Weekly Post: December 13, 2014

      Sorry about missing last week's post. It's been a crazy couple of weeks trying to get the Kickstarter for To Azimuth some momentum. At this point, whether we've been able to is up in the air; as of this writing, we're 42 percent funded with only 4 days left in the campaign. We can still make it, but it's going to be a down-to-the-wire success if we do. We still have hope, however! If you want to be a part of getting To Azimuth made, head on over to the Kickstarter and help us out!

     We have a new gameplay video, information on a new character, a group of new screenshots, some context for the setting of To Azimuth, and new music to share this week. It's going to be a long post, and if you've been keeping up on our Kickstarter updates, you're already caught up. If not, kick up your feet and spend some time with the latest news from our game.


New Gameplay Footage


Concept Demo Breakdown

      As a bit of setup, this section of gameplay takes place on a NASA campus. Nate is investigating the area after having spoken to an Engineer who works there named Noah Clarke. According to Noah, Eli had been visiting him his office fairly frequently for the past few weeks. Suspicious of what they might have been discussing, Nate has broken into the campus after-hours.

     First up is a clip that answers a question that we've received a few times: will Nate and Susannah be able to run?

Yes. The answer is yes.

      In the original prototype footage, we used what was essentially a camera zoom to investigate objects more closely. We'll be implementing that particular method as it works, but in larger areas such as this, that much movement would likely serve to make players motion-sick. So we'll also be utilizing a sort of “split-screen” camera to allow closer inspection of objects, especially those that need to be read.

     In this particular instance, searching the visitor's list reveals the office that Eli had been visiting, presumably Noah's office. Investigating this particular document is not the only way for the player to figure out where Eli had been going, however; there are other clues that would eventually point the player in the same direction. 

     Instead of having a static in-game map, we'll instead be moving the camera around to give the player a larger view of the area around them. Here, the camera pulls back to give a view of this entire section of the building. We're also developing several ways for the environment itself to highlight the direction of the next goal.

     In this example, we've used lighting to highlight paths that take the player to their destination. We want to avoid simply marking a specific waypoint. Instead, we're focusing on ways to guide the player toward a destination so we can avoid causing a situation where the player has no idea where they're supposed to be going, while also avoiding an overly straightforward “Point A to Point B to Point C” style of gameplay.

     This clip shows an example of the type of “out-of-conversation” decisions that the player will be making in To Azimuth. At the point of decision, consequences may not be entirely clear. Here, perhaps kicking in the door will make it obvious that someone has broken into the office, which could lead to complications with Noah (the office's tenant). The consequences we'll be integrating are ones that we want to handle mainly in the game's narrative, as opposed to any kind of gameplay-oriented punishment (think stealth missions) or a “Game Over” screen.

     This is another example of the split-screen technique we're using. Here, the player can search for the office listed for “Clarke, N.” Once again, though, this isn't the only way the player can deduce this information.

      This bit has a morsel of story content – Noah obviously knows what Azimuth could refer to. 

Nate using the elevator, because we think it turned out pretty cool.

     This is from the end of the gameplay demo. What it means is... well, we can't really say yet! It certainly is strange, though.


Noah Clarke

 

      Noah is an engineer working for NASA at their field center located an hour out of Musgrove. He was born in Musgrove to a poor family, growing up in a prejudice-steeped time in the area's history. Upon completing high school, he went to college out-of-state, assuming that he would never go back to Alabama. When we was offered a fairly prestigious position with NASA, however, he ended up moving back, a relative stone's throw away from his hometown.

      In the weeks prior to the events of To Azimuth, he struck up a friendship with Eli Windham, with whom he had attended high school. Susannah and Nate believe that he may have some insight into Eli's disappearance, drawing him into the search for the missing Windham sibling.


Screenshots



Musgrove, Alabama

     In To Azimuth, Musgrove is a small town in Northeast Alabama, nestled in the Southern tip of the Appalachian mountains. It is based on a real place, one that I have a lot of personal connections to, called Sand Mountain. The majority of my extended family lives within a 30-mile radius in Northern Alabama (a few outliers congregated in Atlanta), with the group on my Mother's side living on Sand Mountain.

      I spent most of my Summers in Alabama, up in the humid mountains. It's an area that's in my blood, but also one that I haven't seen in years. The region has a very strong history of awful racism and prejudice, a history that still bleeds up from the dirt. It's always difficult to parse the wonderful memories I have of the place with the things that I've heard people say, with the things that happened but were not spoken of.

      I haven't visited the area in the last five years for many reasons, that terrible history prominent among them. Also contributing to that decision is that I'm openly queer, and whenever I have been back, it's like slipping back into an old skin, or an old costume. I'm fearful when I'm there. I don't know if I should still feel that way. Maybe things have changed since I've been back. At the same time, I know places like that are hesitant to change.

     Time seems to slow down in those mountains.

     I've drawn from those memories, from that history, and from my own anxieties, to sculpt Musgrove and its inhabitants. That said, I'm not interested in drawing any of the folks I write in broad strokes – people are multifaceted, flawed, and usually, in the end, have some modicum of goodness to them. Inexcusably awful in some respects, but a person with no redeeming qualities is, in my opinion, uninteresting to watch, let alone interact with in a virtual space.


     Sand Mountain's history is important for To Azimuth beyond just being the inspiration for the backdrop. Its history also played a part in the inspiration for the game's alien abduction storyline. Back in the early 1990's (over a decade after the events of To Azimuth, but I set the game in the era I did for a myriad of reasons), there were reports of strange cattle mutilations on Sand Mountain. I won't get into the specifics of what that entails, but for anyone interested, you can check out this “article,” apparently preserved from the early days of the internet. For anyone who didn't spend an inordinate amount of their childhood reading about UFO and extraterrestrial theories and accounts, cattle mutilation is often attributed to the work of aliens. Reports of cattle mutilation often coincide with UFO spottings and reports of abduction.

     About five years ago, there were new reports of the same kind of cattle mutilations on Sand Mountain. Whether it was the work of copycats, or maybe even the same people from nearly twenty years prior, or maybe even the work of bona fide extraterrestrials (if you want to believe, I suppose), the fact remains that these strange events are unexplained and provide some material ripe for speculation. Vaguely put, To Azimuth might just speculate.


     NASA has quite a history with the region, as well. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama has been instrumental to the United States' space exploration and research endeavors since the 1960's. Huntsville is located a short drive from Sand Mountain, and its analogue in To Azimuth plays an important role in the narrative.


New Music