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Séance: The Other Side 

A VR Multiplayer Paranormal Mystery Puzzle Game


Preliminary Creative Direction Document

CMF Experimental Development Application.

Submission for May 2015 Development Funding Deadline

© Seance & Technology Inc. - Fernando Medrano, Mike Peredo, Jean Kindratsky

Table of Contents


Summary

Short Description

Long Description

Aesthetic Direction

Visual Direction

Sound Design

User Interface and User Experience Design

User Experience

User Interface

Interaction Methods

Primary UI models

Multiplayer VR Interaction Extensions

Game Design

Overview

Setting

The ‘Lobby’ - Talking Board / Cabinet of Curiosities

The Invitation / Calling Card

The Seance Table

The Memory Palace

Story Artifacts

The Hourglass

Gates

Gates are objects that persist through time and link different astral locations and time periods together. Players can pass through the gates to other narrative scenes, as individuals or as a team. Some gates are site specific and endure through time, others can be collected if appropriate skills and/or amplifiers are used.

Trapped Souls

Character Types

Amplifiers

Astral Traveling and Chained Visions

Skill Upgrading

The Living and the Dead

Gameplay Walkthrough

Game Flow

The Project Team

Reference and Bibliography

Summary

Short Description

Séance: The Other Side (working title) is a moody, genre-defining Multiplayer VR paranormal mystery puzzle game. Play one of a number of characters attending a séance – and unravel the mystery of a spirit who is trapped between the world of the living and that of the dead.

Long Description

Séance: The Other Side is a Virtual Reality game played on VR headsets such as Oculus, Vive, Samsung Gear-VR, Google Cardboard, and Apple iOS-based devices.

 

Multiple players attend a séance and discover their enhanced psychic abilities. Working cooperatively to unravel the mystery of the spirit that haunts them, they astral travel through scenes of the spirit’s life, collect clues to store in their memory palace, and slip through gates of time and space.

Players are linked through real time voice chat which becomes tenuous when they split up to follow narrative threads. They must explore quickly and return to the séance before the hourglass runs down and they become trapped in the spirit world.

Examining their gathered clues, players apply their psychic skills to hear, see, or connect the story that pervades these artifacts. Can they solve the mystery of the haunting spirit and release it from its earthbound purgatory?


Aesthetic Direction

Anxiety and relief are the two poles of emotional responses we are aiming to invoke in the player. As the player traverses through the game solving the various chain puzzles, curiosity is their main emotional driver, along with fellowship with their teammates.

It is languid, tense, creepy and scary. This game, however, does not belong in the realm of Horror which creates much of its frightful aesthetics by depriving the audience of any sense of control. We do not want the players to feel fright as we feel that it cheapens the gameplay experience especially in a VR context. A little fear, however, is a good ingredient to create tension, anxiety and motivation.

In this game, the players will have situational control so they can escape to safer ground if they start to feel too much fear. We will, however, employ game design tactics such as time pressure, red herrings, and communication breakdowns to enhance player anxiety.

Our art direction, game design, and sound design will all work in concert to achieve an internal player narrative that is both anxious and ultimately satisfying.

Visual Direction

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Collage: Visual Direction Reference

The game’s art direction is a form of stylized “filmic” realism that borrows from the rich traditions of horror fantasy films. Colour palettes are muted, limited, and a bit cold. Mist and shadows will add atmosphere and tension. We will simulate familiar “filmic” effects using the Unity 3D game engine and special shaders such as:

We will use dramatic lighting to:

Character designs and environment designs are realistic but modified slightly to exaggerate key elements that are linked to narrative or mood. We can achieve even more exaggeration with the use of simulated lens effects.

The séance table, astral visions, astral travel, and other such paranormal activities are highly hallucinatory game contexts and will present opportunities for unique visual treatments. We will also be using wispy particle effects to create atmosphere, to evoke ghosts, and to enhance out of body experiences. The game’s VR context also provides us with opportunities to experiment with new visual design techniques.

Sound Design

The primary goal of the sound design is to invoke and modulate emotional responses in the player. The sound design will employ conventional techniques, such as the use of foley effects and music scoring, as evocative tools.

The musical score will be sparse: simple melodies played on solo piano, solo viola, highly effected synthesizers, and the like. The melodies and the spatial ambience will change depending on game and player state. For example, tempo can increase and ambience can change (e.g. increasing amount of reverb) to depict or to invoke a sense of urgency.

We will also use innovative audio filtering effects and binaural audio to extend our sound design toolset. To enhance the level of anxiety, for example, we can use:

User Interface and User Experience Design

User Experience

Being in an astral dream state is the primary mode of player experience. From the séance table, the game will lead the player through the narrative primarily through “astral” means - feeling disembodied and dissolving from one location and rematerializing in another; or viewing a key event in a hallucinatory experience.

To enhance the sensation of disembodiment, we will use combination visual design and audio design techniques that we discussed in previous sections – such as audio filter effects, full screen distortion effects, and others.

Most of the actual exploration will be limited to gaze – being able to look around and find clues and experience the paranormal statically from their chairs. The players are, for the most part, limited in their ability to locomote, but will have some mobility and is able to walk or float within some locations. The limited range of locomotion may actually help solve the common VR problem of player nausea.

When players become trapped souls in the spirit world their method of interaction will be different than that of the ‘living’ players. They will primarily need to communicate through the talking board, spirit trumpet and in some cases, possession of the living players. For example, to move the planchette on the talking board they would focus on one side of it to nudge it in a specific direction. They could drift closer to a living player to whisper in their ear, etc.

User Interface

The game’s unobtrusive UI design will be complementary to the immersive astral dream state user experience. As much as possible, we will use objects in the game world to communicate changes in game state to the player, not intrusive HUD elements or menus that tend to break the immersiveness. In-game objects with paranormal properties are key UI elements that we describe in the Game Design section of this document.

Interaction Methods

Our designs innovate and extend the conventions of exploration-based narrative games. We will use leading edge VR interaction methods such as ‘gaze targeting’ (where the user points to an object to select and manipulate it), ‘gesture recognition’ (where the user’s hand gestures are captured by the headset’s front facing camera), and ‘multiplayer VR interaction’ (where we innovatively capture multi-user input to enable new collaborative VR interaction techniques).

Primary UI models

Our primary user interface models come from the diegesis theory of game UI design:

Using the game’s diegetic user interface elements, the player and avatar can interact with the system through visual, audible or haptic means providing a more immersive and integrated experience. Adding a glow effect to key objects or making spirits visible while the player is in a paranormal state is an example of this technique.

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Diegetic UI example: adding glow to key in-game objects

We will use Spatial UI elements when there’s a need to break the narrative in order to provide urgent information to the player. The various paranormal objects (outlined in the Game Design section) are variants of this type of UI element. The hourglass that acts as a timer hovering over the players and some of the special paranormal objects (described later in the Design Section) have both diegetic and non-diegetic/spatial characteristics depending on the game context. For example, the Memory Palace acts as both an in-game spatial UI object and a metaphorical diegetic element when the player is away from the séance table.

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Spatial UI example: the hourglass game timer

Multiplayer VR Interaction Extensions

The additional complexities of multi-player and VR will require us to reimagine and redefine conventional user interactions. Object selection, for example, can be implemented simply with ‘gaze targeting’ where the players have to gaze at the object they want manipulate - but extended to multiple players. Some other example interaction extensions in our UI design include:

Game Design

Overview

Séance: The Other Side is a multiplayer co-op game experience for VR. The players assume the role of a medium and work together to solve a given mystery.

Setting

The Hanged Man, our experimental first narrative, is set in the Canadian prairies, during the Great Depression. Future titles will take advantage of Canadian locales and adapt and/or fictionalize events and hauntings of the past. Story settings might include places and time periods such as Cumberland, British Columbia during the Coal Rush; St. Catherine’s, Ontario, during the building of the Welland Canal; and Emerald Lake Lodge, in Yoho National Park, at the turn of the century,  

The ‘Lobby’ - Talking Board / Cabinet of Curiosities

The talking board and planchette provide the base user interface. Customized cards in the style of a tarot deck signify story titles available within the game. As titles accumulate, the cards converge into a stacked deck, which can be shuffled and cut. Up to three titles can be laid out on the board to select from. Alternately, a Cabinet of Curiosities will contain various objects that are each linked to a title. Selecting an object, selects the game. Each object or card indicates how many players are required to play and indicates the number of players ready to start that story.

The Invitation / Calling Card

An invitation, handwritten with fountain pen, and an embossed calling card for a Seance Circle appear on the talking board or within the cabinet. The player may use the invitation to invite friends or select the calling card to be matched with remote players.

The Seance Table

Round, made of wood, polished and honed by use and imbued with psychic energy. The table serves as the focal point for the energy of the sitters, objects and spirits. This is where the players find themselves upon entering the game. It is the primary location that anchors all the gameplay.

The Memory Palace

This is a mental construct that the psychics use to store and access objects they have observed in their astral travels. The memory palace is 3D space that they can navigate inside while they are sitting around the séance table. When they ‘capture’ an object it is added to their memory palace. Looking at the object displays a summary of shared information that they know about the object.

Story Artifacts

Artifacts are physical or, in some cases, ethereal objects that the players can use to discover parts of the story. These are collected during astral travels and stored in the player’s memory palace. Manifestation will place them on the séance table for shared examination. Some artifacts are available at the start of gameplay but most are acquired during astral travels.

The Hourglass

The hourglass is a special artifact associated with astral traveling. It tracks the time available for the current journey and is visible to all players, regardless of their location in time and space. When the hourglass runs out of time, the vision dissipates and the players are returned to the séance table.

Gates

Gates are objects that persist through time and link different astral locations and time periods together. Players can pass through the gates to other narrative scenes, as individuals or as a team. Some gates are site specific and endure through time, others can be collected if appropriate skills and/or amplifiers are used.

Trapped Souls

When players travel through gates in an astral vision, they open themselves up to additional risks. They can only return to the séance table if they are present in the original astral vision when the timer runs out. If they don’t make it back in time they will become Trapped Souls, occupying the same inter-dimensional plane as the spirits. While in this state, they will only be able to communicate with the ‘living’ players through spirit means like the talking board. It will be possible but risky for the other players to rescue them from this state. If all players become trapped souls the game will be lost.

Character Types

Players begin the game as people attending a séance, uncertain what awaits them within and unaware of any psychic abilities. As they play, they discover and amplify the innate psychic powers of their avatar. In the event that a player overextends themselves (e.g. slipping past a gate as the timer runs out / using up their life force, this mechanic is still to be determined) they may fall into a trance, becoming unavailable to their teammates, but can be present as a spirit. In spirit form, they need to learn how to communicate with the living. Their real time voice chat will be available, but faint and distorted, perhaps audible only to the clairaudient.

Players who have successfully solved the game may enter as a spirit to observe. If desired, they can attempt to influence play by communicating with the team through limited means like the talking board.

Amplifiers

Amplifiers are a special objects that the player uses to enhance a particular psychic skill. These are physical objects that can be placed on the séance table or, in some cases, worn on the body. Some amplifiers are available at the start of gameplay and others can be acquired through astral projection trips. When astral traveling, only the individual in possession of the amplifier benefits by receiving skill specific hints. At the séance table, amplifiers reveal information to the entire team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astral Traveling and Chained Visions

When astral traveling, the room around the séance table becomes another location entirely. The avatars become ghostly, and the people in the vision appear as flesh and blood. Players observe and capture objects into their memory palace.

 

Chained Visions mean that the players move from scene to scene within one hourglass duration.

Gates are available within the scene and will transport the players through time and space to another narrative scene. One or more gates may appear at the next scene, and the team may choose to part ways in order to discover as much as possible before the hourglass runs out and the astral vision fades.

Skill Upgrading

If each player has the basic skill of clairvoyance, a skill tree can be used to allow skill upgrades during gameplay. E.g. reaching a key milestone could award skill points to the player. They could choose to use these points to increase their level of a particular skill or to add a new one.

The Living and the Dead

Gameplay Walkthrough

Prior to entering the virtual space, the player creates a profile, including contacts of friends they may wish to play with.

The player then dons his headset and launches Séance. The lobby interface is based on a talking (Ouija style) board. He runs through a quick technical check to ensure that he can speak into his microphone and hear through his speakers.

The talking board changes to show the story selection. Stories are represented by tarot cards that match the title of the mystery. The player chooses a title from the cards on the board, by directing the planchette, using headset tracking to select.

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The other titles vanish and are replaced by a hand written invitation and a calling card to a Séance Circle. These cards provide the player the option to invite friends or be matched with other players by the game.

 

When the minimum number of players have signed in, their avatars appear in the virtual parlour, seated around the round wooden table. Player point of view is first person. The title card lies on the table. The players can look around freely.

The environment fades in around them. They are in an old-fashioned parlour with moonlight streaming through the window. There is a china doll’s head on the table. This is the initial artifact that the players will be working with.

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When one player looks at the doll’s head a small visual portal opens around it, visible to all players. This provides a glimpse into the first astral location.

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As more players focus on the doll’s head, the portal grows larger. When all the players are gazing at this object, the portal expands to surround the table and the first astral journey begins.

The players find themselves in an old farmhouse kitchen. They remain seated around the séance table, effectively observers of the scene that surrounds them. An hourglass floats above the center of the table. The sand is running out.

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As they look around they see a table set for three. A woman has her back to them preparing something by the window. A swing hangs from a tree outside the window. They can hear the sound of a child playing. There is a photograph on the wall. When they look at the photograph, it lights up and a ghostly version of it rushes towards them with a whoosh! If they don’t look at the photograph, after a set time (but before the hourglass runs out), a spirit voice whispers in their ear to look at it. As the hourglass empties, the farmhouse begins to dissolve, revealing the séance room again.

Upon returning from their astral vision, the players are able to access their memory palace. This is a mental construct that serves as an inventory for artifacts and other objects collected in the game. The photograph has been added to the palace. Focusing on it and / or opening the music box will manifest it to the séance table where it can be used to trigger another shared astral vision.mem_palace.png

The players focus on the photograph and the room dissipates and becomes a cemetery. The hourglass is present, once again with the sand running down.  A snowstorm encompasses them, and limits their vision.

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A staggering hulk of a man emerges from the blizzard and stumbles towards them. He clutches the photograph in one hand and a bottle in the other. He staggers and falls into the snow. The snow blankets him, his chest still rising and falling. They examine the scene and capture the bottle for their memory palace, in the same way they collected the photograph. One tombstone nearby emanates a vortex when their gaze passes over it. If a player looks at it long enough he is sucked into the tombstone and vanishes from the scene.

The tombstone serves as a gate to another astral location. Players who go through the gate find themselves surrounded by mourners at a funeral. The hulking man is standing in front of the grave with his head down. He throws the first handfuls of soil into the grave, one on each coffin. When the soil lands on the small white coffin, he covers his face with his hands. Examining the scene, the players can capture the wedding ring from his hand into their memory palace.

As the players progress through the game, they use the same basic mechanics to gather and access artifacts from astral locations. They also gather amplifier objects from some locations which enhance their psychic abilities. For example, when a player obtains and uses the spirit horn they will be able to hear additional information when looking at an artifact. The worn leather gloves will enhance the ability to see connections between artifacts, a key ability for arranging specific groups of objects to unlock new locations.

When players travel through gates in an astral vision, they open themselves up to additional risks. They can only return to the séance table if they are present in the original astral vision when the timer runs out. If they don’t make it back in time they will become Trapped Souls, occupying the same inter-dimensional plane as the spirits. While in this state, they will only be able to communicate with the ‘living’ players through spirit means like the talking board. It will be possible but risky for the other players to rescue them from this state. If all players become trapped souls the game will be lost.

Game Flow

Simplified (mockup) game flow diagram


The Project Team

Séance & Technology  is a new studio founded by video game industry veterans with dozens of AAA game titles to their credit, experienced technical artists and writers with keen interest in the academic study of the culture around the paranormal. The studio carries over successful relationships formed at large, established studios such as Radical Entertainment, Blizzard, Pixar, EA, and others.  

Fernando Medrano, Creative Director 

Fernando oversees the creative direction, development and operations of Séance: The Other Side. He has over 17 years of experience in the video game industry as Art Director, Director of Technical Art and Director of Visual Development at Radical Entertainment (with 20 AAA game title credits); as an Art Director at Tiny Speck developing Glitch a critically acclaimed casual MMO; the Director of Operations at String Theory Entertainment developing Anthymn, a music-based fantasy action game; and as a designer consultant for various game and app projects.

Fernando has a keen eye for talent and has used this ability to start up a number of small indie game studios over the last few years.

Mike Peredo, Producer / Designer

Mike has over 25 years of experience in the computer graphics industry including 14 years in video games. He has worked on AAA console titles at Radical Entertainment and acted as technical lead on the Gemini award winning Aaagh! It’s The Mr. Hell Show. Mike was the producer on titles for Nintendo and Electronic Arts as well as original iPhone games at Koolhaus Games in Vancouver. Since 2011, he has been an independent game developer attending countless game jams and managing virtual teams to produce original content for iOS and the Unity asset store. His company BokBok Books has just released Goodnight Coop for the iPad, an animated interactive children’s book designed to help kids fall asleep.

Peter Courtemanche, Lead Technologist

Peter is a sound artist, programmer, and specialist in highly technical art gallery installations. He was lead developer for 1948, the NFB funded VR experience of Vancouver’s Strathcona created by Vancouver photographer and film maker Stan Douglas with whom Peter has worked many years as a programmer and technician. In this role Peter has designed many unique devices for recording and playing back film, video, re-animated soundtracks, 3D environments, and computer generated images.

Peter often works with home-brew custom technologies that enable artists to explore interesting aspects of sound, video, film, and gadgetry that are not readily accessible through the normal industry interfaces. He likes variety, always trying to explore new technologies and ideas in a way that is inventive and not tied to any particular form or medium. He have worked with numerous artists to create film and video installations, wearables (electronics embedded in clothing and accessories), network-art, sound sculpture, and large scale museum pieces.

His programming skills range from low level embedded systems up to real-time applications for multi-channel networked installation pieces (where several computers have to run in continuous sync for long periods of time).

Jean Kindratsky, Story Development

Jean has been developing a time travel mystery, using text, sound, image, animation, chance and reader choice to forge reader dependent experiential paths through the narrative. She has a keen academic interest as a psychic researcher in the social and cultural aspects of death and the afterlife. She has created a number of art installations at cemeteries all over the city a during All Souls Day. Her interactive children’s book Goodnight Coop, is being released shortly for the iPad.

Chris Ansell,  Marketing and Brand Strategist

Chris has over 20 years of international games marketing experience that has spanned four continents, in which he was responsible for global brand stewardship of franchises such as Prototype, Crash Bandicoot, Scarface, Elder Scrolls Online and World of Warcraft. He is a strategic marketer with unique knowledge of key product-selling ‘drivers’ in both Eastern and Western game markets, spanning ‘Boxed Product’, Mobile and Free-To-Play Business Models. He was directly responsible as Blizzard’s Marketing Manager of Asia Pacific for the highly successful product launch of World of Warcraft in Asia. 

Chris’ expertise in launching game titles makes him an ideal fit for our development, branding, and marketing strategy from inception to post-launch.

Jonathan Paine, Character Designer and Modeler

Jonathan has over 9 years of feature animation production experience and one year in video gaming. He has built 3D characters for numerous Oscar winning and Oscar nominated films at Pixar and Blue Sky Studios. His credits include The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Up, and Ice Age among many others. He is currently in pre-development on some original productions. Jonathan’s deft touch with character designs will ensure quality and uniqueness to our production.

Reference and Bibliography




Séance:  The Other Side: The Hanged  Man 

CMF Experimental Development Application (May 2015) : Creative  Direction Document

© Seance & Technology Inc. - Fernando Medrano, Mike Peredo, Jean Kindratsky

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