It’s been a hell of a long time, but I’m finally gearing up to put out a big Auto Fire update. The visuals got a big overhaul, we’re getting a new UI, and there’s even the start of a new story. Lots to talk about, and maybe I’ll show a before and after, but for now I’ve got some last bugs to iron out…
It’s been a while! I’m about a month into ramping back up after the spring got eaten up by a much-needed personal break, and it’s been a while since I’ve shared the ongoing improvements to Auto Fire, so let’s get back to it! Getting things rollololling by pulling together the assets for some possible arena layouts and maybe even a racetrack or two… Been fun to explore!
One of the biggest changes I’ve been working on is a scale revision which will open up those cramped streets and other areas for more driving fun, as well as giving more impact and drama to features such as buildings, walls and streetlights.
I’ve also got some help from a talented friend in a much-needed overhaul of the UI. Just to whet your appetite, here’s a quick peek at one part of the dashboard… I’m already in the midst of revising the grip/skid meter to tie it all together a much clearer package in this new speedo.
Can’t wait to show you more.
About a year ago, I pitched in on a Kickstarter that was near and dear to my heart… the reprint of a vast library of early-80’s games from Steve Jackson Games. Many of these games came in a specially designed “pocket box” that was more durable than a ziplock bag and were the perfect size to fit on paperback book racks in stores.
These little guys held the first copies I owned of Car Wars and its supplements as well as other titles like Ogre. The manuals were small, and inside were super-folded maps as well as thin sheets of game counters that you cut out yourself. Perhaps these weren’t the honkin’ miniature-heavy boxes you see nowadays, but it was amazing how 5 bucks could buy you in to a whole world back then.
So today a big ‘ol box showed up. It was bigger than I thought it would be, although I did recall pledging the mammoth $200 “Car Wars and seven more games” package as a tip of the hat for everything SJG gave me in 1983. While I bought nearly everything from the Car Wars line back in the day, a number of cross-country moves separated me from my collection, and only a precious few pieces remained… This was a chance to get them back into my grubby little hands.
The first thing that struck me when taking the first of the contents out was how chunky big these new pocket boxes are. They were streamlined to remove the now-unneeded clasps and hooks, but they’re also a lot thicker.
The first set is the classic boxes of Illuminati, along with some Illum-themed folders as a bonus. We’ve got Illuminati Deluxe, but it’s great to have the real deal.
Ogre and its sequels/spinoffs/addons! Yes! What classics, and I’d always wanted a copy of Battlesuit in particular. I love these folders as well.
I’ve certainly never owned a copy of Undead or Kung Fu 2100, and it’s been soooooo long since I’ve played Awful Green Things (I think literally since it debuted in Dragon Magazine?). These are some awesome treasures.
Finally get to compare a new Pocket Box with the old. I put an original copy of Ogre against the new one… It appears about double thickness.
Now I should say that all those other SJ games were great, but I was eager to hit the star attraction and crack open the vaults of Car Wars loot. Look at the size of these crates!
Opening box #1… With Convoy peeking out at me like a long-absent friend.
And so it begins… Car Wars, Truck Stop, a couple expansion sets, the arena book, Convoy, GURPS Autoduel and a spare pocket box to put the expansions in. It starts strong!
I’m so glad to have a printed copy of this version of GURPS Autoduel. I have no problem with Darryl Elliott’s cover for the 2nd edition, but Denis Loubet’s original cover is my absolute favorite Car Wars illustration ever.
Convoy was one of the best supplements, as sort of choose-your-own adventure with Car Wars battles along the way. Whenever I wanted to immerse myself in that world or think about Auto Fire, I’d page through a bit of this guy. The book was one of the hardest losses from the move (or whenever it disappeared), and the PDF was I think my very first purchase from Warehouse 23.
I cracked open the bonus pocket box for the first time and it feels nice and solid. Feels similar to a slightly-undersized clamshell VHS case (for those that know what those feel like).
Once again, comparing old (right) versus new (left).
Comparing the old with the new here (new on top), the inside was lovingly recreated with all the usual inserts, with some bonus surprises including a set of two d6’s (which conveniently fit in the larger boxes!).
The new edition (right) is pretty much a direct scan of the original books (aside from a small note in the header), so this is as close to 1983 as you can get. This does mean you should expect whatever typos and game-balance quirks existed at the time.
My old copy (left) has a promo for Sunday Drivers for $5, while this reprint advertises Crash City (Sunday Drivers’ revised name) for a slightly higher price. The reprint also promotes Car Wars Deluxe, which was released closer to the mid-80’s. Not sure of the exact year of each.
These tiny little bonus notebooks they tucked into each pocket box are delightful.
Keeping with absolute authenticity, there are uncut counter sheets included as the originals had, but there are also die-cut versions of every counter so you don’t have to crack out the scissors.
The die-cut counters have a bit of extra thickness to them, which is great: The original 1/2″ x 1/4″ counters in particular were so thin and light that they were very hard to handle, and don’t you dare sneeze…
Moving on to treasure trove #2!
Two more expansion sets, Crash City, an Autoduel Quarterly collection and one of the Uncle Albert’s Catalogs, along with Zombietown and another bonus pocket box. Zombietown USA for GURPS Autoduel is one I’ve never owned and am eager to dig into.
Opening Box #3!
There’s some beefy stuff in here: Autoduel Champions(!), Chopper Challenge, the vehicle counter expansion set, another Uncle Al’s, and the AADA Vehicle Guide. A couple bonus pocket boxes and two folders are also tucked in here…
This book is iconic to me, and I’m super-glad they reprinted it with the foil cover… It’s so pristine it feels locked in time. (The AADA stands for the American Autoduel Association, natch).
The vehicle counter expansion set is chock full of game pieces for all the vehicles in the AADA guide above. They’re double-sided so you can flip them when destroyed. You can see from comparing the cut-out to the die-cut sheets that it wasn’t just a quick job to transfer them, they had to completely revise the layout to switch over.
Comparing new with the old again… Autoduel Champions was a crazy supplement that added Champions-style superheroes to the game, although more importantly it was the only way to get helicopter rules at the time. Notably, it also served as a Champions supplement, providing autoduelling rules for that game. I had completely forgotten that it included giant vehicle and helicopter counters for play to match the larger Champions scale.
R.I.P. Aaron Allston.
While I loved all the color cover art, this piece by George “Speed” Webber was my favorite piece of interior art (Sorry Denis!). When I was a kid I must have recreated this drawing half a dozen times in varying media including pixel-plotting on my Apple II plus.
Finally to bundle #4!
Good ol’ Off Uncle Al’s maks a couple more appearances (so great to have all four together again!), another arena map expansion as well as the offroad duelling supplement. One of those cool bonus folders along with one last pocket box fill the gaps, and finally a copy of Boat Wars! That’s one of the few supplements I never owned, should be fun to check out.
The off-road expansion was lovingly crafted, with those cool trike counters and one of the very few color maps they printed. I also loved getting full-sized expansions because the maps didn’t have to be folded a dozen times over!
Looking back on all the Car Wars loot, I feel it’s money well-spent.
And with all those other games I think it might have been an alright deal for $200 even back in the 80’s… The platypus seems to agree.
One last peek at the rad little notebooks from the Car Wars packages…
…and a look at the bonus pocket boxes once I got stickers on them to hold my expansions. The stickers were extremely hard to peel from their backing, but I got them on okay. The stickers are a bit narrower than the boxes themselves, however, so I can’t say they’re particularly centered.
Anyway, feels good man. My collection is finally back to beefy.
It’s been about a month since the last update of Auto Fire, and I’ve been focused on the content arc. In between hitting “refresh” on the Kickstarter page for Car Wars Sixth Edition (really excited to see car combat come surging back), I managed to assemble a build with a good chunk of stuff.
The upcoming goal is to really focus on content generation, bulking out how sectors are laid out and how quests are encountered within them. This helps draw players through the various sectors and really gives some needed context and narrative to the play arc.
Some notable elements below are a larger emphasis on characters… They are more prominent in encounters and they now are equipped to refer to each other in dialogue (which will continue to grow). The player’s “feed” takes the place of a traditional Roguelike combat log, fielding tweets by your opponents as well as residents of the current sector.
More gameplay-relevant is the introduction of highway maps between the various overworld sectors. These will continue to evolve and reflect the hazards of traveling long distances. Eventually they will be the setting of convoy missions, but first things first…
As always, you can download the work in progress at Itch.io…
- Rockets from watch towers now take a number of turns to reach their targeted destination.
- When you’re trying to take them out, make sure to keep moving!
- Rockets will aim for a spread around the intended target when sighting in.
- Some (but not all) delayed projectiles can even predict where you’ll be when they hit, forcing you to keep maneuvering.
- Various world objects are now destructible and break apart using physics.
- Guard tower, water tower, trash pile
- Line of Sight for firing now properly checks sight rather than actual blocking which means that crates and little things won’t block your shots (finally!)
- Added Line of Sight blocking to several buildings and entities that were not blocking.
- Extended the sight radius for vehicles. They now check in a square radius rather than a circle… which results in cars pursuing you from a good amount away.
- The overworld no longer slows time because it’s already an abstraction and doesn’t need even more… this is only reserved for combat maps.
- Occupied (combat) locations show explosions and smoke to help players know that they will be driving into a combat zone.
- When a player clears a map of hostile forces, they are informed with “Cleared!” upon returning to the overworld.
- Adjusted the camera so it lags slightly when moving. Is it good? The jury is still out on this one…
- The machinegun muzzle flash ejects bouncing shells.
- Adjusted where rockets come out of a watchtower.
- Adjusted the default quality level, which was for some reason defaulting to ultra-low Atari 2600 mode.
- Revised overworld explosions since they are, again, abstractions.
- Lowered some mountain terrain that was poking up through the fog of war.
- The map generator works with maps chopped into multiple terrain chunks rather than a single one, helping performance on some larger maps.
- Fixed the placement of the highway in highway entrances.
- Highway entrances are now skinnier than they would have been.
- Revised environment items:
- Skid decal for danger zones.
- Added some new shacks for the desert to replace some of the trash ones I was using.
- The watchtower and other points of interest in the desert have been beefed up a bit with some new breakable elements.
- Barbed wire is chunkier and easier to see. It breaks with physics also.
- Ground decals under watchtowers, outposts, garages and homesteads are more transparent and hopefully less… ugly?
- Fixed some issues with setpieces when they are laid out in desert combat maps.
- The tutorial is spread out to include special encounters where you can get instructions on how to play.
- Overworld sectors are now connected by long highway maps that must be traversed, which have some barricades and watchtowers along the way.
- More to come with these.
- Highways now generate appropriate names and state highway numbers.
- Population is now more aggressively associated with faction, so that dropping a new gang into an existing map changes the experience.
- The boss quests are also determined by the faction, so each faction can have its own quests based on what location they might find themselves in.
- Overworld enemies now explode immediately after you finish an encounter rather than one move later (which was confusing)
- Introduce a new intro encounter for bosses when encountered in the field.
- Camera zooms in on intro boss when played.
- Added highway signs indicating what sector we’re heading for.
- The Highway designation is seen when entering a highway map.
- The combat log is now the equivalent of a social media feed, bringing in more of the publicity elements that will ultimately define your quest for fame.
- The feed contains information about kills and items that are acquired.
- Boss barks now manifest as Tweets (or “Toots”)
- Added new citizen tweets about various agents and parties.
- Adjusted the encounter portrait to use large portraits now.
- Improved the ability of quests and encounters to refer to you, locations and other characters.
- Improved the automap title information to show the map and its current difficulty level.
- When a contested area is defeated, display CLEARED! floating text.
- All popups use black borders rather than metal.
- Adjusted weapon drop rate down in general.
- No weapons dropped at tutorial.
- Tutorial cars and tutorial level crates no longer drop weapons. The only weapon you get at the very start is the single weapon you get after beating the first battlefield.
- Adjusted the bosses after the tutorial so they don’t kick you in the nuts.
- Properly called TargetSpotted when a vehicle spots the player.
- Spotted sounds now use a cooldown in general so there aren’t honks all over the damn place.
- Adjusted the default music volume, which was previously too damn loud.
- Cleaned up a bunch of stuff to reduce the size of the game on disk and memory.
- Fixed bugs with returning to conquered maps.
- Fixed a variety of bugs related to killing things before their projectile lands.
- Fixed issues with tossing loot
- Added collision to city road tiles so physics works properly with them.
- Fixed a variety of issues with grass
- Added killall and noclip console command for development.
- Try to avoid accidental triggers of entrances.
I’ve been doing development streaming on Twitch lately, and it’s been pretty enjoyable actually. It’s early afternoon for me, Tuesday at 1PM Pacific, and it’s been fine. I worried about the cats disrupting things but I just embraced the cat break. I worried about boring people with some noodly code problem on camera but there’s always something I can pick up that’s interesting to work on and talk about. I’d like to think that people are learning things about game development as well, which it turns out is part of what it’s about.
I’ve saved some of these streams on Youtube, which has been good since there are sometimes concepts that I want to convey to people that are helping me out… and having a demo of its use is super-handy.
In stream #2 I showed off how patches are created in-game, and punch up some in-game objects. (The first stream was unfortunately lost to the fact that Twitch doesn’t save broadcasts by default). We also got our first visit from Sam.
Stream #3 started pretty weird because I had the mic off for a good chunk of the start. In this I actually crack open the very improved Blender after only an hour of watching tutorials and use it to update and break up some models, to improve the physics impact of destruction. Then we cut loose with some rockets.
There have been improvements to Auto Fire both big and small! There was a list as long as my arm of bugs and nitpicks that I discovered when showing off the game at the Roguelike Celebration. Quality of life improvements are always crowd-pleasers, and they happen to also be me-pleasers since I’m playing the game everyday.
More importantly, I started setting an eye to a longer play arc than I have now. That includes laying the foundation for loot, health and damage that’s defined by a progression arc. This means that I can balance numbers globally, as well as more easily drop in enemies and items to the game and have the system distribute them more easily.
This may not affect your experiences that much just yet (aside from some new items dropping!) but I’m looking forward to bulking up the content soon. (If you’re impatient, here’s the download link now)
- Rams are more sophisticated in their detection now! They now check relative speeds, and factor in the ram plate only when your front is colliding with the enemy.
- The relative mass and levels of the vehicle are also factored into the damage that is done.
- The Cricket’s Bootlegger now executes a stun burst upon completion! (Like it’s supposed to!)
- Sectors are now set up to control the challenge within them! This gives me the first tools to really smoothly lay in progressively advanced content.
- There are now tables that control the base amounts of health, damage, fame, item value, vehicle value, and various resource drops.
- Varying the content from this baseline will help generate new content and help balancing as the content grows.
- This was waaaaaay harder than it should have been, except it’s because vehicles have a fairly involved way of installing themselves on various vehicle chassis. Players do it differently than enemies, but they all use the same basis.
- Loot tables now spawn based on the challenge level of a map or opponent as well. Items are now set up to drop in quickly via a spreadsheet, allowing content growth to be much easier!
- Part of the result of this is that there are some new tires, engines, blast gadgets, and weapons that took a few minutes to whip up. A significant improvement.
- Adjusted the fire trail from exploding barrels and vehicles to be more flamboyant.
- Added physics objects to destructible entities.
- Fixed orientation and camera angles of special moves.
- The overworld vehicle is a tad smaller now, to better fit the other elements within.
- Automap is (finally!!!) closed with the Escape key
- Objective Pointer improvements!
- Objective pointers now can point to things that can be killed in the map if there are more than one.
- When there are multiple objective targets, only show the ones that have been seen so far.
- Pointer flashes regularly and is pushed slightly further inward for better visibility.
- Pointer starts in the center and moves out when changed.
- Revised the feel of the ground, leaning a little bit in the direction of more detail. I don’t want it to get too busy but it was blandtown.
- Experimenting with grass, textures, some more boundary variance, and so on.
- Outposts now have some slightly more interesting walls.
- There can be breaks on multiple sides, and now the break isn’t always predictably on the south end either.
- There are some corner variants now, just to mix things up.
- The walls have a bunch more variance and they are not always rail-straight.
- Wanted a little more verticality, so I made the guard tower and water tower taller.
- Physics objects like exploding cars now have sounds when they collide with the world!
- Some sounds are no longer affected by slowing down time, because they sounded pretty dumb (like the “clink” of a dropped item)
- MasterAudio (my sound system) was logging all sounds, spewing into the text log. Turned this off, which could improve performance slightly.
- It turns out I wasn’t reading my data files in an internationally friendly fashion. PC’s with Russian language, for example, would have empty levels and no weapons. Derp. This should be fixed with new parsing improvements. Hopefully Russian computers can run the game better now!
- When attacking with a ground-only weapon or special move, don’t snap to an enemy.
- Vehicles now have their special moves and speed perks built-in as vehicle defaults. This makes them not part of the inventory and not removable.
- Fixed some targeting issues caused by weapons with a minimum range calculating incorrectly.
- The Steamworks library has been added to the game! It doesn’t do much yet, but it’s a start!
- The game has been updated to Unity 2019.2.9f, and now uses Unity Plus. This means no more Unity splash screen for extra Pro Points(TM)
As always, you’re welcome to try out the current build at Itch.io!
Testing out my new hardware in the run-up to my first stream, I whipped up a quick video blog showing off the most recent changes to the build and its vehicle playstyles. Enjoy!
And hey, yes! I did stream for the very first time this week. I unfortunately didn’t know that Twitch didn’t default to saving past broadcasts so the first session isn’t viewable, but head over to my channel and give me a follow! I promise to save all future sessions!
It’s been a couple weeks since the last build, but a lot has happened due to things that I’ve wanted to get in for the Rogue Celebration 2019, which I’ll talk about in another article.
For Auto Fire, RogueCel primarily meant that I had a lot I wanted to do in proving out playstyles. This manifests in the player’s vehicle chassis selection… It includes speed perks (passive effects triggered when driving at 60 MPH or higher), and special maneuvers (gas-consuming all-in-one moves that launch the vehicle to a new location and affects everything around it.
As always you can check out the state of development for free on Itch!
- Cached Line of Sight: I used to do a pretty dead-simple Line of Sight test… I traced from one tile’s center to the other. Sounds simple, but there are a ton of edge cases that come about from testing that way.
- To get it right requires a couple extra tests, primarily tracing to each far corner of the tile.
- This allows you to see tiles that are partially obscured by walls, as well as being able to target walls themselves (such as when shooting the destructible outpost borders).
- To reduce the load of this, I cache the results of these multiple line traces in all directions out to 15 tiles (this is tunable). That way I can look at the offset from the viewer and quickly retrieve all the tiles I need to query for blocking. Is it done in the most efficient way? Not yet, but it definitely is an improvement so far.
- Improved item gathering: Vehicles now automatically pick up items from the ground adjacent to the vehicle, rather than requiring the radar to be used. It feels so much better!
- The player also automatically picks up adjacent items in the overworld!
- One thing I really needed was to introduce more playstyles for players to choose from. I decided to bake in special abilities into various vehicle chassis.
- To facilitate this, I created the ability for equipment to have passive effects when installed, and remove them when uninstalled.
- Effects have an ambient effect on their target, and can also trigger gameplay or visuals as a result of having triggers on its target… such as being hit, losing control, or colliding.
- Vehicles now have two new equipment slots (which are not player-editable): Speed Perk and Special Maneuver. This equipment will in most cases be baked into the chassis itself when used.
- A minimum speed can now be defined for effects, allowing for things like speed perks which trigger whenever the vehicle is traveling 60 MPH or over.
- The stun condition keeps an AI (or player) from firing or controlling their movement until it wears off. This means pedestrians stay in place while vehicles will continue forward at their existing speed (or until they hit something).
- The focus condition increases the subject’s ability to hit targets and inflict crits.
- Turret fire (the F key or the gamepad triggers) now can launch any weapon or special ability. It also won’t attack the ground the way it used to.
- Ram Blast (Stallion): Speed perk that triggers an explosion whenever the vehicle collides at high speed.
- Ram Piston (Stallion): Special maneuver that launches forward and bashes through the selected target, knocking it aside.
- Advanced Radar (Stallion): The Stallion has special radar that has a bigger radius than other vehicles.
- Hyperfocus (Panther): Speed perk that increases the hit and critical chance when at high speed.
- Jet Thruster (Panther): Special maneuver that launches forward and puts the car at max speed, leaving a trail of fire behind.
- Jet Wash (Cricket): Speed perk that stuns vehicles and foot soldiers that are passed at high speed.
- Bootlegger (Cricket): Special maneuver that launches forward and spins the car around, ending with a large stunning pulse.
- Note: Special Maneuvers all consume gas!
- Created new shader for the fog of war that scrolls and has interesting edges.
- This was only my second or third foray into Amplify shaders… It’s been great to be able to the work in the editor rather than have to code them, since I really did a lot of experimentation here.
- The main goal was to create something more dynamic on edges and more particular to have fewer tiles obscured by half-opacity textures, which made things feel extra floaty and mushy on a large part of the screen.
- Destroyed vehicles now do not fly into the air as ridiculously far. It was fun but you often never even saw the vehicle because it flew so high.
- Adjusted the color of the ordnance and gas can icon and model to be more prominently colored, so they are easier to spot.
- Added glinty materials to pickups to make them catch the eye better.
- This is mostly by cranking up the brightness of the specular in the toon shader I’m using for gameplay objects. It looks pretty nice when the objects spin.
- Adjusted the loadout of starting vehicles to match playstyles.
- Updated start screen to give more description of cars.
- Updated some tutorial text to match the new control method.
- Fixed bug with effects such as dropped items. One symptom was smoke and oil overwriting each other. This may also eliminate some of the mysterious crashes I’ve seen.
- It turns out that in a specific case I was passing a single dictionary around for effects rather than properly instantiating it for each instance of an effect. That caused some serious weirdness, glad to have tracked that down.
- Fixed a problem with firing while stationary, which remained in slomo during execution.
- Changed the ragdolls for humans and dogs to move smoothly.
- Added audio mixer slowdown when slowing down time.
- When destroyed vehicles are flung into the air, they now play sounds when falling to the ground.
- Added a techy burst sound for the bootlegger.
- Targeting squares are more yellow now, rather than green.
- The (A) button prompt disappears when the player centers the gamepad stick.