Designing the “Memory Marker”

My name is Nina Vinde Folkersen, and I am the author of the story for Aporia: Beyond the Valley. I’m also the art director and lead 2D artist on the team and have created the static story paintings in the game and our projection animations together with our 3D artists.
In the following I will discuss and present a few thoughts behind our Memory Marker. The memory marker is quickly shown in our story trailer, which you can take a look at over here:

The initial concept

When we first started sketching the story for Aporia: Beyond the Valley, the limitations were simple: It must be a story without text or dialogue. As an artist, I ended up being a part of the story building because the visuals and the narrative needed to work in close connection to achieve this. Together with Rune Christiansen, I started concepting the idea of a grand, but fallen civilization and we discussed for a long time what would be the most ideal approach for telling the story about this breathtaking ancient people and their inventions.

 

Early sketches for the Memory Marker

 

Together with the rest of the team we came up with a method that would display 2D animations surrounding the player, when inserting our light vial into a special pedestal, which we internally dubbed a ‘Memory Marker’. The animations would float in the air and light up and should be short and precise in the way they expressed the story of Aporia: Beyond the Valley and world of Ez’Rat Qin.

 

An example of objects used in the memory markers.

No text and dialogue

We wanted the emotions and relationships to be clear within the contexts of the animations, so we could tell the story through character’s movements. Luckily, atmosphere, body language and music is something that can show and tell feelings in a different; often stronger way than the written narrative. However, delivering a specific storyline with mute characters and no translation to what is going on, is something that proved quite a challenge.

It meant that we had to trust that players were so intrigued by the visuals that they wanted to keep watching and during this process analyzed what was going on.

 

It is all fun and dance in the world of Ez'Rat Qin, which was difficult to convey without words and dialogue.

 

Animation of the Memory Marker

In small children’s animation movies, they often use no text or dialogue because the child cannot read or speak yet. However, children understand body language and relationships very well, so as an adult, it shouldn’t be difficult to be able to interpret what is going on, right? But… because animations without text or dialogue is rarely seen in other contexts than small children animation, it is my general impression that it can easily be considered childish. How could I possibly make a style of animations that would also appeal to adults?

When the animation process began, I noticed that when characters exaggerate their movements they appear theatrical or ‘child-like’. We therefore decided to rely on subtler movements, e.g. instead of throwing arms up in the air, the character could jump back and still convey the emotion of surprise.

When later adding the musical score and ambience (created by Troels Nygaard of Ubertones) we could convey specific feelings through the music. We also added noticeable sounds that would fit the animations where the player needed to pay attention.

The music furthermore added another layer to the ‘memory markers’ that made the atmosphere more serious and mysterious, and this helped the animations and visual style to reach its full potential.

The final version of a memory marker scene in Aporia: Beyond the Valley.

 

Technical difficulties of the Memory Marker

We created 9 chapters of story content for Aporia: Beyond the Valley, so that each memory marker would convey one chapter.

Each chapter would add new information about the characters or the world and would be displayed in a circle around the memory marker pedestal using light projections. Here, the view distance to the player was crucial, as it defined the perceived details in the scene. This is the reason why the memory markers have a maximum capacity of 6 scenes in each story bit. This is not a lot, it meant that we only had this number of ‘square frames’ to tell each bit of story. Nevertheless, it was a nice limitation, since it meant that each chapter could only contain the most important parts of the story.

 

In the beginning, I believed it would look cool if the characters ran or moved from one frame to the next. However, after each scene, the animation stopped, and at the beginning of each scene the animation starts, so the transition would not be played fluently. We therefore added foreground architecture and trees – which allowed the character to “move behind” objects during each transition.

 

Limits of flat 2D animations and style

In movies, you can cut to another angle of the same location, or cut to the next scene showing a “sometime later…” at the same location; because the memory markers are 2D animations, it seems odd when using this technique. This is due to how the memory marker is displayed; as projections, which “changes” after each frame – thus, the player would expect that the location will also change.  Two corresponding scenes could not be on the exact same location, but could be on two locations right next to each other, giving the impression of a larger space. Cutting to a later point in time on the same location could only be allowed within the same frame, as it would otherwise look odd.

The different body elements that were rigged together and animated in Maya.

Other oddities

Another odd, but fun problem we came across was due to the 2D characters only moving in one plane.  As their heads are always shown in profile, they can nod yes, but not shake their heads no. Instead, we invented other means of sign language that could e.g. display polite disapproval; an open palm moving forwards (a “stop” motion), a threatening motion; a flipped fist shaking towards another character, or dismissal; an arm pointing straight (a “get-out” motion).

 

Follow the light and join the ancient civilization in Aporia: Beyond the Valley.

 

Because of the character’s simple geometrical form, especially the robes caused some trouble, when the character had to run, or bend at the waist. One of our main characters therefore got another model attached, which allowed her to fall on her knees, which would otherwise not have been possible.

 

I guess thats its for me. I really hope that you will enjoy the memory markers and the story that we try to convey!

 

Nina Vinde Folkersen – Concept Artist & Writer
Investigate North

 

 


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