Creating the desert environment – the ‘canvas’ onto which the story is told – for the new Inanimate Alice adventure Perpetual Nomads has taken many months of work. The landscape has undergone a number of significant shifts in style, levels of detail and tone – from slightly cartoonish/illustrative to richly detailed, hazy and atmospheric. Looking back over previous iterations, it’s easy to see the amount of layering that’s gone on to achieve the final look; it’s not a dissimilar process from working on a piece of artwork in Photoshop. Except that there are endless viewing angles.
Perpetual Nomads takes place at the end of the day after Alice’s work-shift at The Last Gas Station – for which Alice wrote her own development blog here 🙂 which means the sun’s going down and eventually it’s going to get dark. To achieve this in game, I decided to implement (and carefully modify) a sophisticated weather control system. This, coupled with painstaking work on the terrain materials to ensure they looked pretty good in VR plus a number of post-processing effects eventually resulted in a striking and characterful story-world – not quite photo-realistic, but enough to show a significant progression in Alice’s game-making skills since Episode 6.
Whilst old rusted vehicles, flowering cacti, weird trees and rocks, birds, lizards and desert wolves – things Alice would definitely want to put into her game – all make a (sometimes glimpsing) appearance, the interface itself for navigating the landscape also sits within the world as a series of movement points (Alice’s signature >> progression arrows from earlier episodes, tipped 90 degrees to face the ground), speech bubbles and triggers. Alice is able to show her thoughts, move through the environment, and pick up/interact with various objects as the adventure unfolds.
Much of this evolved through cross-continent screen-sharing sessions with Mez Breeze, where key decisions/contributions were made on colour, graphic design, object positioning as well as environmental styles, buildings and locations.
Working with Chris Joseph, audio was also an incredibly important consideration: ambient ‘desert noise’ can be heard continuously, emanating from various 3D points in the landscape along with the hum of the distant city, which is just about visible on the hazy horizon. Also noticeable is the digital distortion of a nearby Information Booth (pictured below) as well as Alice’s footsteps across sand and rock as she explores the area around the broken down bus.
Of course, everything here is an illusion: the landscape doesn’t really sprawl all the way out to those distant mountains – indeed the terrain would literally come to a severe edge if you were able to wander across it far enough – and there are many theatrical smoke and mirror effects being applied to keep the experience contained within important boundaries.
This is very much a guided digital narrative; Alice sharing her adventure with you whilst leaving plenty for your imagination to muster up about what else might be waiting out there in the desert. Those are your stories, and she’d be happy to hear them.
Perpetual Nomads is available to purchase now in Early Access for PC and VR.