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grand marshal polycounter
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Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

I'm still not finished with my current game project, but I took a break from it for nearly two months to prototype some ideas for next project. The main problem I want to get around is that there is too much work for a solo developer. How can I make smaller games?

But it still has to be something I want to play and am excited about. So I tried a few ideas. In the end, this game idea both excites me the most and seems the most doable workload wise. It is not necessarily less work than others, but it is heavier on art rather than programming, which suits my interest more.

In particular I really enjoy animation, even if I'm not that great at it. This project will have a lot of animations that I'll have to make.

Briefly, it is a third person roguelite action game in which you use a solely a bow and arrow. You are an Amazonian warrior on a quest to defeat evil monsters. In theme I want it to feel like those old Ray Harryhausen adventure flicks. I've enjoyed the hell out of Souls games but they get old with the overly grim and often grotesque themes. I wanted that sense of adventure without having to be so grim and dark.

Anyway, what I have done so far was mostly R&D to figure out general development pipelines, but there is some actual visual progress to show:


The main thing I wanted to get handle on first was animation pipeline. Because I haven't really done much animation at all in unreal. So I first used the paragon characters to setup a basic controller where you can run around and shoot some targets with the bow.

I don't want to be locked into trying to frankenstein together other peoples animations, so I started getting some practice making my own animations. So far I've got down the basics for locomotion plus a shooting montage. There will be a lot more to do for complete animation blueprint, however this is enough to satisfy basic gameplay and I feel that I'll be able to create all the animations to a satisfactory quality for the many monsters.

I've used Advanced Skeleton to create a rig on the Daz skeleton. THe character is from Daz and I made the toga in Marvelous designer. I just slapdashed things together for now. I will continue to iterate on the character design here and there as I go. There are a number of accessories also blocked in but I'll work more on the character later.

The hair is stolen from paragon sparrow. I'll probably just keep it though, making hair is too tedious and this one fits perfectly.


Code-wise I have the basics of the character controller ready to go. You can run around, shoot arrows, interact with the stuff, there is some simple flight physics enough to make the shooting fun... so next we need some enemies to fight... But that's a big ordeal and I wanted to do something a little easier. So I started with blocking out the first level, which will also serve as the vertical slice level.


I had a hard time getting started because I've never done a blockout for a game like this before. I always try to use the best tools for the job so I don't waste precious energy, and I had a lot of indecision over whether I ought to do the blockout in maya or unreal. In the end, I decided to stick with doing it in maya so that I have zero restrictions in control, ergonomics, and speed. But it does mean that I have to export to unreal and double check often to ensure scale is appropriate and so forth.

I tried to only focus on the playable game path and not get bogged down with background stuff. It's hard to come up with something from nothing, so I just took a map of archaic Athens and used that as a loose guide. Then I define a checklist for all the gameplay beats that I want and just start looking at the map and see how they might stitch together.


I just use some locators to indicate where each beat could happen. This is about as far as I can usefully go with the blockout, so next step is that I'll have to get the enemy AI going.


My own game means I get to make everything how I want, :). One thing thats always bugged me about these types of games is that the environment is always scaled up a bit. I expect its for gameplay reasons, but it just always bugged me that like hallways are large enough for a giant. I'm going to try and keep it such that we keep that old world, quaint charm. The setting is early bronze age, so I think the architecture might be more like you find in afghanistan, rather than huge marble temples you might think of when ancient greece is mentioned.


Offer a sacrifice at the shrine of asclepius for healing


I've tried to do the blockout with gameplay and pacing in mind, and set it up so that extending or shrinking the playable space will be easy later on. This was one of the big reasons I wanted the blockout done in maya rather than unreal. It is much easier to make fast selections and wholesale changes in maya (at least for me).


An example here is "the harpy gauntlet". Here I intend to introduce the player to an airborne, ranged enemy that will harass you throughout a mazelike corridor. My initial idea is that a single harpy should be a big problem, however it could be that so much trouble from a single enemy without scoring a kill could be too much stress and not enough fun. So maybe it will end up being a handful of enemies spread over a larger space, so that you can get some kills to keep up your spirits. Won't know until gameplay, so that's why I prefer a workflow that is fast and easy to make changes.


I am also the environment artist though. It's not practical for me to do a complete job of all the different discplines. So if I can get a little art prototyping done at the same time, I try to do that. This is another benefit to doing blockout from my DCC. I can quickly whip up blockout+ models in order to start developing a sense for general architecture designs:

For instance, setting up some slightly more sophisticated collumns and inlaying some materials to represent designs on this religious building was a lot easier for me to do in maya. It wouldn't be appropriate thing to do at this stage in a team environment, however since I don't really do any 2d concepting, I just mix in a bit of "playing around" like this which serves a similar purpose.


One thing I wont be able to do is have bazillions of unique animations with super tight hitboxes like you need for a good souls like game. Thats major reason I chose to keep it ranged combat only. But I dont want it to be a game where you just backpedal and funnel dumb enemies, or just snipe from a distance. I want to keep player constantly moving - it should feel like cat and mouse. So I am trying to make it so that once you get into an arena, there are no viable camping spots, and if the enemies can generally move as fast you can, then it should be such that you have to do a lot of weaving around the environment in order to create space enough to be able to get a shot off.


Well anyway, that's some of the ideas I'll work towards. Next up will be some enemy designs and animations and after that should start to see some basic gameplay.

I'm happy to receive any critiques or suggestions along the way about art designs, animations, anything really.


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  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    Okay, got some actual gameplay going on. Although I am just sticking to typical mythological creatures for the enemies, of which there is no shortage of concepts I could pull from, I wanted to wait until I've actually had a chance to fight them quite a bit before I consider how they might look. Now I have played quite a few hours against these guys so I begin to get a more clear vision how their silhouette should be, how they should move, what colors to be, and so on.

    You'll have to use a bit of imagination, but the standard unreal mannequins here will become greek hoplites-turned-zombies. Just cannon fodder beginner enemies. They can kill you fast though if you let them get close.

    The big red will be a satyr, which actually wont be a big heavy enemy whatsoever, but rather agile. It makes pretty wide flanks before charging, so I think some animations that make it look like its springing on its little goat legs during those flank movements would be nice.

    The blue guy with a gun will also be satyr, but a skirmisher variety that flings javelins.

    This previous week was almost entirely code focused, but next phase will be designing these enemy characters and getting some basic animations blocked in. For now, similar to the character, I will forego polish and just try to get the art pipeline intialized so that I can easily iterate on them throughout the project, and for now the major artistic focus will be on shape language.

    The gameplay seems like it is most fun when its focused on crowd control so I think being able to easily identify targets within a chaotic crowd will be important. I think silhouette and color will be the best ways to accomplish that so that will be first priority.

    I'll also start a second pass on the level blockout - the first thing I've realized is that most of the arenas will need to be larger and more open. The game gets pretty stressful in tight spaces so I don't want to do too much of that.

  • Bolovorix
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    Bolovorix ngon master

    Seems like you're off you a good start, looking forward to seeing more!

  • Fabi_G
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    Fabi_G insane polycounter

    Looks like a fun project! Cool setting!

    Played Resi4 recently and really liked the way crowd control worked there: slowing down a crowd of enemies by targeting certain areas, when staggered open for a follow up attack dealing area dmg.

    Ability to place traps would be interesting too. And friendly fire (Medusa creating lots of new statues :P).

    Regarding the visual design, maybe you can find solutions that allow for iteration and avoid uncanny, something like mannequins or statues. Or more abstract like Ashen.

    Surely you planned many things already, looking at the thread just made me very excited, hope you don't mind :D

    Keep it up!

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    @Bolovorix thanks!

    @Fabi_G , thanks! I hadn't considered player placed traps, but I have sketched out some ideas for environmental traps. I was thinking that some enemies might not be possible to defeat directly with your firepower, but have to be lured.

    Regarding visual design, I took a look at Ashen and thats definitely a neat look. I feel that I lack the imagination for much stylization though. Even as a kid I pretty much only enjoyed "realistic" styles. I don't doubt that realism is not the best choice of styles for a developer like myself, but without a concept artist to guide me, I don't think I could do very well at it.

    I have a Gorgon boss planned and there is friendly fire with enemy archers, but now that you've mentioned it I am thinking about the glowing eyes attack and how it might turn the cascading horde into stone at the very last second as you cower behind a pillar, lol.

    Few notes about development:

    Took a left turn before getting back into level blockout. I was feeling pretty certain that the gameplay lacked a needed mechanic, and if I added the mechanic it could change things up enough that it might effect level design needs.

    When playing, there was too much back peddling - felt too reactionary and not predatory enough. I dont want to feel like the doom slayer necessarily wiht 100% push-forward type of combat, but also dont want the other extreme where it is just running backwards to lead dumb zombies into a funnel. That's not fun.

    So I added a javelin which is more powerful than bow, and you can throw it without having to stop moving. But less range and you can only carry one at a time. Charge the bow will drop the javelin.

    Some messing around with it:

    I feel that it plays nicely with the way bow combat works - they complement each other pretty well. It gives more opportunity to be bold on the offensive and gets you into situations where you have a little dance with the enemies which is when game is most fun. To hell with caution! lol

    As you can see, animations are very rough. This is because 1, I am not very good at animations yet, and 2, I am trying to just do bare minimum needed to service the gameplay at this point. At first I wasn't even going to make any animations and I just had the javelin fly out from in front of the character, but I felt that it was difficult to get a guage on when you had javelin.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    Here's some play testing first level after blocking it out in unreal

    The basic synopsis is:

    • you are an amazon warrior, it is early bronze age
    • on your way to athens, something terrible has happened, the city is sacked, the soldiers are like zombies, and monsters are doing monster stuff
    • fight through the streets, at shrine of asclepius an NPC will provide motivation for why you need to ascend the acropolis and kill the biggest bastard up there desecrating shit

    I have two cinematics planned for this level, one at the shrine and one prior to the boss fight, but I will likely save that until the very end (of production).

    There is a lot of "final" art even though its really just a blockout. That's just because I've used some of the many free assets from unreal marketplace. I figure it there is some stuff ready-to-go that it close to what I'm going for, getting that much closer to final look sooner is good.

    I'm pretty happy with the pacing, difficulty, and fun factor and feel like it's ready for other people to play. Before I bring to public though I will add a few more behaviors for the enemies, and get them to have at least a blockout mesh so that you can understand what they are.

    The biggest task will be animations for each enemy type - though for now they only need basic locomotion, a single attack, and an additive to represent when they are wounded. Since it is likely that much changes this early on, I will only bother with bare minimum animations - just enough to convey the gameplay.

    There is also some unique game mechanics that I doubt anybody will pickup on without some visual feedback. Namely the bleed-out mechanic. Once you hit an enemy they bleed and will eventually die (even if you shoot their pinky toe). How long it takes depends on where you hit them, and what type of ammo. But without a particle effect to show the bleeding, plus animations to indicate that enemy is wounded, I think people will think that enemies randomly dying is a bug.

    I have not blocked out the last part of the level, at the foot of the acropolis and then on top of it. The remaining gameplay in those places will have unique enemies requiring unique code, animations, and models, so I think I'll forego that for initial playtesting.

  • sacboi
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    sacboi high dynamic range

    The main problem I want to get around is that there is too much work for a solo developer. How can I make smaller games?

    (…I'd assumed was rhetorical?!)

    However TBH, I think it's all relative.

    Basically in my opnion probably determined by ones character traits/workethic i.e. what might be a personally reasonable investment of time and energy on this piece of software may not otherwise suite someone else, in terms of scope or even whether paid or free-too-play passion project because I think working towards eventual finalization, is reward enough although not forgetting someone actually having fun playing what you've made, in the first place.

    That said, solid start - but lol looks like a ton of work lucky me, I just like modeling stuff with hard edges :)

    Edit:

    You'd mentioned coding, just curious if referring too Maya scripts or something else?

  • teodar23
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    teodar23 sublime tool

    If the idea is to use this exercise as a way to learn and practice something you enjoy (eg animation) then keep at it. As they say, you do you.

    If this is meant to become a game at some point i suggest you reconsider before you comit to such idea.

    Reasons being (brace yourself!):

    - it doesnt look fun to me, maybe because its not quite my type of game, nevertheless it should be fun and this doesnt look like fun. What it looks like is a generic third person from 2005. And its not just my impression, there are multiple wip games here on pc and those get more attention than this.

    - its a huge task, so yea, going solo you either have to pay to outsource some of the work (which kinda puts under question the "solo" aspect) or scale down. Scaling down depends alot on how good the idea is, ie. if the core gameplay loop is very good then the rest of the game could be somewhat barebones.

    Of course you can automate some tasks to make your life easier and take advantage of the huge library of free assets but still, this looks kinda ambitious and before comiting make sure you have a good base idea.

    Its easy to fall into the trap that if you can quickly build up a prototype, you can also make a full fledged game. The reason its easy nowadays to build a "game" is because someone else already did most of the work for you (eg the game engine). And you are doing things at speed not taking into consideration best practices and optimization. There's a saying that basically states when you're 90% done you have 90% more to go. When youre doing a prototype you do 10% thinking you did 70% or more because everything is "almost final".

    The difference between a triple A and an indie/solodev game is that of quality, most of the time. So knowing your game will lack polish and the art quality is so&so, what you are left with is the gameplay. That should be above average at least, to get any attention.

    To summarize, im not saying you shouldnt do it im only giving a heads up as someone that has multiple prototypes done but no game finished, reason being, its a different type of beast.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    @teodar23

    all valid concerns, but this is my third game. This was winner from several prototypes I did because this project is more aligned with my favorite disciplines in game dev. Also bear in mind, I've put about 3 weeks of work into this so far.

    @sacboi

    It is a lot of work but I enjoy it.

  • Fabi_G
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    Fabi_G insane polycounter

    Did you think about first person camera? Painkiller, Dark Messiah and Thief come to mind as FPS with projectile based weapons. Any gameplay aspects that make it neccessary to be a third person camera? I imagine switching has potential to reduce the amount of work: less player anims, room for fakery, less camera struggles in narrow environments, etc. Of course depends on execution and will likely introduce other challenges :D

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    To be honest @Fabi_G , I haven't really given that a proper consideration.

    The inspiration for the game started probably waaay back when I first played Morrowind. I always played archer builds (same in subsequent elder scrolls games) but I wasn't completely happy with how it worked in those games.

    Later there was Demon Souls and the rest of the Souls series and again I always enjoyed playing archer builds, but it was barely feasible in those games. I wanted to be very fast and nimble, but have that challenge of aiming a slow firing, physics based projectile without any sort of aiming aid.

    Mount and Blade offered the most compelling archery to me - the only problem I had with that game is that I really like the structure and focus of smaller, story/action focused games more than sandbox.

    So this game is the answer to that game I've been wanting for so many years. The common theme across all these games is that its always third person. Hard to nail down why but I have just always enjoyed that the most.

    So far the major downside to third person is like you mentioned, it doesn't play great in tight spaces. Of course level design can be built around that and so far I think I've been able to position things such that there isn't too much fighting with the camera, though it definitely does introduce some design restrictions.

    My major beef with first person I think it that it seems very impersonal. Like, you lose touch with the character and then I feel like there is a subtle shift in way you experience the game. Its more about you versus the situation, whereas if we see a character dodging and sprinting and mightily pulling the bow, it seems to make me think more about the character versus the situation. More like when you read a book and them empathize with the characters, versus reading some dry history that just says what things happened. If that makes any sense.

    Also, to be blunt, I feel that a strong female character adds sex appeal, which is surface level but probably the biggest selling point can be added to a game for the most likely audience. Aside from that, female heros seem to be popular right now, however I feel they are usually done poorly. "Mary Janes" and such. So I wanted to make one that was what I consider a proper hero.

    I've emplaced some code to detect directional changes. From that the next step is to have some animations which trigger so that the character will make foot plants and such to help make it feel more realistic and modern. And even though this will slow down turning, I think it will make controller feel more agile. I'm pretty sure that should work but if its a huge hassle I'll look into using Motion Symphony which will simplify things a lot - only reason not to is because I'm trying not to spend any money until at least vertical slice is done.

    I'm also going to experiment with some root motion dodges. I don't want to have a dedicated dodge button (like souls games) if I can avoid it, but I have an idea where if we are moving at top speed and have a sudden direction change, it could automatically perform dodge in direction before changing orientation. Sort of like a football (american) player doing juke manuevers but traveling in same direction. I am not sure if this will work or not so its an experiment.

    Reason I want to avoid extra buttons is because I want to keep the challenge pure and simple - like old school mario, anybody should be able to pick it up and understand how to play in 3 minutes and from there it's just seeing how far you can go using those same core skills against ever increasing challenges. That's not to say I'm against adding a dedicated dodge, but it does open can of worms so I avoid it if possible. Anyway, that's a tangent.

  • Fabi_G
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    Fabi_G insane polycounter

    Ah yes, good if such a project aligns with ones interests. Forgot you also wrote that you're interested in animations. Based on my own (small) experiments, I just worry when much weight is on visual/non-gameplay features - will the whole thing die if they can't be realised within budget? But I suppose that's also game development in general: hard to execute a plan start to finish, at some points re-evaluation and as a result from that redirection is necessary.

    On the animations: I think the running animations and/or transition to aiming in the last video looked a bit awkward, wip status surely plays into that a fair amount too. Could be in part due the sudden turning of the character between walk/run direction to look direction when aiming. Maybe the option to walk/run (slower) while aiming would make it feel different. Image player going backwards while aiming forward at the enemies towards them. Watching some videos of people doing running/waking archery might give some ideas on possible state.

    Got curious about other third-person games with archery combat 🤓 AAA examples I could think of are Horizon games and newer Tomb Raider games. An UE3 game that had some archery-third-person-combat elements was "Hunted: the Demon Forge": B-movie vibes, bit repetive, but interesting for a short time. Results of a steam search with the tags archery + indie + third person, I thought looked interesting, although quite different to your project, were "The Pathless", stylized, reminded me of Shadows of the Colossus and "Project Sparrow", a competive PvP arena shooter built around the paragon character. Overall very few games using those tags.

    Looking forward to see how it continues. Keep it up!

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    @Fabi_G Yeah for now I only use minimum time to block in the animations and not doing any polish. There are no transitions at all so its a bit janky. But playing feels smooth and responsive so getting animations to fit will just be a process of iteration. But its only a single main character and I don't have any special abilities or anything beyond basic locomotion and the the two weapon types, so I'll have plenty of ability to just keep refining it over the course of development. For now, I mainly focus on getting everything (both code and art) to have some basic placeholder in, before I go into detail at any one area.

    As for project budget, I just try to get it finished in ~1 years time, and I do all the work myself. I don't have to sell the game to pay mortgage so there is no stress about that - but of course the goal is to make a game that people are willing to buy and tell their friends about. There is too much involved with making the entire game that I pretty much don't think too much beyond the design of it and technical problems. I just trust that if its a game that I thoroughly enjoy playing, enough others will so long as they can find it. That's reason why I want to get a vertical slice done first - not because I seek publisher help, but just so that I can start showing off something interesting as soon as possible.

    I would like to hire a musician at some point though I wont think about money until I have something proper to show off. Then it will be easier to get help if necessary.

    Today I've done a little work towards getting my own model in for one of the enemies. This is to be the Melee Satyr (in the videos, its the huge one that rushes you):

    First time I've opened zbrush in well over a year. Thankfully not much has changed so I was able to get around.

    I am only worried about the basic shape at this point - the sculpt is a bit blobby and unrefined but its a good chance that I play quite a bit with this guys shape. One thing I've learned is that its pretty much pointless to evaluate teh model in zbrush or maya or marmoset - anywhere other than animating in the game engine and seen from players perspective. It can just be so much different from that unique perspective. So I try to just whiz through a basic sculpt, I won't even retopo it for now - just get a quick rig and some basic animations going and start fighting the enemy in the game. Then it will be easier to figure out what it really needs to look like.

    Aside from his shape though is how he moved. I have an idea that he runs kind of chimp like, and then makes a loooong leap for his attack, so the stubby goat legs and long ape arms I think should play into that. But we'll see!

    This enemy will probably get pretty long fur cards around his beard and neck. Sort of like a big cape. I want it to look pretty wild and beastlike since it will be a slightly rare and dangerous enemy.

    The concept I'm going pretty much directly off of is this:

    Though I feel it's a bit darker than I will likely prefer, so I'll end up tweaking a bit. This guy also looks majorly dangerous, but there will be a more powerful miniboss in the level (minotaur), so I don't want him to look like he's the baddest dude. Probably the size and shape of horns is the biggest thing that makes it look badass, so I may scale those down.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    I've got two variants of the satyr blocked in. Keep in mind this is preproduction type of work - in addition to exploring basic theme and style for art, I am also developing the overall assembly line.

    I decided to add an additional satyr variant. I had a skirmisher and a charger, but I decided to add an archer as well. Reason is because I was going to have a female variant just for variety, but I figured if I was gonna bother making an additional model it should introduce something unique to the game. The way I've setup the enemy AI code will make it easy to get some archer behavior that is slightly different from skirmisher behavior, without having to do a lot except for change some data entry. So I figure why not give it a go and see if it adds any fun.

    As you can see I've done some quick texturing. Pretty much just toss on some smart materials and paint a mask. I just want to start developing a feel for colors. Right off the bat I feel that we may want some hue variations because I think many people will find it hard to pick out enemies that blend in so well with the background.

    The darker satyr is the heavier variety that rushes for melee attack. It is about 25% larger than the main character, however I found that in its four legged run position it feels quite small. But I won't change anything yet, because it is meant to have an epic mane and cape of fur, so that could make the difference.

    The female is to be an archer, which will move less than the javelin-tossing skirmishers but have more range, plus arrows fly faster than javelins so it's shorter window to dodge. So just a little twist on how you have to engage with them. I decided to model her a little after something like a pronghorn deer - perhaps rather than running, she makes big bounds and jumps up in the air when you shoot her (check out some hunting footage if you don't know what I mean).

    The gold disc is just place holder so that its not furry porn. Something like a kardiophylax for now. I am not sure what sort of clothing or armor the satyrs might have, I haven't thought too deeply into enemy lore. I am also just reusing the same hair from paragon that main character has, though I think it will look best to have the hair match the leg fur. Right now it just looks like an indian woman wearing animal print leggings, but it should look like a wild animal that has some human semblance.

    I'm jotting down notes as I go for things that will be needed so that each department will have a master checklist. For instance, I'll either use fins and shells technique for the furry legs, or maybe just fur cards. I expect fur cards may be more simple, because a fins and shells or maybe a parallax fur would need to be masked from the skin - that's all material graph stuff which I am not very familiar with. Whereas just placing fur cards and letting them have a separate material is straightforward. But for now I only focus on identifying needs, not digging into the details.


    I added a tail to the female - not sure why. I think I'll chop it off. It makes me feel too much like its a furry game. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I just don't want to confuse anybody. The other satyrs won't have tails though so not sure it makes sense for one but not the others. Big decisions!

    Next up will be animations for the satyr archer, and then model + animations for the final satyr type - the skirmisher. Once all those are plugged in I will probably take the first pass at level geometry after a few rounds of play testing.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    • Integrated two new satyrs.
    • added combat movement (crawl, duck, dive) to help in dealing with enemy archers.
    I couldn't find any reference for the dive animation so just made it up from memory of army times. It's fine for now, makes the gameplay work how I want. Naturally, most of these animations need transitions from one state to another, but I'll consider that a polish phase thing to do since its only visual .

    I'm not excited enough about the basic zombie enemy to make custom model and animations for that. need change of pace so I'll get started on replacing some of the level geometry. Probably will poke at cleaning up some enemy AI bugs here and there as I go. For the most part they are not bad though, just occassionally getting stuck but that's more of an issue with level geometry than code.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Okay last time I posted my next plan on the agenda was to start refining the level geometry. However, I realized that I didn't feel confident enough about some of the gameplay to be ready to commit to making art. The ranged vs ranged combat I felt was pretty solid, but fighting pure melee enemies left a bit to be desired. Its no fun if you just run backwards and shoot. So what can I do to make that more fun? Well, I've done a few things that I think work pretty well, but I'm still working on it a bit further so will talk about that in future.

    In process I ended up reworking all of the enemy AI code over a few times... wasn't just about the gameplay, I'm also trying to settle in on framework for the AI. It doesn't need to be great code, just organized enough that I can easily debug and extend it without a big headache. Anyway, I feel that the gameplay is starting to get to where I imagined it, and I am having an absolute blast with it. The additional dive, crawl, duck animations add a lot.

    There is much to do still, as you can see it is quite rough looking, but I feel the fun factor is getting there. Its not going to be a game for all people by any means. It's quite challenging. But I do have some difficulty settings worked into the mix already. I've made it such that difficult effects aggression, speed, and accuracy of enemies, but never healthbars. Basically it plays the same no matter the difficulty, you just have to be nearly perfect to survive on the higher ones.

    I've tried to capture the terror and excitement of a close range firefight. A few design ideas I'm kind of forming are like:
    - No safe spaces. Player should never be able to hole up in a corner and play peekabo and just exploit typical video game AI behavior
    - Every method of movement should be necessary to use, feel good to use it
    - within arenas, should not hit any dead ends. in other words, level knowledge shouldnt be necessary to survive. like, should be no hyper-advantageous spots. Should be possible to be surrounded anywhere but also always have some escape. That way you can always move and feel like you have a chance, but also always in danger.
    - every enemy kill should feel like big accomplishment
    - replays should be fun all of their own, no progression mechanics necessary (of course I intend to have upgrades, secrets, and such, but just trying to master each arena should be a satisfying journey on its own)

    So those ideas help me figure out how to tune animations further, and especially will drive the environment designs. That's major reason I didn't wanna get into it too soon - I am not 100% certain how exactly the levels should play out. Arena to arena, narrow corriders, lots of cover, long sight lines, etc etc.

    I'm also eager to design the characters a bit further as I am feeling pretty confident about at least of a few of them. Simply by playtesting against them I am getting a strong feel what they should look like, how many variations are needed, and so on.

    I think being solo-dev I should focus on just a few enemy types with broad usage. I found that by just tweaking behavior of the Satyr Archer slightly so that when you get close she has a 50/50 chance to either retreat or charge, that makes her way more interesting to fight and also reduces need to have other dedicated charger types. Just by random chance sometimes you get one who gets stuck in a cycle of charging you and it becomes a real problem. So then when you go into the fight you have incentive to really control and dominate the arena. If you let things get out of hand its a quick death. I feel it hits a good spot where replays are welcome and not frustrating, despite the difficulty.

    Some playtesting footage:

    Not sure what you will see next... Getting to where all the things to do don't feel like foundation blocks, so I'm a bit hesitant... don't want to go too fast, and realize I forgot something important, lol. Probably work on characters and animations a bit further if can't identify any other higher priority needs.



  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Was looking at some ways I might improve the character model and I started looking at metahumans, and then spent some hours figuring out a workflow how I can get the parts I want from it to improve realism, but get rid of the extraneous resources and complexity... what a rabbit hole. I started to think, "this is the opposite of what I need to be doing. Half a day spent with nothing to show. That's not the kind of days I like to have!

    So swing in the other direction and I start to ask, okay how can I make it so that authoring art is really simple and requires minimal resources? Cause I am just a lonely developer, I am not super technical, so I don't want to make something that requires deep tech to keep it running well.

    Regarding enviro art, I had a notion like what if it's high-ish polygon models that use nanite, and for texture just a single color texture, and it doesn't even need to be high resolution? Cause thats where the project gets bloated, from textures.

    First thing to try is grab whatever free or cheap post process things were available on marketplace. I dabbled with a few painterly effects that I think looked beautiful, but it makes the game look too abstract and a bit hard to read, especially when going fast.

    I tried a number of outliner shaders, toon styles... wasn't quite convinced though I could tell its a good direction because it accomplishes goal of simplifying the overall rendering pipeline and resources to support it, it takes what looks like C - grade realistic art to something a few degrees closer to looking like a legit game with basically no effort, and it also makes the game more readable - like seeing arrows fly and spotting enemies is just easier on the eyes. So lots of pluses.

    But pretty much every shader I found on marketplace doesn't really work for complicated scene, or naturally includes many things I don't want and not everything I do. So I took some time to follow a few tutorials and learn a bit about post process materials, and ended up making a few. Thankfully there is some amazing teachers on youtube because trying to think in math is like pulling teeth for me.

    The materials I made from tutorial are:
    - outliner - from scene depth and world normals
    - hatching effect which replaces shadows/occlusion

    To these I added a simple scene depth fog which also slightly desaturates based on distance. I found that the scene looked a bit flat so this very subtle touch of realism seems to help with that.

    I added some lerp between tiling amount of the cross-hatch shading based on distance as well. The problem is that larger hatches look nice on walls, but not on the character. This solution works ok, but it needs some more robust blending, or perhaps I should look into being able to mask out characters, and apply a separate solution for them since I want to keep them more legible.


    Development speed is priority right now so my initial idea is just a few basic shapes for walls, doors, etc, grab a displacement map from quixel and convert to geo in zbrush. Decimate as far as possible and then nanite can take care of the rest. Since most the things are noisy organics and we don't have a full range of lighting and microsurface to show every flaw, I think this should work out okay.  I've test a few cubes but will build actual stuff in coming days.

    post process distance fog and desaturation compared to without:
    they both look fine, I do like the comic book feel of without, however when moving throughout the world it feels a bit flat and seems a little of the wrong tone
  • zetheros
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    zetheros polycounter
    shader looks kinda jank, maybe take a look at Genshin or Honkai Impact. I think it looked better without the shader, and decimated zbrush models are terrible for actual in-game assets.

    Art is always never simple, because it doesn't matter if you're doing pixel art or PBR - there are methods of increasing the fidelity of both, and the bar never stops lifting. You'll just have to decide what artstyle you prefer, and when it's 'good enough'.

    I think something that would be beneficial at this stage of your game is to write a master document of your game and establish good workflows for assets and programming that can be improved upon over time. Development speed is not necessary since you're indie and not subject to the whims of a publisher or investors; take a breather, step back, and organize your thoughts and priorities. It's very easy to get overwhelmed while working on a project like this solo.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    I've done that already - the planning. What you've described is kind of where I am right now - developing the assembly line by conducting research and doing experiments. Along with that I am also iterating on game design, starting from the master plan and trying to verify that all of it makes sense in practice. The first goal is to realize what was originally planned, and from there either change it if needed, or just polish it if its good. So far I've felt that the original vision is holding up to how I thought it would, which is awesome!

    I just keep my write ups simple here and just focus the little uncertainties that spring up, but every detail about the game is clear and has been iterated on with paper planning pretty extensively. But there is only so far that can go before its just spinning wheels.

     Why I favor speed at this point is because I aim to test out my ideas and answer the unknowns. Many things change once there is actual gameplay to deal with, compared to paper planning.

    I took a look at those games and they indeed look fantastic. That is quite a different style though and not one I think I could do. It is a legit art style requiring people specialized in that style. I am more of a "pretty okay at realistic 3d guy" but seeking ways to simplify things down a bit. I also think that it is important to look at and learn from the best in the biz, but I am a solo developer so you are right, I have to be ready to use the "good enough" stamp much sooner than a large team full of specialist. In general, I try to aim for a workflow and style that allows me to create one rigged character in a day, and basic animations in another. That's just for an initial pass, but ideally with just a few more passes the characters would be considered finished.

    I did some testing with the "displacement to polygons" workflow to generate high poly models and it looks pretty good, however flexibility is lost, so I will save it for final art pass. What I mean is, once you convert something like a brick wall to geo, now it can only work with that material. So for I keep just flat shapes so that I can mix and match materials at whim in engine - then finally once I've settled on what looks best, I can convert to high-poly meshes as needed. That would most likely only be close to camera stuff, as once you are like 10m+ away its not even noticeable.

    I disagree about speed not being important - there isn't infinite time and as a solo developer the major issue is getting too spread out which causes fatigue. So when I talk about speed it's not about racing to the finish line, but rather being super strict about prioritization so that I mitigate the amount of work that has to be redone or scrapped entirely. So I try to be super clear each day about what is the important question that I am working on answering currently, and is the work that I am doing going to answer it? So even though I might want to go a little further to make some art look nice, I know that with important gameplay questions still unanswered, it wouldn't be good to do that because there is still a high chance that I'll end up with something that won't be used.


    About the shader and general art style, do you have any suggestions? By jank, do you mean that it reads too busy, or just looks unrefined? Something else? Something you think might fit better with a game like this? I've felt that it shouldn't be too toony because it's a pretty hardcore game - like right now I'd consider it to be above Souls games in terms of how much attention it requires. I'll likely make it more accessible than that but I do intend for it to be a game that has that sense of severity to it even on easier difficulties.

    I do think that the general comic book style could kind of work because it is not unlike super hero comics in terms of story. Basically we have a hero who is fighting evil and that is all the depth to it - no under or overtones - just about the characters facing danger. So something like a little bit more realistic comic book style I think makes sense?

    I was happy enough with realistic style as well - especially in cases with fog, smoke, lots of atmosphere, and then sometimes the enemies appear from it, or are obscured. It can feel quite intense and badass that way too.

    Would love to hear any additional thoughts about general art direction - now is the time where I am focused on experimenting with that and I am not 100% settled on anything so far.


    edit: one thing I noticed in Genshin is that the outline only seems to apply to characters, but not the environment. This seems to help with readability and makes it look cleaner. That is something I could test pretty easily so I'll do that soon.


    Update: Here I've masked out just the characters to recieve a thin outline. It improves readability and I think bring focus onto the silhouette a bit more, which I think makes it more attractive. Then for the environment, I enabled a Kuwahara filter which just adds a little bit of painterly feel. I really like that a lot and it would make authoring some assets a bit easier, as you don't have to deal with anything very high resolution - it feels a little more abstract.

    I think the greatest benefit of the outline is that it helps make faces more readable from a distance. I have to edit the main characters face and especially the eyes to make it work with the shader but you might already be able to see the benefit there.

    Keep in mind nearly all environment art is placeholder, so you have to imagine art that is a little more tailormade to work with the style (you'll see a start on that in next update)cted:

     
    Update 2:
    Another style to compare with. Here it is character outline + painterly filter + 6 tone cell shader. I kind of like this a lot! It is very easy to read and I think makes the foliage look beautiful in particular.



  • Fabi_G
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    Fabi_G insane polycounter
    I like your latest experiment with the style much better than the one before, less noisy. I believe if the level assets have less high frequency everywhere and instead some resting areas, that might further improve the look. 

    Some thoughts on the last video: The player always stopping while aiming and shooting and the slow recovery after a dodge break the pacing a bit. Would look cool if she makes a sidestep while aiming to dodge a projectile. I think having the action look fluent to someone just watching would be great to generate interest.
    I also think the enemy archers jump too much (too high?), so it looks a bit comical. I would expect creatures like that to have a bouncy step but use jumping just to get over obstacles. Maybe they shoot, then change position (to get in the players back?), sort of like a sharp shooter.

    Keep it up!
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    Thanks for feedback. I think I agree with all of it. Looks like the level geo will have me busy for awhile but eventually I'll be rehashing the characters and animations a bit.

    I'm planning on having a reward to improve the dive so that you do an immediate recovery so you maintain momentum the whole time. Hadn't thought about a sidestep while aiming but i can see how that could work. I do want for movement to break aiming because it changes strategy a ton but a snappy recovery would definitely look a lot nicer and make character feel more badass. I just don't want it to feel like a shooter with corner peep shooting as primary tactic.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Okay, a little bit of headway has been made for the level geometry. I have done a bit of enviro art before but not at a scale like this. So I had to do a bit of experimentation to figure out how I'm gonna handle this all.

    The first big question is, "what do I actually need?" That stymied me for awhile so I decided to just get some paint on canvas and work things out from there. So I just put aside workflow concerns and just got to modeling. I made a couple of public buildings like we might find in the Agora:


    Just model them in the fastest, simplest way that I know. I put into unreal and try to get a handle on scale of things. What are the largest units that could be used to generate a variety of buildings like this? In other words, find the greatest common denominators.

    One thing is that these are in-tact buildings, but most of my buildings will be at least partially destroyed. So with that in mind, much of the largest my compositional pieces are actually true to real life - that is, individual stone blocks.

    From these I can create larger compositions. Blocks into walls, and then walls into buildings. But then I should also be able to "deconstruct" them pretty easily. In Maya I am constructing those compositions (like the wall) from instances of blocks. This way I can update the geometry or UV's later without needing to rebuild the entire thing. Can just convert from instance to object before export. It also keeps maya running faster.
    For now all the individual unit pieces are in-tact but I'll create a few variations of each, some of the variations being damaged.

    Much later I could convert things like these walls to a single mesh by baking it down, however I am not sure that would be any benefit or not. Less geometry but it would make for a lot more materials and make workflow more complex. But it's non-destructive thing I can simply try out later.

    A few more unique meshes as well. Will need some statues but I'll buy those. Would take ages to sculpt and there is plethora of nice scans for ancient statues already:




    I plan on building the buildings in Maya because I dislike the editor selection and snapping tools in Unreal comparatively. I may go as far as actually laying out the level in maya as well. It is possible to export entire scene as a single fbx and then have unreal break it apart into individual static meshes. This way layout can be made in maya much easier, but in unreal we can still tweak final position of individual meshes (and of course for culling and such to work it shouldn't be a single mesh).


    Trying to be minimal with materials - for instance each of the blocks faces can be moved around a texture like this:


    Or it can just rotated. This way get a lot of variety but its all from same material. The resolution is low like this but it seems like it may be okay given this art style. Of course some custom textures can be made so that resolution can be more optimal and efficient if needed but this works for now. Another thing that could be done is atlas more material types together. For instance, wood and another type of stone could make up the unused portions of this texture seen above.

    Well it took some time to get the ball rolling on this but now it looks like everything is squared away so I can dive into actually producing some shit.

    one additional thing I learned: You can convert displacement to geo in marmoset toolbag, which is much simpler process compared to either zbrush or maya. I won't be doing this now but if I eventually convert level geometry to high poly that is the best way I've found to do so. It's just a bit hidden in toolbag, there isn't a named tool for it. You just subdivide the mesh, apply displacement in the shader, and then if you export that the displacement is applied to the mesh.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Okay I haven't reached next milestone but learned quite a bit in last week.

    Initially I was turned off by Unreals viewport tools so decided to do level blockout in maya instead. It is definitely feels a lot faster because you have many QOL things like isolate select, invert selections, full suite of modeling tools, component selections, layers, a billion ways to snap, MMB movement without needing to select manipulators, etc etc. Just really easy to get around compared to Unreal which has bare minimum comparatively.

    But there are a few reasons why blockout in DCC left me feeling uncomfortable. You don't get immediate confirmation what changes look like exactly as the player would see. You can export pretty quick and double check but having immediate feedback is nice. Another problem is that with complete modeling power ready to go, it is very easy to start over-detailing.

    So I did a ton of back and forth, but each way has big pros and cons that make me immediately want to change workflows. I need to get a method down and stop wasting time!

    I know that pro level artist tend to work within Unreal - I figured maybe they just don't know any better? But more likely it's something that I don't know. So I bought a complete enviro art course from Thiago Klafke which I can highly recommend:

    Very nicely breaks the process down into stages with a clear goal for each stage. It is production focused, not portfolio, so I appreciated that. He shows full process of actually doing the work in each stage so plenty of tips for working faster in Unreal. Those are exactly two things I needed: a clear methodology so that I can know what the major steps are and when do I know they are accomplished, and then tips for how to work the Unreal way so workflow isn't too tedious.

    Thiago does a great job giving clear instructions what the goal of each stage is, how to avoid common problems, and how to breakdown a large project to make it more manageable. It is really the same principles as if you were drawing a head or sculpting a body - but it helps a lot to see in action within different discipline.

    So I had a basic level for Athens blocked out already. From that I determined the enemy encounters that I wanted - roughly how they should play and be metered out. I wanted to mix up the level a bit though. All of the other maps in this game will be pure make-believe, but this one is set in Athens, so I felt like having it at least vaguely match real world layout would be good. Historical accuracy is not important whatsoever here but but at least a few of the major landmarks in relation to each other I think is worthwhile just for a sense of authenticity.

    It's hard to know where to start, so I just block in the major borders, major landmarks, and then the biggest buildings. First I am only trying to block in the gameplay area. I drew out quite a few alternate paths - most will be blocked off however I'll keep my options open until I find the best gameplay for each encounter.

    I will try to get one zone blocked out per day. Today I managed like 1.5. Some zones are larger than others, but we get more repeating elements to reuse so it should go faster and faster.

    The major zones are:
    • Entry area - impressive guantlet with larger statues, but they've all been destroyed. For destruction I am using Pulldownit in maya, but for now I only place some placeholder statue models along path.
    • Agora - largest area, once a lively market, now desolate, completely destroyed. A big archer battle happens here, so it will be pretty open but the crap all over ground is sometimes piled high enough you can dive behind it for cover.
    • Fancy area - behind the Agora is a a fancy garden / bath + a destroyed temple where miniboss resides.
    • Streets - More grim and bloody, full of dead bodies and zombie-like soldiers. the main path goes through labyrinth like streets
    • Boulevard - beneath the acropolis, main road that is littered with smashed monuments - ranged harpies attack here.
    • Acropolis - boss fight happens here
    About 1.5 out of 6 major zones blocked in (not counting non-playable areas as zone)
    The main way I am blocking paths is to have a pulled down building. I did some test with Pulldownit plugin in maya to see how I can create the actual models and it is really easy. Just shatter a model, do a quick physics sim for where it should lay - finished. For now I just make a pile in unreal though to indicate the spots.
    I'm imagining Athens in earlier days than typically portrayed in media. Many of the famous buildings wont have been made yet - some are under construction. Here some public building in agora was under construction. My plan is that most of these large buildings can be derived as instances from just a few static meshes. A couple column pieces, a few different sized marble blocks... should be very efficient for loading the scene despite it being relatively big and open.

    My plan is to get the blockout complete and then refine it for gameplay. To complete that 100% I'll have to build a couple new enemies, so it will actually be awhile before I refine the blockout. I feel confident that it will not majorly change and even if the layout is slightly different, I am still almost certainly using the same elements (like columns, marble blocks, etc), however... since this is my first time building a level like this and it's a large scope, I think it's better to be extra cautious and make sure I get the gameplay nailed down before committing so much time into art.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    A few things to share that I've learned about level design:

    The first question I've tried to answer is workflow. How will I actually make the levels? As a solo developer I have to find every little trick to cut corners however possible while still meeting my desired quality. So it took some experimentation but I think I've got a well oiled machine ready to go.

    I decided to get some expert advice and bought a tutorial (link to that in previous post) which was great and taught me everything I need to know to do a level blockout in Unreal. But after spending a couple days working like that, I still felt unsatisfied with the workflow. Did not feel fast enough or offer enough flexibility.

    So I revisited original hunch that I should do the work in Maya. The question is then, how can I solve the problems with the DCC level blockout workflow? Mainly that is not having immediate sense of scale and players perspective.

    Maya does have a "walk tool" that allows WASD navigation, and then you can just place many human scale references throughout. That is still a bit abstract but it does at least allow you to know for certain that you aren't totally out of whack.

    The other thing is just to be disciplined about sending work over to unreal each time something new is built and doing a quick play test. Honestly this seems completely fine, and the speed boost of using maya for layout compared to unreal I think is well worth it. I did a time comparison of blocking out one section in unreal versus maya and I was nearly five times faster in maya. Plus it is trivial for me to make any type of modifications - large or small - in Maya, whereas in unreal it just isn't possible in a lot of cases, or if it is it requires a ton more clicking.

    So I've got about 75% of blockout done but as is natural during development, many things have changed since my original plan for the level. New questions arise and I find it difficult to answer them because it's been too long since I did inventory, so to speak. For instance, I have a checklist for what the main beats are, but a question like, "should the encounter with charger enemy type happen in this street, or that one?" can slow down progress.One way to answer such questions is to just look things over and go with your best hunch, and then later after much play testing we will weed out the bad decisions and then work on replacing them... but I feel like it's probably possible to setup a good template to work from so that these decisions can be made more accurately the first time.

    Basically when making a decision, I want to make sure that I always have all relevant data ready for easy review. This way I don't forget something important. So a template to follow which defines each beat of the level should help accomplish that. And then how will I know that the template is working towards the goal of making it faster to make faster and more accurate decisions?  Basically after a decision has been made, there is a feeling a confidence when you know that you considered all angles, whereas if you know something may have possibly been missed, that can erode confidence and cause anxieties. Makes it hard to stay focused if too many decisions are made that way!

    When initially laying out the level it's just kind of chaos of juggling a bunch of different considerations and then just slapping some paint onto the canvas. I know that there are some broad goals for the level, key things we want to clue the player onto at certain times, key lessons we want to teach the player, times we want them to have a break or some easy victories, etc etc. But once that initial layer is taken care of and I am looking at a second pass, I take a look at each beat and ask, "okay, given the goals for the level and for this beat, are they satisfied in optimal way with this layout?"

    Don't want to spend too much time on these sorts of micro-decisions because there are too many to make. But they are important so don't want to trivialize them either.

    One example is, "do i introduce harpy (ranged airborne enemy, very dangerous and difficult to defeat) in arena 3, or 4?
    There's a lot of things to consider - pacing encompasses a lot of things like where average players attention span is at this point, are they up for a fresh challenge or they need a break, have they developed prereq skills by now or not, have they faced previous enemies enough to feel some confidence or are they desperate, etc etc.
    There are artistic considerations as well. Ideally each beat takes place in an environment that frames it appropriately, and sight lines help to frame the long and short term goals when appropriate.

    Well anyway, mostly stuff that takes a billion words to describe but probably most art oriented people already know intuitively. So here is the template I am working on:


    Games are different from novels but I still think Dwight Swains Motivation Reaction Units are a helpful way to think about each beat. A nice summary of that here:

    It doesn't always fit each beat perfectly but I think it still gets you to ask the right questions and ensure that each beat rolls naturally to the next and the question of player engagement should at least always have a theoretical answer. Of course play testing is needed to confirm.

    Okay in next update I hope to have level blockout 100% complete and begin testing it thoroughly.




  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Here is a big workflow decision that is going to take some testing to figure out.

    There are two main ways I can import level geometry meshes into the project. I can export an entire building from Maya and then Unreal will consider that a single static mesh. It may share materials with other buildings, but if BuildingA and BuildingB are both largely composed of BlockA and Column C, there is no benefit from instancing.

    So the question is, how big would the benefit of instancing be? Would it make any difference, or enough to warrant a more complicated workflow? Because importing models to preserve instances is quite a bit slower... certainly at a level blockout stage it is not worth the hassle, but if the optimization is needed, it will be easier to import models this way from the beginning.

    To answer this question I'll just have to compare one scene versus another. I have done a small scale test of one static mesh instanced thousands of times, versus same static mesh batched into larger actors and duplicated - there was no performance difference. However, it seems that the major benefit of instancing would be if there were many types of buildings, and then unreal views them just as instances of the same few components (like buildingA and buildingB are just seen as many instances of ColumnC and BlockB).

    It is going to be double work to setup level with both styles, however I think it is worth figuring out for this first level because then for future levels I can just use the best workflow. If the instancing doesn't make enough of a difference to matter, then I can go with the much faster and simpler workflow.

    So far the recommendation from forum responders is that instancing is generally better, but most examples pointed to are going to extremes - like unreals matrix city demo, or AAA titles.These are the guys to look to for best practices, however I might not be going anywhere near the extremes they are, so such optimizations might just require more time from me but not have big payoff. So it's worth testing out to find if there is a corner I can reasonably cut or not.

    Another important distinction is that all of those examples involve level streaming, which I aim to avoid simply by having smaller levels with a lot of switchbacks to make maximum use of space. In other words, I should only load things once at the beginning of the level and not have to worry about things streaming in during play.

    Example here is the Parthenon Building:

    In Maya this is mostly composed of many repeating instances. I just export that with Preserve Instances ticked in export settings

    In Unreal use Import Into Level:


    Set is as a "Level Actor" and all the instances are preserved. Then they all can be Batched into an actor here:

    and finally that actor can be turned into a reuseable blueprint.

    This is not awful but it requires a lot more thought going into organization and also there is usually some hijinks with the batcher. So you end up spending a couple hours troubleshooting instead of churning out art. If it turns out that the optimization is worth it, then I probably look into writing a tool to handle all of this.

    This is a bit thinking ahead - blockout is not 100% finished but it is very monotonous so needed to shift mind elsewhere for a break. Should plan on setting up the level art in the quicker way first - each building as unique static mesh - so that gameplay and art direction can be achieved first. Setting up the more complicated instance pipeline can happen after, but before any work on future levels is done.


  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Small progress update:

    General project management:
    Spent a day and a half preparing on boarding material for a music guy. I was lucky enough to snag a guy who is doing a final project for his college and needed a game project to contribute to.

    Preparing info forced me to have to think about how can I breakdown project into very broad themes, try to be accurate and descriptive but concise enough to not overwhelm. In my initial planning I do a bit of this kind of thing, like write out one sentence summary - basic marketing shit like that - but I tend to gloss it over because I don't need to sell the game to myself and the big theme is clear in my mind. But it's probably a good thing to actually write it all out and iterate on the language I use because will have to do this later for marketing. It seems that thinking about the game experience from music perspective is also beneficial when shifting angles and thinking about the visual side of things to.

    It's also a good chance to zoom out and reevaluate everything at high level. Since initial planning, is what I've developed so far still all pointing towards the target? Sure enough, some little corners of project have become outdated so it's good to clean those up. For instance, it is not necessarily a story-driven game but I always want for there to be a clear macro-objective to provide external motivation. As level layout changes, some of the story beats no longer works in ideal way, so just making a few changes in the running screenplay is necessary. I think it's a good indication if changes in level design can make for story changes that make it simpler - more clear objectives, more easily understood character motivations, and more dramatic confrontations - that things are shaping up into more cohesive experience.

    Workflow:
    Still working on blockout. Should be ready for testing in a few more days. It was getting tedious so took two days to do a little work confirming workflow for the next step after it - level geometry. Looks that setting up buildings via instancing in maya and then just import into unreal so that instances are preserved is going to be both the fastest workflow and also give best performance / smallest size for the game. Because pretty much everything boils down to just a few marble blocks of various dimensions and a handlful of other items. Tons of reuse is possible because limited materials and methods used to build at the time.


    Blockout progress:
    Agora area lacks all the destroyed market vendors but the major landmarks and boundaries are in place. I'll need to do cloth simulations so I'm just saving it for a day on it's own.

    Acropolis also has the big landmarks and boundaries in place. A giant statue of Athena will be toppled and her sad busted head will greet our hero after she enters through the Propylaea (seen ahead). I believe the historically accurate statue was bronze but I want her head to be broken off, so she will be stone. Bronze, I imagine, upon falling, would bend / smoosh.

    I will make a prefab out of generic buildings like this and place some locators along the roofs. The flying harpies will seek those locations as landing points. Missed shots will be painful because no way to retrieve arrow though, so I'll consider these to be high difficulty and have to pace it out carefully.

    Going to rework this area a bit but the basic shape is good enough for gameplay testing. Will be much larger temple up there and the stairway will be blocked with destroyed columns / statues. Minotaur tearing place up, go kill him is optional miniboss. The fight takes place in a fancy public bath / garden area so I am working on a few layouts to hopefully make it look awesome and also try to develop some nice rhythm in the way player will have to evade the monster. Also considering adding a jump so that you could hop on broken pillars to get across pool without slowdown.

    Within first ten seconds of level you are presented with choice - go left or right. I am using destroyed bridge as a one way only point-of-no-return. It took a surprising amount of thought to come up with some way to gate players movement in a way that doesn't feel contrived or require a bunch of unique animation or code. Basically you can hop down but not climb back the other way. Same deal with some crumbled buildings in other parts of the level.  This should suggest to players that it's expected to go through things a few times.

    I am using pulldownit plugin for maya to fracture buildings and do simulation so the bits pile up nicely without me having to place individually. It involves a bit of waiting though and also I want to make sure the destroyed bits are all instanced as much as possible, so I have to save it for once my modular kit is pretty well decided upon.

    The original Parthenon. This has little bit more than blockout geometry because i used it to test the instancing workflow. Right now it is composed of like a dozen different static meshes being instanced. The friezes I will see about doing a displacement-to-geo on so they look like actual sculpture. Nanite should help a lot with that but for the most part this entire thing should be pretty low poly since it's just made of basic shapes. Rectangles and columns.
    Doesn't seem that hi poly stuff matters too much with nanite but it still slows down work quite a bit when passing between programs so anything that will be higher resolution I'll save for a finishing pass.

    to the right of the original parthenon, the newer parthenon (the one that exist today) will be under construction. I will give it a partial roof because that is how you'll kill the boss. (crush him). It will also be the only spot up here where you have any cover to weave through to get distance from the monster. I consider swapping positions just so that it's a little more prominent and obvious, but we'll see.





  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    Got the biggest forms of the level blockout done. That is major landmarks, boundaries, and space for all of the major engagements to happen.

         Now I am beginning to go into each of the major "zones" and refine a bit further. I am not developing a modular kit yet because the type of architecture and how much variety I may need is still pretty unknown. I just make entire buildings in maya and do the placement there as well, then just export groups of them to unreal. This is just for speed. I am naturally finding often reused pieces that will no doubt become the modular kit that I eventually use, but I am keeping focus on developing gameplay space for now and not directly focusing on the technical workflow aspects. There is a few ways that I can take the gameplay and I need to test them all - it seems that it will have some effect on what sort of architecture I should create.

         I've begun with the zone I am calling "streets" which is the easier path you can take.
    The layout is unappealing at the moment, I've just dropped some buildings in kind of randomly. The idea that I am playing with is for gameplay area to be built in voronoi pattern, where buildings create the cell borders and gameplay space within is mostly empty, or has some minor cover/obstacles. Imagine each cell has one gate to neighbor so that you never hit any dead ends - you can always keep moving and intuitively maneuver around enemies. But some incentive to not move through too fast because if you aggro enemies they'll continue to chase throughout whole level, so it's good to clear cells carefully and strategically when possible. Basically the big idea is how can I get the player to play in ideal way without using any contrived methods to manage their progress.

       For instance, I can make controlled access arenas where you can't exit until all waves are completed but... then how do I control the access? if it was a space ship with computer controlled doors that is easy... or if was high fantasy with magic... but in grounded, low-fantasy and realistic setting, there isn't any good ways I can think of besides have monster bash open a barricade that did block pathway. And thats too much work - don't want unique animations for every little thing.
    So simply letting the enemies be dangerous enough that not killing them selectively makes it difficult to get through seems like simplest solution and also makes game completely fair. It should also solve one of my major beefs with the souls games - you could always just run through and ignore 90% of game if you wanted. Then the only skill gates was boss fights, which is my least favorite part. In this game, boss fights will not be nearly as good as souls games (duh), so I need to spread the difficulty out more evenly.

         Plan is for rogue-like design where you are expected to have to play through many times to achieve enough mastery to get through. Procedural levels is beyond my scope, but I think there could be a very simple way to achieve virtually same design practically speaking - if gates from one cell to neighbor are randomly locked/opened, then you can learn the level but still have to search and explore on each play through to find the open path.

        I believe this will offer a good balance between offering replay-ability and still allowing tight directorial control. I can still design specific engagements and have pretty good sense all the ways they can play out, but also get high replay value from small space.

          Another thing that will effect level design is typical engagement ranges that feel funnest to play at, and mixing that in with melee aggressors. If space is too open and fighting melee, you just run circles and shoot. Gets dull. If open and fighting ranged enemies, it is exciting but it's almost impossible not to get blasted. If there is a good balance of open sight lines so that you can manage the crowd but so that they can also easily get around all flanks, that's when it is funnest. Basically if the enemies can dissappear briefly while flanking and you have to do some prediction where they are going while also dodging another, then it's good tension where you feel 50/50 predator and prey. But laying out the level to achieve this ideal is going to take some practice. After that I have to figure out how to make it look nice.



  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth

    i like the flash of some ass, why not, at least there is something to look at while you work, 100% have to use this if i ever start something.
    Love the face plant at 1:09 omg, that made my morning much better, i like it.  The jumping rabbit creatures are a bit annoying to me, but i get it, its like a gazelle/deer jumping since they have hooves, hmm 1st thoughts they also move very fast, perhaps it can be done better when you get around to it, they seem o.p. I like how 1:13 ran away, that was neat, i shouldn't share this part but, since i want to "help" for free, uhm, i'd con-volute this character more with adding blades or something sharp to the ends of the bows or have them hit the player with it, when they jump past her they could also slash as they hoover past the player, since it just seems weird to not purse their enemy and just playfully jump around past them ignoring them as they leave their backsides open to attack.
    I know early rough stages so keep it in mind is all i am saying.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    thanks for the great feedback

    I agree about the enemy satyrs having a short range attack. There is code for that and if they run into you while jumping it causes damage, but I haven't made animation for it yet. my original idea was they do like a kangaroo drop kick with both hooves.

    Agreed about the jumping being annoying. I'll probably make it so they only do the jump when evading, but for normal movement do closer to a human run, perhaps just with a longer gait and more upwards spring.

    about the ass display... I'll probably cover it a little more eventually and she is to get some layers of armor. But I do intend to keep some degree of sexiness. Have to find balance between a character we can respect and empathize with, while still being attractive in the way you'd expect an amazon to be.
  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth
    I enjoyed it all, i am not like others with these sexiest situations, it is what it is, but i guess to be more along the lines of "decency", i suppose i can see someone somewhere having an issue with it, i thought it was hardly noticeable.  The drop kick would be cool to see ass some sort of random attack? rng based.  I liked the animal aspect since it made sense, the leaping, perhaps it is the environment maybe some tree area with these "enemies" or pillars and having them jump side to side instead of straight at the character might work better?  Thanks for response and glad it helped you see someone on the outsides perspective.  Overall i think you got something nice here, looking forward to more.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    @iam717 , i think i know what you mean. rather than just random leaping, they should be darting from cover to cover.

    once I get the environment further so that we have more stuff to to work as cover I'll see what I can do with code for that.

    i've done a little bit of experimentation with "smarter" enemy AI but what I found is, if i just have them doing simple things semi-randomly, it just as often seems that they are making smart, coordinated movements compared to if I actually try to code more complex decisions. lol. So for now at least i am trying to keep everything as absolutely simple as possible and once everything is in place, then selectively look where increasing resolution whether its art or code would make biggest impact.

    I go back and forth with how much skin or gore should be shown. On the one hand, too hell with contemporary puritanical values! This is my game and it is set in the ancient world and we play as a savage misandrist nomad who is exercising a lot and it is very hot outside. And compared to the actual mythology much of this is based on, it's absolutely PG. Mythologically correct satyrs would be walking around with floppy horse dongs, right? And the indian mythology stuff that will appear later in game would be NC-17 for sure if I did it true to source.

    \On the other hand, if some censorship means more kids who's parents might control purchases can play game, that might be worthwhile. Perhaps sex-starved creeps would be a more likely audience. Hard to know. So for now I just try to make it something I'd want to play if i was 20 years old and leave flexibility to go either way when I can. The main thing I aim to accomplish with the story and characters is just a classic sense of adventure that stays believable even for people who pay too close attention to their entertainment (weird losers like me, lol).
  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth

    :astonished:
    Mythologically correct satyrs would be walking around with floppy horse dongs, right?

    Correct true to life, maybe a horse really far away and hardly visible can be free in the bg.  lmao.

    Not something i thought I'd ever read but i am amused by the free old-p.c. convo.  (ah the memories) so many cats.

    Back to game, mmm that is one decent use of these a.i. action scripts at least, smarter a.i. movements, more human rather than go here routine.  I am almost certain since a lot of games like to stay online only, which 'i and others are starting to dislike' that they will be using online a.i. situations/enemies.

    which i see the only usefulness to these scripts.  If you went that route, yeah keep it simple best way to weed out all the bugs that could happen, i only mention anything that it be considered or written down on a notes section of your processes to achieve layout excel sheet, "game-plan", or whatever.

    Yeah, it can be clean exposure, either panty or gigantic afro having bush, you do not see anything (lips action, brown eye) so, i do not see any issue and the "africanis" walk around to this day with their top bits out so even that is fine to me.  Nakedness is the lower half I've read studied anyway.

    To purchasers:

    Yeah, I'd try to appeal to every audience since a variety would be best, so cast a wide net it is a delicate process i am sure so i suppose to research into how other products achieve this might not be a bad idea.  (i find they usually stand on the safe side of things and having a younger audience would be a good idea, which is why f0rt-n1te did/does well) the kids have the time, they kids hardly care for $, so they targeted them at a right time.

    Looking forward to more updates, no need to respond right away unless you want to, i get it, i like to somewhat procrastinate myself.  :pB)


  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    A bit of progress in level blockout, but much was experimentation and figuring out what not to do. That's not progress anybody wants to look at but I think it's good to mention and note a few lessons learned.

    Fighting on several fronts and it feels like too much. Difficult to figure out where to focus. So what is the issue?

    A few considerations competing for priority. 
    1. Level needs to play appropriately given the games mechanics
    2. Level needs to look appealing and believable
    3. level needs to satisfy broader design principles

    1 and 2 compete because I had started first from realistic map of ancient Athens. But it is a problem because that is a pretty open city in that plenty of space between buildings - its not like a modern city where streets are corridors lined with wall to wall buildings on either side.

    But I have to keep the play area reasonable size - it's mostly a linear game with a few side routes but as solo developer for a game like this I need to keep the areas that need high detail pretty small. So I do require a way to box the player in somehow. My plan is to use destroyed buildings as primary way to block access, but this means they have to be closer together than real life.

    That's easy - just forget my weird idiosyncrasies and do the blockout more from intuition and verify regularly by playing in the editor. I get too hung up on realism so trying to get in habit that if I am spending more than a few seconds fussing on something I ask, "does this matter? will anybody besides me notice?"

    But, it is a principle of the design that I want for the world to feel believable - in other words not look too much like old school video game level. I think I've started to strike a balance but still plenty more blockout to go.

    I've redone the large scale layout in way that gives more long sight lines, better panoramas, more silhouetted buildings and columns against the sky. I also like to see long views down the river with trees. I am trying get a good contrast between residential and public areas. Public areas have much larger buildings with open space between. Residential areas usually go along a winding street, but you can weave between narrow alleys between houses to evade chasers.

    I'm trying to design such that player should never feel like they are following a contrived video game path - like they are on a roller coaster. No agency. There is not many collectibles or pickups to encourage exploration like carrot on a stick, but rather I'll try to make it so that you just have to look around carefully to find the way forward.


  • sacboi
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    sacboi high dynamic range
    Nothing too add, other than it sure looks like you'd piled on a load of work so take back what I shared earlier - anyhow may the game gods smile on this and your other dev project, too  B)

    OT:
    Btw if you don't mind, been searching for a UE4..2x download for ages but can't seem to find it anywhere, even on epic's site....so any pointers would be appreciated.
  • pxgeek
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    pxgeek keyframe
    I think it's fascinating what you're attempting here in this thread. What would be usually done by large teams of individuals of different disciplines; you're doing solo is just crazy to me.
    So while I'm not qualified to make any kind of declaration about what is good game design, I can share some personal opinions from a gamer perspective...and just as someone with "a fresh pair of eyes."

    Regarding some of the issues you outlined above:
    I think as game/level designers you should allow yourself some artistic and creative liberties. It might be cool to have the level flow from tight spaces then into larger open plazas and vice versa to mix up the action. Perhaps even some Z space. It may not be historically accurate, but I think that would be more fun then just all large open flat spaces all the time.
    To your point about believability, it's almost never something I think about or question when I play a game so long as it's engaging visually and play-wise. I think for me personally, that is just the conceit of videogames.
    I actually don't mind the linear nature of games (In fact, I love single player narrative driven games) A game like half-life 2 comes to mind: it's pretty much like a roller coaster, but I'm sure they must employ some clever design tricks to make it feel a lot more dynamic.

    I guess all that is a long winded way of saying that if I'm playing this game I wouldn't really be walking around and thinking "Hey, the Parthenon isn't supposed to be that close to the city, or athenian streets aren't this cramped...what hogwash!".
    It should be more like "Whoa, I think that's the Parthenon! Is it on fire??! or Oh crap! I almost got picked off by that harpy! Maybe there's some cover nearby?" (well, as an artist who had to learn some art history, I totally would, but you know what I mean :p)

    This may or may not align with your goals...just thinking out loud.

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    sacboi said:

    Btw if you don't mind, been searching for a UE4..2x download for ages but can't seem to find it anywhere, even on epic's site....so any pointers would be appreciated.

    thanks sacboi! I feel like I've been making progress very slowly with the level design but things are starting to get moving. i didn't expect it to be as big a deal as it is - so far it has been the most challenging aspect of the development. But it is also area I have less experience. Had done a bit of enviro art and level design but in previous games it was much simpler in nature.

    About the version, if you have the launcher you can click the plus icon next to engine version, then in the dropdown arrow you should find all the available versions:
     

    I assume you are interested in the launcher versions and not source versions. For those you have to get them from epics github IIRC and they take ages to compile.

    you are 100% right. That is mindset I am trying to keep in mind when that little OCD or whatever it is has me concerned over silly things that just don't matter in games. Your examples are exactly spot on, those are even things I had been focusing on earlier. Finally I realized that things will go a lot smoother if I just put shit where the game needs it to go, lol.

    Manage scope is always the big problem. I won't ever be able to achieve the quality that I'd while like working alone. But even if I could afford to hire help, that brings a different type of challenge. There is simplicity in working alone that I like a lot. The only thing keeping me from achieving exactly what I want is time. Or in some cases, lack of aptitude (like I just cant do shader math, it ain't happening). Whereas with a team things just have to get diluted a bit, much is lost in translation... it's all fine but as designer / director I think then you can't be quite as close to the work because you have to let it become the teams thing - it's not just your own thing anymore.

     It can be difficult to post to polycount some times because the bar for art here is high, compared to if I show work to some programmers or gamers its generally well received. But if I ever want to get good advice or new ideas its better to stick with people who challenge things.

    One question still in the air is if I can find a way to semi-stylize the look such that I can reduce the art workload. My idea right now is that maybe I try to use geo for nearly everything and very simple shaders - perhaps even flat colors. Can still get a lot of detail from nanite and if we had minimal textures i think performance and size is simplified, plus its a huge time saver and puts more artistic energy into the big picture.



  • sacboi
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    sacboi high dynamic range
    Alex_J said:
    About the version, if you have the launcher you can click the plus icon next to engine version, then in the dropdown arrow you should find all the available versions:I assume you are interested in the launcher versions and not source versions. For those you have to get them from epics github IIRC and they take ages to compile.
    That's right, thanks very much.
    Cheers
  • pxgeek
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    pxgeek keyframe
    One question still in the air is if I can find a way to semi-stylize the look such that I can reduce the art workload. My idea right now is that maybe I try to use geo for nearly everything and very simple shaders

    Would megascans + mixer be a good option?

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    I have not used mixer but using megascans in general would probably take care of a large portion of my environment texturing needs. The only issue is that it kind locks me into a realistic style which I'm not 100% sure it best approach yet. 

    I mean, I know for sure that in terms of shape language and general layout of things I stick to realism. Like I don't use stylized characters or environments. But whether surfacing and rendering is stylized or not remains in the air. The deciding factor is pretty much workload, but it's not clear if there is any obvious answer. In absence of ability to say for sure one way or another is less work, I probably stick to realism.
    -----------------------------------

    Small progress to show but I want to make some notes about workflow and some project management tools.

    Progress
    Got all the buildings in the Agora area blocked out. Some are a little more detailed and some are barely more than cubes, but I'll bring it all to a consistent fidelity during a blockout+ phase.
    I am now able to make pretty accurate time estimates so I spent sunday going over schedule and tightening it up. The plan is to have the full level to a blockout+ stage by end of august in addition to all enemy models and animations being done as well.

    Workflow -  level design blockout in Maya

    My workflow is pretty well lubricated by now. And everything is better when wet, as they say.
    I do the blockout entirely in maya so I can take full advantage of superior tools and have complete freedom to make large or small changes easily. I just batch portions of the level into groups and send to unreal, so I am able to verify progress in engine with very little slowdown. Basically I do a building or two, export, check it out in engine, and continue.


    I am splitting the blockout into two phases. First phase is just to get minimum needed to play the level. I am not going crazy with gameplay needs yet. I think it will be better to get something pretty sooner so that I can being marketing ASAP. Gameplay doesn't have to be perfectly tuned for that because I only have to showcase edited videos.

    If I cannot generate any interest with vertical slice it would be better to arrive to that conclusion earlier.

    Game Project Management Tools

    For the scheduling I've consolidated everything to notion. I've used a few different tools for planning but its better to have just a single location. Notion fills the most checkboxes.

    You can fill out a calendar and that automatically can be viewed as a roadmap view or as data table. Pretty handy. And you can pretty much drill down infinitely and cross link pages all in intuitive ways such that you don't need to go watch a ten minute tutorial.


    Pretty good calendar and timeline views allows to view from hours to weeks to years. Easy way to see big picture and also do your weekly task planning. Big recommendation from me.


    Next update should be blockout for all entire level completed by Sunday, 9 July. I may be able to go faster than that though. We'll see!




  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Satisfied with blockout of the first three major areas. If anybody has some feedback about composition in general I'd appreciate it. At this stage it is still easy to make big changes. I have 2 more areas to blockout over next several days. I might make a build for play testing before advancing forward from blockout.

    I am using detail lighting view to focus on composition for now. I've taken screens from player perspective in key areas. Especially transitions between one area to another. I think that when you enter a new area, that view of it is the one that most heavily imprints on players memory of the place so I try to make those transition areas the most interesting.

    The story being told in this level is that you come upon city of Athens, Greece (bronze age era) and find it has been destroyed and is now full of monsters. Destroyed in this context means that soldiers have pulled down monuments, temples, altars, etc - as opposed to the place being bombed or whatever. So imagine ropes have been used to pull a column, then that falls, brings down roof, and crashed into other stuff. So much of the city should still look like normal.

    Agora Far Corner

    Entry far end (rubble is floating, forgive me)

    Agora mid

    Streets Arena 1
    Streets Post Arena 2 Entry

    Streets Post Arena 2 Mid

    Streets Back Area - view from Temple steps.  I think the important thing with these "long views" is that we see a nice layering of rooftops, with a few key landmarks dominating the horizon.


    Streets Behind Arena 1

    Exit Streets - looking back towards entry
     

    Streets Back Area

    Streets Arena 1

    View from Entry to Streets Back Area

    Streets Arena 2

  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth
    Like the new environment for the "fight" with the evil ladies, i enjoy seeing the arrows zoom by, they move around better and that hill part was pretty neat, i enjoyed the hiding near debris. Neat to see the project management tools breakdown of days and how you use your modeling application to do more instead of working in the engine that loves to crash.

    like these 1, 2, 3 - for "game demo screens" when ready, they are appealing to me, keep in mind, i haven't sold anything, i find the open areas for me are just to open, idk what it is, i guess i am never around any open lands to experience them.  Any who, nice progress.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Still grinding out the blockout. Working on second to last area.

    Workflow
    Very glad I chose to do this in maya because I've made a few major overhauls and it has been painless to do so. Level is starting to come together nicely - it plays decently and each area has a distinct look. I am sure it will evolve considerably but feeling good about it so far.

    CAUTION:
    if anybody in future is like, "i'm gonna do that too", be aware of this problem:

    If importing large static meshes, there will be some inaccuracy in the nav mesh if you use complex collision. To fix this, you need to make the static meshes smaller. By smaller I don't mean the scale, I mean instead of grouping 20 buildings together, just group a few. This may cause a problem if you need the navigation to be precise for gameplay testing. Once this geometry is turned into modular pieces it will not be an issue anymore, so its just something to be aware of if you are doing blockout in maya and then sending big chunks that contain an entire neighborhood to unreal.


    Project Management
    As solo developer on a too-big project I think it is very important to regulate changing of disciplines as it can lead to big fatigue. It is good to only work in one discipline for awhile, but too long can be a problem because if you forget too much of how, say, the code is setup it can be a big effort to get it all back in the brain RAM.

    For me it seems that 2 weeks or so per discipline before a change is about right. So I am racing to get to a good completion point with the level design ASAP. So far I staying on schedule.

    Keeping a running to-do list is helpful while play testing. This way if I do a quick play test to test some level design and I realize something I ought to add to enemy AI code, just jot it down into an unfiltered list quickly so that mind doesn't lose track of the main task but idea is not lost. Later at end of day, this list can get filtered and all the little to-dos can be categorized and prioritized.

    I think it is critical to have the game playable at all times. It's just a major mind fuck if you cannot immediately play the game to test things out as you go. Kills motivation for some reason. But as long as I can play the game, motivation remains constant.


    Progress
    Plateia area - there will be a ton of scatter stuff here as it's a market area. It's pretty much a large corridor but big buildings split it up in the middle so you can circle back on enemies. I also try to put the buildings not quite on grid so it feels a little more organic and interesting.

    I have a shit ton of columns which gets repetitive so I am trying to break that up some and let the column buildings act more like unique landmarks. I have maybe a dozen unique building shapes right now and am trying to not make many more. I make them look different on each side so that they can be rotated and reused. But it is still a battle to not have a bazillion unique things. Though my focus right now is on gameplay and art design I am trying to keep in mind that these buildings eventually need to be replaced with as few unique pieces as possible.










  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth
    @8:16 in vid, arrow to back or just being near the enemy or did the enemy stomp on her?  That was sudden, i didnt see any arrow.
    Yes things get a touch repetitive (what you mentioned does) she seems at the misfortune of the enemies (unprepared) for anything other than arrow fighting.  About that how does she collect arrows, per kill, replenishes her "satchel" ? I think A small dagger or shard of sharp rock might help her and wouldn't hinder her movements.  

    Some sort of defensive shield looks like is needed because there are so many "enemies" and running out of arrows is a giant handicap i think (defenseless).  I get your are testing things but this is what i am seeing and to be productive on the thread if i continue, this is how i am contributing or i can also not visit the site and not contribute.

    I find it a bit funny how the fauna run down the hill what is that shimmering side to side in mid air? :) idk if keep it or fix it. :p Maybe able to get away with adding more trees or even smaller (just planted starting to grow trees, to break things up), when the "zombie" things where around and packing up, i felt a good fence would've helped slowed them down.  I was also thinking an armory area here and there could also replenish her arrow stacks, so the buildings have a use. 

    The battling/movements feel so quick, i think that might need to be broken up slowed down or enemies more spread apart, (interactions are many with hardly any movement) "filler" feeling, i get it the beta "testing".

    On a side note on topic, i can't access u.e. material since i reject the way they decided to share this, i like the go here get it approach at earlier stages...
    not go here sign up get it do this do that, this new change to the internet environment seems to be setting up more $ paid for models or lockouts and this spyware(keyloger) situation collections, isn't helping the situation either, how convenient of an issue/solution approach, so prepared for it. anyway.
    The point of ^that is to say this, how are you getting so far in this application, i can't even fiddle around with materials without this crashing... lol 10/10 application.  They want your money+ from publishing but won't let you use the application without bugs, amazing.



  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    I appreciate the insights.

    The glitchy side to side movement is a bug, or rather a fault of the the AI code that I'll clean up a bit later. Basically they are deciding where to go every 1/4 second and if they are already locked to a decision they will then override this - it's order of operations needs tuned but there is tons of polish and additional features that will go into AI code. I've left a few funny situations of enemies getting stuck and appearing on roofs in some of those videos just for the sake of history. I doubt I'll ever be able to clean that kind of thing up 100% but so long as the gameplay provides consistent experience 9 out of 10 times, that will get the "good enough" stamp.

    Cleaning up and extending AI code will probably not be something I do until after vertical slice is complete. For now, when it comes to marketing material, I can just edit around problem spots like that. This way I can keep focus first on making sure it looks good and verify the basic design of game without getting bogged down with polish.

    About arrows - right now the only way to get them is to either retrieve what you shot (there is no animation so its hard to see) or when you kill the enemy archers they drop 5.

    Part of the detail scatter that I'll add in next phase will be dead bodies that have arrows stuck in them. This will be the primary way to refill arrows throughout the level. This way I can meter them out carefully. Usually running out seems to happen once or twice in long fights  but has led to pretty good gameplay it seems. Trying to find one arrow while being chased, then having to count on it to try and kill and archer so you can get plenty more. Makes for a nice tense situation. But running out too often would certainly be annoying.


    Breaking up the chasers movement with level geo is a good idea and something I've been working on incrementally. There is a balance I'm trying to find between level that looks good, plays good, and doesn't confound my simple AI pathfinding. I will likely need to add some additional decision making to the melee chasers code though so they act like more than snake following you.

    But I think it is important to keep in mind primary goal for the enemy as it relates to effecting players decision making process. Shouldn't just add complexity without clear goal in mind. Right now they do, for the most part, achieve gameplay goal of forcing player to keep continuously moving and confounding typical anti-archer gameplay. They work best when paired with ranged enemies and are a bit boring on their own, however pure anti-melee gameplay is what I am using in beginning areas as basic tutorial. The game looks similar to many but it requires quite a different tactical mindset that I think will be difficult for people to get to grips with at first.

    A more realized version of melee enemies is that they make bigger, more obvious flank manuevers such that it seems like they are actively trying to avoid being shot while still closing distance with you. But if this was done too well, they'd probably become less fun to play against because you do need some fodder to get regular kills on without so much effort. And hitting a laterally moving target is nearly impossible. Much of gameplay right now consist of predicting where an enemy will plant, and then trying to be ready to exploit that 1 second where you can get them, while also avoiding the other enemies on your tail. 

    So I will probably make them slightly more intelligent but not a lot. It's a good chance as the game progresses probably it will be mostly ranged versus range with just a sprinkling of melee chasers in areas where I want to force player to move.

    That is one thing I noticed playtesting recently - I setup a large arena but it is possible to beat a few archers just by staying in one spot and using micro-movement to dodge their attacks. So how then can I force player to use the full area? A bit of level design helped a lot. Just identify spots where player has too much advantage, and then change them somehow so that enemies can easily surround the spot, or make the spot more difficult to use (like add some smoke/fire vfx), or limit the players offensive range from the spot, etc.

    In one area at least I have been able to tune the level layout such that with several runs through it, I play different each time and cannot find an ideal way to get through, and I use up much of the space running around. To me that is best case because we get maximum use of the space and I don't have to invent tons of little baubles to hide in every corner in order to incentivize exploration. Gameplay should just take your everywhere naturally.

    Not sure what you mean about not being able to use unreal without $? Should be able to just download it and get going. When starting out you'll face more editor instability naturally just because of doing things in incongruent way. But I rarely crash the editor after using it for a few years. Even if it does, it reboots in matter of seconds so doesn't bother me at all.



  • iam717
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    iam717 greentooth
    Alex_J said: @iam717
    Not sure what you mean about not being able to use unreal without $? Should be able to just download it and get going. When starting out you'll face more editor instability naturally just because of doing things in incongruent way. But I rarely crash the editor after using it for a few years. Even if it does, it reboots in matter of seconds so doesn't bother me at all.


    Setting up signups before rolling out paying for something down the road, when they lock up everything anywhere from (3 months to infinity.)

    Pay to play, if we keep up with the model of how things are going the micro-transaction game in a different way...  is what i see/mean.
    That is why backing up all the old stuff is imperative and why they are attacking sources that do just that, so you have no options.
    Not to quickly reply or anything i just got to get ahead of things before people assume and attempt their very best to remove my ability to converse with anyone...example: i am not allowed to edit my sig anymore as an example of it starting.

  • zetheros
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    zetheros polycounter
    hey, looking good! The warm colour scheme is nice.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    Thanks @zetheros

    I go back and forth on how far to push it. Sometimes I love it, other times I feel like it's too heavy handed. But the buildings will get eventually get some accent colors which will break up the monotony of yellow, so I better wait until materials are in place before making a final decision about lighting and color scheme.

    It can be difficult to make general art design decisions alone so I probably should have a few possibilities chosen and then once I get play testers involved, see if some A/B testing can help identify if any of my ideas are totally crazy and off-putting.

    In general I think being bold with color and art design is better than being subtle. It seems that the most memorable game art usually has a limited color palette and just hammers on a single, obvious theme. I suppose my theme with this level is like, "Mediterranean paradise turned into hell".

    _______________________________________________________________________
    Production Notes
    I have a music guy working and I'm trying to set theme and mood as much as I can for his benefit. Some WIP music he's produced in this video here: 
    So far I think he's really nailing it. Similar to my level blockout, this is his first pass at basic gameplay loops, so it will go through some refinement. But I'm really stoked with it. Especially the exploration loop. The duduks make me yearn for a past I never lived.

    This video covers all areas blocked out so far. One area remains to be done, then I'll go through each area over the next 2.5 weeks and refine as far as possible, but without getting into actual finished art production. Meaning I won't really go much further with materials or making a modular kit, but I'll just continue to tweak layout and maybe put a little more resolution into the geometry, as well as do more detail scatter placement. The big idea is to try and get to close to finished level, but without investing any time into the technical aspects of enviro art.

    Pacing and difficulty is a bit out of order so I'm going to make some adjustments to larger scale layout.
    There are two types of game play right now.
    1. arena where you face tons of enemies at once - higher challenge
    2. corridor where enemies trickle spawn as you keep moving forward - better for gradual learning

    The corridors seem like a much better way to intro player to the game without such a heavy challenge. I think we ought to have a solid 30 minutes of gameplay with each enemy type trickle spawning to give ample time to get to grips with the games mechanics before putting into a challenging arena. Example of this in video is at 23 minutes. This is 3/4's of way through main path of the level, but this sort of gameplay should be first, with arenas coming later.

    Maya scene:
    Unreal scene:


    ____________________________________________________________________________
    Art Design Review

    So far I've achieved a few of the conceptual views that I wanted, but some areas will need to be reworked:

    Arena 1: a neighborhood courtyard, there will be remains of a massacre here to set the tone, but it should feel like a quaint and pretty place. The initial enemy encounter is to be a cutscene in which Athenian soldiers are pulling down the statue with ropes before confronting you.


    Temple Construction area: I don't like this area. It doesn't play great and doesn't look to interesting. I probably turn this area into a winding neighborhood road instead.

    Back corner area in market: I like this area a lot. It's not major gameplay area but as artist it is pleasant to build little hidden paradise spots. Not sure what to put on ground - something lifestyle related like baths or fountain. I think having a few pleasant spots that have not been destroyed make a nice contrast to help keep player from becoming "numb" to gore and destruction.


    Entry area - pretty happy with this view.

    Very happy with the destroyed market street, I doubt I'll change this much. It plays well and I think has a strong visual effect. Coolest spot in the level so far IMO.

    Pretty happy with Agora area, not confident the cypress trees improve or detract from area. I think we need a lot of destroyed market stalls littering the ground to make it feel complete. I do want to keep lots of long sight lines because enemies come in waves here and seeing them bound towards you with just a few seconds to come up with a plan is great moment.


    I think this is one of the better views in level. Layers of roofs with parthenon paramount on horizon I feel makes place look very large and intricate.


    Area on right is last to block out, leading to the acropolis. This view from upper agora I think is pretty good.









  • pxgeek
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    pxgeek keyframe
    It's amazing how even a little bit of set dressing and some music can add a lot to the overall feel of the game.
    Some random notes that came to mind:
    -I like the addition of the cypress trees. They break up the skyline. It might even be a good idea to have other types of trees for some variety in shape and size, as some areas can look a bit manicured.

    -I'm not as keen on the latest color treatment. It feels a little heavy-handed, especially in the context of a 30 min. play session. It felt easier on the eyes on your previous versions, if i had to choose... but I'm all for bold color design.

    Keep on truckin'!
  • Krom
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    Krom polycounter lvl 13
    I like how it's progressing.
    The only thing that bothers me - the legs look too naked and unprotected. It feels like she's running barefoot.
    I'd add shin and forearm protection. Probably something light and elegant like cuff bracelets.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter
    ivilai said:
    I like how it's progressing.
    The only thing that bothers me - the legs look too naked and unprotected. It feels like she's running barefoot.
    I'd add shin and forearm protection. Probably something light and elegant like cuff bracelets.
    Absolutely! I didnt want her to be naked so I made a basic tunic. Her outfit will be intrinsically tied to progression mechanics of the game, so I am waiting until I have that more dialed in before I commit to intensive art like that. A lot of the progression design I am still iterating on with paper planning. It's changed quite a few times and if I had done some character art some of the work would have been wasted already. I have some concepts for a outfit that I will share once this level geo is finished. It sounds like similar idea to what you've mentioned - light and basic but should help make her feel agile, scrappy, and graceful in same way as a wild animal like a cheetah or something like that.

    @pxgeek good points and I agree about color. I tend to go to an extreme and then will eventually back off. Probably I keep trying out lots of ideas as I continue since tweaking colors and lighting is one of those easy things to do at end of day. In the following video I feel this is a better balance of color because it still hits desired theme but it more clear and readable:


    This video includes reworked beginning area of level, from beginning to the market with twin burning buildings is overhauled.
    It also includes V2 of the music which I am completely happy with.
    There is some blood decals littered around - there is not much care in placement at this point, I was just figuring out basic workflow since I never used those before.

    I did something that I hate to do and went a bit off schedule. I was getting annoyed enough with some of the AI behavior so did a bit of cleanup. It doesn't sound like a big deal - just a day and half of work - but switching gears like that does take a heavy mental toll. But I was hitting creative wall with level blockout so I figured it might be worthwhile to do something else. But cleaning up code is just pure frustration with no joy for me, so I don't feel particularly creative now :). I feel like I need an actual day off, lol.

    There still remains this final section to do, from the agora to the acropolis. The agora is such an intense fight, i think that the entire stretch afterwards going up to the boss I will have be no combat. So I try to fill it with nice scenery and build up tension for the big showdown.

    I also cleaned up some of the game design tools. It is very important to me that tools should be simple and intuitive to use. I never have any left over brain juice so fussing with an inefficient tool just doesn't cut it. I think the most important thing about any tool in digital work is that there should be minimal steps from translating your thought to action in the editor. Usually that means that when it is time to select something, that should be a single action, not multiple steps. And searching for thigns with eyeballs is definitely to be avoided.

    So nothing fancy here but I just use some big, easy to click arrows that point from enemy-placements to their trigger (different colors for multiple triggers per enemy). This way if I want to batch adjust a group of enemies I can just drag select the spot where the arrows converge. No shift-clicking multiple things. That shit will drive you insane.

    I try to always color code things because it seems to majorly reduce mental fatigue. It is easy for me to make quick associations with colors rather than reading text. I think reading text is a much slower way to process information and should be avoided as much as is practical.

    For the layout redesign, I made it so the first 1/3rd of the level basically has you do two switchbacks. It's a good use of space and having some long corridors seems like a better way to introduce basic combat. The first switchback is just melee opponents, and the second introduces ranged. Then in the final switchback, a combination of both.


    I am getting tired of level blockout. It's a large level and on a larger team - i imagine - would be handled over a longer period of time and by more people. I have considered swapping the next task - characters - to this week and then finishing level blockout after. But it might be a bad idea because having to load up workflow for a different discipline into the brain takes a good amount of time so its better to not switch so often. So I'll make executive decision to just stick with schedule and finish out the blockout before getting back into characters.

    For characters I'll be making some variations of the satyr and also finally doing a model and animations for the athenian soldiers. It will be good to stop fighting unreal manny with zombie animations.

    The melee soldier, after fighting him extensively, I think will work best if he does a running charge attack with a long spear. When not charging he will raise his shield, making it more worthwhile to target the movers. Not all of them will have shields though because it is the fodder enemy.
    The satyr archer I will relegate to being an elite enemy and it will not intro until the agora. The earlier ranged enemies will be replaced by an athenian archer who may look something like this:

    I like this idea of a small shield on the bow arm which may make him a little harder to kill sometimes.

    Given limitations of solo development, I think enemies that are individually much more difficult to overcome is better. This way with just a handful of enemies it can be an absolutely knock-out, drag-down battle.

    In the video I've made some improvements to the melee AI code so that they flank and evade more effectively. Once I get these new models and animations in I'll tweak a little further and I think it will be pretty solid. Right now it's about 70% towards the good enough stamp. Mostly fun to play against but certainly full of visible jank.
    The hero character I have planned a full redo of her body, face, and outfit, though I will save that for final task of the vertical slice.

    edit: Oh, one thing I wanted to note is that I think it is very beneficial to record video and do review of that later, rather than trying to analyze the game while playtesting it. I find it better to just zone out and play the game like its just some random game you bought while playtesting (as much as you can, anyway).
    It is easier to see things more clearly when watching more like you would watch a lets play video on youtube. It is also easier to identify difference between what you notice as a critic compared to what you notice while actively playing. Like while playing, zero attention goes onto the hero animations. Its just too fast and all attention is on enemies. However while watching as third party, hero animations becomes more important. Plays a big part in how the game feels and how it might make you imagine playing the game feels.
    Even though the animations are rough on edges I think one thing I've done well is that virtually any time you pause, character is always in a good action pose. That is something I'll try to do with enemies as well. Pretty much any auto-generated thumbnail that youtube makes should look like high speed action.




  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J grand marshal polycounter

    Okay, here is mostly complete blockout of the level. Some portions are still pretty sparse, but I am content with each engagement, general difficulty and pacing, and overall flow of the level. The last section (the wooded path from agora to acropolis) is no combat and I might replace with a cutscene. I like the music track and kind of want it to play completely while building up to the fight with some cinematic shots and some focus on the character too. So that zone remains pretty unfinished.

    Major thing I will try to improve with pacing is the non-combat portions. I want to have them linger a little longer. The game design is kind of built around simplicity so I don't to add in some sort of arbitrary bobbles to go hunting for. I also don't want to arbitrarily hamper players movement, nor introduce anything annoying like platform sections or puzzles.
    So I think with these restrictions in mind the best thing to do would have some little stories being told just with the enviro art. Perhaps some short dialogs as well. Just small things that are interesting enough to get player to stop and look for 5-10 seconds at a time to give more of a breather before next fight.

    Before that though I shift gears back to characters and animation. Right now I still use one enemy type in place for others, so the gameplay is not 1 to 1 with what final would be. Need to 100% confirm gameplay by getting all of the characters up to a blockout level of resolution in terms of their visuals and behavior.

    A few other things I've added on "day off":
    • Dynamic music management system
    • Named area cinematic widget
    • placeholder deity medallion widget - this will represent the current deity that your kills are sacrifices for, which is how you'll level up skills, or heal, depending on the god/goddess. I've used midjourney to generate some concepts for this but I'll eventually sculpt them as 3d models so they react to scene lighting.




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