Narrative Brief

The narrative was designed based on the game concept and not the other way around.

What was established before the narrative was written:

  1. Going on a date
  2. Set in a bar
  3. Conveyed in 5-8 loops
  4. First Person
  5. Ominous / Demonic

One critical part of the narrative is the first person perspective. The identity of the character is intentionaly left vague for the player to figure out, which is only possible due to the fact the players character model is invisible. This gives the story a stronger punchline when you take the place of the man at the desk, completing the loop.

The story is purposely ambiguous. It has been very rewarding seeing Content creators solve the mystery of the black rose. Especially the ones getting the story spot on from one playthrough also opening discussions with their viewerbase. 

In The Black Rose the protagonist is invited out on a date to a bar, The Black Rose. By a mysterious woman he met the night before. The invitation, a message written in bright red lipstick on a napkin with a place and time. 19.00 at The Black Rose. and a gut feeling; He is ment to be there.


As the protagonist enters the bar he discovers it to be nearly empty. With only a passed out drunk hunched over the bar desk. Surrounded by bottles half eaten food and some napkin notes similar to the ones the player have received previously, on the bar desk. The protagonist also finds a rose and a napkin with the words "Come find me!" scribbled on it, it seems to be an invite from the mysterious lady.


The protagonist begins his search for the mystery woman. Searching deeper into The Black Rose's innards. As the protagonist reaches a descending staircase with a door marked as the exit. He soon finds himself standing back at the entrance of the black rose. And so begins the descent into madness and guilt. The further into The Black Rose he gets, the more deranged and warped the environment becomes.


Throughout the game the player ecounters several notes left to him by the presumed mystery lady. Clearly hinting at infidelity. The further the player goes the more aggressive the notes become.


After barely escaping a dismorphed demonic entity. The protagonist once again finds himself back at the bar. He sits down at the bar desk as the actions of his past finally catch up to him. He gives into his feelings, a black rose and a wedding ring appear, the protagonist collapses on the desk. As his conciousness fades the music revs back up and the last sound he hears is the door opening. He has taken the place of the man at the desk


The game restards and fades back into the start menu.

Meta Plot

The protagonist is an adulterer who cheated on his wife throughout his marriage. Meeting up strangers in bars. He is lured to The Black Rose by a succubus disguised as a mysterious lady. The interactive story begins just as the protagonist arrives at The Black Rose.


Where the player encounters the first significant character. A passed out drunk asleep on the bar desk. Which later turns out to be the main protagonist himself.


The player experiences the characters descent into madness as he is stuck in his personal neverending loop of hell.


The story hints throughout the game at the protagonists internal regret. The written messages show clear signs of his infidelity, but it remains ambiguous from whom the message is written. Many of the notes point toward internal regret.


The game ends on the sequence where the protagonist sits down at the bar.

There is only one note present, reading; "Isn't this what you wanted?". As the protagonist observes the bar around him, more notes appear, settling on the final image of a wedding ring, to signify the broken promises. A black rose to signify death, the end of our character, finaly collapsing on the desk taking the place of the passed out drunk from the start of the game. Completing the loop. The game restarts as the protagonist regains conciousness, standing in front of The Black Rose once again.

Plot structure

The narrative is built on the classic 3 Act structure.

Exposition

The protagonist has met a mysterious woman he feels strong attraction to, he has a strong lustful urge to meet her again.

Inciting Incident

The character is invited on a date, receiving a note explaining where and when he will get to meet the mystery lady again.

Climax of act 1:

The player reaches the end of the bar where the bar loops. asking 2 new questions

Where am i?

Why am i here?


Mid point

The midpoint of the story plays on the common cheater tropes. Hinted at the player through the notes found throughout the game. It also starts showing the internal regret of the main character as the notes gain a more accusing tone.

"Working late again?"

"Does she know?"

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE"


At this point the sympathy for the protagonist starts declining.

Climax of act 2:

The player is chased by the succubus in its real form.


Resolution

The player takes the place of the drunk man, closing the loop as they are back at the inception of the story. Sealing the fate of the protagonist to the loop

The Black Rose

- Post Mortem

OVERVIEW

(Link table)

Stuck in a loop!

Counting all the youtube playthroughs so far The Black Rose has generated over

1.5 million views on youtube.


If we average it to 10 minutes per view which is a fair estimate, multiplied by the views we can find out viewers have spent a total of 250,000h looping through the black rose. That is 10,460 days!


If we divide the amount of days watched by us 12 developers, we have generated 865 days of non stop watched content each! (with the help of the youtubers of course!)



Hows that for a return of investment?

Fun Fact

Localization is difficult!

The first note in the game states

"19.00 The Black Rose". To establish the players connection to the bar


One of the first comments we got from an american youtuber was.

"Never date a girl who writes in military time".


Being a mainly swedish native development team this was completely overlooked on our part. Some even go as far to guess 1900 is the amount of people murdered in the bar.

Fun Fact

The succubus chase scene was implemented 20 minutes before our second review build. Meaning only I and another designer knew it was implemented.


We all knew we were on the right track when the entire room, even the dev team gasped in fright as she violently grabbed ahold of the player.

Creepy Fact

Love bombing which we used extensively in our reviews to maintain happiness within the group is a common strategy of emotional manipulation.


Be ware when you encounter it in real life

Short description

The Black Rose is a psychological horror game.

You the protagonist, are invited on a date to The Black Rose bar.


The project was inspired by the famous Silent Hill demo P.T


The main design challenges were managing the project scope while maintaining the balance of horror elements.


What made the game project succesful was an incredibly talented cross disciplined team with a strong shared artistic vision.

Info

Project Length: 7 weeks

Team size: 12 people

3 Game Designers

3 Programmers

4 3d Artists

2 2d Artist

Developed in: Unity Engine

My roles

  • Game Design
  • Programming
  • Narrative Design
  • Cinematics design
  • Version control manager

Software used

          (Personally)

  • Unity Engine
  • Visual Studio
  • After Effects
  • Photoshop
  • Perforce - P4V
  • TortoiseSVN
  • Miro
  • Trello
  • Unreal engine (prototyping)

Scripting

Doors

To maximize reusability and consistency. All doors are the same prefab with different modes of operation. 


Transition


Built to accomodate a headbob script that applies camera displacement based on player velocity. The transitions make use of a spline tool which the player is locked to and transported along during the transitions between loops.

One of the key elements of The Black Rose are its many doors. They create discomfort, space, and most importantly lead the player further down the dwindling bar interiors with seamless transitions.

Makes use of:


  • Custom Spline tool - with custom editor scripts
  • Unity Events - for accessible delegates

Spline based movement


The spline updates to the player position on the first interaction, to ensure the player stands in front of the door to smoothen out the transition and avoid potential clipping issues with the doorway.


The end part of the spline is arching to make the entry feel more natural as the player dodges around the door before it is completely open. To convey that the player closes the door behind them.

Open To Angle


Some doors are meant to stay open. Mainly for dramatic effect. We required the door to open at different speeds. 


Rattling doors


One subtle detail to the doors are the fact that the more you pull the door handle the faster it goes. Making the interaction seem more natural the more the player is panicking. 

Camera Setup

Camera set up


All camera transitions make extensive use of Unity Engines Cinemachine plugin, Specifically the state based camera component. It allowed smooth transitions between camera states, controlled through an animation controller.


Makes use of:


  • Cinemachine - Controlled with an Animator Controller.
  • Unity Animator

The Succubus chase

The Succubus chase scene is the horror climax of the game.


Makes use of:


  • Unity Animatior
  • Cinemachine

The rig uses root motion from baked animation to drive the Succubus through the level. This would have allowed us to have more accurate animations in a shorter timespan (rather than scripting an IK system for a oneshot event).


The rig would include a look target and an anchor for the player camera to give us as much control of the death animation as possible.

Note: It's obvious this script could have made use of static references to the player. Update functionality could also be handled by coroutines and events.

Outro Sequence

The goal with the outro cinematic was to tie the end of the game back to the first loop of the game, as a core narrative event establishing the players role in the scenario.


Makes use of


  • Unity Events
  • Unity Animator - Scripted events from animation
  • Cinemachine - Camera Tranisions

One of my responsibilities were to make sure our scripts worked together.

We were 5 active programmers working simultaneously in the project. And due to inexperiences with Object oriented programming(OOP) within the team, many OOP conventions were not followed. If I could change one thing about the project it would be our programming workflow.

The solutions work, but they could be done in a more efficient way. A singleton pattern should have been used, with more accessable static classes for managers, debug flags and .

Design Process

The Mission Brief

Make a game in 7 weeks based on 2 out of 6 keywords.


Weekly Reviews every friday.


Must use the Unity Engine.


  1. Dating
  2. Rhythm
  3. Food
  4. Pets
  5. Tower Defense
  6. Turn Based

The most important thing to keep in mind when developing with limited budget is playing to your teams strengths. Our niche strengths were two of our 3d artist with an interest for monster design and a sound designer who could deliver high quality audio. This seeded the idea of creating a horror game.

First Idea

Keywords

The horror idea was internally pitched between designers before it was brought up with the rest of the team.

The inspirations from P.T. were there from the beginning.

The core concept of a looping level felt like an interesting design challenge. Looping levels opens up for a lot of reusability which is vital when developing on a budget.


"We should make sure we play to the strengths of our team. I know our 3D-guys are good at making monsters..."


"...What about a horror game?..."


"...Oh yeah! Have you played P.T?"

~Conversation Between Myself and John Walden

Pre-Production

The entire first week was dedicated to different types of research.

Mechanical, Technical, and Psychological.

Mechanical research


What mechanics do other horror games do well to immerse and anchor the player in the experience?

  • Head bob
  • Audio feedback
  • Light and darkness

Technical Research


What tools do we need to develop the game, how do we use them, and what are their limitations?

  • Unity HDRP - High Definition Rendering Pipeline
  • Looping levels - Level streaming?
  • General Tools

Psychological


How do we induce fear. What psychological triggers do we have at our disposal?

  • OCD
  • Gaslighting
  • Distortion
  • Body horror
  • Claustrophobia

Transcript:

Production

Plan of game sequence


We left pre production with a thorough plan of the game sequence, denoting most of our design ideas. Some ideas were cut or modified to create tension and meet our experience goals.


The decapitated man was cut during production. When we got the placeholder model done we noticed the version without him had a better pacing. The death sequence overshadowed the intended climax of the game.

Plot

  • 6 Loops
  • Narrative Structure
  • Symbolism
  • Pacing
  • Events
  • Level Layout

Design Pillars and Goals

  • The player should have a constant feeling of dread.
  • Strangely familiar
  • Unpredictable
  • Highly Disturbing




Ultimate goal:

  • The player should have trouble sleeping after playing our game


Themes:

  • Demonic
  • Infidelity

Project Schedule

Type of horror

  • Demonic
  • Decay
  • Ominous/Tension

Challenges & Solutions:


Morale:


Keeping 12 developers happy for 7 weeks in a row is a challenging task. Team morale is one of the greatest obstacles when it comes to productivity. Some of the solutions we implemented should definitely be considered in any producers toolbag


How we solved it:


Cookies and love bombing. post friday reviews we had mandatory fika and encouragement in form of love bombing. These really helped us break down and solve obstacles together.


Lesson learned:


So many problems can be resolved by asking the right person questions. When working in a short term project with strangers, alleviating the pressure of talking to eachother is crucial. The psychology behind love bombing and sharing sweets can work wonders and make people open up.




"The game's not scary anymore":

By week 5 we had produced several events we thought were scary individualy. However the distribution of the events made the tension of the game peak before we wanted it to, making following loops feel less scary, detracting from the overall experience.


A demon screams at you from a balcony, not only was it intense it was also the first straight up hostile creature the player experiences in the game.


The other being a the radio announcer talking over the PA system in the bar confusing the player.



How we solved it:


We arranged playtests with different arrangements of events. After just a few tests it was made clear what events were breaking the pace of the game, and they were cut.

The big weight in a project like this is the feeling of lost work. While there was no doubt the conflicting events had to be cut, spending several days implementing a feature that has to be cut can make you feel unproductive. This is where cookies and reflection play an important role. It allows you to open up a discussion where no one feels hurt when you have to kill their darlings. In reality, it is inevitable.


The Black Rose radio announcer was instead reused in the game trailer giving it a unique touch.


Lesson learned:


When you eventualy have to kill someones darling make sure it's communicated why and how it benefits the game. Again I want to stress the importance of morale, there were some sad faces when we decided to cut content. What I would like to stress, is that developing and cutting content is important work when shaping a game.


Info


Workflow: Agile - Scrum


Version control: 

  • Perforce - (P4V)
  • SVN (TortoiseSVN)

The project went beyond expectations, there were of course a few setbacks but due to an effiecient and diverse team, and a proactive workflow most things were resolved in a very short timespan.


Working with experimental engine features is dangerous, there are a lot of things that can break any second. Sometimes they did, which in turn caused some necessary redesign and broken spirits, all of which were eventualy resolved.


You can read about them below in the next section Challenges and solutions.


Server meltdown:


4 days before the final deadline, the school's distributed perforce licences ran out. Timing could not have been worse as many things had yet recieved their final textures as well as some remaining bugs still breaking the game experience, with no way of synchronizing our assets I thought we would miss our deadline.


Thankfully I did have a personal SVN server set up for Game Jam projects. The entire ordeal cost us 1 day of work resulting in a lot of crunch hours to deliver the final build.


How we solved it:


As our go to IT person I took the responsibility to get a new source control system up and running.


I migrated the entire project to a home server (raspberry pi running SVN) and rapidly brief the entire team in how to use tortoiseSVN which thankfully is one of the easier source control systems to manage at small scale. Conflict prevention is a bit trickier to manage in tortoisSVN but the state of the project did not require any big new implementations minimizing those kinds of issues.


The time loss resulted in a lot of overtime the last 2 days. 


Some things are out of your hands, and sometimes it's all about solving issues fast and efficiently. Always have a backup. Especially to any indie developer. Make sure to have a plan B for any scenario. Unity collab and Git are two other contenders for source control but when it comes to scaleability and working with formats other than text files it's hard to compete with perforce or SVN.



Narrative Design

First prototypes


The first prototype I made when testing scary elements was created in Unreal Engine. Unreal as is a way faster when prototyping 3D games in general due to their robust and designer friendly blueprints. 


The prototype was made to experiment with lighting and walking mechanics like dynamic light events, flashlights and head bobbing, in less than an hour. Creating the same prototype in unity would have taken at least an entire workday if not several without any paid assets.

Management tools:

  • Miro
  • Trello
  • Scrum:
    • Daily Standups
    • Weekly sprint planning
    • Weekly sprint reviews
    • Burndown chart

Game Designer & Scripter

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