Aaron Clifford: 3D Artist

Who am I?

Hello! I’m Aaron Clifford, one of the artists here at Frictional Games. Right now there are four of us artists and I’m relatively new around here. I started collaborating with Frictional back in April 2012 as a contractor, making props and other smaller bits for SOMA. A few months later I was brought on to the team full-time and, as they say, the rest is history.

Since we all work remotely, I do my stuff from my home in a suburb of London, England. I was the only one representing the British in Frictional for a while, but now we have a few! You’ll get to see their blog posts and learn about them soon, I’m sure.

Background

Hanging out at San Francisco pier.

Like any kid back in the 90s I had the pipe dream of one day growing up and making video games. I guess I just clung on to that dream a little longer than some of the others. Games in one form or another have always been with me; I think the first time I got my little hands on a video game must have been on the Amiga 500. I have very vivid memories of California Games, Prince of Persia and a pretty obscure game called It Came from the Desert. I was stuck with that machine and a Sega Master System (for which I only had a couple of games, including the built-in Alex the Kid) long after those became redundant until I was given £100 after my family sold our house. I blew it all on buying a Sega Megadrive/Genesis, only to have it stolen by the people working on our new house. They actually replaced the console inside the box with a couple of bricks!

Fast-forward past a few years of crying and I finally got my Megadrive (which I never let out of my sight), Playstation and eventually a PC which is when I started digging into the inner workings of games.

Inspired by old Sierra games I always wanted to make a point & click adventure. I remember scrawling countless pages of story and scribbling level plans for the game I wanted to make. I can’t really remember what it was, but it was something along the lines of a Broken Sword & Resident Evil amalgamation.

Then Half-Life and Counterstrike were released along with their mod tools and I started playing with the Hammer editor, making maps for CS which me and a few friends would play around in, stuff like “jump maps” (remember those?) and grenade dodgeball arenas. This was when I decided that, in my pipe dream of becoming a game developer, I’d take the path of a level artist. Having people run around inside my creations and enjoying themselves really gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Prometheus – A puzzle game I helped out with on level design.

So after high school I signed up for a college course that centered on computer games, digital art and media. Unfortunately it left a lot to be desired – I came away with just a few basic Photoshop and Flash skills. Undeterred and determined to make it into the industry I took it upon myself to learn the tools of the trade. I grabbed some free 3D programs like Milkshape and Blender and I started making guns, cars, space ships & crates (as is usual for a new 3D artist!) and eventually established myself in the modding community, helping out on various overly ambitious projects that eventually collapsed, but nonetheless making a lot of friends who would become professionals in the industry. A few are still good friends to this day. 

A little tower defense/RTS me and a couple friends made for iOS devices.

Like a few of us at this company I never landed a big job in a proper studio, instead I lent my skills to various projects as a freelancer, making enough money to get by. I did that for a couple of years but the unstable nature of freelancing didn’t really appeal to me. I applied to a few off-site fulltime jobs and some studios in London – due to family stuff I couldn’t really move out of London at the time – but finding a job in games around here is surprisingly tough. I struck it lucky when applying to a job posting at Frictional Games. I remember seeing the Penumbra tech demo and really digging it; Amnesia had just blown up and first-person horror was the order of the day. What Frictional was doing at the time was really quite unique and interesting to me so I was happy to see in the job description that people here work remotely which suited my situation perfectly.

I was always happiest working long-term with a team on a project we all care about. Frictional Games is really fulfilling for me in that respect, it’s like being back working on a project with friends only now I get paid and we actually release things.

What do I do?

An artist at Frictional has to wear many hats. This is something I’ve always been used to, and when friends tell me all they do is make textures all day or work on vehicles, I can never get my head around that. We generally work on whatever graphics that need creating for the project.

Every artist is usually responsible for a level each. We will pair up with a scripter and work on a level for 4-8 weeks bringing it from an empty space into a level in which the player can run around in, interact and advance the story. This doesn’t mean the work is done on the level at the end of our scheduled time on it, it just means by the time the weeks you have on it are up, there should be a decent amount of atmosphere to portray the mood of the level and you should be able to play through it from start to finish with all of the major events and activities in the design document present. At a later date I (or another artist) will come back to it to either change/rework it due to a design decision or if the design is solid, just work on the visuals more and bring it up to a better standard.

The number of tools I use has gone down a lot over the years and as software has improved. Day-to-day I use Modo for all my 3D polygon-pushing needs, Photoshop for my texture painting and HPL3’s toolset for everything game related.

Allow me to take you on a quick journey through the creation of a game asset from idea to game.

It usually starts with having a sketch kindly provided by Rasmus Gunnarsson or David Satzinger, two of our artists who are gifted in the traditional arts and visualisation. Not always, however, a lot of the time we just need to use our own imaginations and come up with designs for things on-the-fly.

Excerpt from concept art of the corpse on the table.

I usually start by making a high resolution mesh of the object. There are no limits on polygon counts here, this mesh is made up of millions and will be used to “bake” down detail to the lower-resolution in-game mesh.

Looking good there, Raznik.

Then I make the low polygon mesh. This will be the one that displays in game, so the polygon count is a factor here. The main objective is to have a silhouette that’s as smooth as possible so curves don’t look choppy or faceted. Polygons have been saved by not modelling the torso or any face details, as they will be covered up by the sheet in game. Every little helps!

Poor Raznik doesn’t even have a torso now.

Now I’ll “UV Map” the model, which is the process of basically unfolding the mesh into a 2D representation – like reverse-engineering a cardboard box and flattening it all out. That UV Map is then painted over in Photoshop to give it color, texture and make it look real.

In this case, as seen in our debut gameplay trailer, our Raznik is going to thrash around, so he’ll need animation. He’s given a skeleton and handed over to one of our talented outsourcers for animating. Mikael Persson brought Raznik to life in the trailer.

The model is then brought into the HPL Model Editor for setup. This includes adding collision so the player can’t walk through it, adding any animations for triggering in script, attaching lights, effects or sounds – whatever’s needed for the type of asset you’re creating.

Bringing Raznik back to life.

The model is now placed into the game world by using the HPL Level Editor. This is pretty much the end of the line for the artist. It is now the scripter’s responsibility to make Raznik squirm and scream in pain when the player pokes around with him. Without the scripter’s input, he would just lie there motionless and that’s not very scary at all…

Ready for his 15 seconds of fame.

The finished product as seen in our debut gameplay trailer.

I hope this was an interesting insight into who I am and what an artist does at Frictional Games. If you have any more questions, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.

Thanks for reading!

People of Frictional: Luis Rodero

Who am I?

Hi! I’m Luis Rodero, and I’m the target of all nagging and the shoulder to cry on when everything goes to hell. In other words I’m the tools programmer here at Frictional. I started back in 2006 (that’s a while!) as a contributor; I made a few minor additions to the HPL Engine and then not-so-minor ones (like the OpenAL implementation that was added back in the day). I was hired for full-time work in 2008, when work on Amnesia had just started.

I live in Seville, southern Spain, home of the Feria de Abril, the Serranito and the Springmmer season from Hell, which starts in April-ish and spans until late October and can easily melt a human brain if no countermeasures are taken. Since we all work remotely, I’ve actually tried quite a range of places to do my stuff, like every room in my previous apartment, study rooms at my former school, trains, planes… but nothing beats having a dedicated office space at home.

This here looks nicer than it usually does.

Background

As a kid, I was really into finding out how stuff worked. Generally that involved ripping things open, much to my parents’ disappointment of course. I also had an unhealthy attraction to videogames, which meant I vanished into thin air a lot only to be found at the nearest arcade in town. I got my first computer in the 80s and used to play games on it for countless hours; but it also came with these ‘intro to BASIC programming’ books that I thought were pretty cool, although I had no idea what I was doing when trying out the examples.

Beautiful and still working after more than 25 years (pic by Museo8Bits).

For a few years I moved my focus away from programming and just played stuff on my Master System and a few years later on my Mega Drive, as I was quite a Sega fanboy (you could have killed past Luis by telling him a Sonic game had been released on a Nintendo console, go figure). But as time went on it wasn’t fulfilling enough. That’s when I targeted my father’s PC (sorry dad). I still played a lot of stuff, but I never lost that itch for knowing how stuff worked, so that meant the PC was sent for technical support a load of times (again, sorry dad), but it also meant I learned a lot from trial and error. It wasn’t until I found Alone In The Dark that I became determined to learn how a game was made. Man, that game hit me hard.

Before jumping head-first into learning how to program, I tried pretty much everything: drawing pixel art, frame by frame animation, composing music in trackers, 3D modelling… I also created a mods for Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, and, while I learned a lot and had a lot of fun, I realised that if I had a forte, it was not on the artistic side of the craft. So I started to focus on the technical side. I used to open any kind of file in a game with a text editor (and also with a hexeditor, but I didn’t know that’s what it was until quite a long time later), just to see how it looked. Most of the time it was illegible nonsense, but sometimes I found stuff I could read, and that’s how I learned to change strings in EXE files. But this was clearly not enough, so one day I got my hands on a C programming book.

Not my best look, but the tentacles make up for that (wait, that sounded weird).

I must say I never finished a single project I started back in the day, but I got to try out a lot of stuff in the process, and even more so when I found the Allegro libraries. I read lots of books and articles on the subject, and went through lots of source code for projects by others — that was a great source of knowledge. I managed to do a broken shmup, a base system for a point&click adventure game, and my best work at the time, a Tetris clone that was so crappy I named it “tris-Te” (some basic understanding of Spanish will help you get this one). After that, I carried on with the learning and started checking out stuff like OpenGL, and that’s when I came across a little game called Fiend on the Allegro depot, created by some guy called Thomas Grip.

Back in October 2004 (nearly ten years ago), I was still working on getting my degree in CS and looking for projects to work on for hobby, and then I checked this Thomas Grip guy out again, as after playing Fiend I knew he could pull off cool stuff. Turned out he was working on another game called Unbirth. That’s when I approached him on the Unbirth forums. The rest is pretty easy to figure out. I had never seriously thought of doing this for a living, and now I feel I wouldn’t be able to do anything other than this.

What do I do?

My main task here is to build and maintain the tools we use for creating content for our games. This means I’m in charge of the LevelEditor, ModelEditor, ParticleEditor and MaterialEditor programs. I made these pretty much from scratch, working on top of the HPL engine. This should make everything in the editors look just like it would do in a game powered by it. Occasionally I do bits of level scripting or other kinds of programming, but this is what I do most of the time.

The way the tools evolve is tightly coupled to how the engine changes. If, for instance, a new type of object is added to the map class in the engine, it would be weird if it didn’t end up being added as a placeable object type in the LevelEditor. On top of that, we have changes to improve our workflows – for example, when an operation proves to be too time-consuming we look for ways to improve the editors to make that easier.

At the time of this writing, the tools are already huge, growing even bigger every day, but I can’t just add features carelessly. One of the main goals of having custom tools is to make them suit our needs as much as possible, and that also implies paying a lot of attention to the user experience.

With this in mind, adding a new feature means that it should:

  • Work properly (would be weird to fail at this one)
  • Be straightforward
  • Be as quick to use as possible (the fewer clicks the better)
  • Have as much visual feedback as possible (where this applies)

This takes time to figure out, and will most probably require a couple of iterations and some feedback from users to become a good enough addition.

And where do these new features come from? Most of the time they are user requests, since when one is working with the tools, it might become obvious that some processes feel cumbersome and could be made simpler. Other requests come up from comparisons to other editors – ‘hey, UDK has that feature, can we have it?’ Also, if something reasonably simple can be done to save a user from having to alt-tab out of the editor to carry out an external task, that sounds like a good feature to me.

It begins with the description of the feature: what it should do and maybe a little overview on how. Then it’s time for a preliminary design, which shouldn’t be excessively detailed, since chances are we are gonna run into something at the time of integrating the feature into the system that we never took into account.

Once the first design is done, a first implementation is carried out. This should be done and put out to test as quickly as possible, to find flaws or possible improvements in the first stages.

After the first approach is tested, then any issues or requests in the feedback should be fixed. It’s very unlikely that a feature turns out to be perfect or even acceptable before any checking (unless we are talking about really small ones), so here’s where the feature is really shaped up.

Once the issues are fixed, it should be tested again. If no bugs or weird stuff pops up after that, then the feature makes it to the toolset. And that’s how we make it!

Looking fishy if you ask me.

Of course, the job doesn’t come without problems. The main issue I face everyday is the fact that most of the stuff I have is based on code that’s been there since we started work on Amnesia, when I had little to no idea on how things should be done. Since then, I’ve been working hard to migrate to a design that automates as much as possible and makes it easy to add or improve features. I’m kind of happy with what we have currently, but I know I can do way better than this.

Another issue is that we’re dealing with software here. If something can break, it will break. And that will mean someone (most probably Marc) will come at me complaining about something broken. And then I’ll have to stop what I’m doing at the time and move on to fixing stuff until that someone goes back to their normal happy state again.

So summing up, my workday revolves around keeping people happy (a noble cause, actually), and otherwise adding new stuff or improving the existing stuff. Hope you liked finding out more about what I do here, and see you in the next post on new tool features!

Patrik Dekhla: Gameplay Programmer

Who am I?

I’m Patrik Dekhla, scripter and gameplay programmer. I joined Frictional back in 2012 and since then I’ve worked full-time on SOMA, making the gameplay feel awesome and terrifying.

Like the rest of the team, I work from the comfort of my home, which is in the south of Sweden. This is how my workspace looks (only it’s generally a lot messier):

Background

Growing up, I always had games around me thanks to my gamer dad, which sparked my gaming interest at a very early age. This developed into a bit of an obsession over time, and for a large part of my childhood almost all my thoughts circled around games. If I wasn’t playing games, I pretended real-life was a game or drew game levels on pieces of paper and “played” them in my head. I’m not sure how healthy all of that was.

I always loved it when games came with editors, as I usually found playing around with those even more fun than the games themselves. I tried learning QBasic (an old programming language) when I was 9 or 10 years old and managed to make some terribly written text adventures in it. That was about as close I got to making games for a very long time. Even though it seemed like a cool thing to do, I just didn’t know where to start.

As I grew up, I stayed interested in games but outgrew the obsession a bit. I studied acting for a good while and thought for sure that was what I would be doing professionally in the future. Then, as I was looking to take the next step in my education, I got a postcard dropped on me from The Game Assembly, a game development school, and something convinced that I had to give this a shot. I sent them an application and got accepted.

The education was brutal. Some weeks we would only leave school to eat or sleep. Some nights I slept in a couch at school to save time. We had tests that almost everyone failed at. We had to come in on weekends to fix old projects. We got conflicting, vague or just plain weird guidance from our teachers. The entire experience bounced back and forth between amazing and horrifying. But in the end it was worth it for all the things I had learned. Game development was no longer a mystery.

RTS/Stealth game made at school

After my 6 month internship at a studio in Denmark, I saw a blog post about Frictional hiring a scripter and decided to apply. After an interview, a work tests and some nervous waiting, I got a nice mail from Jens letting me know I was welcome aboard.

What do I do?

Though I get to do work in a lot of different programming, scripting and design areas, most of the time I work in AngelScript, scripting events and interactions specific to a certain level.

My work on a level starts after Thomas has written the design and an artist has had the chance to build the most essential parts of the level. I have a long meeting with Thomas about the design, divide the different scenes and events into tasks and get started.

The first thing I do is to script a rough version of the most important events to get a sense of how things will play out. As I do this, some design issues usually make themselves apparent and I have to deviate a bit from Thomas’ instructions. This is natural as it’s not possible to write a flawless design document without trying things out in the game.

Once I’m done with this rough outline, I get some feedback on the progress so far and start to flesh things out further. This means among other things that the events get a dose of nice looking screen effects and sounds, some of the timing is reworked and fail-safes are added in case the player behaves in unexpected ways. Some puzzles and events need multiple iterations before they feel quite right, and some times they simply never do and they get removed and replaced by something completely different.

Eventually the entire team gets to play through the level and give their feedback. Based on the feedback I spend about a week more tweaking and fixing until the level is all nice and shiny. Then I move on to a new level.

Of course, the level is still not done. There are still proper sounds that need to be added, art that has to be polished and voiceovers that have to be implemented; not to mention all the redesign that happens as we refine the game as a whole. So eventually I’ll have to return to the level once more to tweak and fix.

That should at least give you an idea of what it is that I do. It’s a very fun process really. With SOMA we’re trying to do a lot of interesting stuff around how the player interacts with the story, which means that with each level I work on I’m faced with some totally new and cool design challenges to overcome. I’m looking forward to seeing your reactions to some of my stuff when the game is released!

Mikael Hedberg: Writer

Mikael Hedberg is not currently working at Frictional Games.

Who am I?

I am Mikael Hedberg and I’m the writer. I write all sorts of text that shows up in the game. I give actors lines to say and then ask them to scream a few times, because their character will most likely die at some point.

Background

I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. I played everything I could get my hands on, board games, RPGs, and of course computer games. I can’t remember a brand or anything, but the very first computer I owned was a green keyboard with rubber keys. It didn’t have any memory to actually save things, so you had to program every game you wanted to play. I had a few sheets of paper filled with code which you painstakingly had to type before you could play. And what riveting games I got to play. Oh, the thrills of guessing that number between 1 and 100 or dodging those falling letters. Those were the days.

I did eventually upgrade to an Amiga which was the first time I encountered real story in games. LucasArts and Sierra titles quickly became my addiction. I liked all of them, but more than any other I would say Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers really made me go, “Oh, these can get pretty dark and tell real stories.”


I was kind of late to the computer RPG party, because playing a lot of tabletop RPGs made me think they were pretty bad in comparison. I did start liking them around the release of Fallout 2 and played a bunch of the RPGs released around that time. I still consider Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura to be one of the best computer games I’ve ever played. You see, the thing about being a tabletop RPG player is that I’ve played and hosted easily over a hundred different stories in this very free and responsive type of play. Going to computer games, it’s really difficult to get excited by the storytelling because it’s rarely that interesting. Not because it doesn’t tell the right stories, but because I never feel like I’m really doing anything. I feel like I’m slowly moving a movie forward. It’s like all I do is power the projector by pushing keys. People often get dumbstruck when I don’t go nuts over games like the Last of Us. They are great at story, they tell me. Yes, they really are, but we have always had good writing and conventional storytelling. Look at the Sierra games from the 90s. They are absolutely fantastic in that respect.


I do get more excited with games that either try to give me that sense of responsibility like the Fallout games or games that try to merge gameplay and story like Heavy Rain. If you mess up, you don’t just fail, you actually fail someone in the game, you change the story. That’s when story matters, that’s when it gets interesting to me.

I’ve always wanted to tell a really good story in a game where it makes you feel like I do when I play tabletop RPGs. A game where you are concerned about what you are doing, not because you might fail some gameplay, but because it may take the story somewhere you don’t want it to go. Where your actions affect the lives of the characters you meet in a meaningful way and their well-being is reflected back on you. Basically to be human, but in another world.

My “corner office”

I started out my career at a pretty big company in Stockholm. It was a very educational experience concerning how the business works. However, it was very frustrating trying to get anything done. In the end I felt like I put maybe 5% of my time into the writing and 95% into company politics, talking to people and trying to get everyone on board. The one thing I learned about being a game writer is: You are responsible for the story, but you don’t have mandate to actually control the story. Impossible situation, you say? I thought so, so I kind of ran away to Japan for a while.

One day as I sat there in my house on a snowy peak in Japan there came a knocking on my door. It was Jens, an old friend of mine from school.

“Gotham needs you,” he said.

“What?”

“Sorry, wrong house. Oh, hi Mike. You want to do some writing for Frictional Games?”

“No, man. I’m done with game writing. My life is all about crochet now. Wanna see?”

“Wow, that’s like really bad…”

“Well, I just started.”

“No, I mean, like really really bad…”

All right, you made your point. I’ll take the writing gig.”

“What is this even supposed to be?!”

“I said I’d do it already!”

That’s how I ended up at Frictional Games. And there’s at least five words of truth to that story.

SIDE – Voice recording studio
Home away from home.

What do I do?

Explaining what I do and the amount of control I have over the narrative is very difficult, but I’ll give it try. Unlike what many seem to think I don’t set up the game like a screenwriter would set up a movie. I don’t precede the making of the game like a screenwriter, I write the game while in production. What happens in preproduction is more of setting up what the game will be rather than the story and the plot itself. Thomas, my boss, will explain what he wants thematically and roughly what events he wants the player to experience. It often sounds like story, but it really isn’t, even though it sometimes lends itself to something looking like a narrative. This preproduction talk mostly limits the story through theme and game structure. In the case of the Frictional Games titles I’ve worked on they all go with real-time linear progression of levels with a horror theme. This setup could make a thousand different stories if not more, but it also makes thousands of stories impossible to tell. After preproduction I should have an idea of what the game could be, but also what it absolutely can’t be.

Thomas then starts designing levels, providing a procedural journey through the levels with some suggestions for story content that could or sometime absolutely should be included. When I get to do the real work, actually writing the text you read or the dialog you hear in game, all the people in the company are already doing their thing, working from the level design. So, when I start writing there is already a level in production, gameplay designed, and a good sense of what the player will be doing. To make this work I can’t just start writing what I think would make a good story, but rather what would make the game work – and if there’s enough room, try to make it interesting beyond just being functional.

Step one in my work is always to have whatever the player is doing make some sense. Before I can get into shaping interesting characters or explain the plot, I need to hit that mark.

Take one of the very first puzzles in Amnesia. The door is covered in fleshy goo (the Shadow). The player is to create a concoction to dissolve it to continue.

The door itself and the goo in front of it takes care of itself. The player understands that this is not like other doors and something needs to be done to proceed. The first step is to introduce the solution, the recipe to dissolve the goo. Now this is pretty strange for someone to have lying around, so it needs to be justified somehow. I could start with saying Alexander’s plumbing is clogging up and that he purposefully created the recipe. Problem solved. Now that it is justified, I look at it. Can it be improved? Can I say something else about the world and the characters within it?

“This is my third attempt to produce artificial Vitae. The former compounds lacked the potency I need, but I sense I’m close. Calamine and Orpiment are a given and the Cuprite binds them well. This time I will attempt Aqua Regia instead of Aqua Fortis in hope it will produce a more even solution.The experiment was unsuccessful. The solution is highly acidic and proves impractical to put to any use except as a detergent. Organic tissue reacts especially violently to the solution and should be handled with the greatest care. I might be able to use the recipe, but I’m losing hope that I will find an alchemic solution to my predicament.”

Yes. Let’s make it one of Alexander’s experiments to create the vitae he wants so badly, but a failed one that has the effect the player wants. Now suddenly the note justifying the puzzle just told us about Alexander and further detailed his journey. Also the kind of throw away attitude Alexander has towards the concoction gives the player a sense of “Even though Alexander didn’t, I can put that to use”. It’s not just Daniel blindly following Alexander’s footsteps. Daniel actually finds a use to something that Alexander didn’t, which creates a nice distance between the two characters. So what started as a strictly functional solution ends up helping me talk about these two characters and enrich the story and reveal Alexander’s motives.

Justification followed by building story is the foundation of my work.

Pretty early on I know what I want the overall story to be and I map out what I need to tell that story in my head. To accommodate for changes and things that others, mostly Thomas want to include, I need to keep this plan pretty flexible. I try to keep this in mind when writing early texts as well, so I don’t paint myself into a corner. The further we get into the game, the more I dare to nail things down as the rest of the team has subconsciously started to take this as the obviously best version of the narrative.

Illustration time! Let’s say I have three pieces of information I need to get into the game so the story works the way I want it to. Let’s call them TransformConflict, and Payoff.

“Oh, boy! Don’t they look great together?

And then we put the game and its structure on top of that:

“You bastards! Look what you did to my words!”

Then we make the best of the situation:

“I suppose Change is kind of like Transform, so if I just shuffle them around a little. There, they totally fit.”
“— Mike, we cut another level.”
Muddafu—!”

Maybe not the best of illustrations, but it’s sort of what I do. I try keep an idea of the overall information I need to put into the game to tell the story I’m aiming for, and then keep it flexible enough so I can tell that story in a range of different ways. It’s not that I come up with thousands of versions, but instead remain opportunistic enough to fit the information I need where ever it will fit.

What’s probably most surprising to people is that I don’t get to boss people around and claim that the story demands this or that. Many would probably equate this to the story taking a backseat and is more of an afterthought, but that would be missing the point about the process. Yes, I don’t get to plan and direct the story, but I kind of get to cultivate it. Over time shaping a nice little bonsai tree out of the chaos that feeds it. And since we started on SOMA, Thomas has started to show more interest in storytelling which takes a much more transformative form as he has the power to actually tell the team to rework things. Thomas and I more openly discuss where we think the story should go this time around and what we would both like to see, so it’s easier getting a good framework down to work from. Funnily enough, I consider Thomas my most powerful ally as well as the most destructive force on the team, since he could suddenly decide to reshape a level to make it fit the narrative better or on the other hand decide to cut a critical scene due to gameplay flow. Ultimately I need to trust him to make the game he wants. Because if I cultivate a little story bonsai tree, I’m sure Thomas is worried about a whole garden of different fauna, like graphical coherency, technical efficiency and engaging gameplay.

As always I just need to roll with the punches.

Rasmus Gunnarsson: Art Lead

Who am I?

Hello! My name Rasmus Gunnarsson and I started working for Frictional Games as a freelance artist back in 2010 to help out with the final stages of Amnesia’s development. Later, I became an intern, and that landed me full-time employment as a concept artist / 3D artist / level artist / whatever’s needed artist.

I work from an elevated desk where I stand all day. 

Background

I’ve always drawn a lot since I was a child. I never took it that seriously, which is something I regret, but then again perhaps if I had I wouldn’t have spent most of my free time playing games. I used to buy those magazines that came with demo disks, and then use all my savings to either get a cool game from the budget bin or save it up for a larger release. I played everything from Megaman to Silent Hill to Counter Strike to Fallout to Starcraft to Monkey Island.

The time comes when you look at your life and where you are going; soon you’ll be out of school and in need of a job. I asked myself what I wanted to do. If I was going to have to work for most of my life, I’d love it to be something that I cared about and enjoyed. This started a long and hard journey to where I am today.

Painting made in my spare time.

I started out with all the resources I could find on the internet and practised all day instead of just playing – I was drawing, painting, reading tutorials and watching educational materials. When I did play games or watch movies, I tried to be more observant of things art-related. But just working on my own wasn’t really going to cut it; even when you improve with lots of practice, you won’t have any real practical tests of your skill and it’s easy to fall into patterns that feel comfortable.

I enrolled in a school for Industrial Design in my home town. I’d read that many successful concept artists had started out there, and it was the best way I could find of getting practical experience – or so I thought at the time. It turned out that it wasn’t a good idea at all. All it offered were some practical opportunities for that specific field, and no real meaty general design courses regarding aesthetics and so on –  we were left to figure that out on our own. As I was already doing that myself, I just quit, and looked for a course that might give me a chance for real practical experience.

This search took me to The Game Assembly, a school with close links to the games industry. So not only were there many more practical opportunities to be had, but there was also a chance to meet people in the industry. I didn’t expect to be spoon-fed anything and still focused on the work and practice I did on my own.

A personal painting much inspired by Beksinski.

I got to work on many small games during the course, but the big turning point was when I just got lucky. One of the guys I befriended happened to be doing ex for Frictional. Due to the busy schedule at the school, he had trouble keeping up with everything he needed to do and asked me to help out. While I was quite busy myself, I wouldn’t pass up on this opportunity.

When I started working on Amnesia I had no idea what Frictional had done in the past, so of course I decided to check it out. After playing Penumbra, I realised quite how good Frictional were, and felt under pressure to perform well. I really enjoyed Penumbra and thought it did a lot of new things with old gaming ideas that I loved in a way that got me really excited. During school I hadn’t wanted to end up working on AAA games as I felt they didn’t manage to create new things that could rival many of the old great classic games. But after playing Penumbra I knew that I’d do anything to keep working with Frictional.

Concept art for the Justine suitor enemy.

After completing the freelance work for Amnesia I got an internship at Frictional where I, among other things, worked on the Justine expansion. After the internship I got full employment.

What do I do?

I create concept art and sketches for objects and environments. I also create 3D models and work on levels like a normal 3D artist when that takes a higher priority.

Sometimes an area might need a redesign, and doing a paintover is the quickest way of evaluating what needs to be changed and to set a clear goal; at other times we might need to fix a bunch of objects both technically and aesthetically.

I really love being able to have a finger in everything, making sure that the concepts are translated correctly, and then having the freedom to explore and tweak things, making every area or object as good as it can be instead of simply contributing art and hoping that it becomes something good in the end.

I use Photoshop and a Wacom for drawing and Modo for creating 3D assets.

My normal workflow is to interpret the initial design doc by Thomas (the Lead Designer), using his description and simple layout to try and capture the right mood and give the artists building the level something to go on.

Concepts for the teaser.

Above is an example from the teaser video we recently released. We chose “hero shots” of the environment where there is something special going on, so you get the most mileage out of a single sketch.

Another thing that happens in the process of designing an area is that the initial sketches tend to act as a visual playtest. Something that might’ve been problematic to communicate visually can easily slip through when you are only designing something in your head or on paper. In the end, nothing is final and will always evolve in each stage it goes through.

Marcus Johansson: 3D Artist

Who am I?

Hi! My name is Marcus Johansson and I’m a 3d artist who’s been with Frictional Games since January 2009. When I think of that date it doesn’t sound that long, but then I realize it’s actually 5 years ago.

I started as an intern for 6 months, and after that went straight on to full time.

For most of this 5 year span I’ve had to work in a corner of the living room, but I finally moved into a 3-room apartment a year ago. Having a dedicated office really helps at home as my other half doesn’t share the same working hours as me.

My workspace. (Yes, I made that ugly foot-stand from a old table piece.)

Background

Meetup fun on big toys!

I’ve always been curious about how things work. At a young age seeing my step dad fixing anything from broken electronics to cars really got me hooked on figuring things out and trying to fix and create stuff myself.

I didn’t have a gaming system or computer at home when I was small, but I played NES/SNES at my friend’s house every chance I got. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I saved up to buy my first gaming system, a Playstation that I spent most of my time playing FF VII and THPS2 on.

At 15, after finding odd jobs here and there and managing to save up enough cash, I bought my first computer, managing to build it from parts without breaking anything. Although not a single physical part is in my current computer it still feels like it’s the same one, as I’ve made incremental updates ever since.

In high school I managed to make a few games in Flash by myself, but later teamed up with a programmer friend and we managed to make a few multiplayer games. We had a Flash gaming site with a working community system up and running for a while, even managing to get a few hundred members, but we didn’t take it much further.

After school I found a course at a large university targeted towards game development. As I didn’t know much about gamedev aside from my Flash/web experiences, I jumped in with both feet without doing much research. Turned out that the course was just an assembly of modules the university had been running for years already; they’d slapped on the game development tag to lure students in. I wasn’t learning anything that would get me into the industry.

I realised my mistake and did some proper research, finding a much better programme called Gamemaker that had the art and programming aspects separated. I applied to the art course and got accepted.

I started off in September 2007 and focused on modelling and texturing. The course and teachers were good but it was up to you to make the most out of it. It would have been easy just to pass, but I wanted more than that, so along with a few other students I stayed at the school late at night trying to get good at this thing. The fact that I’d wasted almost a year of my time and student loan on a bad course made me more serious about getting it right this time.

All this hard work finally landed me an internship at Frictional Games after graduating and I’ve been here ever since.

Since I got my foot into Frictional’s basement I haven’t touched my portfolio at all. It’s still up at www.hadex.se with the stuff I showed to apply for the internship. There are only 4 images, but I figured that it’s better to show a few good things than lots of average ones. Keep it short and honest – at least that’s what I’d want to see. Same with the letter you apply with; show that you want the position but don’t use too much grease or it will feel cheesy and dishonest.

(Looking at these images today with a lot more experience, I wouldn’t keep any of them for my portfolio!)

So – if you are looking to get into the industry make sure you find a course that has actual game-making modules on it!

What do I do?

I’m one of the 3D artists at Frictional Games and I do a little bit of everything on the visual side – except that I can’t draw. If there’s someone else out there that can’t draw like me, you can still make it as a 3D artist as long as you have a good eye for things and are willing to learn and work hard.

I remember that back when I started here I thought some of the deadlines for the early Amnesia development were very stressful. If I could talk to that version of me today I would tell him to enjoy that nice and relaxing time. But I guess he would be too arrogant and wouldn’t listen anyway!

Back then I’d get a task to create a batch of 2-4 different models in the same style along with their measurements and sketches. An example task might be to create a large table, a small table and a chair all as a set. Then I’d just have to model and texture those, and then move on to the next batch.

Although I’m still modelling and texturing smaller props it’s now only a small portion of my responsibilities. My main job is to build levels based on an initial design. This usually means that I end up creating modular assets like walls, ceiling, floors, pipes, cables and so on; creating gameplay and story-driven objects; adding detail objects; creating particle systems; creating decals; and making smaller rigs and animations. I send out requests to our outsourcers for extra models and 2D art that I know I won’t have time to do if I want to get the level built. I also talk with the animators that we contract to for larger animations.

It can be stressful to try and deal with all of this at the same time, especially as our levels are bigger and more fleshed out than ever before. But this range of tasks is what makes the job so varied and fun for me; your work can be completely different from month to month.

At Frictional we start by focusing on the most important story and gameplay aspects of each level, but at the same time I like to get in a bit of lighting and add some particles in order to spice up the visuals whenever I can. You don’t want to leave all of the polishing work until the last few weeks!

Thomas puts a ton of work into designing the levels, but it’s up to us 3D artists to kick off this vision and make it into an environment that you can walk around in. You start with a huge level design document and are not really sure where to begin at first, but once you get going and the level comes alive piece by piece it’s a great feeling. You get the ‘this is my level’ feeling after a while even if the initial design isn’t yours. I prefer it this way as each level ties perfectly in with each other and the story, instead of having each level builder also be the level designer.

Here is an example of making a room come to life following design and concept. 

There’s a quick insight into what I do in the company.

I usually don’t write these sort of things but I hope it was a decent read for you.

Marc Nicander: 3D Artist

Who am I

I’m Marc Nicander, I started working for Frictional Games as a freelance artist back in 2006 and got hired full-time when development on Amnesia started in 2008. When I was freelancing I was still a student so I did my work in my 13 square meter student apartment but I have since managed to get a larger space. This is what my current workplace looks like.

Background

My first real contact with games was back in 1989 when my parents gave me a NES for Christmas. It was the most amazing thing and I spent countless hours in front of the TV playing games like Super Mario Bros, Zelda and Megaman. It also made an impact on my other hobby, drawing. My drawings changed from being things inspired by comics to mostly being Nintendo characters and home-made Megaman bosses.

When I was in 9th grade I got hold of 3D Studio Max and started playing around with 3D for the first time. I remember it being quite confusing – it wasn’t easy to figure out how everything worked on my own. I got together with a friend who knew C++ and we managed to make 2 games. The first was an adventure game with pre-rendered 3D backgrounds, the second a shoot’em up that we entered in a PC Gamer competition. We didn’t win anything for it, and working as a game developer in the future felt like a far-off dream.

So, instead, I went on a Media Technology course at Karlsham to study 3D, where I learned Maya, film-making and video editing. While on the course, I discovered a different programme that hadn’t been listed when I first applied, a 2-year course called School of Future Entertainment (SOFE) that focused on games programming and 3D for film and games. After my 3 year of Media Technology I applied to SOFE, and it’s there that I first found out about Frictional Games.

One night when I was working late on a school project a friend, Emil, called me over to his desk. He had been working late nights on a secret project. We were the only ones left there that night, and he wanted to show it off to someone even though he wasn’t supposed to. He was doing models for an extension to the Penumbra tech demo, and to say I was amazed is probably an understatement. The way the game used physics for all the interactions was beyond anything I had experienced in any other game at that point, and it got harder to play other games afterwards when I knew what was possible.

When Frictional started building Penumbra they needed freelance artists to create in-game models for props, and this is where I started my Frictional career. I created 3 objects for Penumbra: Overture: a flare, a lock and an engine. I continued freelancing during the development of Penumbra:Black Plague and worked mostly with props but also built some of the levels. After Black Plague was released work started on the HPL2 engine and I was tasked with building levels for the expansion Requiem. We had feedback complaining about Black Plague’s levels mostly being a series of boxes on a single plane and my main goal in Requiem was to fix that. It’s one of the reasons why the third level in Requiem is all about climbing.

When development on Amnesia started in 2008 I was hired full time and I was happy to finally have a secure income. Little did I know what was waiting around the corner…

What do I do?

I’m one of the four 3D artists working at Frictional Games. My work is to create the world described in the design documents. This means creating a lot of props, making textures and creating levels. I still do most of my 3D work in Maya but thankfully I no longer have to build full levels in it like I did when I was working on Penumbra:Black Plague.

To further illustrate what I do for those of you who aren’t in game development, I’ll show you an example of how I make a simple prop. I start out with a basic object, in this case a cube. As you can see in picture A, the cube is built with planes between vertex-points. By adding vertices and moving them around as seen in picture B I can shape the cube into anything I like. If I add more basic objects and modify them I can end up with the result in picture C.

When I’m done with the basic object I save it as a low poly (low detail) object and start adding more details to it. This new model will become the high poly (high detail) object you can see in picture D. We’ll use this highly detailed model to trick the viewer into believing that the low poly object in the game is more detailed than it really is. We’ll show examples of this in our upcoming artist blog posts along with level building and concept artwork.

(Note: Model is not from SOMA…)

Jens Nilsson: Co-founder, producer

Originally posted by Jens.
Some links in this article have expired and have been removed.

Images on this post have been lost.

Jens Nilsson is not currently working at Frictional Games.

Who am I

I’m Jens Nilsson, one of the people that started the company in 2006. Back then my work space was dubbed the “Pink Room” and in it all the Penumbra and Amnesia magic happened. The previous occupant of the apartment had a young girl and that room was the girl’s room. We did not get around to give it some new paint until the year before we moved out. I dug and dug but could unfortunately not find a picture of it. Anyway, I’ve always had the luxury of having a dedicated room to work in and currently I am located in a cozy attic space.

Background

I got an urge to make my own games when I was seven years old and the family got a C64. Spent a great deal of time copying the code from the Basic manual and got stuff printing, balloons flying and even the C64 making sounds. Did I understand anything of it beyond the end command “run”? Nope.

My first actual working modification of a game was around 1990 when we had a game called “Italien 90” which was a game written in Basic for the C64. The game was a simple text based football manager for the world cup in Italy 1990. As it was a Basic program you could pause the game, scroll through the code and make changes. I’m sorry Thomas Ravelli, but you got replaced by Jens Nilsson and my stats were all top 9 values. While at it, the rest of the Swedish team got top 9 values as well but they got to keep their names. Sweden won the world cup, over and over, which was quite similar to how they performed in the real competition (group c).

The following years I did not spend much time trying to create anything, kept it to gaming only. Instead I spent a great deal of time playing instruments, at first the piano and later the guitar. I eventually started playing in bands and music was the main occupation during the years 1988 to 2002. In 1995 the family acquired the first computer since the C64, which was an Apple Macintosh 5200. With it some craving for trying to create something with games came back. As in my younger days, actually programing something was not on the table, rather modifying games was what I did the most. Mainly Bungie’s game series Marathon, it had third party tools available so you could create and edit content for the game. For anyone interested the Marathon games are available for free through the Aleph One project.

In 1996/1997 the family computer got bumped to an Apple Macintosh 6400. With this my two interests started to merge and I began using the computer to record and make music.

One day in 1997 I was reading the latest news on insidemacgames.com and there was a post about the next game from Brian Greenstone. He had announced that his next game was going to be freeware and because of it he asked if there were anyone interested in helping out making graphics, music and such. I had no clue at all about how/what to do in terms of music for a game, but I figured I should at least mail and offer to help out. I got a positive response and for the next couple of months we sent emails back and forth. Brian sending new builds and I sent my attempts at making music for it. As this was in 1997 it took time to send or receive an email with a large attachment, as much as 30 minutes. Always with the risk of the dialup connection breaking. Tough times. In the end I only did one track, the one used for the menu. Regardless, I had gotten my first taste of working with some actual game development.

I finished high school in 1998 and in 1999 I turned my “music for games”-hobby into a self-employment business. The following years I did a lot of small projects, some that never got released, but quite a few that did. Lot’s of the work I did was for free, or for little pay, what I earned I mostly spent on getting new gear and software. The main “pay” was gaining experience and contacts. I increasingly did less and less music and more and more sound design. These projects gave opportunities to do tasks other than audio. Scripting, design and such all got some leveling up. Running a small business also required me to get up to speed in all sort of departments. I needed to make websites, understand how to invoice, bookkeep, market, customer relations, international work/pay and all the taxation rules that goes with it, and so forth. Experience that turned out to be quite handy as we started Frictional Games.

Thanks to the wonderful Wayback machine I can show a saved version of my old site. Listed are all the game projects that got released up to 2006 .

From 2002 to 2006 I attended a game development program at the Gotland University College. We did some fun projects as part of the education. My favorite is probably the large, foot controlled, floor projected Pong game that we created at the end of the first year. Overall the education was quite chaotic, lots of changes as to what the purpose of it should be. Because of that the quality of the education was lacking. It did allow for a lot of free time, I spent that time doing other projects through my self-employment business. A friend in class one day told me about a guy that he met online. It was some strange dude that was making a horror game and my friend was helping him out making graphics for it. A couple of months later I got in contact with that guy as well, it turned out to be Thomas and his Unbirth project. I did a bit of sound design for it and well, yeah, I think Thomas pretty much covered the rest of how we went from there to Energetic, to the Penumbra Tech Demo and ending up starting Frictional Games.

What do I do?

I have headed up the audio department, where I have done most of the sound work and design of the sound while working with Mikko Tarmia as our composer. For Amnesia, Kaamos Sound helped out making sounds. For Soma, Kaamos and Samuel Justice are doing all the sound work with Mikko doing his magic with the music. Other game work has been level scripting, level editing, level optimization and design.

I take care of our servers, both for development and for the public sites. This involves setting up and making everything running properly, it could be something as simple as registering a domain, researching and installing a bug tracker, it could be writing the code and server scripts for websites or making sure everything is backed up on a running schedule. I do, or did, lots of our customer support, these days we have a very nice forum community that does way too much of it (in particular one guy…). Like Thomas I also have a slew of small stuff that is done from time to time.

In addition to the server management, what I pretty much only do at the moment is managing the company side of things. This is all sort of stuff not related to game development: Partners, agreements, salaries, taxes, bookkeeping, sales reports, buying equipment, paying invoices, sending invoices, reading and writing a never ending stream of emails and so on and on. At the moment I am not doing any game development due to two reasons. First, we have grown to 12 people and have numerous contractors, partners and service providers. It all requires a bit more time to manage these days. Second, currently only working three days a week, so I have less time than what I used to have (hmm, I can think of quite a few years when we worked seven days…). Next year I’m going back to full time again and with it I should be back to a bit of the game development work.

If you are thinking, “Oh, the poor sod. From game development to office rat”. No, not really! I’ve always been the most interested in the whole of it, to run a company as well as to do creative work. The main perk with Frictional Games has always been the wide variety of things to do.

I did not go much into details about how I actually do the various things that I do. If you are interested and have any questions about it, just post a comment and I’ll do my best to give you a prompt answer.

Thomas Grip: Co-founder, creative director

Some links in this article have expired and have been removed.

This will be the first part in a series where we introduce all the members of Frictional Games. Apart from the obvious “getting to know the team”, it will also be an insight into the daily workings of the company. What makes Frictional Games different from many other developers is that everybody works from home, rarely meet in person and very few have had any professional game making experience before joining the team. All communication is done over Skype (plus the rare phone call), and for the last few years the whole team only meets up once a year. When we tell this to people we usually get surprised reactions, and they have trouble understanding how it all can work. Hopefully this series can help answer that.

With that said, let’s get this series started! First up, I will get myself out of the way.

Who am I?

Hi all! My name is Thomas Grip and I am one of the two founding members of Frictional Games. For the first few years at Frictional Games I used to work from my living room, on a desk placed next to the TV. (This made me an expert in shows like Top Model, Bold and Beautiful and whatever my fiancee watched while I worked during the evenings.) Eventually we moved to a bigger apartment and I got my own office. This how my work space looks right now:

Background

I started out making games in 1997 (when I was 16) and my first game, called “Köttar Monstret” (yeah, I know…), was made on a TI-83 and became kinda popular in my class. At the time I did not have a computer, and had never really used one. I did not feel I was a very technical person and even though I had chosen to study the natural sciences, my main interest was with art and I drew and painted a lot. But when I started to program on that TI-83, which was quite clunky with only 8 or so short lines visible at once, it was like a revelation to me. I had never understood that you could do this sort of thing with a computer. I was hooked, and needed to learn more. First up, I got hold of an actual PC, this wonderful machine, and started to learn QBasic on it. With no access to the internet, my only source of information was old and worn programming books that I found at the library. I remembered that I searched hard for some book that explained how to display graphics. When QBasic did not tell me, I learned Pascal, but no graphics in there, so I went on to C, but I did not find anything there either. The best I could do was to get colored symbols from the extended ASCII character set, but that was no fun, I wanted proper pictures!

When at school I mostly spent lectures drawing stuff like this.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a book, called Game Programming Explorer or something, in the back of a strange bookstore at the outskirts of my home town. It explained to me that I had to program these routines myself! So I learned all about the wonderful world of Mode 13h. Soon after I bought a proper PC (120Mhz if I recall correctly) that some shady guy had advertised in the newspaper. As we got better access to internet at school I found a site called ProgrammersHeaven.com (it looked different back in 98) and I downloaded tons of stuff on floppy disks. My most important discoveries were Denthor’s Asphyxia Tutorials and a small game called “Boboli” that came along with source code (made by this guy). These were my main inspirations for a while – until I stumbled upon Allegro. This was (and still is) a game development library with tons of useful functionality. No longer did I need to code all those low-level graphics, keyboard and sound routines myself! It was like magic to me. And what was more, around this library was a whole community of people making games.There were annual competitions, reviews and an online database with all games using the library. As far as I know, this was the first gathering similar to today’s indie movement.

Exploring a dark basement in my first proper horror game, Fiend.

Using Allegro I created Project 2 and continued making another similar top-down game using rendered Half-Life models. Eventually I made Fiend, the game that set me on the course as a horror game developer. In this game I made pretty much everything myself, code, art and music. As a sidenote, it is interesting to note that I had zero expectations to make any money from this. I simply made these games, because I loved making them. Even getting player feedback was a rare thing. The very idea of selling my games was preposterous. I think this was a pretty common mindset at the time, and quite different from how it is nowadays with outlets like Steam. Making your own games feels much more like a viable career option today. Back in 2000 this was not the case at all.

In 2002 I started studying at the university (bachelor of science in software engineering) and I had also started my next project: Unbirth. This time I wanted to make it in 3D and started the to learn some basic modelling and texturing. However, there was a big problem with finding a 3D engine. All the good ones were commercial and expensive, and the free alternatives did not feel like viable options. I think the best one was Ogre3D, but it was lacking a lot of features back then. Luckily, I got in contact with a guy that was developing his own commercial 3D engine and I got to use it for free. I worked on the game for 2 years, but it never got completed, mainly due to various engine problems along the way. After this I swore to never use unfinished third-party software again, and try to make as much as possible by myself. All this time was not wasted though as I had learned tons about the structure and design of a game engine. Had I not used this engine for Unbirth, I doubt I could have created my own later on.

Jumping and shooting, while conserving energy, were the core aspects of Energetic.

During the development of Unbirth I got to know Jens, whom I would later found Frictional Games with, and as our university educations would end at the same time, we decided to make a thesis project together.This resulted in Energetic, which can be seen as a the first step towards the formation of Frictional Games. It was the first project that we made from the ground up together and some of the game’s engine code is still in use (the engine was actually named HPL at this point).

When university was over I did not know what to do next. I knew I wanted to make games, but I do not think I ever saw it as a proper career path and instead just thought I should do something non-game programming related. At  this point Jens asked me if I wanted to do a Master’s course at Gotland. The course was all done from a distance and was mainly about making a big game project. That sounded really interesting to me, so before the course even started, I began working (using Energetic’s code as a base) on my own 3D engine. The idea was to make a game that continued along the same lines of Unbirth. And one thing was sure: I did not want to use a third party engine again.  When the course was over, the Penumbra Tech Demo was the result. The game did not do very well at a competition we submitted it to (SGA), but I hoped it might be a way to get a foot inside some actual game company. However, a month or so after putting it up online, it exploded and got downloaded more than a million times over the course of the summer. Remember that all start-up game devs: bad results in a competition is not the end of the world!

Before starting Penumbra: Overture, we had some plans to do a sci-fi brawler/shooter. Here is an enemy sketch I made for that game.

With this success behind us, we decided to try and start a company, and I scrapped my thoughts on joining a “proper” game developer. The technology used in the tech demo was the foundation for our first game “Penumbra Overture”, with the team consisting of myself, Jens and another guy from the master’s course, Anton.  Having worked on the game for more than half a year,  Frictional Games was officially formed January the 1st, 2007.

Working from home means you sometimes need to do multiple tasks at once…

What do I do?

When Frictional Games first started I did all the C++ programming, level design, planning, about half of the map scripting (using Angel Script), most concept art and even some level modelling. As we hired more people the amount of stuff I have to do has (thank god!) gone down a bit, and currently I mostly do design, part of the programming and most of the planning. I also act as a sort of lead artist and decide in broad terms what direction the art should take.

The thing that I spend most of my time doing these days is design work. This includes a large variety of tasks, and the most obvious is simply writing a design document for each level. When making the type of games that we do, a proper design for each level is crucial. We do not have any basic gameplay mechanics that you can simply add in a variety permutations. Every activity must be designed, programmed and often have specific art assets created for it. On top of that, every single part of the game is deeply connected with the story. Actually, when we create our games we do not really separate the gameplay and story, as both stem from the same kind of interactions. The only thing that we take care of separately is the plot, which is something that is written at a fairly early stage and describes the main happenings that the player will take part in.

So when you have a game like this, you cannot just start with a basic ideas and then flesh things out as you go along (as you might do in a shooter). Normally, we have our writer, an artist, a programmer and sometimes even our sound and music people doing assets for a level at the same time. All of these parts are crucial for the final experience and had we not had a written plan that everybody could use as a base, then nothing would work. However, the design document is not something set in stone. It just represent the first draft. As the map is being implemented things evolve and might change quite drastically. This means that the people who are working on the map, writer, programmer and artist, are all part-designers as well. Sometimes it is just not possible to implement something like the design document says, sometimes details are missing and sometimes new ideas that takes things in a entirely new direction pop up.

Example of the amazing ms-paint art I sometimes send as feedback to artists.

This leads to my biggest design related task: feedback. As all of the assets and implementations are constantly in flux it is my job that make sure that they are still coherent with the overall vision of the game. This might sometimes lead to long discussions on what the intentions are, nagging on specific details or just explanations of the bigger picture. While crucial, this sort of things is often annoying to me because it never feels like you are never accomplishing anything. You basically just pester people about changing things. But it is also a great feeling, as you got more of an outside view and can see the entire project coming together, step by step.

The programming tasks I do mostly have to do with subsystems, map scripting and AI. At the start of SOMA (our current project), I did a lot of tech related programming, for instance terrain, undergrowth and scripting. But ever since we hired a dedicated tech programer I hardly do any of that. I still try and get my hands dirty in tech when I have time for it though, and I implemented an immediate GUI system quite recently. But mainly I just plan out what tech related things to focus on, and help out with some of the high-level design. Since I do most of the gamedesign work, I try and program the more design-sensitive or unpredictable parts when I am able to. I think that if you as a designer only ever supervise the construction of a game, there is a certain magic that gets lost. For certain parts of the gameplay, you cannot say how you want it to work until you see it in action. Therefore I feel it is very important that I build some of that stuff, like AI and certain visual effects, myself.

All planning is done in Google Docs. Here is how end of last year looked like. (Spoilerish stuff cencored!)

Finally, I also do a lot of the planning for the project. Our approach is not to micro manage or waste time on any sort of strict development method. What we do is that every week people get something they should work on and then we have special “Show And Tell”-days when the task should be done and shown to the rest of the team. How to utilize the time during the week is totally up to each and everyone. Despite having this loose attitude towards planning, there is still quite a lot of work to it. Whenever some assignment slips, it often affects the schedule of several other team members and you need to move stuff around.. It is also important to constantly plan far ahead, and make sure that project is on track. It is easy to just get focused on the “here and now” and forget about the overall progress. As early as possible we make a rough plan on when the game is to be completed, and then update that with more detailed information as we go along. This can be really depressing work, as looking a year or two into the future makes it feel like the time ahead is so short, which leads you to thinking life is too short, etc, yada, yada.

There is a bunch of other small stuff that I do, like pr, interviews and booking travel. But all that is not very interesting and I think you should have heard enough now to have a fairly good idea of what it is that I do all day!

Stay tuned for more! In two weeks it will be time for Jens, the other founder of Frictional, to talk about his past and what his job is all about.

Making of Amnesia- Sound designer Tapio Liukkonen

Originally posted by Jens.

Tapio Liukkonen is not currently working at Frictional Games.

Today we are happy to share with you a trailer from Tapio, our beatbox master from Finland. Tapio worked exclusively with making the sounds for all the visions and monsters in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Less than a day to go, http://www.amnesiagame.com is the place to visit if interested in pre-order discounts and other goodies.