The End of September Vespers Thing

Another month has come and gone, which means it’s time for a quick Vespers update.

Nope, it’s not finished yet.

Was September a good month? In general, I’d say it was pretty good. On the one hand, another student animator has left the project, which means we’re down to three. At least I’m assuming he’s left the project — like so many that came before him, he’s just no longer responding to e-mails. It’s not too troublesome since he never really got off the blocks with this project, but still…is it just animators, or are other people like this as well? In the face of overcommitment or disinterest, is it everybody’s instinct to lie low and hope nobody notices? Or just animators?

On the other hand, the remaining three animators are progressing nicely, and one in particular, Shawn, has agreed to devote a good deal of time and effort over the next few months to get these animations done. That would really be fantastic. The slowest, most tedious part is getting the models rigged, setting up the faces for lip sync, and making sure the models and animations export properly and appear in the game engine the way they’re supposed to appear. Once that’s done, then the animations can be cranked out. We’ve just about reached that point with a couple of the characters, so I’m hopeful that we’ll have a batch of new animations soon.

Guys, if you’re reading this: don’t do the vanishing act thing!

On the modeling front, N.R. and I have spent the past month mostly on two fronts: decorations and the calefactory. The decorations at this point have been mostly cobwebs, which look great. Animating them has been a challenge, however — it’s really difficult to replicate the typical motion of cobwebs blowing in a breeze. We’ll use them sparingly to save on frame rates, but they should provide an extra little bit of atmosphere. Now all we need is a smattering of dead leaves around the place, and we should be set with the decorations.

Then there’s the calefactory.

It’s quite interesting how little information is readily available to describe precisely what a calefactory is and what typically went on inside one. I think that’s part of the reason Jason left the calefactory description in the text game so limited — in fact, other than the heat in the room, there isn’t much description of it at all:


Positioned directly between the dormitory and your own room, the calefactory warms both, although lately it is less than adequate. While the calefactory itself is stiflingly hot, its heat stays confined. Your brow grows damp: your body, feverish. Slightly melted snow creeps in from the cloister to the northwest.

Nothing on the shape of the room, its contents, if it has any windows, even the source of the strong heat in the room. Is it a fireplace? A stove? Any chairs or tables? Jason is essentially giving us freedom to improvise, but it’s a little tricky — on the one hand, we need to figure out what a calefactory normally would look like and what would appear inside, while on the other we don’t want to start adding a whole set of objects that the player would want or expect to be able to interact with and which might mess with the established game structure and mechanics.

It brings up one of those interesting differences between textual and graphical interfaces: with text, authors have the freedom to paint with broad strokes and allow the reader to fill in many of the details, while with graphics, designers are forced to provide those details. With respect to setting, this can work well both ways. In the text version of Vespers, for instance, Jason provides little detail in the descriptions of locations such as the calefactory and the kitchen, but it doesn’t diminish their impact on the player’s mental model of the game setting; despite not knowing what was actually in those rooms, they still felt real and not at all empty — and Jason didn’t have to worry about implementing all of the different items that would probably be there. But there’s also something magical about recreating a setting visually down to the last detail and providing the audience the opportunity to experience that setting in ways they couldn’t otherwise. To me, that is one of the pleasures of watching historical (fiction or non-fiction) movies.

Of course, that also means we have to go and figure all of this stuff out, and to try and retain some semblance of historical accuracy. I’ve done some rudimentary research on calefactories, but as I said it’s surprising how little information is readily accessible. About all I know for certain is that there should be a fire source and probably some places to sit.

This is about as far as we’ve gotten so far. Look, a firepit!

Until next month…

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 11:37 AM | Permalink

    Hi there. You’re obviously not European, right? 🙂

    A calefactory usually has a big fireplace embedded in one wall, tables, and benches. Back then it was the only part of an abbey that was heated, so the monks gathered there in there “off-duty” time. The dormitories were usually located right above it, so they would be warm at night.

    The stove you put in the room surely looks nice. But I’ve never seen any historic abbey with a thing like that. But I doubt that anyone would care about that 🙂

    English’s obviously not my native language – so please excuse any mistakes.

  2. Rubes
    Posted September 30, 2008 at 1:35 PM | Permalink

    No, although I’ve done some research on European monasteries since starting this project. There are certainly a number of discrepancies between our design and the typical monastery design from that time. Some of that was to accomodate the original design of the text game, and some was to make things a little easier to deal with.

    As for the calefactory, I’ve read a few different things. Most sources refer to it as just a heated sitting room, but others describe it as a working room, particularly for noisy activities. One even describes a particular calefactory that was used as a scriptorium, where manuscripts were copied, although I haven’t seen others described in that way.

    The plan is to have tables and benches, as you say. As for the heat source, we were going to have a typical wall fireplace, but since we already have two others in separate locations, there was some preference for a different appearance for more variety, even if it’s a design that would be unusual in that setting.

    That said, there are some historic drawings that depict medieval Italian kitchen firepits that are somewhat similar.

  3. Oliver Ullrich
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 4:57 AM | Permalink

    Sorry for that anonymous post. I didn’t find the right button. I’m Oliver. I lurked your blog for some time.

    I guess you found different descriptions because there were different things done, depending on the order/rule of the house. In some monasteries it might have been used as a kitchen. A book about Inchmahome Priory in the lake of Menteith, Scotland, says:

    “The calefactory, or warming house, with its large double fireplace occupies much of the rest of the east range’s ground floor. This was the only room where the canons were permitted to warm themselves in cold weather. It has also a sink, or slop basin, with a drain in its east wall, suggesting that the room may despite its unusual position, have served as a kitchen. […] It may even be that the kitchen belongs to ta later house conversion made when monastic life ceased around 1560.”

    I’ve never seen this use of a warming house before. But then – I’m not really a specialist. The warming houses I’ve seen were constituted around a dominating fireplace.

    A room like that was used as a scriptorum? Seems a bit odd, because that would mean relatively big windows.

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