Friday 23 January 2009

Environment Completed - sort of ...

Environment about done. We've got roads, facade terraced streets, enterable buildings, trees, lights, signs, boards, parked vehicles, traffic lights, extra facades, benches, bins, train track, train station, bus station, police station, petrol/gas station, ... you get the idea.

Hallelujah! I don't have to mess about with this anymore ... much

The vast majority of textures for an urban landscape are done, as are most of the models needed to fill such an environment. They're all textured with normal and spec maps to receive lighting/shadowing information. It looks good in DRL (dynamic range lighting), has good performance with a high visibility level. And it looks good in standard lighting, has excellent performance with a high visibility level. It's a full, square-mile wide (1600m in new money), open environment.

Just like real life, your going no-where with British Public transport....

And just as importantly - (more importantly) - it has shown a methodology for making such an environment. I now know how to push things to their limit without everything return to primordial soup (oh the triumphs and tribulations of trial and error!). In effect I don't have to waste my time in a heroic but somewhat pointless struggle with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I know what pitfalls to avoid, because I've already fallen down the bloody pit, slapped the hungry tiger, and climbed back out.

Big amber signs are the clue to use the bridge and not fry on the electrified track

And I've created my models, the little things I can now throw into a world and manipulate as needed. They pretty much cover all of the essential objects to throw into an urban or rural environment (see first paragraph). I'll still have to knock out a few extra "level/gameplay specific" models as needed, but the vast majority of "stock" models are completed. All 70+ of them.

The world's most spartan pub - at the moment

So now it's on to people - or more, back to people, as I'm re-jigging my models and (tweaking a couple of) animations. Re-jigging in this case primarily revolves around remodeling the joints for better mesh deformation via advice given to me from the guy who worked on the new TombRaider for Wii and PS2 (and good advice it was too). I've had a tinker with a couple of animations and sorted out my previous problems keeping direct alignment down a sight whilst aiming at an acute angle along the Y axis (delicate tweaks every 5-10 minutes for 9+ hours until I fixed it). A bit more modeling and a rehash of my LODs and it'll be on to base, diffuse, normal and specular texture mapping them.

The exact places where my story (yes there is one, it's supposed to be an action-adventure, and adventure needs plot) takes place may be fictitious, but they're based within a real landscape. And yes, Wetwang is a real place.

Also I need to make a few "static people", basically a character model in an unanimated pose. These aren't (just) for filling an environment currently devoid of life, but to be an event marker and allow a digi-painted, comic book style, cut-scene to be triggered (by some sort of GUI ... I guess ... but I'll come up with a solution for that later when I'm working on the gameplay mechanics on the adventure side of things, the action has already been tested). This will enable plot (and humour) to be imparted and will also sidestep dodgy voice-overs (nothing ruins immersion like bad voice-overs) or convoluted 90 minute machinima re. Mr Kojima. And it'll help reinforce the overall art style, as I will eventually get round to digi-painting the skyboxes in the same manner (as do the environment textures in general, but it does get hidden a little by the normal mapping). But for now the graphic tablet will continue to gather dust.

So, methodology learnt, skills acquired, temperamental "stuff" identified and solved or avoided or tweaked or battered into working.

Available in HD if you click the vid - then click the timeline or it'll keep showing a loading symbol every few seconds if you start up from zero. (Dang YouTube - I'll try mpeg4 instead of H264 avi next time)

And there's a couple of extra vids showing long range weapons out to 400 metres. Available in HD with the "nuance" listed above.

Right, back to modeling those knobbley knees....

Thursday 8 January 2009

Dark Night Soul Hammy Melodrama

The ever decreasing list of things to do is .... ever decreasing. In fact we (that's the royal we or the Gollum we, whichever we prefer) are not only down to a single yellow, sticky, Post-It note (which is what passes for design docs around here), but are now just down to the tiny scrawled print at the bottom corner. And after that, we'll have a full, big-old environment completed. At last.

Low Poly FTW!

It's mostly a matter of detailing those little things which would look amiss if they were not there. Sign posts to give the locale a place in a world beyond it's own existence, a public street map saying "you are here" and then no arrow to go with it, a closed down Post Office because of government funding cuts. And a walkway bridge which I forgot to do in the beginning and have just realised that there's an electrified railway track with no way to get from one side to the other. And a few other bits.

"Bits" are allowed to have humour

And it's bits which have preoccupied the last 2 or 3 or so months. Warning signs just to make sure that people know that the bit of railway track which does not have a barrier blocking it is electrified - and thus is blocked (until I stick the footbridge over it anyway). Benches, tables, timetables, waiting lists, telephone kiosks, a baker's dozen worth of signage, parked vehicles, and all the base, texture, normal, specular mapping and multi-level_of_detail modelling which goes with it all. It's all bits, and not the most fun bits. It's not the intellectual stimulation of writing AI scripts or scripting gameplay sequences which is my real forte. It's all a bit like donkey work.

And as a creative, we hit "The Dark Night of The Soul" (cue stabby-shower-scene-from-Psycho-music!). It's when fatigue sets in, morale plummets and rum intake goes through the roof. It's probably what pro's call burn-out. I've been blogging/in full dev mode since March, and I don't do holidays.

Of course there's an easy solution to this - keep going. Don't stop and do something else because it's more interesting/fulfilling/entertaining, putting off the enivatable and the neccessary is the worst thing to do. Get the horror over with now and look forward to the fun stuff later - infinitely better than having the horror constantly lurking on the horizon, brooding at you. Just slog through. As an obese, chain-smoking, alcoholic, former opium-user once said; "If you're going through hell, keep going".


The slog continues, but is nearing the end. A new year has dawned, rum consumption has dropped off, morale leveled out, fatigue is ... well, pretty much where it always is, so no great shock to the system there. The one good thing about donkey-work is that it doesn't take up all your creativity, thus allowing the mind to quietly handle future ideas and plots on it's own, allowing them to ferment and evolve with no actual help from oneself, 'cos oneself is busy doing something frustrating and long-winded. And my hard-drive blowing up in the middle of all this wasn't exactly helpful.

It might not look much but it imparts plot - and helps cover a bare wall

So 89 textures currently finished (multiply that by 3 for normals and specular mapping), 49 completed models (multiply that by 3 to 5 for level_of_detail), and one huge .map/bsp with 9752 surfaces (which still needs a bit of tweaking here and there), and one considerably smaller low poly church and chapel. A bit more work (mostly texturing) and this environment will be completed, along with most of my core models, and just as importantly, a methodology for working efficiently and effectively designed from our trials-and-errors.

DRL for shininess, Normal for performance (or to combat migrane)

261 individual models in use, an extra 300 in replicated trees, the enormous bsp of the town itself and excellent fps with visibility set to draw all, and it's still good with a load of AI running through their raycasting routines for targets in a little shoot-through test I conducted.

And Torque Game Engine Advanced was voted best engine of '08. Linkage