Saturday, November 17, 2012

captain's log, 16 november, 1724

Before posting the last "starts guide", let's write about something else for a moment. How about the project progress for example? As you know... when people talk a lot about everything EXCEPT the actual subject, it means they're either hiding something, or just didn't do shit. Unfortunately, we fall in the second category I'm afraid. Not that we didn't do shit, we produced all kinds of shit (literally last week after some belly aches). But not completed yet, or on a too low tempo to report here. To give you an idea:

Living in an elevator
Julio made an elevator cabin object. But not just a cabin hanging somewhere, one that actually goes up... and down. With sounds, damping, shakes, and WITHOUT letting the player fall through the floor (or ceiling). That doesn't sound too exciting, but the mechanics implemented to define a "path" to let an object move from A to B, including start/move/stop sounds is quite an useful addition to the Editor.

Paranormal activity 5: Squeaking doors
The doors you saw on several shots last posts can be opened, closed, slammed, locked, powered, unlocked, slide, rotate, et cetera. Not a surprise for a door, but we still needed some sounds accompanying these events. Sound composer Cesar offered services two weeks ago, so he quickly made sounds for footsteps, these doors, and that elevator mentioned above. Things look better when they sound good.

Guns of Navarone
Diego is almost done modeling & texturing an old weapon. Not yet one you could hold and fire, but that is mainly because A: the weapon isn't animated yet. And B: we don't even have a player character that can hold him. Yes you may remember the weird creature made of Minecraft brownies holding the flashlight in the very first movie. Hence, we already had animated players, doors and guns back then. Nevertheless, a lot of that has been discarded to rebuild *properly*. That means using good models, good animations, and good extendable code.
Got to soften some normals and add a bit love to the top part. And make it shoot of course.

Bones & Joints ballet
As said, that gun requires some animations and warm hands to hold it. And thus also animations. A month ago Antonio joined to help us on the animations, so hopefully we have some better stuff than my Milkshape attempts 2 years ago! That also means I'm making a new animation importer so we can export files from Maya or Blender. So far I made a start with Collada files coming out of Blender, but it seems a few details are missing in those files... I hate writing file parsers.

A bit of this and that
Federico made some textures & objects, Julio is busy with a monster(!), Diego is cooking some pans and counter objects for a kitchen map, Colin wove a carpet and is now doing a shower map, and me myself made some extra corridor-maps around the demo area's we're currently doing. Besides making demo movies, we also need a “playground” to test game mechanics (running for monsters, solving a puzzle, killing something) sooner or later.

Fake SSS
SSS is not the Super-SchutzStaffel, it stands for Sub-Surface-Scattering. A technique to make surfaces semi-translucent (think about shining a flashlight behind your hands to see the edges of your fingers glow red). The Radar demo already implemented sort of scattering for the ice effect, but this time we're looking for a more blurry wax-kinda like effect. Doing it "physically" correct is hard to achieve in graphics, as 3D rendering is typically not aware of material thickness and substructures. Luckily smart boys and girls have some tricks for that...

Improved SSAO
It’s just one of those things that has to happen once in a while. Removed some artefacts (made some other new ones) and made it working a bit better for normalMapped surfaces. Instead of just randomly picking neighbors around a pixel, it actually shoots a bunch of rays into the scene, depending on the pixel normal. But instead of raymarching, the rays take a single step so there is a chance they skip thin surfaces.
Don't expect awesome Ambient Occlusion, SSAO will always remain a hack, and hopefully we can throw it away one day. But until then...

One of the upcoming demo's contains interactivity with the environment and also picking up stuff. It would be nice to show an inventory with that, or at least the typical "open door", "pick up spoon" or "kick the cat" symbols. We never had someone working on the UI really though, so I asked around a week ago. Luckily Federico knows a friend who did plenty of websites and (2D) design things. So, let's see where that leads too.

As often, the code to produce UI has already been written partially, but I’m just waiting to get it being used by something good looking. No. I don’t work with test dummies. I can’t put my scarce free time on coding “angry cubes” for monster A.I. or MS Paint backgrounds for an UI. I’d rather wait until an artist gives me company and produce something good together.

Realtime GI
I almost don't dare to write anything about this, because each time when you think you're close, either the performance or visual end results (or both) are… “meh…. Paperboy pre-baked lighting were better” quality. A super complex 3D algorithm doesn’t automatically means super cool graphics. Yet, quite some time is spend on my GI quest, because it's basically the most important missing link the T22 graphics pipeline. Most of the shots you see use a simplified "faked" ambient lighting setup, and I want to get rid of that. Either we make it real-time, or at least we implement a proper pre-baked solution (like most games do). At this point I'm learning OpenCL Compute Shaders (I'll write about them soon), to see if I can implement something like Crassin & Co did in their awesome Voxel Cone Tracing demo.

Sharpened graphic-knifes
The shots lately may not show it, as the rooms are far from finished. But I did some small but important changes. All those years, the DoF (Depth of Field) effect had a little bug, causing a small blur on *everything*. Well, see below. Asides that, the HDR / Tone Mapping process has been improved. Eyes adapt more to the environment, bloom-blur flickers less, and also important, the colors are less washed out (closer to the original image colors) after tone-mapping.
It's a bit hard to see since JPEG compresses stuff here already, but those numbers on the telephone dials for example, couldn't be read anymore after a meter or more.

Hur? Seems we can't finish a demo movie end this year. I could try to promise, but time flies even when you're not having fun. The main problem is, as usual, most people being busy. In order to get something playable, we need rooms, textures. monsters, items, objects, sounds, and so on. Especially making the 3D contents just takes too long, mainly because the 3D guys are busy with other (freelance) work as well. Got to make some money in these harsh times!

The goal is to make more demo movies (which are also part of the actual game btw so we fight at 2 fronts) to attract more 3D people. But... we still have to finish that movie first right? Better quality movies attracts more/better artists. Chicken / Egg story. So we came up with another little thing that may boost productivity a bit: Prostitution. I mean, selling some of the assets we make.

Here the idea: Some of the common stuff (furniture, plank textures, barrels, decorations, junk) that aren't directly eye-catchers for T22 scenes can be sold by their creators at 3D webshops (such as Unity3D). The profit will go to the author, which hopefully brings T22 tasks higher on his/her priority ladder. As a return, I get the object/texture (of course) and the sellable item will refer to this project on whatever website its getting sold.

Got it all written down? Now you're up-to-date again ;) Wait. One more thing... just a typical computer / techworld thingie... Why oh why does EVERY soft/hardware manufacturer place a photo of a pretty smiling helpdesk girls? 95% of the people I spoke/wrote/saw related to technical products were older men, nerds, schoolboys, humorless cyborgs or transgender. The few remaining women usually didn't know what I was talking about and connected me further to a smart boy somewhere locked in the basement between oscilloscopes and short circuited devices. Just wanted to say that. Stupid marketing tricks.
Fuck that, they never look that way when they visit us when promoting their camera systems, hydraulic valves, software or touch-screens. Hence I once worked at a company that used a pretty helpdesk-girl on their website as well. I can assure you, never saw her (or any other woman for that matter, except someones mother bringing lunch).