Uniting In Chaos
Better hang on as this is one of those updates… Two weeks ago I was teasing about recent developments that were shaking the foundation of Asylum and, quite possibly, the very essence of existence itself (more or less). In short, the news is that we’re reimplementing the game in Unity.
It may take a while to digest the news but this wasn’t a decision that we took lightly. What began as a quick experiment became a serious consideration after we realized that some urgently required features could be implemented faster and better. Indeed, in merely three weeks we have achieved tremendous progress in our major pending task: the interaction with the denizens of the Hanwell Mental Institute. If you recall, we have discussed about the best way to integrate our characters with the pre-rendered graphics of the asylum. We didn’t have many options with the previous incarnation of our engine Dagon: since we were unable to incorporate realtime 3D graphics, the characters had to be pre-rendered as well, thus resulting in robotic and stiff animations.
While I toyed with the idea of supporting 3D models in Dagon, it soon became evident that we neither have the time nor budget to tackle such a development. 3D is darned complicated: from drawing the polygons, to properly applying the texture, to how lights affect the model, to correctly interpreting the internal skeleton for proper animation, to ensuring those polygons remain attached to the skeleton when it moves… Well, there’s a reason why there are dedicated engines for all that.
By moving to Unity we can bring our lovingly crafted 3D models with smooth, polished animations and manipulate them in ways that previously weren’t even remotely possible. It truly makes our lives much easier, and our tests are already promising vivid and meaningful conversations.
I know that Julia still looks robotic, but this quick test already looks better than our previous pre-rendered efforts. Expect a massive improvement soon as we now have full control over every bit of movement in her body and face.
It’s true that right now we’re in a transitional period where things are progressing slower, reason why I also decided to postpone the alpha testing of the game. However, I’m convinced that within a few weeks not only will the game be at the same stage of development, but from then on we’ll continue considerably faster, especially with the character interaction logic out of the way (and one that is up to the standards we’re aiming). More so, we have been tweaking the Unity editor to fit our needs and allow a super-easy creation of the structure of the game. In short, porting the Asylum code itself is a straightforward and quick process, but right now we’re still focusing on the tools.
Surely the burning question in your minds then is why not choose Unity from the very beginning. When we began working on this game many aeons ago, Unity was still a young engine and not fit for an adventure like Asylum. It only became a suitable alternative in 2010, back when the game was announced. By then I was already working on Dagon and making solid progress, yet as months went by Unity became the powerhouse it is today. Make no mistake: Dagon is already a fairly mature engine that turns the creation of first person adventures into a crazy simple process. In fact, it would be already possible to recreate Scratches in Dagon alone, and make it look even better. It’s just that Dagon is still not up to the task of handling a game like Asylum. So, instead of bringing the expensive features we need for Asylum to our own engine, it makes more sense to Dagonize Unity to our liking. It’s important to note that most of the game is still node-based, though the illusion of realtime 3D is more striking than ever. Something else I wanted to do but scrapped the idea until now is a 3D notepad instead of a flat graphic one. The result can be appreciated in the following short video, and you can see how the waning sun affects the notepad for maximum immersion.
Yet another bit of great news is that we can now guarantee immediate ports to iPad and Android tablets once Asylum is complete. Suffice to say, everything that we do in Unity will be free and open in the same spirit as the original Dagon, and I’m hoping to upload our current tools to GitHub soon.
Expanding the family
An additional benefit of moving to Unity is the ability to collaborate on the code more easily. Making changes to the in-house developed Dagon was a complex task and the lack of a visual editor was a deal breaker for our artistic-oriented teammates. Unity is very comfortable to work with, and the ability to customize the editor has greatly expanded our horizons. For instance, all the new visual effects were created by Pablo with close to no input from me (up until now he was periodically annoying me to implement this feature in Dagon, which was waaay low on my list of priorities).
The decision has also prompted me to bring more crazy folks to the merry band of Senscapers. Three programmers have begun tackling different aspects of the port, including the new features I described. Today I’m introducing to you the amazingly talented Ani Albano, faithful Servant of Azathoth a.k.a. Nuclear Chaos a.k.a. Daemon Sultan a.k.a. Blind Idiot God. This already makes four of us working on the code of Asylum, and more should be assisting us soon.
The circle is now complete
The outlook is better than ever as we’re readying to deliver the final and decisive blow to Asylum. The news might sound scary at first as we’re essentially rebuilding the game, but it’s still a comparatively small task if you consider all the things we should have done to Dagon. True, we could have rejected many of these features (realtime characters, environmental effects, beautifully animated notepad and books, etc) and stick to our engine, but I don’t believe you would want that. We certainly don’t either — put simply, a better game comes first. It’s been hard for me to make this decision, especially after all the work I did for Dagon, but I would be a fool to disregard the benefits and smoother workflow that Unity provides us right now. I know a few among you have adopted Dagon for your projects, so fear not: the previous engine is by no means being abandoned, just put in hiatus as we migrate its functionality to Unity. It remains to be seen how we will achieve interoperability between both tools (let’s call them Dagon++ and Dagonity), but it’s definitely among our plans.
Stay tuned as we prepare more material to show you as well as an in-depth look into this radical new workflow.
Speaking of Dagon, everybody’s favorite and loathsome monster from unfathomable watery depths, theres’s another incarnation that could really use your help. The Eldritch Cases: Dagon is an extremely promising adventure that in spite of a terrific Kickstarter campaign and an extremely promising premise, especially for Lovecraft fans, it has yet to reach its goal, even though it has already been more than 50% funded and it still has a few days to go. Curse chaos! All is not lost, though, and with a joined effort this Lovecraftian horror adventure could easily make its target. Please, don’t let Dagon become another detestable stone idol on a submarine obelisk of water-soaked granite!