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Maerd - The last Save Point demo


Logline: A cat is trapped in a surrealistic maze, and must find a way to escape.

This video is the starting point. At the end of each video or "cell" you will see choices. Make a choice, and the film continues.

I originally had planned to wait until this film was finished to post it. But I haven't posted an update in a month, and this last test/demo won't be ready to publish for 2 or 3 months. I didn't want people to thing the project had died off, with a 4 month gap between formerly weekly demos. We're not going slower, we're actually moving much faster than ever before.

For people following the project, this is the first trial of a working "standalone mini chapter". It's designed to help us field test the system in practice, so we can begin refining our approach to things like cell transitions, interconnections, timing, and so many other aspects.

Though quite primitive and clumsy in comparison to the desired final product, this will be the first time you can see the system up and running as intended.

As of this moment, it is filled with errors of all kinds, typos, bad edits, lazy scoring, truncated plotlines, and the like. I'm posting it because from this one link, people can follow the entire construction process as it happens over the next few months, and I can just update this post as new content is added, rather than posting with each added cell. There will likely be about 50 cells or more in this demo. Right now there are 10, some incomplete or unpolished.

You can start to get the idea of what this will be on the technical side though. Obviously the actual Save Point story will feature human characters and dialogue. In this case we have created a small, minimalistic story for purposes of gaining experience in a final deployment scenario.

As the next few months pass, the maze will grow, develop a coherent storyline with more action and events, and become a more polished experience overall. Right now most plotlines stop unexpectedly. As of this post, the second floor of the mall is the end of existing content. The experience so far is mainly exploration, with the more dramatic parts still in development.

Across a year of explanations, I frequently had difficulty getting across exactly what this would be, and while in terms of the larger story, that's still true, I think that what it is should really click for a lot of people here with this demo. I'll update this post every time 10 or so more cells are added to the chain.

Any feedback is welcome, but be aware that this is purely a workprint in development, and we are aware of many obvious flaws, such as the misspelling of the main title, lol.

Check back every few weeks, on this same video, and you'll find new doorways in places you visited before, often opening up into worlds you've never seen.

About half the current content is behind the link "the city portal" so if you make one of the other choices at that point, you may want to go back and pick that one, since most development has been down that path so far. If you do get into the story, please be patient, as it takes about 12 hours of labor to create each cell, so this will build slowly.
 
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Upvote 2
Thanks, it's still a work in progress, but it's an important milestone for us. In order to make it practical to release a demo made of almost 50 separate videos, we had to build up a lot of speed.

Here's some clips from yesterdays work, it's as much as we were producing in a week 4 months ago.

 
We produced a new trailer for this, any feedback is appreciated. This one is targeted at 18-25 demographic. We're specifically looking for feedback on pacing, how well it communicates what the product is, and level of interest generated for each age group.

 
It's excellent, but the video itself seems to be a short film, as opposed to a trailer for a video game of some sort. That's my first impression, anyway, but I'm no expert.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
We produced a new trailer for this, any feedback is appreciated. This one is targeted at 18-25 demographic. We're specifically looking for feedback on pacing, how well it communicates what the product is, and level of interest generated for each age group.


it was too hard to understand the VO with the sound mix
 
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it was too hard to understand the VO with the sound mix
Thanks that's helpful. Is it just during the parts where the guitars get heavier, or are you having trouble understanding the voice throughout? I'm also curious about the actual messaging content, and how concisely that gets across the basic information.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Thanks that's helpful. Is it just during the parts where the guitars get heavier, or are you having trouble understanding the voice throughout? I'm also curious about the actual messaging content, and how concisely that gets across the basic information.
basically everything after 14 seconds its takes energy to focus on what she is saying.
so that makes it difficult for me to respond to the actual messaging content

I know i didnt like the lines 'it may sound simple' and 'trapped forever'
 
I've fixed the voice mix and ran a mastering layer on the audio to make it all cleaner and clearer sounding. Before I publish another version of the trailer, could you elaborate a bit on the two phrases? I can kind of see issues with "trapped forever" because it would probably conjure images of getting stuck in game levels, which doesn't happen in this movie, it's like pulling junctions switches on a railway track, the train never even slows. Also there are certain phobias that might react to that phrase negatively. But I wasn't as sure about why "it may sound simple" is bad. Does it come across as patronizing? Does it make the game come off as difficult, or likely to waste the users time?
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
I've fixed the voice mix and ran a mastering layer on the audio to make it all cleaner and clearer sounding. Before I publish another version of the trailer, could you elaborate a bit on the two phrases? I can kind of see issues with "trapped forever" because it would probably conjure images of getting stuck in game levels, which doesn't happen in this movie, it's like pulling junctions switches on a railway track, the train never even slows. Also there are certain phobias that might react to that phrase negatively. But I wasn't as sure about why "it may sound simple" is bad. Does it come across as patronizing? Does it make the game come off as difficult, or likely to waste the users time?

You're spot on about the trapped forever- doesn't conjure images of fun to hear about being trapped forever lol.
There's probably a more enticing way to word it.

"it may sound simple" seemed like you're already defensive and arguing with the audience instead of assuming everyone is on board with how cool it is
 
Added another 9 cells to this, and about 12 more in process. This is going to take a while, but thought I'd post an update. In the trailer I say that this demo will be done by fall, but I don't know now. I'm pretty bad about scope creep.

For people seeing this for the first time, the top link goes to the WIP alpha test frame. It's a branching narrative where you can decide how the film continues at the end of each segment.

Next version after this will integrate more plot and tension, more meaningful choices, etc.

I fixed up the audio mix but I'm still not sure on the replacement wording.

Here's a quick look at the new anamorphic lens technology we've integrated. It's not working perfectly yet, but we've started refining it, and it will be perfected soon enough.

 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Saw this advertised today, had to check twice to see it wasn't yours


 
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Yeah, it occurred to me that some people might mistake this demo for Stray in screenshots.

This is a AA product, so midrange console release, with a budget around 10 or 15 million dollars. They've been working on it for 7 years, and it's coming out next month.

I'm definitely interested in checking it out, but other than the cat protagonist, I doubt it will be very similar to what we're building. controller driven video games gravitate naturally towards a certain type of storytelling, mainly puzzle and action based, whereas my product is centered around more conventional storylines, that don't have to exist in a single coherent world.

The reason I cast a cat as the protagonist was actually pretty simple. I didn't have enough good voice actors, and I saw right away that I was going to get jammed up in volunteer casting every time a character spoke, so I decided to tell a nonverbal story with an animal. There were a few candidates that would have worked, a German Shepard, a red tail deer, and a few others. Ultimately, the cat was easiest to animate, and like you mentioned, the big eyes helped it work on screen.

I also thought that forcing a non verbal plot could make this demo an intensive training scenario for pure visual storytelling. It's a bit of a challenge. I wouldn't be too surprised if this demo wasn't almost as big as their game in terms of locations by the time it's done. There has been some scope creep, as usual. I've been measuring it in "Dragon's Lairs". So far this demo {in frames} is about 10 Dragon's Lairs long, or 215,000 finished animation frames.

Just watched their demo, hadn't seen any footage for a few years. Artistically, it looks really cool, and I'm sure it will be a good game for many. This is however, exactly what I'm trying to avoid with SP in general, where every story devolves into, jump, push, find key, solve riddle to advance, etc. It's been fun gameplay for decades, but stories are supposed to be surprising, and there's just nothing new or surprising about jumping across logs ala frogger, or pushing blocks to make steps like Mario. I like video games, but honestly, after ubisoft's open world formula and a few other ubiquitous archetypes, creativity has stagnated a lot, and I'm basically able to mouth the words along with the characters the first time I play every new game.

"how nice of you to visit our small village adventurer! Stormvale is a quiet town, but lately, there have been problems. The evil wizard Antagonistico has been sending his demons to attack the neighboring village of Treedale, and we are sure that they will be here soon, unless the chosenborn, is found"

"who is the chosenborn?"

"ancient legends tell the tale of a guy who hit the start game button, walked 20 feet to this tavern, and started to talk to me, and of course he or she would also bear the "Mark of Destiny""

Then the camera shows you roll up your sleeve, and there it is, a tattoo copy pasted from a google search of ancient symbols by a lazy game developer"

The innkeeper looks shocked. "By Grabthar's hammer, you are the chosen personage of designation!"

There is a noise outside the bar, and the innkeeper's face shifts to fear mode. "They are here, we must hide you!"

Then a guy comes in, dressed all in black, with a "special helmet" that is used to make it obvious that he is the leader.

That's the first 5 minutes of Obi One, and Skyrim, and the Witcher, and every other fantasy story since 2000.
 
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I did an audit of the base footage today, and there is now over 4 hours of cgi for this one demo. I need to get control of this scope creep, I'm only about 30% done here. I should probably just cut together a film from what's here and try to sell that for a few bucks.

I added in several new AI implementations while working on this, and I'll have some demo footage of those at work soon.

Here's a few more daily reels from it, in case anyone is interested. They are a bit slow because I cut out all the plot points to avoid spoilers. I quit publishing these on the video page because there are too many too fast. It's a reel like this every day, about 6 days a week. With time for editing, sound, and post fx, I'll probably get a final demo length of about 500 minutes. I'm targeting about a 45 minute watch time for any single path, with some recycling through diverse reality branches.






 
I'm thinking lately about changing the publishing strategy for this demo when it's complete (might be a while) and thought I'd ask for some feedback on the concept.

Instead of just running ads like I would normally do, I thought of an alternative. Since I'm making a maze anyway, why not play into that concept.

So instead of paying for ads, I would just place a code at the exit to the maze, which could be redeemed for $1000 by the first person that reached it. Keep in mind that all the videos in this demo are unlisted except the front door video. Since the maze is modular, I could manually reset it whenever someone won, making it reusable for this purpose. I'm writing a basic sim now to do the math, to see how many rooms and choices I have to make in order for the maze to last long enough to justify the payout.

I'm about to reset it again in the next few days, and it will basically double in size from the last update. 3 months from now when I had initially planned to release, there should be around 100 working cells.

The question is, do you think people will try to solve an interactive maze to win a grand? It's not much money, but that prize money could grow if the channel became successful.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
If the game is fun - then i think money would be better spent on advertising.
People shouldn't need a financial incentive to play, they should just need to be made aware it exists.
 
The idea isn't to pay people to play the game, it's just that it would be interesting. If someone built just a regular featureless maze in a town, and told people there was a grand in the center, I think there would literally always be people in that maze, regardless of quality. Also, keep in mind that this demo is not SP, it's just a demo designed to raise interest and money. The real question is, can I make the maze difficult enough that I generate more than a grand in ad traffic every time it gets solved.

If I spend directly on ads, I can probably get a quarter million people to the first video, but how high google rates my channel is more based on watch time than hits, so I'm thinking that this formula might score higher on that metric. Also I'd likely get at least a grand in free advertising from youtube gaming channels that found the prize money a novelty.

Anyway, I'm just brainstorming ideas. Personally, if you told me there was even a single webpage on the internet where I could get a grand if I navigated enough links, I would check it out.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
The idea isn't to pay people to play the game, it's just that it would be interesting. If someone built just a regular featureless maze in a town, and told people there was a grand in the center, I think there would literally always be people in that maze, regardless of quality. Also, keep in mind that this demo is not SP, it's just a demo designed to raise interest and money. The real question is, can I make the maze difficult enough that I generate more than a grand in ad traffic every time it gets solved.

If I spend directly on ads, I can probably get a quarter million people to the first video, but how high google rates my channel is more based on watch time than hits, so I'm thinking that this formula might score higher on that metric. Also I'd likely get at least a grand in free advertising from youtube gaming channels that found the prize money a novelty.

Anyway, I'm just brainstorming ideas. Personally, if you told me there was even a single webpage on the internet where I could get a grand if I navigated enough links, I would check it out.
Yeah agreed there is definitely a demographic that would play for the potential to win a grand.
broke college students spend time filling out surveys, etc that pay them
 
In a related sidenote, this month, the game at the top of the charts is an interactive film, it stars David Arquette, but I'll probably watch it anyway.

 
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