Archive for the ‘Game Design’ Category

Breaking the cycle

Monday, October 12th, 2015

The Trouble With Tiles

All of Epistory’s levels start as an isometric RPG in Tiled (as explained in this prior article). This is a great foundation to build on – but it brings some technical limitations which we have to deal with. For example, we have to respect the TiledToUnity plugin rule that each tile must be a square of equal size. It doesn’t help that any tile rotation must be done as a duplicate tile instead of a random effect.

As a result of this, the tiles use to build each level stand out too clearly. We can see the seams, the joins, the patterns. The effect is fatal to immersion within the game world.

tile old

This old screenshot illustrates the problem nicely. Each tile is the same as the previous one, creating a very obvious pattern. This is just a small example – sometimes the whole screen will have the same tile, interrupted only by the occasional prop or decoration.

tile new

In this article, I will guide you through the steps we used to break this ugly pattern and improve the overall look of the ground tiles, which currently look like the screenshot below. It’s unlikely that we will change the tile’s look again – but you never know.

Start at the Start

If it sounds obvious, it’s probably because it is! Rotating each tile will help make it look different and vary the seams created where they join.

We started by rotating our tiles randomly with an editor script. Since our goal in art direction was to create a hand-made paper world, we decided early on that a tile would be considered an independent square of paper. Based on this fact, we agreed that imperfect tiling between two tiles was acceptable: meaning that rotation gives us variation. The result was better but still a bit jarring.

tile before

Lean Towards the Abnormal

Because each tile is supposed to be a piece of paper, it’s hard (not to mention expensive) to make each one visually unique. We aimed to solve this by dynamically changing the normal map on each individual tile.

A normal map is a 2D image used to replace or modify the normals of a 3D surface. Because our tile models are mostly flat, we use normal maps and lighting to give them some paper-looking wrinkles.

Here’s how we modified our ground shader in Shader Forge:

2015 09 23 15 34 27

  1. world position.
  2. a parameter which allow us to tweak how much a change in world position affects the overall look.
  3. division.
  4. frac. It takes only the fractional part of the input. Effectively producing a value from 0 to 1, based on the world position.
  5. append allows us to create a vector 2 (UV in our case).
  6. normal map sampling.
  7. normal blending. You cannot blend normals the same way you blend colors so we use a custom formula.

The effect of this is that instead of having one normal map per tile and limited to its bounds, we have two normals, whose UVs will depend on their world position. This effectively spans (and repeats across) the whole level. If you look carefully you can see that one of them will have U & V depending on the positions X & Z while the other will map U & V to Z & X. This “crisscross” allows us to have very different looking tiles each time, instead of having the pattern being simply repeated less often.

If you want a more visual way of understanding this, you can see it in the editor view. We created a gif but it was too heavy to be posted inline. You can find it here.

You can see that when I move the tiles, the normal on top of it doesn’t move. The apparent seam on the normal is a result of the tile rotation around Y.

As a bonus, we also added a detail texture. It’s a common technique so I won’t explain it here – but here’s the shader forge screenshot:

2015 09 23 15 21 27

Perfect Imperfections

This was the first time I did major shader work and it turned out quite well in my opinion. With the current art direction we had to improvise a bit – but we successfully fixed the tiling problem with no rework on the assets. This results in a seamless, believable game world.

Creatures Online Update #60

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Weekly Update #60: The Science Kit in Colour

Read it on the forum

Hello everybody,

The past weeks were focused on fixing bugs such as the following ones:
- Some speech bubbles are invisible
- Incorrect orientation for some cinematics
- Thought bubbles are displayed near Norn’s portrait
- Norns staying idle on ladders
- Some objects become gigantic after repair
- Norns are incorrectly placed when sleeping in nests
- Player’s order to the Norn is not displayed
- Nests do not rotate correctly
- Tatous are walking weirdly (they seem to do the moonwalk)
- No cursor displayed on the main menu
- Bridge on the plaja level is not correctly placed
- When selling an item, the selling feedback is not displayed
- …



We also updated some icons and descriptions for the item kit products. Science kit descriptions have now colored chemical names allowing a better basic understanding. We also changed the order informations were displayed on the level up screen, as it was somewhat counter-intuitive.



Concerning the Twitch session… We still have no information regarding the exact date. Of course, we’ll keep you updated!

That’s all. Have a nice week! 


Some previous updates:

Weekly Update #59: Twitch news and debugging

Weekly Update #58: The Mini-Norn bug

Weekly Update #57: Special abilities and XP

Weekly Update #56: The Localization

Weekly Update #54 – 55: Let’s have a Mojito to celebrate!

Weekly Update #53: The Altar Machine

Weekly Update #52: Stock your items and new way to switch worlds

Creatures Online Update #57

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Weekly Update #57: Special abilities and XP

Read it on the forum

Hello everybody :) ,

Here is a small recap of the latest changes on Creatures Online:

-          As you know, the genes you can change in the Splicing machine are cosmetic. But now, you may also discover that sometimes after a Splicing a Norn can have some special “abilities” like repairing the machines faster or gaining more nutriments when eating grass / mushrooms, depending of the Norn’s genes.
It is more like a small “extra”, you won’t be forced to splice a very specific Norn in the gameplay and there is not only one combination possible to have an ability.

-          XP obtained has been tweaked to reduce the gap between players playing with a few Norns and those playing with a lot of them. Basically, having 4 Norns is no longer 4 times more efficient than having only one. It is still more efficient, but not that much.

As for the more technical tasks:

-          We continued to fix rendering bugs

-          We also finished the handling of inputs on Android

That’s all! I wish you a nice week :) .




Some previous updates:

Weekly Update #56: The Localization

Weekly Update #54 – 55: Let’s have a Mojito to celebrate!

Weekly Update #53: The Altar Machine

Weekly Update #52: Stock your items and new way to switch worlds

Weekly Update #51: Rewarding bug and departure of Marc

Weekly Update #50: Navigation mesh issue and new toys

Weekly Update #49:  “Surprise” animation and Android version

Creatures Online Update #51

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Weekly Update #51: Rewarding bug and departure of Marc

Read it on the forum

Hello everybody :) ,

This week we fixed an issue with the Norns being rewarded at the wrong time: when using a toy, they were sometimes rewarded while they were still using that toy. So they learned to use the toys being used instead of learning to use those which are available.

Last week we implemented the Norns reactions (Norns having a surprise animation when a new toy appears near them), but there was still a weird delay, the animation being triggered some time after. It is fixed now.

It does not really concern the game as such, but we are also now able to manually send an iOS notification to the players, for example to do some announcements to all the players in the future.

Lastly, this week we see the departure of Marc, a programmer who did a lot of bug fixes as well as helping us with the Norn genomes. I wish you the best of luck for the future, Marc!

Have a nice week! :)




Some previous updates:   

Weekly Update #50: Navigation mesh issue and new toys

Weekly Update #49:  “Surprise” animation and Android version

Weekly Update #48: a bit about the science kit

Weekly Update #47: Display Tweaks

Weekly Update #46: Resources and genome issue

Weekly Update #45: The Crafting Machine in detail

Weekly Update #44: Technical features

Creatures Online Update #48

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Weekly Update #48: a bit about the science kit

Read it on the forum

Hello everybody,

Not a lot of things to say about last week! Two programmers were in holidays, so we mainly tested the last modifications (science kit, Norn collection screen) and fixed some related glitches.

So, here is simply a screenshot of the science kit:


- Chemicals are classed by categories (here you have the Immunitary category)
- The graphic only displays the selected chemical (here, antibody 0), but when no chemicals are selected , it shows all the chemicals of the current category
- As you can see, there are injection prices. It should not prevent you to experiment with it as prices are generally cheap, with some exceptions: food-related chemicals (injecting directly proteins, or increasing the glycogen reserve…) and the life chemical.
- An icon on the top-right allows you to switch between displaying the graphic or the chemical description.

Also, next update will come a Monday, too (I won’t be there Friday).

Have a nice week!

Some previous updates: 

Weekly Update #47: Display Tweaks

Weekly Update #46: Resources and genome issue

Weekly Update #45: The Crafting Machine in detail

Weekly Update #44: Technical features

Weekly Update #43: The genome patch tool

Weekly Update #42: Incoming closed beta

Weekly Update #41: Apple validation

Creatures Online Update #47

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Weekly Update #47: Display Tweaks

Read it on the forum

Hello everybody,

This week we worked on the science kit. It includes :
- adding a short description for each chemical
- improving the graphic readability by adding the ability to display only one chemical at once
- An icon “!” now shows near some important chemicals when they are critically low / high

We also worked on the appearance of the Norn collection screen. Now it is only one page with a slider (instead of the more rigid “multiple fixed pages” we had before), and Norns are organized by “series”. It doesn’t really change a lot of things functionally-wise, but we feel it to be more convenient and better-looking.

That’s all for today! Have a nice week!




Some previous updates:

 Weekly Update #46: Resources and genome issue

Weekly Update #45: The Crafting Machine in detail

Weekly Update #44: Technical features

Weekly Update #43: The genome patch tool

Weekly Update #42: Incoming closed beta

Weekly Update #41: Apple validation

Weekly Update #40: Fixing bugs and working on the crafting system


Creatures Online Update #46

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Weekly update #46: Resources and genome issue

Read it on the forum

Hello everybody!

This week we implemented some “resources” in the environments. As explained in the last update, components needed for crafting can be dropped when your Norns interact with various agents. But sometimes we needed to add some resources : for example, nothing can logically drop wheat in the current state of the game. So we added some wheat plants, this way you will be able to create cookies^^.

We are currently working on a genome issue which may happen when crossing two genomes. It means eggs laid by pregnant Norns may have this problem, and in that case they can’t be hatched. We are working on it.

Also, in parallel, we continue to work on the Android version.

Have a nice week!


Some previous updates:

Weekly Update #45: The Crafting Machine in detail

Weekly Update #44: Technical features

Weekly Update #43: The genome patch tool

Weekly Update #42: Incoming closed beta

Weekly Update #41: Apple validation

Weekly Update #40: Fixing bugs and working on the crafting system

Creatures Online: live session round up

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Creatures Online is now over and we would like to thank all the 85 of you who were on the chat and TUNED in to our Q/A. Special thanks to the ambassadors who helped in moderating this wonderful session. Our final thank is for ProSiebenSat.1 Games and Bigben Interactive who support us in our efforts.

Over 190 persons have seen the recorded version that was available on our twitch channel. Unfortunately this video has been deleted by But thanks to HelloInterloper, a version with the live chat has been recorded as well. And for those who haven’t seen those videos yet, you will be pleased to find below a third version with devs annotations.

We were extremely happy with the response to the livestream, hopefully we can get around to stream the game again up until the release.


Creatures 4 : Procedural Fur Patterns

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Many of you, in comments to our blog posts, during the Q&A chat sessions and also on Facebook, have shown curiosity regarding the procedural methods that we use to ensure that no two Norns look alike. Today we will be detailing how the Norn fur patterns are produced by our artists and coders. 


First things first. There are several breeds in the game, between 12 and 16, depending on what we manage to fit into the launch edition.

Up to a couple of months ago, our process for creating new breeds was rather messy to say the least, based on us trying to understand how to make the bricks turn into solid foundations that were still being designed. Uck!

We are in a far better spot now, which makes it actually fun to create a new breed :-)

It starts with one of us coming up with a cool idea for a Norn breed and defining some basic traits for the breed.

The second step is to prepare a reference art for the new Norn breed

Olivier and Antoine, two members of our awesome art team, work together to produce a concept art that conveys the traits of the breed.



This one above is a “Wildling Norn” by the way, a Norn that managed to escape from the safety of the Hatchery region and evolved in the wilderness.


Once we are satisfied with the art, Olivier’s procedural tinkering begins.

Two main goals here: first, to make sure two Norn from the same breed do not look the same (that’s one of the main perks of using procedural generation); second, to allow all the Norn breeds to be crossed together through natural breeding and gene splicing operations.

Each Norn is made of several texture layers, some procedural and some hard-set. Every element below can be swapped during breeding/splicing.

  1. One Skin texture: static picture that contains the underlying skin which is unique to every breed and can’t be “blended” with other skins. There are variations of these for male, female and elder Norns.
  2. “Belly” Texture: static texture that contains the belly spot most Norn breeds show.
  3. Eye texture & color: static texture. The color is pre-set in the texture, meaning that all Norns that are pure breed have the same eye color (of course they can be crossed with other breeds to exhibit another eye color). Heterochromia iridum is also determined by this texture. That means that a yellow and pink heterochromia will always be yellow/pink. While this is a limitation of the system, it bears the benefit that it allows us really setting in stones the look of a breed.
  4. Base fur color: while the color is not set in the texture, it is fixed for each breed during the creation in our tool (see below). At the moment two pure breed Norns have exactly the same color although we might end up adding some slight hue variations to further differentiate two same-breed Norns.
  5. Main Pattern: There are two pattern textures (which can be empty if needed). We call this the “main” pattern as it is usually used for the most recognizable visual markings.
  6. Main Pattern Color.
  7. Detail Pattern: Same as the previous one, but usually used for smaller dots and marks on the Norn fur.
  8. Detail Pattern Color.


Once Olivier has completed the technical design of the pattern and produced the required visual assets, the last step is to assemble all of the above in our Norn creation tool. It’s a web based tool that allows us to push new breeds into the game and preview them in real time. It’s pretty neat!

You can see that the information here is grouped into 8 boxes. This is important as they correspond to the 8 genes that define the Norn visual look. More on that in a further blog post about splicing ;-)



As a side note, this creation system allows us to specify cosmetic differences reliant on gender/age but truth to be told, we haven’t gotten around to use this cool feature yet, due to time constraints.


The assets themselves are produced as follows:

The static textures are produced in Adobe Photoshop as standard character textures.




The procedural textures are generated in an open source tool that allows basic 2D patterns to vary depending on several parameters defined by the artist. 



This is really cool because even if two Norns have the same pattern (eg. The gene is the same), the pattern will be generated and applied a bit differently on each Norn.





Once that step is finished, the only thing left to do is to preview the Norn in the game. Tada!




Hoping that this brief overview gives you a better understanding of how the Norn cosmetics are created. Obviously the goal of all this is simple, making sure no two Norns are exactly equal and give you bazillions of possibilities for combinations!

We’re pretty sure you’ll have even more questions after this post and we’ll do our best to answer them, just keep in mind that part of our team is at GDC next week so replies may take a little longer than usual (okaaay, we’re not THAT quick usually, but still, you get my point :-)


UPDATE: fixed a couple of link to full-sized pictures

Creatures 4: Q&A session round-up

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The Q&A chat session between C4 dev team members and Creatures community took place last Thursday 28th of February as scheduled. Over 60 fans attended and it was sure an epic chat, which we have very much enjoyed on our end. Special thanks to Jessica from DiscoverAlbia for moderating the questions stream, it would have been much more chaotic without her help! We tried to answer questions to the best of our ability (and without breaking certain confidentiality ties with various stakeholders). An edited log of the event can be accessed on Creatures Caves, thanks to Rascii. We’re also very grateful to our three other fantastic Ambassadors, Laura (host of the party), Don and ChosenPredator for all the effort they’ve put in to spread the vibe and sort out absentees’ questions ahead of the live show ;-)

As always in such circumstances, some questions were left unanswered. We have received a summary of those through Jessica, and in a “get bonus” spirit, game designer Andrea is going to tackle some more right here:

Q: You mention 150 chemicals ; sounds like the old versions, did you change or improve things about biochemistry or did you stick on the previous mechanism? (Dr_Shee)

A: While the main system is relies indeed on the C3 foundation, we definitely tweaked some values and adjusted the system to match some new sections that we have added in the game, and also to implement the “altruism” mechanic that regulates the Norn willingness to carry out actions that are beneficial to the Norn “society”.

Q: My question is, you’ve obviously done a lot of changes to the morphology and colour patterns of the Norns, how is this reflected in their DNA and inheritance of these traits? It seems much more complicated than in previous games! (NornsofOurAlbia)

A: Indeed, it is more complex. We’re keeping these details for an upcoming full-on blog post (which our recent Instagram photo was a tease for) but to give you an overview, each Norn is made of several texture layers, both procedural and human-made. Procedural textures mean that while the overall look of the pattern will be consistent among a specific breed, there’ll be an element of randomness in the detailing! Naturally, patterns/colors/morphology will be carried over to the offspring DNA. But I’m getting ahead of myself; more details soon!

Q: Can we 3D print our favourite norn as action figure? (MK-Grendel)

A: Love the idea! Creatures 4 would hypothetically be a good candidate for this sort of service. Nothing planned in that respect at the moment but we’re definitely keeping an eye on emergent tech.

Q: Can Norns still mutate their walking or is everything animated? (MK-Grendel)

A: Unfortunately this is one of the cuts we had to make due to the way we’re animating 3D objects in the game.

Q: I’d like to know if we still get to look inside the norn, checking out their brains and poke at the neurons, by clicking on them, like we could in C1 and C2. (Creature905Yme)

A: Not in the first commercial build that we will release. In all honesty it is a bit hard for us to justify developing and integrating this at this point, not knowing what would be the appeal of tools as advanced as those (internally, we’re still using custom-recompiled C3 tools in regards to brain!). We’ve limited ourselves to the science kit for now as it strikes a nice balance between showing the Norn’s complexity and preventing it from becoming overwhelming. We’re not excluding anything in terms of post-launch content updates though.

Q: Will the game engine run localy or will a client server architecture be used? (Gigamoi)

A: The game engine runs locally and the game will connect to a webserver that will contain all the database data and player progress. This is required for the seamless bridged experience we want to offer across all supported platforms (means: we need this to enable continuous play when user walks away from his desktop and resumes play on his mobile device).

Q: Will there be food that can only be obtained in certain specific enviroment? (YeikoVneef)

A: Not food per se, but specific plant pots are unlocked once you discover new environments. You might find a few surprises if you search Sphericus thoroughly ;-)

Q: Will Angry Nornito feature in any later parts of the game? (C-Rex)

A: Wow! We didn’t anticipate Nornito to have a fan club of his own :-) So while we don’t have plans now, Nornito might get back to C4 at one point!

Q: Why in the Gamescom 2012 demo did that Norn fly off into the air? (C-Rex)

A: Two possible answers: 1) the Norn was using the Norn hairdryer in a clever fashion. 2) A nasty coding bug we hadn’t removed yet!

Q: Being multi platform, will norns be able to travel from one system to another? (McDuff)

A: If by system you mean iOS, Android, PC, Mac — The answer is yes!

Q: Will Norns be able to call the Hand by name? Can they interact with it, liking or disliking and such? (LilyNorn)

A: They certainly look at it (they do that a lot actually! Looks cool!) but not directly interact with it (like grabbing it). At the moment they can’t call it by name, but the idea kind of makes sense now that you mention it — Let it percolate with us during the ongoing alpha-test phase ;-)

Q: Will there be a ingame breed-editor or is it planned? (dk1987)

A: The splicing machine lets you tweak some values when creating a new genome. Mostly cosmetic at the moment but there again we have some surprises in store.

Q: There seem to be some “loading” action in the demo, it’s something that was never seen in the previous version, why did you go with this mechanic? (YeikoVneef)

A: It’s mostly a matter of feedback. We’re not planning on having long-lasting Norn actions with progress bars and such. The world can get pretty cluttered when you start decorating your regions. Sometimes, more feedback on some meaningful actions is helpful in seeing clearly what is going on.

Q: If a norn loses all genes for their look – how would they look like? (eg in c3 would look like a bruin norn) (MK-Grendel)

A: Mmm… Naked? I don’t think it’s possible any more to be honest. We’ve secured that part of the genome to make sure cosmetic genes are always present as they also determine the morphology of a Norn and removing them would probably break the game.

Q: Will C4 include support for user-created add-ons? And if yes,on what level? What are the possibilities? (Eprillios)

A: At this point we don’t have plans to support user generated content. As we’ve said in the past, we’d love to look into that possibility but we need to finish and release the core of the game first.

Thank you again for everything! We sure look forward to organize another get-together some time soon :-) We’ll try to come out with a new blog update as soon as humanly possible, but please bear with us a little bit as we are knee-deep in alpha-testing here… In the meantime, you can enjoy the interview our team gave to national Belgian TV station “RTBF” last month, now subtitled in English on YouTube (click on the “Closed Captions” icon at the bottom edge of the frame to activate the subs).