TRAUMA is a unique first person point-and-click adventure game where the environment is assembled from augmented photography instead of conventional 3D graphics. The mood is dark and surreal, as the player explores mysterious dreams of a character that has fallen victim to an automobile accident, filled with hints of her past and clues to her present condition:
TRAUMA was a finalist for the Excellence in Visual Art, Excellence in Audio, and Seumas McNally Grand Prize awards in the 2010 Independent Games Festival, as well as a finalist in both IndieCade and European Innovative Games Award in the same year. Creator Krystian Majewski talked with me recently about creating the peculiar and haunting art of the game:
Uncommon Assembly: Krystian, you seem to come from a broad range of artistic disciplines. Can you tell me a little about your background in visual arts?
Krystian: I pretty much grew up learning all sorts of programs like Photoshop and 3D Packages. After high school, I had to decide where to study. There were no specific games courses at that time. So I studied Design at Köln International School of Design. It worked great for me. It’s a school with a uniquely free and open approach to the topic of Design. This is also where the work on TRAUMA started.
So obviously TRAUMA is reminiscent of classic point-and-click adventure games like Myst, but with a much more cinematic quality. In your words, how do you feel the visual experience of the game improves on that genre?
I think old point-and-click adventure games were always about a visual experience. I remember fondly when I saw Myst for the first time. It was in an Apple store. Back then Macs looked like crap. Myst was running on them as a demo for the CD-Rom drive. It was amazing. I couldn’t even process what I was looking at. It was like a computer graphic, but there were no pixels. It blew my mind.
Nowadays, everybody seems to go down the photo-realistic real-time 3D route. That’s cool and there are some great results. But as a side-effect, games tend to look very similar to each other. Also, it seems kinda backwards trying so hard to re-create photorealism in a computer, when it’s so easy to just go out and take a photo.
What game engine did you use?
I used Flash and a free 3D library Papervision 3D. I think it’s a wonderfully easy way to get started with game development nowadays. It’s fairly easy to learn, there is lots of support and you have tons of options on how to release the game when it’s done.
What photographic tools were used to create the art for this game?
I used an “old” Sony DSC-F717 camera I bought on eBay. I love this camera. I swear, the lens must have been forged in the fires of mount doom itself. It does things even some modern, professional DSLR cameras would be jealous of.
As for the post-processing, I used Photoshop, After-Effects and various freeware 3D Tools. Whatever gets the job done. But that was only for the special effects. The actual photos were rarely retouched.
Can you tell me anything about your process for preparing these images for the game?
Well, I went to the locations and looked for ways on how to generate levels out of them. What are the interesting bits? How would players move through the space? Based upon that, I would do the shooting. Back at home I would load the images in a 3D package and arrange them manually in 3D space so that they overlap. Then I would export that into an XML file so my game could read it. Afterwards, I would define how the photos are linked to each other, generate the special effects, do small tweaks, etc.
An early mockup of the first level of TRAUMA in a 3D application.
A map of the connections in the first level of TRAUMA. Images provided by Krystian Majewski.
How did you find the locations for the environments in TRAUMA? And once you found them, was it difficult to map out the routes around the area in a way that would work well as an interactive scene? Did you encounter any problems translating the real-world environments into a game?
Oh yeah, it was super challenging. Mainly because this is not something a game developer is usually confronted with. The first location I wanted to shoot at was a subway station. I didn’t get a permit so I was basically thrown out. Later I would just wander through the city and look for opportunities.
There were a few factors I needed to consider. Of course it needed to be interesting. But there also needed to be at least some kind of light nearby, otherwise the photos wouldn’t look good. And it needed to be fairly deserted so I could do the shooting without being disturbed.
Thanks to Krystian for talking with me about his game. You can purchase TRAUMA on Steam or on the official TRAUMA site, where a free demo is available to play online. You can also visit Krystian on his blog at Game Design Scrapbook.