PlayExpo and Texture Improvements

PlayExpo

Over the weekend Against the Wall won People's Choice at Long Island University's PlayExpo. It's a small competition, and was a good opportunity to show my game off.

All of my efforts to promote my game have been paying off. However, this also led to me hitting the data transfer limit on my website yesterday. I  upgraded my account to allow for 100GB more data transfer, but I am already about to hit the new limit. I will eventually have to start hosting my game on a service such as Amazon S3. For now, however, it has been my goal to reduce the game's file size.

To do this, I began playing around with a piece of middleware called Substance Designer. It's a program that lets you create textures that are generated through code. It's actually pretty crazy. Before, the brick textures took up 100 MB on my drive uncompressed. With the procedural texture, the bricks take less than 1 MB. This has reduced the download size of the game by half. Plus, the graphics look a whole lot cleaner and nicer when prepared by this program.

One last note: I'm looking forward to the Ludum Dare this weekend. It will take a nice chunk of time out of my main game's development, but I need a breather from constantly working on it.

Against the Wall - Forest 0.53Against the Wall - Windmill 0.53

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Pictures From the Latest Build

Here are some updated pictures from the latest release of Against the Wall, version alpha 0.52 (click to enlarge):

Against the Wall - Windmill alpha 0.52

Against the Wall - Forest alpha 0.52
Against the Wall - City alpha 0.52

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Post-PAX East and Alpha 0.52

So PAX was a success, at least in that I survived through to the end. I made a ton of contacts, and have been busily sorting through this stack of cards and sending out emails. In the meantime, I've released the new and improved version alpha 0.52 of Against the Wall. Not much is different in this version on the content side of things. Rather, this is a graphical facelift, changing the skybox, the wand, major bug fixes, higher resolution textures, performance improvements, and new structures for the city. This release is also compiled with Unity 3.5, the newest version of the engine. All the bells and whistles of the new version are included... in addition to all the new bugs. Will be seeing a Unity rep tomorrow at this meet up in the city. He's going to be giving a talk about iOS optimization. I don't really care about mobile, but techniques for improving performance is a subject of great interest to me. The faster I can get the game to load chunks, the more seamless it is and the better it will run on low-end machines.

Oh, and I heard that my game was mentioned in the Giant Bomb panel at PAX East! I'll need to check this out right now, as a longtime fan of the site.
Edit: Here is the video of the audience member asking a question to Patrick. Thanks for mentioning the game'!

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The Lead-up to PAX East

Against the Wall Wand

A lot has happened in the past week Today, For instance, I got into the NYU Game Center's MA program for game design! Need to go and accept their offer now.

Last Thursday, Against the Wall was featured at a party at Kickstarter HQ last Thursday. The game was projected onto a large screen for random people to play. Met a lot of interesting folks there. Good networking, fun party, and got some good insight into how people play and react to my game.

On Friday, I moved into a new home office. I live with my parents while I lack any real income. My sister moved out of the basement recently, and I've taken over the finished basement for work. Here are some shots of my new setup:

Home Office 1Home Office 2

I used to live down here some years back. Good to be back in my old space. You can see my main desktop and laptop in the pics. Have a few very old computers lying around too. The tall right-hand monitor is used for scripting and such, and I also run previews of the game there. The left monitor is my usual desktop. Random stuff lying around as well, but decidedly not messy. Not yet, anyway.

I've also been researching posters and banners for PAX East. I have some table space, so I want to have at least one decoration besides business cards and such. I've designed a poster and will pick it up later today. I'll be using an old artists easel to prop the poster up on the table. I've also bought some cool Sony heaphones: ZX-100. They'll be handy for sound design tasks, and I may bring them to the expo for people to listen to the game on.

Still polishing AtW, reducing floating point errors in the wand and in the world and such. Less jitteriness all around thanks to some crazy workarounds. The wand has been modified yet again. This time changes follow concept work by Chris Pivot, a fan. The wand (pictured up top) is now shorter, and the main joint is more pipe-like. It's also made out of a slightly glossy metal. I'll give the shaft a rustic wood texture in the near future Thanks for the inspiration Chris!

Just a note: regular gamepad functionality has stopped working for some reason, and even XInput does not work in Windows builds. I am not sure, but it may be related to the 3.5 update of Unity. Guess I'll only have a keyboard and mouse at PAX. There's also this bug that swaps red and blue vertex colors when some meshes are combined. It's a real pain, especially since the workaround is a performance-expensive hack.

Finally, I'm bringing by buddy Phil along to the expo. He'll be sure to have more fun while I spend my days talking to folks in the Kickstarter Arcade. Stop by and say hi if you're going to be there!

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Site Improvements, Texture Sizes, and Dichromacy

Against the Wall Icon

Yesterday evening I reworked the site a bit. There is new a logo text at the top of the page and things are a tiny bit cleaner all-around. Also, I've designed an icon that is based around the general shape of the wand's headpiece. This icon will be used in a few places on the site, as the launch icon for the application, and as a a loading screen symbol (animated). All done in the lead up to PAX East, of course. I'll be sure to cover my table and business cards with these logos.

I spent much of the past two days tweaking the wall textures for the game. At first I upped the resolution on the base texture to 2048 x 2048. This made things look better, but greatly increased the amount of memory being used for textures, and blew up the game's file size. The final texture atlases were over 160 MB together. I'm trying to make this game playable on as many platforms as possible, so to have this big texture loaded into RAM at all times is unacceptable. So, I reduced the resolution of each texture type (there are 5 now) to give me atlases that are a quarter of their size at full resolution. It won't look as good, but it will get the job done.

The variation of the textures is in part to help the colorblind get through the game. User Znack told me that the green bricks look exactly like the red bricks to someone with dichromacy. As a response, I'll be splitting each of the 11 brick types among the 5 texture types. I will be careful to make sure that colors which are often confused are given distinct textures.

Finally, I did an interview on Monday with the guys at ShortWaveRockin. I am my usual awkward self in this one! Went off on a weird pedantic biology rant for a few seconds too as a bonus. Thanks Alex and Johnny!

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New Wand Art

I should post a picture of the wand every week to show people how things are changing! This has to be the 7th or 8th revision that I've made to the wand in the last ten months. I was not 100% in love with the last programmer art permutation of the Wand, and decided to redo everything to conform to the game's minimalistic style. Plus, I needed some kind of mechanical feature to add to the wand in order to visually indicate that the device had been fired. After brainstorming with a fan (shout-out to Mr. Brightbill), I decided that the wand should have a gyroscope inside the ring at the end. This gyroscope would fire off and slowly wind down until stopping at its original position. The wand itself experiences a bit of a kickback in this process, letting off a puffing sound-effect, as the gyroscope hums lowly. I'll post a video of it later this week.

Some other changes that I've worked on in the past week:

  • The secondary fire "stop" functionality has been removed. No one ever seemed to use it (including me) and it was pretty pointless to the whole game experience.
  • The game now uses brick textures with double the resolution, from 1024 x 1024 to 2048 x 2048.
  • When something can be picked-up or activated, the wand moves out the camera's field of view.
  • Reduced the number of cloud meshes in the sky, reduced the resolution of the Sun Shafts (still looks good), and blurred hard edges from the cloud images. Also, I doubled the size of the new skydome.
  • Added support for generic controllers (using a Logitech F310 for testing).
  • Reduced inefficiencies with every script. Too many variables were being created and destroyed every frame, which can kill the framerate. On my computer and in the editor, the game can generate 200+ frames per second (though only around 60 are displayed on-monitor). This is a big improvement from my previous 150 FPS in-editor average. Brick generation and highlighting are notably improved.
  • Smaller sounds are now uncompressed while playing. Before, performance was taking a hit with for every sound played as the game worked to decompress the file. Now, the most used sounds are always ready to be played.
  • Numerous bug fixes that you probably wouldn't care about.

One final thing: I am going to have a table at PAX East this year in the Kickstarter room. It's a real honor to be there! Thank you to the Kickstarter community manager Cindy for this opportunity. If you are at PAX East and want to stop by, just look for me in that general area. I should be sitting there for the bulk of the three days gabbing about autokinetic bricks and tree monsters. Should be fun!

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Tim Schafer at NYU Recap

Come from a Q&A talk with Tim Schafer. He show the audience a prototype Kinect game in which the player progresses by manipulating the characters' emotions. Interesting stuff. Make characters run through a door by making him afraid of a local rat, or make him love the door knob so very much that he just has to turn it. This game will never see the light of day, I'm afraid. The prospective publisher dropped the idea after several months of work. Still, he did giive some insigtht into his creative process. He's more of a benevolent dictitor at his company (his words), giving his employees autonomy while also having the final word when he inserts himself into a discussion. Also, in terms of humor, he advised to acknowledge the ridiculous situations that the characters find themslves in (e.g. Monkey Island, where Guybrush and the governer fall in love in five lines of text). By acknowleding how absurd the situation is, he is able to write his way out of a problem and to exploit it for comedic benefit.

That wasn't my entire day, of course. I spent the afternoon up-resing the textures to twice their usual size. This will make it a bit clunkier for me to merge textures into atlases. Also, I optimized the code a bit to reduce the number of objects that are deleted in any frame of the game. This makes things a bit faster overall, but it could be better, as it still chugs on my laptop at full settings.

Also, I optimized the save-game script to prevent the game from hanging until the operation is complete. This makes saving the game virtually seamless (though I am sure that it would be noticeable on slower computers. Finally, I fixed a bug where slower computer speeds would cause lag in chunk creation. This meant that when players fell too far and the frame rate too low, the procedural generator would fall behind and suddenly the player could not see the wall.. The game can now detect this and will correct the error.

That's it for now!

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Art Progress

Against the Wall - Wand

Here is a picture of the staff's new model. It still uses a placeholder texture, but the model itself has detail all around. I have little intention of having magic particles emanate from the staff, but rather wish to have a mechanical movement signify that the staff has been fired. The game Antichamber has a similar hoop staff device, only futuristic and certainly not made of wood. It used a very simple turning animation to indicate that the device has been fired. I could use something like that. An alternative is to give the headpiece moving locks or arms that open and close as it is used. The new design for the staff is based on the shinai bamboo sword of the martial art Kendo. I own a shinai, though I should say that using it as a reference model has been the only use I've made of it.

I've also added a new sky dome to the world. The dome has its own moving clouds that can be seen in the far distance. There is also a gradient progression between the horizon and the center of the sky. The gradient currently shifts between a steel-blue on the horizon and a dark blue in the center of the sky. The result is a bit of a blurring between the sky and The Wall. The best part about this gradient is that it can be adjusted on the fly to any other set of colors. If I wished to shift the weather or switch to another time of day, this sky dome can handle it. The shader for the sky dome comes from Pixelstudio's Sky Dome.

This change was brought about by the game Dear Esther, which also  uses two moving planes and a static dome for a skybox. That game is lamentably short, I should say. I finished it in little over an hour and wanted more. Still, the art is very impressive. Mostly high-res textures, use of billboard plants, and most of all, colored lighting. The sound effects and well placed music triggers are also key to the experience. I can learn a lot from that game from a storytelling perspective as well, though mostly through the non-verbal aspects of the plot (no narration for Against the Wall).

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GDC Aftermath

 

Against the Wall against a wall. Kill Screen Party - GDC 2012

I survived my first GDC! The highlight was Thursday's party held by the magazine Kill Screen. I was given a corner of the lower floor of the club Public Works to show off my game. I really have no idea if the party was good or not, to be honest. I stood there for 5 hours shouting above the music to anyone who had questions about the project. Never left the spot until the room was clearing out. Meanwhile, I received some good insight into how drunk people play my game. It was also fun to see a crowd gathering around to see where random players would go next. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to speak with me!

At GDC itself, the IGF floor was certainly the best part of the whole expo. I had a very limited pass, so I could not attend any of the many sessions there. I will be sure to get a conference pass next year. Hopefully I will have more expendable income at that time (and perhaps a station at IGF!).

There isn't much that I've learned at the expo, business tips aside. I met a ton of interesting people, and hope to follow up on some of the contacts that will help the progress of Against the Wall along.

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Let's Play Against the Wall

User Angryponcho made a Let's Play of the Against the Wall Alpha Demo:

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