Journey Down

CGSociety :: Game Production Focus

23 May 2013, by Paul Hellard



The Journey Down is a classic point-and-click game currently available for iOS, PC, Mac and Linux with an Android port to come. The game is available through the Apple store as well as through Steam. FIFTY lucky CGSociety [Paid] members are eligible for Steam codes to download the game for FREE.  Just click the graphic to the right, email me your CGSociety username and I'll send you the code. 


The creators of The Journey Down are from SkyGoblin, a small independent game studio located in Sweden. When they opened the studio seven-eight years ago, there were about ten people involved. This was a crowd with a big passion for building games together, so everyone in the team was putting in some cash, and they managed to rent a worn-down office in the outskirts of Gothenburg. “That period was interesting, we were the poorest kings on planet Earth,” says Henrik Englund. “As time went by, people started to find other less chaotic things to do with their lives and started dropping off.” So, SkyGoblin is now a constellation of the three remaining friends, Theodor Wearn, Mathias Johansson and Henrik Englund. They are now developing chapter two of this classic point-and-click game The Journey Down. The first chapter can be downloaded from the iOS App Store or on Steam. They are still running their now six year old MMO game called ‘Nord’.

From the beginning, The Journey Down was only a pile of environments that Theodor Waern painted on his spare time. The drawings described an imaginary world. After five years of hard work, the drawings become connected as an adventure story with characters. A lot of the inspiration comes from African art, Talespin and old Disney movies. The game design is similar to the retro point ‘n’ click games from the 90’s, such as Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and Monkey Island, though the interface is simplified. The first version of the game was free to download, low-res (320x240), built in the Adventure Game Studio (AGS), by Theodor Wearn and released in 2006. The game was later picked up and rebuilt by SkyGoblin as a commercial project for PC, Mac, Linux and recently for iOS.



The SkyGoblin crew started to design locations, characters and puzzles that they thought would be fun to work on, rather than being based on what the project needed. Since the story was changing all the time, they could wrap the story around the world they’d created. “It makes for some difficult story-writing, but for a very fun and creative process along the way,” explains Englund. “On the first chapter, our focus was to establish the world setting and the characters that lived in it. The next chapter will be more dark and story driven.”

The development of The Journey Down has been a long process with constant changes to almost every part of the game. It was almost six years from starting to sketch out the universe up to the point where the game ended up at Steam. It’s an episodic game so the crew have been forced to think one step further all the time. The game dev started in low res (320x240), as a celebration to the old 90’s adventure game era and there was no intention of earning profit from it. “From the retro version, we added more rooms, boosted up the canvas to 1280x720, made the game longer, and created animated cinematics to make it more solid,” adds Englund. “I would say that we have thrown away around 50% of all content made, just because of all changes in the story that have been introduced along the way. It’s important for us that The Journey Down has a high production value. We treat The Journey Down as if it was our own child.”

 

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The SkyGoblin crew has always been fascinated by the African culture. Not only the aesthetics but also the way of life. “My colleague, Mathias speaks Swahili, the language spoken in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. A couple of years ago Mathias convinced us to re-locate our SkyGoblin office to Tanzania over the winter,” explains Englund. “I think that trip influenced the game art, in combination with a lot of other things of course.”

In the first chapter there is a relaxed atmosphere. The story is simple. The colors are warm, the characters happy. Next chapter it will rain, there is conspiracy in the air, and it’s a lot more dark than in the first chapter. Not only visually, but also from a storytelling perspective. The second chapter has been inspired by old noir movies, such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep.
 

 

Story

There are three main characters in The Journey Down, and a lot of smaller roles there to support the story. You start the adventure as our main man Bwana, hanging out with his best friend Kito. When they are around, people know things will get messed up. They are both adopted by the mysterious lost pilot Kaonandodo. He used to run the petrol station that Bwana and Kito now have taken over. Business isn’t going too well, but they seem happy as long as they can keep things afloat. They get a visit from a lady named Lina. She is working for the university and has heard rumors that there might be an old book laying around that might shed light on her research. The book is from the time when Kaonandodo was around. Not much interest for Bwana, but he sees his chance to impress Lina. Bwana knows that Kaonandodo`s loft is full of useless old books. Lina manages to get her hands on the book with some help from Bwana, and she starts to read. What she finds in that book starts the adventure of The Journey Down.


 

Rigging Characters

Most of the characters in The Journey Down have a really simple setup. Sometimes the characters only have one side, so they’re facing the camera with an empty back. So planning before setup has been important. “We are only three in our team, so every shortcut we can take makes a big difference in the end,” says Englund. “The main characters are both performing in-game and in cut-scenes. They have been given a lot more advanced setups. Especially Bwana with all his dreads.”

Engine

The HD version of The Journey Down was developed in SkyGoblin’s own home-brewed C/C++ Adventure Game engine, called Gobby. Devised from the start to hit several platforms, they wanted to make it as port-friendly as possible. Currently, it runs on Windows, Linux and Mac and recently also iOS. They’re hoping to support Android very soon as well. “The Gobby engine was built by our former colleague Markus Larsson with assistance from Mathias Johansson. The engine is influenced a lot from our earlier work with our 3D MMO, Nord,” says Edlund. “We have been working on that game for six years. There is no doubt that the GobEd editor would have looked a lot different today if Theo and Mathias hadn't spent so many hours in Adventure Game Studio. A big thanks to Chris Jones for letting game developers play around in his toolkit and engine for free.” There’s an extended explanation on the engine in the website blog in the links at the end of the story.
 

Design

SkyGoblin’s The Journey Down starts off with a few key locations that are in line with the basic story. They have spent time to make them interesting and they are often locations with special settings that become the foundation for the world design. There’s a physical connection around those places tying them together, in both visuals and story. “This is where the whole world starts to go into the flowering stage. We try to connect all the first locations with new ones, and the story evolves beside the original main story arc,” adds Englund. “This approach helps us get a detailed, coherent and believable world with lot of colors and appealing characters. We try to write the dialog so the people living in the world tell you stories, that extend the world beyond what you see. Mathias set up scripts in our engine as artist-friendly as possible. That's something that’s reflected in the interface and how you interact with the game world. One click in the game, triggers one action. All these simple scripts make it a lot easier for us to to let the game focus on storytelling and exploring, rather than complex GUI interactions.”


“Ever since we ditched our office last December, we’ve done our very best to be as mobile a company as possible, to keep the imagination and inspiration going and to get out and experience new things. Currently, I’m working from Spain, Mathias is working from Sweden, and Theo is working from the USA, where we joined him in San Francisco for GDC in March,” says Englund. “Working from different locations like we do now, is a big challenge but it’s so very, very worth it from a freedom and creativity perspective. I’m confident this spirit of Adventure will rub off on our current project, Chapter Two of The The Journey Down.