Frozen Line On Work on Lighting, Visuals & AI for Daydream: Forgotten Sorrow

Frozen Line's CEO Andrey Maximov has told us about the studio's debut project, Daydream: Forgotten Sorrow, explained how the team used lighting in the game to boost the mood, and shared how they made an AI for the main hero's companion.


Hi! My name is Andrey, I am a programmer, CEO, and part of a small team Frozen Line, which will soon delight players with a touching project.

In general, it’s quite difficult to answer the question of who I am in an indie studio because, as in any small team, I balance programming and other administrative functions such as producing, marketing and others. By now, there are only 3 people on our team – a programmer, a 3D artist, and a game designer.

Daydream: Forgotten Sorrow is the first project for Frozen Line, but we still can be considered an experienced team. We used to be part of another team that created Silver Chains – a first-person horror game from the first person, which was released 3 years ago.

We made a horror game not because we just liked spooky stuff, but because of the atmosphere and the role-playing variability. The development wasn’t the easiest issue and it took us two and a half years to develop the project.

Daydream: Forgotten Sorrow

Everything began with the idea of embodying the world of our subconscious in the form of a game. By participating in this, the player becomes your best friend, with whom you can share your innermost. There is something sincere in it. But, the idea itself is worth little without a story worthy of implementation.

Our story had a canvas, but it was incomplete. For its completeness, we lacked the basic tone of mood, for which we turned to such projects as Little Nightmares, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, To The Moon, Le Petit Prince, and The Willoughby's. Some of them, probably, can be associated to a greater or lesser extent, but our story is about the materiality of human experiences and regrets. Our hero does not lose hope of understanding a world where his feelings take on materiality.

Working with Unreal Engine

The choice of Unreal Engine was not accidental. At one time, we studied Unity and Godot, but for the implementation of this project, we chose the most convenient engine, in our opinion.

And due to the fact that UE4 graphics has its own approach to creating a visual component, the daydream atmosphere could be conveyed as accurately as possible with its help.

Gameplay Mechanics

A good story worthy to be told should be at the heart of any narrative. In our case, in the beginning, there was the mechanics of the interaction between The two characters, where the player had at his disposal, not just a scripted companion, but took over part of his functions, thereby enhancing the roleplaying.

But, as I said, we didn't want to surprise the player with interesting mechanics only. We needed a touching story with profound emotions. At the center of our story, there is Griffin, who, in the company of a loyal friend Birly, is trying to discover the mystery of a newfound world, solving puzzles together and helping each other. This story reflects experiences familiar to many of us: feelings of powerlessness, fear, and guilt.

Setting up an AI for the Main Hero’s Companion

In order for Birly to fit organically into the world of the game, he needed to be revived. We took the behavior of little children as the basis of the behavior model, which is also not groundless for the narrative, and then, it's logical, a teddy bear friend should be like a child.

We had a conditional model of the characters' interdependence, which corresponds to the model of children's dependence on their parents. Griffin depends on the environment, Birly depends on Griffin. This way, the environment does not frighten Birly because he depends on Griffin, just as children don’t react to the environment, but react to the behavior of the parent.

Besides, we needed to add a set of Birly's reactions to the already existing behavior model, which should have appeared at one time or another in order to emphasize his liveliness. Although he is a toy, he should not have behaved like a clockwork doll that comes to life only at the right moments for the game.

From an artistic point of view, it was difficult to make Birly alive with his attitude to what was happening, but preserving in his behavior the fact that he still wasn’t a real child. We processed some of Birly's reactions several times because they fit perfectly into some situations, but were interpreted differently in others, and sometimes contradicted the facts that he is a child and that he is a toy.

Nevertheless, Birly has learned to act on the location on his own, but sometimes we "tell" him how to react in some individual cases for which he has unique reactions.

Game's Lighting

Lighting in the game is the main tool for conveying atmosphere, mood, or focusing attention. In our game, with the help of lighting, one or another state of the main characters is highlighted, as what they feel and experience as they progress.

For example, in the first chapters, darker scenes are used to personify difficult moments in the life of the main character. And in the following scenes, the surroundings are light and bright, suggesting that he has found a way out of the darkness and found freedom. It will be easy for the player to understand the mood transitions of the main character, without the help of text explanations.

At our locations, there are both natural sources of illumination such as the moon or the sun, and there are artificial ones. The latter are presented in many variations such as glowing mushrooms, flowers, chandeliers, and lamps. Besides, there is glare on surfaces, and luminous particles of fog, which reflect the moonlight and also becomes a source of weak illumination.

However, lighting needs to be used very carefully, it’s necessary to take into account either all possible technical limitations with the preservation of the game performance or artistic ones, in which you can overdo lighting all locations like a Christmas tree. It might look nice, but it will almost certainly kill the atmosphere. This is an eternal struggle between good and evil, where the artist balances beautiful views and the efficiency of technology. And sometimes the choice is not always easy.

The lighting in our game clearly differs by chapter, showing the attitude of the main character to the important stages of his life. Depending on the environment, you can understand his mood and condition at the moment. The most important thing is that the narrative story of the game is transmitted through the lighting.

Tips on Using Lighting in Games to Boost the Mood

It’s very difficult to give universal advice. Working with lighting in dark scenes, don’t keep the character in the light constantly. Play with shadows, with dark scenes. If the character is in a lighted area all the time, it will kill the atmosphere, although it will show a beautiful picture.

It’s better to start by understanding what your game will be like – mostly dark or light, and then, understanding what one or another location, part of the location, or object will be like. Make sure that your light at the location doesn’t conflict with the story.

Also, keep in mind that when sound and music are added to the location, you’ll have to balance at least four aspects already. If you plan to use ambient effects such as smoke or dust at your location, take into account that they only work if either they or the background are in the lighting, i.e. only one thing that also imposes restrictions on lighting at a particular location.

Andrey Maximov, CEO of Frozen Line

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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