Digital Dark Age: What now?

Two weeks ago I launched my third year major project ‘Digital Dark Age’ – a playable concept album created in Unreal Engine. Since then I’ve been working to compile all the aspects of the projects production into an archive for the submission deadline on the 21st April but I wanted to write a quick post to outline a few thoughts from the launch event and some points for development in the future.

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Setting up for the launch at the Eagle Inn

Firstly, I had underestimated just how much work was necessary to complete everything I had in mind, but conversely I ended up creating more content than I had initially planned! My original proposal and concept for the level seemed ambitious but achievable, and this has remained true throughout the projects duration however there were many aspects of DDA’s production that I spent a lot longer on than intended. This included:

– Graphics / Artwork design and production (flyers, posters, in-game artwork, logos and MORE!)

– Animations and GIFs (in-game footage, logo and text animations)

– Social media promotion – I thought it would be good experience trying to promote a project like this as I plan to develop the idea (and similar projects) in the future.

– Level design and mechanics (lighting, props, POSTERS, models, environment etc)

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A fellow Futureworks student testing out Digital Dark Age. The fire extinguishers were thankfully not necessary.

The amount of content I had created didn’t really hit home until I started going through all the project’s folders but hopefully it will form a comprehensive archive that really showcases the work I’ve put into Digital Dark Age. So what now? The day after the launch event I was quite useless, tired and just needed a bit of a break mentally from the project but I’m very pleased with how it went. A number of folks came and tried the level and I got some fantastic feedback from people which has definitely inspired me to continue development of the level in the future.

After I’ve got my assignment all finished and handed in I’m going to focus on a few aspects of the level I know I want to develop:

– Optimising the level so it plays on less powerful computers
– Adding more interactive props at each point in the level
– Work on the overall audio mix and output volume
– Including additional vox-pops and audio commentary
– Adding main menu options for controlling graphics / audio settings
– Fixing a number of small bugs in the level’s mechanics

I feel that there is significant scope for Digital Dark Age, both as a learning project for me and an interactive learning environment focussing on the issues of digital preservation, sustainability and our digital heritage. I’d like to thank everyone that came down to the launch event and that’s offered feedback and thoughts after playing the level, both in person and online. I’ll be posting a final project overview style blog post close to my deadline in a couple of weeks. In the meantime feel free to download Digital Dark Age v.1.0 HERE (Windows only at the moment I’m afraid!) and have a listen to the soundtrack.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Digital Dark Age Launch Tomorrow!

I’ve been working on my degree major project ‘Digital Dark Age’ at Futureworks here in Manchester for 7 months, which isn’t really that long but it feels like an eternity! One thing I’m super happy with is how much I’ve learned and developed over that time. Even though some days it feels like I’m banging my head against a virtual brick wall with Unreal Engine, the problems I’ve encountered and (thankfully) solved have been an important part of this journey.

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My initial goal was to create an immersive environment within which I could feature 5 original compositions that form a short concept album, this would be supported by a digital and physical format release via my Bandcamp page. I knew that I wanted something quite stylised for the whole project, and it turns out that the first person level I created in Unreal became a bit of an obsession! I spent a lot of time on the 5 songs for this project, and I felt that the level had to match that degree of authenticity and the aesthetic I was trying to portray… cue countless nights stuck trying to figure out (relatively simple) tasks in Unreal Engine, losing builds, breaking the mechanics of certain features, losing audio, getting audio back, running at 13fps, scripting Blueprints until 3am and trying to figure out what an earth I’d done wrong whilst drinking LOTS of coffee.

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The ‘engineering corridor’ was a fairly late addition to the levels design…

A lot of tasks took longer than they should have, but I was at the end of the day teaching myself techniques and methods I’d read about in the Unreal documentation and via Youtube tutorial videos (which are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth). I think it’s important to talk about the problems I encountered as it makes me feel a whole lot better knowing that I’ve solved 99% of them, and I want to say a big thank you to everyone that’s helped support the project (folks on floor 2 at Futureworks I’m talking to you!).

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Latest wireframe overview of the level.

The project finally launches tomorrow at the Eagle Inn in Salford, which has a suitably small and dark venue.  It’s free entry and I’ll be around from 6pm onwards so feel free to come along for a pint and a natter. I’ll have 10 of the cassettes to sell and folks will be able to play on the level first hand. The night will be streamed live via Facebook (part of my assessed criteria) and maybe via Twitter as well. My next blog post will be after the launch and (if I’m still breathing) I’ll be reflecting on the event itself.

Thanks for reading folks and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the project.

Check out Digital Dark Age on Cartrdge here
Digital / Cassette Album on Bandcamp here

Digital Dark Age- EP digital / cassette pre-order!

Hi folks!

As mentioned in my previous post my interactive concept album / EP will be available to download and play on March 21st – however cassette / digital pre-orders are open now! Any support would be greatly appreciated so please share this with a friend, family member or even an intrigued pet!

Digital Dark Age Launch! 21st March

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My third year degree major project ‘Digital Dark Age’ is due for launch on the 21st March, which is not that long away at all! I have roughly 1 month to finish all the interactive elements in the level and dub the cassettes / get the Bandcamp page ready for release and write everything up so I still have lots to do. All the finished mixes have now been sent off for mastering and most things are in place for the launch.
I’m really pleased with my progress so far, and I hope everyone will enjoy the level when I make it available to download. You’ll need a Windows PC (no MacOS build I’m afraid!) and I recommend you play on headphones to get the full effect. In the meantime – if anyone is interested in attending the launch event or would like more information on the project then let me know or give me a shout on Twitter! Check out the album preview below!

I’ll be writing a full summary and introduction to the project which will be available shortly, you can also check out the project HERE on Cartrdge.

Digital Dark Age: Welcome Area

Today I’ve been working on posters that will be displayed throughout the level to offer further information to the player – along with toggled text and the music to set the scene I’m hoping this should provide enough interest throughout. I’m also currently debating the idea of adding dialogue via interaction with the terminals.. but more on this soon!

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This capture shows the first part of the level where the player arrives. The ‘Welcome Centre’ is little more than a cubicle with a single computer terminal and some posters. 

The posters are basic but I’m becoming quite fond of the look of them scattered about the level. I’m currently making some for each song in the album, and each area will have a mini map as well (not that the player could actually get lost!).

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Digital Dark Age: Progress Update

I’ve been working on ‘Digital Dark Age’ now for around 3 months – and during that time I’ve been really happy with the progress I’ve made. It’s an ambitious project, but one that has already had a significant impact on my knowledge of interactive audio and game development. My demo level ‘DATA Labs’ was great practice for this project, having developed many of the blueprint scripts and working out a few bugs previously made the level design of DDA a lot easier, however I have run into a number of issues over the course of its development though thankfully nearly all of these have been addressed!

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A screenshot of the first part of Digital Dark Age – showing trigger boxes, post processing volumes and a number of actors for music cues, lighting and text trigger blueprints.

If you’ve not read any of my previous posts on the project, in brief its an interactive concept album in first-person style. As you play through the level you’re introduced to the theme of the Digital Dark Age, find out a little more about it and listen to 5 original compositions that I have created specifically for the level. Not only that, but depending on the speed you play through the level and how you move about, the music will change and adapt creating a much more interesting score than a typical linear piece of music – essentially it’s ‘adaptive music’ or ‘dynamic music’ or ‘interactive music’ (which ever term you feel more comfortable with as there seem to be a number of definitions for each!)

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A little teaser of the end of the level!

Some of the main problems I’ve encountered so far have been the multitude of trigger cues for each of the pieces of music. I’m using Unreal Blueprints and FMOD parameters to control how music is triggered and manipulated in the game (see screenshot below) and this has been a bit of trial and error to make it work smoothly. I had some major issues with box collisions but thankfully these have been sorted out and it’s all working as it should!

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Screenshot showing the blueprint for the song ‘Fabrication’ (area 3 in-game) and the associated triggers and scripting for adaptive mixing.

I’ve had a lot of fun designed the graphics for each of the songs, and these are represented as computer terminals in-game that sit at each of the different parts of the level (one for every song). I hope to expand on these a little more to include more interactivity before my assignment deadline in March!

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One of the ‘terminals’ showing the ‘Brave New World’ animated graphic. To Do!

I’ve created an incomplete to-do list below of things that I’m planning on finishing, and hoping to implement in the next few weeks.

  • Player interaction blueprint to bring up further information at each terminal
  • Smoother transitions between musical cues to allow for a more ‘seamless’ experience.
  • Development of character footstep sounds and environment ambience.
  • Improved look and feel of lighting (HELP!) Flickering lights here and there.
  • Development of headbob blueprint and character movement input.
  • Some kind of ending…. possible with the player being teleported back to the start of the level (mostly for showcasing purposes at launch event).
  • Post processing adjustment to better suit the feel of the music.
  • AND MORE.

Stay tuned.

 

Terminals: Digital Dark Age

Today I started work on the terminals (computers) for each of the key points in Digital Dark Age. Each terminal will essentially be the starting point for each corresponding song on the album, and offer information to the player as they play through the level. I’d love to say I know how to create an interactive computer system in-game, but I don’t! So, the likelyhood is that each terminal will merely act as a trigger to display information nearby (possibly text or graphics / dialogue).

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A quick flythrough of the first section of the level so far.

As you can see above, the terminals basically replicate the main DDA logo that floats over the main pathway. The tricky thing here was re-creating the motion graphic of the logo on the terminal’s screen… it’s hard to see in the video but it is actually glowing and glimmering slightly on the old CRT monitor! I might exaggerate this in further iterations of the idea.

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Aligning the graphic was a nightmare…

I ran into a number of issues, but finally settled on using a Flipbook in Unreal to create an animated version of a spritesheet (see below). This was something I had very little previous knowledge about so I turned to Youtube for help, and after some messing about (including a lot of resizing / scaling / rotating) I finally got it to fit on the screen, albeit with some weird horizontal compression. Turns out, I think that looks pretty cool on the old-school CRT monitor so I think I’ll be sticking with it. You can see the difference in the scale in the picture above.

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Creating the animated material in UE

I’m reusing the computer model that I implemented in DATA Labs which was created by SilverTM – check out their page on the UE marketplace here for some of the other awesome stuff they make.

 

The Digital Void

Today I’ve been working on the playable version of ‘Digital Dark Age’ in UE4 – I’ve previously posted about the start of this levels creation and I made some good progress. My original idea for the aesthetic and environment for the level was perhaps a little too ambitious, having intended to create a very visually stimulating experience for players. However, due to the time restrictions for this project (hand in is March!) I opted for a more stark and foreboding environment which actually works really well with the concept of the project.

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Concrete is a favourite ‘building’ tool of mine – no more evident than in this portion of the level where my song ‘Fabrication’ will be playing.

I’ve come to know this space as the ‘digital void’, perhaps more easily described as the non-space that exists inside digital data, the nothingness of our digital documents, photos, music and programmes. This void serves as the location for the player to experience the 5 songs of the album, and will offer insight into the Digital Dark Age whilst guiding the player through the brief narrative I’ve created.

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More concrete please…

I’m really liking the overall look of the level, but I’ve had a lot of lighting based headaches today trying to get the right balance between atmospheric and impractical… more soon!

Digital Dark Age: Level Design

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted some progress on my third year major project ‘Digital Dark Age’ but I’m happy to say things are well under way. Last week I began work on the level design in Unreal which will house the interactive, playable version of the concept album.

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In terms of level design it’s quite simple as you can see, the player spawns at the end of a long section of platform suspended inside the ‘digital void’ with the title logo overhead, progressing through the levels by traversing along the platform to hear each new piece of music. There will be information points located in the ‘middle’ of each of the songs, although how the player moves will affect the mix and arrangement of each piece of music.


As you can see above I still have lots of work to do, however the level design is relatively quick compared to the scripting and event creation in FMOD, which uses a number of triggers and blueprints to create the dynamic music system for the level.

 

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The FMOD project in development. This screenshot shows the cue / event for the first song to be heard in the level ‘Digital Dark Age’. Note the logic tracks and parameters for controlling the arrangement and audio mix. 

 

I’ll post some more videos with sound soon, and will be developing the level itself to include the 5 points of interest for each song on the album. Stay tuned!