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InvertMouse

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Blog Entries posted by InvertMouse

  1. InvertMouse

    Hey everyone! I have uploaded The Last Birdling’s soundtrack onto Steam. This soundtrack will be released on September 1st alongside the core game. There are 19 tracks in total, but since some of their names may contain spoilers, let’s leave it at that for now.

    The Last Birdling’s composer is Efe Tozan. Efe and I have worked together since Cursed Sight, and he is also the composer for Without Within 1 and Without Within 2. Every time we catch up for a new project, I can tell Efe has improved. This guy is passionate about music, and The Last Birdling is easily his best performance yet. Today, I would like to talk about how these tracks were put together.

    We often begin with the character themes. First, I will send my character profile documents over to Efe, and along with that, I also suggest what type of feeling we should convey with each track. A picture tells a thousand words, and you know, a track also tells a thousand words, so the best way to communicate mood is via an example. Once I find a list of suitable tracks that fit our criteria, I will pass those YouTube links over to Efe.

    At this stage, we have our tracks list, mood references along with relevant documents such as character profiles and early drafts. With these materials in place, we let the expert do his thing. Once Efe submits his samples, we improvise from there. Sometimes, it turns out a track is a poor fit for situation A, but it matches situation B perfectly. In that case, we simply swap the filenames around.
     

    We must also take context into account. Some tracks sound great as standalones, but they have beats that distract players in a game context. In those instances, we would balance the volume, change instruments, whatever it takes. Also, no track exists alone in a game. With stories, we have the “emotional rollercoaster” cliché. The same concept applies to our music, so we must ensure these tracks cover a broad range of emotions.

    Once the soundtrack is complete, I do my best to serve as a “second ear”. When you are close to a piece of work, even obvious mistakes will become hidden. I promise you, I have read through The Last Birdling many, many times. Despite this, the first test reader still managed to spot three spelling errors. The closer you are, the more blind you become.
    And music is the same way. We can have a stunning five-minute track, but if we catch a single glitch in the audio, our experience is ruined. Whenever the track plays in-game, your ears will anticipate that dreaded pop. When you listen to the same track over and over, these flaws can become even harder to spot. It is my responsibility to listen for those unwanted spikes.

    The last point is volume balance. When one track sounds louder or softer than the rest, that too can lead to a poor experience. As someone with no musical talent, I used to just compare the waveforms, but I soon learned that would not suffice. You must listen to each track with your ears to truly know. Whenever Efe completes a soundtrack, I would put it on my phone and listen to it on loop for several days. On top of this, we also listen to the tracks on different devices, since that too can have an effect.
    To finish up, with kind permission from Efe, here is The Last Birdling’s main theme:
    https://youtu.be/XgdjGFUt4mM
    You will find some of these beats being repeated throughout other tracks in the game. This is one of the techniques we use to tie the soundtrack into a coherent package. Humans have a natural love for patterns, and when you catch a certain beat being replayed with a different instrument? We all know a thing or two about those goose bumps.
    As usual, I hope you may consider wishlisting and/or joining our Steam community:
    http://store.steampowered.com/app/629430/The_Last_Birdling/
    Just one week to go my friends. Thank you !
  2. InvertMouse
    Hi everyone! I started Persona 5 quite a few weeks ago, and before I even installed the game, I picked up Futaba’s wallpaper from the PSN Store to put myself in that mode. The Persona Mode, I guess.
    When both players and creators are in on the hype, that is when we have a great time. For instance, I can’t wait for Umaru season two, so I want to retweet messages from the official account, I want to support them with a bluray purchase, that sort of thing.
    I hope to support The Last Birdling in any way I can, so today, I have put together some wallpapers and avatars for gamers to use:

    If anyone decides to support me by using these assets, I am the one who is thankful, not the other way around. You are doing me a massive favor, and in the process, I hope it will help build excitement for that September 1st release.
    Gamers want flexibility these days. Maybe you want the logo in a different position, or perhaps gone altogether. Depending on where your icons are positioned, you may also prefer the character(s) to shift left or right. To cater for this, I have included separate elements in each wallpaper for you to adjust as needed:

    These wallpapers are available in the highest available res. Even if you extracted those assets from the game, they will not be available at this size. Hopefully at least one of them will suit your tastes.
    All right, here is the pack:
    http://birdling.invertmouse.com/birdlings-media-pack.zip
    As usual, I hope you may consider wishlisting and/or joining our Steam community:
    http://store.steampowered.com/app/629430/The_Last_Birdling/
    Thank you!
  3. InvertMouse

    Ever since Unhack 1, I have featured digital artbooks for my Steam releases, and The Last Birdling will be no different. I want to give you a preview today, and I also wish to detail some of the lessons I have learned through the past five years.

    Above are several pages from Cursed Sight’s artbook. As you can see, the layout is similar to the artbook from Unhack. My websites also share the same template across projects. Unhack 2 and The Last Birdling feature a new template, while past projects use an older layout. I create both these websites and artbooks on my own, so I make use of templates to speed up development time.

    My artbooks never feature story summaries. If you have taken the time to open these artbooks, I want to reward that effort with some new knowledge. Behind the scene processes, mistakes I have made, things along those lines.

    I put Unhack 2’s artbook together during a trip, and I spent all of my hotel hours on those pages. Every time I read through the artbook, I would spot one new spelling mistake, or perhaps phrases that were awkward to read. Before you know it, a couple of days have already gone by. Even if all the assets are available, an artbook is not something we can cobble together a day before release.
    And now, here are some preview shots of The Last Birdling’s artbook:

    As usual, there will be character art, CGs and background illustrations available. Every finalized artwork will come with a piece of commentary.

    On top of that, just like with Unhack 2, I will include all the sketches used throughout the project:

    I never used to include roughs, because I wanted to show these artworks at their best. Then one day, I read a review for one of my artbooks, and it complained about the lack of sketches. That made me realize how foolish I had been. When I am a fan of other games, I always want to see the drafts, so why would it be different for anyone else? I had failed to think from the players’ perspective, but thanks to that review, I was able to make the switch.
    As usual, I hope you may consider wishlisting and/or joining our Steam community:
    http://store.steampowered.com/app/629430/The_Last_Birdling/
    Seven weeks to go! Thank you.
  4. InvertMouse
    Hi everyone! The journey is over, and at last, I can announce The Last Birdling’s release date. Here it is:



    September 1st, 2017! The Last Birdling’s Steam page can now be accessed:

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/629430/The_Last_Birdling/

    Recently, I have started to follow upcoming games that I want to keep on my radar. If you are willing to do the same for The Last Birdling, I would be so grateful. The “follow” and “add to your wishlist” buttons are available on the Steam page. I will be active on the community board, so I hope to hang out with you there.

    As the release date approaches, I plan to post a new article every week. These articles will be available on the Steam page as well as my Facebook, Tumblr and all the other usual suspects. My social media links can be found here:



    http://invertmouse.com

    I am thankful to those who messaged in to say they fell in love with Bimonia and Tayo after the demo. After hundreds of development hours, those two have grown lives of their own. Once the game is released, I hope their story can be shared with as many people as possible.

    Thank you!
  5. InvertMouse
    Backgrounds are sometimes overlooked when we play visual novels. I for one am guilty of this, so today I would like to, well, I guess you can say repent.
    When you have multiple illustrators, there is always a chance your art styles will clash. The easiest solution, of course, would be to feature a single artist in your project. In reality, however, other concerns come into play. Schedules, motivation, workload—there are many factors to juggle.
    In The Last Birdling, I have opted for a relatively safe route. That is, to feature different artists for the backgrounds and characters. Since these elements are quite separate, it makes clashes less likely.
    Tooaya is The Last Birdling’s artist, while Juliestorybored is our background illustrator. As the assets trickled in, we first put together a test to make sure the elements fit:

    Lighting changes based on the time of day, so we must have all our bases covered:



    Once the test is complete, we can proceed with production:


    I prefer not to use language like “my team” or “my artist”. Once someone joins the team, we are in this together. When it was time to design Tayo’s village, Julia took the lead and did a great job:

    The Last Birdling has been in production for two years. During that time, I often study other visual novels for inspiration. The Starcraft VN caught my interest back when it first released. I was particularly awestruck by the city nightscape that animated into place:

    My previous project, Cursed Sight, featured backgrounds painted by the talented Tooaya. However, none of them animated during the game:



    As I learn from other creators, I apply those lessons into future projects. In The Last Birdling, I have coded CGs and backgrounds that contain parallax animations, which work especially well for long distance shots:

    Sometimes I am tempted to say my ideas are my own. If I ever claim that in the future, you can call me out for being a liar. I am a fan as much as anyone, so I will always be a student first.
    Thank you for reading!
  6. InvertMouse
    Hi everyone . I have just revamped Unhack 2's website:
    http://unhack2.invertmouse.com
    I hope you like what is in there, and for your convenience, here is the features list:

    A more mature story:
    Unhack 1 was created in 2012, so as a student of the craft, I like to think my skills have improved since then. I am, of course, also a bit older now. While Unhack 2’s characters are still an energetic bunch, I believe the cast goes through more of a mature journey this time around.

    Exploring the human VS AI dilemma:
    AI will play a bigger role as the years go on, so this is a good time to explore some of the questions involved. What does it mean to be human, anyway? Is it possible for AI to understand how it feels to be us? I fell in love with the topic during my research for this sequel, to an extent where I would like to explore these issues again in the future. To avoid being preachy, Unhack 2 is still very much entertainment first.

    Puzzle gameplay:
    While story takes the lead this time, puzzle gameplay does make a return in Unhack 2. In the original game, players had to constantly pause between slots to read the dialogue, which in retrospect was not the best mix of narrative and gameplay. This is why the elements are separated in Unhack 2. I want to explore other methods in future games, so I hope we can go through this journey together.
    Though the puzzles are smaller in scale this time, they are in some ways more complex. Let’s see if unhackers are ready for the challenge. Please note the puzzles can be skipped for those who wish to focus on the narrative.

    More art featuring Rosuuri:
    My budget and experience were limited back in Unhack 1, so I was unable to feature the number of artworks I really wanted. In this sequel, I am able to showcase more illustrations (most of which contain spoilers, which is why they are not shown on this page). Our artist this time is Rosuuri. Her works are well-known in the community, and since she is one of the best around, there is a good reason for that.

    3D-rendered backgrounds:
    Due to budget constraints in Unhack 1, I was unable to include proper background illustrations. Helen “Tayola” Schwieger is our 3D background artist in Unhack 2, and she has put together a collection of renders for us to enjoy throughout the game. These 3D backdrops fit our digital theme nicely.

    Brainfed returns as the composer:
    (Unhack 1 album art by Hybridmink)
    Brainfed (Matt Hamm) provided a fitting soundtrack for us in Unhack 1. He has graciously given his time again for Unhack 2, and thanks to him, this sequel contains another soundtrack that belongs in the Unhack universe. Several tracks may even include nostalgic references to the original title.
    * * *

    Unhack 2 can be purchased on Steam here:

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/444170/Unhack_2/
     
    And, of course, the original game: 

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/340800/Unhack/
    Thank you so much!
  7. InvertMouse
    I would like to begin by quoting from Akashic Records: Case Studies of Past Lives:
    “During Lemurian times, we referred to the different kingdoms as The Wolf People, The Bird People, and so on.”
    (Source: http://akashicrecordsreadings.blogspot.com.au/2011/07/hummingbirds-speak.html)
    Back in 2005, I worked on a story that required me to learn about Lemuria as well as Atlantis. That was how I found out about the Bird People. Myth or history? No one knows, but I used this knowledge as a loose inspiration for The Last Birdling.
    Here is artist Tooaya’s sketch of Bimonia:

    Once Bimonia came to life on paper, plenty of questions surfaced as a result. Why would the Birdlings and humans speak the same language? Where did they get those clothes from? At the start of our tale, these two races have already shared a long history. While no one enjoys info dumps, there should at least be hints to these answers.
    Tooaya brought up some excellent questions as well. If Bimonia’s wings are too big, wouldn’t she be crushed by her own weight? Since Birdlings need to carry that extra load, how would that affect their height? Perhaps ironically, a fantasy setting is the one place where we cannot explain things by magic.

    Visual novels feature sprites that can be reused throughout the script. That said, it is important for the characters to be expressive, preferably never showing the same face for more than a few lines.
    Or in Tayo’s case, have a change of clothes:

    I started Persona 5 recently. Ann and Ryuji have been in school uniforms thus far, so when they show up in casuals, my engagement level goes up because of the fresh look.

    In Cursed Sight, we followed Gai and Miyon from childhood to adolescence. The pattern repeats in The Last Birdling, and while this is for story reasons, it also provides an opportunity to showcase new sprites.

    Though it can be hard to notice, Sasa does in fact visibly age in the story, too. In retrospect, I should have been more courageous with how much she changes.
    Out of all the characters, Bimonia’s mother provided the most challenge:

    Guys, this is where I need to make a confession. The above sketches are fine, especially that one on the right. Instead, we settled on this design:

    Why? Because it is the reality of production. When we present the Birdling mother in a screenshot, she should command respect and not look too dishevelled. While none of my games so far have adult content, by no means am I some snob in a fight to create “real art”. The realities of character attractiveness, especially the main cast, affect me also.

    To finish up, we had to determine how tall each character is compared to the rest of our cast:

    I want to save the surprise, so some of these characters have been greyed out. Since the Birdlings are physically superior, let’s offset that by making them shorter than most humans. Airin is in fact the tallest character in The Last Birdling. Tayo is taller than Bimonia even as a child, so she is on her way to carry her mother’s tradition.
    Thank you for reading!
  8. InvertMouse
    On The Last Birdling’s website, I noted the story will feature 21 decisions and 5 endings. Today, I would like to provide transparency on what that means, and this is also a chance to discuss about the topic in general.
    The Last Birdling represents all the lessons I have learned in the past 5 years as InvertMouse. By lessons, I of course really mean mistakes. Some games from my portfolio were kinetic, while others had different decision tree systems.
    Here is the approach I used in Cursed Sight:

    Note: Images are from early scenes and not actual endings.
    Every decision is vital and leads down vastly different paths. This is the ideal approach on paper, but in reality, it can rapidly result in scope creep:

    While this method can spiral into a production disaster, it is manageable if the branches are cut off early enough. In Cursed Sight, they were trimmed too early in retrospect. As my experience grows, I would like to explore this system again and produce larger scaled titles.
    To avoid scope creep, I went with this awful style for Without Within:

    Every choice is a trap that leads to a bad ending. I tried to show one wrong decision can destroy your dream, but if it results in a poor experience, nothing can excuse that.
    Many games boast about having x number of endings. 10 endings, 20 endings, 30 endings. Most of the time, they are usually quick bad ends like in Without Within. It is easy to misinterpret and end up disappointed as a player.
    On The Last Birdling’s website, you will see this decision tree diagram:

    The diagram lets gamers know most of the story is linear, and it branches into five different endings during the final scene. This approach allows me to respect the players’ time and not sink resources on fluff branches.
    Let’s zoom in on one of the branches:

    Whenever you encounter a decision point, there is an opportunity to obtain a “feather” for Bimonia or Tayo. These feathers are counted at the end to determine your ending. Whenever you collect a feather, you will see a marker appear on screen:


    Decision points will lead to different events, but these paths will always merge back into the main narrative. On top of this system, references are peppered throughout the script to acknowledge previous choices you have made.
    When we play visual novels, we often want to know which path we are heading into. Virtue’s Last Reward, for instance, featured a flowchart system that would benefit most titles. In the past, games have obscure secrets so companies can sell strategy guides. Those days may be behind us, so we want to give players as much control as possible.
    In The Last Birdling, gamers can open this progress tracker:

    Through this screen, you can see which endings you have obtained, how many feathers you must collect for each one, and also how many feathers you can collected so far. This progress tracker allows you to see every ending without the need for a guide.
    Players are especially savvy these days. I often think in terms of code rather than the stunning graphics on my screen, and I know there are many like me. If most of your endings are in fact instant deaths, should you boast about it? If your decisions mean nothing in the end, let’s be transparent.
    Thank you for reading!
  9. InvertMouse


    My upcoming project, The Last Birdling, alternates between Bimonia and Tayo’s perspectives. Today, I would like to explore some of the details behind this system. Your feedback is most welcome, and if you know of other visual novels that handle multiple viewpoints in a fresh way, please let me know!
    The Last Birdling is written from a first person perspective, so the viewpoint character’s personality will come through in everything she observes. Her inner thoughts, reactions, they are all distinctly her own. On paper, or on screen in our case, this means different word choices as well as sentence structures.
    That said, I dislike making characters act a certain way just to showcase their uniqueness. If you study writing books, you will often be advised to make every character sound different, to a point where you can tell who is speaking even without dialogue tags. Now, imagine a group of your friends. If you closed your eyes, and they all had the same voice, would you be able to tell them apart? I for one would have a hard time. For me, being truthful takes priority above all rules.
    Since we are in a visual medium, we may as well take advantage of that when it comes to perspective shifts. Notice how the UI changes to green in the screenshot below:


    This means we have switched to Tayo’s perspective in chapter two. The same concept applies to decision points:



    In the world of traditional novels, shifting perspectives mid-scene is ill advised. To avoid disorienting readers, we want to jump into different heads during a scene or chapter break. The Last Birdling does not feature chapter titles, but there are end of scene cards to signal a perspective change:


    This introduces several concerns in terms of programming. For instance, if players return to the previous scene, will the UI switch back as expected?

    What about loading another saved game mid-session? I hope all the common scenarios have been addressed. We will see if players spot any edge cases after the game’s release.
    So why would we alternate between perspectives? Once readers recognize the pattern, it is no longer something they need to worry about, which makes for an ideal reading experience. If the view changes went as follows:
    Bimonia, Bimonia, Tayo, Tayo, Tayo, Tayo, Bimonia, Tayo, Bimonia, Bimonia
    And so on, gamers would stumble every time we reached a new scene. We want to set up roadblocks for our characters, not our players.
    To round things off, The Last Birdling follows the journeys of Bimonia and Tayo from childhood to adolescence. By the time these two reach their teens, they have suffered through an awful lot. To reflect both their physical and mental shifts, the UI will also update accordingly:


    Find out more about The Last Birdling via:
    http://birdling.invertmouse.com
    The website contains a demo version, which illustrates how the perspective changes work. Please feel free to have a look.

    To finish things off, I am happy to say The Last Birdling has been approved for publication on Steam several hours ago. Thank you so much for your support!

    Hope to see you again soon .
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