Devlog #2 - Introduction

For the past couple years I’ve been working on and off on this adventure game now called The Webmaster.
In fact this isn’t the first time I’m blogging about this project but the story and development has pivoted so hard (multiple times!) that a fresh start with a new name is justified.

The game takes inspiration from ’80s horror movies as well as classic 2D adventure games, two of my favorite pastimes.

Story

The Webmaster is set in the good ol’ days of the mid ’90s in small town American suburbia. We follow a couple teenage friends as they stumble across a curious MacGuffin. Their investigation leads them to mysterious places and encounters with interesting and, frankly, weird people. The boys make a frightening discovery…

That’s it for now – don’t want to give too much away!

A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Gameplay

The game plays very much like the classic adventure games from LucasArts and Sierra Online: You point the mouse cursor at objects on the screen, choose an interaction verb and wait to see what happens. Throughout the game you get to explore mystic places, meet strange folk and solve puzzles along the way.

While the game does include a good amount of puzzles, the gameplay is mostly story- and dialogue-driven. In that sense The Webmaster might be closer to Visual Novels than most classic point-and-clicks.

Oh, and you can’t die – although we do try to hide that fact to make the game more exciting.

Graphics

Originally I’d planned to make The Webmaster look a lot more like the games that inspired it: Big, beautiful pixel art with a limited VGA palette. Alas, it turned out I’m absolutely rubbish at this art style. Also, it wasn’t really jibing with the mood I had in mind for the game.

Our hero's bedroom

Luckily, thanks to my background in feature film animation I happen to know a thing or two about rendering in 3D.
And so, after a lot of trial and error, I eventually settled on the style you see here. It’s still low-res VGA but with a more filmic approach. Not to mention I take some liberties when it comes to the number of colors on screen at once.

The pre-rendered 3D art offers lots of artistic freedom to capture a nostalgic look reminiscent of inspirational movies such as Salem’s Lot, The Goonies or Fright Night. Moreover, the ridiculously low resolution means the amount of time and effort it takes to create and render the background assets stays fairly reasonable.

Regarding animation, I’m going for the absolute minimum I can get away with – mostly just transitions, really. The characters will walk around on screen, but I’m not going to create large numbers of custom animations for different situations.

You sure you want to go in there...?

Technical Info

The Webmaster is built in Unity with a little help from the excellent Adventure Creator and Ink extensions. Plus of course tons of custom code in C# and Lua to make everything work exactly how I envision it.

For now it’s aimed at desktop platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux), though technically there’s no reason it shouldn’t run on mobile, too.

Creepy things are afoot

The 3D rendering is all done inside Cinema 4D.

Current Status

At this point I have a working prototype of the game running:

  • Rooms can be defined and loaded
  • Interactions with objects are scripted using a custom extension to the Ink language
  • 3D path finding works for the most part
  • A good portion of the rooms have been rendered

I have a pretty good idea of how the story will unfold. For me that’s really the tricky part.