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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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.

Abuse of Power

We’ve got beams!  Beams are the latest addition to the weapon lineup.  They’re a nice contrast to the standard projectile stuff.  They also have a huge advantage in that they hit the target immediately.  With projectile weapons, you have to lead your target carefully.  Beams are pure point-and-click destruction.

I threw in an option to allow the tester to change the beams’ strength, just to see how it would look.  Josh is playing in the video and he clearly abuses this power.  They say that power corrupts.

Really, though, that sense of outrageously overpowered weapons is one of the joys of shoot-em-ups, in my opinion.  It’s best when you have to work hard to earn it, though.  Leveling up your ship to the point where it can handle really nasty boss battles is rewarding, but taking all that firepower back to an easy level and wreaking havoc is sometimes even better.  It’s kind of a cheap thrill, and it feels a little bit like payback for all the really difficult levels the game has put you through.

Less Terrible Video

We’re getting the hang of recording, editing, and uploading videos to YouTube.  This one is HD 720p and has a little audio to help it be less boring.

The thing worth noticing in this video is the “mining.”  The player battles an enemy but also blows up some poor, defenseless background tiles.  They absolutely had it coming, though.

This is how you gather resources in Ladon.  Those tiles are  made of materials that you’ll need to build bigger and better weapons.  We want the mining to feel fluid within the gameplay, as opposed to forcing the player to constantly switch modes.  The smoothest, most natural mechanic we’ve found is to have the weapons automatically aim down when there are no enemies present.  If an enemy does sneak up on you while you’re mining, you’ll know because your shots will suddenly stop hitting the ground and your crosshair will change color/shape.  You can see this happen in the video.

Variety is the Spice of Shoot-em-ups

Josh continues to crank out phenomenal ship tiles for all your enemy-smashing needs.

Ship prototype (B-class)

As I’ve said many times, in posts on this blog and elsewhere, what I find fun in a shoot-em-up (or any other type of game) is a sense of progression.  We want Ladon to have that feeling in two different forms.  First, there’s the progression through levels.  Second, there’s the progression of ship building.  Taking a step back and looking at the ship you’ve built through hours of bashing bad guys and collecting materials is a reward in itself and it should feel rewarding.  That’s where all these beautiful models come in.  You’ll see them as you’re flying around in the heat of battle, but only from a top-down point of view, and they’ll be too small on the screen to really appreciate the detail.  The ship-building screen is where you’ll have a moment to really take it all in.  This is where you’ll be able to rotate it around and bask in the beauty of your creation.

Ship Model

A lot has happened since the last blog post at the beginning of this year.  The game has progressed to the point where there is actual gameplay.  We’ve got a YouTube channel and a first video!

The quality of the video is pretty terrible, sorry.  We’ll be making them in full HD from here on out.

Better yet, Josh has finished modeling the first handful of ship-building tiles.  The ship you see in the header image of this post is an example of what the player can build.  Hubba hubba.  Flying that around will be more entertaining than the silly little placeholder tiles that I threw together.  The difference between game art made by a programmer and game art made by an actual artist is pretty easy to spot!

Just for kicks, here’s another way you might build your first ship:

Ship prototype (L-class)

Same tiles, just in a different configuration.

We’ve also filmed our Kickstarter video.  There’s still a ton of editing to do, but we’ll announce an official date very soon.  Keep an eye on us, as we’ll be posting a lot more frequently leading up to the launch.

Here Comes 2015

Happy Holidays, everyone!  2014 went by in a blur as we formed Level 17, and we’re charging into 2015 — the year we release our first title.  Exciting times!  As I’m sure you know, 2015 is also the year of many fantastic technological advancements

We’ve spent the holidays switching to a new engine.  The Ladon Device is now officially Unreal.  Moving over from Irrlicht isn’t a walk in the park, but the features of Unreal Engine are worth the trouble.  A shoot-em-up simply must look cool.  The visuals are half the fun of playing a shoot-em-up in the first place.  Unreal Engine packs in just about every visual effect seen in any modern game, from first-person shooters to casual puzzlers.

The image at the top of this post is one of the materials that Josh has been experimenting with.  This is the appearance of the material in Cinema 4D (his modeling software of choice).  It will look almost identical in Unreal Engine, which is a claim that very few game engines can make.  Unreal Engine is pushing game visuals a lot closer to pre-rendered quality.  We’ve come a long way from Parsec.

To give another tease about Ladon’s gameplay, “materials” will play a very large role.  The player will need to collect all sorts of exotic materials in order to build bigger and better components for their ship.  This is how Ladon crosses over the genre divisions.  Mining and crafting elements put the game in the “sandbox” category.  The extensive tree of upgrades that can be crafted border on an RPG-style game.  But the gameplay is shoot-em-up down to the core.

It’s going to be a fun year and a fun game.

Lighting the World

With the general shape of the background world in place, I started working on lighting it.  Most modern hardware (according to Irrlicht) supports eight dynamic lights, which just isn’t enough.  So, programmers use lots of tricks to support more than eight lights.  I decided to allow any number of lights, but only turn on eight at a time, based on what is currently being rendered.  For each object in the scene, the distance to each light is calculated.  The eight closest lights are turned on and the others are turned off.  The result is that only eight lights are ever actually “on” at any given time.  The result looks really nice in my test scene, I think.  If this approach doesn’t look right or isn’t fast enough as the scenes get more and more complex, I’ll have to investigate more complicated techniques, like, possibly, deferred lighting.

Creating the World

The World of Ladon is starting to take shape.  It’s a spherical world built from geometric shapes, mostly hexagons.  Hexagons are ubiquitous in Ladon.


I was experimenting with constructing the sphere during a flight.  I ran into a problem that I should have seen coming, but didn’t — there is no way, mathematically, to tile a sphere with regular hexagons.  There are two approaches that come close, and each has advantages and disadvantages.

The first approach is to start with regular hexagons, tiled as they would be on a flat surface.  This is the common “honeycomb” pattern.  You can wrap this tiling around a sphere, but the hexagons will begin to overlap.  You can correct for this by changing the size of the hexagons as you go, but, depending on which way you choose to do the wrapping, you will run into “poles” at some points on the sphere.  At these points, your hexagons will essentially vanish to zero.  This is exactly the same problem that mapmakers encounter — the reason why Greenland appears to be as big as Africa on a map, even though Africa is about 14 times larger in reality.  By breaking the map up into sections, as mapmakers have done in different ways for a very long time, this approach can be fudged enough to work.  If your sphere is large enough, the viewer will probably never notice the difference.  Some of your hexagons just have to be slightly distorted.

The other approach is more mathematical.  A sphere can be “tessellated” into triangles.  You can then group these triangles into hexagons.  The big drawback to this approach is that none of the hexagons are regular.  They’re all distorted pretty heavily.  And worse, there are exactly twelve locations on the sphere that aren’t hexagons at all, they’re pentagons.  The most familiar way to visualize this is a soccer ball.  No matter how small you make the tiles, those pentagons don’t go away.


The above image shows the two approaches side by side.  The regular hexagons on the left begin to overlap as they bend around the sphere.  The tessellation on the right fits together perfectly, but is made up of very distorted hexagons with a pentagon in the middle.

The problem with the distortion, in either approach, is that our 3D modeler needs to be able to crank out these hexagonal tiles.  If they aren’t all the same shape, roughly, then he’ll have to model each one individually!  I don’t think we pay him enough for that…