a ton of minor things that can be solved fairly quickly. We are finding errors of all sorts, in lightmaps, shadows, collision, grass planting, reflections, mesh placement, modeling, materials, sound, etc. Not to mention a bunch of weird things that sometimes take a while to track down. We also have to check the game in High, Medium and Low quality, because different errors can happen at the different settings.
The biggest bugs involve spoilers, since they are usually finicky and gameplay related, so I can't share those, but here are some minor ones that wouldn't generally take too long to fix:
-Here we have a bit of collision randomly hanging out in the desert. If you tried to walk through it, you would be blocked and have no idea why. Things like this were really difficult to find, until Casey added some tools to visualize the collision:
-Sometimes, we just get bugs of areas that look unfinished, or wrong, like this corner over here. Francis is supposed to tell us not only about serious errors, but also notify us about things that generally feel wrong to him as a player. By fixing these areas, we hopefully get rid of some potential immersion breaking moments.
-In this shot, some of the little modular rocks were not receiving any sunlight:
-And here we have two separate bugs, the turret that is getting black lightmaps, and an open rock mesh below:
-This is a shot of the player being able to walk into a rock, and seeing through it:
-This is a pretty one, some error with the clusters of the modular catwalk meshes:
-There are tons of cases where the grass is clipping through things:
-And little lightmap errors that mean there is a back-facing triangle somewhere in the mesh:
-In this area the dynamic lights create some really ugly shadows:
-And finally, the bug that haunted us for at least a year, the giant colorful grass bug. It would happen almost always when replanting grass, and would not disappear until you restarted the game. Insanely large, colorful versions of the grass would appear and wave in the wind, blocking you from doing anything. Still not sure if we ever figured this one out:
These are only a tiny sliver of all the different kinds of things that we run into while testing the game. It's a huge island and a lot of things can go wrong, so to make sure we ship a great game, we have to do a really thorough job. However, this and some optimization is pretty much all that's left to do!
And now, here is a bonus a picture of Jon doing something weird with a tape measure taped to a mug:
We have this depth mode in the editor, that I've never really used for anything other than taking neat screenshots for fun. It's been a while since the last post, so I thought it might be cool to share some. It's difficult to find interesting new screenshots to share lately, since we've already shown a lot of the game and don't want to ruin the exploration when it comes out!
In the last few weeks we’ve been adding the final art touches to the island.
Now that we have all the content locked down, Deanna, one of the architects, is reviewing all the structures we created and make sure they are as correct as possible.
Even though they previously designed the buildings and we implemented them, there have been many revisions and tweaks for gameplay that caused deviations from the original concepts, and in some cases, we just had to make stuff up with the best of our knowledge without ever having the Architect Seal Of Approval™
Another type of issue is how two different surfaces meet. The more detailed the island gets, the more these stand out as incomplete. As an example, the way this wood structure connects with the floor:
Some of this work might seem minute but it really makes the whole environment feel more grounded, adding a lot to the experience!
As some of you may have noticed in old screenshots, we had a few placeholder statues around the island. I designed these when I joined the project almost four years ago, and a while back Luis sculpted a couple of nice final ones. However, as we were finalizing some areas, we wanted to add even more statues. We realized that Luis would never have the time to sculpt all of them as well as help me finish the rest of the art, so we searched for a sculptor.
We managed to find Andrea Blasich, a most excellent artist skilled at both traditional and 3D sculpture. He is blowing through the statues and continues to wow us with his stuff. He just finished this giant lady sculpted into the mountainside, and it turned out so beautiful, I wanted to share it: