This is the second episode of a series that will last for 12 weeks where I will learn Nightmare Puppeteer and attempt to create short animated scenes. Along the way, I’ll share with you my discoveries, my mistakes, and my successes using this remarkable game engine.
“Nightmare Puppeteer takes the approach of puppetry where you do something with your hands, but instead of using your hands, you are pressing keys on your keyboard….it’s an animation engine”
-M dot Strange
NP is a Game
It’s important to point out that Nightmare Puppeteer is a game and not a 3D application. The gameplay is focused on creating characters, animations, and scenes within the game. And as M dot Strange points out “it’s an animation engine”. Also, the game is built upon the Unity Engine which means it has qualities that only a game made in Unity has (unique shaders and effects, for example).
I want to take you through the interface and give you a basic gameplay workflow that you can use to start making machinima.
When you install Nightmare Puppeteer from Steam, it will create a shortcut on your desktop. Click the shortcut to start the game. You’ll then be presented with a screen to choose your language. Once you choose the language it will go through some start-up processes and bring you to the main game menu (see below). By the way, you can choose the resolution of your game and whether it is windowed (along with graphics quality). I like to use the windowed version because I have a very large monitor and can position the game right next to the manual for reference. It will depend upon the size of your monitor and the power of your graphics card as to what you might choose for the graphics settings.
At the game menu, you’ll have the following choices
- Make a Nightmare - takes you to the main interface
- A Read Me document which warns about using only 44.1/16bit PCM Wav files for audio. If you use any other format you’ll risk white noise hell.
- A series of Tutorial videos which you can also access at the Imagination Rabbit Youtube channel
- Twitch Mode settings (we’ll talk about this in a later episode)
- Other Settings - Quite a few interesting settings here like “enable live microphone”, upload/download Prop .fbx, and more. Again, we’ll cover this in a later episode.
Go ahead and click “Make a Nightmare” which takes you to the main gameplay interface (see below). I’ve labeled the picture below with the actions each button or arrow does. Basically, you have your A character on the left, the scene to be played in the back, and a table on which are objects that help you set up aspects of the scene you want to play.
The first thing you want to do is to create a character. The A character is on the left and the B (for “buddy”) character is on the right. You will see a puppet hand with strings above a miniature puppet. Click the puppet (it will light up) and the game will take you to the Character Creation scene. We will cover Character Creation in our next episode.
After you create a character, click the “back arrow” to get to the main gameplay interface. Now, the character you created will be standing behind the table and to the left.
Next, you want to load the audio/speech file. Click the Microphone on the table (it will light up) and the words “Add voice to the main actor” will show on the front of the table. The microphone takes you to a screen where you can do the following:
- Choose the microphone input source
- upload/download audio files from Steam Workshop
- Choose live mic
- Open file to use for voice
- Scale the Lip sync jaw sensitivity. The head of the character you created appears on the right, so you can see how much lip sync you want.
- Choose the volume of the voice
- On the right are “play”, “stop” and “remove” boxes for the voice file you’ve chosen.
- You can also loop the voice so that it plays over and over
- Tab to talk. This is very helpful if you are doing a dialogue scene because it allows you to click “Tab” when you want your character to talk. You can arrange several recordings in the order you want them to play, then click tab to time each voice recording.
- Remember the game warning - the audio file must be 16 bit, 44.1 PCM wav format.
Now you can add background music to your scene by clicking the audio cassette image. This takes you to the screen pictured above. Here you can:
- Open music audio file
- Upload/download files from Steam workshop
- Adjust music volume
- Loop audio
- Nightmarify Bgm (adds strange effects to your music)
Play the Scene
Once you have your actor created, your voice recording and lip sync set, and the background music read, you can now click either of the two big red buttons on the right of the table to start playing the scene. But first, you have to choose the scene you want to play. M dot Strange has created 65 scenes (including tutorial scenes) for you to play with. You advance each scene by clicking the white arrows right or left. Once you find the scene you want, you are ready to go.
There is a short video that plays (I wish you could turn the sound off on this as it is very loud). Now you are in the scene you chose earlier (see picture below). If you hit “escape” you’ll get a scene helper menu that allows you to adjust volume and shows basic puppeteering commands like animations, camera controls, etc.
Once you are in the scene, the music and voice files you chose to start playing. Now you can set camera angles and animation to fit the voice and music.
One key concept for playing Nightmare Puppeteer is to improvise and layer your gameplay. You improvise the animations and camera angles (while recording screen with video game-capture software. And you layer your captures by going back and starting the scene over using a different angle or animation.
Once you have enough layered captures, you can collect them and start editing in your video editor of choice. And what’s really cool about Nightmare Puppeteer gameplay is that this isn’t the only way to create scenes. There are multiple ways of scene creation. It’s just that this is the recommended way (by M dot Strange) to start out creating a music video (primarily).