Category Archives: Game Development

Late Night Asset Store Addiction

The Unity Asset Store is a great temptation at all times, cleverly one click from my development environment.  When you’re stuck in the dregs of some less-than-glamorous code snarl, it becomes the devil.  An Asset Store 24-hour sale are basically late-night Ronco TV ads for game developers.  Just 10 bucks for the next 2 days!  30% off!  But hey, this might be just the thing your game needs to be awesome…

Recently I bought a Volumetric Clouds package, hoping that I could get some cool, turbulent cloud cover with shadows over my landscape as the player wanders around.   Looks pretty good, but my poor frame rate just couldn’t handle it, especially at high resolutions.

Clouds

The solution involves a sweet technique of rendering many layers of a noise texture so it piles into a volumetric shape.  It seems to run pretty well for ground scenes looking up at the sky, but for my particular situation it didn’t quite fit.  Maybe I can’t use it for Auto Fire, but it’s a clever enough solution that looks great in a lot of cases, so I don’t feel too bad supporting the creator.

I don’t want to obscure the map features anyway, so just shadows would probably do the trick.  I might be able to do an extremely cheap version of the shadows with some some screen space projection instead…  but there are a hundred other things to do first.

I stumbled on another Unity sale recently that dangled a plugin called Beautify in front of me.  “Add a pro look!  Punch up your colors!  See the detail!”  I couldn’t help but bite, because I’m always wondering what I can do to eliminate the muddiness that I sometimes get with Unity, especially when I shrink assets that are intended to be experienced at realistic sizes.

A good chunk of what Beautify does is apply a sharpen post-process, along with some LUT’s to enhance some coloring.  I must admit there’s an appeal to seeing those shrunken assets appear sharper against the terrain or ground surfaces.  (You’ll probably have to click to see the difference).

Before
Before
After
After

It punches everything up and everything gets a nice feel in comparison.  However, it uses a sharpen filter, so I have to balance its use versus all the work built-in antialiasing does.  So, while it helps eliminate some of the muddy appearance (something I equate with unpolished products), it adds a lot of shimmer and harsh pixels (something I equate with unpolished engines).  In the end I probably just need some lighting help from a real artist. 🙂

Anyway, I can turn down the sharpen or nix it if I want, which is good because I like the results Beautify gives me with color.  It’s also got sweet bonus night vision and thermal views.

Nonetheless, I’m still looking for the right combination of lighting and filters to attain the pro look I’m after.  The quest continues…  and my wallet fears the night.

Overworld Madness

I’ve had some pretty great results so far with generating my terrain and dynamically placing road decals as needed.  The Easy Decal 3D solution ended up being pretty great.  The folk at &u Assets were super-helpful, and with clever use of their baking and decal combine features my roads went from 20 fps to 200 fps.  So, basically solved, and it’s worked out pretty well for putting interesting terrain features when staring down at splat-mapped Unity terrain starts to get tiresome.

I feel pretty good about the look and feel of my overworld, as well as the scale (which was a concern since it’s extremely exaggerated, even though I wanted a gritty feel).  I still have a ways to go before I can finish up my core loop and release a build, but things have leveled up a fair amount.

Overworld Development

I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated, but there hasn’t been a lot going on that’s particularly showable.  My Perforce checkins show that in the past few months I have…

  • AutoHomeChar08132016Used a landscape generation tool called Gaia to generate custom baked landscapes that I can use for specific locales or pre-constructed sections of the overworld.
  • Created a home base area for the player to start in.
  • Project movement grid information on the ground to help navigate some areas.  I’ll still work on making sure that they are clearly traversable.
  • Added charRavennaacters from Fuse in there, using some of the pretty good tools to grab some animations and basic clothing setups.
  • Enlisted the help of my wife Sandra to help get some characters together!  Nice being able to construct characters as easily as you would in a game like Skyrim.  And so far it’s free (knock on wood).
  • I’m still considering how I want to show characters in general.  I liked having them when I had a 2D game because it was easy to see what everybody was, but by going 3D I’m going to have some trouble with parseability.  I’m already scaling things up larger-than-life, but even more might be needed for humans.

AutoQuest08132016

  • Got together some basic quest granting, as well as a main stats screen for players to track the quests they’re on.
  • I also realized that I probably didn’t want a traditional quest system…  I’m not out to make Wasteland 3 or anything.  So, I’ve got the system but I’ll be working on evolving it to work even better with generated content.
  • AutoOverworld08132016Started thinking harder about the overworld experience.  There’s a lot of back and forth that happened here…  very briefly I thought about creating only one overworld zone and generating only content within.  However, performance considerations, as well as the interesting gameplay that can happen in the overworld, I decided to break it into sectors that include both generated and prebuilt areas.
  • Started to move towards the exaggerated scale I want to hit with chunky buildings and roads, but areas on the map with interesting states to deal with.

AutoDecalTest

  • Experimented with a number of ways to put roads on a generated terrain mesh, and so far have settled on Easy Decal 3D, which is a bit quirky but that’s pretty standard with Unity asset bundles.  I think it has a good set of features and make it run performant, if I can just work around some of the funky bits.
  • I’m hoping this approach will work.  It is the most dynamic, and would hold up best for generated terrain, but it’s also eaten a good chunk out of my frame rate and needs optimization.

This is all on top of investigation, data loading/saving, performance, and other things.  Hmm.  So yeah, I guess I was actually pretty busy over July.  Still hoping to get back to working on city combat stuff soon.

Dungeonmans has shipped!

Hey, did I mention that my buddy Jim Shepard has finally finished his epic, Dungeonmans, and it is fully purchasable on Steam?

He’s done such an amazing job…  I spent a few weeks helping out a little on traps when I was awaiting a move to San Francisco back in 2010, and it was the very thing that made me realize how much I had missed game coding.  I can’t lay any claim at all to the final product because probably 1% of the code I wrote back then made it into the final product, but it was a meaningful moment to me nonetheless.

Back in November, Jim and his long-distance contributors/friends decided to gather in Seattle for a week-long push to get Dungeonmans that much closer to the finish line.  I put in a day or two (as a designer this time) and helped create a couple of “master dungeons”, and it was amazing to see how much the game had improved over time.

dungeonmans old-new
From the early days…                                                       …to release!

 

The coolest part was having an honest-to-god game studio, Adventurepro, in my basement for a week!  These are amazing guys, each with years and years of grizzled veteranmancy (a word I just crafted now) behind them…  They deserve every new success.

Dungeonmans crew

Side Projects

I’ve had to take a break on the article-writing to immerse myself in my work.  Theory is fun, speccing can be rewarding, and hooking up is good, but sometimes I’ve found myself missing real hands-on gameplay programming.

A friend of mine has been creating a Rogue-alike as a side-project labor of love for the past few years, and recently it went from sporadic updates to a full-on development flurry.  This of course made me very jealous, as tile-based engines allow for amazing freedom in creation…  There are few limits and implentation is a breeze.  It’s all about the gameplay.

The game is Dungeonmans, and he releases updates openly as an in-progress effort…  It obviously revels in its old-school presentation…  although the graphics are getting better by the day.   He’s created an overworld and NPC quest system as well as invested a great sense of humor within, so in some ways it outpaces similar indie dungeon-crawlers already.  It even can gather play stats that get collected at the home base for analysis and high scores.

Recently he made the codebase available to a few of us, and we’ve all been diving in and having a blast.  I’ve been working on a trap system recently, and I gotta say it’s the most fun I’ve had with development since Heretic II.  It’s been a while since I’ve worked on something past midnight without even noticing.

It’s not Diablo III, but fun doesn’t have to be developed in 3D by hundreds of people…   Check it out.

Viva la France!

Oh yeah.  I would like to personally thank the entire country of France for the greatest cover ever for a game I’ve worked on. Irreverent doesn’t begin to describe it… If you dare, click for a disturbingly oversized version.
Joypad: France

Play La Marseillaise!

Credit where credit’s due…  I really have to appreciate the fantastic coverage that This is Vegas has gotten from the press in Europe. While I’m really happy with how the U.S. press has responded to the game, it’s still funny to watch how Americans in general spend so much time pondering how much the game is like GTA.  In my completely broad-but-insulting generalization, people on this side of the world just seem to want to know who it is they get to shoot, while Europeans more easily “get it” and embrace the completely over-the-top nature of this game.

PSW: UKWhat is the deal with that? For everyone who complains about how games too frequently fall back on the old stereotypes of violence and thuggery, American gamers are still likely to complain when it isn’t present. People seem to think it’s just the result of high-level censorship…  e.g. in Europe sex = okay, in America violence = okay, but these attitudes aren’t just made-up.  The expectations of the audience certainly shapes the taboos in those respective countries.

Play3: GermanyTo either side here are a couple more recent appearances from the other side of the world… Here are a couple of covers from the UK and Germany, using imagery created by our awesome Art Director Wayne Laybourn. With the help of a great team including our design guru David Heutmaker, he has completely nailed the feel of our game… The colors, the motion graphics, even created a home for some of our more “game-y” elements… We’re not trying to create a gritty portrayal of the city of Las Vegas, folks, and anyone who compares it pixel-for-pixel with the real city is completely missing the point.  The style is like nothing I’ve never seen in any game before it.

Incredible stuff… Cheers, mate!

Rival Blog alert!

Don Hertzfeldt - HatMy first Blog on This is Vegas is now running at IGN, check it out here.  The IGN series won’t just be a soapbox for me, I just kicked it off…  We’ll be working to get as many different Surreal folk represented as possible there, more in the spirit of the sadly departed SurrealGameDesign (of course it will center mostly much around TIV, but I hope our minds can wander a bit).  This particular article covers some of the vision-oriented stuff on Vegas, and hopefully kicks off the TIV coverage with something at least mildly interesting.

We’re going to Vegas next week to show off the game (as well as check out other Midway titles), so you should see some good coverage very soon.  We don’t want to reveal too much too soon, but I am confident that the upcoming showing should answer many questions for people who don’t know what our game is about.

Short update today, sorry I’ve been slammed.  Meanwhile, enjoy some Don Hertzfeldt.

More This is Vegas coverage

This is Spegas!Over the past few weeks there have been a bunch of great references to This is Vegas.  Forgive me while I plug them for a minute. 🙂

Links

Video

One last edit:

My list of coverage can’t even approach this person’s…  Read the very first This Is Vegas blog.