This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.
Live Adventure follows a pair of siblings on a platforming adventure. Players control the hopping and grappling of one character while also guiding the camera that's being held by the other character. The player will need to position their cameraman to frame the dangers their platforming sibling will face, having the pair work together to overcome any challenges they run into.
Game Developer sat down with the team behind the IGF Best Student Game-nominated title to talk about the inspirations that old home movies had on the project, what thoughts went into making separate, but connected abilities for the two main characters, and and how making one character into a cameraman brought an interesting element of creativity to the experience.
Game Developer: Who are you, and what was your role in developing Live Adventure?
François Noël: Hi, I’m François Noël, and I was the creative director. I was also a programmer, the narrative designer, and the writer on the project. My work was to bear the creative vision and communicate it to the team and to our external voice actors, sound designer, and voice designer/composer. I also designed and programmed an entire dialog system and other systems with my teammate, Sebastien.
Sébastien Butor: Hey, I’m Sebastien Butor, and I was in charge of gameplay programming, as well as pretty much every technical aspect of the game (or at least trying to handle them). Most of my work on this far-fetched experience was to answer as many game design problematics as possible through prototyping: How do you control two characters at a time in an ergonomic way? Wouldn’t an elevator plant be a cool way to challenge the point of view? What about a grappling hook?! Well, you never know better than when you prototype, and so was my mission.
Alice Fernandez: Hi, I’m Alice, and I was in charge of the characters of Live Adventure, from concepts to the final models. I also lent a hand to the environment team when needed.
Laurène Savary: Hey, I'm Laurène Savary and I was an environment artist on Live Adventure. I made concept art for the environments of the game as well as 3D assets (mostly vegetation). I also did most of the level building in cooperation with the level designers, and the lighting with Alice.
André Rizkallah: Hey I’m André ! I was 3D environment artist on Live Adventure. I made most of the 3D assets on the project and I worked closely with Laurène and her amazing concepts. I also worked with Vincent and Maxence to adjust the visual aspects of the level design.
Othilie Berger,: Hello! I'm Othilie Berger! I was in charge of all the rigging and animation processes for all the characters. With the help of Killian, we worked on the implementation of facial motion capture in our student project.
Thomas Dupriez: Hi, I’m Thomas Dupriez, and I was technical and VFX artist on the project. I was in charge of the shaders and visual effects of Live Adventure.
Killian Gales: I'm Killian Gales, I was the game designer in charge of the 3C (Camera/Control/Characters). I spent most of my time on the project between designing helpers to smooth the general controls, fine-tuning both characters’ movements, and working on the motion capture and animation pipeline in the Unreal Engine.
Maxence du Mesnil du Buisson: Hi! I'm Maxence du Mesnil du Buisson! I was the game and level designer on this project. I was also in charge of designing some puzzles and a lot of traversal phases to make them as fluid as possible for our atypical controller.
Samuel Basset: Hello, I’m Samuel Basset, and I was a level designer and a game designer on the project. I was mainly in charge of designing the puzzles to challenge the player so that they use the strengths of both characters in synergy to overcome obstacles, feeling, through the gameplay, the narrative bond that unites both characters.
Vincent Trinel: Hi, I’m Vincent. I was a level designer and a game designer. I was in charge of every design aspect of the project, working alongside the level designers, artists, and programmers, I supervised the design of every level and mechanic in the game.
What's your background in making games?
Basset: Live Adventure was our graduation project, on which we worked from the end of our fourth year to the end of our fifth year at Supinfogame Rubika. During our five years of studies, we had the opportunity to experiment with many kinds of games: mobile games, pixel art adventure games, and even board games. We made shorter experiences developed over a couple of weeks and longer ones that took months.
Before school, each of us came from diverse backgrounds. Some just finished high school, others came from different fields of studies like cinema, animation, or even sciences. Some were already making games in their free time. We think that all those diverse backgrounds allowed each of us to bring our own touch to the game, but growing together for five years allowed us to learn from each other, giving us a really good synergy that paid out.
How did you come up with the concept for Live Adventure?
Noël: Thinking back to my childhood games like Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter, I really love the dynamic of a duo of characters going on adventures together. I wanted this relationship to be expressed in the story as well as in the gameplay like in the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, where you move two characters simultaneously. By moving both characters, you immediately feel the connection binding the duo.
I also wanted the camera to tell a story. I didn't want to cut the game with cutscenes to get closer to my characters. The camera had to be as close to them as possible so that the player could feel their intimacy. It was while watching family videos, and thinking back to shooting short-films with my friends, that I thought of a handheld camera.
In the end, this is how I came up with the concept. It can be summarized as Jak & Daxter with the controls of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and the point of view of a found footage. Afterwards, the concept evolved throughout our pre-production.
What development tools were used to build your game?
Butor: To be honest, when selecting our technical tools, our main way of thinking was: “How can we make that game as fast as possible?” Like I said before, there was a lot of unraveling to do in order to clarify our intentions and mechanics, so we had to select tools that allowed us to be efficient without losing a lot of time in technical setup or issues. So, we decided to work with Unreal Engine 4 whose built-in tools allowed us to be quick on both gameplay side (blueprints, good physics, character behaviors…) and art side (lighting, foliage, animation…).
Berger: Like Sebastien said, we wanted to do a great game in a short amount of time. Despite the fact that we had only one animator, we tried to incorporate a new fast way to add expression and lip sync in our student project: motion capture. Live Link Face (a motion capture app for iPhone) has allowed us to create a facial rig to create expressions quickly and integrate them in UE4.
What interested you in having one player work through two very different gameplay experiences?
Gales: Actually, players even have to work through three different gameplay experiences depending on their progression in the game.
First, we have the "first person view" moments, where they are controlling Lence on his own, whether in Free Mode to look around or just by changing his position relatively to Reel’s. These moments are meant to teach something very important in Live Adventure: the notion of point of view. In short, as players have full control over the camera, they are the ones who decide which angle to adopt in order to solve any situation. The "Elevator plants'' section is one of those moments, for example.
Then, we have the "third person view" where all the control focuses on Reel. Lence is placed somewhere, most likely on a vantage point, and Reel has to perform some series of actions to help her brother progress though the level. You have a good example of that in the "Bridges sequence" near the waterfall.
And finally, we have what we call (somewhat loosely) our "Second person view" in which both characters have to act in concert. Taking some aspects of both First and Third person view, we can create completely different experiences that can, themselves, offer brand new gameplay situations. In moments using these controls, as they're more complex to get used to, we rely on moments where each character has to work individually to teach individual elements that will be essential to these “second person” controls. These moments are present throughout the experience, especially in traversal phases.
What thoughts went into designing two gameplay experiences that would be different, but connected? How did you make them work well with each other?
Basset: To design the abilities of each character, we first had to decide what the general experience would be. When we started the project, we just knew that there would be two characters, one of which holding a camera which is the point of view of the player. We hadn’t yet decided if there would be combat, or if the challenge would lie in puzzles or platforming.
Once we were set in a general direction, through prototyping and testing, we built the overall narrative structure, as well as the main archetypes of the duo. From that, we tried to give them a gameplay that would match their personalities. Lence, the cameraman, is more calm and prudent, so he can modify the environment with his point of view, but he cannot jump, as doing so with all his equipment that could be dangerous. In contrast, Reel is a hot head. She has lots of mobility perks for jumping around, and exploring. Since she will never leave Lence behind, she can use her grappling hook to bring him back.
As you can see, each character is specialized in one kind of interaction. So, to make the player feel their bond, we created situations where the player needs to combine their abilities to keep going. It was really important that both characters contribute to the progression and that there isn’t one that is just a dead weight that the other one must carry. We wanted to avoid the player resenting one of the characters.
Live Adventure features some fun character designs. Can you tell us about what you wanted to evoke with your characters? How you came up with their designs?
Fernandez: We wanted our main characters to evoke youth and the enthusiasm that often comes along with it. To represent the awe kids often feel towards adults, and their lust for adventure, we designed their outfits like a homemade version of a classic explorer’s. We made the choice to make them both into colorful aliens because of the light tone of the game, and our emphasis on the thrill of discovering a new world.
Reel being the focus of the camera, we had to iterate a lot as we designed her. Because of the freedom we give the player in terms of camera control, she had to be both readable from a distance while still interesting to look at from up close. Because his design was less crucial to the readability of the game, Lence was designed more as a complementary design to Reel. His shapes are contrasting with hers, but they are still linked together with their shared color code.
Berger: As for our protagonists' animations, Reel is a vivid and fun character. We worked on her rig to exaggerate her gestures by maximizing their squash and stretch. Fitting Reel's personality, her 3D model works to fit her cartoonish movements and facilitate their readability from afar.
As for Lence (the cameraman), we needed to recall his presence and importance in the story. That's why we animate his available hand (because the other one is holding the camera) to amplify Lence's feelings so that the player will not forget that they see the adventure of two quirky characters through the camera!
The world itself needs to provide challenges for two different styles of play. What ideas were involved in creating a place that would challenge these two play styles?
Trinel: Our goal was to design the levels to support the narration and make it easier to get involved with the characters and the different emotions felt throughout their adventure.
To achieve this, we designed each level beat to emphasize the cooperation between the characters, since the characters are designed to work in synergy. Each gameplay phase (puzzle or traversal) challenges the player’s understanding of the movement abilities of each character, but also the player’s ability to find the right points of view for their camera.
But several problems come up for this intention. It is difficult to make the player understand when they have to think about a specific camera positioning. Manipulating a camera freely in a 3D space can lead to tons of positioning possibilities. Players are not used to positioning their camera in order to solve a puzzle and/or control their character in a complex situation.
To solve these problems, we designed paths and situations so that the point of view to be adopted seems logical for any obstacle. For example, if the filmed character falls, you have to get closer to the edge with the camera and have a plunging point of view to be able to easily control her.
We also have gameplay mechanics, such as the elevator plant, that support this design intention. We simplified the different possibilities of camera positioning by indicating to the player the right spots to place the camera, but it's up to them to understand how to use the elevator plant to obtain a good height for their camera view.
Basset: To create an environment that would feel natural to navigate with this odd control scheme, and ensure a smooth experience to the player so that they can focus on the narrative, we had to iterate a lot on the levels. Since the control scheme is very peculiar, we couldn’t rely as much on our previous experiences, and we had to do a lot of playtests with a lot of people so that they were not influenced by their previous experience. Indeed, knowing the Live Adventure control scheme makes the game a lot easier, and we wanted to keep the game accessible to anyone.
Can you walk us through the creation of one of the worlds? How you shaped its concept into something that would work with the platforming and camera-operation abilities?
Savary: Overall, we wanted to build a set emulating the player's curiosity, where they could have fun moving and looking around. It's an alien world, so the environment has to look unique, but it must not be too disorienting because the control scheme is already particular, especially at the beginning when the player is still learning how to play.
We wanted both worlds to be identifiable and opposed to each other. One is mainly orange/yellow-colored, with a warm and dry feel. The other is blue/green-colored with a wet and foggy feeling. Both worlds' scale is also very different. Compared to the characters' height, the first one has a "normal" scale and is open to the sky, while everything has a big scale in the hidden forest and the sky is covered by a dense canopy. The hidden forest is unknown, intriguing, exciting, and exotic to the characters, so we wanted the player to feel the same way. The giant-scaled assets also make the player feel small. All of this emphasizes the feel of journey and discovery!
Since the player can move and zoom around with the camera, Reel and every element in the environment must be interesting up close and also readable from afar. We also chose to make big-shaped elements with a clear silhouette to make the environment more easily readable instead of lush vegetation that would have been too noisy.
To help the player progress in levels, gameplay elements are in the opposite color of the overall environment atmosphere. For example, the green forest gameplay elements and highlight points that guide the player are orange or yellow. Our compositions use those a lot as the lighting to drive the player's line of sight. We also used strangely shaped mosaics for the highlight points. Those mosaics are a narrative element in the environment that brings an identity to the ruins of the lost civilization.
du Mesnil du Buisson: To ease the learning of our control scheme, we designed each step of our different worlds with specific challenges. Each challenge brings the player into understanding how the controller works.
Our game experience is based on the will to make the player live an emotional journey. To fit this intention, we divided our levels into micro-levels, or “workshops”. We designed each of them around emotion and a desired intensity. Thanks to those steps, we could analyze the rhythm/flow of our game and make the necessary changes considering our playtest results.
After that, we could generate the macro blocking of our levels. This first blocking allowed us to place our landmarks at the right moments to boost the players' curiosity. And through our playtest, we could review the level design of our puzzles and traversal phases considering the study of the evolution of our control-learning curve.
We had the first version of our blocking fast. However, our iterative process of weekly playtesting followed by level design revisions (sometimes changing the topology of our levels) caused a delay before the beginning of the art process.
Savary: Yes, the schedule was tight, but it was important for the level building to be as clean as possible to make the player feel comfortable while moving around in the level with the camera. We had to communicate a lot between environment artists and level designers to work together as closely as possible and understand each others’ constraints, especially since what we were doing was new and had no prior references.
What drew you to create a play style around filming with a camera? Why did that feel like it would be interesting to do?
Noël: I wanted the camera to fit with the experience. Thinking about the found footage genre in cinema, it felt natural to base our point of view on a camera. It brings several aspects that make our game experience more compelling than a subjective POV.
Firstly, the camera presence implies a direct relationship between the cameraman/director and the actor. By that, I mean it works as a good explanation on why the cameraman (or first-person character) would focus on the actor at all costs. As in MAN vs. WILD, the cameraman follows its actor wherever they go, trying his best to keep them in the frame. This binding also underlines the importance of the synergy of our characters and our game's control scheme.
Also, the camera brings up a powerful narrative aspect of the medium: the will to share memories of our loved ones. In Live Adventure, two siblings are living an experience together. And the camera amplifies this feeling of living a family moment that they wish to remember by recording it on camera.
Moreover, it allows us to use the specifics of how a camera works and amplifies the feeling of being the director of his adventure by framing, zooming, and taking shots of your surroundings. Manipulating a camera also relates to caring about how you frame. And it matches with our intention of pushing the player to find the correct position and angle to progress in the level.
Finally, the camera is an element detached from the characters. As Lence (the cameraman) says about the camera: "It's the best explorer's companion." The camera represents the player/spectator. Following our protagonists' expedition on Lence's shoulder, the player participates as long as the camera shoots. In terms of mise en scène, we thought about scenarios on how that physical camera can bring up compelling moments using the power of framing.
Using a physical camera in our game sparks our creativity. It's inspiring to look over the cinema industry and transcribe cinematographic codes into gameplay experiences.
This game, an IGF 2022 finalist, is featured as part of the IGF Awards ceremony, taking place at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, March 23 (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch).