LOOKING BACK

My art process mostly consists of the same stages, but VR definitely created a lot of challenges and difficulties I hadn’t foreseen. I am so used to working in Illustrator, that I felt uncomfortable and unsure at first how to work in Unity. There are so many variables and possibilities and settings that don’t do exactly what you want! It feels like everything is way more complex and with more workarounds. I went from feeling restricted, to feeling I had all the freedom to getting an art block during the art process.

Luckily programmer Rik de Rooij built tools for me to use, gradient, particle and color managers that were accessible. I was also able to take screenshots of the game at any time to use as a reference or example. All these tool made it way easier for me to navigate Unity and communicate to my teammates what I meant or was looking for.

For the womb tunnel at the end of the game I could design geometrical shapes in vector and then load them into Unity to add them to the particle system. The same system was used for the area with plants that activate heartbeat soundscapes.

Niki Smit created most of the 3D models, compositions and shaders and Meaza Jamal Pardoel designed additional 3D models and animations. From them I learned how to explain my art and how it can be transformed into 3D. That meant I needed to figure out what my flat art would look like from all sides and how it moves. I also had to think about designs that aren’t as comfortable and soft, for scenes in the womb tunnel that were meant to be painful, more angular and sharp.

A lot of concept art wasn’t used, was too complex or not translatable to 3D. This was something I already experienced from working on other artistic game projects with teams.
Although next time, I would start to work in Unity sooner than I did now, to try to blend in the art better and to have more control over it in 3D. I did experience again how much value concept art has, it can give you something to talk about and can inspire others, but it can also make you realize what direction the game can go in.

Here is concept art for a water level that didn’t make the final cut.

Here's a selection of screenshots of the final look in-game and photo’s of the setup during the Screenshake festival in Antwerp, February 2017.

 Second + third photo courtesy of  zo-ii , exhibition setup by Zuraida Buter & Screenshake

Second + third photo courtesy of zo-ii, exhibition setup by Zuraida Buter & Screenshake


~ Liselore Goedhart

VISUALIZING SOUND

Early on we needed designs for sound spots that you could activate by looking at them in VR. These sound spots would have different states in animation. I worked together with 3D artist and animator Meaza Jamal Pardoel to design the sound spots and figure out how their look and feel. I created a lot of different concepts in my sketchbook and in Illustrator.

 Meaza created this model and animation for a sound spot, based on my concept art.

Meaza created this model and animation for a sound spot, based on my concept art.

Since I realized I couldn’t exactly duplicate my gradients from Illustrator, I decided to make most of my concept art in flat colors and simulate a gradient look with layering. Even though we thought the look of the individual sound spots and animations were very strong, we ended up not using them in the final game. Some shapes didn’t work well with the environment or were too complex in animation and style.

The sound spots did evolve into the cell trees that we used in the beginning of the game. I created more concept art of these different trees.

To create a transition between different scenes and moods we added a bigger cell tree that acts like a portal. I love the idea of a small universe peeking through. This was something we already introduced in the first version of Remembering.

For the womb environment I wanted to add more organic shapes, reminiscent of plants and flowers. While making this art I tried to keep in mind how this art would have sound attached to them.


~ Liselore Goedhart

FROM VECTOR TO VR

Our aim was to create visuals that are open to interpretation and simple or geometrical in shape, so that sound would not be overruled. This proved to be one of the biggest challenges. Music and sound can trigger a lot of emotion and memories, but as an artist I have the urge to give the player a visual reference or context. Most importantly, I wanted to create a connection between players and something that was alive.

That’s why we also had ideas about adding a character that would guide you through the world and would act as a visual memory. In the end we weren’t able to use any characters in the game, because of technical and time constraints, so the life had to come from plants, surroundings, subtle movements and particles.

I started building color pallets, soft gradients, individual objects and environments in Illustrator.

Soon I needed to work in Unity as well to see how my colors would work in VR. I quickly found out that white and pastel tones and some saturated colors are not comfortable to look at or be in. Color matching is very different and it was clear that dark backgrounds work better than light ones in VR. I choose my colors very organically, so this was something new, since I had to adjust constantly.

The gradient tool (shader) in Unity also works differently than the one in Illustrator, the transition from one color to the next was way more instant and I had less control over it. Luckily fog adds a lot of depth and extra softness, shading and depth to your objects. We also wanted to maintain a 2D look in VR, which we achieved by creating simple 3D models and no shading. Niki Smit (Monobanda Play) created the models for the cell trees.

The moment we created a storyboard and all the phases of the level I created some concepts for these stages.

We had many ideas for the first scene in Remembering. One idea was that you start in a monochrome environment with one growing flat shaded cell that would turn into a three dimensional cell with layers. We ended up however with a blurry scene which acts as a metaphor for the growth and development of your eyes.


~ Liselore Goedhart

SOUND FOR THE UNBORN

Once a certain awareness has grown, the player will be able to distinguish a more detailed world of sound. So what would they hear, and how would it sound if it was the first thing they had ever heard?

What's there is:
- Liquid all around, slowly streaming and pressing against their ears;
- Heartbeats of their mother;
- The sound of their own body – heart beating and blood flowing;
- Sounds from outside – their mother singing, filtered sounds of the reality of the world outside the womb.

But what could it sound like to an unborn?

As the player grows more conscious, their perception sharpens. They're able to dissect what they're hearing, even if it all still makes no sense. More layers are revealed, more subtleties emerge, creating new connections with existing sounds. The player’s state of listening constantly shifts between causal and reduced - a state of awareness and a state of habituation.

Now then, how can we seduce the player to switch between these states?

To help get this into motion, we could make use of another pair of sound perception definitions: non-diegetic and diegetic listening.

Diegetic: any sound presented as originated from a source within the game's world.
Non-diegetic: sound coming from a source outside story space, like a soundtrack.

First of we’ll suggest the player that they’re presented with ‘real’ concrete sounds. Sounding within the constraints of the space around them, resembling for example a heartbeat, they’re qualified as being diegetic.
Next we'll cloud the distinction between these two, morphing seemingly clear and concrete sounds into abstract and surreal sounds or even musical themes.
Sounds of a beating heart, of blood flowing through vains, of growing of cells are introduced as they are. And then they are combined in a musical, rhythmical way so they cease being just these concrete sounds and start being music - a non-diegetic soundtrack.

And yet… not quite…

The sounds keep their places in space at all times, suggesting there’s still a local source that causes them to sound. This shifting between different ways of listening and interpreting creates an ambiguity, alienating the player from the acoustic principles they’re accustomed to and forcing them to rediscover the audible world around them. Hopefully a little bit as if you’re listening for the very first time...

~ SonicPicnic
 

A SINGULARITY TURNING INTO SPACE

What would be there even before someone grows into a perceiving being? What will be there at the start of all things?
How would a vacuum evolve into space?
How would a single point become something swallowing you whole?

This is how we imagined it:

~ SonicPicnic

FIRST CENTRAL MUSICAL THEME

Directly from the beginning we were looking for a aural constant in the game that could take on the role of a center point, something that a player could connect to, something to hold on to, and to look out for.

We have been exploring several musical themes to fulfill this part, looking for a melody that would be present everywhere in the world of Remembering, sometimes overwhelming and in your face, sometimes subtle and hidden.

The theme could be a metaphor for the player, as the unborn, like an aural resonance of your being. A musical motive as an essence inside you, formed and nurtured in the womb, to be carried with you for the rest of your life, as a pair of tinted glasses through which you will be seeing the world for the rest of your life.

This first attempt tries to capture some emotions, like frailty, hope, beauty, maybe a bit of melancholy. A lot of the more aggressive, blacker, angrier and darker facets are not yet touched upon but will be based on the same theme.

This attempt also doesn’t deal in any way with possible implementation in the game’s world, let alone the way players will interact with it. 

~ SonicPicnic

THE SOUND OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Early in the development we started to look for a way to capture moods and states of mind in sound. We were trying to create an aural representation of the emotional aspect, but more importantly we were looking into the physical motor behind these thoughts and feelings - the brain as a nerve-headquarters, with trembling cells and sparking nerves.

Below you can listen to some of these experiments.

~ SonicPicnic

DEFINING THE STYLE

The first themes we focused on were creation and birth. We wanted to show the beauty of conception and the trauma of being born. This was the prologue and starting point and it was an idea we were very excited about. The challenge for me was to create a world that wouldn’t be too literal and that relied on association rather than observation. Since the experience is for VR and audio-driven, I also needed to do a lot of research designing concept art for 3D VR spaces and think about how the visuals would be connected to sound.

I started looking for other games that fall into the same category as Remembering, like exploration games and audiovisual experiences. The ones that stood out were Soundself, Panoramical and Shape of the World. Soundself is a euphoric experience that you explore by using your voice. In Panoramical, you manipulate the look, sound, and feel of mesmerizing landscapes. Shape of the World is an exploration game where the world grows around you.
The developers of these games make it very clear that they want the player to be immersed in an unique and creative world where you make your own experience and where playing is the reward, not winning. Visually these games have a stylized look, with simple geometrical shapes, silhouettes and color splashes.

I also looked for illustrations and photos online that came close to what art style we envisioned. Here are some screenshots of inspirational images we found via Pinterest.

Looking at these images it was obvious I was drawn to using a layered look. I was thinking of fabrics like silk and chiffon, or a thin layer of skin, film or veil over objects or surfaces. Other associations I had were underwater creatures and corals, polyps, cells and molecules, growth and decay, cradling, fragility and strength.

Based on these ideas and inspirations I made the first sketches of shapes for our environment. I designed these shapes intuitively without thinking too much about what they might represent.

 
 

Since I already set up a style for the first rendition of Remembering in 2013 I had something to go on when I started to design concept art in vector in Illustrator. Some of the plant and tree shapes worked really well in a game space, especially with subtle gradients.

I did however want to use more bold and bright color accents instead of pastel colors. This turned out to be both an artistic and technical choice, since light colors and backgrounds don't work very well in VR.
I chose a dark purple and red with bright pink and white accents. This was one of the first color schemes that popped up. I mostly choose colors organically and grow attached to them. When the style is more established I design different color pallets and possibilities.

Antoni Gaudí’s use of organic shapes and geometrical forms of nature came to mind when I started making designs for the womb.

This sketch I then turned into vector art.

The difficult part about designing minimal worlds is how much abstraction to use without it becoming too unrecognizable or detached. Abstraction is something I use a lot in my art. It ensures that a viewer or player can interpret a lot themselves, they can associate and it opens the mind to imagine more and focus on the things that matter.

I was looking for a way to design abstract and organic shapes that would make the player feel warm and would evoke curiosity. I tried to accomplish that by creating layers in my art and soft shapes and gradients. I felt the player should be welcomed with a relaxed and calm environment. Especially since players need to get used to floating through a 3D space in VR.

Another challenge is to ensure there is unison and that the world is consistent and believable. We don’t use a horizon in Remembering, so a lot of things will be floating around and won’t have any base or ground. We will have some ways to put objects on a floor, for instance inside the womb and when using a lot of fog.


~ Liselore Goedhart

INTRODUCTION

Remembering is back! Three years ago we created a small game that got people pretty excited. We put it online for free, received a lot of lovely comments and even won an award. And that was the end if it. Or so we thought. Because it never let go. It was clear that Remembering had a lot more to tell and that we were not done yet.

The advent of VR was the tipping point for us. The ability of VR to completely isolate you from the real world, and place you in virtual one, was exactly what we had always envisioned for a game that is about using your senses in a different way. We decided to join forces again to create a new Remembering for VR.

The new Remembering, just like its predecessor, tells a story through sound, music and abstract shapes. It is a slow, poetic journey about the beauty of conception and the trauma of being born. During this almost lucid dream-like experience, you have limited control, and your gaze controls what you hear.

Most virtual reality is about looking. Remembering is about listening. By building a world based on sound instead of visuals we have created a place that relies on association rather than observation.
Part experiment, part art project, with Remembering we are researching the physical connotations and impact of sound in VR, an area in games that hasn’t been much explored yet.

In an effort to bring people in a more open receptive physical state, the game can be played lying down. This open, more vulnerable body posture helps the experience a become even more dreamlike. The connection between embodiment and sound in VR has been our main focus. Embodiment, or the sense of physically being somewhere, can be heavily influenced by sound. By connecting associative sounds to various forms of physical impact, we explore how sound can play a bigger role in the sense of being ‘here’.

Since this was an experimental project, we have a lot to share about the process of building this VR game and developing the audio. We will update the blog with our insights and keep you updated!

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The first prototype of Remembering (2013) can be downloaded here:
Windows / Mac

~Monobanda