Making Games with Real Historical Events Tutorial



Introduction. A part of the charm of games such as the “Gabriel knight” trilogy and Broken Sword one is undoubtedly their historical value – even after finishing the game you could open a big book and read all about it. With this tutorial I will try to make it easier for you to write such plot.
            Step one. Choose a historical even or a mystery to base the plot upon. Such examples are: The man in the iron mask, the Rennes-le-Chateau enigma, any king’s illegitimate sons, the last words of Charles I Stewart (“Remember!”)… It can be practically anything. After choosing the event, go to the local library and get a book on it. Read it thoroughly, and carefully watch for things that may tie with your plot. Note that this is most of the research you’ll do during the writing of the plot, so do not underestimate it.
        Step two. Sketching the plot outline. Decide whether it will be a modern day mystery (like Gabriel Knight) or a historical game (like touché, although it is not a good example of a historical game at all). If you choose the first one, read on. Make your own theory of the mystery or read someone else’s. Note that you will be using this one in the game. For example, the man in the iron mask was an illegitimate son of Anne of Austria and duke de Buckingham. Or a twin brother of Louis XIV, but that is way too worn off.
Note: if you choose the plot to be a modern-day mystery, you should also think of a simultaneous modern-day plot along with the historical one. The sad situation, in which the protagonist may be, may add to his character.



Day one

Day two

Day three


        Tip: the more unknown the historical mystery/event is, the more you may speculate about it and the less precise you’ve got to be.

Develop your main character; decide his qualities, positive and negative sides. Make sure he has motivation to solve the mystery. Divide the game into time-blocks (doesn’t really matter how long, they are just for the developing phase) and make sure that the historical information is slowly but steadily given to the player.

Note: Do not make a history lesson out of the game. It is a good idea to have texts and additional information in the game as optional reading materials, as in Gabriel Knight 3.

Step Three. Making the plot more detailed. After completing the story outline, you should add more depth to the plot. I suggest you make a table much like the illustration with columns for the time blocks and rows for the main characters and the historical content given to the player. You should also make note of the protagonist’s attitude towards other characters and the way it changes throughout the game.

Step Four. Puzzle design and dialogues. After completing the hardest part, turn comes to the puzzles and dialogues. In a mystery game the dialogues should be a large percent of the puzzles themselves. As for other puzzles, you may choose whatever you wish, but a piece of advice: in a plot driven adventure game never, ever let the puzzles go in front of the story. They should be made easy and logical enough for the player to solve without much trouble. Another good idea of having harder puzzles is the “optional puzzles” design that appears in Gabriel Knight 3. In it, the player has some vital to the progress puzzles and some optional ones, solving which he will be rewarded by more light on the mystery, a cut-scene or both. Please, don’t include any too clichéd puzzles like the “put paper under door in order to get key” ones, if you can’t think of a coherent puzzle, just leave it for later or let the player progress with the story. As for dialogues, try to think what would the character say and the manner of how would he say it (it is not very probable that a boxer would talk like a physics professor, is it?). Then write what you think. Make most of the dialogs interactive, even if there isn’t much difference in what the protagonist will say – it is better to have the feeling that you can reflect on the plot rather than just watch.

Step Five(optional). After completing the design document, you could write a short novel using your plot and then ask a friend of yours to read it, so that he can point out weaker plot points etc.

This is pretty much it, now all I wanted to say but did not find the place for in this article I have written in the tips section below.

This tutorial is still valid for other sciences, although I have not seen a biology or physics adventure yet – but who knows? You may be the first one to make one.

Make sure that this is an adventure game, i.e. make the player a bit frightened at moments as in Gabriel Knight games.

Make sure that the historical mystery the player character solves has some connection with modern days.

If one protagonist enough – you can have two or more as in “The beast within”.

Place yourself in the player’s shoes and think about his motivations for completing the game. If they are not revealing the mystery, rethink your plot.

Making a MIDI by Petteri

Hello. Music is one of the most difficult things in adventuregame developering. Well, it’s not if you can compose, but I bet it’s easier to learn making art than learn making music. Or something. Anyway, I’ve been making music over three or four years now. My first track was of course horrible and it was made in Anvil Studio. I tried several trackers but they were too hard for me (at those times). Then one day my friend said he got a copy of FruityLoops 3. We started learning it and it was pretty cool, and all simple tunes we made sounded good. Much later, after I joined AGS forums and was inspired by m0ds’ music, I wanted to make midis again. I had the newest version of Anvil Studio, but it was annoying to use. I knew, that it was possible to open midis in FL Studio 4 (updated version of FruityLoops 3), but I couldn’t hear any sound. Until one day, when I found out the secret…

Note: This tutorial tells you how I make midis in FruityLoops/FL Studio. There are some basic things about making music, so if you have some other program you may find this tutorial helpful. Remember, I have never played any instrument and don’t know any music theory, I’ve just learned these programs by my own. I’m not professional, but I know that my music sounds like… music. Also, FL helped me to learn other programs, like trackers as well.

Setting up the program:
Okay, so you may have encountered the same problem as me with FruityLoops/FL Studio. In the program, select Options, and make sure you have Enable MIDI Output selected. Then, select Options again and click MIDI Settings. In the Output port mapping, you should see all the possible devices you can use. As my soundcard is SoundBlaster 128 PCI, I have MIDI Mapper, SB AudioPCI 128 MIDI Synth and SB AudioPCI 128 MIDI Out. I haven’t found out what’s the difference between these devices though, they all sounds the same. Anyway, select the device you want to use and set the port number to 0. Some people may have encountered a problem that the selected device is already in use (or something like that), so if you get an error message, close the program, then open it again and try to set the port again. Now you should have all set up for composing midis.

Starting the composing:

Interface in FruityLoops/FL Studio is very simple. Under the menu in the upper left corner there’s a box. If you move mouse cursor over a button, this box shows what happens when you press the button. Next to the menu there’s song controls. At the left side of the play-button there’s two smaller buttons: PAT & SONG. When I make midis, I use only one pattern and compose all the stuff to it. (And this tutorial also shows how to compose using only one pattern) Okay, so let’s start. First select Channels-menu —> Add one —> MIDI Out. New window, Channel settings – MIDI Out, pops on the screen. Now you should have two (or possibly more) channel buttons on the screen, like this:

While composing midi, you need only those MIDI Out channels, so you can delete all the “non-MIDI Outs” by right clicking them and selecting Delete Channel. Okay, but now, back to MIDI Out channel settings window.

Select the instrument by clicking the black button which reads (none). I’ll select Electric Piano 1. Now, right click MIDI Out channel button and select Piano roll. Piano roll window should pop on the screen. Now you can start the actual composing. Select Draw tool from the upper left corner of the Piano roll window and put a chord (or note, or whatever they’re called) on the grid. You can make the chord longer or shorter by moving the cursor on the right side of the chord so that the cursor changes to an arrow. While holding the left mouse button down and moving the mouse to the left or right you can now make the chord longer or shorter. Right click on the chord will delete it. You can also move the chord: hold the left mouse button down when cursor is over the chord, and just move it. Now add couple more chords and you can listen the tune you just made! (Notice: Composing melody is something you have to learn by yourself. As I will say later, good way to practise is trying to start with some simple and known melody. This will give you some pointers how to move on and create your own melodies.)

My melody 🙂

But you may think that it sounds pretty boring if you loop that short melody all the time. So, let’s make another melody. But first, you may want to repeat this melody couple of times. Select the Select tool and select the melody you just made. Now copy it by pressing Ctrl+C and scroll the piano roll window so that it looks like this:

Duh! Too hard to explain!

I don’t know how to explain this, but I’ll try: As in the picture, your melody ends there and then comes the empty space where you’re about to paste the copied melody. If you now press Ctrl+V you can paste the copied melody to the empty space. Did you understand? If not, then you just have to practice it by your own, because I can’t explain it better 😛

Now, make another melody so that your tune doesn’t sound so boring. This was hard for me for a long time. Almost every tune I made sounded boring, because there was only one melody. So, I’ll say that this takes much practising. And it’s not enough that you put up a new melody, it has to sound good when it comes after the first melody! Then again, if you haven’t made much music earlier, it may be good to start with simpler melody, so if you can’t come up with good sounding new melody, forget it for now and move forward.

Tip: Good thing for practising is trying to compose some known melody. First it can be something very simple, then you can alternate it a bit and so on. Okay, but let’s move forward. Let’s make a new MIDI Channel.

I’ll select Fretless Bass. When placing basses, I use lower chords, somewhere around C3. Now you should come up with a new melody (again!). You can try alternating the original melody, but remember: whole new melody sounds better. I’ve also noticed that making bassline using shorter chords makes tune sound faster. You may want also to lower bass’ volume so that it doesn’t take over the main melody. You can change channel’s volume with those small knobs at the left side of the channel buttons.

Let’s add drums. Make a new MIDI channel, but don’t select any instrument. In the MIDI Out window, change the channel number to 10. Channel 10 is drums-channel. In FL-Studio 4, when you close the piano roll and open drums-channel’s piano roll, you should see every drum’s name at the left side of the piano roll. If you have FruityLoops, Acoustic Bass Drum is B2 and other drums are higher than that. Anyway, find Bass drum and add a chord. Piano roll’s grid is very helpful for placing the drums. Pretty basic drum line goes like this:

Bass, hihat, snare, hihat, bass, hihat…

You can also add some Crash cymbals and toms, but don’t add them too much. Also, some congas and bongos may work well with basic drums.

So, this is how my midi looks at the moment:

1. Electric Piano 1, 2. Fretless Bass, 3. Drums

But it still needs something… Okay, let’s add more instruments. How about… String ensembles? Sounds good, I’ll add String Ensemble 2. Of course, you can add whatever you want, like flutes or violins… but I’ll add this. If made right, strings may affect tunes atmosphere very much. I still have some troubles with them, because FL Studio 4 lacks placing multiple notes, so I can’t tell much more about them. Other thing is that I don’t know how multiple notes should be placed in order to get them sound good with my tunes, so it’s almost trial and error for me when placing multiple notes. String Ensembles are a good example how multiple notes can affect to the sound. If you want to try FL Studio’s multiple note system, try this:
Right click piano roll’s draw-tool. You get a menu showing lots of numbers and letters (:P). Mostly used are from Major to augsus4. After selecting your chords, just put them in piano roll as you have made earlier. When you want to add only one chord at time again, select (none) from the multiple chords-menu.

Then I’ll add some clarinet sounds. Clarinet can give your tune a nice cartoony feel. There’s one thing I’m going to teach now. Place a chord where do you want it to be. Then, press Alt-button and keep it down while left click the chord with mouse. You should get a Note properties window:

In this window, you can change note’s start time more accurately as well as note’s duration. I can’t really tell much more about this, but practising and studying other tunes should make this easier. Although I can give you some pointers in a form of a picture:

Now I’ll keep some break from composing this tune, because it’s easier to spot the mistakes after having some break.

*On the next morning*

After listening this tune, it still sounds a bit boring, so I’m gonna add more instruments. I’m also going to try to do some panning. Panning gives you kind of stereo effect, but I’m still practising it. If you want to try it though, you can set channel’s pan with the knob next to the channel volume knob.

So, now I’ve added more instruments (xylophone, brass section and acoustic guitar). I guess this is finished now, you can listen it here: (included in Ezine archive)
This is how it looks in FL Studio:

Not bad I think. Although it could have been better, I kinda rushed it in the start. But I guess it will do as a tutorial tune, it doesn’t need to be so brilliant. I feel I’m getting better all the time. Also, this tune would be better as a main theme, ’cause I actually composed it to sound like that. Now, here’s some tips which may be helpful:
– Study other people’s works. I’m doing this all the time. I like Trapezoid’s and m0ds’ works, so my music may sound a bit similar to their’s.
– Listen how instruments sounds. It’s recommended that you try how it sounds when it’s higher or lower note. Learn when you should and shouldn’t use some instrument. For example, trombones, trumpets, horns etc. may give you cartoony feel, but also add dramatic effect. Strings gives atmosphere. Drums can be used for making tune sound faster, or slower.
– Study different styles. Listen music in Sam ‘n’ Max, King’s Quest, DOTT, Monkey Island, Gabriel Knight… they all have their own style.
– When making a cutscene for example, timing may be the key. So, if you haven’t scripted your cutscene yet, don’t rush to make music for it. You can try to compose the melody, but finish your tune after you’ve finished the cutscene so you know when the melody should change etc.
– Try making remixes of other peoples work. It’s a good way to learn to compose. However, when making remix, don’t just copy the chords, add them one by one.
– Try different effects and background sounds. Listen to that tutorial tune for example. Without clarinets and brass sections it would be pretty boring. I also added acoustic guitar and xylophone to make main melody to sound a bit different.
– Select your tunes so that they fit in to the scene. You don’t want to use a fast and rocking tune on a calm lake, but a gentle tune with flutes for example may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
– Practise.
– Practise some more.
– And still practise!

That’s it! I hope it was helpful. Now go do something productive… like your own music!

Drawing Handdrawn Backgrounds Tutorial by Felix ‘GarageGothic’ Drott

After seeing screenshots from my game-in-progress, Shadowplay, Vel asked me to do a tutorial on Broken Sword style backgrounds. I kindly replied that I didn’t do Broken Sword style backgrounds, but if he wanted me to, I could write a tutorial on my own style. Looking at the result however, I do see certain similarities, but I won’t claim to emulate that or any other game. I’m merely trying to describe the way I work, hoping that it may inspire others to explore other styles than those established by LucasArts and Sierra.

You’ll need a scanner, a paint program which uses layers (the tutorial is written for Adobe Photoshop), a set of artist’s pencils, and preferably some good quality paper. You won’t really be able to tell the difference once it’s on the computer, but while working with it, a heavy stock will prevent the paper from creasing or tearing when erasing, and you’ll do a lot of that while drawing a detailed background. For quicker sketches such as dialog pictures you can use ordinary printer paper.

First you draw your background in pencil

I’m aware that this is a bit like that old Steve Martin joke where he says “I know how you can make a million dollars, tax free!” He looks out over the audience, and then says, really fast: “Okay, firstyougetamilliondollars. Then…”. But it isn’t really all that difficult. It doesn’t have to be naturalistic. What’s important is to find your own style, and stick to it throughout the game.

Make sure the composition is interesting. Distinct fore- middle and backgrounds create depth. Unusual angles can help the atmosphere – a low angle makes a castle seem more imposing, a high angle makes a Kafkaesque player character feel small and insignificant. Generally, you shouldn’t use angles over 30 degrees unless you take the perspective into consideration when drawing you character art. Always keep your exits visible and create focal points around elements important to the story or gameplay by using lines and areas of blank spaces to guide the player’s eye.

When drawing, there are a few technical rules of thumb:

  • Use thicker lines for the foreground objects than the background.
  • The background should have less detail than the foreground.
  • Don’t do too much shading, save it till the coloring. What you should do however is add texture to surfaces (e.g. add grain and knots to the boards of a wooden building). Just don’t overdo it.

The example background

I’ve chosen a real world location, the Powell Library at UCLA, one of many Los Angeles landmarks appearing in Shadowplay. Showing the building as well as the square in front of it was a bit of a challenge in the narrow aspect ratio I’m using, and working from reference photos made the building more detailed and cluttered than if I’d designed it from scratch. Still, I found it important to stick to reality. And while it’s not the best of drawings – the less said about the perspective, the better – it’ll fit our purposes.


The original drawing scanned.

The columns in the foreground frame the main subject. This is a classic LucasArts approach, silhouetting objects at the edges of the screen, although often closer to the “camera” than here. I’m drawing the building just off-center to create a bit of tension. For the game, I’m going to add some students walking and bicycling past, which explains the rather dull straight-on angle.

Adding some color

Scan the drawing as a grayscale image at 300dpi, not more, it would be a waste of resolution and only slow down your CPU. Make your drawing the topmost layer and set its blending mode to “Multiply” with 100% opacity. No matter what you do, this should stay on top. If the drawing has become a bit smudged and the white areas aren’t exactly white anymore, you can adjust the contrast. Don’t set it too high though, or you’ll lose detail.

Create a new layer underneath it with “Normal” blending. This is where you’ll be working. Use the “Polygonal Lasso” tool to select an area to color, and fill it with the Paint Bucket or Gradient tools. I recommend gradients even when working with uniformly colored areas. Just a slight variation in tone adds texture and depth to the image. And for shaded areas like the columns in my drawing, gradients are a godsend.

The main rule for coloring is to keep it simple and fill as large areas as possible with a single color or gradient. BUT, whenever two surfaces of the same material meet at an angle (the octagonal tower is an example of this), or appear next to each other but in different planes (this is the case with the two wings of the library), they MUST be of slightly different shades. With angles, it’s a matter of defining the light sources of the room and shading accordingly. Consistency is vital here, and you certainly shouldn’t follow my flawed example. With depth planes, the surface furthest away should be a bit darker than the one in front (and if very far away, bluer in tone due to the atmosphere).

Why we love layers

Now, work your way through the drawing, coloring all major areas. Don’t worry about details yet. Use separate layers for each element. In my example, I had layers for the foreground, the sky, the building, the trees, and the ground. By now there should be very little white paper showing through. It’s beginning to look like a real background, but something is wrong. It seems flat for some reason, like a kid’s drawing.


After basic coloring

Time has come for two special layers, which really add life: Detail and effect.

The detail layer is where you color and enhance the details (duh!) of your drawing, possibly adding things which weren’t in your original. If you’re tempted to draw something with the paintbrush or airbrush tool, by all means do so. Personally I prefer using fill tools while in zoom mode. The trees caused me much trouble until I stopped trying to paint the foliage and began seeing them as larger chunks of solid color instead. It’s also in this layer (or rather, in a separate “building detail” layer) that I darken the windows and add the door to the library.


Details added. Note that the trees and columns have been redone as well.

There are multiple kinds of effect layers. Most important is the shadow layer. I recommend using multiple of these for different image elements. This is a transparent layer consisting of black (or if you’re using gradients, grayscale) shapes which emulate shadows, and it goes just under the pencil layer. In my example I used an opacity of 32% (in “Normal” blend mode) for my shadows layer, but you could go as far as 50 or 60%. You can also use shadow layers to darken areas which are too bright after coloring. I did this with the library walls instead of re-coloring them.

Other sorts of effect layers are the highlight layer, which works like the shadow layer, except you’re using white instead of black (I used this on the backlit column edges), and the atmosphere layer (not used in this background), which is used for fog or dust filtering and obscuring parts of the scenery.

The result

Finally, save your image, with all the layers – don’t overwrite this file whatever you do. Open a copy, flatten it and crop the image to proper dimensions, and resize it for your game resolution. You might have some minor pixel editing left to do, covering white areas shining through or removing a few misplaced pencil strokes. Trust me, it’s must easier hiding flaws now than it would have been in high resolution.


The finished background



Finished background without the pencil layer. It really does make a difference.

With all the hard work done, you can always return to your layered image. You can edit shadows, darken elements, adjust the contrast, and change the color balance of separate objects – without lassoing them out first. As a quick experiment, I made a night version of my background. It’s far from perfect, those streetlights are hideous and the trees should be edited for the new light, but it only took minutes. Soon I’ll go back and do a rainy day version of the background as well.


Now it’s dark

Good luck experimenting. I’d like to see somebody taking this “Multiply”-layer technique further. Maybe using ink drawings instead of pencil? Only when we go beyond the established styles of commercial adventures, in content as well as presentation, we are truly independent game designers.

– GarageGothic