26
May

SoW - from Concept to Game Asset

   Posted by: GarethF   in SoW - Development Diary

The beta 2 update took a while longer to arrive than anticipated, but I’m in-process porting now. In the mean time, a small interest piece to tide you over until more substantial updates. :)

I did a bit of work on a model recently as I need to create upgraded art that takes advantage of T3Ds snazzy features. I took some screenshots of the various stages for anyone who is curious as to how “the process” goes.

First, a concept with some colour/texture guidlines. The Maiden’s Smile Inn in Korrinport, as envisaged by Zach (who has been fairly sick recently, let’s all hope he gets well soon) :

maiden

 

So where do we start? We start with a box. Basically, we open up whatever modelling app we’re using and lay out some basic primatives using the creation tools available. We then begin modifying those basic shapes, modling them and adding detail as a sculptor would shape clay. No textures or anything yet, just shapes.

I didn’t take a screenshot of the box, but I did take one shortly later, where I’d begun to shape the roof. Notice the little box standing in front of the building? That is for reference, it’s sized to be roughly the same dimensions as the player would be, in-game. Important for figuring out how wide doors and things should be. ;)

1

 

Now I break the shape up a bit more. Although I haven’t yet added textures, I use the concept piece Zach did as reference for where I will need to place different textures on the model. I am basically breaking it up to make texture mapping as simple as possible. I also begin to add detail meshes. The procedure is the same, lay out some basic shapes like cylinders and then add detail, shape them using the existing tools so they look like chimney stacks or whatever.

2

3

 

Now it’s time to add textures. I’ve built up a fairly good library of textures over time but even with a decent library you need to spend time making sure the colour palettes match, fixing textures to tile properly or merging textures into a single composite. If you don’t have a texture that fits, you may need to make it, either from scratch or using the magic of photoshop to create it from other textures and applied filters.

Actually applying the texture to the model is one of the fiddliest parts. I unfortunately forgot to take a screen of how exactly that works but it’s a time consuming process. Luckily it’s pretty simple, just grunt work. Automatic tools can help in the mapping if your shapes are simple primatives like cubes and cylinders but they aren’t good enough for things like buildings and people :( So you mostly just have to spend the time tweaking it to perfection by hand.

4

 

Midway through I decided to make the “details” into separate meshes so that I can mix and match parts in the engine to create a number of variations of the same model with little overhead. Windows, chimney, door, roof window, those were separated out into their own models, leaving us with a simple base :

5

 

The door, before removal :

6

As your model nears completion you’ll want to check it in the engine. It’s best to do this as early as possible to pick up any isses. The modelling program and game engine are completely separate renderers, it’s totally possible for something to look fine in Max but screwy in the game.

Luckily it looks fine in the T3D demo level. :) You can see it here with a little bit more added detail to the wooden supports (decided I could afford to spend some more polys) as well as the window detail props :

7

 

Bump maps looking nice thanks to ShaderMap Pro :

8

 

T3D’s material editor is neat, it makes playing with material properties and seeing the effects instantaneous. I alter the window materials to be emissive, meaing they aren’t affected by the stage lighting. Which isn’t that noticeable during the day…

9

 

But the effect comes into it’s own as the sun sets…

10

11

Things are looking great for dynamic day-night cycles in SoW. :)

I add in a few more detail props, the chimneys and roof window. 

screenshot_004-00001

screenshot_004-00002

Still need to create the inn sign. But that can wait, Zach will do a better job of painting the maiden anyway. From there I can create variations of this building in much less time than it took to create the original. I will get a half dozen building bases out of this and a number of props, a good start along the path to revamping Korrinport for T3D. Some models will only need to be updated, some will need to be rebuilt from scratch as above. Once Zach is back I will also be handing the models over to him to add in any artistic touches or modifications he feels would enhance them.

Hope this post was a vaguelly interesting read for someone. :) We’ll be returning to more meaty and regular updates now that I’m mostly “back in the saddle”. The faithful shall be rewarded for their patience. ;)

17
May

Bumpy!

   Posted by: GarethF   in SoW - Development Diary

Right, so the push to move SoW onto T3D is on. On like Donkey Kong. It’s just too damn pretty and the improvements to usability for development too nice to pass up. The port process doesn’t look too painful, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.

I’m holding out porting the codebase across until next week, when the next version of the beta code drops. Will save on merging hassles, but I have to admit I’m impatient. Luckily I have another task to keep me busy…art! Zach and I are working on Korrinport and rebuilding art assets. I’ve decided to take the plunge and switch to using normal maps, to take full advantage of how pretty T3D can make scenes. It may cut out really low end users, but I’ve decided to take the risk. Hopefully it won’t bite me down the line.

To that end, I’ve been taking a little time to research normal map generation tools. Luckily there are some decent options to create the suckers fairly painlessly. We’ll be beauified in no time! :)

First and foremost, there is a free photoshop plug-in from NVidia. It’s functional, mostly. The preview mode is friggin’ horrible. And the normal maps it generates aren’t as nice as the other tools. But it’s free.

NVidia Normals

My personal favorite is CrazyBump. It’s incredibly easy to use and powerful. Unfortunately, it’s also crazy expensive. Which is a problem, given how cash strapped I am.

CrazyBump Normals

 

Shadermap Pro is also rather nice. Not quite as powerful as CrazyBump, but good nonetheless. And less than 1/10th of the price!

ShaderMap Pro

And then there is MaPZone. MaPZone doesn’t just generate normal maps and suchlike, it can procedurally generate textures. And it’s also free. Which is cool, but I have never found procedurally-generated textures to look that great. Also, I simply didn’t like it, from a useabiltiy point of view. Maybe I just didn’t spend too much time learning the ins and outs, but the other tools were far more intuitive.

(Didn’t like it enough to generate map)

And the winner is : Shadermap Pro. Really low price (enough to be an impulse buy ;) ), good functionality, nice workflow and useability. Right, back to actually making models. :)

(As an aside, Zach may prefer some other tool for normal map generation, he’s good at ferreting out free tools and has a different perspective, being an artist. I’ll ask him to post up his preferences here, in the comments. I just like SMP, personally.)

17
May

Further Updates from Life (TM)

   Posted by: GarethF   in General

Well, after extensive research our panel of experts have reached consensus : break-ups suck.  

Doubly so when your ex owns most of the furniture and appliances. Ah well, credit card to the rescue, I have refrigeration and suchlike again, thankfully. TV and lounge suite to follow in a month or so. This month has been expensive, my poor plastic has melted into a little puddle. :(

Ah well. We survive, and life goes on. It could be worse. Denbeigh’s new flat has been burgled already, a few days after she moved in. The landlord had promised to put a security gate up on her door this week but the block of flats had builders working in it and someone obviously saw an opportunity. Fucking South Africa, gotta love it. I loathe building crews, the correlation between them working nearby and crime is so bloody high here. So anyway, I was there last night, helping her install a gate and lending moral support. Luckily they only got a few things, an iPod and jewelry and suchlike, some with sentimental value but nothing really devestating. Just emotionally traumatic.

In other news, I am now a “fuzzy cueball”. I needed a haircut, one of my mates suggested that I shave my head. On displaying hesitancy, he commented that everyone should try it once, just to see if they like it. An argument I find compelling, when it isn’t about obviously self-destructive activities such as smoking and drug use. Pics or it didn’t happen, as they say on the internet :

Then.

Hairy

Now.

16052009082

 

Ladies, take note. The fuzz is soft to the touch, like a teddy-bear, and brings you good luck if you stroke it. Truth, I swear. :D

10
May

T3D Investigations

   Posted by: GarethF   in SoW - Development Diary

 

Haven’t been particularly productive this week, sorry. But I have played a bit more with T3D.

Firstly I tried the Material Editor. Which is essentially a sweet visual editor for mapping materials and editing their properties, such as normal maps, specular, glow etc.

Material Editor

Powerful, simple to use, updates in real time. I’m impressed, it’s SO much easier to use than editing the material scripts directly. Artists will love this tool. Based on how easy it is and how smooth the engine runs, I think it’s time to upgrade SoW to be using bump mapping. Time to try out those free normal-map generating plugins.

Then I wanted to take the new Collada importer for a spin. Collada is format for 3D models that is rapidly gaining popularity and could make life a lot easier for Zach and I, since he uses Blender and I’m undure on the Blender-Torque pipeline. If he could just export as Collada and pop the model into the engine, that would be great. So I tested the process with one of my existing models. Didn’t work the first time, but T3D’s console helpfully informed me what the problem was and I tweaked the model slightly before exporting. This time export worked perfectly and the model loaded into T3D. Success!

T3D Cart

Finally I decided to try dropping a Google 3D Warehouse model into the engine. One of the advantages of using Collada is that Google has a large library of free-to-use models. The idea being that budding game developers can use these models to make or at least prototype their games, helping to kick-start their project. An intruiging concept. So does it work?

Yes. :)

Sketchup

Now, this isn’t to say I’m going to start pillaging models from 3D warehouse. Often with free stuff, you get what you pay for. ;) But there may be some things worth trying out for SoW. And I think it will be a tremendous benefit to the newbies out there, while they try to wrangle artists into their teams.

Anyway, there is no more doubt in my mind, I will make the attempt to port SoW to T3D this week, probably after Tuesday (Denbeigh moves out Tuesday, I’ll be helping her pack). I’m just waiting for beta 2 to drop so that I don’t have to do a code merge again once it’s out. Check this blog for a preview of one of the neat features they’ve added, shader based light rays! Sweet! Also, you can see the material editor in action. It really is easy to use.

Till next time.

8
May

SoW - Combat Musings

   Posted by: GarethF   in SoW - Development Diary

 

Ok, so this place has become a bit boring, hasn’t it? Tumbleweeds blowing past and all that.

By way of an apology I offer you a link to a thread on the combat system in SoW, the philosophy and ideas behind it, on the ITS forums. It’s “in process”, by which I mean I’m writing updates to it in parts. Have a gander if you are curious.

On the eye-candy front, Zach has posted some of his SoW concepts in another ITS thread for your enjoyment.

 

(Unsubtle nudging towards the ITS threads complete)

4
May

Torque3D - Beta Impressions

   Posted by: GarethF   in General, SoW - Development Diary

 

I took some time to play with the T3D beta last night. And my initial impressions are : Nice!

I need to dig into the code a bit to really get a sense of it, but the level creation and upgraded graphics are good. I’ve posted some initial impressions and a few screens of a testbed level I made here. NOTE : THAT IS NOT SCARS OF WAR. Nor is it an area for Scars of War. I know there has been some confusion around my post about the T3D beta, basically it’s an engine upgrade I’m eyeing out for potentially moving SoW to, assuming it’s not too laborious. Don’t groan, dynamic day-night cycles and actual physics are hella sweet. ;) 

There is still a fair bit of bug fixing to do for T3D, but then again we are only a few days into the beta, so that’s to be expected. But right now, the move to T3D is looking quite desirable. I’ll investigate the code ramifications tonight.

2
May

It’s a Bittersweet Symphony, that’s life…

   Posted by: GarethF   in General

Well, yesterday was eventful. Announced the ITS thing to much positive feedback, got my hands on the exciting Torque3D beta and broke up with my girlfriend of 3+ years.

Certainly not one of those days you forget quickly. :/

Fear not, I will not proceed to now turn this blog into a collection of soppy poetry and general emo-ness. Things had been degenerating for a while between me and her; there wasn’t much feeling left in that limb so it barely hurt when it was cut off, as it were. So no great emotional rollercoasters forecast for the future.

However, I may be a little unresponsive for a bit. Not long, I promise, but a bit. I posted this as a way of explanation, I really should be using the nice spike in traffic and interest after that announcement to talk more about SoW here and on the various forums, strike while the iron is hot. But I just can’t muster the will right now.  

Normal service will resume shortly. Heh, if anything, it will probably be better for the SoW side of things, what with not having to juggle a relationship in my time commitments. Always look on the bright side, eh? ;)

Later people. I’m going to go out, get drunk and dance to loud, angry music.

1
May

You’re part of The Family now…

   Posted by: GarethF   in SoW - Development Diary

Well, an interesting development has arisen. As of now, the official home of the Scars of War community (by which I mean the forum) is moving to Iron Tower Studios. Vince made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. (Not killing my family and everyone I know and love)

 

godfather

 

Heh, ok, jokes aside, I’ll explain the reasoning and ramifications.

Vince and his team have a vision. They see ITS as not simply a development house but as a sort of indie RPG label or brand. Not a publisher, in the traditional sense, but a way to offer indie devs some of the things that traditional publishers offer mainstream devs, but structured around the idea of a community effort, a pooling of resources and a meeting of equals rather than the traditional master/servant roles that publisher-developer relationships encourage. Strength in numbers, to put it simply.

What is the hardest challenge facing indie developers? The answer may surprise some people. It’s not making the game. It’s getting exposure. Many an indie has finished their game and launched it to the sound of crickets chirping in the background. No one knows about these games and marketing is so expensive that achieving even a tiny fraction of the exposure that the mainstream does is an incredibly difficult task. Which is a dismal prospect because it puts the control in the hands of the people who control the marketing channels, the people with the money, the publishers and the portals. Which allows them to do things like suddenly cutting the retail price of your game without you having much say in the matter. Indies who want to go it alone have a hard struggle ahread of them just to get noticed.

Which brings us back to the ITS vision. There is strength in numbers, that is a well known adage. Rather than each indie dev struggling alone to be noticed, why not pool strength and effort? Age of Decadence is a “hardcore RPG”, the people who are interested in it are interested in that genre of game. Instead of working so hard to attract their attention to each and every new hardcore RPG game, why not create a home for that type of game so that you can attract attention to multiple games at once? Much more efficient. Any marketing push that brings in new customers is likely to benefit the other developers in that group as well.

With that in mind, the benefit to SoW for moving to ITS is fairly obvious. Vince is a skilled marketer, due to his efforts and the efforts of his team, AoD is getting a lot of attention, far beyond the norm for most indie titles in development. By moving under their banner I get to share in the benefits of that.

Which might make it seem like the relationship is a bit one-sided. Not entirely ;) You see, I firmly believe that one of the best forms of marketing/PR for an indie is to “sell your uniqueness”. By which I don’t mean selling out. I mean taking full advantage of what makes you stand out, your idea, your personality, your vision. Stand up and talk about it, let people know what you’re about. So does Vince, in fact he has been encouraging me to talk about SoW for a while now, his efforts influenced me in setting up this blog and being more public with my development.

I think we’re all hungry for that uniqueness; in a sea of homogenous titles it’s the unique, interesting and different stands out, draws attention. Especially in today’s marketplace, where PR people are so desperate to satisfy everyone that they are afraid of any choice which could offend or alienate any group. Games are easy, they avoid topics which might exclude a demographic, they cater to the widest possible audience they can. The result of which is that while games are still kinda fun, few of them are really satisfying to any particular niche.  The offerings end up being bland, forgettable. 

That applies not just to the games, but the developers. The real “personalities” in the industries are all remnants of yesteryear. Massive teams and the PR lockdown means that few personalities stand out in the industry, you rarely get a sense of a strong vision. Nor do you get great opportunities to directly interact with developers, they’re locked away behind walls of corporate strategy and “public relations”. And I think we as gamers long for some sense of the genuine, a real interaction with the real people behind the products we love. I know I do.

So I believe indies can and should offer that interaction. Vince does, and I try to with this blog. But it isn’t easy. Maintaining a public presence and interacting with the community is tiring, it takes effort to maintain. There are times when you struggle to keep it up, when life is too hectic and, to the outside world, it seems like you’ve gone silent. It happens on this blog, it happens at ITS. As powerful as “talking about your vision/game/ideas” is for drawing people to you, if you can’t maintain it they will lose interest, your audience will drift away, you lose that hard-won momentum.

This is another area where the idea of pooling resources comes into play. While one dev team might be going through a difficult time, others can be there to “pick up the slack” as it were, to provide new and interesting content to keep people coming back to visit and interact. 

Which is were the relationship becomes more mutual. Simply by doing what I’m doing now, by updating about SoW progress and writing opinion pieces and the like, I can help contribute to the community building efforts at ITS. When there is no new news about AoD, there may be news about SoW, or Cyclopean.

And it will only get better. AoD is the big title for the moment, further along and with more for people to look at an discuss. But SoW is getting there, with Cyclopean following a bit further out in the future. Each of us can work to fill in the lulls for the others, keeping fans/customers interested and coming back for more. And as more people learn of ITS as “the place to go for hardcore indie RPGs”, it only gets better for all of us. Working together, we’re far stronger than alone. :)

So that is the idea. For now, SoW will maintain the separate website/blog while sharing the ITS forums. But the future may see greater consolidation, we’ll work it out as we go along. 

 

As a final note, let me answer some questions/concerns that may have occured to people. 

 

Is SoW “under ITS control” now? How independant are you Gareth/Zach?

SoW is the same as it was before, with added support on the marketing/business side. Zach and I are developing SoW, we make all decisions on the game. Obviously we listen to forum feedback and suggestions (regardless of whether they come from fans or ITS devs), but that is independant of the url of the forum. At the end of the day, the final say is mine. And I can walk away from ITS at any time if I feel the need, there is no real “contract” locking me in.

 

What if AoD is a flop and ITS goes under? What will happen to SoW?

Personally, that would be sad. From a business sense, it would be a setback but not a devestating one. You have to remember, all that SoW is now was built from scratch, and most of the time was taken learning how to do things. If ITS went under, even if everything SoW related was under their banner, it would take me less than a week to re-establish an independant web presence. And I’d immediately email any news sites of the move while inviting the displaced ITS community to visit us. In the end, I still think this will be a net beneficial effect for SoW regardless. 

 

But what if AoD is crap, won’t people associate that crapness with SoW?

I suppose they might. I don’t think AoD will be crap, honestly, but lets assume it turns out that it is. SoW is a different game, different viewpoint, different style, different combat, different writer, different art, different gameplay systems. I think it’s different enough for people to not automatically jump to the conclusion that it will be “just like AoD!”. And I will work actively to explain the game to news sites so that they and their readers understand those what is interesting and unique about SoW. That, and actively showing off the game/offering demos should counter any negative association, if it came to that.

But I don’t think it will come to that. Vince and the team are very receptive to feedback, if people try the demo and it sucks I think it will just push back release deadlines a few years, lol.

I think that about covers it. Feel free to ask any questions you have. And visit the new forums! :)

 

(The old SoW forums will remain up for a little while, I will post a thread redirecting people to ITS so that they have a chance to relocate)

26
Apr

Visions of the Future - pt 1

   Posted by: GarethF   in Funny, Gaming

I think I’m going to start a side-feature on this blog called “Visions of the Future”, where I’ll post up amusing evidence of the general decline of this hobby of ours, gaming. Now, I know, it’s not hard to find evidence of decline. But I said “amusing”. Gotta be funny, even if it’s slightly tragic.

Thanks to Zeus of the Codex for spotting this glorious image of the future of hardcore roleplaying games :

 

i-quit

24
Apr

Mmmm, delicious!

   Posted by: GarethF   in SoW - Development Diary

Yum!!!

Beta isn’t far off now, I’m hellova excited! Wow, but T3D is looking awesine, I’m seeing some great stuff in the private forums and the snippets of the T3D documentation that’s just been released. The odds of me not porting SoW to T3D drops everytime I see another video!

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