BRIEF HISTORY

15th December 2003: Release of the Atlantzone adventure game, created by the BYC Dream Team: Babouchka (scenario), Yves (programming) and Caro (graphics).

August 2004: At Yves’ initiative, Babou and Caro agree to design another game. Very soon, we decide to call it Amertis, once again as a tribute to Amerzone and Atlantis.

April 2005: Olivier joins the team.

October 2005: The scenario is well stabilised, and Babou considers it’s high time for her to enjoy the pleasures of a well-deserved retirement. She will come back for the final tests.

April 2006: Ludo is contacted by Olivier, and gets on board for the islands.

May 2006: Yaz is contacted by Caro and heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work he goes in the tunnels, shovel in hand.

March 2007: Yves goes on a six-month tour of Europe, bike riding with the whole family. He steps out of the team for good, after having distanced himself gradually over the previous year or so.



INTERVIEW

 

1/ The Atlantzone Dream Team has evolved. Why is that?
Caro :
I know that Yves wanted very much Amertis to be done strictly by the Dream Team, that is to say the BYC group (Babou-Yves-Caro).
When he described his new project to me, I thought he’d take care of the 3D and all settings in general. This would have left me only with the post-production and the integration of the puzzles. Unfortunately, I had misunderstood… and I had to face what amounted to a practically insurmountable task, especially since Yves had not always the time to answer the million questions raised when setting up a game. He was too absorbed by his work, his family and numerous activities.
So, I began asking for Olivier’s help to refine the puzzles. Then he offered to help me on the Photoshop work. Finally, we looked for, and found, two other graphic developers, Yaz and Ludo, to take over the 3D design.
In fact, gradually, Olivier assumed a key role in the team, and even went so far as to learn Flash programming when Yves distanced himself from the game creation, which was taking too much time for his taste.
And so, I take responsibility for the evolution of the BYC group towards COLYBY, and I’ve never regretted it. And anyway, how could I ever have done all by myself what required so much time and hard work from the four of us?

Olivier :
Because Amertis is a different game, and required new skills. And because that’s life, people change, they have new projects…

But to answer more precisely, I must get back to the genesis of the project…
It’s a fact that, in 2003-2004, everybody was surprised by the success of Atlantzone, most of all its creators! We soon received countless messages on the forum requesting a sequel. And so, early 2005, the Atlantzone trio, i.e. Yves the programmer, Babou the script-writer and Caroline the picture-maker thought: “Why not?” Yves was the most highly motivated at the time. I think Caroline was more reluctant, knowing fully well how time consuming it is to do the graphic part of a game.
Things got much more complicated when they decided to give a 3D look to the game. This meant having to use a 3D software instead of taking simple photographs and touching them up. No arguing that it was a great idea: Babou’s scenario was about a dreamlike universe, and it would have been difficult to “build worlds” with just photographs. The problem was, none of them had ever used this kind of software before, and that requires a significant amount of training.
As usual, Caroline grumbledt  , but got to work, since no one else wanted to do the job! Unfortunately, after a few months, she realized she couldn’t do it all on her own, especially since her eyesight began to fail due to the long stressful hours spent in front of the screen.
In parallel, Babou had finalized the scenario and Yves laid the foundation for the game structure. To do that, he had learnt Flash programming, a software well suited for games, with the added bonus that it’s flexible and can run on all platforms, Mac, Linux or PC. As for the puzzles, everyone contributed, sometimes inspired by what they’d found in other games. To coordinate all that, Yves set up a private forum.

And this is where I stepped onto the scene, which will also answer question #2.

Ludo :
Because you have to evolve if you want to survive, I suppose?

Yaz :
Personally, I have not participated in anything that the original team did, so it’s rather difficult for me to talk about any evolution. I guess new members became necessary when some were no longer available on this new project. Also, while doing a quick test of Atlantzone, I have noticed there were no 3D graphics involved (all the images were based on photographs touched up with Photoshop). Since Amertis required computer graphics skills, I guess the real novelty was to add 3D graphic expertise to the team.

Babou :
The more the merrier!


Yves :
I’d say that the team expanded, going from 3 to 5 or 6 for Amertis. The new guys were very motivated by the idea of creating a game, and felt “confident” because the “oldsters” looked very serious… We have mostly added sound and graphic skills to the team.

 


2/ When, and why, did you launch into the creation of this new game?

Caro :
In August 2004, Yves managed to convince me to start another game.
He had to be very persuasive, because when we made Atlantzone, I was in charge of taking the photographs, doing Photoshop work on them to create the settings, then assembling and incorporating the puzzles, and also writing the technical documentation to make the programming easier. This was a great adventure, but it also meant more than 6 months of work, non-stop, 10 to 15 hours a day, cut off from all “normal life”. I wasn’t really eager to fall again in this “black hole”.
But Yves’ enthusiasm finally won me over.
It’s true that designing a game is a marvellous thing to do, especially when it’s meant as a gift to other people…

Olivier :
It so happens that, at the time the famous trio was beginning to work on this “sequel” of Atlantzone, I was very active on a forum devoted to adventure games, a website I love for its conviviality: http://www.atlantisamerzoneetcie.com , also known as AAC.
I regularly contributed little puzzles of my own invention, and I even organized a “great puzzles challenge” among the forum members. I have always been drawn to logic puzzles, secret codes and so on. I was born with a mathematical mind, but I have also always loved adventure, Jules Verne and Tintin.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I had become friends with Caroline and Babou, who were two major participants in this forum. And one fine day of 2006, during the annual AAC meeting, Caroline drew me aside and asked me in confidence: “Hem… we’re working on an adventure game, it’s top secret, but we could use some help to design a little puzzle, what do you say?”
I don’t know what took me that day, but I said yes! If I had realized at the time what I was getting myself into, well… well, I’d sign up all over again, you bet! Because it’s been a great adventure, even if it dragged on a bit…
The “little puzzle” in question was the electric panel in the Robots World. I know all the electricians of the planet will crucify me for this, because it has no relation whatsoever with the laws of physics! It gave me great pleasure designing it, although I made it much too complex at the beginning, and I had to simplify it and insert a few clues so that it can actually be solved!
But no matter, I had caught the virus, I was hooked, I was game for it, so to speak… It sounded so exciting to create puzzles for a real game, a full scale game, that I went into overdrive to suggest lots of them. In three months, I came up with at least a dozen ideas, and they were all accepted, to my everlasting joy. And that’s how I gradually slipped into the Amertis team…

But you may recall that Caroline was still struggling desperately with her graphic work. I offered my help, not for the 3D stuff of which I knew nothing, but for the Photoshop work, which I found quite interesting. It consisted in cutting out the inventory items and the characters from the screens Caro had designed. And most of all, there was the House World, the real world at the beginning of the story, which had to be made up from photographs to ensure a continuity with Atlantzone. Caroline coached me, and I soon became “Photoshop Manager”.
But all this didn’t solve the problem of creating 3D screens. We finally decided to look for “real” graphics specialists. After a few unfortunate experiences on specialized forums, I chanced to come upon the personal forum of an amateur who seemed full of talent. That was Ludovic who, by another stroke of luck, happened to live not very far from me. He immediately accepted to join us.
Meanwhile, Caroline thought of contacting Yaz, who not only had an excellent knowledge of adventure games, but also had often demonstrated his graphic talents on the website http://www.planete-aventure.net.

And this is how the Amertis Dream Team came to be. Except it never really was a full team of six because very soon, Babou, and then Yves, drifted apart, either because they felt they no longer had anything to contribute, or because they were not that interested in our technical debates…

Ludo :
When I came in, two worlds were already done, and Caro had some problems with the third one.
Without a specific goal, I had lost interest in computer graphics. Being part of a team with a clear project brought my motivation back.

Yaz :
I was approached by Caroline (Grelot04) when the game was already well on its way (several graphic worlds had already been completed or were well advanced, the scenario and dialogues were already finalized, the game engine was under development…) Hadn’t it come from Caroline, I don’t think I would have accepted the invitation. The project was already in full swing, it seemed to be bound to take a long time, and the team was well in place. 
But if you know Caroline, you also know it’s hard to refuse her anything (don’t get me wrong, she never forced my hand), especially since this project seemed already very close to her heart.

Babou :
Well, Rodrigue kept pestering us about seeing Pétronille again. I think she really caught his eye, you know how it is… No, seriously, once we got over the euphoria of Atlantzone’s success, it seemed inevitable to consider making a sequel to the game..

Yves :
Well, from the beginning, I guess. I seem to recall a conversation with Caro about it, something like… 2004, was it?
The idea was to get all the characters from the first adventure together again, but in completely different graphic settings.

 

 

3/ What was your role in the team?

Caro :
Initially, about everything apart from the Flash programming — I know nothing about that —and the script-writing, to which I contributed just a bit.
In the end, just relaxing, I guess, since I could rely entirely on Yaz, Ludo and most of all Olivier.
Still, all along, I kept looking for solutions and workarounds, to help the project keep its momentum.

Olivier :
Well, roughly, I’ve gone through all the various jobs!

As I said before, I began with puzzle designing, and then I specialized in Photoshop editing.

But since Ludovic didn’t have much time to spend on the project, I’ve helped him build the 3D pictures of the Bimbos World. He coached me in the basics of his software (Vue d’Esprit), and so I could take some load off his shoulders: looking for textures, for the best camera angle, and most of all doing the final rendering of the pictures. The point is, it may take as long as one hour to compute a 3D view, especially if there’s water in it because transparency and reflection require a lot of calculation. When you consider that there are more than 200 different views in this world, and that 9 times out of 10 we had to recalculate a view because of a small detail, you can imagine how much computing time it required overall!

But it was great working in tandem. Early 2008, it had become a ritual: every Monday evening, as soon as Ludo was back from work, I would go to his house. He’d make some coffee and hey presto, we’d climb up to his den, his computer room, to build piece by piece a paradise world, discussing the colour or the position of every single detail. That was a bit surrealistic, but I can’t begin to tell you the fits of laughter we had!
Because of the geographical distance between the members of the team, only the two of us could actually work together like that. Internet is fine for communication, but it can never replace the conviviality and the emulation of sitting together in front of a screen. I realize that we were very lucky to have that, compared to the others.

In the summer of 2008, the Bimbos World screens were done. While Yaz and Caroline were completing the Dwarves World, I started composing the music and doing the sound effects. I must say I was the best suited in the team to take that in charge, since it’s what I do for a living, being a musician, pianist, and most of all, composer.
I’ve always thought that sound was essential to a game, for its immersion effect. So, apart from the usual ambient sounds linked to the location (birds, sea sounds), I have also tried to give each action (move, take an object) a specific sound. And I have also composed a few themes, trying to preserve the nostalgic mood of Babou’s scenario. I must confess that some of those themes were not composed specially for Amertis. They were already there at the bottom of a drawer, but hey, don’t tell anyone…

End 2008, we were also terribly worried about the programming aspect of the game. Yves hadn’t said in so many words that he was dropping out, but he seemed to lose gradually interest in Amertis. He rarely visited our private forum to check on the progress, and was always putting off the implementation of the already completed worlds. Frankly, we felt he no longer had the time nor the inclination to do the programming. It was a damn shame, really: all the pictures were ready, the scenario was polished, the dialogues written, the sounds recorded, and all this to be thrown in the bin?

So I decided to take the bull by the horns, and volunteered to do the programming myself. I had already had a first taste of the Flash software, particularly thanks to Carole, a member of the AAC forum who designed animated puzzles (mini adventure games, sort of), for the famous “puzzles challenge” I mentioned earlier.
At the beginning, I hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult, since Yves had already designed the more complex parts (the game saving system and the inventory in particular). I expected to have only the navigation to deal with (that is, the sequence of pictures when you click here and there).
I was soon brought back to reality! Indeed, the navigation was easy to implement, but as for the puzzles and the characters’ reactions depending on what the player has done or not, that was a different ball game entirely! Spending hours wondering how to do the animation of a puzzle, then testing it and finding that nothing works, can be a real pain… In fact, working as a developer means you spend more time wondering why it doesn’t work than actually writing code!
Fortunately I’ve always managed to find a way out, either by programming in a different way, or looking for hints and tips from Carole, specialized forums or Yves himself.

In the summer of 2009, I could finally begin the work on the voice recording. Since I have a good recording equipment at home, it was fairly logical that I take the job. I’m also used to working with actors. The voice-overs were done by friends (some of them are professional actors and agreed to do it for free, many thanks to them), my family, and of course by members of the team (Caroline and her husband, for instance). As for the role of Rodrigue, I accepted it with strong reluctance (I know I’m not a good actor), but I couldn’t very well impose on a friend such a thankless task (there were several hundreds of short isolated sentences to record).

So, in summary, I have tackled almost all of the aspects of a game creation, except the script writing.

Ludo :
I have created the Bimbos World in collaboration with Olivier.

Yaz :
I have been a chaotic graphics designer… Let me explain: I was in charge of creating a whole world based on the scenario and some general maps. As soon as I got started, I met a lot of technical difficulties because I had never worked on such wide and varied open spaces. I was used to detailed and minute work, and so my pictures were too heavy and slowed down the system. I also lost my data (corrupted), and then my hard disk crashed, the software no longer worked properly, all this added to some concerns in my daily life… My productivity fell down to almost zero, and I have essentially helped build the general 3D model of the world, without doing the rendering. Still, I’ve managed to achieve the whole underground part of this world, the only complete images I’ve had the time and patience to create.

Babou :
I wrote part of the scenario, scripts and dialogues.

Yves :
Let’s just say that I was initially the driving force with my participation in the scenario, as well as building the core of the Flash programming. After that, I stepped back.

 

 

4/ Did you have any previous experience for what you did in this game?

Caro :
After having done Atlantzone, I knew how to create a game from scratch.
With Amertis, I’ve learnt a bit about 3D programming, something I knew nothing about.

Olivier :
Concerning the music, the sound effects and voice recording, yes, of course. But for the pictures and the programming, I just had to learn on the job.

Ludo :
No experience. I can manage the technical side, but when it comes to imagination, I have relied on Olivier.

Yaz :
Before Amertis, I had never worked on a videogame project as part of a team. On the other hand, I had already done some image creation and rendering for my own pleasure, and also to create presentation tutorials for the software I use and like immensely (Bryce and Truespace). Since I began working in the Amertis team, I have also created (with two members of Planete Aventure, Awalie and Beginner), a short game, very playable (“B.A.P.A.”) to celebrate the New Year. Although much simpler than Amertis, B.A.P.A. still took us two weeks of work. This experience in parallel with Amertis has renewed my motivation, in spite of my technical misfortunes.

Babou :
Yes, since that was already my contribution in Atlantzone.

Yves :
In fact, in real life, I am a website designer. I particularly enjoy programming algorithms of all kinds. I’ve drawn directly upon my skills to define the technical choices and build the game engine with Flash.

 

 

5/ Was it easy to find a balance between your private life and the time a game creation requires?

Caro :
Not really… My life slipped between the cracks for more than 5 years. I went so far as to give up on my major passion, playing video games, and also neglected my friends and other occupations.
Fortunately, my husband is as passionate as I am in what he does, but it means we didn’t see much of each other through those years.

Olivier :
Whoa, that’s a touchy subject!   I’m probably the one who spent the most time on this project, so, of course, it left some scars.
Hmm… Let’s say that my wife is really cool. Hey, here’s a little kiss for her, to be forgiven. Fortunately, we were both cast in the same mould: she teaches History and Geography, and she’s passionate about her job. She spends long evenings and weekends preparing her lectures, and reviewing what she did the year before. So, while one is working, the other also works, right?

Ludo :
My wife was very accommodating… Also, her job requires working odd hours, and that helped! J Contrary to my professional work, I wasn’t stressed by deadlines, I simply had goals to meet.

Yaz :
Not really. What little spare time I had left was soon gobbled up by Amertis, and naturally, this impacted my personal life, particularly in my couple. But the key words were patience and understanding, and thanks to my wife’s support, my contribution to Amertis became a reality. Still, I realize that it’s quite difficult to do this sort of work at home, and even though I can build 3D models very fast, the rendering and touching up took me much more time than I thought, both in front of the screen and in thinking about the general concept or looking for workarounds.

Babou :
No particular problem for me. The writing is the “softest” part.

Yves :
Yes, not a worry at the beginning. I took advantage of a period of forced inactivity.
Things became more tricky afterwards, because of my job. This is why I had to step down and let my good friends get on with the work.
It is thanks to their perseverance that the game finally came out.

 

 

6/ Does the game correspond to what you had in mind? Or did you have to make compromises? And if so, for what reasons? Technical, financial, etc.?

Caro :
Compromises… especially in the part I had to do: I wanted so much those worlds I created to be as beautiful as in my dreams. But you simply can’t become a great graphics specialist by a simple effort of will…
Fortunately, thanks to the new blood brought in this area, and to Olivier’s relentless work (he also took in charge almost all of the programming and the wonderful sound effects, music and voices), the game has become a “real” game, really beautiful and challenging.

Olivier :
You always have to make compromises when you work as a team.
Let’s take the 3D images, for instance: personally, I prefer the mood brought by Vue d’Esprit (used for the Bimbos World), to what comes out with Bryce (the three other worlds). But it was impossible to ask their creators to switch to another software.
Our choice of Flash for the game engine had many advantages: it’s universal, simple, and free for the player. Still, I have a few regrets: with a more powerful software, we could have inserted video sequences and improve the soundtrack, lowering the music volume when voices come in, for instance, that sort of thing. I’m not very pleased with my voice either. Sure, if we’d had some money, we could have hired a real actor!
But overall, let’s be fair, it’s a great game, with lots of little hints and jokes in the pictures and the sounds. It’s really what I expected. And most of all, you really get into the story, and that’s what really counts!

Ludo :
The game really goes far beyond my expectations: those little pictures of mine are in the middle of a masterpiece!
I don’t think I’ve made any compromises, and whenever something was almost technically impossible, we’ve always found workarounds!

Yaz :
The game corresponds exactly to what I read in the script. Since I wasn’t part of the team from the beginning, I have never thought this project was actually mine. I was more like a contractor. I’ve had a few compromises to make, but only on the technical side: remove a few polygons here and there to reduce the computing and rendering time. I felt much more at ease in the underground part, where the number of 3D models was more limited, as well as the dimension of the place. That’s where I could compensate for all the frustration I felt when doing the outside world.

Babou :
As far as I’m concerned, the main theme was kept intact. I’ll leave it to the technical team to explain all the hurdles they had to overcome to implement it.

Yves :
Yes, the result matches perfectly what I had in mind. Even better! In fact, from the start, the result depended on our technical choices and gameplay model. The interface was developed very early, and never changed. We just had to give up on the video sequences, for lack of time and resources. It would have been perfect if we could have integrated them…



7/ What memories do you keep of this adventure?

Caro :
I’ve lost count of the times I wanted to give up… There were so many problems to solve, both technical and personal. Sometimes, I could no longer see the end of the tunnel. But each time I’ve picked myself up again, because how could I let down all those I had dragged into this project?
Now that the game is done, I know that, very soon, only the good memories will remain:
The pleasure of working with someone like Olivier, always ready to do everything all over again until it’s perfect, always available and attentive to others.The delight of making a new friend, Yaz, as well as admiring his work and Ludo’s.
And the great fun I had working with Babou.

Olivier :
Right now, most of all, I feel… very tired!
No, seriously, there’s so many things I could tell… Regarding the good memories, I have already mentioned my work sessions with Ludovic. I must also mention my exchanges with Caroline. For every picture detail, every navigation problem, every choice of a voice, I liked to consult with Caroline. She always had good advice to give, and she acted as a sort of project manager. Naturally, we didn’t always agree on everything, but, in spite of our strong personalities, those discussions have always been constructive, and most of all, full of humour! And I can assure you this is rarely the case on such a long project.
There’s also the pleasure of seeing a puzzle coming to life when the program finally works, after many hours of fiddling with it! It’s always a magic moment when you see the pictures start coming alive with a click of your mouse.
As for the bad memories, well… I’ve already forgotten…

Ludo :
In no particular order: the debates between Olivier and Caroline, either on the forum or “live”, the energy and enthusiasm of Olivier, and seeing the progress made on the other worlds…

Yaz :
The challenge, the ups and downs of a project according to the events in our lives, the technical and hardware problems (I now have a new and much more powerful PC), the progress of the game in general as seen on the dedicated forum. I will always remember Caroline’s call for help on the PA forum, the problems I had when I lost all my data (that day, I felt the world was dropping under my feet), my deep satisfaction and pleasure while creating the 3D models, my delighted surprise when I saw the rendering of my universe done by Caroline, who would shame the experts by her speed and mastery with graphic software. Overall, I have only positive memories, and it made for a great experience. I don’t regret a single moment.

Babou :
Don’t tell anyone, but I think some of my colleagues really had a tough time completing this project.

Yves :
I fully realise how crazy we were. You really have to be passionate (and more) to lead such a project to completion. The first game had kept us busy, but we still felt we had to do another one… Are we sane ? No, probably not!

 

 

8/ Will you do it all over again one day?

Caro :
Never say never… but frankly, no, I don’t think so.

Olivier :
Not right away. For the time being, I feel totally exhausted, and to tell you the truth, my bag of ideas is empty!
But later, yes, certainly. And in fact… no, no, I’m not saying anything!

Ludo :
Same as for Amertis: if I find a team with a project, lots of ideas and a strong emulation, I’ll jump right in!

Yaz :
I will need some time before I join again a team. I’m a loner, I like working with very few people, on projects that I can participate in from start to finish, even as coordinator. I won’t say no to doing again the same sort of work on a similar project (I mean a project too large for me to do alone), but right now, I’m going to lay my imagination to rest for a while, and let my PC work on games I wasn’t involved in.

Babou :

Never say never. The urge to create an adventure game is like a dormant virus. You never know if it’s going to wake up, or when.

Yves :
I’m afraid so. In fact, it’s probably incurable.

 
 
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