Line Art by Joshuah Meehan
Tired of pushing back the date and guessing when it will release? So am I. :p So this time I'm not - it'll be done when it's done.
Which is soon. When? It'll be a surprise. So say we all.
Back in December 2012, when I lit the fire under the cold, dead remains of Fallout 3: Project Brazil, I was pretty much alone, and only a fragment of the work done now was ready at the time. Over the next month, RickerHK would send me a note on the Nexus forums responding to my open request for help, and ported the entire project from Fallout 3 to New Vegas.
For anyone that knows what that means, you don't need a picture of what it looks like. You're already cringing in horror. For those unknown to modding in GECK + FNVEdit, it looks like this:
Editing Form IDs.
Just like this. Manually.
For 15,000 items. One at a time. For an entire week.
And RickerHK, did it TWICE. Because the first time we used an old file that was out of date. Most people would have quit after looking at the task. Not Rick. He's a legend.
Over 1 year, 4 months, and 10 days later, and we're still hard at work on this beast. Rick, after the gargantuan effort in porting our mod from Fallout 3 to New Vegas, stayed onboard for the next annum to painstakingly translate our written dialogues into the game with me, and then script each and every event by himself.
To date, only Sesom & Matthew Seddon have contributed time to scripting any of our packages, which means that out of several thousand lines of script, it's all been Rick, alone, after getting home from work, every day.
For my end of things, I went back to my original ideas and wrote out our Project Bible, here:
Then I started writing our dialogue to fit the big plan. The original ideas I had from several years of modding got scrapped one after another, and that started by deleting more cells in the game than now exist in our whole project. More content has been cut from our game than has made it to release.
That cathartic purge of the "too many ideas" problem led to our current generation of the final plan, which was calculated to provide the best experience with the least amount of work, all possible with the engine's limitations.
We already had Vault 18 nice and mapped out by the time I restarted my level designs, and all I had to do was adapt the designs to the story, and the story to the design.
I took about 5 months to write technical in-detail the ideas I'd kept in my head for 3 years, created every character's face and biography from scratch, then drafted a really ornate plot line based on the player's relationship with those characters - which is my favourite aspect of playing an RPG.
My first ideas had WAY too much content packed into far too tight a space, and 1 year, 4 months, 10 days later, the first chunk of my way too complex master plan is nearly done. In the future, I will know better. Rick coined a term called "feature creep" for when writing ideas turn into features, and those features sprout features, and those features require features to justify, and more features to balance, and additional features to manage and handle each package.
There comes a point where you need to step back and realize that every decision you make affect's your programmers' & designers' lives - every line of dialogue creates a variable, a new script, a new package. It's easy to write a concept. Hard to write a good character. Harder still to write convincing dialogue for a voice actor and 10x harder to write for an RPG's branch dialogue format. In each of those tiers, you need to interface the dialogue with the models, the textures, and the programming. Every time you write a line of dialogue, you create, at minimum, 1 day of work for at least 3 people, or yourself for 3 days, plus the time it takes you to learn how to do it yourself, plus bug testing for the life of development, plus voice acting, plus implementation & coordination with those 3 people on the team email.
One line of text 149 characters long = 3days + 1week of time / 3 volunteers.
I put out a call for writers early on. I wanted this to be a community thing, not just Brandan Lee's mod. I wanted to give our fans and members of the fallout mod community a chance to be a part of the styorytelling. I thought it would be romantic. XD
Remind me never to do that again. :p
I ultimately ended up spending more time talking to applicants than writing the dialogue, and of literally 80+ people, only 3 ever produced anything, two made it into the game with major re-writes, and one never made it all the way, but wrote a great idea for a super mutant before losing contact.
That means every line of text in game is written by either me, Steven, Andrew, Roslin, or Steven Cates. But 90% of it is me. :p
There are also several thousand lines of dialogue in the game from 21 voice actors. That's averaging us, at the very beginning of our recording process, about 6 hours per main character from start to finish - each one with multiple takes on about 250-400 lines of dialogue. Our very first ever session with Roger Owen as Coach Bragg back in May 2012, took us about 8 hours, from 10am til 6pm. Since then, my directing talents have VASTLY improved, and I can cover a 400 line main character, with a really unique voice, in about 100 lines per hour.
I found all our actors from Tucson, Az and Los Aangeles, Ca, through friends, and did the recording in person, except for Ben Britton, our NCRR Radio host, who is from New York.
After taking an entire day to get the actor into our studio, set up the teleprompter & equipment, grab some food, talking about the character and setting, then it's onto cutting the audio.
We use Audacity to get all of our raw audio cut & formatted, because it is cheap, fast, and good. You export the files as 44100hz, 16-bit PCM, OGG files. Then you copy those files as WAV files for lip-sync (the GECK uses WAV files to lipsync, OGGs to play in game.)
You need to de-noise the entire audio track, then normalize it so that it all has the same, even level of volume. Our H4n + RodeNTG-2 mic record audio very quiet, making noise removal more difficult. I've had to go back to re-update characters over time as my understanding of the technology has improved. I'm a camera guy, audio is like cats and water to me. I apologize for any noise you may notice in game from our first sessions.
As you cut files, you have to rename each file according to this Excel document exported from the GECK:
You have to Copy & Paste these by hand between Excel & Audacity, hundreds of times.
As stated before, we have ALOT of characters, and thousands of lines of dialogue. At last count, over 6000 of them.
After you have your loose lines cut, you need to jump over to the GECK to lip-sync. That isn't so bad, as the system does it automatically. The down side is, the civilian version of the GECK had the original voice to lip system gutted, meaning Bethesda released the GECK with a BROKEN lip-sync function.
When we first started, the only work around was a hideously painstaking process of importing your files into fracking Oblivion's TESCreationKit, literally replicating your dialogue in Oblivion, lip-syncing it, then exporting it back to GECK, and renaming all of your files. Twice. Rick handled the first batch, then when it became my duty, I flipped over the table and started hunting for a solution.
Thankfully, Captain Mitch created a work-around using the Skyrim Creation Kit's lip-sync function, which was ironically better than New Vegas and the GECK, and backwards compatible! Now, to lipsync a character, all you have to do is (one by one) open each line of dialogue and hit generate, and assign your special animations and character emotion.
Fast Freddie Joined in January 2013, and has embarked on an epic quest to Navmesh the entire wasteland BY HAND in over 1000 cells. This has pretty much been his job now for the last few months, non-stop, every day. Our wasteland, if you didn't know, is functionally the size of the Fallout 3 capital wasteland.
That's miles, and miles, and miles of desert that need to be meshed BY HAND.
If you're unawares of this process and what it looks like, here is a preview:
If you took the time to read that, imagine doing that by hand for a space the size of this:
Every square is representative of more than 3 miles squared. I can kindof see eternity in this JPEG.
As you can imagine, his wrists are probably a little sore. Lets just try to forget about all the times Jack, Guddas, or I accidentally stepped on his toes and he had to go back and re-do an area. ;)
On top of that, if you remember my epic war with the GECK last year generating our first LOD for the wasteland, you'll know what I mean when I say that our final draft is just as much a pain in the ass. We're now generating the mesh on Freddie's brand new 2000$ rig dedicated exclusively to the World LOD, and he's putting it out at the highest resolution of the mesh - up to the quality of New Vegas and Skyrim. Otherwise known as billions of polygons getting crunched down to just a few thousands.
This process, by my last count, has taken the last 11 days. There have been stops, starts, restarts, and adjustments the whole way. At one point the power company actually pinged his house for the wattage consumption. No joke. We actually made the power company blink.
We merge all of our plugins into the main esm using FNVEdit. Each team member donates their .esp to our .esm, resulting now in 71.esp files from me, 62 from RickerHK, and 61 from Freddie, plus about 2 dozen others from contributions.
These are all synced and shared via Dropbox:
Dropbox will automatically sync your files between two computers (in our case 19 of them,) and this has, on many an occasion, freaked out and deleted the entire project folder. Rick acts as our Data Managment leader, merging plugins into our ESM and maintaining the current copy in the LATEST ESM FOLDER. He also manages out BSA files. All this takes away time from his programming duties, so it falls to me to keep our folder clean, and keep new team members from humping the dropbox. Again.
We currently need to insure that all our texture files and meshes are ready to pack into the BSAs, which will be the last thing we do before I create the release ready installer package.
On top of all of that, we have 6 companions (with the wheel, voice acting, and one special skill) and 2 robot followers (which also have the wheel, no voice at this time due to glitches.) These each need to be handled by our scripts as well, and the thing that makes Fallout: Project Brazil unique is the level of reactivity the NPCs have with our environment.
As the player progresses through each stage of our mod's story, the characters have new reactions. They'll have a new menu and new scripts that need to run in response to the changing environment of the story. (keep in mind that our story has branches like a city highway.) All of those variables stack up, and with one Programmer waging war with this shifting scripting world, it takes time to wrap things up.
As of this post, we still have to account for 3 major events. Two are related to our companions, one to the last battle in Vault 18. Unoctium signed on to the project team list today to assist us with some of this additional scripting, and RickreHK has quite a few hours poured into it over the last several nights & mornings.
We are CLOSE, but not done yet. Every day sees things improve towards release.
Now, anyone that knows me understands that I'm always concerned with my fans. It's my primary concern making sure everybody has a good experience. But I don't apologize often. The tickets are free.
You guys that have been loyal to the cause so far get to hear me say I'm sorry just this once. I led the team to March 31st and April 10th, and was pretty sure we'd be done by now, but we missed the dates both times. For that false hope, I'm sorry.
Thankfully, we will get to the end of this shortly. What day of what week? No idea. My girlfriend is eager to have me back in her life too, so I'm stepping on the gas for my section of the tasks and getting things wrapped up.
I'll keep you updated as often as possible.