September - Jungles, IndieCade, Music & Art
September seemed to really zip by, and it was a bit of a scattered month in terms of what I was working on. I spent time on everything from the story to planet tech tests to bug hunting.
Jungle World Tests
I was a little uncertain just how many trees I could show with Unity, as past tests I've made "out of the box" have resulted in very, very slow frame rates. It seems Unity's mesh instancing/gpu stuff included from version 5.6 onwards, in addition to some plugins that take good advantage of this tech, means that I can put far more trees in than I thought possible.
Here's a test below that's running at over 150fps with 10's of 1000's of trees:
This is using Critias' tree system for Unity (free, amazingly), and I'll soon be testing their grass system too. While the above movie looks nice, there's still some tweaks that need making to optimize the lighting and improve the switch between different levels of detail.
I've also grabbed the SpeedTree modeler just the other day and started learning how to use that. With this + Critias I'm pretty confident we can have some heavily object/tree populated planets if needed. You can do some really fun things with SpeedTree forces, so we might see some interesting alien trees!
Reimporting and plugin challenges
I've had a particularly annoying bug with the terrain or interaction with a couple of terrain plugins that I've still not nailed down. At the suggestion of a few people, I tried creating a fresh project and reimporting everything, but unfortunately that didn't solve the issue. Rhys (our musician and occasional coder) had a stab at fixing this briefly over the weekend, and we got closer to the root cause, but ultimately it's still a problem. Hoping that the updated bug report we submitted will help the author find the problem.
Story and Narrative Tests
I spent the last couple of weeks much more focused on the story, since I'd hit such a roadblock with the above bugs, and really wanted to progress on something without being stopped by tech issues. I worked briefly with a writer prior to this, but since then it's looking very likely that I'll be redirecting those funds to a programmer. This way I can keep my focus more on the creative side, and I must say I do enjoy working on the story. Also of course you can't have a story without a working game!
More Music Altering Gameplay
Music that is triggered by gameplay was something that featured more in Exo One's predecessor (Unknown Orbit), but I'm working toward changing that. Last update you may have noticed on the Island World, how the music was timed with the pulsar star's brightness level. This month Rhys and I also worked on music for Sagan4 that changes based on your altitude, and we are loving the results! I've got a lot more planned, and mostly it is subtle, but even if you're only affected subconsciously it'll further enhance the meditative vibe I'm going for.
Very happy that Exo One was an official Selection for IndieCade 2017! From their website, "Now in its 10th year, the IndieCade Festival is the premiere event dedicated to celebrating independent games in the nation." Full details, with a list of Selected and Nominated games can be found here: http://www.indiecade.com/2017/games
I won't go into details in case nothing happens, but to really push home just how much gear switching happened this month, I've also been looking at agreements and the like, which has been a little distracting. Changing from bug fixing and coding, to creative writing, to contracts is not the best way to get a lot done!
Whether the publisher thing happens or not, I'm about 110% sold now on bringing on a part or full time programmer. This will allow me to stay more in the creative mind frame, spend more time making the game look pretty, speed up feature development, make the game more solid and bug free, make it easier to port and a million other bonuses. I'm also just super keen to begin working with other people again, and with the technical side of things being my biggest weakness, this would really ease my mind! More to come soon on this, hopefully, but steps have been made already!
Planet Art Planning
With most of the tech testing out of the way, and with confirmed good frame rates for volumetric fog and large tree/object numbers, I now have a better idea of what I can do for all the future planets. I've made a couple of detailed docs for gameplay progression and planet art so that Tim and I can more confidently start working through what the next 8 planets will look like.
Island World Textures
Thought I'd end this update with some pretty pictures showing off the super-sweet height-based texture blending and tessellation of Megasplat for Unity:
Almost forgot, I've also mostly completed the height maps for the terrain for this planet, here's a look at the isometric view from the Unity editor: