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.

working_in_flight

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.

hex_tiling

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…

Cronus

Cronus

The professor’s old station wagon was spraying up a cloud of dust as it creaked and groaned its way through the dark desert.  He couldn’t even remember how he knew this unmarked road existed.  But he was racing on it, recklessly, out to some point that he knew he would recognize when he saw it.  His only conscious thought was Richard Dreyfuss being uncontrollably compelled to build a Devil’s Tower in his mashed potatoes.

He felt a tingling on the back of his neck which slowly spread down his arms until his arm hairs stood on end.  A head rush followed and it felt like he might pass out.  He worried for a moment about losing control of the car and swerving off the road.  Just as he started to gather himself with a deep breath, he slammed on the brakes, almost involuntarily.  The car lurched to a stop and the trailing dust cloud rolled over the car, blocking sight in every direction.

He was here.  He stepped out of the car, coughing and waving his arms in the dust cloud.  After just a few steps, he was in the clear and could see the landscape.  It was the exact scene he had seen in the dream that terrified him just an hour ago.  The sun was just rising.  This is where the dream had ended.  He was no longer being unconsciously driven to do anything — he was just standing in the middle of the brush and dirt, waiting for something to happen.  Nothing happened.  He felt ridiculous.

He made a sun visor with his hand and scanned the horizon, looking for anything out of the ordinary.  Nothing.  How long should he wait here?  It was going to get uncomfortably hot soon and there was no guarantee that his fifteen-year-old car would even get him back to civilization.  He sighed and rubbed his eyes.  “I am losing my mind,” he muttered, and brushed his clenched fist over his mouth and beard.  He realized he hadn’t even washed his face or brushed his teeth this morning.  He had just bolted out of bed and ran to the garage and started driving.  He was still in his pajamas!

All the confusion settled into a simple feeling of humiliation.  This is not how tenured professors behave!  He turned to get back in the car and drive home.  It was 6:20 in the morning, so no one would know that he had been on this silly adventure.  He opened the door and bent down to sit, but was instantly frozen when his eyes caught the mysterious, dark figure about a hundred meters away.  He couldn’t move, one foot in the car, one foot out, half standing, half sitting.  The figure wasn’t moving, either.

He eased back out of the car to stand and look at this…  man?  It seemed to be a rather tall man in a dark robe.  Even though this sight should have validated his being here, it only made him feel more ridiculous.  Who is this?  Does he expect me to just stroll over to him and strike up a conversation?  Apparently, yes, that was the only course of action that made any sense.  After a few more seconds of hesitation and a glance in all directions to ensure no one was watching this secret encounter, he walked around the car and off the dirt road, into the brush.

The walk didn’t take as long as he wanted it to.  He was half way there before he expected to be and he stopped to stare at the figure.  This person was seven feet tall.  Not only was he wearing a long blue-black robe, but his face was covered with some kind of matching mask.  He, or it, was looking directly at the professor and standing absolutely still.  It was the most terrifying thing the professor had ever seen.  He wasn’t sure he could force himself to take another step.  Unexplainably, the fear quietly left his brain.  He knew that this strange figure meant him no harm.  Was it communicating with him?  Reading his mind?

He walked, confidently, right up to this incredible figure.  The mask was no mask; the robe was not like any robe he had ever seen.  This was not a human being.

A barrage of images and sounds poured into the professor’s mind.  They were coming too quickly to make any sense.  Then they stopped.  He covered his face with his hands as his brain worked to sort them all out into a meaningful order.  This being had just told him a story in only a few seconds.  An incredible story.  A story about the end of the world.  The professor’s eyes widened as this story began to sink in.  He looked up at the face of this giant standing in front of him.  For a moment, he thought that the story must be the whole reason he had been summoned out here.  No, that didn’t make sense because this creature had already demonstrated the ability to communicate directly into his brain.  He could have told this story in another dream.

The robed figure brought his arms out to his side.  The robe fluttered a little and, as if the situation could be any more unreal, the professor noticed that the robe was only brushing the ground.  There were no feet extending below it.  This being wasn’t seven feet tall, it was hovering a foot above the ground.  “Are you here to bring the end of the world?” the professor asked.  Of course, there was no verbal answer, but he knew that the answer was “No” before he even finished the question.

The true purpose of the meeting was now clear.  The dirt swirled around the being’s feet, or lack thereof.  He rose slightly higher from the ground.  In the circling debris, something was beginning to glow.  Brighter and brighter, until there was a ball of light hanging in the air between the two of them.  This was it — the device.