Spryke launched on kickstarter earlier this week. It's going well, though there's a long way to go, so please support us!
To get you up to speed, Spryke is a quirky, colorful, and deeply crafted platformer that I've been developing for almost 3 years, along with a team of highly talented and dedicated people.
We're aiming to make Spryke nothing short of one of the remarkable platformers of this generation. It's a lofty ambition, but we're serious about it. Here's a peek at some of the love that's going into this game:
If you'd like to help us make our vision for this game become a reality, please back our kickstarter campaign. We have some pretty cool rewards on offer! Oh, and please tell your friends about Spryke! :)
For those of you who use Clickteam Fusion, I'm pleased to release VACCiNE (Volnaiskra's All-purpose Customisable Controller & iNfo Engine). It's a combination of a couple of systems I've developed for Spryke over the past couple of years. I figured they'd be useful to others too, so I've spent the past week or two cleaning it up, adding more features, and commenting everything.
What is VACCiNE? (the short version)
VACCiNE is a handy bit of Fusion code that makes pretty much every gamepad under the sun work out-of-the-box and flawlessly with your Fusion PC game. It greatly simplifies the work required for your game to have robust gamepad and keyboard controls. It also provides a sophisticated in-game debugging panel that you can fill with useful info, to help you monitor the nuts and bolts of your game. VACCiNE does all this with regular, well-commented Fusion code, and regular Fusion Active Objects, meaning that you can easily enable/disable/customise/expand any part of it to suit your own project. It's designed to be as simple as possible, though an intermediate level of familiarity with Fusion is recommended.
What is VACCiNE? (the long version)
For a more in-depth overview of what VACCiNE does and how it works, please visit the forum page, read the comments inside the MFA file itself, and/or watch the video below.
You can download VACCiNE towards the bottom of the Downloads page
Now that IGR Avcon (where I received a lot of very positive feedback, including landing on a 'best of IGR' list) is over, I can concentrate on the next stage of Spryke's development, which is going to be a really, really cool one: the playable intro sequence.
Spryke's already a very pretty game, but I can promise you that this intro sequence will be more spectacular and visually rich than anything we've shown before. It'll be a playable sequence that introduces the player to the game's core mechanics as well as the Spryke universe, starting in the Sporala homeworld deep under the sea. There'll be tons of action and beautifully animated critters swimming around and, at last, story exposition! I think it's going to ground the game and inject it with a lot of soul, not to mention wow factor!
Pulling off the intro sequence according to my vision for it will be a massive amount of work. In preparation, I've just completed my productivity-enhancing Clickteam Fusion skin:
Clickteam Fusion is the engine I use to make Spryke. It's a syntax-free yet very powerful engine, which makes it perfect for someone like me who's more artist than programmer. Its interface contains some unnecessary friction points though. So I did my best to improve the user experience by making a skin that's designed to maximise productivity (as much as is possible in a skin)
I've called the skin Productiva, and it's designed to minimise clutter, keep the eye focused on important areas, and add a better sense of clarity and hierarchy to your workflow.
I've actually been using a version of this skin for almost a year, occasionally iterating and improving it throughout that period. I felt it was time to finish it up and put the final adjustments on it. It's now as good as I can make it, so I feel it's ready to publish. If you're a Clickteam Fusion user, you can buy it for 2 bucks at the Clickstore.
Below is a comparison between Productiva and the default skin, outlining some of the areas I addressed (click it to enlarge)
So we spent the weekend exhibiting Spryke at Avcon (a large gaming and Anime conference in Adelaide). It was great!
It was the first time Spryke was shown to the public, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Comments like "it's so polished!", "the controls are just perfect" and "I thought the difficulty would frustrate me but I just kept going back for more!" kept coming.
We got some critical feedback and suggestions for improvements too, which is obviously very important. But the majority of feedback we got was positive, which felt wonderful. Seeing people who played the demo earlier drag their friends to our stall saying "you HAVE to play Spryke!" is a great feeling, and makes you know that your game is on the right track.
Anyway, now that Avcon is over, it's time to officially announce the Spryke demo! Go and grab it!
I've been working on Spryke for about 2 and a half years now - most of that full-time. Steam tells me that I've logged 1927 hours in Clickteam Fusion (the engine I use to program Spryke). I figure I've probably spent another 2000 hours or so in Photoshop doing the graphics, and a good few hundred animating in Toon Boom Harmony. Then there's all the planning, the sketching, the marketing, the emails, the textbook reading, the online tutorials..........long story short, I've been busy!
Spryke's coming along great. I have basically one motto for Spryke: make everything excellent. That might sound unrealistic or pompous, but it actually translates to something very simple: work bloody hard. That's all. It's not easy, but it's straight-forward.
Spryke has more intricately detailed parallax background graphics than any other 2D game platformer I can remember seeing (and that includes those made by huge teams, like Ubisoft's Rayman games). Its foreground graphics aren't quite up to scratch yet, but they will be. And the intricacy of Spryke's animation is right up there too, with more nuanced animation than you see in most 2D games. The gameplay's fun too, because I spent months tuning it to make sure it was the right balance between superfast and forgiving.
None of this is because I'm amazingly talented or special. It's simply because I love Spryke so much that I let it consume just about every waking hour I can spare. I pour attention onto every facet of it until, finally, after a hundred iterations, that facet feels excellent to me. One of my main strengths is simply having the stamina to improve things beyond the point where many would have said "eh, good enough". I have no social life so that you, dear reader, may have a beautiful game!
Anyway, soon you'll be able to see some of the fruits of my labour. I'm off to Adelaide in a couple of weeks to show off Spryke at IGR 2016, and I'll upload a publicly available demo to this website at that time too.
And today, I'm very excited to say that I've finally finished Spryke's first trailer! It's made entirely of in-game footage, so I think it gives a great sense of what the game is like to play. The audio was done by the excellent team at Kaleidoscope Audio.
Now that Spryke is fully animated, I'm spruicing up the website with a few new GIFs. Please take this quick survey to help me decide which GIFs to use!
If all the scrolling in the inline survey below is too annoying, take the survey on the surveymonkey site
I've been hard at work on Spryke this year, particularly on animation. I promised you guys that Spryke would have killer animations. (I believe my words were "something at the level of Rayman"). And I think I've delivered!
I'm super happy with how Spryke has turned out. She's bouncy, rubbery, squishy, full of character, and has got an intricacy of movement and level of detail that, frankly, you rarely see in indie games.
I still need to put together some animated GIFs and youtube videos to show her off. But for now, please enjoy some new still screenshots, including a first peek at the new cave world!
2015 was a big year for Spryke. 2016 will be even bigger.
2015 saw Spryke go from a blocky prototype full of placeholders to something starting to resemble a game. I began giving the world a look and feel, with some detailed graphics, an in-world alphabet, and procedural background animation systems.
Spryke herself took shape, after countless iterations. Several test levels were designed and built, and the game got an official logo. The backstory and narrative got some love and care too, though that part is still marinating.
Perhaps most importantly, Spryke received a substantial funding grant from Film Victoria, a government Arts agency in Australia. Emotionally, this was great validation for me. It's one thing to passionately believe in your own project, but it's another to see that others believe in it too. The grant will give Volnaiskra extra stability in the coming year, and will ensure that I can enlist the help of extra developers and/or whoever else I might need to help make the game as good as it can be.
That was just the beginning though, and 2016 is where everything really will come together. Right now, I'm concentrating on character animation and gamefeel. Spryke had only the most rudimentary of animation until now, but she'll get a total overhaul now. You can expect something approaching the level of the Rayman games.
Over the coming months, you can also expect to see some interesting and unique new locales take shape too, alongside the futuristic city that you see in the current screenshots. Plus new enemies, mechanics, effects, and plenty of new levels. Maybe even another alien alphabet or two.
I have a top-notch composer lined up, and Spryke will get a full outfit of original music this year too.
In general, I hope you'll be able to learn much more about Spryke over the coming months than you've been able to so far. The last post on the Volblog was over half a year ago, and it wasn't even about Spryke. That's just not good enough.
There's actually a lot of stuff that's already in the game but that I haven't yet shared with the public because I've been so busy developing. But I'll endeavour to keep you guys more informed this year, so look for some posts revealing some of Spryke's mechanics, story, as well as some behind-the-scenes stuff that you might find interesting.
I'll also need to expand my pool of user testers soon, so look out for a playable demo early(ish) this year too!
The Melting Pot and the Salad Bowl: Why the Witcher 3 is a step forward for ethnic diversity in games
I watched an Akira Kurosawa film the other day. It was good, but it was too Japanese.
No, not really. But I did read a Forbes article today titled "Yes, I'm Colorblind about The Witcher 3, and Yes that's a problem". The author responds to an article by South African writer Tauriq Moosa that criticises The Witcher 3 for its lack of non-White characters. Moosa complains that it's symptomatic of a general tendency for games to ignore minorities.
I sympathise with Moosa, and agree that diversity in games is generally pretty dismal. But in targeting The Witcher 3, I believe that Moosa was wrong-headed, culturally insensitive, and has inadvertently attacked the very diversity he seeks to promote. I have no doubt he has good intentions, but I find his article personally offensive.
First, let me clarify where I'm coming from.
I'm no reactionary or anti-political-correctness crusader. I'm what many people would call a bleeding-heart liberal. I've never voted for the Labor or Liberal parties (the Australian equivalents of the Democrats and Republicans, respectively) because I find them both too conservative. I've always voted for the very liberal Greens instead.
I am, for example, generally a fan a Anita Sarkeesian, and have no tolerance for her army of hateful detractors (the mere existence of people who call themselves 'anti-Feminist' strikes me as incredible).
I'm also no stranger to racial diversity. My wife is a dark-skinned South African woman who grew up under Apartheid. We delight in our mixed-race daughter, and we're raising her with dual influence from both our cultures, and in both of our native tongues: English in my wife's case, and Polish in mine.
In 2010, something very special happened to me. After decades of playing computer games, I played - for the first time in my life - one that was for me. It was a first-time game from a young Polish developer called CDProjekt RED, and it was called Wiedźmin. I was enthralled. The people in this game looked like me. They spoke my language. They emanated a Polishness that at once resonated with my own.
You might think, as Moosa would seem to: "Pffft, big deal - you're a White guy, so you've been playing games about yourself all your life." But that's a very myopic way to look at ethnic identity. I find the notion that a person's identity might be defined by their skin colour to be patently horrific, not to mention inaccurate. There are a thousand physical and cultural idiosyncrasies that can make up a person's ethnic identity, of which skin colour is, at most, one.
When I grew up watching White Americans in Hollywood movies or big budget games, I never felt like I was seeing a representation of myself. They were from the other side of the world to me, their roots were different to my Slavic ones and, with their square jaws and rectangular heads, they didn't particularly look like me either. I imagine that a similar thing would be felt by an olive-skinned Venezuelan watching movies about olive-skinned Italians: they would see foreigners, whose coincidentally similar skin colour would be mostly irrelevant.
Sure, I had American heroes, but they were as likely to be Hispanic (Lou Diamond Phillips' Chavez in Young Guns) or Black (Mr T) as White (Val Kilmer's Madmartigan in Willow). I just saw them as cool guys, rather than 'guys like me'.
I felt increasingly out of place in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon society I was growing up in. Very rarely in a threatened or hostile way, but just like I never quite fit in. I'd grown up in a Polish household, and Polishness was a large part of my makeup, though I almost never saw this part of myself reflected in Australian society. It was a part of myself that felt fundamental to who I was, but existed mostly quietly inside me, lonely.
As I grew older, I discovered Polish cinema, and fanatically devoured every Kieślowski and Wajda film I could find, among others. These films felt like home. Sure, they weren't exactly about me, since their protagonists hadn't spent most of their lives in Australia. But they spoke intimately to that part of me that had hitherto remained unspoken to.
And then in 2010, I played Wiedźmin ("The Witcher"). Here was a huge, 50-hour game that was unashamedly, profoundly Polish. I played the demo, was at once entranced, and hurried out and bought the full game. At every step in its sizeable world, I would encounter people who looked like they could be my relatives, or even looked like me.
The high cheekbones. The small triangular jaws. The heads that were wide and flat at the back. The lean forearms. Here I was among my own people. I found elements of Slavic mythology and Polish history (both old and recent). The world was covered with Polish folk art and architecture, and I recognised the world's alphabet as a variant of the ancient Slavic Glagolica script. I noted in Wiedźmin's world the twin pulls of Romanticism and Positivism that had so defined the various ebbs and flows of uprisings throughout Polish history.
And then there were the less tangible things: the humour, the melancholy, the colourful profanity, the earthy philosophising - it was all so familiar. I spoke to old women who sounded like my grandmother. Zoltan the Dwarf reminded me of family friends. I mean, drinking vodka and getting blind drunk was actually an important gameplay mechanic! Playing the first Wiedźmin game remains one of my most cherished memories in three decades of gaming.
This wasn't just the rosy-eyed romanticism of a culture-starved ex-pat talking. In the DVD that accompanied the Collector's Edition, the creators positively beamed as they spoke proudly of their singular achievement: the bringing of a piece of Polish pop culture - the Wiedźmin books by Andrzej Sapkowski - onto the world stage.
No one had achieved this since Chopin. Sure, Poland produced some renowned art film directors, jazz musicians, and a few Nobel Laureate writers. But these were 'high art' works that never really seeped into global mass culture. We never had, say, an Abba or a Björk. The average Westerner was likely to have read just one Polish book in her life, if any - and it was about as un-Polish as a Polish book can get: written in English, by an ex-pat with an Anglicised name, about Africa (Heart of Darkness).
But now, CD Projekt had done it. They had made a game by Poles, for Poles, and placed it upon the world stage. By doing so, they opened up a window through which the world could glimpse a slice of Polish popular culture. Sure, Sapkowski's world borrowed liberally from Tolkien's, which was based largely on Germanic, Nordic and Finnish mythology. But Geralt of Rivia's world was still unmistakably steeped in Polish culture, history and mythology.
It was a modest achievement. The Witcher could at best be described as a "cult hit". Sales were good for a first-time small studio, but technical issues marred the game, some juvenile sexism had crept into the otherwise mature narrative, and reviews were mixed. In many ways, The Witcher 2 was a quantum leap forward. It was graphically and artistically stunning - at times peerless - and with writing that was almost universally praised for its complex and believable characters. Though it too was not without problems, and its limited scope still made it feel like a little brother to a Skyrim or a Dragon Age: Origins.
The Witcher 3 changed all that. It's a truly AAA title; it arrived with bombast and grandeur and promptly raised industry benchmarks. It was sprawling, ambitious, and well-made. Critics praised CDPR's refusal to take shortcuts that must have been tempting when making such a huge game. Care was taken to ensure the scores of NPCs felt like believable people, and almost all of the numerous quests feel like solid stories, their many possible outcomes intertwining meticulously with the narrative whole.
There have been AAA games by Polish studios before, but they weren't really Polish Games per se. Think Bulletsorm or Dead Island. The latter, incidentally, contained an Aboriginal character who looked absolutely nothing like a real Aboriginal person, but like a Black American. This is absurd, given the tens of thousands of years and vastly different genealogies that separates those two groups. But no one in the media seemed to pick up on this - as long as the skin colour matches, that's all that matters, right?
Anyway, one of CDPR's achievements that hasn't been mentioned much is how they managed to make such a gigantic game without watering down its inherent Polishness. By now, the Polish market must be a small fraction of CDPR's target audience. They could easily have watered down the cultural elements of the game to make it more suited for an American and/or global audience, which was far more instrumental to its commercial success. This happens routinely with Hollywood movies. But they didn't. Witcher 3 is as Polish as Witcher was. This is a great thing, for everybody.
As it stands, The Witcher 3 is Poland's finest export of popular culture in living memory. CDPR have produced a world-class game that would not have been the same if it had been produced anywhere else on the planet. It is a unique gift to the world that only Poland was qualified to give. The French gave us Asterix, Hong Kong gave us Bruce Lee, and with The Witcher 3, Poland has finally made its contribution to global mass culture too. It's a win for Poles like me who rarely get to see themselves in a game, but it's also a win for pop cultural diversity in general.
But for writers like Moosa, a Polish game like The Witcher 3 is unacceptable - it's too Polish.
Of course, Moosa would surely never say that the game is too Polish. For him, the issue is much coarser than that: it's simply too White, and that's that. No need to look deeper than skin-deep.
Well, yes. Of course everyone in The Witcher is White. It's a Polish game, made by Polish people, based heavily on Polish history and Slavic mythology. And so everyone in the game - whether Human, Dwarf, or Elf - tends to look.....surprise surprise......Polish.
Poles, like most Northern Europeans, almost all happen to be White - this paleness helps our skin get more vitamin D from the scarce sun. The largest non-White ethnic minority in Poland are the Vietnamese, who comprise less than 0.1% of the population. Not surprisingly, there were even fewer Vietnamese people in medieval Poland, and fewer still in ancient Slavic mythology.
For me, the saddest thing about this whole thing is that people like Moosa have clearly missed the cultural uniqueness of The Witcher 3. Some Polish critics praised the game's Polish elements, yet optimistically predicted that the game might be even more interesting for outsiders than for Poles, since it would contain elements that were exotic for them. But for people like Moosa, the opposite seems to have occurred: all he saw was just another Western game.
It's not just another Western game. It's the first ever AAA game that portrays Polish people and Polish culture. This is our game. The Polishness of this game is special to us, because it's the only one we've got!
I get it - there are no AAA games with all Brown or Black characters. I wish there were; I would eagerly play them too. But to Moosa I say: please understand that until The Witcher, there were no AAA games about Poles either. Although we're a smaller and tighter group than you, we finally got our game. I hope that you finally get yours too. But you have no right to begrudge us ours.
I kind of get the misunderstanding. For one, much of the historical and cultural nuance would have been lost on Moosa, who obviously isn't well acquainted with Polish and Slavic cultures. He can hardly be blamed for this. Though the irony is that he'd be better acquainted with them if he'd paid attention to the game he just played with a grain of cultural curiosity, instead of choosing to dismiss it all as frivolous nonsense.
Thus he calls any attempt at historical accuracy in the game "nonsensical" because "accuracy and realism flew out the window with the harpies." Really? Greek and Incan myths were as outlandish as Slavic ones - does that mean that insisting that the humans in them be portrayed by people who look like Greeks and Incans is also "nonsensical"?
Also, Moosa would have played the game with English dubbing, complete with American and British accents. I always played through the games in Polish, but I briefly switched to English out of curiosity, and it does indeed feel like a very different game. The voice acting seems solid enough, but the dialogue feels heavily watered down, and much of the nuance is lost in translation.
So I can see how an American, Briton, or South African might fail to grasp the cultural content of the game, and instead look through it through his own cultural lens (especially since many other fantasy games are entirely fictional, without real world cultural meaning). I think this is a lazy and crass way to view a cultural product from another country, and I'm not excusing it - but I do find it at least understandable. Especially if that cultural lens happens to contain an obsession with skin colour, as the South African and American lenses tend to.
For this is a key point: Poles aren't anywhere near as obsessed with skin colour as South Africans Americans seem to be. Nationality or ethnicity? Yes. But skin colour? No.
We have no reason to. Unlike South Africans during Apartheid, we were never conditioned to see the world in terms of skin colour. Unlike the British, we never colonised distant lands. And unlike the Americans, we didn't take part in the African Slave Trade (though, if you're Anglo, some of your ancestors might have owned some of my Slavic ones, before they owned the ancestors of present-day Black Americans, since that's where the word "Slave" comes from).
So, without colonisation or African slavery, we don't have a resulting large Black population, and we don't have any White Guilt, because there's nothing to feel guilty about. White Guilt is largely an Anglo-Saxon and Afrikaner problem - please don't project it onto us.
This is of course not to say that Poles have any kind of moral superiority to Anglo Saxons or Afrikaners. Like every nation, we have a checkered past with too many atrocities to count. It's just that our traumas are different to your traumas. In your case, the wronged parties were frequently people of colour. In our cases, they tended to be Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Jews, and Czechs, to name a few.
If playing a game where everyone is White makes you feel uncomfortable because you're American and you live in a country where most people are White but 10-15% of people is Black, then go play a game where most people are White but 10-15% of the population is Black. It's called Skyrim. It's American, and was clearly made with an American demographic in mind.
But if you play a Polish game, please don't complain that there are too many Poles in it, and that you'd like the demographics to be a bit more similar to that of your own country's. That's like walking out of the airport in a foreign country and angrily saying "Where are all the McDonald's!?"
Broadly speaking, there are two ways of looking at multi-ethnic harmony. One is the Melting Pot, and the other is the Salad Bowl. The Melting Pot is by far the more commonly understood metaphor, but it's also by far the least desirable of the two.
A Melting Pot is a crude furnace that assimilates everything into a single, homogeneous pulp. Some melting pots are mindless, producing whatever random gloop happens to remain at the end of the melting process. Some, as in the case of a metal alloy, use a recipe, and carefully discard and select elements accordingly. Neither is a particularly desirable conception of multiculturalism.
A Salad Bowl is a harmonious and exciting environment where the unique qualities of every single ingredient are honoured and celebrated. The lettuce is green and crispy, the tomatoes are red and acidic, the oil is mellow and fatty, and together they make for a sumptuous dance of flavours and textures. No one demands that the tomato be more green and crispy, or that everyone become a little more acidic. The only requirement is that they get along harmoniously. When they do, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. This is multiculturalism at its best.
A world where a Polish dev isn't allowed to make a fully Polish game is the world of the Melting Pot. It's not a more diverse world. It's a less diverse world. It's a world where everyone is asked to become a little bit more similar, and the unique demographics of any one culture must be downplayed. It's a world where the smaller cultures of the world get smeared into incoherence by the normalising wooden spoon of conformity. It's a world that's not likely to produce many culturally diverse games.
I want to live in a Salad Bowl. I want to be able to play a game where I can see my own people, in all their glory, uniqueness and imperfection. And I want to be able to play games where I can see other peoples in all of theirs.
If you're like many Photoshop users, you might not use Layer Styles much. Or maybe you think that they're only good for cheesy bevel and drop shadow effects. Actually, Layer Styles can be very powerful and surprisingly versatile. In fact, I do almost all of Spryke's graphics using Layer Styles (applied onto vector shapes).
Note: This guide is based on Photoshop CC 2014 (the latest version as of writing); minor differences may exist in older or newer versions of Photoshop.
Quick rehash: What are Layer Styles again?
To access Layer Styles, double-click a layer in photoshop. From there, you can tweak various settings to alter the appearance of the layer. Layers that contain Layer Styles have an "fx" icon on them. If you make a Layer Style that you think you'll reuse, you can save it in the "Styles" palette.
Below is one of the above layers shown with all of its Layer Style attributes. Not every Layer Style needs to be this complex of course, but by stacking multiple attributes like this, you can achieve a great deal of variety and visual subtlety.
This particular Layer Style is used for lights and other illuminated objects. It has a round inner glow (from Gradient Overlay), intense coloring (Color Overlay and Satin, both using Overlay Blend Mode), noise (Inner Glow), and a somewhat intense reddish glow (Stroke, Outer Glow, Drop Shadow).
My mission is to create one of the prettiest and most visually detailed platform games the world has ever seen. Fun and beauty are equally important in game design, in my book.
Here's the background of one of the planets in Spryke. It's made of about 20 parallaxed layers, with dozens (actually, hundreds) of little animated elements :)
It was quite a ride getting Spryke to where she is now. There were dozens of drafts and iterations, and plenty of back-and-forth between me and my character designer (who's totally amazing, by the way!). I'm super stoked about how she looks now.
Next stop: Animating!
I just made a HUUUUUUUGE change to my logo. Do you like it?
If you haven't got your magnifying glass handy, I'll help you out: it's the little symbol at the end. It was ™, and now it's ®.
But I wasn't joking about it being a huge change. Anyone can use ™, as it has no legal weight. But you're only allowed to use ® if you've been legally recognised as the holder of a registered trademark.
As of recently, I'm finally the legal owner of the trademark "Volnaiskra". It's a surprisingly convoluted process that required lots of paperwork, hundreds of dollars, and some 8 months!
It's a pretty small (albeit expensive) thing, but it feels like a bit of a milestone to me :)
I'm working with my character designer on the look of Spryke's titular character. I think she's coming along great!
When I'm not working on Spryke, I also make Skyrim mods. Here's a sneak peek of my latest one.
It's a complete overhaul of the Nordic murals found in many of Skyrim's dungeons. The murals should be one of the most interesting things to look at in all of Skyrim - they're large, dramatic, and are filled with Elder Scrolls Lore. Unfortunately, they're absolutely awful. They're so low-res that they're not only ugly, but damn near indecipherable.
In 3+ years of Skyrim modding, no one's satisfactorily improved them, because to do so would require redoing them completely from scratch, which would be a really loooooong job. No one has been stupid or crazy enough to do that. Until now.
Here's a before and after. I hope you'll agree that the improvement is dramatic!
I've done some more work on alphabet I created for Spryke. Firstly, I gave it a name (Sprykski). Secondly, I've assigned phonemes to it.
In other words, Sprykski is now fully capable of being used to write English, Polish, and many other languages :)
It also contains a number of more unusual sounds (including several clicking sounds found in African languages), which should lend itself well to the exotic inhabitants of Spryke's universe!
UPDATE: Spryke is now on kickstarter! If you want to see this rich universe (and its alphabet) come to life, please support us by becoming a backer!
A great way to enhance a gameworld's believability and atmosphere is to make a custom alphabet for it. The written word is all around us, and plays a major role in making our world look and feel the way it does. A unique alphabet helps make a unique gameworld.
Anyone who's ever tried designing a font knows how difficult it is. Our brain is very sensitive to disturbances in the flow of readability, and each tiny alteration to curvature or line thickness can mean the difference between elegance and awkwardness.
The good news is that the rules are much looser when designing a fictional alphabet, and it can be very fun. But there's more to it than just throwing down some random squiggles. I've recently designed a complete alphabet for Spryke, and I'll take you through my whole process.
The benefits of adding a custom alphabet to your game
First off, let's take a look at some reasons you might want to design a custom alphabet for your game.
An alphabet's aesthetic and functional aspects reveal a lot about its creators, its forms naturally springing from the traits of the home culture.
Take this ancient alphabet, for example:
Step 1: Consider your gameworld's culture
Comprised mainly of sturdy, masculine shapes, these glyphs have a uniformity of size and economy of form that makes them seem almost engineered, rather than merely written. They are solid, upright, efficient.
Judging by this alphabet, one could imagine that it was created by a pragmatic, rigid culture that prized order, strength, and structure. And actually, that's not a half-bad description of the ancient Romans.
Now look at these characters from another ancient alphabet:
These lack the frugality and symmetry of the Latin characters, and are much more complex, intricate, and floaty. One could suppose that the culture that created them was one that cherished sophistication, artisanship, and nuance.
Now examine a third ancient alphabet:
These jagged, spiky shapes have neither the balance and structure of the Latin letters nor the grace and complexity of the Chinese ones. Instead, they evoke an aggressive, almost savage vibe. And so they should; they are the Dovahzul alphabet: the ancient language of Skyrim's dragons.
Your game's alphabet can and will inform your audience about your gameworld. If your alphabet looks interesting, boring, complex, or frivolous, your game's inhabitants will seem interesting, boring, complex, or frivolous. Use this to your advantage, and make sure that it's communicating the message you want it to convey.
Step 2: Consider your gameworld's technology
Apart from looking cool and a little bit hostile, there's another reason the dragon alphabet above is comprised mainly of long heavy slashes: It was carved by dragons. Dragons didn't have pens, brushes or chisels, but claws, and the clever designers at Bethesda took this into account.
You may not have consciously thought about these logistics when looting Skyrim's tombs, but you probably noticed it unconsciously on some level. By considering not just the alphabet's personality, but also its logistics, the Bethesda crew designed an alphabet that feels right.
There are various technological factors that can influence a successful alphabet. These Anglo-Saxon runes were usually carved into wood, so they avoid curves and horizontal lines (straight lines were easier to carve, and horizontal lines could have caught in the wood grain and split the wood):
Conversely, this gorgeous Sinhala alphabet from Sri Lanka avoids straight lines and corners. Sinhala was written on fragile palm leaf paper, and sharp corners would have caused tearing.
As you can see, technological considerations can have a profound impact on the look of your glyphs. Paying attention to technological logistics won't just make your alphabet more believable, but may take it in an exciting aesthetic direction.
Some things to think about:
Spryke is set in a distant planet sci-fi setting, so my alphabet needed to look somewhat modern (as it would most often be rendered by precise machines, just like in our present-day world). It would also need to be alien and unfamiliar, while maintaining an element of fun to suit the cartoony vibe of the game.
Step 3: Research
There are loads of writing systems on Earth - possibly more than you think. Look through a few of them to get ideas about what your own will look like.
So, do some research and get ideas. Don't forget to check out different fonts where possible, as they may employ different design solutions. After all, a traditional Japanese scroll will have a dramatically different aesthetic to downtown Tokyo neons.
But if you're like me, inspiration is just a few centimetres away!
Step 4: Choose your elements
Both of my arms are tattooed with a prayer written in Glagolitic, an ancient Slavic alphabet. Convenient! Clearly, I have an affinity for this alphabet, and so this is the one I chose as my starting point.
Most writing systems are constructed using just a few building blocks, in various combinations. It's a good idea to pick your building blocks before you start designing any characters. This will help you create a cohesive design while guarding you from relying too heavily on the shapes of your native alphabet.
Pick a few appropriate shapes that will form the backbone of your alphabet's aesthetic. Remember to peruse existing alphabets for inspiration if need be.
Spryke's alphabet needs to look a bit cartoony, and like it belongs to an alien race. My starting point of Glagolitic is actually a pretty good choice, because it's unique looking and looks quite alien to modern eyes, having gone out of usage long ago. In addition, its hollow circle and equilateral triangle motifs lend it a certain geometric look that fits well with my desired cartoony vibe. To make my alphabet a bit more hi-tech looking, I focused on straight lines and precise angles.
Step 5: Paper
Next, I used those elements to doodle several pages' worth of characters, referring to my Glagolitic alphabet (ie. looking down at my arms) as I went. Some characters looked good, others sucked, and most took several iterations to find their sweet spot.
Step 6: Vectorise and finalise
Once I had loads of characters on paper, I went back through them and circled the 40 or so that had the most promise. I ported these into Photoshop using the vector shape tools (You could of course use Illustrator or some other software). After plenty of fine tuning and iteration, my alphabet finally took shape. I'd created 52 finished characters in all:
Some things to consider while working on your characters:
Step 7: Punctuation
Forgot about punctuation, didn't ya? For our purposes, there are two types of punctuation, which I'll call structural and emphatic.
Whether or not you need punctuation at all is up to you, and the specifics of your game. I decided that Spryke won't need structural punctuation, but could benefit from some emphatic punctuation.
If you choose to use emphatic punctuation, you must make it somehow decipherable by your audience, even though the rest of your alphabet isn't. There's no point inventing a question mark symbol to replace "?" if people will think it's just another letter.
There are several ways to tackle this:
I went with the last option, and made three different punctuation marks. My players won't know what exactly they mean, but the marks should stand out enough to make it clear that they imply emphasis of some sort. Their unique design, raised position, and parenthesis-like clumping of other characters should all help with that.
Step 8: Numerals
As with emphatic punctuation, numerals need to be visually different from your letters. I achieved this in two ways. First, I made them smaller and more uniform in size. Second, I constructed them from different shapes. I exclusively used arcs (incomplete portions of circles), to give them a different appearance from the letters, which were made from complete circles, triangles, and straight lines.
Step 9: Fonts
I'm writing this in a small home office, yet I can see more than 20 different fonts without even getting off my chair: several across my computer screens, a different one on the logo of almost every appliance and piece of computer hardware in the room, and a few on an old bill on my desk. No matter where you are, I'll bet you'd find plenty of fonts around you too.
Our world is loaded with different fonts, and things would look weird if everything was suddenly written in just one. So your gameworld should probably have a few fonts too. Making new fonts won't be quite as time-consuming as inventing your characters was, but it will still take work. I suggest making a few fonts, with specific use-cases in mind.
I made four:
Putting it all together
Done! I now have a unique, cohesive, and interesting alien alphabet comprised of 52 letters, 10 numerals, 3 punctuation marks, and 4 fonts (that's 260 characters in total). I can now pepper it throughout Spryke's gameworld as I continue to develop it, confident that I have glyphs to suit any context.
I hope this helps someone, and if you've designed your own alphabet, I'd love to see it!
To watch Spryke as it evolves further, like my facebook page.