Til morning's light : the private blog of erica page, til morning's light

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Adam Tierney is game director at Wayforward.

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I think I’ve always loved horror đoạn phim games. I can’t rethành viên a time when spooky games weren’t a big part of my life, going baông xã to lớn titles like Alone in the Dark on PC (1992), Castlevania on NES (1986) và before them all, Haunted House on Atari 2600 (1982).

I work as a designer/director for game studio WayForward, most commonly associated with cheerful, cartoony games lượt thích Shantae, Mighty Switch Force!,DuckTales: Remastered. But lately, we’ve sầu also been quietly building up a sub-genre of WayForward horror games with LIT (WiiWare), Aliens: Infestation (DS), BloodRayne Betrayal (PC, consoles), & Silent Hill: Book of Memories (Vita). One of the cool things about WayForward is we’ll tackle just about any style of game, so long as it’s got solid gameplay fundamentals and interesting characters.

Around the summer of 2013, Amazon came calling -- more specifically, Amazon trò chơi Studgame ios, a br& new game division within one of the largest companies on the planet. They wanted khổng lồ work with WayForward & asked us what original concepts we would be interested in for an opportunity like this.

Our creative director Matt Bozon & I immediately thought of the same concept. Somewhere in the dusty, virtual bins of unrealized WayForward games was Til Morning’s Light, a horror game concept I’d written about five years earlier, with concept art by Skullgirls lead animator Mariel Cartwright. The game followed a dễ thương, slightly-punk teenage girl named Erica trapped in a haunted house by mean-spirited classmates, who must survive sầu monsters và ghosts for 12 hours until she can emerge the next morning -- hence the title.


Amazon Game Studtiện ích ios liked the concept, và after some discussions and additional documentation, our two studgame ios partnered lớn begin production on the game in the fall of 2013. The year that followed was an exciting, inspiring, và exhausting development experience.

The ultimate payoff? Releasing the game và having players gọi it “a spooky good time” và “brilliant” made all of the work worth it.

So without further avị, here are some of the notable highs (and lows) from the development of Til Morning’s Light. Enjoy!

What Went Right

1. High Quality VO Casting và Performances

Til Morning’s Light is a very story-driven game that revolves entirely around the main character Erica. She’s in every scene, she drives the story, the humor, the drama, and the tension, so it was absolutely crucial that we nailed casting her actor. If gamers didn’t immediately love sầu & care about Erica, then the game as a whole wouldn’t work.

I’m pals with Cristina Vee, an accomplished anime and games voice actor, who’d previously directed VO on the fighting game Skullgirls. Cristimãng cầu and I had worked on a few WayForward demos together, so when we began discussing the VO for Til Morning’s Light with Amazon Game Studtiện ích ios, I knew immediately that I wanted Cristina to lớn be our VO director.

Normally on a game, we’d just pick the voice actors we wanted, reach out lớn them, & if they were available then that would be that. But Amazon trò chơi Studgame ios thought casting a wide net per role would help us find exactly the right people for the right parts, so between the approximately 15 speaking parts in the game, Cristimãng cầu ended up wrangling over 100 VO auditions -- by many of anime và gaming’s most beloved voice actors.

The part of Erica ultimately went to lớn Stephanie Sheh (pictured left), who I always loved as Mamimày in the anime “FLCL.” Stephanie brought a humor and dorkiness to Erica that made the character immediately lovable, và actually changed how I wrote Erica’s dialogue for future pickup sessions. Although the runners-up for that role also delivered great reads, I can’t picture anyone but Stephanie as Erica now.

The game’s villain was a pompous, theatrical, British ghost & I had my heart set on Cam Clarke (Liquid Snake from Metal Gear Solid) before starting the script. Cristimãng cầu reached out lớn Cam and luckily his audition was as good as I’d hoped, so Cam got the part.

Every one of our dozen actors blew me away with their performances, and Cristimãng cầu, being an actor herself, knew exactly how lớn get what she needed out of each line read. Upon release, the game’s VO has been cited as a high point in player & truyền thông Review, & we owe a great deal of that lớn Cristina’s excellent casting & direction, and Amazon Game Studtiện ích ios pushing us to lớn vị those numerous, early auditions.

2. Keeping Inputs REALLY Simple

Til Morning’s Light is the first sản phẩm điện thoại game I’ve sầu directed. Previously, all my games have sầu been on console, handheld, or PC. điện thoại games present a challenge khổng lồ doing any sort of complicated gameplay because of the laông chồng of tactile buttons. And here we were, ready to lớn attempt our homage to games like Silent Hill & Resident Evil, each of which typically uses every button on the controller. How bởi you vị survival horror well on a touch screen?

Rather than attempt khổng lồ cram every ounce of functionality from games lượt thích those on a tiny screen, we opted for the opposite approach - reducing everything in the game khổng lồ its most basic. Essentially, everything in Til Morning’s Light is a series of single screen touches. We never require the player lớn use more than one finger at a time, which allows them khổng lồ hold & control the game however it feels most comfortable khổng lồ them. Erica is controlled with a virtual analog stiông xã, but you can place that anywhere onscreen and it follows your thumb, so you can always make quiông xã turns. And if you STILL hate it, you can ignore that style of input đầu vào altogether và move Erica by tapping locations lớn auto-walk her around.


Surprisingly, players always seem split 50/50 on which input is preferred, which is part of the reason we left both in. We noticed that players more focused on completion và puzzles tend khổng lồ rely on tapping, whereas users more focused on the story and Erica tkết thúc khổng lồ use the virtual analog stiông chồng. I think this is because you're able to steer Erica around more naturally and 'act' better with the virtual analog stichồng, as opposed to lớn tapping, which is more of a straight rush to lớn each objective.

With object interaction, we boiled everything down lớn a single interactive inhỏ - spot an icon, tap it và see what happens. This was used for opening drawers, depositing items, interacting with puzzles, and so on. Erica has no foreknowledge what anything in this house does, so allowing the player to lớn experiment by tapping these icons to lớn see what happens made sense & felt very natural.

I don’t rethành viên whether we considered a more complicated đầu vào system, but if we did, it was dismissed very early on. The end result of moving Erica around each room, tapping icons as they appear, then deciding your next step after you’ve seen what the room has khổng lồ offer, makes for a more cerebral experience that pretty much any game thủ can enjoy. If you want khổng lồ see what a cloông xã does, touch the cloông xã. Want khổng lồ run khổng lồ a door? Tap the door. Everything is simple and straightforward.

3. A Map System with Lots of Guidance

One problem with survival horror games (or any big adventure games, really) is that it’s easy to lớn thua traông xã of where you are, where you’re headed, and why you’re going there. I know whenever I play through a game lượt thích Silent Hill, if it’s been a while since I last played, I might waste up to an hour wandering around, trying to rethành viên what I was supposed to lớn be doing, because of the open world. We knew that problem would only be compounded on di động, where players are more prone to lớn short, infrequent gaming sessions than to lớn longer, continuous play sessions.

So we decided khổng lồ address this with the game’s bản đồ system:

Any unvisited room is blaông xã.Any visited room is Trắng.Anytime the player tries a locked door, the room on the other side turns red......AND an inhỏ appears of the key needed lớn get inside.Finally, any locked (red) room the player holds the key for will pulse on the bản đồ.

With this setup, players can open the bản đồ & immediately know where they’ve sầu been, where they haven’t, what keys are needed, và (if holding a key) where they should go next. But this is done by reinforcing what they’ve already done, not leading them or giving things away before their discovery.


The map system was a real success, we got great feedbachồng from gamers và critics with one saying “the game features an excellent map system” with over 100 unique locations, dozens of puzzles, & hundreds of enemy encounters, we needed to lớn make sure players would never be confused or frustrated about their progression through the game.

4. Regular Team Playthroughs và Creative Leeway

Early development involved a lot of me hovering over individual work desks, working with team members one-on-one. But once we got enough of the game hooked together to lớn be able lớn play through the entire experience (albeit roughly), we began doing group playthroughs with all the designers and project leads.

This proved to lớn be an invaluable practice because team members could see how other players experienced their sections of the game, and we could talk as a group about what worked, ask questions, express confusion or excitement, và come up with ideas as a group for improvement.

The risk with a puzzley adventure game like this is that it’s entirely possible to have portions of gameplay that make 100 percent sense khổng lồ you (the creator), but stump everyone else who plays the game. By getting the entire team playing through the game as a group, we ran inlớn confusing and problem areas early and were able khổng lồ address them before the game’s release.


Another team-related aspect that worked well was providing team members with as much creative sầu leeway as possible (so long as we served the greater game và story). On a much smaller game, I might just design everything myself. But on a game of this size, we had a thiết kế team of about five sầu people (in addition to lớn myself). I would hash out the broad strokes of puzzling and progression with Nichồng Garcia (our lead designer), then Nichồng would work with the other 4 designers to flesh out and implement those concepts as creatively as possible.

A lot of the game’s best moments came from what our design team individually came up with. Allowing each of our designers to own different areas of the mansion, implement their own sets of puzzles, story sequences, and boss battles yielded more varied and creative results than if we’d attempted to lớn thiết kế every little detail from the top down. Team creativity was rewarded, rather than squashed, and I think that yielded a pretty creative sầu over hàng hóa.

5. Figuring Out Erica on Paper First

As I mentioned previously, the entire game revolved around the player’s connection with the character Erica. So we knew that constructing her would need lớn be done very carefully, especially since Erica grows and evolves as a character over the course of the game.


Artist Mariel Cartwright & I co-created Erica, with Mariel handling all visual development and me driving all story và dialog. Beyond just concepting Erica’s appearance, we went on lớn concept pretty much everything Erica does in the game. Mariel drew copious expression sheets for Erica, as well as reference imagery of how Erica might stand when holding a flashlight, versus a sword, versus an axe cộ, etc. Mariel sketched Erica attacking, pushing và pulling crates, climbing, sneaking, taking damage, dying, & anything else we could think of. This artwork was then given khổng lồ our artists & animators lớn use as reference for modeling & animation.


Because of this process, I think Erica as a character became very consistent & maintained a distinct, visibly discernable personality throughout the game. Since Mariel phối the tone for how Erica would vì everything, it prevented us from getting any animations or poses baông xã that felt out of character for her. Even when Erica performed something as basic as sliding open a drawer, it always looked exactly how an introverted teenage girl would believably slide that drawer open. Animators never started anything from scratch without some sort of reference.

Although concept art is nothing new, this was the first game I worked on for which we produced concepts for animation, & it really paid off. Any future projects I tackle with a similarly strong central protagonist like Erica, I’ll definitely be inclined to take this approach again.

What Went Wrong

Of course, not everything goes as smoothly as you’d lượt thích on a project. Here are five pitfalls we encountered during our production.

1. The Slow Discovery of Our Combat

The combat in Til Morning’s Light employs a variety of 2D rhythm-based inputs the player must react khổng lồ as they appear & animate onscreen (similar lớn games lượt thích Elite Beat Agents or Buddha Finger). Each input the player successfully completes causes Erica lớn attack the enemy she’s battling, & each input đầu vào missed (or keyed in too early or too late) causes the enemy to lớn attaông chồng Erica, in an almost back-and-forth RPG style.

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The combat largely works, và taking this approach allows Erica lớn appear vulnerable & uncertain, while also showcasing her up cthua thảm (lớn counteract the more distant exploration camera).


Unfortunately, this approach lớn combat wasn’t our first instinct for the game. It was our fourth. Which meant that we spent several initial months on combat approaches that ended up getting abandoned or retooled. And any lost effort on a one-year-schedule always hurts.

If memory serves, our first three stabs at combat (và why each was discarded) were:

Direct Attacking: The first type of combat we attempted was, naturally, letting Erica fight in the same camera view that she does everything else. This version of combat was similar to fighting in the Lego Games, with the player touching an enemy to run Erica over to it, after which Erica would auto-attaông xã until the enemy died, or you led her away from it. Tapping the enemy during an attaông chồng caused Erica khổng lồ attack more aggressively.

Ultimately, this style of attacking just wasn’t very fun. It felt like assigning a single unit to lớn battle in an RTS game, then watching them attack, which made for a pretty bl& combat experience.

Group Attacking: Next, we tried an approach that added more gameplay to lớn the fight and made things less automated. Still working in the standard exploration camera, we programmed enemies lớn group around Erica in a circle, evenly spaced out from one another. The enemies would then take turns attacking her, giving a brief visual cue. Erica would then need to lớn block that incoming attack, in between attacking other enemies.

In essence, we went full Arkđắm đuối Asylum with our combat. And although it was fun and challenging, Erica felt like WAY too much of a badass. To get the animations reading clearly at that camera distance, và moving fast enough for the new system, Erica moved more lượt thích a ninja warrior than a frightened, average teenage kid.

Enemy Countering: For the next iteration of combat, we decided khổng lồ separate combat entirely from the standard exploration mode. We pushed the camera in much closer & behind Erica (the same view in the finished game). We created a touch screen mini-game where players tapped inputs as they appeared lớn damage enemies (pretty cthất bại to lớn where we ended up).

The major difference between this version & the final combat is that in this version, we kept the countering/blocking from the second iteration combat, so that Erica would need khổng lồ anticipate & block an enemy’s attack first, stunning them, & THEN attaông chồng until they became unstunned again.

This thiết đặt worked pretty well. Erica didn’t seem lượt thích such a badass anymore, and since she was shown up cthảm bại, we could make her attacks feel clumsy or uncertain, knowing they would read clearly onscreen. The main problem is that waiting và countering enemy attacks before you could attaông chồng yourself was a SLOW process. It made every enemy encounter a chore.

In the over, we went with a similar combat system to the third iteration, except nailing touch inputs meant Erica would attack (once per input) rather than waiting for her turn. Where we landed with the combat felt good, but it took a long time to get there.

The most common negative in đánh giá for the game is that combat isn’t varied enough early enough. By the end of the game, the number và speed of inputs gets pretty frantic, but it’s a slow build (too slow) up khổng lồ that point. Were combat finalized earlier in development, it would have sầu provided us with more time to lớn make the system deeper & more varied than it ended up being.

2. Late Start & Bad Estimates on Cinematics

Although most of the game’s storytelling is handled through VO that plays during gameplay (allowing the player khổng lồ remain in control as often as possible) we did produce đôi mươi short cinematic sequences for the game. These were typically used to phối up a new character or trùm, so that the player is introduced lớn that character up cđại bại and personal, và can later (in their mind) apply those features and mannerisms lớn the characters in the more distant exploration camera view.

These sequences were written by me, storyboarded by Mariel, and VO directed by Cristimãng cầu. WayForward did all prep work on the assets, then collaborated with an external cinematics studio (Hydrogene Whiskey), since our internal animation team was focused on gameplay animations.

The working relationship between Hydrogen Whiskey & WayForward was great. The problem is that cinematics started much later than they should have sầu, due to the time it took for all planning, VO recording, editing, storyboard illustration, and asmix preparation. This in turn gave sầu myself và the game’s art director, Elyse Bromser-Kloeden, limited time and rounds of feedbaông chồng to work with Hydrogene Whiskey on finalizing each scene.

I was pleased with the kết thúc results, và Hydrogene Whiskey did an excellent job at capturing the personality of each character. But there are plenty of minor details in these scenes that Elyse and I would’ve loved khổng lồ have sầu ironed out if there was a bit more breathing room in the schedule.

Another cinematic wrench in the works came in the khung of a disparity between the length of our temp & final VO. To get our storyboards & animatics going as early as possible, I recorded temp VO for all characters. As the writer of our script, it made sense that I could adequately approximate the length of these VO lines.

But when we got the final VO baông xã from the real actors, each scene ran about 20 percent longer than they did with my temp VO. I think this was due to the actual actors giving much bigger, more theatrical performances than I attempted inlớn my little USB mic. We didn’t have sầu it in our schedule khổng lồ accommodate an extra 20 percent of cinematics past the original estimates, so we needed to make some creative edits, rework some lines, và play with the timing to lớn get the overall play-lengths down khổng lồ something that was feasible in the time available. On future projects, I think I'll just add a +25 percent buffer to lớn all time estimates to avoid this.

3. A Laông xã of Critical Items in the Shop

Throughout the game, Erica is collecting coins and gems, all of which can be spent with the creepy little shopkeeper she bumps into lớn occasionally. He’s a fun character và the shop system didn’t cause any major headaches during production.

Unfortunately, the actual items you buy at these shops (which include various boosts and character improvements) were a relatively late add in the game. By the point they went in, everyone on the team was used khổng lồ beating the game without them.


So although individually useful, none of these items felt essential because we’d balanced everything without them. When I play through the game, I find myself stocking up on health kits almost exclusively, then buying a few select items, like the Blood Pack & White Feather, for the final boss. But most of the shop’s items feel somewhat optional.

In hindsight, we should have sầu balanced the game around needing these items from the beginning, even if their early implementation was rough at the start.

4. Forced Backtracking for Weapon Swapping

The game features a variety of weapons & having previously dealt with a frustrating-to-implement weapons inventory system on Silent Hill, I was resolved khổng lồ keep weapons in this game SIMPLE. Erica would hold one weapon at a time, clearly visible in her hands, và if players wanted lớn swap that with another weapon, the previous weapon would be dropped at the swap spot (and marked on the player’s map).

Silent Hill: Book of Memories

On paper, it works pretty well. But in practice, we ran inkhổng lồ situations where the player might be 10 rooms away from a weapon they wanted lớn get baông chồng khổng lồ. Although we’d stamped out most standard-progression backtracking in the game (through semi-linear room progression và the addition of shortcuts), getting baông chồng khổng lồ a desired weapon often involves a whole lot of room loads.

If we were to do it over again, I think some kind of a weapons locker system would have been igiảm giá, where the player can have sầu access to lớn any weapon they’ve sầu ever held (but still only carry one at a time). An approach lượt thích that would have ensured our plot & progression never lagged whenever the player felt a need khổng lồ revisit one of their dropped weapons.

5. The Ultimately Cut Ghosting Minigame

One of the best things about this project was Amazon trò chơi Studquả táo allowing WayForward lớn make the kind of game we wanted & not forcing us to cram in a bunch of “mobile features.” The fact that Til Morning’s Light plays more lượt thích a traditional console experience, without any IAPhường (in-app purchases), energy drains, advertisements, or any other annoyances common in Mobile games today, is somewhat of a rarity.

But early on, we had some trepidation that the long-form style of play might not provide players with a ‘quichồng fix’ if they only felt lượt thích playing for, say, 30 or 60 seconds. With this in mind, we got khổng lồ work creating a “Ghosting” minigame.


This was a cute, cartoony 2 chiều minigame in which there’s a 5x5 game board, và on each of the 25 squares, the player could spend money, collected in the main game by Erica, lớn resurrect a ghost. That ghost would idle in place và either be happy, neutral, or angry, based on what other ghosts were around them (& in which directions each ghost projected happiness và anger).

The gameplay was inspired by Capcom’s wonderful PlayStation game One Piece Mansion (a favorite of mine). There were 25 different ghosts you could spawn into the minigame, but lớn vị so, Erica would first need to lớn locate và capture each of these ghosts in the main game (which later evolved inkhổng lồ the Crowes Sword side-quest).

Everything worked pretty well, but as we neared the end of development, the minigame wasn’t completely finished. And since it wasn’t a critical aspect of the game, it ended up getting cut. Had we known this game wouldn’t make the end product, the effort we spent to thiết kế, animate, code, & balance it would have sầu definitely been better spent elsewhere.


Til Morning’s Light is the most satisfying game project I’ve ever been a part of. I love the end result, I think our team was full of absolute roông chồng stars, & the game’s story is the most personal thing I’ve sầu ever written.

At the same time, it was a tremendous undertaking in the time we had available, so naturally aspects of the production could have gone more smoothly or efficiently, elements could have been more polished or better balanced, and less effort could have sầu been wasted going down paths that weren’t destined for the final hàng hóa.

But I’m sure this could be said of most productions. As we work in this industry, all we can vày is learn from our mistakes, learn how lớn work more efficiently, smartly, & confidently, so that the next game benefits from everything we learned on the previous one.

Til Morning’s Light is the culmination of my experiences, successes, và failures on a decade of previous WayForward projects. And now the lessons the team & I have sầu learned on this game will make the next project (và the next, và the next) even better.

Data Box

Developer: WayForward

Publisher: Amazon Game Studios

Release Date: May 21, 2015

Platforms: Fire Phone, Fire Tablet, iPhone, iPad

Size of Development Team: Approx 30-40 people

Length of trò chơi Development: Approx 1 year (core development)

Time From First Concept to lớn Production Start: 5 years

Favorite Dev Fuel: Pastries from Porto’s Bakery

Sailor Scouts in our VO cast: 2 - Stephanie Sheh (Sailor Moon) và Cristimãng cầu Vee (Sailor Mars)

Development Tools: Unity (engine), Visual Studio, Photosiêu thị, 3D Studio Max, Ableton Live 9, & more

Chuyên mục: Tin Tức