Thanksgiving Post

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. There isn't anything radical to report, just some general progress from individual teams. I'll go through the list.

The programmers are focusing on mastering some of the more complex parts of the engine. If we lay tons of groundwork down at this point, it will make things easier later on. We’re going to have a fairly complex AI, and this ground work now is part of what will give us more power later on.

The art team has some completed models that I started importing in the engine. We’re working on the assets for one of the first zones in the game—The Howling Meadows. The architectural style is pretty boring here, but that fits in with the lore. Lately, I’ve been wondering if the lore needs to be tweaks a little in an effort to change that. It's really easy / lazy for designers to pick an existing Earth culture and just copy it. If they don’t do that, they can also go in a more fantasy or sci fi direction and just make up a bunch of crazy or unrealistic things to get away from something familiar. But, in my opinion, it takes real skill to design something that doesn’t resemble any Earth cultures and yet is realistic and functional.

We sure seem to spend a lot of time on concepts. We had an artist who quit pretty early in the project, get frustrated because we were taking so long. Here we are still figuring out the look of the game. I'm ok with that though. We’ve spent almost a year on concepts and we still haven’t finished the Neg Wath style and haven’t even started on the other 3 factions. It will be worth it when it's all finished though. I think it will be striking to players when they see it.

I'm hoping our character model gets done soon. I've seen HeroEngine projects where a small team had their own character model within the first two weeks. I can say that I’m really happy with our character model though. Only the male is done right now. But it’s pretty impressive. Finishing it opens up a huge number of things we can do. Once it's done and rigged, we can get the animation team going—who I recruited 6 months ago when I was given the impression the models were done and rigged and ready to go and they weren't. We can also get the spawning system working so we can spawn bad guys to fight. We can get the character creation system working. We can test the AI system. We can start modeling hair and clothing to the model. Pretty much not having a finished character model has been a huge bottle neck in the project.

Now, I know there’s a lot of things I could have done. We could have used Mixamo characters. We could have retopologized down thousands of high quality, royalty free human models that can be downloaded numerous places. I’ll admit, it's been really frustrating this hasn't been resolved in some way, but I’m hoping finally that will change.

In terms of design, I'm the only designer on the team, so I can tell you every detail the Design Team is up to, heh. I think I mentioned a while back I've been working on the particle effect system. It’s really flexible, though it takes a long time to learn. It’s good to learn though, because it will help me refine the abilities that each class build uses and how to plan out assets needed—like sound. I need to start getting the sound designers moving. Particle effects can also be attached to areas and environments in the HeroEngine. For example, I have pollen working that will slowly float in the wind and I have that FX attached to several places in the game. But I can also create rising bubble effects and weird little floaty bits and attach that to underwater environments globally.

I’m currently working on fire particle effects. In HE you can create the actual flames and a second emitter that emits emitters. This will be useful to randomly throw upward an emitter that pops, shooting embers out in random directions and making a popping sound. Then, of course, a third emitter to create the smoke would be needed. Fire has to look awesome. That’s just the way it is. I’ll probably spend a lot of time trying to get it right.

In terms of world design, I started laying out the zones. This is a strange task. How big should the zones be? Well, the bigger is not exactly the better. If the zones are too big, players could spend a lot time running to places they need to get to. They could also have a hard time finding places or getting lost. It’s hard to make huge stretches of space look interesting without getting monotonous. Then there’s the technical side of things. Each meter on a height map has a Z coordinate. That works out to 1 meg of data per square kilometer, not to mention the information that stores which texture(s) is stored on it as well as other things like dynamic details like grass(trees, rocks, water, etc, are considered nodes, so they don’t count). That can kick it up to 10 megs per kilometer. Consider that World of Warcraft is 25 by 30 kilometers, that’s 750 square kilometers or 7.5 gigs just on the map alone. Keep in mind too, each area and all the areas adjacent to it, need to be loaded up into memory. If you have too many different kinds of models, or nodes, in those areas, it will load a lot of data into the player’s client computer, which can slow it down a lot.

Having said that, since we want to go for realism where things are spread out over great distances, I currently have Dawnshine to be colossally gigantic. Put another way, the city of Kayne alone is a little bigger than the entire World of Warcraft's Azeroth. Yeah, just one city, but it’s a big city. I’m hoping by the time Dawnshine comes out, everyone will have 50 Terabyte hard drives. Come on Moore's Law.

Although this sounds insane, and there's a pretty good reason why game designers don’t make worlds this large, there might be some benefits that outweigh the hassle. For one, the open map player housing issue. If an infinite amount of players can join a game and there’s a finite amount of space, eventually that space will run out and players will be unable to get their own property. This is why player housing is nearly always instanced in games. But if the game world itself was larger than a reasonable number of players would ever be able to fill up, would that change things? Is there any real benefit that players might find with open map housing? Hmm, that’s possible. What if players wanted to open up their own black smithies, inns, clothing stores, vineyards, gold mines, castles, etc? They would need for other players to be able to see it and stop by to interact with it. An instanced store that no one but the owner would ever see, would be pointless. It would have to be open map in that case.

Would a world that was run by players be an interesting enough thing to strive for? Certainly you couldn’t let players do whatever they want. I think Sandboxes that try to do such in multiplayer games usually create a mess when they try. Players would need to be restricted as to what they could build and where. Community buildings would be interesting as well. Players could spend months doing daily quests that would allow them to unlock a community building in their favorite neighborhoods. After months of collecting stones and mortar, feeding and housing laborers, and guarding against saboteurs, let's say the players are able to build a temple that gives bonuses to other buildings near it. Does that sound cool to anyone else?

There’s a lot about Dawnshine I haven’t talked about because I want to wait until we’re sure it's going to be in the final game. Developers usually hone in on what the one thing in their game is that’s fun, and make the game all about that. Games that try and make everyone happy usually make no one happy. At least that's always been the paradigm. The paradigm is established for big budget game studios with big budget payroll and rent to meet every month and for established Indies that are always one flop away from closing the doors for good. For us, we have the flexibility to take huge risks.

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