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Totem Teller - 2016, All Told


As the (rather infamous) year nears a close, we're past due for a Totem Teller update. Such a neglected DevLog. Sad! Since it's been a while, this update will summarize stuff we've achieved since last the log and where we're generally at. A lot of words, as it's partly a catharsis.

Let's dive in!


'Demo' Cavern Lessons

We set an internal milestone for pre-alpha demo build early in 2017. I chose to situate it in our cavern area as a test of discipline - it's probably the most boring, constrictive structural stuff to work with. This area, by design, is also not as inherently open as others.

cave workcave work

cave work

Previously, I'd only built smaller sections of more open areas. Working on the cavern helped me decide a lot about our game flow. Things like interaction density, pathfinding all demanded resolution. Per usual, I arrived at an ideal conclusion after doing it every other way first :)

cave basics

cave basics

cave basics

cave basics

even the undecorated cavern structure can be pleasantly vivid

For now, I've left the cavern a bit of a mess to focus elsewhere. Regardless, that work served to set some goals for all future level design.

Core Interaction & Events

We now have almost our entire interaction + events system in place. This covers most cases for stuff that happens when things get poked in various ways (aka gameplay). Events will expand continually, but for first complete pass on these systems it's pretty comprehensive. Fun to play with too.

cave work

Implementing this is a huge deal, as about 80% of our game mechanics begin with them. It also helped a lot with the writing tasks, as story is written differently depending on methods of delivery.

cave work

The work also encapsulates puzzle-building; though I really hate saying 'puzzles' as it's (another) very subjective term. We're not a puzzles-for-the-sake-of-gating-player game, either. We prefer they exist to support world or story design primarily.

Controls Scheme Evolution

For console platforms (and personal preference for controller), we redesigned our control scheme. This had some unexpected yet positive effects for observation and interaction generally. We support responsive switching between controller or mouse/kb.

Language of Glitch

With all the shader driven glitchy FX at our disposal, visual possibilities are pretty much infinite. Apart from stylization, glitched visuals are intended to support gameplay in specific ways: pathfinding, interaction, feedback for particular events and so on.

There has to be a degree of organization in that apparent chaos. It really helped us to set some further definition/constraints based on what the glitch FX are communicating.

cave work

Character Design

We purposely held off on finalizing any character design (Teller included) as long as possible, to nail down world art style and some key story details. We managed that, so I went back and redesigned the Teller a bit.

We're pushing final character art/animation pass until later in development, so it'll still be a while before new Teller and other characters start being shown fully (some probably not at all), but it was an important step.

cave work

cave work

Writing & "Storybook" Delivery

This is where my main focus continues currently. I don't like diving to deep on writing style while I'm in the midst of it. It's even more abstract a topic than the rest of this stuff :)

I've written an embarrassing amount over the year and thrown away almost all of it a few times over. Now, I'm starting to keep things and actually *use them in the game*. It's big! :D

cave work

When delivering major narrative (with branching choices) via Dialogue UI, we really wanted to capture the simple elegance of a picture storybook. We replaced our existing Dialogue UI with one precisely tuned to emulate that storybook form.

This goal also helped me to be more succinct in my writing -- a good thing for player, visuals and our schedule. Well, except for the vast number of unique "illustration style" shot setups...

Musical Experiments

This year, our composer & sound designer (Kian How) has been refining a thematic piece for the game. It finally reached a point where we can share a bit of it. This piece may not be featured as is, it's more a tonal nucleus. We think it captures the sense of solitary exploration amidst broken beauty quite well.

We'll soon have some further music in game, alongside some initial sfx. We're working on some tools to apply various types of real-time aural distortion to complement our visual glitching.

cave work

Truth is in the Telling

We've been working on the game for a year now, and we're more excited than ever to continue.
That enduring enthusiasm is the most important achievement of the year, I think.

Stay up to date on Totem Teller:

Totem Teller: DevLog - Shader Mastery

Totem Teller: DevLog - Shader Mastery

News 8 comments

Bringing workflow-efficient life and motion to our world via 'Master Shaders' in Unity 3D.


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The art direction and visuals are utterly stunning. Wonderful work!

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Wow. what a lovely project. Absolutely stunning imagery and curious concept! I look forward to seeing more!

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This looks amazing! Absolutely love the design. Can't wait to play it, or at least see more of it in action. :)

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Game music inspired the art and theme of Totem Teller. Quick Demo.


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This artstyle.. just.. wow. The "retelling" concept will be really interesting.

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GrinningPickle Creator

Much appreciated. More updates in the pipe...

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