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Neyyah: Game Development in Blender & Visionaire 80lvl

Aaron Gwynaire (Defy Reality Entertainment) shared the story of his point-and-click game Neyyah being developed in Blender and Visionaire Studio 5. Follow the progress on Facebook and support the game on Patreon!

Introduction

My name is Aaron Gwynaire. I am originally from the UK but moved to Australia in 2012. In 2017, I married my beautiful wife Nanci. She has always supported my creative endeavors, whether it’s been my music or game development work. Due to visa reasons, I have had to move back to the UK temporarily, and while working on getting back to Australia, I am continuing to develop my game Neyyah. I studied back in the UK, finishing my studies in 2010 with a foundation degree in Art and Design. Previously to this, I had also studied music production.

A lot of my game design work has evolved from self-studying. My interests in game design started when I was around thirteen years old and decided to pick up the game Riven discovering the interesting ways in which the game had been created. I was very excited at the realization that game development could encompass all the creative outlets I had already worked so hard towards, including storytelling and art. Music developed further into my teens, and I began working on various game projects. I never finished any of them, but they were all in the same point-and-click first-person style, such as Myst and Riven – and, of course, Neyyah. This period of working on games mainly revolved around 3D CG design, using software called Anim8or. A great piece of software to learn, especially for beginners. I have always loved clay modeling, ever since I was a child. What particularly appealed to me the most about 3D modeling was creating realistic graphics. As I already had an interest in modeling with clay, I think it enabled me to learn fast – being aware of virtual space and ultimately having the imagination to convey what I wanted to deliver.

About Neyyah

Around 2011, I started developing a game called Portals: Journey to the Pearl Islands where I actually developed a playable demo – the first area of the game world for the player to explore. In fact, the storyline and backstory for this particular game helped develop the foundations for Neyyah, which commenced development in July 2018. I used the engine Adventure Maker to construct Portals: Journey to the Pearl Islands. I have never found much excitement in programming and Adventure Maker works great for developers who aren’t so ‘programming-savvy’ in helping to develop Myst-style point-and-click adventure games. I had my story. I had my vision. I just needed something powerful enough to springboard the game to life. Portals: Journey to the Pearl Islands was never finished.

Neyyah will be my debut commercial release. It is the game that I have worked on for the longest period of time. Despite being a one-man band and developing a game with such a complex ocean of elements, it doesn’t deter me from the mountain climb needed to see this game to completion, as the process in itself has been very rewarding, especially after seeing test-builds come together – the last one being released this year in April. You can watch it below:

A lot of time has been going into Neyyah’s development. For the most part, I have been very fortunate to be able to work on Neyyah full-time, outside of working through my private music tuition business, so a great deal of time and attention has been thrown into the richness of the game world. Also, I have Blender to thank for helping me bring my vision to life – harnessing more realism than ever before. As mentioned, I started out using Anim8or in 2004. I used it for various projects I had been working on, including the graphics for Portals: Journey to the Pearl Islands.

But it was through learning Blender around June 2018 that I started creating the first glimpses of the Neyyah world. It didn’t take very long to learn Blender, and through using Cycles rendering, I began to see how powerful Blender could be and how fun and exciting the journey ahead was going to become.

Neyyah came into being from using a previous game concept I had been developing since May 2018 called Beyond and drawing from the backstory and ideas I had created for Portals: Journey to the Pearl Islands. Beyond consisted mainly of word documents and concept artwork, but a lot had been created. I was a bit cautious about the move. I thought it might distract me from the flow I had been going for with all my pencil and pen sketches’. But while experimenting with Blender, I started seeing something come to life. Neyyah was originally going to be a teaser level, an intro to Beyond. However, very quickly, I found the idea evolving fast and it grew to the point where I realized I had created a whole new game, based in the same universe as Beyond. I could introduce the bigger story and at the same time, provide a game that the player could really sink their teeth into. This game was called Neyyah.

Neyyah is a first-person point-and-click adventure puzzle game set in an island world known as Neyyah which is separated by a series of portal devices. The player has to work out how to operate them and figure out why they exist.

You play as Theo, a training assistant in the science department in your homeworld of Olujay. Your professor and Chief Scientist Vamir sends you to Neyyah in the hope you will be safe there, after realizing that you are in danger on Olujay – for reasons you will discover upon your many explorations. You were supposed to be sent to a training facility based on another island on the ocean world of Fayamore, far below the floating rock of your homeworld, to learn and experiment in the use of a powerful sacred plant known as the Niyashka and the use of Payeeta, pearl devices that are farmed and manipulated to generate vast amounts of energy to support life on Olujay.

Instead, you end up on Neyyah with only a small amount of knowledge given to you by frantic Vamir on what you’re supposed to do when you’re there.

In order to return to Olujay, you will have to learn about the island of Neyyah – how devices operate, what the island used to be and what it is now. Not everything is as it seems on Neyyah, and your discoveries will lead you to uncover the biggest secret kept by your people on Olujay.

Game Idea Development & Inspiration

My main inspiration and influence came from the game which basically kickstarted my fascination with game design back in 2004, which was Riven: the Sequel to Myst. Out of all other influences, this game really resonates with me. It’s that strong feeling of nostalgia, on top of the atmosphere which was so successfully conveyed in the game, which fed the creative process behind getting Neyyah to the screen – and with Blender and the powerful Cycles engine, I was finally able to create visuals which were either as realistic as Riven or possibly better, due to pre-rendering everything with higher definition. So, definitely, the Myst series was a big influence, as well as Dragon Lore II: Heart of the Dragon Man and Schizm, both fantastic point-and-click games I enjoyed in my childhood. They influenced me more in the player navigation element of gameplay. Instead of slideshow point-and-click images being the only way the player can move throughout the game world, I wanted to incorporate cutscenes which show the player either walking up stairs or a ladder, or entering a new location, or just about anything which would heighten the immersion of the game. In Dragon Lore II, to move left or right or to move forward, a cutscene would play. I found this really cool as a kid, considering the graphics were prerendered, making them really realistic for the time.

With regards to the whole idea for Neyyah itself, it stemmed from Beyond. I pulled from the old backstory and game world I had created to generate something which would introduce the main characters of Beyond, a fragment of the story to follow while incorporating whole new environments and puzzles. I have been keeping countless documents, recording all aspects of the puzzle orientation from beginning to end, for Beyond – sketches to indicate how things would work, etc. No 3D designs. However, what has been really fun and exciting about developing Neyyah is fabricating all the various styles and looks from scratch, on-the-go, while working in Blender as the main focus of development. A lot of my sketch work for Neyyah can be found on my Patreon page. So it’s been quite an unconventional process, compared to how other games are developed, but it has worked out really well so far, and I find it’s important to enjoy the process of creation rather than the possibilities of outcome – a reoccurring thing in the game development so far. Of course, my goal is to have a finished, workable, playable, enjoyable game for others to enjoy and get lost in. It has been a great world for me to get lost in too.

What really influenced me from playing Riven and what I really resonated with while watching the process Cyan Worlds went through in creating the game was the amount of time and energy thrown into generating photorealistic graphics: textures that were weathered, worn, old, etc. and detail in models like nails, metal plates. This shows in the art development of Neyyah. Naturally, I guess this allowed the game world to flow down that river of steampunk from very early on, though I don’t classify myself as a big fan of steampunk. However, upon delving into the steampunk style, I can see big similarities. I love working with wood, metal and stone textures, and adding the grunge, scratched and weathered impact to them. It’s very fun!

 

I have considered the ways in which all mechanisms in Neyyah work and what’s really fun is working out ways in which the separate portal-based islands can all work together. Neyyah isn’t a level-based game, it’s non-linear. Certain areas might be inaccessible until a later point of successful exploration and understanding, but at its core, Neyyah is about ‘environmental exploration’ rather than shooting bad guys and getting to a certain level before vanquishing the big boss. Don’t get me wrong, I love those games. Big Tomb Raider fan right here. But with Neyyah, the more the players learn about the environment the better. Even if they don’t, they can still have fun messing around with levers and seeing things change around them, and I believe with the graphic quality Blender is able to generate, the player will be pulled into the game world enough to want to figure out what everything is all about.

I had a clear path of what real-life references I wanted to draw from in the very early days of Neyyah’s developments. When I started designing the game Beyond in May 2018, I remember sitting down over a couple of days and drawing inspiration from areas I used to live back in the UK – places that contained a very weathered-old look while also reminding me of places from my childhood. Those were such buildings as Martello Towers based in Old Felixstowe and dotted around UK, Suffolk coastline and so on.

The vibe I had created for Beyond continued into Neyyah for sure, but it definitely took a more mechanical, steampunk feel, which was a pretty unintentional direction. Recently, I also took a trip to Languard Fort at Felixstowe’s View Point and took photos of the areas that screamed Neyyah. However, not only certain building shapes and devices have shaped the world of Neyyah, but also the materials and textures.

World Production

Once I have something brewing in my mind – say anything from a door that I need to model or a much larger structure such as the Lodvik Tower featuring in the test renders for Sanctuary Island – I go in Blender. Sometimes, the process can be surprisingly quick because I might be using a previously modeled asset as a reference, but sometimes it takes longer.

Lodvik Connection Tower

Of course, some assets in the game require a lot of other 3D elements to be included. For instance, the Lodvik Tower on Sanctuary Island is huge. It contains various sci-fi based gadgets on the top while the bottom includes a rusty grated gate, pipes heading off to goodness knows where and also an engine system at its front. I remember modeling this building very vividly around October / November last year, and I remembered feeling that Neyyah had started a new chapter. It had hit a new milestone. The bar had been lifted which also led me to go back to previously modeled island areas and redrafting everything! I called it the Revamp stage. It was very time-consuming but incredibly rewarding, too. It meant I knew I was doing the best work I could. I would re-edit textures, change the HDR Map lighting of the entire environment, take away things I wasn’t happy with and remodeling them.

The following models featuring in the test renders below are also taken from Sanctuary Island, and although they are smaller than the Lodvik Tower building, they still include a great amount of detail and provoke mechanical system functionality.

Now, about the textures. I have never been so happy with my ability to generate photorealistic results as I have been with Blender. It isn’t just my ability and technique though but also harnessing the true potential of PBR materials from a website Poliigon.com. It is run by Andrew Price, a well-known Blender user whose doughnut tutorials for beginners enabled me to get to know the ins and outs of Blender. Along with a basic knowledge of CG, he really helped to learn tools Blender had to offer quicker, and the texture maps from Poliigon are fantastic!

Once I have everything set up in my node groups, I can easily transfer texture setups to other assets and tweak them. These setups include rusted metals, grungey metals, knotted or clear woods, cracked stone or pebbled concretes, etc. I have never used Houdini or Substance Painter. I must admit, I love the results achieved in Substance Painter, but within Blender, I have developed my own techniques of generating the weathered, realistic textures I want for my art.

Again, it comes down to Poliigon that provides overlay textures for scratch marks, grunge, and stains. These can be mixed with diffuse and roughness textures. However, what I really find fun is mixing hue saturation values, color ramping, and RGB curve effects to completely mold the look of the texture to how I want it.

I definitely think one of the eye-openers in Neyyah’s graphics is the water effects. In fact, it didn’t take me very long to generate a shader which generated some very pleasing results after following tutorials on Youtube, and this really spurred me on to pursue the rest of the game. It got me excited, having a taste of the possibilities ahead.

Here’s a good tutorial:

However, around September / October time, I started to experiment with raising the bar on the ocean. I thought I could possibly make the water even more realistic, especially after seeing the ocean in the Riven game. It lacked depth. I wanted to have a darker blue shade, and that’s when I saw the work from another Blender user named Zachary Macintyre who lived in the same town as me in Australia, Mandurah. We combined forces. He has helped me quite a bit in various graphical and animation based hurdles that I have stumbled upon during the development of the game.

Suddenly, the entire look of the game changed with the new ocean. More detail and realism was generated from the combined use of various node groups in Blender. It was a slow process and required a lot of experimenting to get it just right.

Here are a couple of examples of test-renders showing the comparisons between the ocean shader changes and also alterations in the environment itself for the Marble Island Walkway area of the game:

The updated ocean shader was demonstrated very soon after its completion in my November test-build playthrough video. Here it is:

With the new shader, I was able to experiment with bump-mapping, noise, fresnel, and glossy shaders to really enhance the realism in the ocean itself. I’m so happy with the time and effort that was put into this, and of course, appreciate Zach’s assistance in the process.

Here is an example of the node group used in Blender to create the ocean:

The icing on the cake was the moment I took away the square plane models the ocean shaders were applied to in each island set and replaced them with a filled circular model, adding curvature to the horizon.

Creating Immersive Experience & Visionaire Studio 5

Neyyah came about from my love of Riven: the Sequel to Myst, as explained earlier in the interview. I loved the navigation in this game. It didn’t really feel static, because the graphics were just so beautiful and immersive. Another game called Quern has been heavily inspired by Myst – but personally, despite how wonderful and beautiful this game is, I don’t feel the Myst or Riven vibe because of the point-and-click navigation. It’s the nostalgia factor. I am not making Neyyah as that next VR or real-time, free roam experience. I am very much following the old school ways of Riven, Myst, Dark Fall, and the original point-and-click game palette.

However, although I love the 360-degree panoramic views captured in games such as Myst III: Exile and Necronomicon from 2001, I felt this wouldn’t feel right for Neyyah and had no intention of changing my original vision of how the game was going to be delivered and played. Another factor to definitely mention is the engine I am using to create the game and its pros and cons in being able to construct Neyyah.

I use Visionaire Studio 5 as Neyyah’s game engine, a fantastic software for creating point-and-click adventure games, particularly more third-person based puzzle games in the style of Monkey Island and Broken Sword. However, there, I have found no way to utilize a 360-degree panoramic viewport for the player.

I started using Visionaire at the start of 2019, after the previous engine, Adventure Maker, began to demonstrate certain limitations in its use and consequently affecting the outcome of the game itself. With the help of a fellow ‘Visionairian’, Simon Mesnard – who has developed some great Myst-style games including The Black Cube and his most recent work, Myha: Return to the Lost Island – I was able to develop a Myst-style navigation system within Visionaire. Very quickly, I started putting together the ‘Spore Docks Island’ Test build and wanted to push it further than what had been featured in my November test-build playthrough release (it was created in Adventure Maker). This meant implementing animations, more sounds, a new musical score and so on. I also decided to cut out dialogue boxes which narrated the thoughts of the player upon interacting with certain areas of the game. I found this spoiled the immersion factor. Voice-acting was considered but no plans were made to go ahead with this.

This is where my influences from a game called Dragon Lore II: Heart of the Dragon Man (released in 1996 by Cryo Interactive Entertainment) came into the mix and evidently, really heightened the sense of immersion and in some way, modernized the static point-and-click, while also retaining that rich pre-rendered graphical quality. However, I didn’t want to choke the game with too many movement cutscenes. I had to plan them out really carefully, figuring out the most effective areas they would feature. It was a time-consuming process having to render so many extra animations which included climbing up and down ladders, walking up and down staircases and through and under pipes. Each animation also had to be rendered again in the context of any changes the player may have made such as one of the lever pods on the island having been turned either on or off. The correct animation had to play in relation to their actions.

Programming and constructing in Visionaire Studio 5 is, in fact, very easy. However, the challenges lie within creating something in the same style as Riven – having sounds fade out as the player moves away from them (a running engine, hissing pipes, etc.) and being able to skip animations to navigate faster around the game. I added fade out / dissolve effects to the skipped animations, so the transition to the next image was smoother, almost reflecting time passing. Each image also fades into one another which takes away the static feel seen in the original Myst game. It actually feels as though you, the player, have moved to that new point, especially with the additional subtle footstep sounds.

Adding the interactive animations themselves wasn’t too difficult at all using Visionaire Studio 5. Every animation runs as a sequence of images, with the ability to change the speed of the animations within Visionaire Studio. Of course, compression is a big factor. I used a software called XnConvert to reduce the image size and convert the original pngs to webp files which Visionaire Studio uses. They are much smaller in size while retaining great quality. I find it great working with animations for the game in this fashion. You don’t see a sudden compression ‘grainy’ shift in the visual, as was quite evident in Riven and Dragon Lore II. Producing the animations themselves was really fun and based on very simple principles, such as moving a lever up or down. The results were great. Seeing a still render suddenly come to life, even if it was just a doorknob moving to indicate a locked door. Another milestone in the game’s development. Fantastic.

I think one of the biggest visual effects to impact the game was water animation. This was very simple to do in Adventure Maker as the software enabled you to paint the ripple anywhere on the static image. The hard part was then knowing how to replicate this effect in Visionaire Studio 5. With the help of The Black Cube series creator, Simon Mesnard, I was able to create masked animations of water ripples that were then added into Visionaire Studio 5 as layers on top of the static images. These were created using Adobe AE with the help of turbulence effects.

You can see all of Neyyah’s most recent up-to-date development efforts – including texture art, animation, sound design, musical score, navigation, puzzle orientation – by watching the Spore Docks Island 2019 Test build playthrough:

Progress & Future Plans

Neyyah’s debut release will be for PC Windows platform, with the plan to take it across to iOS down the track. This game would work great on iPads and iPhones. I have not yet planned any pre-alpha or alpha releases as of yet, I’m releasing test-builds at the moment to show the development of the game without giving too much away. However, I do run a Patreon page for Neyyah which entitles the Portal Champion patron tier group access to play all released test-builds of the game throughout the development of the game. I believe a fair amount of the game world has to be developed and finalized before an official demo release can be set in stone. Process over the outcome. Patreon delivers to patrons an invaluable insight into the behind-the-scenes world of Neyyah, so it’s a great place to be for anyone who wants to follow the game’s progress. Of course, it also helps support the game along the way!

Neyyah social media links:

Aaron Gwynaire, Developer of Neyyah

Interview conducted by Daria Loginova

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© Daria Loginova for 80lvl, 2019. |
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Post tags: 3d art, Blender, game development, game industry, game mechanics, gamedev, gameplay, Games, indiedev, Neyyah, point-and-click, Visionaire Studio

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