How the theme song of LUNA was born

By  WangQian

When I started to compose for LUNA, things didn't go well in the beginning. We had to contact each other online, since Betty lived in London and I was in Shanghai. And that caused some communication issues, such as my failed attempt at making a song based on what I felt about the game demo before I even knew anything about the background story of LUNA. However the subject I wanna talk about here is how the music originally sounded like and how it became the music you hear in the game now.

The first try I made was actually not the theme song, which may be strange because usually people tend to compose a theme song based on the story at the beginning. However I made a song just based on what I felt after playing the first level of the demo. (see image on the left) And actually that doesn’t sound like LUNA at all if we listen to it now. Well, this is also part of music composition and I should accept it. As a result, that pushed me to talk to Betty about the background story of LUNA.
 

As you can see it is totally different from what LUNA sounds like now, because it doesn’t match the world of LUNA. So I learned more information about LUNA after I talked to Betty. In this game, the deeper the player explores, the more mysteries begin to unfold themselves, and the world of LUNA seems to start to reveal more of the dark side along with the magical atmosphere. And only when the player gets deep into the story, the true relationship between the characters can be truly realized. Without revealing too much about the story, I have to say, it was really the emotion and relationship between the characters, the trust and the conflict, that touched me. Along with this information, I made the first piano version of a theme song that matched the game more than the former one. Here it is.

Well, this sounds like Debussy, is it? Yes, I thought the story happened not so long ago, more like something that is magical and dreamlike. However Betty told me that this story should happen much earlier than this, even before everything. As for that, she gave me a suggestion that the music theme could just start from 29’’, which matched the game feeling very well and I definitely agreed with that. Later on Betty sent me a very early stage of a trailer video for me to compose with. I started  working on this video immediately without even finishing the theme song at that time. And that caused another problem as follows.

Thank God this is not the final version of the trailer. This is another exact example of composition for the whole video without finishing a theme song. Very wrong move. Since I just allowed the video to lead me without knowing what kind of song I wanted to compose. That, of course, was not approved. After many meetings and lots of discussions with Betty, we agreed that there should be a theme song representing LUNA. It should tell a story about this magical world. It should happen in a very early time, almost ancient, where magic would exist. It should pass the emotion of the close bond between the characters to the audience. So I slowed down, took a very careful thought about what I really wanted to express to the players about LUNA. And then a demo of piano version came out.

After that, things were getting better and better. Everything just took place naturally step by step. We decided to use this theme song in the trailer video. And finally here comes the real birth of the theme song.

It was born with rather cautious considerations than a glimpse of light. I never believed that compositions could burst out of inspiration. It never worked that way at least for me. It must always come out of hard thinking and long processes of polishing. The deeper you think, the more work you put on, and the better the composition will be. And please never make anything before having many very clear discussions with the creator! Or you would make something that you would rather bury at the bottom of the darkness until the end of the world.

Devlog #7 Explorer and the Aborigine

New level development 

The gameplay mechanics of this new action-based level is almost ready. However, as the mechanics of this level are quite different from those of the other point-and-click levels, it has taken lot longer for us to work out a suitable design. Plus, we’ve introduced a new action for the character, and the artwork of this level has also gone through several changes in order to keep the gameplay experience smooth enough. Therefore, as you can see from the screenshot below, the bugs that can come along with all this new stuff are just borderline ridiculous.

And For the past few months, while we were developing the levels which heavily involved the dual characters system, we realized that we can not use one single control system for both of the characters. So on the programming side, we are now working on separating them into two.

In order to explain why both of the characters should not share one control system, we’d like to explain a little bit more about each character’s role in the world and how they might affect the gameplay design. 

Explorer and the Aborigine

The main character, our young boy, was designed as the classic “explorer”. You and him start the game together with the same very limited understanding of the surroundings. But along with the development of the story, the more you two learn and discover, the stronger the sense of connection and achievement can be developed between you and the character. This “emotional bond” is actually what we hoped to achieve the most during the game design. So based on this purpose, the gameplay experience will be more important than the action design itself. So far our main character has already got almost 25+ sets of animations, which is more than enough to cover most of the gameplay needs.  

This was the system we followed, and it worked fine until recently, because we do not just have only one character. And their role in the game are really quite different.

Past the first half of the story, the player will soon find out that our secondary character has an unique ability, which will make it more like an aborigine of the LUNA world or a guide that was sent with an unknown mission or purpose. So in order to emphasize this important role difference, both the action and gameplay that are related to it have to be designed differently. 

If we keep adding new features and action sets into the old system, it might cost more serious bugs in the future and is clearly not the best solution. So our programmer is now working on making sure the old and new features can be played smoothly. It’s not an easy task and it is taking longer than what we expected, but we believe the future progress will definitely benefit from this, so no shortcuts.  

Finally, some animation to let everyone know we are still alive and working hard on LUNA.

                                                             chomp chomp chomp

                                                            chomp chomp chomp

Devlog #5 Storyboard & Gameplay Design Refinements

Is that you? 

During last three weeks, the Team has finally met each other in person for the first time. The four of us have been working together closely for about one year, yet still we found it was hard to put the face and voice together when we met. It was a very interesting experience.

 Thanks to our friend Fred, we finally had some co-working picture. From left to right: Betty(Artist), Fox(Manager), W.Guan(Programmer) and W.Qian(Musician)

Thanks to our friend Fred, we finally had some co-working picture. From left to right: Betty(Artist), Fox(Manager), W.Guan(Programmer) and W.Qian(Musician)

Although in this day and age long distance communication has become a common way of co-working, especially usual for indie teams, still there is nothing more productive than a real time, face-to-face communication. This has indeed become both an advantage and disadvantage for many indie teams. We’ve avoided the high cost of renting a studio or buying office equipment, but sometimes we really do suffer from the feeling of isolation and sense of disconnection, due to not being able to see your teammates very often.

So during the two weeks of intense meeting this month while our artist was in China, we had the opportunity to sort out quite a few important gameplay and design issues that troubled us before. 

Storyboard

The draft storyboard for the four major cinematic clips during the game is almost completed. We now have the visuals of the key events, locations and characters’ background stories. This will help our musician to work in advance on some new music compositions. It is important that the visuals be delivered to everyone as complete as possible. It might seem like just the artist's job, but the mood and emotion of the story can help other teammates to have a more complete understanding of the game. Everything needs to be shared and discussed.

                                                                   some of the storyboard drafts

                                                                  some of the storyboard drafts

                                                           Example of one completed storyboard

                                                          Example of one completed storyboard

Gameplay and design refinements

According to the previous work plan, during the meeting we have finalized the theme for all the rooms (levels). Each room now has its own function and content. Also, we don’t want to put any objects that don’t relate to the environment of the room, just for the sake of the puzzle. As much as we don’t want to have the puzzles standing out too much from the theme, we also have to consider the feedback we’ve received often from players, that no one likes to click through the entire screen to find a clickable object. This could be one of the biggest challenges in the design part.

Furthermore, in order to provide a smoother gameplay experience, we are also going to re-adjust the difficulties between levels. For example, in the early stage as the story still remains a mystery, the puzzle difficulty curve might be a constant upwards curve.Then during the middle stage, as the puzzle requires more complicated cooperation between characters, we are then going to adjust the difficulty curve or even reduce it a bit. Meanwhile as more cinematics kick in, the story and all the mysteries will be slowly revealed. We even would like to break the puzzle pattern completely at this stage, in order to switch players’ attention more towards the storytelling rather than just focusing on the puzzles. In one word, we hope LUNA will not only be experienced as a series of puzzle challenges, but rather an interactive story, delivered as a game.

Along with the gameplay details of the levels being continuously refined, we are going to start optimizing some old problems, such as the walk cycle and oversized texture issues. 

The birth of LUNA

By Beidi Guo

Back in 2006, during the last year of my University, I was working day and night restlessly on the final project, a short animation film called  "The Plenilune" . A story about a man who piloted the moon as a spacecraft and the long distance relationship between him and his family because of this special duty. ( see screenshots below )

Almost a decade later, I find myself still often thinking about that film, or more precisely , thinking about that world. Although it was a student film,  it still attracted me with its mundane and also mysterious atmosphere. I felt it was a job uncompleted. Seemed like it had a great potential to become something much more than that. I felt like something was already there, I just happen to discover it. And questions just keep popping out, like: Who build this tower? Who lived there before? Why are they able to control the moon? What does the moon mean to the people there? What is the history or legend of this world? .... The more I think the more I realized the possibility behind that simple idea.

Mean while as a gamer who specially like puzzle game , sometimes I enjoy just doodling some puzzle ideas myself. One day after some draft sketch ( see image blow) I suddenly thought  " What if I try to make a game based in that unfinished world that I was longing to develop for years, how about that? " Because every time I played a great games such as : Machinearum, Gorogoa, Year walk, Limbo etc. (Oh, can't forget to mention my all time favorite "The Neverhood" by dreamworks from the 90's, also my first computer game experience ever) The desire of making my own game just grown a bit stronger. So now I know where the story gonna take place, why not turn it into a proper project?

 Early game concept art & Character design

So I shared my thoughts with my game developer friends Fox and Guan and they both showed strong interest in it.  Then half year later, while the story and research almost completed, followed by the joining of  the 4th member , Qian the sound artist, the production of the game officially stated. Now we are 5 months into the production,  we are hitting the first quarter mile stone and thinking to launch a kickstater campaign to make it go further.

However I still often be amazed how that little idea has grown, the story has become so complicated. Now we even have some charming characters who wonders in the game just like they have always belong there. Seems like it's not us who created the world, rather we are just lucky to help the world reveal itself.