It’s not always sunshine and roses

So far we’ve always been on the ready with exciting updates, new breakthroughs, and professional screenshots. But it’s not always sunshine and roses with the development process. This post is going to be a short bloopers reel to share some of the funny and constant roadblocks that we’ve encountered along the way.

This poor student is supposed to be sitting at a table in the library and studying. Instead, we take screenshots during playtesting and write witty comments.
This poor student is supposed to be sitting at a table in the library and studying. Instead, we take screenshots during playtesting and write witty comments.

The above picture is repeatedly the situation that we have found ourselves in. We make, test, and re-make objects over and over again until we get them right. Sometimes we get errors when handing files from one team to another, or actually implementing them into the Unity game engine. It’s been a bit like herding cats.

Sometimes the objects react in completely unpredictable ways, like the characters’ eyes flinging out of their heads on every second step. Or sometimes the bone structure of the characters just wasn’t implemented in the proper hierarchy, so things get a little bit strange when we test out the animations in the game engine. For better or worse, though, it’s all part of the process of fine tuning all of the characters and animations of the game. We hope you enjoy a few of our struggles along the way.

Character's eyes popping out of the head
In the top photo, this character’s eyes shoot out of her head ever other step; have no fear, though, because they always come back. In the bottom photo, we just have overlapping text.
Just a few hiccups in the animation process
Just a few hiccups in the animation process
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Who, and what, is in the line-up?

The countdown for the release of Harvey has begun. So as we head into the final two weeks, we thought it was time for the complete show-and-tell.

the line-up of Harvey character models
The “Harvey Army” created over the course of this year by the character-artist team

The character artists have been nose-to-the-grindstone all year, and we’re proud to announce that Harvey is going to be quite a diverse environment. We have a great line-up of historical characters: Minnie Becker, Stout Secretary; Bill Neubauer, elevator operator; L. D. Harvey, first president of Stout; Lillian Froggatt, head librarian; Mary McCalmont, chemistry teacher; Verne Fryklund, third president of Stout; and Cal Peters, artist-in-residence. As for background characters, though, you’ll see more than 30 different characters wandering the halls and filling the classrooms. We’ll have fresh faces and tons of background chatter to keep the Harvey environment new and interesting.

The classroom and environments line-up is even longer. We have 10 rooms and hallways fully populated with characters, objects, and games ready for you to explore. On this 10 room list is the theater, President’s office, textile room, sewing room, millinery classroom, library, tea room, food lab, chemistry lab, and Cal Peters’ studio.

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Textile room
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Theater
First floor hallway, main entrance

Action!

Hello! We’ve been hearing a lot about what the 3D artists and digital humanities students have been up to lately but not much about our digital cinema students. This post, written by Ava and Rachel, brings us up to speed.

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Digital Cinema students Tyler Anderson and Tony Pha reviewing takes.

The creation of a work of film is separated into many stages. Speaking most generally these stages are pre-production, production, and post-production. Over the course of two months, we have worked heavily on the pre-production stage, including location scouting, storyboarding, creating wardrobe and prop boards, as well as blocking out shots on location. In a concentrated story form like we are creating for the beginning of the Harvey Game, this stage is essential. Since we are shooting on an off-campus location, the Mabel Tainter Theater, communication between the teams, within our team, and to those at the Tainter, all have to line up and be worked out before anything can be done.

The first time we are able to work on set, different challenges became immediately clear. From our initial storyboards, we had a clear idea of how our video would look, but often it’s a bit more difficult to actually create these ideal images. The spaces within the Tainter also posed interesting problems to solve. For example, the “Rare Book Section” is actually a few closely-packed shelves in a back room. Sometimes our initial storyboards had to be tweaked, or we came up with new ideas on the spot. The most frustrating part of filming is actually the communication stages. Having everything planned, yet waiting for the “Okay” is difficult to have patience for, but is worth it in the end.

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Sara Westman temporarily acting as the protagonist for the short film; pre-production is painstaking.

Our next steps will be to shoot the final version of the film with our actress, and then work on the post-production stage. This will include a lot of color correction, as well as some digital compositing of shots to really give the feel to the library we’re looking for. Sound design will also come into this stage, as sounds will be added and edited, and some music potentially added to heighten the mood. We’re looking forward to seeing our short film integrated into the Harvey Game.

Old Bill

So whose in our lineup for new characters in Harvey? 

How about a heartwarming, German speaking, advice giving, jovial little man named Bill!

Introducing William F. Neubauer.

Bill Neubauer closing the elevator doors. Students crowd around him.
Bill is the one that looks more dapper than the rest.

William (Bill) Neubauer started his career at the Stout Institute in 1931 as a 30-day temporary elevator operator. The first 30 days seemed to work out quite well, so Bill carried on as the Stout Institute’s elevator operator for the next 23 years, finally retiring in 1954 when an automatic elevator was installed. He didn’t have any hard feelings about it, though.

Bill was very well known and admired by the students. According to Stoutonia newspaper articles and many students, Bill was always happy. The daily elevator riders always looked forward to his cheery conversation, hearty greetings, and his even disposition. He is remembered as one who was always willing to help students in any way that he could. He always gave great advice. Bill had moxie. His frequent greetings in German led many students to believe that he grew up in Germany, but he actually moved to America by the time he was two years old. Old Bill perfected his German speaking skills in Wisconsin.

Black and white photo of Bill Neubauer standing in the elevator.
Quite the gentleman.

Some of the most mind-boggling aspects of Bill’s career at Stout are his estimations of the number of students he has transported in his trusty elevator. Bill himself estimated that every day he would travel roughly 8 miles in his elevator. He made between 500 and 600 trips every day, and each trip averaged 6 passengers, bringing the total to about 3,600 passengers daily. Over the duration of his career, Bill estimated that he transported 15 million passengers over the course of 48,000 miles.

We dug up an old Stoutonia article that opens a window into Bill’s life, providing just one anecdote. It reads, “The funniest experience that Bill told about his work is when a girl came running up to the elevator when it was stopped in the basement shouting, “take me to fourth Bill.” She counted the floors as they were going up, “two, three, four,… oh, my gosh Bill, we just passed fourth, where to now?”

Presentation and Playtest!

Come one, come all!

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You are invited to an in-progress Virtual Harvey Hall presentation and playtest, this Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in UW-Stout Micheels Hall 290. Now in its second semester, the project has grown to a three-class, 45-student collaborative transmedia project (overseen by Mitch Ogden, Kevin Pontuti, and Dave Beck). While this presentation will still be an in-progress view of the experience, we hope to gather more feedback from all of you as we move into the final stage of the project’s development.

The key area of feedback that we hope to gather is in the “playtesting” phase – giving you a chance to sit down with the project and experience Harvey for yourself!

Swing by to hear a short presentation on the current build of Harvey and and sit down to a computer to play the game yourself. We want feedback from anyone and everyone!

Weaving in a Story

The Library reading room of the Mabel Tainter.
The Library reading room of the Mabel Tainter.

After a long winter break and a fresh start to the new semester, the development team is back in action, with a few new gadgets on our swiss army knife. We’ve got loads of new and talented people working on Harvey this semester. This project has many facets. We have taken in a class of Digital Cinema students, many new 3D artists, and a graphic designer. We’re working on branding, short films to serve as cutscenes as well as trailers, and even a coffee table book to augment the project.

One of the more exciting announcements we have is that we’re finally hashing out the details to the storyline to drive the player through the game. We’ve created a Narrative Team that’s broken up into several small teams of students from all three classes to write the story for the opening cutscene, an in-game animatic, and the individual events that turn the narrative.

Picture this: A student is studying alone late at night in a library. Lightning flashes outside the window. It’s raining heavily. The student is digging into the history of UW–Stout for a class project. The library is near closing. She has been working hard and is very tired. Down the hall she can hear a door close, then another. It’s the custodian locking up for the night. He looks familiar to her for some reason, but she doesn’t know why. He is a bald man. She sees the man walk past her and approach the doors to the stacks containing the library’s collection of rare, old, and protected books. He locks the door. At least she thinks the custodian locked the door… There is light coming from a crack in the door. The student packs her book bag and stands up to investigate. She approaches the door cautiously. She is scared. She places a hand on the door and it swings open with a creak. She enters the room, and the door swings shut behind her. It’s locked. Inside, she finds the source of the light. It’s coming from high up on a book shelf. The student climbs an old ladder to investigate. She finds a book emitting a faint blue glow. She is stunned. Lightning cracks outside. Thunder booms. A window is blown open, the student is startled, and she falls. The book falls with her. She closes her eyes… But when she opens them she is standing face to face with Lorenzo Dow Harvey. The time is 1917.

That is the brief and general story of our opening cutscene. We are considering locations for filming, too! Right now, the backstage area in Mabel Tainter Theater—that once housed a public library collection—looks like the perfect set.

Vault Door to Mabel Tainter stacks
Vault Door to Mabel Tainter stacks
Ladder in Mabel Tainter Stacks
Ladder in Mabel Tainter Stacks

Minnie’s Mini-Game

I am Kayla Black, Lead for the Digital Humanities Content team, and I am working on the dialogue for Minnie Becker and the mini-game that involves having a conversation with her. I have been spending time in the archives on the microfilm machine looking at the scrapbooks that Minnie put together during her time at Stout.

microfilm set up

Minnie Becker was a president’s secretary for forty years at the Stout Institute and served for four Presidents. Minnie is one of the historical characters in Harvey. She was chosen as a character for the game because she was at Stout for such a long period of time and also was very involved and knowledgeable about things happening on and around campus. She created scrapbooks from collected newspaper clippings that had anything to do with Stout, Menomonie, or even Wisconsin. The newspaper clippings mostly came from local papers like Eau Claire and Twin Cities papers.

These scrapbooks were captured on three reels of microfilm:

mircrofilm scrapbook

We want to create a mini-game that involves gossiping with Minnie. The player will find her in the President’s office, where she spent a lot of her time as secretary. I have found these scrapbooks to be a great resource to create conversation that Minnie would have had with students. She cut out and pasted all of these articles, so surely she would have talked about the stories she was collecting. Parts of the scrapbooks will also be built into the game so that player can flip through some of the pages. This mini-game is a place where we can tell stories from the past, without having to reenact them in the game. For example, when JFK came to speak at Stout Institute, Minnie was there and will be able to tell some details about when he came and spoke in Harvey Hall.

It will also be a place where we can tell stories from around campus, not just in Harvey Hall. I found an article about a Fraternity house that caught on fire back in 1958. It gives the address of the house, which was on 6th Street, where Frat houses remained until they were torn down just this past summer in 2014.

Frat Fire-Micro film

There are too many clippings to add all of them to the game, but I am working on picking the most interesting stories that will represent Stout and Harvey Hall as it should. We’re very excited to write dialogue for Minnie and build this interactive character.