Pennies and Post-its.

Sometimes you simply need to go back to basics and find a simple, direct method of making sure your silly high-concept ideas actually work.
Recently we did that by making post-it-note cards that represented various structures in a puzzle (the first the player-character will likely encounter) and old-fashionedly made sure it all added up.

This means something. We promise.

Old-time game design.

This was a success in two ways- firstly the basic idea did indeed work (always handy) and secondly we managed to identify a few canards we could simply cut without developing further. A minute saved is a minute… earned?
Anyway it is quite possible to get pretty far into something and realise you haven’t established or tested certain key elements that 100% NEED to function properly. As more hours rack up on the project we thought it a good time to actually do some safety-checking.

Engine Basics

Interesting workplace, I'm sure that floating brain is a real slave driver

Interesting workplace, I’m sure that floating brain is a real slave driver

The classic

The classic

So, it’s been a while since i posted last but stuff has been moving. I have made a serious start on the engine, I have gone for a ‘roll your own’ approach which may seem like masochism to many people but is, for me, a good deal of the joy of working on a game. It also has the additional benefit of never encountering an issue that cannot be fixed.

Features so far:

  • Deferred Render Pipeline
  • Normal mapping
  • Per-texel material properties (Specular, Specular function, Gloss, Ambient / Emissive)
  • Direct lighting with shadow mapping (buggy)
  • Tile based Dynamic point lights (diffuse and specular)
  • Quad tree LOD terrain
  • Reverse ray-traced model paint feature (more on this below)
  • more I’m sure

Reverse ray-traced model painting?

It became apparent that we could nether afford in time or money to buy or learn a fully featured 3D package, and it would not really play to Luke’s strengths as a painter. It would be far better to be able to paint the scene in photoshop and transfer the painting into texture space, I bought a simple program for this purpose (pixexix) however it was very alpha and little bit riddled with bugs. We don’t have time to wait for it to mature but the concept was sound so I implemented my own, it did not take to long, it also allows us to paint material properties, see the actual results in engine, place lights, create scenes and test shit so its a bit of a win.

 

Pseudofamiliarity

The interesting and frustrating thing about being the lead (by which I mean sole) artist on a project is the responsibility for creating lore-applicable imagery on the fly.
I’ve just been finishing up some artwork to be used for promotion, and it called for some kind of alien writing.
Yet it has to be recognisable *as* writing and not seem like a picture or something.

I like things that seem familiar yet aren’t- misleading in a playful way. So I sketched out some eldritch hieroglyphs until I liked what I was looking at. The following image was then used as a basis for a much larger element of the finished artwork.
shadow_prism_writing

Doesn’t look much I know, but it require thinking about the concepts from a different perspective.

Groundwork #3

The technology was used to visit strange worlds.... at forst

The technology was used to visit strange worlds…. at first

A big part of creating a game (for me) is fleshing out back story and making a rich world, even if that may not be directly seen in the final product. I like to develop these aspects and create a detailed space for the project to inhabit.

Luke

Documents: First pass

So a big part of the game is going to be sleuthing and deducing, to this end you will be required to sift through paper work from various places. So we need a document system that is a little more complex than just an image or some text, we need to be able to embed metadata in the documents have them be transformed and distorted by photocopiers and fax machines.

With this in mind here is my first pass at a document editor, on the left you have a poor mans XML markup and on the right the rendered page, I’m trying to invoke the look of declassified military documents of the period.

Simple document editor

Simple document editor

This was my reference, the very famous and maybe a little to obvious, declassified Project MKUltra documents. I may have gone back too far on reflection as these documents were probably typed on a typewriter and in our selected period dot matrix printers we common. However they are clearly photocopied. Notice the bulldog clip, copy distortion, the dialation on the characters and smudges. These are things to attempt to recreate in future iterations.

MKULTRA Sample

Phill

Groundwork #2

I love creating stuff, and worlds for that stuff to inhabit. One of the great things about this kind of project is I get to do exactly that.

Here is some more work at building up the visual backstory:

Powerstation Incident

Powerstation Incident

Creating dramatic scenes helps me to not only pique people’s interest, but also to test out scenarios that Phill and I have discussed as events that might happen in the course of the game, different storytelling perspectives and tones.

X ray incoming. Weapons hot.

X ray incoming. Weapons hot.

This kind of urban attack scene is a typical trope, but not all is as it seems with our plans. Part of the fun is playing with what people typically expect of a monster attack scenario.

Brainbase launches

Brainbase launches

Also these creatures have their own backstory, which will remain secret for now- you will probably have to play the game to get to the bottom of what s going on with them!

Rumours in the wilds

Rumours in the wilds

Anyway that is enough for now.

Luke

This is no game?!

So while Luke gets on with his business of creating concept art and the like I have been building the game, and this is not what it looks like. The following image is of the map editor, or at least the first version of it.

Map Editor

Map Editor

Obviously there is zero art in it, it is not the game engine, in fact the plan is at present that at no point will you see the contents of the map in the game! It is a tool for tuning units, creating landscapes and devising puzzles. I made the decision not to write the engine first as far as I can tell this is the biggest mistake I have made in the past when setting out to write a game because invariably I rarely get past it. So as a change I decided to write the game bit of the game first and leave the engine bit till later.

Story Editor

Story Editor

The game bit includes the story and for that I have build a story node system and editor, seen above. It allows me to craft loose narratives and dynamic story arcs using a simple scripting language I created for this purpose, I can step through and debug the story and will eventually build or generate test run throughs so we can plug holes and see issues at a high level. For the final product I can convert (Emit) the finished story as IL bytecode for maximum efficiency but having it as a scripting language allows me to analyses and modify the structure more easily. For instance the blue node diagram in the upper left portion of the image is generated by analyzing the script and not by explicitly linking nodes.

Phill

Research #1

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

The overall tone of this project is quite important (to us). We are aiming for a late 70s/early 80s cold war feel- think shady NGOs, morally dubious contractors and general paranoia.

So in accordance with all of that we have, naturally, been looking at things from that period. The above picture is from an arms catalogue. There is something quite terrifying in the nonchalant adverts for missiles and land mines. Heavy stuff.

Luke

Groundwork #1

WE COME IN PEACE

Mass panic

So the long and short of it is we don’t want to give much away about our game… here is what we can tell you: your job will be to manage a force defending your nation from the attacks of enormous creatures.

Many of them.

I’ve been painting up concepts that develop what this world *might* look like. More to follow.

Luke