Sound design – hits and themes

I had recently had a conversation with Pat, our music powerhouse. We were discussing the different musical themes and hits that will punctuate the gameplay.

The majority of Goblin Diplomat is spent in conversation with angry humans. Each conversation starts out tense and only escalates as the human runs out of patience. By the conversation’s end, you’ll either be attacked, have the guards called on you, or have just barely managed to make a friend. So the music has a theme of rising tension and alarm.

But I’m hoping we can be more dynamic than just a slow increase in intensity.  There are certain turning points in the conversation that I’d like to punctuate with a musical shift: When the human draws a weapon, when the guards are called over, or when you’re reliving a past trauma. Those are the moments where I want to layer in a drum track or an alarmed chorus of flutes.

There are a bunch of smaller moments that need musical hits – a single high note on a flute, or a quick drumming flurry – moments like the human shouting “I’ll gut you!”  A moment like this might cause your goblin’s mind to go blank, or scramble into a confusion. It’s important that the player realize why their goblin’s thoughts are suddenly in turmoil. In addition to visual cues, having a distinctive sound will help forge that connection.

I also want a distinctive sound for your success. Beyond Good and Evil had a variety of short musical hits for your success. That game had such powerful and consistent musical conditioning that hearing the success themes still gives me a little rush. Hopefully we can do the same in Goblin Diplomat!

If you’re going to animate, you need to compromise


Animation is slow, difficult work. I love it, but every animation project I’ve taken on has taken way more time than expected.

I want the opening cutscene of Goblin Diplomat to be beautiful, to showcase the setting and gameplay, and to not waste any of the viewer’s time. Already, I’m seeing that I need to compromise.

Should it be animation-heavy, but with simple art and backgrounds? Like Reus?

Should it be beautifully drawn, but with only simple animated elements? Like Crypt of the Necrodancer?

Mark of the Ninja has both, but it also has a team of artists and animators!

Right not, I’m not sure what approach to take. Not sure whether to work with the simple-goblin style of the above image, or work with more detailed art like the current village background.


For now, I’m going to table the cutscene work and get back to the UI screens for conversations and selecting which goblin will be your next diplomat. I’ll revisit the opening when I have the art style for the rest of the game locked down!

Art Update #2

A lot of art has been happening!

I finally feel like I have a handle on the goblin proportions, ears, and snouts.

The above picture was using my clay model, but even without reference, I think I can draw a passable goblin:

So, the next question is how to draw humans.  I’ve been working from reference pictures online to practice my figure drawing. In the game, I want a simplified style for humans, but I’ve found it easier in drawing to start from realism and work backwards.

And as an exercise of proportions, I’ve been taking my human pictures and goblifying them:


As you can see, goblins heads are big. If my clay model is any indication, goblin necks are precarious.

I’ve begun the groundwork for storyboarding the opening cutscene of the game. I’ve made a few rough images of scenes in the opening:

Expect a lot of storyboarding drafts in the near future!

And here’s a bonus picture :)

Art Update


I’ve been honing in on the final look for goblins.  There’s are different levels of detail to consider – you’ll see a portrait during conversations, a tiny sprite on the overworld map, and a more detailed view during cutscenes. The picture above is what I’d like to do for cutscenes – though without quite so much shading.

You’ll see a tiny goblin running across the countryside between conversations.  That will look something like this:


I’m actually really happy with this simplified version! It became my business card during PAX:


I just want to share one more piece of art. I was hired to make the cover for the magazine Worlds Without Master. It’s an anarchistic swamp-town, and even though goblins are banned from that magazine’s hallowed pages, I secretly imagine this being very close to how certain goblin settlements look:


Status effects

If things go badly enough, your goblin will die. It will be up to the next generation of diplomats to finish your mission.

But I don’t want every failed conversation to kill your goblin.  At first, there was a planned “health” bar that could be damaged, but I’ve since decided to go with a set of negative status effects instead of a sliding-scale stat.

There are currently four planned status effects: HurtHungryHomesick, and Hunted.  Each one has its own consequences, and a goblin can suffer from multiple status effects at once.

  • Hurt goblin will have thought bubbles of moans and groans drift across their mind.  These will obscure the word web and make it trickier to hit the thought you’re aiming at.  If you click on a moan (“oooaawwwww”), you will actually moan out-loud, to the consternation of the human you’re talking to.  However, this will clear away the moans from your web temporarily.
  • Hungry goblin will often think of food rather than the subject at hand.  Thoughts like “bread” and “bacon” will come from unrelated thoughts like “tree” or “night.”
  • Homesick goblin will have the names of the goblins back home appear in their word web.  If you know your friends and family well, this isn’t necessarily a downside. For example, if your father Nikku likes books and winter, you’ll have a shortcut between those two concepts.
  • Hunted goblin has drawn the attention of the human guards. Now there is an additional time limit on your conversations: How long until the guards catch up to you.  If the guards reach you, getting hurt or killed is very likely.

As much as possible, I want the challenges and boosts in Goblin Diplomat to be significant and describable. I’m trying to avoid extremely fine-grained mechanics (e.g. having 100 hunger-points, eating a bread crust adds +2.5).  More on chunky vs fine-grained design next week!

Goblin Panic

Once the human you’re talking to pulls out a pitchfork, all the years of composure training fail you.

Panic is one of the primary struggles in the game. You’ll rarely be able to avoid it – humans are just too scary. A goblin simply must do their best to communicate through the fear.

Panic can have a number of mechanical effects on the word web. They can also have overlapping effects, compounding the problem. Right now, there are five effects planned:

    • individual text characters bob and twist about
    • the greater the unease, the more extreme the character movement
  • Triggers:
    • patience bar running low
    • human threats
    • thought bubbles in the web poof away
    • the greater the blank, the longer it takes to recover the web
  • Triggers:
    • being startled
    • certain characters of words being wrong or cycling through wrong alternates
    • as the panic grows, you must wait longer before the characters correct themselves. and more characters are affected
  • Triggers:
    • low patience bar
    • inexperience with new words
    • words are replaced by their phonetic construction
    • as the panic grows, more words are replaced, and they take longer to correct themselve
  • Triggers:
    • severe human threats
    • very low patience bar
    • messing up a word
    • inexperience with new words
    • web links spew out rapidly
    • as the panic grows, words appear even faster, breaking the normal limits.
  • Triggers:
    • very low patience
    • a human demand – “Answer me!”

As you progress deeper into the human lands, panic will become a larger and larger part of the gameplay. Managing it will depend on skillfully handling the more difficult situations, and relying on the help of some objects or traits (for example, a romantic goblin can calm herself down by thinking of her paramour back home).

In addition to the panic effects, there are a number of status effects that also make navigating the web more challenging: being hungry, hurt, homesick, or hunted. More on those next week!


The plan is to have a number of short cutscenes – an introduction, interludes between the major sections of human society (farmers->city-folk->royalty), and for a number of possible endings.

At this point, we’re still not sure how those will be included – as movie files, or animated by the code itself.

I’m most comfortable animating in Flash, but we’ll see what works best!

For today, I whipped up a quick animation for us to play around with:



Goblin sketches

My current idea of a goblin face has come from a lot of experimentation.


The first drawings were more reptilian. They had long snouts and upright ears.


With each drawing, the snout shrunk, and the ears lowered. I didn’t want the goblins to be as intimidating.


The darker-skinned goblin above was the first of the current goblin design. Slanted eyes, ears falling like hair, and a very short snout.

gobsketch1 gobsketch2 gobsketch3

Since then, I’ve been trying to pin down the proportions and body structure. It’s hard to keep consistent from day to day.

IMG_0003 IMG_0004

But the hardest challenge has been drawing the goblins in dynamic poses. I’m running into the edge of my ability. At this point, I feel happy with drawing a goblin standing in a neutral position, but running, jumping a fence, climbing a tree – these poses have been difficult!

The post below shows some of the sculpting I’ve been doing to get over the hump. I hope to have some great action-oriented drawings to show soon!