Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

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:

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  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:

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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.

Epistory: You can now buy it on Early Access

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

FB_avatarWhat to expect in the coming days & weeks

After the Early Access launch yesterday we received a lot of feedback and we are excited to see reactions, videos & liveliness in the community

For the next few days we will focus on ironing out the bugs and quirks that were reported. Most notably any save bug that you or we encounter. The game is currently playable in several settings but the save is sometimes a bit dodgy so that is our top priority. 

Then, in the coming weeks, we will continue to produce the next chapter of the game. We should be able to deliver it in a month. A month and a half, maximum. 

We will of course do minor content release in between chapters with stuff like improved UI and feedback, bug fixes & general polish. We want to avoid players going through a new chapter while it’s only half done because it will ruin part of the joy of discovery. 

epistory_earlyaccess_discount2

We are also going to create an unstable branch for the game so you can try our latest advancements before we make it available for everyone. We may also add a separate branch for people wanting to try the new areas before they are finished if you ask for it. 

Thank you, more news soon.

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Epistory: SAVE THE DATE!

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Hi folks! We are so glad to announce the release of Epistory on Early Access. See you the 30th of September on Steam. Meanwhile, you can visit the Steam page of Epistory and put it in your wish listhttp://store.steampowered.com/app/398850

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epistory_003

Epistory: Automating Action & Reaction

Monday, September 7th, 2015

A tale of candy distribution.

Introduction

Most games can be reduced to a series of actions and reactions. Today I would like to share with you a way to facilitate iteration and expansion of these interactions. It will sound obvious to a lot of people but I would have loved to see this kind of example 6 months ago. When I was not yet used to component based mechanics.

It all started with a simple request a few months ago, we had just designed & implemented the scoring system and we needed items in the game world to be able to give points when activated. Easy, I wrote a small script which would be attached to objects that had to add points when activated. Controlled by our item’s base class, it would be called automatically.

The buildup

As time went on, that simple “points giver” script was updated to include various behaviors like prefab spawning, door unlocking and so on. It worked well but it was not very flexible. So I changed the structure to include a parent class to have a common entry point and place each behavior in a child class.

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It’s not standard notation but you can see the rewards and the items have a base class, and only these base classes interact with each other. The same kind of effect could be achieved with interfaces but I prefer to have a default implementation.

The true power of this structure lies in the modularity. Every trigger or actionable item in the game works with any reward and you can place any number of reward in a game object. The most basic action/reaction you can do is simply “collider – trigger – reward”. The player walks in the scene and something happens (tutorial message, cinematic, …).The possibilities are exponential and a new reward behavior is very easy to add.

Polish & additional features

Over time, features were added. Like the possibility to set a delay between the action and the reward. Camera travelling firing rewards at event points… What started as a joke -“reward” as in skinner boxes- is becoming a running gag: we’ll call this one “reward_kill_player”.

I recently did the same kind of structure for visual effects. A few key points (creation, destruction, hit, …) are exposed via a base class. You just have to derive from it and you get all the hooks that an artist would need to handle animations or particle effects.

Conclusion

The system is currently powerful enough to allow our designer to create our whole in-game introduction & tutorial with only the reward system. Looking back my only regret is that this system was not put in place earlier to have more of the game relying on it. Also, calling it “reward” when it’s in fact a “reaction” was a bit shortsighted.

I can share some sample code if some of you are interested. I leave you with one of the more complex interaction that we can produce.

main schema

P.S.: As a very tangible reward after a long wait between news here’s a few free gifs. Both features were added this week:

- One of the first iteration. Nothing special…

flower power 2

 

- One of the last iteration. Circular pattern, grows from the middle and not all of them at once.

flower power 3

 

- Black mist that will block your path (first iteration, polish will come later)

ink fog

Epistory @ Gamescom 2015

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Hi Folks! 

After months of preparation we’re ready to unleash our demo of Epistory and let you play it at Gamescom 2015.

Come and join our adventures at Hall 10.1 Stand E040c. 

 

social_announcement

 

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Visit our stand and get the official bookmark of the game

 

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This is what the wall of our booth will look like

 

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We are ready for Gamescom!

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get day to day news about our team @ Gamescom.

@FishingCactus
@epistorygame

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Epistory: Fluffy Friday #3 – Burning Brambles

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

More on IndieDB

Bite sized news for small stuff. Today: Burning brambles.

fluffy_3_header

Welcome to another installment of our fluffy sweetness. If you missed our Critters gifs last week you can check them here.

Ok! To recap, we had a world quite pleasant to walk in, decent levels and dungeons, epileptic Critters… and a girl riding a giant fox fighting against monsters and corrupted nature. Fighting how? With words. I mean MAGIC FIRE WORDS!

fluffy 3 burning brambles 2 

So, here’s the fire animation, shown in our previous paper on art direction, in action. Yes, we know, burning the forest is bad but these brambles were evil, very very evil.

fluffy 3 burning brambles 3

fluffy 3 burning brambles 1 

Imagine you’re hanging around with your fox and brambles block the road: burn them! There are monsters on your way out from the dungeon: burn them! There are cute critters… wait… stop. May I draw your attention on the fine and not final spell forging animation before the girl sets the world on fire?

Hope you felt the magic. See you next week for another incredible Fluffy Friday!

Have a great week.

Epistory: Fluffy Friday #2 – Adding critters.

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

More on IndieDB

Bite sized news for small stuff. Today: Adding critters.

header

After our world building, level crafting & dungeon inaugurating, we were left with a grim realization. For all the beauty in display, we were missing something crucial. We had a beautiful but empty painting. A canvas ready for: Life! *crackling thunder*

critters idle2

So, here they are presented with their idle animation. Minding their own business until you come along:

critters run2 text2

They’ll spawn in small groups where it’s relevant and flee when you come close. Now that the system is in place we could add more variety if we find the time. It’s not completely done but I can already tell you it adds a lot to the look & feel of the game.

We’ll show more soon and I wish you a nice week.

Epistory: Paper on art direction

Monday, May 11th, 2015

More about the game on indieDB

A paper on art direction

The “Art Direction” is basically a set of visual rules you decide to follow during all the creation process of your project. All the visuals you will design will stick to it, and in the end your project will end up coherent, with a specific look everyone will recognize.

“Paper” please

When Epistory was just in the shape of a playable prototype, we were just finishing a serious game on 1st world war. Despite the seriousness of the theme, the Art Direction of this project was really cute, showing flat scrapbooking characters and paper styled interfaces.

Our game about 1st world war. Notice the “scrapbooking” art style !

 

We really enjoyed making all the game assets with this look, but couldn’t push the style beyond the limits. Then Epistory came within our grasp: “A muse lost into a writer’s mind, creating the world as he imagine the story, fighting against the blank page fear” ? Hell yeah ! We immediately saw that we could continue with the paper style thing, but pushing it a lot further into a full 3D game !

Art “right” Direction

We first started to look for interesting references and we made moodboards with it.

Some of our “papercraft” styled references

 

We quickly noticed that the scrapbooking style couldn’t be enough. Despite the 2D movements of the avatar, we had to make full 3D environments, and relying only on 2D paper collages would appear flat and boring. We decided to go for a more “papercraft” approach, with some additional elements taken from the origami techniques.

First 3D test to see what we could do with those papercrafting/origami techniques. Once we defined the shapes, we worked on a basic colored layout.

 

Paper pot

After testing differents approaches we ended up with a mix of different paper techniques:

> Scrapbooking for the environments ground tiles:

> Animated objects made of paper crafted volumes for destructible assets:

 

> Folded paper for texts and logos:

> Origami/folded paper for the monsters:

“Hot paper”

Once we had chosen the path of paper, all the assets had to stick with it, even special effects and particle systems ! We made “folded paper” styled textures, and used almost no alpha or additive techniques. It was complicated at first to find elemental paper styled effects to replace “classic video game effects”, but once we did the first ones we just had to stick to the technique.

 Fire effect without using the classic additive method, only with plain opaque paper sheets !

“Crapbooking”

The major drawback of this Art Direction is that it is often difficult to create assets “looking like paper” but with a non realistic look. We wanted to keep things cartoonish, with strong shapes and colorful
environments, but when you have to make a style of paper you can find in real life, the risk is to end up with a great but too realistic asset. The difficulty is to make believable paper looking assets, but still looking cartoon… It’s an everyday fight to maintain consistency between the assets, but
the challenge is motivating and we believe the final visuals of the game will make it really unique !

 

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Epistory: Lessons learned while switching to Unity

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

More about the game on indieDB

epistory_c_to_unity2_455px

 

Paradigm Shift

When we started working on Epistory, we had to choose whether to use our proprietary engine or not. For reasons that go beyond the scope of this post we decided to go with Unity. While the prospect of working with a tool as streamlined as Unity was stimulating, after five years working in a workflow dominated by C++ my C# habits were rusty if not inexistent.

After some time with C# I remembered and saw some of the neat tricks you can do with this language. I also received and read a few tips for Unity itself that can do wonders to keep performance high and coding time low. I will keep this as code free as possible and direct you to the relevant documentation -if necessary- to get all the juicy details that would needlessly blow up the length of this post.

Stay organized

While Unity is very flexible and lets you do basically anything, it can be a blessing as well as a curse. If you don’t force yourself to organize the project and the code from the start, it will become messy really fast. One performance hit that is negligible at the beginning but can grow into a big problem later down the road is the caching of your GetComponent(). Basically each time you ask for a specific component in a GameObject, Unity will go through its component list. In most cases you can safely cache the result and keep a reference. If you start adding components at runtime you’ll have to decide whether to cache it or not.

Leave no warnings behind

Even though most programmers will treat warning as error -or at least minimize the amount of warnings- it bears repeating. The more serious warnings are almost always a bug waiting to be triggered. That is even more important in C# because of some leeway given to the developer. For example: you can hide a virtual function if you don’t explicitly add the override keyword to the sub-class function declaration. And a warning will remind you to make your intentions explicit. The difference between overriding and hiding is that the overridden function will call the runtime type and the hidden function will call the compile-time type.

False friend

The switch statement is a good way to keep the code readable. But in this case its behavior is slightly different in C#. You cannot fall through to the next case section. You have to place a break/return/goto… However, there is a walkaround. You can use something like “goto case 1;” to jump to another case. More details here

Missing Link

LINQ can be a powerful tool to interface a program seamlessly with a database. Even though its syntax can be off putting, you should at least try it before you leave it. You can use SQL-like statements to query an xml file, for example. You can also use it to perform operations on IEnumerable (a.k.a. Arrays and Array-like) classes. All you can eat buffet here

 screenshot_epistory_prog2_455px

Daily routine

Coroutines can be achieved in pure C# but Unity made their use very easy and intuitive. It is akin to starting a new thread without the problems associated with thread safety issues like concurrency, race condition & deadlock. The coroutine also behaves like any other member function. It has access to other functions and member variables.

I will leave the implementation details aside (see links below) but know that it can easily be used to provide easing to an object over time or calculate the next score increment. Another, more advanced, use-case is a very elegant way to implement a state machine. More information here and there and state chartshere

Eventful delegation

Event firing and registering is built into the language. Events & delegates are two sides of the same coin. The delegate provides an equivalent to an array of function pointers and the event is the message being sent. This makes for painless event driven programming and we all know how much a game can be event heavy.

This could make a post topic by itself so I leave you with the documentation and an in depth tutorial/study

Epilogue

There you have it. A non-exhaustive list of tips, tricks and gotcha. Thank you for reading and feel free to ask any question in the comments.

Epistory: It all starts with (good) intentions

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

FB_avatarMore about the game on indieDB

The beginning

When you start creating a game. When you think you have a great idea to turn into a great game. When that idea has just been tested and when your team thinks it may become that great game you have in mind. There is something you have to do without waiting. You may have already done it during the early design process but the original vision has changed now that you made different rough gameplay tests and added new members to the team. That thing – the title already spoiled it – is defining your intentions.

Whether you call them guidelines, pillars, objectives or mantra, it is the long term vision, the global idea of what you want to do with your project. You should keep it to the essential, as it will serve as a reference to drive the whole production.

Epistory is a keyboard driven game. So that is obviously one of our intentions. But there is another one we have, not so obvious, and which came from its genre. Define the genre was needed to better define the game and communicate about it, and that is exactly why it was a problem.

The Typing Game Problem

Our core feature is the full keyboard control. So I already hear you say that we could just call it a typing game and move on. The problem is that, when I think of a typing game, I have two things in mind – and it’s not just me, a quick google search will give you the same results. First, it is most likely a mini-game or an edu-game. In other words, something I do not plan to play for a long time, or to have fun with. Secondly, I will only type words. No deeper gameplay, no choices. And eventually my computer will remind me that I am not a very good typer!

Do not get me wrong, those games are not all bad – some are even really fun for a while. But they are absolutely not comparable to Epistory: the term typing game gives the wrong idea. In fact, it is probably harder to explain what we try to do with Epistory using this comparison than starting from scratch – but now that we are here, I will try anyway.

How it works - Move screenshot

Playing a game means making choices

What we absolutely want in Epistory is to make it really feel like a game and not just a typing application. For that, we believe that it requires a non-linear experience and meaningful choices. And when I say meaningful choices, I am not talking about a big decision which follows you for the rest of the game – well, not only that – but constant small choices. A few examples in games would be taking the short risky path or the long safer one, exploring the east or the west of the magic forest first, upgrading one skill instead of another… Even positioning your car in the fastest racing game implies constant quick choices. You made them depending on the track, your opponents’ position, your current speed, the ideal trajectory, and so on.

To make those choices meaningful, I try to remember that as a Past – Present – Future rule. The player needs to understand that he has a choice (Present). He has to know what it means from past experiences (Past, in this game but not only). And he has to expect something in the future from his action (Future). If it is not a meaningful choice, the player is not an actor but just obeys the game as there is no other possibility of action.

We made that one of our intentions – even if it is important in every game – to make sure it was applied to Epistory’s design. I am not going to describe Epistory’s gameplay deeper on this article – there are more to come, but we will not fall into the trap of your ordinary typing game.

Main character concept

A keyboard controlled adventure

So Epistory is an exploration / adventure game, and we like to call it like that. It gives the player the opportunity to explore an imaginary world, use magical powers to interact and fight enemies, and upgrade them as he wants.

You should see the typing aspect as an opportunity, not a constraint. Because that is what we did: using a keyboard as the unique game controller to create new gameplay experiences. Not only to type words, and not only to earn points. We like to say that you will type the story – but that is for another article.

Thanks for reading. Don’t hesitate to support us on social networks.

Website coming soon