Whole world felt still, and only ticking of the clock reminded me that time kept going forward.
Hello! Long time no see :)
I decided to post this article because I believe I won't have a better opportunity to share the things I've wanted to share for quite some time. It's going to be a long read, so I hope you won't fall asleep halfway through :D But first, let me address my "debts," meaning the custom story I announced half a year ago. Well, to put it bluntly, it's dead :p I wasn't being lazy, I swear! I suppose I owe you an explanation of what this CS was supposed to be. It turned out to be a bit more dramatic than what usually happens with unfinished works, at least in my case. I will discuss the project in more detail towards the end of the article, so look for "Project Altair" title if you are specifically interested in the announced custom story.
As for now, I would like to talk about how everything led to the creation of both "Aftersound" and this project. I'm not sure how interesting it will be for the average player, but I suppose it will be at least amusing for my fellow modders to read :)
This custom story is actually much older than it initially seems. I started working on it about a year or so before Aftersound, and the project has gone through multiple iterations of reimagining. There was never an official name for the project, but I and a few of my colleagues referred to it as "Project Altair," as I will also refer to it in this article.
The initial iterations of the project were created using HPL2, but I quickly realized that I couldn't effectively work on a project of such a scale with HPL2 tools alone. There were several reasons for it, so it would be much easier to explain through my entire experience with HPL2 modding. Let's take a step back and talk about my HPL2 projects.
The first serious project I worked on was called "Writer's Requiem." This custom story revolved around a writer who, in a schizophrenic seizure, tragically killed his own daughter and subsequently forgot about it (truly an Amnesia CS :D). However, subconsciously, his brain retained the memory, leading to a rapid deterioration of the writer's condition with each passing day.
Dining Hall - the screenshot was taken when I still had my old 4:3 monitor :D
The main concept of this custom story was the constantly changing environment. I wanted to elevate the player's sanity system to its most potential, where sanity directly affected the game's difficulty. Approximately 60 seconds after the start of the game, the lights would go out in all game locations. Within these 60 seconds, the player had to quickly secure as much light as possible - the player had no lantern (I guess you can see where "Aftersound" takes inspiration from :D), so they had to light as many candles as possible, turn on lamps, and open the curtains on the windows. Subsequently, in that state, the player needed to complete the main quest - find a note with the key to the door and escape from their own mansion (I don't exactly remember the plot myself, but yeah, technically it was something like that). The experience of playing through the game differed greatly depending on how "insane" the player became by the end - if you managed to [somehow] maintain your sanity completely, you could never even meet a single enemy.
I wasn't working alone (well, not always alone) - my loyal comrade joined me (you won't believe it, but he doesn't have his own nickname, so I'll keep his real name undisclosed). He participated in many of my subsequent projects as a OST composer and later as a modeler. We recorded a considerable number of soundtracks for the custom story, which mainly took the form of collectibles as audio recordings that players could collect and listen to in the safe zone. They are pretty much useless for now, so I might even upload them somewhere if there is a need.
The safe-zone - it is shown in the main menu as a main place of the game. If you look closely, there is a very unfitting object in the scene. Got goosebumps? :)
Yes, we had a safe zone - the only place where one could be safe. The idea was similar to Resident Evil, but we had only one safe-zone, and it wasn't possible to save there. Moreover, at the lowest level of sanity, the room ceased to be safe.
So, about the trump card of the CS - the sanity mechanic. The sanity state was divided into approximately 6 levels, ranging from "healthy" to "almost vegetable-like." The initial levels were more cosmetic - blood would appear everywhere, rats and spiders would spawn (I was terribly afraid of Amnesia's spiders back then and couldn't play without disabling the script XD). But as the state deteriorated further, more noticeable changes would occur - even to the extent of altering the level structure - like adding new doors, walls, completely new levels and more. Corpses, pools of blood, headless flying statues, red lights - in short, the player would certainly not get bored on the final levels :D On the last level, an enemy would spawn who was constantly aware of your approximate location. It would move about two to three times faster than you, and if I remember correctly, could kill you with a single hit, but... you have doors, so it's all fair! Indeed, even now, in my opinion, the concept sounds quite cool if it's executed properly. But being as clumsy a creator as I am, of course, nothing was done "properly."
Yes, it was my usual work environment - 2 FPS and average of 5-minute loadings
From a technical point, it was a natural f*cking disaster. If I didn't know that I was the one who did it, I would call myself the greatest idiot in history. Conceptually, the custom story was good, but, oh my, technically it was a complete mess. The main problem was that I decided to create one huge level and cram the entire mansion into it. It was simply gigantic in size, and those who are reading this and have experience with HPL2 know that there is no adequate way to stream levels or perform environment culling (there was some primitive form of it, but not sufficient).
The map of the mansion. Doesn't seem too big, but counting the fact it was HPL2 and it was a single level with fairly detailed environment, I guess there are enough reasons to call me a mad-man :D
Initially, there weren't too many lag issues - the FPS would drop by half as the level grew - but being the alternatively gifted person that I am, at that time it seemed like a brilliant idea to give every light source its own shadows. And not just shadows - if you look closely in the video, I gave at least 2-3 spotlights to each light source to simulate the shading effect. Hence - I got a practically unplayable 2-FPS game which was hard to play and even harder to work on. Yeah, I know I am a genius :D
Perhaps it was precisely during that time that I depleted all my reserves of motivation and discipline, as working on this custom story for about three to four months, seven days a week, was quite exhausting... but I really enjoyed it :)
The final nail in the coffin was my encounter with... Amadeus.Oh, I could divide my modding life into "Before" and "After" Amadeus. It set such a high bar that I couldn't even imagine before, and it not only brought me back to earth - it naturally buried me deep down the ground, along with my self-esteem. I fell into a true creative crisis. For the following year, I tried to replicate Amadeus and its lighting - I couldn't understand how something so remarkable could be achieved on such an engine. At the same time, I attempted to establish contact with the author of that mod (my artwork is even featured on the mod's cover page :D), but it didn't go well at all. In the end, I realized that what I had created was complete garbage, not a mod. So i began to redo all the map with Amadeus assets, hoping that it would somehow lift my level design. At that time I just fell into infinite reworking of the game, so it was clear the project is practically dead.
Unfortunately, "Writer's Requiem" is my most well-documented project. I didn't document my other works as meticulously, and about three years ago, due to circumstances, my hard drive crashed, taking with it all my numerous custom stories, including the ones mentioned here. So, from this point on, I will mainly rely on the YouTube videos I have uploaded and my own memories.
My next project took about three times longer to develop than "Writer's Requiem." At some point, this project was also called "Writer's Requiem" in the sense that I used the same name for it, but in reality, it was an entirely different concept. Throughout this extended period of development, the project never received a proper name, mostly because I was working on it practically alone, and there was no need for a codename. Sometimes, I would upload test videos for it and give it different names each time - "Project K," "Project N," and so on.
This project was about a protagonist confined, both literally and metaphorically, in a cell controlled by an unseen government. The story was never fully completed, except for what remained in "Aftersound" - and yes, you understood correctly. Essentially, this project came to us in the form of "Aftersound," albeit in a completely different form (so "Aftersound" is actually just an aftersound of this legendary project. Ha!).
The protagonist was locked in a secluded room in a hospital hotel, completely cut off from the outside world, where he lived his life outside the flow of time. Days blurred into one another, and at night, the protagonist was plagued by horrible nightmares that only worsened his condition. On the other end of the line, a mysterious person checked on him every day, contacting via telephone and monitoring his condition, while cameras were placed throughout the room to fully control the protagonist's actions and prevent him from harming himself if necessary.
One of versions of the protagonist's room done on HPL 2. The mechanics featured completely functional day/night and weather cycle, which also should have somehow affected the gameplay in concept. Honestly, looking at it now, i want to make this CS again so badly :D Who knows, who knows...
But one day, or rather night, the protagonist wakes up within a dream and sees his own sleeping body from the outside. This night, in his dreams, instead of a nightmare, for the first time he explores his new ability of out-of-body experience. He becomes some sort of a ghost, able to finally leave his "cell," as walls are no longer an obstacle to him, and, even if only for the night, feel free from restraints. Thus, a spark of life reignites in the protagonist's eyes.
Demonstration of protagonist's ghost state. One of the earlier versions of the CS, much earlier than the one was in the previous video.
Gameplay-wise, the game was divided into two fundamentally different parts. During the day, when the player woke up from the dream, they were locked inside the room. It was completely safe here. During the day, the player progressed through the story - they planned their escape from the room, replenished their health by drinking water from the tap in the bathtub, checked the collectibles (there was a separate cabinet inside the room with various cool trophies that the player collected throughout the game), achievements in the form of figurines, and communicated on the phone with a mysterious stranger. New dialogues and events were occuring with plot progression. Essentially, during the day, the game updated the state of the world and the overall progress of the story.
At night, however, the player took on the form of a ghost and could now venture beyond their cell. They could still interact with objects, so that was the core concept of the game - at night, the player explored locations and collected necessary items that were inaccessible during normal circumstances, and brought them back to the room. This way, the protagonist prepared everything needed to escape from a captivity - this time, for real. The nightmares I mentioned earlier worked on the same logic as in "Writer's Requiem" - the protagonist's distorted perception caused gave rise to monsters and warped the surrounding space. Therefore, at night, even though the player "interacted" with the real world, it was still a world of dreams, or rather, nightmares, where the player was relentlessly hunted in an extremely hostile environment. The only salvation was to reach the bed in their room in time and... wake up. Game death was played out in a similar manner as in Rebirth that wanted to "avert" the gameplay concept of death: after death, the player would wake up as if from a nightmare, and they would be penalized with a certain amount of points in terms of story progression.
And perhaps now it is clear how all of this evolved into Aftersound. I'll tell you more - Aftersound, in fact, is an expanded version of the prologue of this project. In Aftersound, one day in the life of the protagonist of this story is portrayed: an endless nightmarish experience that is followed by bleak and meaningless daytime life. It's no secret that Aftersound is heavily inspired by P.T., and it's quite amusing that my project and Silent Hills ended up in an almost identical situation - only a "teaser" for a full-fledged game that was never released. A poetic resemblance indeed ;)
I think that, taking into account what has been said above, the strange calm and melancholic ending of Aftersound now seems a bit more fitting.
Well, here we finally reach "our era" :D
During my time with HPL2, I made a few more projects, but they were so insignificant that I can hardly remember them myself. I remember working on a custom story with a "maze" system and skills - the player would exit the starting zone into a maze and had to reach a certain item or complete a specific condition before returning back. The player had special abilities in their arsenal, which they acquired from a shop before entering the maze. For example, they could play music from a phonograph, which could be heard from all corners of the map, helping them determine the direction of the save zone. However, I suppose reading about these projects would not be very interesting, so let's forget about them for now.
After the epic failure with "Writer's Requiem," I realized that the old shabby HPL2 was not suitable for such purposes. Initially, learning the new engine was challenging for me, but after a few months, going back to HPL2 was damn impossible - HPL3 offers such vast possibilities for modding that you hardly understand how did you even work without all this stuff before!
Scripting was the main challenge - I'm not particularly skilled with coding, and dealing with the threefold increase in information of the new engine was difficult for me until the very release of Aftersound. To be honest, Aftersound is a treasure trove of spaghetti code. All the code was written quite literally with divine help, and it's a true miracle that during the long time since the mod's release, there hasn't been a single bug report. Frankly, I myself am not sure if I'll understand a single thing if I open my CodeLight project now :D
So... that's how Aftersound was made! I just started playing around with already defined concept and went along the process. The P.T.-like game system was inspired not only by P.T. itself but also by a feverish experience I had in my youth at a summer camp. I woke up within a dream where, if I blinked my eyes, the dream would reset and start from the beginning. As a result, I couldn't escape from it, and it was incredibly terrifying back then.
After the creation of Aftersound, about half a year ago, I felt the urge to revisit the project after some time. I switched to the SOMA engine because Rebirth was frustrating me with its complexities, such as the player's body and the flashlight mechanics (which I still haven't figured out). I even managed to implement basic mechanics and create an intro. It's a bit unpolished, so please don't judge me too harshly :")
I guess it would be fitting to name this project "Project Phoenix" due to how many times have it been ressurected and dumped into river again :D
Unfortunately, things didn't go well with it again. Firstly, the HPL version in SOMA turned out to be surprisingly broken, which I had no idea about. Half of the buttons simply didn't work, there were a bunch of bugs with directional lighting, and overall, there were many unexpected issues that didn't exist in version 3.5 of Rebirth. Well, in fact, this was my last project on HPL3.
Sigh... maybe someday the project will see the light of day. Perhaps, if I were to work on this project again, it would definitely require a couple of skilled coders by my side. With a team, the project could definetely be brought to fruition. Or at least I would like to believe so :)
Well, here we are approaching the final point of our journey. As you may have already guessed, the timeline of my projects cannot be expressed by a straight direct line - I was working on a bunch of these projects simultaneously. So, perhaps, the actual start of this project was given back in the days of HPL2. Inspired by the song "Stargazer" and the legends surrounding the construction of the Colosseum, I was enthusiastic about creating a custom story, the plot of which revolved around four gigantic towers in the desert, built by slaves under the orders of Four Astronomers. They had a kind of bet - to build the tallest tower of all. By forcing thousands of people to work in inhumane conditions, the four towers kept getting higher and higher, and the tallest among them was so high that its top couldn't be seen with the naked eye. Literally! This is not a metaphor - I built it so high that it went beyond the engine's clip plane, and even when I raised the values, it hilariously pierced through the celestial sphere xD Sadly, I don't have any screenshots or other types of media that I could depict to you.
In short, the spectacle was breathtaking, but remembering the epic failure with "Writer's Requiem," I realized that I would soon step into the same dog pile - at that time i've already had a devastating amount of objects on my map, as I built these towers from castlebase assets. Plus, I'm not as skilled the author of "Amadeus," so it also looked like crap.
After that, the project underwent numerous changes. But all of them, in general, revolved around the same idea - to create a plot-heavy custom story about the lost giant observatories that held secrets of the universe.
Project Altair was, to say the least, an ambitious undertaking. The idea of "towering buildings amidst desolated lands" has been occupying my mind for a good 5 years now (insert a joke about "SPIRALING towers, ENDLESS deserts, and IMPOSSIBLE geometry"). Well, it's not actually a joke at all but a perfect way to describe what I had in mind. A damn perfect Amnesia custom story that players could only dream about.
Damn, I love the concept of rounded rooms so much...
Around this time, I had already transitioned to HPL3. I managed to create several locations there - it was about six months before the release of Rebirth - and it was around this time that my hard drive crashed. Yes, all my progress on this custom project was simply wiped out. I was ready to kill everything alive; it was truly heartbreaking! :(
One of the first versions of Project "Altair" on Rebirth engine
After that, for a long time, I had neither the desire nor the energy to revive the project. Waiting for the release of Rebirth, and then its modding tools, I started studying the new engine and eventually worked on Aftersound. Aftersound was developed for about a year, and during that time, I would intermittently abandon it and return to the original concept of "Project Altair," constantly reworking it. The setting was changed several times - ranging from a Rebirth-style setting in the Algerian desert to neo-gothic castles à la Dark Souls. Mostly, this was dictated by the availability (or lack) of the necessary assets :D
One of the central concepts of earlier stages of the project - a central moving observatory room that connected all the rooms with each other.
The project was conceived as a large horror-metroidvania game - the player had to explore a huge, desolate, and lost building and uncover the mystery of the disappearance of all the members of the observatory who once inhabited it. In terms of everything else, this custom story didn't have any particular unique feature, like "Aftersound" or my previous projects, but it was built more like a classic narrative-driven horror game in the spirit of the original "The Dark Descent."
Thus, the project gradually reached its final version, which I worked on until the end of 2022, and that's the very version from which the screenshot for the announcement was taken. Well, going back to my initial words - the project promised to be extremely ambitious. A setting, lore, and storyline were fully developed for it, characters were fully detailed and fleshed out, gameplay moments were carefully crafted to the scale of specific puzzles. Character designs and the layout of the College Altair - the location where the custom game took place - were all ready. I managed to recruit one skilled programmer to join my team, but unfortunately, they quickly dropped out of the project, leaving me once again in proud solitude (well, almost solitude) to finish the project.
Even with the help of a modeler, they had no experience working with HPL, and naturally struggled with how poorly the model editor there worked. In short, it became clear that handling a project of this scale would be beyond my capabilities. Despite this, quite a lot was accomplished, and it actually seems that if a few more people had worked on it, everything could have turned out just fine.
We also tried to revive the project using the new Unreal Engine. Development continued until the end of March, but it didn't go very smoothly with it either. So, unfortunately, all I can do is mourn the unrealized dreams :D But hope is not lost - someday, I will definitely make sure that this project sees the light, either as a custom story or as a standalone game. I bet you! :))
You know, what's strange is that even after a year in Unreal Engine, I still somehow feel a periodic urge to return to HPL and create another masterpiece that no one will ever see :D This engine and the games from Frictional Games have a certain strange charm that has kept me captivated for a good decade. The upcoming "The Bunker" will be a great reason to return to modding and deliver something on the cutting edge with the new engine and its capabilities (although I'm not sure what I'll do with their procedural generation system, maybe I'll come up with something). I won't make any promises, but nonetheless, I am extremely interested in the new part of Amnesia and will eagerly await the release of both the game and the modding tools. Perhaps, this time, I will be able to see another project through to the end :) Thank you so much to everyone who read this! I truly hope you enjoyed it and weren't too disappointed by the cancellation of the project.
See you next time!
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