Reptile Zoo


Terror Chasm 2D Art-

Here we have some new 2D art that I created for Terror Chasm, in preparation for the upcoming release of the alpha demo. One image is promotional, one will appear as part of the download for the game and one serves as updated concept art.

This first picture is a “box art” style image for the game. Although we already have a more simplistic Terror Chasm logo which includes a silhouette of our character Lilly running from the monster plant and over a chasm that we use in a lot of places, I wanted another promotional image that would be more detailed. Specifically, I wanted something that would show the character up close, since I felt that would be more dramatic. The idea for the image itself, particularly the composition, was inspired by the paintings that appeared on classic suspense themed pulp magazine covers that were prominent from the late 1800s up until about the 1950s. I figured that if those types of covers worked so well for selling and sensationalizing horror, mystery and thriller content on the newsstands, then it might work for our game as well. Of course the actual style of the art itself is much more in line with my own contemporary and perhaps “cartoony” sensibility, but I'm hoping to channel at least a little of that lurid pulp magazine feeling in the image.


The second picture is going to appear in the download/loading screen of the alpha demo. It's kind of designed to be a “scene setter” and it's the first publicly available image (I had done a few sketches of it previously) of the exterior of the temple itself. It serves the purpose of giving the player a hint of the context of where all of this might be occurring and indicating what the outside of the building might look like. Plus we just needed an image there, so it made more sense to do something like that than to just have a generic screen with abstract colors or complete blackness. See, it's both creative and functional!



The third picture is an updated version of the character concepts. This one is likely more accurate to what the final characters will be like when the game is complete (this will be a multiplayer game when it's all said and done, remember?). For this Alpha demo we just have a single player experience and so only one of the characters has actually been fully modeled textured and animated for the game. But there will be others, even if some details are subject to change between now and when I actually make them.

- False Prophet

Stages of Terror Chasm-

Here's a brief video summarizing the broad steps of Terror Chasm's evolution. It shows some of the stages of progress, from the basic proof of concept for the game through the pre-alpha version. It doesn't include our most recent updates for our full alpha version, that we will be releasing to the public for free very soon. But it does give some indication of the work that's been put into it thus far and also mentions some of the bigger and most important features that we plan to implement by the time the project is fully released. Of course that will take a little while, but we think it will be very cool once it's done. Not to say that it's not starting to look pretty cool already!

- False Prophet

Terror Chasm Pre-Alpha Testing-

We've just about completed the latest pre-alpha version of Terror Chasm, and we are currently beginning preparations and setting things up to get some testers to try the game. This is significant because it will be the first time that anyone outside of Twisted Jenius has played Terror Chasm and has been in a position to give us feedback on it.

This won't be the kind of testing that involves finding bugs or details of usability, but it will be more of a focus group kind of test, to see what kind of an impression gamers (a.k.a. the types of people that Terror Chasm is made for) have of the game in this early stage. This will give us a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the game, and will help us to determine what aspects of the project will need more time and attention as we move forward with our dark and dastardly development.

- False Prophet


Terror Chasm Development Recap 4: Playable Characters-

Of the major elements of this game, nothing has probably been changed quite as radically from our original plans, as the playable characters have. Right now Terror Chasm is currently in the alpha stage of development, and while we have the foundations for most of the systems and features that will be in the final game, there are a few exceptions to this. One of the most notable, is the lack of multiplayer functionality that will be in the release version of the game. Although we only have one character in there right now (Lilly), Terror Chasm is actually designed to be primarily a four player online co-op game, with the secondary option of also being single player (just in case you hate dealing with other people).

But our original concept was actually for the game to be a 4 v 1 asymmetrical multiplayer style of game closer to other online horror games like Dead By Daylight. The first idea we came up with was to have the four human characters going up against the plant monster, which would also be a playable character. This was our working premise for a little while as we were initially doing the design documents. However, when trying to design the system for how a playable plant would operate, even in theory, we realized that there were some major issues with this. For one thing, to get the plants to act the way we envisioned (being able to rip their way out of the walls as they do now in the game), while simultaneously allowing a player to control them properly, we realized that we would need a completely different user interface system for the person controlling the plant than we would have for the rest of the human players. We came up with several ideas including giving the player controlling the plant a top down view of the level and making their role/gameplay method much more akin to a strategy game rather than the action platforming of the other players. This would allow them to plan out how they were going to attack the human characters as those players moved around the level.

Another idea was to just have the vines have a camera attached to them and the player who is controlling the plant would see everything from the vine's perspective as they're moving through the walls to pursue and attack the other players. This would make the plant's gameplay seem more action oriented, as they would be able to actively go after the other characters in real time, and on their level. Of course to do this we would have to create a system for that player to actually be able to see through the walls to track the other players and that can be very messy and complicated for multiple reasons. Basically, the problem we kept running into with all of these approaches for having a playable plant monster, is that we would essentially have to design a totally separate game for the person playing the antagonist, and then jam it together with the other gameplay of the human characters and hope it works well together.


But the chances of that happening and working out well are pretty slim. We realized that the gameplay style for the person playing the plant would be so radically different from the rest of the game, either no one would want to do it, or it would be so much fun that everyone would want to just be the plant. It would be almost impossible to make it even with the other player's experiences in terms of enjoyment and have it be about as fun to play as the other characters, because the gameplay would be so radically different. In fact we knew there was a good chance it would seem very weird and disorienting to have gameplay that is so utterly asymmetrical as that. With a game like Dead By Daylight it kind of works because the killers operate and run around mostly like the survivors do. But the plant would have to move completely differently, it wouldn't even be vaguely humanoid at all. And even with DBD, one of its most common complaints from its players is lack of balancing between the killers and the survivors. Can you imagine how much worse that might get if the monster had such a completely different gameplay style? As a developer, I don't even like to think about how to try to balance that properly.

In addition to all of this, designing and implementing that kind of gameplay for the plant would essentially double (at least) our development time. And for a small two man studio like ours, that is bad. This is why we decided to scrap the idea of having a playable monster and any type of PvP (player versus player) and just stick with the four human characters as the playable ones, and make the plants completely controlled by A.I. This also eliminates a lot of the balancing issues that you see in many PvP style games. In Terror Chasm, everyone is on the same team and must work together to beat the level. And even if only one player survives and makes it to the end, the entire team gets credit for the win. Cooperation becomes mandatory and essential for victory.


However, ditching the asymmetrical PvP gameplay wasn't the only major change to the playable characters. Their premise and back story have also gone through several iterations. The first idea that we had was that these characters were going to be explorers, going through the temple as the result of a university funded expedition. But we decided that this was kind of boring. As a company that loves villains, we wanted these characters in this Twisted Jenius game to be darker than that. We wanted them to have some edge to them. So instead we decided that they would be thrill thieves who ended up getting mysteriously teleported to the temple after breaking into the wrong house. This concept was mostly inspired by the real life "Bling Ring" who famously stole from many high-end and celebrity homes. I felt this would open the door for more interesting options with character development and make them more amoral and flawed. But not only did this decision make these characters more "edgy", but it also solved a few other problems as well. For instance, I didn't want them to look like the typical explorer style of action hero like Nathan Drake or Laura Croft. Although the kinds of outfits that those characters wear might be very practical for stumbling around dirty jungles and ancient ruins, they don't look very cool to me. I wanted the characters of Terror Chasm to wear something more interesting, and so by having them somewhat obsessed with living the L.A. lifestyle, and then magically and unexpectedly teleported to the temple, I could more easily get away with having them dressed in something closer to high fashion. This also has the added bonus of explaining how they could even have a chance of navigating these traps and obstacles and surviving this situation in the first place; being experienced burglars who know how to get in and out of awkward places where they're not supposed to be.


The four characters are named Skeeter, Lilly, Daisy, and Sharky. However this wasn't the original lineup. Back when they were going to be explorers from a university, the character of Daisy wasn't a part of this. Instead, that character was originally going to be an elderly professor who was supervising the archaeological exploration. This is important from a gameplay standpoint because each of the characters has their own unique skills or advantages that they can add to the team. Lilly is the smallest and lightest and she can balance on things better and fit into places that other characters can't. Skeeter is the tallest and can jump the highest. Sharky is the strongest, and heaviest. And Daisy is the fastest and can jump the longest. But Daisy wasn't in the original plan and the professor character had different attributes. Despite being at a physical disadvantage, the professor was going to be able see and interpret puzzle clues and hieroglyphics that the other characters could not. But much like the problems with the playable plant monster, this presented some major challenges such as having to give the player whose playing the professor a different U.I. than all of the other characters. We could also imagine there would be some serious potential problems with this character having to communicate with the other players quickly and accurately in such an intense and fast-moving game. And once again the gameplay for that character would be very different from the other characters which could create issues with how desirable playing that character would be. One of the advantages of having a lot of game design experience, is that you can see these things coming before you even have to begin actual development and so we didn't waste any time even prototyping a system like that and just scraped the professor character in favor of the speedy Daisy instead. Her gameplay is much more similar to the other characters and of course this worked much better once we changed the premise from university archaeologist explorers, to thrill thieves.


Right now, Lilly is the only character in the game and this version of Terror Chasm that we have is just a single player experience. Part of this is for development purposes (it's easier to set up and test for one player) and the other reason is because we wanted to make sure we had a single player option. But this is designed to be a primarily multiplayer game and that is one of the biggest things that we still have yet to do for development. Most of the other systems of the game are things we've already started, have an established foundation for, and are currently operational to one extent or another. But this one needs the multiplayer system functionality, as well as the actual characters themselves and plenty of testing and balancing to go along with that. Certain aspects of the puzzles and even the level generation will also have to be altered to accommodate multiplayer.

This blog marks the end of the four-part recap series (here's part 1, part 2 and part 3) designed to catch you up on what we've done so far. We've accomplished a lot and we still have some more to go. I hope you'll continue to follow along with us on this dark development journey. Video games take time, but this is happening. Terror chasm is coming...

- False Prophet


Terror Chasm Development Recap 3: Plant Monster-

At Twisted Jenius, we love our monsters. And one of my personal favorites has always been man-eating plants (due mostly to my obsession with Little Shop of Horrors as a kid). However, with few exceptions this type of creature is usually treated as a side threat, rather than the primary menace, in most media that depicts it. Even in The Day of the Triffids (1962), it could be argued that the global blindness in the movie is a much bigger threat than the titular plant-life itself.

This is why we really like the idea of making a plant the main monster of our game. This also really reinforces, and even epitomizes the idea of PvE (player versus environment) as a game design style, since plants are so often heavily associated with the concept of "environment". Not only are there dangerous traps and platforming chasms that you have to traverse in regards to the temple itself, but there is literally murderous vegetation coming out of the walls to attack you! From a symbolic standpoint, it's very blatantly telling the player that the environment is against them. I'll also mention that another inspiration for using a botanical antagonist in conjunction with the idea of an ancient temple, came from the 2008 horror film The Ruins, though the plants in Terror Chasm are much more active, tearing through the walls to pursue you with the speed and ferocity of a hungry predator.


From a gameplay standpoint the plant monster is designed to create a sense of urgency and limited time. You can't stay in one place for very long without dying and even when you're not jumping over the chasms platforming, you're still never safe. The vines can rip out of the walls or ceiling and come to get you from any direction. Your only choice is to keep moving and the longer you remain in a level, the greater the chance that you will die. This creates a constant feeling of suspense and tension for the player, with ominous music playing as the plant grows nearer. And in addition to this, you can't even fight back. All you can do is run from it and this creates a feeling of helplessness in the player. Terror Chasm is not a power fantasy style of game, and is instead emotionally closer to survival horror in the sense that you are at the mercy of the environment and you must struggle and fight to survive against overwhelming odds. If you push forward too quickly you could easily fall to your death in one of the chasms or get caught in a bone crushing trap, but if you hesitate or stand around too long the plant will get you. Basically, as a gameplay mechanic, the plant monster functions as a device to keep the player moving and keep them on guard constantly by adding another variable that they have to contend with in addition to the puzzle/platforming aspects of gameplay. And from a symbolic and even marketing standpoint, the ferocious vegetation serves as a more distinctive antagonist and icon for the game that is a little bit easier to pin down and solidly depict than more vague ideas about the environment being your enemy. It's a tangible monster.


These botanical predators come in several forms. The most common one in the game right now is the simple vine that whips out to tag and pierce you. The idea is that these vines grow through the walls like a normal jungle vine, but at an accelerated rate and do so consciously, with the deliberate intention of pursuing the player. They rip through the stone walls of the temple like a train barreling after you, and if they catch up, they get you. When they shoot out at the player they don't instantly kill them the first time, but they do inflict damage.

Of course being fans of the classic Venus Fly Trap style man-eating plants, we naturally had to have one of those in Terror Chasm. This is the dreaded Munch Weed. In the current version of the game, which is still in the alpha stage, the Munch Weed acts as a sort of finishing move for the plant. When it decides it is going to stop playing around and finally kill you, it quickly grows out of the wall and snaps around the player's avatar and promptly gobbles them up. While the act of eating the player is not likely to change, it's possible we might expand the Munch Weed's role in later iterations of the game. While death-by-Munch Weed is not the most common way for players to perish in Terror Chasm, we still consider this fiendish flytrap to be the most notable mascot of the game.

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The most challenging part of developing the plant monster for Terror Chasm was designing its navigation A.I. The vines have to be able to chase the player while moving around all of the surfaces of the walls and ceilings. This is more complicated than you might imagine, because it has to be able to navigate a truly three-dimensional space, while simultaneously sticking to certain rules (namely it has to run along the walls perfectly), and on top of that it has to locate, chase down and attack the player (which means it also has to be consistently facing the correct way, while it's doing all of this). This is a bit more challenging than most enemy A.I. navigation that only runs like a human along a two dimensional floor. That type of A.I. navigation only has to worry about moving along 2 axes (X and Y, or if you prefer, front and back and side to side). But the plant's A.I. has to be able to travel the Z axis (up and down) as well, and that creates much more complicated math. The standard navigation A.I. from the Unreal Engine that we're using to develop the game, wasn't able to do what we needed. So we had to program our own custom A.I. system. We even set up a virtual test room within the engine to make sure that the A.I. knew how to properly navigate all sorts of different wall configurations.


In the current version of the game the plant's A.I. only has one chase behavior, where it relentlessly pursues the player. As development progresses, we plan to give the plant monster a wider variety of behaviors and different ways of doing things (for instance, sitting and waiting to ambush a player, or choosing to go after only one specific player once we integrate multiplayer into the game). We also have plans to create even more and different types of plant attacks and different forms the plant can take. By giving the plant A.I. more ways of behaving, this should make this enemy even less predictable and the game even more "interesting" (a.k.a. freaking and disturbing).

- False Prophet

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