Over the Top

No, that’s not a reference to the greatest movie about professional arm wrestling ever made.  It’s the only phrase I could possibly use to describe the video that Josh put together today.

When you recover from the inevitable face melting that results from watching this video, you might notice some of the new visual details we’ve added.  Probably the most obvious is the camera shake.  We might dial this back a little, so that it doesn’t become irritating while playing.  It really adds intensity to the visuals, though, seriously.

There’s also a camera zoom that happens when enemies are nearby.  The camera zooms out so that you get a better view for combat.  Once all the enemies are gone, it zooms back in so that you can focus on the tiles.  The change in zoom is a strong visual indicator that something bad is nearby.  Before, we just had the cursor change shape and color, which was fairly easy to overlook.

The background tiles are no longer just dull, gray blobs.  They have some actual materials applied.  Most of them are still pretty plain and repetitive, but you can see some scattered here and there that have some interesting materials.  Those are the ones that you’re hunting.  Josh and Garrett are working on the full list of materials and how they should look.

You’ll need plenty of basic metals to build new stuff for your ship, so those boring metallic tiles aren’t just there to fill empty space.  But the challenge will be to find areas of the map that contain concentrations of the rare materials, because those will let you build the best weapons, engines, shields, and so on.  Unsurprisingly, you’ll probably run into the nastiest enemies in those areas, too.

Tiles (and enemies) are just randomly generated in the build that you see in the video.  That won’t be the case in the released game.  We’ll be using a mixture of procedural generation and old-fashioned level design to place everything.  But the end result will not be random at all, in the sense that it will be the same every time you play.  Purely random levels are interesting in some ways, and much easier to create, but they don’t suit the style of The Ladon Device.  We want the player to be challenged to find the best way through a level, which means we want to design the levels in a specific way.

The Life of a Model

No, not that kind of model.

The image above shows Josh’s original 3D model of the cockpit versus the scaled-down version that will appear in the game.  And here it is actually running in the game.

Cockpit retopo in-game

The tiles around it are still just placeholders.  Updated and polished versions of those are on the way.

Taking a model from around 100,000 triangles down to around 1,000 is challenging.  All the little details of geometry are lost from the actual model, but you can “fake” them with an old graphics trick called normal mapping.  It can produce really excellent results if you are very careful.  Getting it right for the cockpit took the better part of two days.  I had to experiment with several different tools, and eventually found that the least painful method is doing it in Blender.  That was unexpected, because Blender isn’t really designed for this purpose, and it has a reputation for being… unreliable… to put it really gently.

It takes several iterations to really get all the detail correct, but it’s really worth it.  The gist of it is:

1) Build a low-poly model from the high-poly version
2) Use a tool (Blener, XNormal, etc) to “bake” a normal map
3) Test the normal map in a quick render
4) Say, “That looks horrible” and start over
5) Repeat steps 1-4 ten times
6) End up with a normal map that looks half decent
7) Go into Photoshop and manually fix problem areas in the normal map
8) Declare victory and move on to the next model

You end up with models that have orders of magnitude fewer triangles than the originals, but look 99% as good.  Depending on things like how close your camera will be to the object, they might even be indistinguishable.

Getting Creative

If you’ve been following us at all over the last few months, you’ve seen plenty of flashy effects and explosions.  Today, we’re excited to show something a little different: ship building!

This is a look at our ship building mechanic in its earliest stages.  It’s truly what I’d call “hacked together” at this point.  We’re still not using Josh’s gorgeous tile models, yet, either.  Regardless, we played around with building ships, flying them around, dealing out destruction, and it’s already surprisingly fun.  That’s good news, because it’s the heart and soul of the game.

There are still plenty of flashy effects and explosions.  In fact, there’s a whole new weapon type that sneaked into the game — rockets.  You can see them at various points in the video, homing in on their targets.  Homing rockets have long been a staple of the shoot-em-up arsenal.  They have the huge benefit of always hitting their target (assuming your target isn’t smarter and/or faster than your rockets).

Ship Building, Almost

Some captures from the next teaser video…  A teaser for a teaser?

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The_Ladon_Device 2015-05-06 15-52-43-51

Ship building is slowly becoming a reality.  Today, I added the ability for the player to just add tiles onto the ship wherever they like.  No mining materials is required, for now.  The purpose of this was partly to stress test the engine with lots of tiles and partly just to play around with different sizes and shapes of ships.  Turns out, it’s really fun.  Adding a dozen thrusters and making an unnecessarily fast ship is fun, and so is having fifty lasers.

These big ship builds can look really cool, too.  Just sitting back and watching the game being played is getting more and more entertaining with each new weapon type or particle effect.  At the risk of sounding cocky, it’s starting to look and feel like a true shoot-em-up.