There has been a solid amount of progress on Auto Fire in the last month, though not everything has been visible.
There’s a condition system now, where entities can be stunned, set on fire, made to skid, be blind, etc, and that will last a fixed number of turns before automatically removing themselves. Nothing super fancy, but it allowed me to do stuff like cause a vehicle to spin out when it hits an oil slick.
It also allowed me to give the player’s radar more functionality, because it now “paints” targets within a specific radius for a set amount of time. Ideally the player should be able to build up sustained fire on a single opponent, or race through a group (at high speed to avoid being shot) and hit everyone with a radar ping before swinging around and taking advantage of the higher hit rate (and eventually critical hits spurred by this).
There is a new icon system above vehicles to show their current conditions, which hopefully will teach players more about the advantages of speed and choosing targets.
I did a bit of work on weapon resolution to clean up some weirdness, as well as allow for effective area effects over various volumes. I can have weapons with blast radius at impact, cone effects, lines, and more. This gave me some vastly improved versions of scatterguns, flamers, and so on.
I also switched over my missiles to LeanTween (a great Unity package that’s freeeee, although the Editor that goes with is worth throwing a few bucks at) so that I could use more sophisticated arcs (splines, eases, etc) for the projectile travel. This gave me some great drunk missiles and so on.
A somewhat smaller bit of work but vastly important was looking into problems I was starting to see in my city layout.
A couple of years ago I put multiple months into a city generation method that took pre-crafted blocks and spliced them together, street-to-street, with props and so on. It worked pretty well… However, lately the cities seemed to have wayyyy too many skinny alleyways and dead-ends, even though I remember putting a fair amount of effort into reducing these.
Worse yet, I’d started to see some passability issues and unplayable maps, which I know I did checks for. Ugh. I love dusty Mad Max wastes, but the cities are just as important a part of the game and they weren’t fun.
I spent some time trying to re-learn what the hell the 2016 version of me had made. For a little bit I thought 2016 me was a bit of an idiot… but it turns out he was somewhat clever. It was 2018 me who introduced a number of bugs that caused loops to no longer form… that guy was a jerk. Specifically I had some code that overlaid roads over previously populated obstructions to create extra loops, and those no longer overlaid properly. In addition, my passability checks were not properly busting holes through the buildings and obstructions when needed.
I added a bit more two-lane roads and discouraged alleys from forming very often. In addition, I added some new block types to my definition that had fewer buildings, so some extra open spaces could be formed. I can pretty much make an infinite number of city block components, so I’ll keep adding ones that give some more driving freedom.
Anyway, I hope to have a new version out this weekend, it’s been too long. Wish me luck!
I’ve had a pretty busy last month (and some weather drama), but luckily I did get some meaty things done on Auto Fire.
Many people have lamented that it is difficult to control Auto Fire because the “forward” key also accelerates. Responding to feedback, the new controls are thus: If you press forward, your speed is capped at 40 MPH (that is, 2 actions per second). This way you can manage most maneuvers without crashing into everything around you (previously a popular activity in urban areas).
Speed is still king however, especially out in the badlands! A separate Boost key is used to accelerate beyond 40, up to your vehicle maximum.
A citadel is a civilized city where you can take a break, get repairs, and buy/sell items. Eventually different citadels will have their own specific functions, depending on which corporation owns it.
The cool thing is that you can now load up courier missions at a loading dock, giving you a non-combat way to earn more cash.
Gaw’bless Unity. It took like a half hour to put ragdolls on the soldiers.
I’ve also got some transition improvements, added new features in the overworld and improved the entrance/exit of areas.
We now save out fog of war between maps. (Whew that was annoying).
Quests work better! They’re improving all the time… but in this case I needed to create a quest on the fly when the player had to deliver cargo. This way I can use all the quest features like lists of rewards, player tracking, unique generated descriptions, and hooking into triggers such as arriving at a destination and showing quest markers.
Some significant bugs were also dealt with… I had previously been very diligent about properly and safely deleting entities, so that I wasn’t deleting them from a list I was parsing through. Unfortunately I wasn’t doing so when adding entities to the list. Thus C# was complaining at me nonstop, and it was nice to deal with that.
I also had a few remaining Entity pointers that I was saving across frames, which was not safe. I had changed everything over to a unique token method of tracking entities, but I had missed a few things previously. Again, good to get that out of the way and run some stress tests!
I was just thinking about the challenges of generating a city map for Auto Fire and realized that I’ve accomplished a whole lot and haven’t really discussed it in a long while.
Really early on in development I created some tools to generate block templates that get placed during map generation. This allows me to work with actual crafted sections of map (with variant buildings and other things that can be adjusted after the template is laid down). It’s more or less a requirement for cities since the classic “cave-style” procgen or even dungeon layout techniques don’t work as well as I’d like.
I create template patch objects that have a bunch of data attached to them such as exit points (for cities) as well as a variety of variable bits like spots for random decor and building styles (depending on the generation profile I’m using).
The block data that I save out actually even supports 9-slice scaling, so I can declare borders to be of a fixed size, but the center to be a repeating tile section that can be any size. It’s really useful in some situations like when I want a long crafted section of wall, or a large 4-lane boulevard on a city map.
For cities, however, I actually work mostly in blocks that are 4×4 in size, with street connectors that are 1, 2 or 4-lanes in size. If I want to make a larger block such as 4×8 or 12×16 I can do that as well. Getting the whole system to rotate blocks properly was probably the hardest part (you can see in the build right now that I have a few multi-tile objects that don’t yet collide properly… my work is never done).
I’ve got several workspace maps that I use to create these blocks of content (desert outpost, city, overworld, etc), and it’s a scalable system that could support a whole ton of layouts. When I say “damn I gotta work on content”, making 10x the tile variations and cities with specific flavors are ways that I could take advantage of the systems I’ve created.
Anyway, this approach isn’t particularly new but it works great for my needs… It deserves a more crunchy article dedicated to it, but it’ll have to go on the to-do list for sometime in the future. For now, hope the peek at the approach was a little interesting.
Another update to Auto Fire has come down the pike! A lot has happened in the last couple of months, so it’s great to get a build out…
Thanks to Itch.io for providing the app and the Butler tool so I can more easily post patches in the future. It’s like Steam for the rest of us. 🙂 Checking out Perforce and my Trello, here are some things that went down:
Added an automap so you can see where the hell you’re going. You can bring it up with the [Q] key.
Added a faction system. Each sector has a generated gang that rules it, and a boss that controls each combat zone. Defeating the boss clears the zone.
Boss arc now includes escalations that spur the bosses to taunt their forces and you with procedurally-generated shouts.
The quest system had some work done on it. Now the player is automatically assigned a quest to take out bosses of places they conquer.
You can check out the current quests in the Character menu, by pressing [Tab]
Quest completion now has a dialog box and some information on the results.
The encounter dialog has a new layout, and it shouldn’t justify its text strangely anymore.
The Shotgun soldiers are much less deadly than they were.
Unity 2018.3 update, which should improve terrain performance a bit.
Some of the road decals had dreadful performance, so exterior spaces run a bit better now as a result.
Toying around with a little bit more of an intro on the title screen.
I’m trying an outline shader on all gameplay objects to help them pop from the background.
Pulled up and adjusted the lighting to mellow some of the hard shadows that was creating visual noise. Terrain is a fair amount brighter now.
The garage looks a bit less out of place now. Still work to consolidate the colors.
Difficulty now represented with bullets.
Time slows when you die.
Armor sides weren’t appearing on the vehicle with the proper direction.
Multiple Line of Sight fixes. You should not be able to be hit through obstructions now. Fog uncovering on the map, the fire arc grid, and actual combat should all reliable return the same LOS results.
The player was able to exploit a bug that allowed them to use any side weapon against enemies in any direction. Fixed.
Removed some visual stray VFX sprites on the scouts.
The (correct) car model appears again on the inventory and garage menus.
Exploding barrels had stopped harming things. Fixed now.
Vehicle models now have manufacturer logo in info.
Over the past several months I’ve been working through some significant issues to get Auto Fire up to snuff… Good ol’ Jim talked me into going to the Roguelike Celebration 2018 in San Francisco this weekend so I could start showing my game to people more widely. Pretty exciting! Also pretty nerve-wracking given all the other stuff going on this summer.
Unfortunately there were a ton of things about my game that still drove me crazy… For example I wasn’t able to save the state of maps between visits… which meant that the overworld in particular would regenerate every time you left a location. I had to finally take the plunge and deal with that particular issue.
Man I hate two-years-ago me. I did some real hack jobs to get that 7DRL challenge done, and I guess I wasn’t done paying off that technical debt. 😛
Luckily I got all the proper stuff to function, save off map states and basically am ready for honest-to-god savegames (although I don’t do save/load just yet.) I’ve also made a whole bunch of quality-of-life improvements based on early player feedback:
The camera is now behind the vehicle at all times. This way the WASD weapon keys are always consistent and understandable, and you don’t have to envision tank controls. I had always suspected this would be a problem, but I think I was so used to camera-always-north that I didn’t have any trouble playing. The added benefit is that the game has a fairly unique look as compared to other Roguelikes now.
Improved feedback for speed. This is always a work in progress. The player needs to know when they are speeding or skidding. Putting the camera at a shallow angle and adding speed lines is my current strategy. I also shake the camera a bit, but that may just be too much. We will see where things go as feedback comes in.
Recolored environment. A good friend did a paintover of a screenshot of my city environment a while back and it helped me gravitate towards dark ground surfaces, light obstructions, and bright colored gameplay elements. This wasn’t the case with deserts (because, y’know, desert), but I’ve been darkening things quite a bit and trying to get the colors to pop. Still a work in progress.
Revised balance and loot drops. This isn’t really finely balanced, but I did make the early-play experience quite a bit easier so that people that wanted to try out the build could get a good idea of what the game was about quickly. I also brought down the size of the average “loot pinata” that existed when I was testing loot out. I really still need to do a huge push towards making content, maybe after the RogueCel.
Revised location names. More on that next article!
New garages in the overworld and desert outposts. I’m trying to make sure that the player has plenty of places to equip all the weapons and vehicle components I’m dropping. That includes in hostile areas. That will be a balancing act in the future.
UI improvements. Again from feedback, I flash the weapon when you try to use it but can’t, and flash the grip meter if you are skidding and try to accelerate.
Music and sound improvements. I got some new weapon sounds and hooked them up. The quality is steadily improving there. On the music front, I went back to Michael La Manna‘s excellent western apocalypse music… The quality is really high and fits the feel of the game really well.
My next step is to get the game out onto itch.io so that more people can play. That will be sooner than you think!
Over the July 4 holiday I managed to get a good, solid, 5-day weekend, which in turn gave me great blocks of time to work on Auto Fire. It felt great to get some really nagging things out of the way. There’s a bunch of stuff here that is new since last time I blogged about it:
Site System. I created a new structure for holding what I call “sites”, which is any point of interest on the map. This can include cities found in the overworld, highway entrances and exits, garages, and even regular landmarks and points of interest. The sites are what I use to guide road plotting, so roads can connect exits, cities, garages and even just weird old non-functional shacks out in the desert, which I constructed from groups of tiles. It gave me a system for sprinkling them into a map from a table, which adds more life to most maps.
Encounter System. The encounter system is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, to allow the player to deal with random stuff that they meet along the way. Call it FTL-style, although I associate the concept with pen and paper games as well as wayyyy back to ancient games like Odyssey on the Apple II. This allows players to consider some simple risk-reward propositions, or to choose between acts worthy of fame or notoriety.
Stylized Visual Effects. I took some of the realistic visual effects for weaponry, explosions and smoke and returned them to the stylized versions I had used a year ago. I found that these stylized VFX had extra punch and grabbed the player’s attention among a lot of noise, but more importantly, fit the oddball scale of the world in Auto Fire. With buildings and cars and chests all coming in at unrealistic sizes when compared to each other, I found that realistic visuals just made that mismatch even more pronounced. Somehow having unrealistic smoke and fire just helped with the suspension of disbelief, and I think it can look just as compelling.
Walled Outpost Generator. One of the biggest things I got done over the holiday was to finally prepare enough ramshackle walls, dirt roads, windmills and metal-roofed buildings to create a special generator for badlands outposts. This is a heightmapped terrain map that sets aside a center section as the “core”, where buildings and certain visual points of interest will lie. Around the perimeter is a wall made of scrap, cars, wood, and anything else… I had to make a version of my patch generator that would stretch and rotate this wall in any direction with repeating motifs. Dirt roads are then stretched to the various sites around the map. I’m really happy with how it came out.
Smoother Driving Feel. One thing I did fix in recent months came from feedback I got from right after the 7DRL that spawned Auto Fire… For some players the movement felt stuttery and halting. Part of that is unavoidable with a turn-based game, but some of it was fixable. There is no longer a single-frame stop between various units executing their turn, and if the player cues up multiple moves, it executes smoothly if possible. The movement from square to square in slightly slower than it was as well, creating an subtle improvement that I feel when running the new build versus an old one.
Wall Deflection. This last one feels intangible as well, but I implemented it because the more I played, the more I felt cheated that the mechanic did not exist. If the player is heading diagonally towards a wall at high speed, he or she can get deflected off the wall and into a new movement path parallel to the wall. This is a fairly common occurrence in the city maps in particular, and even lets players use it to their advantage if they wanted to keep shooting rather than steer (this is an option in Auto Fire!)
Okay, so there’s a lot more work to do. I feel that I’ve hit some fine polish points, but I mainly need to assemble content together into something more playable, to have more of a reason and tension in the overworld. All that will hopefully come next.
It’s funny how I spent all this time to create a prop distribution system, created tiles and various features to randomize and space out various tiles but never have the time to really find good models to populate the map with… so sometimes I play on a fairly empty map.
I spent the morning digging up some reasonably non-terrible assets to build tiles out of, and the results are luckily pretty good:
The problem is that whenever I’m doing visual stuff I’m both happy because things look better, but I feel guilty that I’m not working on function… Back to work!