Tenebrae Talk: Norse, Dungeons & 3D Metroidvania

Tenebrae Talk: Norse, Dungeons & 3D Metroidvania

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November 4, 2015. From sunny southern Italy arrived Troglobytes Games, an eclectic ensemble of Game industry veterans and young talent that debuted on the Higher Eclectic Community with their first joint gaming venture. Marketed as 2.5D, action packed love letter to the Metroidvania genre, said venture — Tenebrae: Twilight Of The Gods — promised to hurl players into the procedurally-generated underworld of Tenebrae, tasking them to rid it of its demonic legions as one of two playable characters amid backtracking, replayability & non-linearity. Fascinating and grand as that may have sounded, the only visual material that supplemented that vision at the time comprised of but humble GIF’s and character concept art.

Ten days later, a teaser arrived — showcasing one of two of the game’s protagonists prancing around procedurally generated dungeons in 2.5D, looting crates & clinging to walls against the epic thump of Denny Schneidemesser’s music. Significantly positive as response towards it was, said teaser was in fact a prelude to the game’s Square Enix Collective Campaign; a Steam Greenlight-ish program wherein select independent games are showcased amidst Enix’s gaming audience for a little below than a month. As the audience then votes ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on whether they’d like to see each of those make it to their screens, developers tend to feedback, queries and attempt to market their creations in the most creative of ways.

 

 

At the end of this 28 day Feedback phase, Square Enix moves to support up to 10 different, community approved game projects through a phase of crowdfunding — before offering its distribution services to developers at the end of a successful Kickstarter/Indiegogo campaign. As one would expect then, response to Tenebrae was predominantly positive — with up to 89% of the campaign’s visitor up voting the game. Throughout the course of their Feedback phase, Troglobytes were seen sharing a multitude of snippets from their Metroidvania epic’s development & lore, attempting to muster support towards their campaign from both within the Higher Eclectic community and in indie game circles outside it.

With the end of the campaign by December 14th however, the activity & noise that Troglobytes brought along with it subsided just as quickly as it had arrived. The obvious train of thought led one to assume that this was simply the team lying in wait for the Collective’s results; Troglobytes were notified that Square Enix would reach out with a decision within a fortnight, but that strangely is yet to transpire.

Interpersonal communication with the team’s Lead programmer & Tech. Artist Luciano Iurino at the time, indicated that the team were already moving on– hinting at the possible issuance of an Xbox One release announcement over Christmas, ongoing development of the same and an invitation to the 2016 Game Developers Conference that they couldn’t accept due totime constraints.

On the 29th of January this year, said Xbox One release announcement arrived — with the team revealing to the public that despite the uncertainty of the Collective campaign, Tenebrae: Twilight of the Gods would indeed be making its debut on the Xbox One later this year. A few days later, the team were back making all the right noises on the Community– showing off an all new campaign area while teasing ‘radical’ changes to the game that would bring about game play aspects uncommon to the Metroidvania genre.

 

 

 

With the confirmation of Tenebrae: Twilight Of The Gods’ Xbox One release now in the bag, developers Troglobytes Games…

Posted by Higher Eclectic Ground on Thursday, February 11, 2016


 

In full anticipation of the excitement, mystery & intrigue the Italian developers were to generate over this ensuing year, our staff had put together a forthright, revealing interview of the team post the end of their Square Enix Collective campaign. While the interview in question was meant to released over the holidays however, Troglobytes were keen on taking their time with it; not only were they yet to receive clearance from Microsoft to discuss Tenebrae’s Xbox One release as much as they wanted, but were particularly interested in debuting the game’s ‘radical’ new feature via the interview, when the time was right.

That time finally arrived on the 25th of February earlier this week, with Lead Programmer & Tech. Artist Luciano Iurino finally picking up his pen and disclosing everything Tenebrae.

 

 

  1. 28 days on the Collective Campaign, the majority of which has been overwhelmingly positive. How does the aftermath feel – has it been much of a learning process for the game itself?

It’s been a great experience. We never made a crowdfunding campaign before, so the SE Collective was a perfect testing ground for us all. We had the chance to get some direct feedback from potential players and, needless to say, we are more than happy that the vast majority of them showed interest and appreciated our work so far.

  1. There’s no doubt that all othat positivity comes from the incredible amount of polish the game seems to ooze through its visual material. Which leads us to ask – as this wasn’t really mentioned anywhere – where does the game currently lie in terms of its development status? How far along are you and how far have you left to go?

We are in a crucial phase for the project. We decided to change and rewrite some big portions of the game for different reasons. Mostly, we were not completely satisfied about the Movement Component [a big chunk of code that handles all the playable character’s movements, actions, etc.]. Possibly it’s the most important aspect of the game, since it handles all the player’s inputs; it can make for great controls or totally break how the game “feels” for the player.

We also took another important decision. While testing the demo levels, we felt that we were going in the wrong direction about the game environments. As you may know, we are using our in-house Daedalus technology to create the game levels for Tenebrae. Initially this sounded like a great idea because we would have a big portion of the game already done (e.g., the procedural levels generation).

XboxOne

While we were porting Daedalus from Unity3D to Unreal Engine 4 and playtesting the generated levels, we felt that kind of generation was not suited for the game we wanted to create. Daedalus is strongly tile-based and is better suited for tile-based games, while we wanted to create visually stunning levels without that tile-based feeling in them.

We Skype’d our friend and co-author of Daedalus, Michele Pirovano, and hired him to write another dungeon generator from scratch. By the end of the month we had the first prototype of the new generator, and I can say it’s working pretty good! We now have dungeons and game levels which resemble classic Metroidvania games’ maps, and that’s really cool. We still have a long road to go but we really love our job, so we are not scared ar all!

  1. And so, to get to where you envision the game to be via crowdfunding – the team opted to have a pitch voted upon by the Square Enix Collective community in the hope of making it to the crowdfunding stage that may or may not come next. Why choose this particular route?

     

    Why not opt for a direct crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and then jump to say, Steam? Sure, there is the benefit of a lot of exposure if and when the game gets approved but if not, many have often feared that a disapproved game might impact them negatively — was all this factored in?

Exposure is the main reason why we went down the Collective road. We think it’s a great way to get a grasp of crowdfunding campaigns, to test ourselves and our work so far. We don’t know yet how it will turn out, but with the Collective campaign done, we surely have a better understanding of what people think of our game idea and we will use this to better shape Tenebrae and its features.

  1. 11% of voters seemed to have down-voted the game. Has there been any personal communication with said voters and if so, where in their opinion has the game fallen short?

Unfortunately (and surprisingly) NOT! The down-voters didn’t give us any feedback nor reasons why they voted that way, and that’s bad, you know: positive feedback helps for the team morale, but negative (yet constructive) critiques help you keep your feet on the ground and wonder how you can improve your game, artwork, music or whatever your creative work is.

The only true negative comment we got did not come from the Collective campaign page but from a social network user, who expressed his “sincere” doubt that a metroidvania would cope with randomly-generated content.

Our answer was (and still is): just wait and see! Moreover, we are certainly not the first ones doing such a thing; there are a lot of metroidvanias with procedural levels and content out there, and we think they work just fine. In fact, we’re drawing inspiration from some of those titles. Some other guys wrote that animations looked kinda off in the teaser. We totally agree. There’s a lot of room for improvement in that field, and we’re working hard on that, too!

  1. Tracking back to the game’s inception – where did it all begin? With a game so elaborately crafted in its early stages, there’s bound to be an even more detailed history.

The main idea behind Tenebrae came out after we bought a couple of used PS Vita’s around Christmas 2014. We played Rogue Legacy among other games — we really enjoyed it, especially its procedural nature, and since Unity had started its Premium support we decided to give it a shot.

Back in January 2014 we had released Daedalus, our random dungeon generator for the Unity Asset Store; sales were going quite well, so we ended up with a decent amount of cash and a very powerful tool to generate procedural content for games. Why not use it for a project of our own. So we can say that at its birth, Tenebrae was a Rogue Like-ish game, except it featured 3D characters and environments. It was being made with Unity 3D because at that time Daedalus was a Unity 3D-only plugin.

NewDungeon02

We started to apply some major changes to the design of Tenebrae, making it quite different from the original idea; we also decided to make the switch from Unity 3D to Unreal Engine 4. We’ve been using Unity 3D for years, both for our projects and every day contract work, but we also had a growing interest for UE4 tech since the day it was launched.

Most of all, we liked the rendering technology behind Epic’s engine and we immediately thought it would be our best bet for what we envisioned as the game’s look and mood. At that stage we already had a prototype for the player character ready along with some environment tiles and props; the main problem was they had been designed for a handheld console game (which means lower poly counts, smaller textures, etc.).

Moving to a render-centric engine like UE4 forced us to redesign everything we had and eventually resulted in better graphics for both characters and environments. Finally, Tenebrae took a more defined shape, drifting away from its original concept and finally becoming a more complex Metroidvania game with procedurally generated content.

  1. There’s no denying that Tenebrae could have made for an interesting third person RPG as well. Why 2.5D side-scrolling action and why the Metroidvania genre?

Well, you know, for a small team like ours making a fully-fledged 3rd Person game is a big deal; you have to create high-quality content that must keep its consistency and quality even in close-ups, and it takes time and money! Using a side camera which is quite distant from the action you can take license with some key aspects of the game, mostly with graphics and animations, but you can keep quality high and things interesting at the same time.

Moreover, we are huge fans of 80’s/90’s platformers and metroidvanias, so we wanted to pay homage to that era’s games with our flagship title.

  1. Moreover, there’s the title itself. Latin for ‘Darkness’, coupling ‘Tenebrae’ with ‘Twilight Of The Gods’ is a creatively unique name no doubt. But is there a particular relation with the course of the game’s narrative and setting itself or was it just something created on a whim? Whose idea was it?

We are from Italy, so we breath Latin. We wanted to have something from our origins in the game’s title, although its setting and background is mostly taken from Norse mythology (another topic we greatly appreciate).

The name choice was not an easy one. We sat down one day after hours of terrible titles and it just came out; we immediately felt it was the right word describing the overall mood of the game. I remember it was Niko (Nicola Loglisci, one of our programmers) who put the name on the table (literally: each one of us wrote down a title on a small piece of paper and then we let Fate decide).

GhoulConcept

The gameplay is heavily based on the concept of Natures: the player will use Natures to improve weapons, armors, etc. We did not want to use the abused four elements for the Natures (e.g., Fire, Water, Ice, Earth, etc.), so we came up with something different: Poison, Blood, Lightning. We needed a fourth Nature, so we decided to call it Tenebrae, like the game title itself.

So, to answer your question: yes, there is a strong relation between the title, the game’s narrative/setting and the gameplay itself.

  1. While we are on the subject of narratives — you’ve often steered clear of revealing much about the plot, what players’ journey will entail and what sort of story-telling they’d encounter. In today’s narrative rich gaming era, is there a particular reason for the team’s aversion to talking about a synopsis even — deciding instead to share the prologue’s script?

That’s true, we did not want to spoil anything of the plot because it’s a vital aspect of our game.

We decided to share the prologue’s script with the players to let them have an insight of our creative process and a little taste of what’s to come. We thought the best way to accomplish this was having them read part of the script itself instead of describing it with our words. Soon we will release the intro movie to the public, so people will see how we translated those words into imagery.

  1. Moreover, the fact that you’d left it to the Square Enix community to name one of the game’s primary characters, the Barbarian has us wondering; How intertwined are the Barbarian and the Rogue in the game’s narrative? Do they have backstories — has the script written with them as the primary focal point?

As I already said, often we like letting Fate decide (we do this for the names all the time), so we thought we’d let players pick a name from a list. We are still not convinced, though!

Intro01

The Barbarian and the Rogue share a very strange and unique relationship: they are not friends nor lovers. All we can say is already in the prologue’s script: they belong to the same clan, which sent a bunch of their best men to raid and loot in a distant land beyond the sea. Things get bad, and we start the game with the two as the sole survivors.

  1. Would you say that the narrative would be the game’s strong point and would it be worth the experience? What would be its charm — will there be twists, shockers, WTF moments or really, how would it all play out?

I’d say, all of them. There will be twists, shockers and WTF moments, that’s why we are keeping our mouth shut about the narrative part of the game! I can’t really say if narrative will be the game’s strongest point, but we’re surely working hard on it as well to give players an unforgettable experience.

  1. Will this narrative in any way be affected or dependent on the game’s procedural nature?

The narrative won’t be affected nor be dependent on the procedural generation system; we certainly could do that, there are some games out there which do this very thing (and they do it well), but we thought that our story needed to be told in a precise and linear way, while the game could still benefit from procedural generation.

  1. Speaking of which, quite a few have also expressed nervousness with regards to the game feeling too ‘automated’ with use of procedurally generated content. How is the concept of procedural generation being approached to give it that natural, hand-crafted feel? Also, how much of the game really is randomly generated?

As I said earlier, we wrote a new, custom dungeon generator which was made ad hoc for Tenebrae; this choice was made mostly to give players a less “automated” feeling when wandering the game levels. We think we did a pretty good job: now the dungeons feel more like continuous and consistent levels and you will hardly notice or spot any automated stuff.

Also, some days ago we announced a big change in Tenebrae’s gameplay: taking a twist from the genre’s standards, we now have the playable character moving in depth, not only in 2.5D, but full 3D! This was a natural consequence of the new dungeon generator; we saw what it could achieve and immediately we felt it was the right thing to do.

InGameShot

I know it’s quite a big change (after all, the game was announced as a “2.5D Metroidvania”), but we’re sure gamers will appreciate this aspect of the game. This means a lot more work for us (for example, we need to change a lot of stuff in the combat system, the AI management, etc.), but we really feel it was somehow necessary after we made a ride into the new dungeons with the character freely moving in all directions.

Coming back to your question: except for the outdoor levels (“Safe Zones”) and the boss areas, ALL of the game levels are procedurally generated!

  1. What would you say are the art and musical style’s primary inspirations? How are the team’s art and music creators approaching each aspect of the game’s design?

The art style is derived from classic European fantasy culture, but there are also other influences (games, books, comics, etc.). The music is composed by Denny Schneidemesser and it kind of resembles epic soundtracks like the one from “Conan the Barbarian” movies (which by the way is one of our favourites!). The first time we listened to the work of Denny we immediately thought “OK, that’s him! We found our composer”.

About the creative process, it’s pretty simple: we play a lot of games (both old and modern ones), watch a lot of movies, read different comic books, and try to gain inspiration from all of them. We then communicate our ideas to our writer and concept artist and follow from there.

  1. With all of this forming it behind the scenes, it would be great to have Tenebrae as a PS Plus or Xbox Marketplace digital download that we could jump into on a lazy Sunday afternoon but that’s just us. What is the team’s general vision with regards to a console release?

As you may already know by now, we announced the Xbox One version last month thanks to Microsoft’s indie-friendly ID@Xbox program. We are already working to port what we have on Xbox One and started doing some tests. We’ll try and port Tenebrae for other consoles too, but it’s too early to talk about that. We’ll see in the future!

  1. We do dearly hope Tenebrae continues towards where it’s heading, team. Tell us, regardless of the outcome of the Square Enix Collective campaign — what do you have on the books for next year? What can fans expect both on the community and outside it?

As of now we have not heard back from Square Enix, but we’ll keep working hard and see what future brings. We do really believe in our project and we think gamers will enjoy it once it’s out. People can expect some new material soon (screenshots, videos, GIFs) showing the new game levels and gameplay features, and who knows, maybe a playable demo!

 

Learn all you must about Tenebrae: Twilight of The Gods, its progress & keep track of its future via the game’s Higher Eclectic Space on the Community here. Also feel free to leave the team your feedback therein or in the comments below.

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Creator, writer & sole employee, Braganza is practically a full-time resident of Higher Eclectic Ground.

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