Among the most popular questions that were asked during the last two weeks, there's the question were people ask us how we did to record more than 400 lines of speech and if we included a bit of humor inside the game. Now that the release is near, I feel that we can talk a bit more about this part of the development.
To be honest, we didn't record these lines ourselves, we used voice synthesis. But don't take us wrong, we didn't used crappy microsoft voice synthesis, or this kind of things. We used a professional tool from a very important company of this sector. Now, you may ask us, why did we used voice synthesis, and not real actors to make the voices of our NPCs. The answer is quite simple, because of the time, the organization and the equipment that it requires.
Firstly, the scripts were never really fixed, they suffered a lot of changes, even until the end of the development (and even now). With real actors I should have gave them the script once it was fixed, and this situation was too long to reach. We could not wait until the end of the development process to record voices because there were still four hundred and fifty lines of dialogue to record.
Secondly, as I am both a student and an employee in real life, I did not have enough time to manage a team of people solely dedicated to voices. As there were four hundred and fifty lines of dialogue and voice synthesis would quickly generate them, this is why I choosed this system. Once the scripts written, I simply had to copy the lines in the software, launch a mass audio processing on the generated sounds and it gave me the dialogues.
Finally, audio recording requires to have quality microphones and sound cards that we do not own. This is also why we choosed voice synthesis. Now, to prove you that these voices are not as crappy as the ones you may have heared in the past, here's a sample taken from the game:
We had to choose between fewer voices, recorded with our voices and our french accent, and this voice synthesis software which was providing really good results. The choice was fairly easy. Sorry if you're a bit disappointed.
The goal of this website was to post news regarding the end of the development of Portal: Prelude. But it can't be helped, we have more or less nothing to say lately. Because nothing more is added to the game, and nothing has to be fixed neither. That's why I decided to talk about what we did yesterday to the Festival du Jeu-Vidéo in Paris.
Frankly, that was a huge party. When I went to this Festival last year, that was cool, but not that cool. In fact, it was somewhat amateur and small. But this year, waw. That was just huge. Not huge in size, but huge in ambience.
Our little team had the opportunity to play games like Far Cry 2, Red Faction: Guerilla, Darksiders, Mirror's Edge, Pure, Tomb Raider: Underworld, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Fallout 3 etc.
Then we didn't had the opportunity to play it, but we also saw Fable 2, Call of Duty 5, Dead Space, Command & Conquer 3, Need for Speed Undercover, Gears of War 2, Disaster : Day of Crisis, Resistance 2, Gran Turismo 5, etc.
We also had the opportunity to watch our first Counter-Strike "professional" final match. We're not really deep into this world, but we watched for the sake of curiosity. That was... well... strange.
Finally, last but not the least, we played together to Left 4 Dead. That was just crazy. This game is so great in many aspects that it outstanded any of the games that were present to this festival. We were among the only 300 gamers that had the opportunity to play it on sunday, and when we finished playing, we were all like "dude, that was epic". Unfortunately, we didn't had the chance to talk with Kim Swift, we looked for her, but we don't even know if she was here for real. Instead, we talked with Antoine Bourdon from Valve. We shared our point of views on Left 4 Dead and talked a bit about the mod. That was really exciting.
A few people recognized us with our tee-shirts, and even a few professionals, that asked for exclusive informations and little interviews. One of them even asked if we could exchange one of our tee-shirts with his! Some people were looking at us strangely, like if they were saying "Hey, isn't that the guys who did this mod?".
Anyway, it's time to get back to work, there's only ten days left until the release, and we need to polish this baby a bit more. If you're interested in seeing the ambience at the festival last year, you can watch this video. It's in french, but you don't need to understand what is said to see how it looked.
Still nothing interesting to say today. During the last days, we built a fairly mature version of the game. The compilations ended up this evening and the game is now finished (until more bugs are found).
Tomorrow, the totality of our team will head up to the Festival du Jeu-Vidéo (Video-Game Festival) in Paris. If you're there, you may see us, because we'll be wearing Portal: Prelude tee-shirts :D We'll try to see and talk with Kim Swift, level-designer on Portal, and also try to put our hands on Left 4 Dead.
We're really excited, and as you can see, it's 3:20am and we're still not sleeping. See you tomorrow (maybe) and we'll keep you informed regarding the current stable version of the game.
Nothing really interesting to say today. I just managed to fix the biggest problem we faced while making this mod. Here's an extract of what I wrote on the Valve Developer Community during the last month, it's a bit techie, so you may not want to read this :
I'm somewhat having the same problem. Although, I have more than 450 lignes of closed captions, and in-game, there's a few of them that never show up when the NPCs are talking. The strange thing is that it shows up perfectly when I call them using cc_emit <soundname>... But not when the NPCs are talking. I noticed that it's always a continuous part of the captions that doesn't show up. I mean that, it's not one isolated caption, it's always a dozen of them in row. It stops working at a given caption, and restarts to work at another one. Always the same.
I'm actually wondering if the problem isn't choreo-related. Could it be FacePoser 'the crappy' that messes up the .VCD preventing them to show up the closed caption? I'm wondering this because, when I made them (the vcds), I copy/pasted each one in a row to build my dialogues until I decided to take a break and start with a brand new empty choreo a few days later. That could explain why subtitles are not showing up in a row. I also tried to rewrite one VCD from scratch and there had been change. One closed caption showed up where it wasn't. It needs to be investigated a bit further.
Ok, I found it. That was particularily stupid. In my case, it's a problem with Portal, because basically, GlaDOS is a generic_actor in a box far away from the map. And in the source engine, there's a command named "scene_maxcaptionradius" with a default value of 1200. This is why it stopped working at a given choreo... when the player was too far from the generic_actor. My god... several weeks, maybe months, wasted because of this. I can't believe it was so stupid.
Ambient_generic are not a solution, because when you pause the game, they're not paused at all, and the NPCs continue to talk. Also, there's nothing else to do than just increasing the value of "scene_maxcaptionradius". I set it to 65535, just to be sure.
And that was not the correct solution. First because zero is the official value to disable this command, and not some ridiculously large number. And second because if it's related to choreos, you should just add cc_noattenuate in each entry of the .VCD file you want the captions to always appear. The problem is now DEFINITELY fixed
Today, someone wrote an interesting email to me, asking this:
Just one small little thing, I know I can't be making descisions for you, but it's something from all us real pure gamers. I'm seriously bored of all these easy games out there, games are getting easier and easier every day! And if they add a "hard" mod, all they do is making you do less damage and make the enemy do more.. it's seriously lame.
Come on, the entire fun of a game is trying hours to solve a puzzle and stuff, this world needs more hard games! I saw you saying many times that you were going to make yours easier, and I was like... :(
I know there's gonna be advanced maps, and it was the only part that was kinda fun in Portal.. still too easy in my opinion. [...] I love challenge, and let's hope you can give us some good!
That was a really interesting question, and here's my answer:
You put your finger on the thing that annoyed us the most during the development. I think I'm gonna use your question and my answer as today's blog entry on our website.
The overall difficulty was something we though about really early in the pre-project brainstorming. It had to be harder than Portal, because we were all kind of bored by the really low difficulty of Portal, but it also had to be feasible for people that were not that used to the gameplay mechanics. I think this is the global problem with the video-game industry nowadays, you must make money, so you must sell your game to the most numerous group of people. The problem is that the different profiles of gamers are not compatible. If you make your game harder, newbies won't play it, and if you make it easier, hardcore gamers will be bored and will likely download the game instead of buying it. In this situation, editors tend to make games easier, because newbies are far more numerous than hardcore gamers. That's a choice, but I really don't see why they're whining because of warez afterwards.
Fortunately, we don't have this kind of problems, because our game is free. I won't say that is doesn't matter if the mod is played by a lot of people or not, because you know, we worked hard on it. We'd really love to see it played all over the world by different kinds of gamers. But we couldn't just say "fuck off" to every beginner and only restrict our public to hardcore gamers. On the other hand, we thought that after a year, everyone that played Portal would have gained a certain level of mastering of its gameplay, although some of them may have forgot everything. That's why the first rooms starts a bit slowly (but still faster than Portal's ones), and the last ones are really difficult. We are aware of the fact that beginners won't possibly make it to the last level, because starting from the 15th-16th rooms, it starts to get really serious. But well, at least they enjoyed the first 15 ones. You know, it's like we're back to the old days, if you're stuck but still want to see the end, we won't make the game easier for you, there's cheat codes for that.
When I say that I'm currently making things easier, it means that it was really too hard for 90 or 95% of gamers. Either too hard or too frustrating. We all know that frustation is a good thing in Portal-like gameplay, but it should not be too frustrating either. A frustrated player just stops playing, thinking he may never make it. When each one of my testers is blocked at a certain place, I'm not just saying "you're pathetic, it's easy but you don't watch were you're supposed to watch". I take it on me, and rework the area to make things clearer by adding arrows or things that catch the player's attention. And if the challenge is really too hard, I'm tweaking things a bit without changing the whole puzzle.
To conclude, the game isn't as easy as Portal, but not as hard as some of the ridiculously complex maps made by the community during the last year. We must not forget that a lot of people enjoyed Portal because they had to use their brain to figure out what to do, and then just do it. I personnally hate levels when you know what you must do, but not how to do it (or you just don't manage to do it because it's tricky or something).
Today, a friend of mine played on the six advanced maps. He played during two hours, trying to beat them as hard as he could, and eventually he gave up during half of them. At the end of the test session, he laughed and said "Ok, it was hard, but still feasible".
I laughed too and I worked a few hours to modify the advanced chambers. They were already really hard, now I wish you the best of luck. Advanced chambers are the funniest part of making this game. It's like a revenge, for all the bugs and crashes I faced during the development! But don't worry, I swear you, they're all feasible.
As you can see, we still have nothing really interesting to talk about. We don't even have any funny bug to show. So, we won't talk much longer here for the moment. At least until we've got something interesting to talk about. Just remember, october 10th.
Here we are, the last test session ended up yesterday, after yet another 4h of non-stop play. Only a dozen of minor problems were found, and I even had the time to correct every single one of them today. For the moment, the game is officially bug-free.
Of course, we all know a game can't be bug-free, especially when we're only testing it during our spare time, without any professional means of some sort. But we believe we reached a fairly mature stage. To conclude, the beta version is nearly finished.
For the moment, we're working on the last map, tweaking things a bit, adding details and reducing the overall difficulty and complexity (to understand what one must do). There's still some changes to overtake, but with this last map, we're already flirting with the limits of the engine, we must be careful.
So, I believe we can unveil the real release date, because we think that we'll have plenty of time to polish things up until this date. When we published our first news, we said "somewhere around the end of september or the beginning of october". It appears it will more likely be on the beginning of october.
Now it's rather official, we plan to release the whole thing on the first birthday of the Orange Box. October 10th.
A lot of people are currently asking us if they can play the game before the official launch, or even become one of our testers. But no, sorry, we really don't need a horde of playtesters to validate a mod that only last a few hours. Portal is somewhat logic, if someone is able to finish a test, we don't really care if there's one or more solutions. Of course we try to avoid tricks and stuff, but still, it's part of the game.
Here is a message I sent to a really skilled tester who wanted to test the game before the launch :
Although you seem to be a pretty good skilled tester, we don't need your help. Our goal is not to make the perfect game possible. Portal was rather good, but it had many flaws everywhere. Places where people could do tricks that seemed like cheating.
We need to have this kind of feeling, we need to be able to say "oh my god, I made this level myself and I never even though about this solution". We're only using "basic" testers, some of them are skilled, some aren't, and some of them didn't even really played Portal.
We also tested it on various configurations. I tested it myself on a dusty AMD 3000+, with a Radeon X1950 and on an Intel Core Duo with a Radeon X1600. Jéméry tested it on a Core 2 Duo 7100 with an NVidia 8400GT and Marc used an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 and a GeForce 8800 GT.
Don't take it too personnal, testers are only people in my direct friends.
Meanwhile, we're correcting stuff and changing a few details on the last level... Regarding the release date, nothing is really fixed for the moment, but the last test session is scheduled for this evening and we'll have a way better view of what's left to do.
We said that we were going to write a news for each day, a least until the release, so... we're doing a news. We don't have anything special to say =)
Today, I had another test session with a friend of mine. We played non-stop during 3h30, he made it to the last test chambers with a bit of help, and eventually, we stopped there. He found a few bugs that I'm going to correct really soon.
We're currently discussing about the definitive release date, for the moment, nothing is really fixed, but we'll give you more informations soon. Tomorrow or the day after. Stay tuned.
And, by the way, there's a lot of people asking us if the voices will be in english or french, and the subtitles too ? So here's an answer :
Six days have passed and the hype seems to slow down (fortunately). I had the time to answer to every email sent since monday and that was epic to see my inbox empty again.
Today, the two testers I gave the game yesterday managed to beat the adventure part. We talked during a long time, we shared a lot of screenshots, a lot of remarks and finally, we worked all day long to correct every bug that had been reported. You may want to know what they thought about the game ?
That was really great, they enjoyed the game like they enjoyed Portal, they thought the end was cool, and they laughed while listening to the developers commentaries. They only made one or two critics regarding the rather complex task of beating the final boss and the Aperture Science laboratories part. Hopefully nothing that couldn't be fixed before the release.
For those of you who way want to learn a few new things about the game, we did an interview with Chris Evans from halflife2.net. Click here if you want to read it :
PS: Of course, commentaries subtitles will be in french and english.
I must say thanks to everyone, we only received something like 30 emails today. That was really sweet :D Again, we'd like to say that we're really impressed, and that we're trying to do our best to meet our deadline. We got a new iteration yesterday, and I jumped on this occasion to build the first version of the executable installer to distribute it to the team and a few people I know. They tested it from the installation to the end of the game and they only find one or two dozens of minor bugs and a difficulty somewhat too high. I'm going to make a few changes and fixes in the upcoming days.
So, Ok... we actually got into the Wikipedia, at least until someone named Masem decided that it was not relevant to the article. Well, we don't really care... We made it to the front page of the gaming section of digg.com too. That was awesome, thanks guys for crashing our poor little server :D We also made it to kotaku, stumble upon, and nearly every single video-gaming website of the world. Some of them in languages composed of signs we never saw before (hebrew is full of win). The top five websites sending us traffic is :
Our poor little dedicated server is suffering from the continuous flow of visitors, as you can see, today we doubled our visitor count since yesterday. And yesterday we tripled it since the day before. 40K unique visitors each day, that's somewhat new for us and our little websites.
To conclude, did you know that, for something like 12 hours, the installer of the game was lying publicly on this server ? No, of course you didn't knew. That was the whole point :D (don't try to bruteforce the server, that will not happen anymore)
Anyway, I need sleeeeep, and the weekend is here so... good night !
PS: We already have translators for every language supported by Steam excepting Korean, Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Swedish.
Ok guys and gals, let's face it. I won't be able to stay awake all night long for much longer. We're not enough and we don't have enough time to answer to every single message that is sent to us. There's already thousands of posts everywhere on the Internet, we first thought we could follow every single one, but well... it's now impossible. We're not going to reply anymore on the forums, blogs, news and so on. I'll try to keep replying to emails, but still. NEED TIME!
Let's face it too, if I continue to try to reply to everyone like this, the game will never make it on time. There's still work to do, and I need more time to concentrate on the project. I wish I could handle both the "community manager" and the "project manager" and the "lead level-designer" and the "webmaster" jobs at the same time, but not really :D
Anyway, there's still people asking us to put a donation link on the website. I'll copy/paste what I always say since we started : "Our goal has never been to make money out of this work. We're not going to ask money and not even to accept it. We used a proprietary 3D engine from Valve, we used their content and we also used a few (three) licensed music. For as long as we don't earn money out of it, we shouldn't get too much in trouble for anything. Plus, that was simply not the point of the whole thing."
I think we'll have a definitive release date after this weekend, I hope... We'll keep you informed, as always. Oh, and we also had new propositions from around the world, and believe me, this is going a bit too far. Magazine covers ? Phone interview ? Meetings ? No, no, no. Guys, no. That's an amateur mod made by three frenchies, there's a lot of mods already out that are miles away from what we did (Insurgency, Dystopia, PVK II, Jailbreak!, Synergy and so on...). I think it's time to get serious again and stop surfing on the buzz wave. You're only making us feel really bad about what could happen, now that everyone think this will be the best game of 2008... seriously, you don't even know anything about it.
We are aware that you're highly anticipating what we did, and that you'd really like to play it. But keep cool, that's just a mod (we know it must seem weird for you to hear us criticize our own project like that). But that's really going a bit too far =)
Today, my boss started to wonder why I look so tired when I'm at work. Sure it's a really intense thing to do marketing and communication stuff. I slept 6 hours since monday, replying to your messages all night long. Sorry if I can't follow every website that newsed us anymore, we were astonished with the speed at which it spread up. Google results for "portal prelude" quadrupled since yesterday. I had a talk with Marc yesterday, and I can't even count how many times we said "mon dieu" (Oh my god) and "je flippe à mort" (I'm so f*cking scared).
Yesterday, we got our first contact with the french community manager of Valve. Yes, Valve. The marvellous company that brought Portal and so much more to us for years. Don't take me wrong, I'm not trying to seduce anyone, but believe me, it was huge. I was so happy and so scared at the same time. For your information, they don't seem to bother about us doing a prequel for Portal. They're even sending us their congratulations and they seem to enjoy what we're doing. So, please guys, stop saying everywhere that Valve is going to murder us, or something.
From now on, we have more and more translation propositions coming along. So far we got translators for portuguese (Silvio 'moidsch' Ribeiro), dutch (Mart Vuurboom), spanish (Francisco J. Galdo), german (SirDregan), italian (comatrix), finnish (Mischa Sildén) and russian (HL-Inside.ru Team). That's another good surprise for us. We're not planning on releasing the translations at the same time as the game though. We'll release a package/patch with every translation later on (a week or two maybe).
On a more formal tone, we are currently discussing with staff from FilePlanet, ModDB, Vossey, Total Gaming Network and a few other sites that are REALLY friendly and honest with us. Another good surprise.
To conclude, please stop bitching about the Half-Life 2 Citizens, we're not going to replace their face with original ones, that's pointless. We did a skin with a white shirt and black trousers, and we know the screenshots are not up to date, but that's it.
And as a matter of anecdote, did you know that each time we need to compile the game, we need to waste almost 30 hours ? 25 hours of level compilation and 5 hours of cubemap generation (for the reflections), sure that's a long time to wait...
We never thought it could go this far. It's been only twelve hours since the news was spread on the Internet, and still... everyone's already talking about it. My own mother mailed me about it, can you believe it? That's pretty much impressive and frightening too.
Impressive, because a vast majority of people seems to enjoy what we did. So far, we already received more than two hundred emails and a huge number of comments on each website that relayed the news. We already have propositions for spanish, finnish and russian translations, a dozens of mirrors and a few interviews in sight. Of course, there is also people that seem to dislike what we did and how we did it, without having seen anything yet. That's not really important for us, we loved what we did during these eight months, and we'll release it even if the entire planet is against us =) (or maybe Valve can stop us?)
Then, it's frightening because it gain much more popularity than we thought it would in a really short amount of time. Now we have way too much pressure on our shoulders and would like to clarify things a bit :
For the moment, we're waiting for the fury to cool down a bit. And we'll try to keep this "buzzblog" updated on a regular basis.
See you tomorrow.
Here we are, Day One.
The trailer is up and running, the news is posted on forty of the most important Half-Life related websites of the world, and I'm anxious as I've never ever been.
I really hope you will enjoy what we did. We worked hard during eight months to bring this game to you. If you have any question, please ask in the forums.
The trailer so far...
You may ask yourself, what the hell is this all about ? Portal: Prelude ? Never heard about this, huh ? Yes of course, and this is exactly the point. You never heard about it because it was developped in the dark, and kept secret until almost fully finished and polished.
In January 2008, I was searching for a new project. Portal was out since four months, and still, no-one had already did something really serious around it. I was following a lot a communities, seeing a lot of independant releases, but no mod and no serious story arc. This I why I decided to launch this project.
Portal: Prelude, as its name states it, is an unofficial prequel to the game Portal. Its story revolves around the pre-GlaDOS epoch, even before she was plugged in. At this time, test subjects were monitored by real Aperture Science employees, whose work was tedious, lengthy and repetitive. This is why they decided to build a great artificial intelligence that could both replace them in these difficult tasks, and also take responsibility for many other tasks within the complex and compete with Black Mesa's superiority.
All employees of the Aperture Science complex are now eagerly awaiting GlaDOS. Maybe even a little too eagerly, as the upcoming events will tell...
This game is totally free and set to be released somewhere around the end of the month. It offers a bit more gameplay hours than the original Portal, with 8 chapters, 19 test chambers, 48 challenges, 6 advanced maps, a brand new storyline and more than 400 lines of speech with english and french subtitles.
Remember kids, it's not just a mappack, it's a whole new story, and I hope that you'll appreciate the work done for you. The game is set to be released somewhere around the end of september, or the beginning of october.
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more informations soon.