We have had a lot of buzz surrounding our use of using Articy Draft to bring our upcoming dynamic VR murder mystery AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE to life.
I thought it would be a nice idea to sit down with you today, crack open a cold one (you like last night’s Earle gray, right?) and delve deeper into how Articy Draft is making AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE a reality.
Let’s find out how we’re using Articy Draft to take Avant Garde Investigate to the next level. Image credits: AvGaHo
When I first met Articy Draft, we were like two strangers brushing past on our commute to work. Two separate entities that would share no connection apart from this one moment where I’ve accidentally bumped into them on a journey to work.
We didn’t know anything about each other and at first glance, I was quite the cynic. I had heard on the winds that many people used Articy Draft to bring their games to life but as I delved deeper into it, I was pessimistic this was the design tool we needed to bring Avant Garde Investigate.
Articy Draft has a lot of features and in that first glance, I couldn’t picture how we could utilize these features in any productive manner. It is like purchasing a brand new home. Even though secret doors, a slide at the side of the house and a NASA satellite sound like good fun, the practicality of extending the budget just to get these cool but effectively useless add-ons just didn’t make sense when there were more minimalistic, cheaper options available.
It’s at this point that weird little thing called fate kicked in. Just like with the train story, this is the part where a Deus ex machina draws us together and we start to become more than just strangers.
As it turns out, by some strange pseudo-coincidence, I already owned a legacy version of Articy Draft on Steam. I do not recall how or when it got there, but it sat in my Steam library. Well, I had no excuse not to dive in now. I gave it a cheeky install, fired it up and… felt immediately lost.
As foretold, Articy Draft has many moving parts. A lot of different tools to perform a variety of tasks. I mentioned in the first developer log that it felt like many developers came together with seemingly random tools and smashed them in to create a Frankenstein all-in-one tool.
And at first glance, it definitely feels as such. Even in Articy Draft 2, the flavor I started this adventure in. It is missing a few of the bells and whistles of Articy Draft 3, such as the document feature, but felt incredibly daunting when I first laid my eyes inside.
If you have read that first developer log, you’ll know this is the point I originally called it quits and began looking for alternatives. But something drew me back.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it was, even now, but I decided to give Articy Draft the time of day. Of course, I am now glad I did but at the time I was filled to the eyeballs in hesitation and doubt.
There is a lot to Articy Draft and I don’t wish to make this post a convoluted mess. I will try my best to keep things as simple and organized as possible but I do apologize in advance, as Articy Draft has become one of our key design tools for AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE, I want to make sure you understand why we’re putting so much time and faith into this tool.
There are a few key features of Articy Draft that won us over in the long run. One of them is the variable system. As AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE utilizes dynamic victim-murderer-weapon systems, being able to use variables is a killer.
For those who are confused, this means that instead of writing 20 separate dialogue situations that we have to stitch together manually, we can have one, branching conversation tree they can use “Is the murderer?” to alter the situation, dialog or anything we need to convey the story in a convincing fashion.
What do I mean by convincing? There is nothing worse than getting sucked into a story, only to have minor or major story events brushed over as you’re using a premade “one size fits all” script. Using variables in our design allows us to, at the design stage, ensure that nothing gets left behind in terms of plot points, no matter how minor.
A character lied that they don’t like cheese in a randomised personal conversation? Now, if the conversation pops up about a cheese party, we can find out if the character told the player this lie and make sure they don’t trip up in their own web of lies and deceit.
Sadly, there is no conversation about cheese in AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE, not yet anyway. However, we can use this system to ensure the player is given the right clues for the right time. We don’t want to shower them in clues making something obvious but at the same time, we don’t want to send too many false flags and misdirections. When you add in the fact that the killer, victim and murder weapon are totally random every time, it becomes a delicate balance of how to treat each conversation with each character.
Without variables, our project’s design time would’ve been increased 10–20x fold. Image source: AvGaHo
Thanks to Articy Draft and the variables system, we can anticipate these situations and adjust accordingly. Is X character not the murderer this time? Then let’s not have him say “I am the killer”. I think you get the idea from here, super helpful stuff, especially when dealing with something as complicated as a randomised motive, means and end to a story.
The next area where Articy Draft has aided the project is the export features. Articy Draft allows you to export to a variety of different formats, from word documents to a massive .json dump. If you’re using Unity, hell they even have a plugin to send your data over there.
But it’s that one export feature which not only cemented the idea of using Articy Draft but also helped transform our project for the better. JSON exporting.
An example of the raw JSON output. Note that this document alone (1/4 of Act #1) is 45,698 lines. Perfect amount of information, ready for molding and pulling apart. Image source: AvGaHo
The JSON exporter, by default, dumps pretty much everything from the Articy Draft project. From character dialog all the way to all the connections, variables and even positions/colors of the nodes used in the program.
This is a gold mine of data, giving us the same Articy Draft experience but technically usable pretty much anywhere we’re going to need it in terms of the project.
Because the JSON dump is so rich on data, Herbert has crafted a neat little Phyton script that cuts out whatever we don’t need (gotta keep things clean where possible!) and primes the JSON data ready to import into our Unreal Engine 4 project.
A nice simple pipeline that gets our data from Articy Draft into Unreal Engine 4 with almost no effort at all. It is entirely possible to dump the whole load into Unreal Engine 4 without clean-up, drastically reducing the time to follow the workflow… flow. Image source: AvGaHo
From here, we can do anything we like with the data. Want to create a custom Blueprint using the same nodes/node positions as in Articy Draft? Now we can. Want to test play the dialogue with no user input with an existing scene with existing 3D models? Yup can do that! How about auto matching dialogue to animations and audio files, all placed into the in-game world, all at runtime? Yes, even that.
Because of this flexibility, we can use what we have already spent the time designing in Articy Draft in the actual game builds. From subtitles to automatically bringing the pre-created scenes to life in real time, this ensures that the hard work we spend in designing our game in Articy Draft is the same stuff the end user will see when they play. An unmistakable time saver, it’s one of the biggest features of Articy Draft in our opinion and one of the key reasons we decided to use it full-force for the design phase of AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE.
Another overlooked feature that ended up being extremely beneficial to AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE from within the depths of Articy Draft is the “Documents” feature.
Documents in Articy Draft are simple, beautiful and super helpful for manual look-up. Image source: AvGaHo
Oh boy, documents — am I right? But no, the fact that this tool is built within Articy Draft gives us, even more, time-saving benefits that aid in taking the project to the next level.
Before using the documents feature in Articy Draft, we were using Google Drive to create and synchronize our documents and documentation. If you’re raising your eyebrows at that fact — don’t. I have worked at a number of so-called AAA studios who all do the same thing.
It’s lightweight, convenient and you won’t lose your progress if you don’t save. Extremely helpful and efficient is an understatement. However, it does have some pains about it.
Google docs is convenient, but forcing people to follow style guides can be an issue. Image source: AvGaHo
Due to the fact Google Drive can host a multitude of files, more often than not you lose time sifting through folder after folder for the correct project files and then later, the actual file you were seeking. Even though this can range from a couple seconds to a couple minutes inconvenience at a time, it can quickly add up.
As each Articy Draft project is sectioned off into its own special project area, all of your documents seat neatly in one place. From there, you can create a folder structure that makes sense and before you know it — your saving seconds to minutes in terms of locating files, which as previously alluded to can very, very quickly add up.
Another neat feature of the document tool within Articy Draft, nay two near features is the fact that they all follow the same style guide. You’ve got your sun burnt orange titles and your font/text sizes synced throughout your documents.
An example of how easy it is to find what you’re looking for in terms of documentation hunting. Note, we could use more descriptive names to make things even easier. Image source: AvGaHo
This also leads into the second neat point and that is how Articy Draft deals with content. Each block of text, image and whatever else you add is given its own “chapter”. This means that even from the content browser of Articy Draft, you can locate when and where you have put specific data. This saves massive amounts of time in terms of using an inbuilt search engine or manually locating the data as it is clearly visible from the folder view alone.
This, of course, is part of the built in style guide for the documents. This ensures that if you’re on a time with an Articy Draft novice and an Articy Draft pro, their document work will all follow the same style and will all look as if it had come from a single person. Great for reducing confusion and more importantly — you guessed it, saving time.
So that sums up the reasons we’re using Articy Draft and how it’s helping us take AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE to the next level. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out but for now, it’s time to jump back into the deep end and bring the game to life.
Thanks for reading!