Fortress Occident Developer Blog

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REVACHOL DREAMING

As I stood in line to enter the SXSW Gaming Expo, nervously tugging at my wristband in anticipation of meeting some of the ZA/UM team for the first time, I had yet to wrap my mind around there being a real possibility that I would soon be moving to Estonia to write for a video game developer. Sure, I’d just driven the 2200 km of sublime landscapes that separate Los Angeles and Austin in hopes of making this possibility a reality. I really didn’t know much about video games or Estonia, though, beyond what my friend and fellow writer Quintus Andrisson had told me about his cool Estonian friends when he was putting me in touch with them a few weeks prior. What I did know was that as I was writing a test dialogue for No Truce With The Furies, I kept thinking of something Umberto Eco once said in an interview: “Before I sit down to write, I am deeply happy.”

Three months into my life in Tallinn, this is still overwhelmingly what I feel every time I take my place at my desk at the studio, even on days when inspiration falters, as is inevitable with any creative pursuit. I’ve already had a few work-related dreams, but they have been surprisingly pleasant. Just the other morning, for example, I had a dream about making a list of interesting cryptids for a dialogue with Lena (the Cryptozoologist’s wife, discussed in an earlier blog post). I don’t know if I’ll end up using any of the cryptids my dream self invented, but I was pretty stoked when I woke up.

Every now and then someone asks me what it’s like to live in Estonia, as a recent transplant from Southern California, and I never really know how to respond. It’s “a change”, but neither capricious weather patterns nor radical relocations are new to me, and I prefer not to generalize about cultural differences. After all, I’ve only been here for a few months, although I’ve already exchanged waves with the Estonian Prime Minister when he came out to admire the sunset from a balcony overlooking a viewing platform from which writer Helen Hindpere and I happened to be admiring the same sunset.

I am relishing being in a place where the beach is lined with pines, not palm trees, and where the summer is not too hot to have thoughts. I often have thoughts such as “what could I read (or play, or watch) to be a better writer for this game,” “how can I be a better person to be a better writer for this game.” Then I read broadly and distractedly, browse Steam with reckless abandon, meditate, make chai, go on riverside walks with coworkers.

I’ve been writing compulsively since grammar school, but the solitariness of this vocation has always been at odds with my general preference for thinking through everything in dialogue, making anything in collaboration. It comes as no surprise, then, that it’s the collaborative nature of our work at ZA/UM that I love most—the constant exchange of ideas, puns, stories, and chocolate-covered coffee beans, and not just among the writers, but across departments. The unique discourse community that is ZA/UM.

And, of course, the vast world of No Truce With The Furies, which I am still learning about even as I write it.

I’m so very excited for you to learn more about it too, gentle reader.

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BIRD’S NEST ROY

Little did I realize what a day today would be. I figured “Alright it’s the end of my first week back after vacation! A Friday! Let’s take it easy! Let’s sneak a character concept in there!” They take me like an hour, a good fun break from the usual. So I go check out what characters are next on the list and pick out this dude by the curious name of Bird’s Nest Roy.

“Roy, white male, about 50, tall and gaunt, pawnbroker and drug addict (though the latter is not immediately obvious). His arms, legs, and torso all seem too long, and his hands are too large – expressive hands with long fingers, but nevertheless ugly. Speaks in a quiet, husky smoker’s voice. He was part of the cleanup crew after the People’s Pile disaster. Has traveled extensively. Though he grew up on the coast and runs a pawnshop by the water, he doesn’t like boats.”

First draft. Immediately I’m reminded of a few people I know, these hippie types who’ve gotten older and started dressing down from their regular outlandish gear. You can see this guy having a smoke on the little lawn in front of his 16 story public housing apartment home. An old rocker kinda dude. Add a rigid leather fanny pack as a coin purse for his clerking obligations.

Comments come back from the writers. It’s a good start! The slim silhouette, natural almost invisible way of dress is great. Hair is a bit too wild and cool though. It’s not the hair that’s the Bird’s Nest. Maybe let’s try a lazy ponytail instead?

Alright getting closer. Needs some accessorizing to bring him out of that random dude place, to add some character there. Throw some lopsided shades on him. Maybe a ribbon in his hair? Some kind of memorabilia from the cleanup crew days. Maybe his old jacket? I’m not too keen on breaking his silhouette with more clothes though so I’m thinking we try out an arm band. In retrospect a silly idea.

Naw that’s stupid. It’d much more likely be some kind of an old reflector vest he wore as part of the crew. Maybe some dog tags?

You know what? Dog tags are silly. Way too american. Let’s try like a medallion. And man not so sure about that sweater either. Let’s try like a white jacket. He’s in a room with a projector that’s blasting trippy LSD coloured light all over the place. I think a white jacket would work well as a canvas for the lightshow. Let’s kill the glasses too since the character’s partly written already and the writers would have to go back and edit some bits of text about his eyes.

Man but that jacket sure balloons up now, kinda kills the silhouette we had going with his guy. What if it’s properly buttoned up instead?

You know what. Naw, nope, let’s roll back. That jacket really doesn’t do him justice. Alright so thinking again about the vibe the character is supposed to give off I’m leaning back on that old rocker feeling.. Let’s go full out – a denim vest. Like a biker or something. An old rocker fart. Those dudes love their denim vests.

Pfffft nope that doesn’t work at all. We’ve arrived at some trucker dude / metalhead IT specialist now, all he’s missing is a Manowar print on his chest. You know what, fuck it, roll back. You can’t push the rocker look too much or you get into stereotypes.

Upon reflection that old crew vest was pretty nice. A kind of a believable accessory. You could definitely picture a dude hanging out like that, reflector bits shining. And with the light show going on the glasses were a completely legit idea. No biggie, we’ll just edit a bit of the dialogue. Yes, this works. In hindsight it’s completely obvious that of all the Roys the best Roy is this Roy.

So..

Ladies and gentlemen I give you Bird’s Nest Roy:

As an added bonus – soundtrack of the day.

 

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THE GOOD KIND OF DOWNTIME

 

Hello, blog reader! It is summertime, so this post is also summer themed and more personal than the average posts on our developer blog. It’s been a while so I’ll begin by re-introducing myself. I’m Kaspar Tamsalu and I’m an artist here at ZA/UM. I work on concept art and level design. I may also concept the occasional character. For me working on a larger (hence longer) project like No Truce With the Furies is very inspiring and the teamwork can be rewarding as hell. It can also get out of hand and become extremely tiring if I’m not being careful. Seemingly without notice a year flew by with no serious breaks in between when I could have taken my mind off the streets of Revachol or the beaches of Martinaise.

 

 

We’re constantly trying out new things, learning new programs or techniques and our art team bites through a lot of new material. The problem is, we haven’t given any of it time to set. Actually I noticed this already way back when I was a student in the art academy. We’d cram our heads with tons of information and practice without break for months at a time, but at some point I always hit a glass ceiling. Then for the longest weeks the progress was excruciatingly slow or ground to a full stop. The clarity and energy returned only after the summer break. So – when faced with deadlines and pressures of the everyday, it’s just so easy to forget that all work and no play makes Jack a dull-ass boy. I had to get out!

 

 

So, this May I found the resolve to decide that I need some actual me time away from the stylus and screen and do some traveling and see new things and most importantly: to try and get my mind off of work. I mostly succeeded. It was tough in the beginning, because all the unfinished concepts would haunt me in my jet laggy sleep, but after about a week I was finally free. For the next month I barely even thought about the game. My girlfriend and I packed our socks and sketchbooks and flew to New York to stay with some friends. Brooklyn was home base, but we drove around all over the place on the east coast. We took in the architecture, enjoyed food and visiting (art) museums. NYC with its multiple boroughs, New Jersey, Boston, New Haven, Rochester, Princeton – for three weeks I did nothing but drive around, walk around, look at the people and places and tons and tons of art.

 

 

I’d never been Stateside, so there was so much to see and do. I did manage to sketch some, but mostly I took lazy photos: quick snaps with my phone of interesting street corners. I asked my girlfriend to take better quality reference shots with an actual camera. The heat wave taught me why there are AC units in all the windows in all the movies and the midday rains on Manhattan island explained the flash flood warnings blinking on my phone.

Concepting environments for No Truce is a never ending tug-of-war between “this is not realistic enough” and “it’s not weird enough”. Walking the streets and avenues of the different parts of New York City gave me better insight into what makes these places tick. Every district has their own rhythm that comprises building materials and amount of detail or clutter. Interestingly enough smells and sounds can come packaged with colour, too.

 

 

Now that I’ve been back for a few weeks, my feet are no longer sore and my spirit is rejuvenated. In addition to all the sensory stimuli (and the whole suitcase full of art books I flew back with) that I can use in my work designing areas for No Truce, I’ve finally digested all the old stuff that has been accumulating in the past year and then some.

We have really crazy times ahead of us here at ZA/UM and now I’m set to rock and roll.

 

 

Thank you for reading!