Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS! - PHI GOING EXPO...

AT THE CEGC15


Unbelievable but true; I can really show the preproduction prototype of Phi at the Indie Expo for the CEGC15 (Central European Games Conference) 2015 in January in Vienna!

For that reason Phi is about to get even more exposure; For one, yesterday night I finally pulled up my sleeves and submitted the game to IndieDB where it is currently awaiting authorization, while I am awaiting all your friend requests. ;) Secondly I started to sketch out the stand-alone website for the game. That was supposed to come a lot later but alright, I think I can still make it happen and the page can go live in time before the Indie Expo. Yes, and lastly, as you have seen, I also finally finished the new logo for Phi. Maybe there will be minor changes along the way but basically I am happy with it. What do you think?

There are still a lot of open questions I have to ask myself - especially regarding the Indie Expo - but I will do my best to keep you updated during the holidays.


For now let me just express my thanks to the organizers of the conference and wish you all a Merry Christmas! I already got the best present ever and I hope you will also get what you wished for!




Stay tuned for some more posts during the holiday season.

Play more! Hope more!

Monday, December 22, 2014

PHI - DEVLOG 4

BASIC WORK DONE ON THE SEWER/RESERVOIR MAZE


Yep, still following the same plan: Laying out the basic level for the prototype. Since the last devlog I have been working intensively on just one section of the game (well, the preproduction prototype level). The area is sort of a small reservoir or a sewer if you will. For the actual game this will not be only a small area but rather a whole section with lots of rooms and a lot of tricky puzzles. I was not surprised that it took a bit longer to do this area because this time I had pretty high goals as well as a lot of new stuff to get into. In the end it was absolutely worth the effort, judging not only from what I've learned.


 

NEW GEOMETRY AND GROUPING


Since water is supposed to flow in this reservoir and the structure also should resemble a maze, I had to make a whole new set of models for it. All in all I have done more than 20 new assets together with necessary mapping of the UVs. Most importantly: the pieces are connectable in multiple ways and really allowed me to make this area how I wanted it to.

One very important and utterly timesaving thing I have learned while doing this is to do group exports/imports for Unity3D; So far I've been working a lot with the UDK and from a building perspective Unreal was always quite nice giving you assets like walls (essentially cubes) and allowing to put different textures on every side of them. Well, maybe I am just superbly stupid, but one thing I missed in Unity, ever since I started to use it quite a while ago, is that this apparently is not possible there. To me it seems as if Unity is mostly just assuming you have all your assets from another source because building even the simplest structures in Unity can either be extremely painful or even impossible. Also - although the option exists - it is not possible to offset textures for individual - or even general - pieces of geometry. This function exists but I really think that this function is buggy - at least for the Unity version I am running.

Anyway, I found a very neat - and probably even logical - way to avoid all this and not having to import for example six individual sides of a cube and then group them in Unity but to simply export groups of meshes. That way Unity will also just import one single object as group (one big cube with 6 sides), let you place, scale etc. one single object as a group BUT also give you access to separated pieces of geometry and for example let you assign different materials to different "child" pieces (the sides of the cube)! - The scales fell from my eyes...


THE MAGIC OF DECALS


This time I really wanted to go a bit more into the optics, mainly just to try out if decals, in the way I plan on massively using them for the real game, will do the trick. - Luckily, they passed! Although not really representative for the final game, I am highly pleased with the results so far. All the moss in this area are different types of decals... they really give it a bit of the je ne sais quoi, right?

If I now already had the shaders I wanted and some real and working depth sorting, instead of the "built-in" one, I could really go crazy with that.

Unfortunately for now, transparent plus normal remains an issue, especially when there is a render task of for example: geometry - transparent texture - transparent particles - transparent texture and five different shaders are involved.


WE ALL NEED WATER, RIGHT?


Since this area is kind of a sewer, water was quite essential to it. So I've been playing a lot with the free and the pro version of Unity's built-in water systems. Although they both seem quite nice neither produced a result I could live with in terms of visual as well as performance. - Unfortunately both seemed to made just for one purpose or rather scenario: Outside, for either terrain based lakes, rivers or a vast sea, for ship games and so on. I see a lot of potential in the pro water, but unfortunately I can't tell too much about its settings and options since most of them - naturally - are not available in the basic version of Unity. - If you're wondering, yes, you can use the pro water also in the basic version, BUT you can't change or edit 80% of its properties. Unfortunately I am yet again left with the impression that nobody produces or thinks about games that play INSIDE anymore. Today it's obviously all about the usual open-world, quest-driven, boring, outside games...


ADVANCED SWITCH PUZZLE


Of course this area was also to include a more demanding puzzle, since - naturally - the preproduction prototype has to get more difficult with time as well. - Again, thanks to the new assets I could really play around and create a small maze with the goal to find and activate three switches (this time in form of stone platforms to be stepped on), which will also activate or redirect the water flow, before the player can activate the final switch and by doing so open the door to leave the area. - Let me tell you; I'm having a blast running through this area pressing switches already!


MOBILITY UPGRADES... AGAIN!


Not only the area itself demanded it, but since it is also in the plan for the final game, the famous black stickman got upgraded again and is now starting to become a real adventurer:


1. Sliding down side walls...

so that he won't get hurt from falling and - primarily - to look damn good while doing it. - No, seriously, a game like that would never work without sliding the walls.
While for now this ability is just unlocked by entering this section, but in the final game, Daniel will get this ability by finding Imhotep's Sandals, one of the many relics that can be found in the game.


2. Walljumping up side walls...

to traverse up, when there's no rope or a ladder near. - Another typical mechanic for platformers and always one I enjoyed a lot. Now approaching this topic from a programming/how does it really work - point of view, I have to admit it wasn't that easy to implement. In all honesty, my solution is not working quite like the walljumps I can remember, but... first of all it's OK for now and secondly - since I had to deal with several limitations - I still think that I made it work well and probably even intuitively for the next-gen folks playing more Assassins Creed than old-fashioned Super Metroid. For now walljumping works by holding the A-(jump)-Button and when touching a wall, pushing the left stick (movement) towards the opposite wall within a reaction time limit. I don't know... what do you think? To me it feels a bit strange not to press A every time when you want to jump off the wall too, but somehow it is also quite nice, working good and after traversing one wall segment it becomes second nature. - I guess I will have to wait on real feedback for that.


IN CONCLUSION:


In the past few days, when I had the time to work on the game, I spent it on making several new assets for the basic level foundation and learned a lot by doing that. I completed a whole new section, and this time put a bit more effort on the visuals, which not only proved to myself that my decal plans are quite fruitful but also caused massive experimentation with water and water effects in Unity, leading to some great understanding, knowledge and decent enough results.

Furthermore I made like a handful of new scripts including mobility upgrades, that start to give the real feeling of adventures exploration, as well as multiple switch/event triggers and so on... ah... and also small things - have you noticed the water splashes while the character is walking in the water? Not that hard to do but yeah... it's there now!

All in all I am really happy and I feel like a lot has been progressing again. This will not be the last time I will be writing before - or rather during - the upcoming Christmas time, but it is definitely the last devlog for this year. Of course I will work on the game also during the holidays and I will most certainly put up some posts for other topics, but please expect the next devlog just around Mid-January.

So from a development perspective, let me already wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

- Please enjoy the new video:




Play more! Slide more!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

UNCANNY VALLEY

HORROR MEETS STYLE AND VINTAGE

sIPX' 1st placed RIG2014 Indie Title




What a game, ladies and gentleman! I am proud to present to you my first placed indie game from the Reboot Infogamer 2014 in Zagreb! - If this isn't going to blow you out of your chair, I don't know what else would...

I know there are great indie titles coming out all the time. Some of them don't get enough attention, which is totally unjustified, others get too much attention although they might not be as good, some sell for thousands of copies and others for millions,... let me tell you: This game is doomed to hit big!

Uncanny Valley, developed by Cowardly Creations, classifies itself as a Survival-Horror game, but believe me, it's actually quite more than that: First of all, aside to great music and a perfectly fitting sound experience, which naturally plays quite a big role in any game, it's a 2D-pixelart masterpiece! Seriously, the graphical presentation is unique, simple, harmonious and above all shows a level of talent in vast dimensions. - Especially considering the age of the game's graphic designer, who I was honored to meet in person together with the whole team.


When it comes to horror games - especially the modern type, which is mostly done in a First-Person fashion - many developers already miss the aspect of horror by creating ridiculous monsters... C'mon, isn't all the spook gone as soon as go got a closer look at some kind of dinosaur or a grotesque man with a naked butt? In my opinion stuff like that has a 10% chance to be frightening versus a 15% chance to be at least cool and a tremendous 75% chance of being simply laughable, which ultimately destroys the whole horror experience.

It doesn't matter if it's a horror game or a movie, in most cases the real spook is destroyed by overambitious monsters or creatures and above all by always wanting to show and explain everything. Sorry to burst your bubble, but even zombies aren't frightening anymore nowadays. At best they also fall under the label "cool". I am really happy that Uncanny Valley understands that and makes perfect use of truly scary stuff! - Let me tell you how this game got me hooked after maybe a minute of playing the demo:


RUN!


So,... you are this guy,... just some guy walking down the streets and minding his own business. After a while there comes this other person from the left. You can't make much of this stranger, he's just a dark dressed man. But there is something really spooky about him: His face seems pale and his eyes are glowing white. Well, with your pants full you most certainly are not going to turn around, walk towards him and ask him for a cigarette, right? You need to gather all your courage and stop walking for a second, just to see the reaction of the other fellow... of course, he stops as well. Hmm,... so you guessed right: The guy is following you! Your pants get a bit heavier and you continue to walk away from him. Unfortunately he is walking a bit faster and gets closer to you and when finally the message pops up that you can also run, it's almost too late; a terrifying scream finally breaks the last upright bit of spine in your back and as the stranger starts to run towards you, you only have a second to react and start running yourself... panic, anxiety... fear! Soon you are followed by a whole crowd of these really terrifying beings and they are constantly getting closer... where is the end? Where can you hide?


This is what happened to me during the first minute of playing this game! - Isn't this awesome? This is how you do it! This is how you scare the crap out of people!

You don't need blood or mutated reptile monsters, you don't need grotesque and sadistic torture scenes or rooms where for x amount of time an infinite amount of zombies holding dynamite in their hands crawls through the windows while you are playing Rambo behind a stationary machine gun!

Secondly (yep, I am pretty sure there was a "first of all" somewhere up there) this game's designer and programmer - a big fan of classic games and a connoisseur of quality in that regard - really knows what he is doing. By combining essential, proven and classic video game elements with innovative ideas Uncanny Valley will not only be something unique but also something very enjoyable in terms of game mechanics. For example: We all know that death (as in "game over") can be a frustrating thing - especially in a survival game. How is the game dealing with that? Well, of course you can die in the game... BUT it's not supposed to be a game where you have to watch your life bar and basically just prevent it from reaching zero. Uncanny Valley is built on the foundation of an action-reaction-consequence system. If the strangers at the beginning catches you for example, the game will not be over and you just have to try again. The game will continue instead... in a different way maybe, but it will go on. First of all you will be directly punished in terms of your maximum sprint speed being reduced slightly - making further encounters and running from the creepy stuff more difficult in the future. And secondly the game might take you to a different place/position in the story compared to where you would have ended up, if you had successfully mastered the task.

The more I think about this, the more ingenious it gets! Why? - Because already during the game it offers multiple scenarios and challenges, directly depending on your knowledge of the game as well as your skill in general, which ultimately lead to a very high replay value, multiple endings and probably unexpectedly long playtime! At least at the moment there's no game - sandbox games excluded - coming to my mind that did that... certainly not on the level Uncanny Valley promises.


TWISTED, DARK AND CONFUSING


So yeah, besides great retro pixelart looks, atmospheric sound and awesome game basics, what else is there? What can we expect from the story?

To be honest, I can't answer the question regarding the story. Even if I could I wouldn't cause it would most likely spoil a core component of the game. Let's just say that similar to Silent Hill, it plays in a realistic setting but at the same time in a crazy world; somewhere between reality and a nightmarish dream.


It seems that as a security guard you will be investigating a strange facility but at the same time you will be exploring a desolate city (with a different guy?),... always waking up and falling asleep to the point where everything melts and you completely lose track of what is real and what is not. I guess we will just see what it's about when we play the final game.


GAMES WITH A SOUL TO RULE THEM ALL


I honestly like this game a lot. As I said, it took about one minute to draw me in completely and it didn't stop after that. It is one of these magic games that have the power to amaze constantly. By now - at least we 30+ gamers (probably rightfully) - think we've seen everything. We are all trained to look closely, to question everything and to find this one thing that doesn't fit, that smells like rip-off and that doesn't look or play as it should.


But there are some games where all this bigotry just stops and dissolves in nothing more than a great experience. Games that really create emotions beyond intense particle effects, 4k normal maps and massive synaptic overloads. Games where you feel that there's somebody real behind it, creating and thinking about every detail. Games that don't take themselves too seriously and make you laugh although they might actually be scary as hell horror games for example. Games that don't give a damn what can be done and what not and that in the end show the industry how it should be done... Uncanny Valley - to be released early 2015 - is one of these games and if you call yourself a true gamer, you shouldn't miss it on Steam for anything!

Play more! Rule more!

I strongly suggest following and supporting the development of the game as well as the creators under the following links:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/uncannyvalleygame
Twitter: @CowardCreations, @TadejKupcic, @DaniloKapel
IndieDB: http://www.indiedb.com/games/uncanny-valley
Tumblr: http://uncannyvalleygame.tumblr.com/
Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/UncannyValleyGame/

Monday, December 8, 2014

PHI - DEVLOG 3

THINGS STARTING TO TAKE SHAPE


What a week, folks! So much progress again... Sorry for being a bit late with this log. - I really try to be on time, especially for the #screenshotsaturday (yep, following me on twitter is really worth it), but since I work the whole day on Friday and Saturday that is often a bit hard. Besides, this weekend I had to post about Courier of the Crypts, which REALLY needs YOUR support during its last days of the indiegogo campaign!

Anyway, as planned, I spent most of the time I had during the busy last week on building out the level - or rather area - of my prototype. In its current state I’d say about 18% of the basic building process is done and I think that’s pretty good progress. As explained several times before, what I am doing now is just the very basic foundation of rooms and tied together sections, also still with a high degree of experimentation regarding preliminary looks. Just after all the rooms and sections are completed I will start to work on details like placing objects, refine lighting, making tons of decals and stuff that really increases the atmosphere.


Next to a very basic introduction to jumping, as seen in the screenshot (above) - along with one of the rooms described in my last devlog - I am already playing with rooms with depth beyond the area the actual game takes place. This might still not look like too much, but we're getting there (can you guess what happens when you miss a jump on those pillars?).


THE STATUE ROOM



This next room - also tastelessly called the statue room - is what was keeping me busy the most during the last week. It's supposed to be one of the early “wow effect”-rooms, showing gigantic statue hidden in the mists of the background together with lots of sand falling from the ceiling. Wow? - I know... but we're getting there... the texture of the statue is pretty lame for now, but since I need to remodel it anyway (because it doesn't have toes yet!), that will come later.

Why was this room taking so much time, you might ask... Well, first of all since this room is gigantic, building it with my smaller prefabs took a bit longer and secondly there is much more going on in this room than you might think (video - as always - at the very end of the post): Yeah,... again spend some time on the sandfalls, still not cool enough,... but one thing you surely didn't notice is the sand on the floor! This time I actually did it directly in Unity as terrain. What, a terrain inside! - Is he crazy? - Why not? Nobody tells you that you can't resize it and use it inside of your levels! And real terrain is very important for my sandy passages because I think that it is much easier to handle heightmaps with infused particles to get a sand surface than anything else... coming way later though! - Althouhg making the simple terrain was pretty fast and there are a ton of other benefits with actual terrain compared to an imported mesh, there also came along a few problems; the major problem was that I wanted the sand texture to have a nice and natural decay at the end/corners of the terrain "mesh". To achieve that it took me quite some research and a bit of shader coding to make the terrain texture transparent, where I wanted it to... like I said... doesn't sound like much, but trust me, it was a very time-consuming yet still necessary step! Also, I am afraid, it will still take a bit more work later on, since it's not 100% working as I want it to.

Ok, so besides being "pretty" the room also introduces the player to a certain important knowledge in this game: Sand is your friend. - Well, for the most part. But the general rule is that it can be used to descent safely without taking damage. - There will be a roll animation on the sand dunes later on to visualize that.


MOBILITY UPGRADES - NO PLATFORMING WITHOUT THESE


By again confronting the player with a closed door and therefore refreshing his memory and cementing the fact that he has to search and activate a switch, the very same room is also supposed to teach the player other even more important mechanics which I also had to script during this week:

 1. GRABBING AND CLIMBING UP LEDGES (or was it edges… sorry, that’s where my English stops)


Yeah… what’s there to explain about? For the super critical eyes out there I should probably mention that I am not planning to make a super quality script for that feature at the moment and that I am quite happy with how it is now.

Why? - Because at some point the hideous black stickman is going to get replaced by an actual 3D model and therefore climbing will be a completely different animation/script/process… whatever you want to call it.


2. GRABBING, CLIMBING AS WELL AS SWINGING ON ROPES

Ropes are actually more interesting and at first I was really amazed how easy it was to create them in Unity just by sequentially putting together some joints and adjusting their behavior a bit. Unfortunately programming the script that takes care of how the player can interact with the rope was pretty hard and I think it took my about 20 hours just to get it almost right and at least avoid physics going crazy... seriously... those damn ropes! I was never able to climb them in school when I was young and to be honest, I think I could do it even less in my current state of physical decay. At least my videogame character can. :) I am sure my gym teacher is proud now!


Alright, that's it for this devlog. Hope you had a great time reading and I wish you also a very productive week. Whatever you're doing (university, working, making games,...), hang in there just a bit longer. Soon the Christmas vacations are here and you can get some well deserved rest! Enjoy the short video:




Take care, cu in about a week.

Play more! Climb more!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

COURIER OF THE CRYPTS

A STRUGGLE FOR LIGHT AND FUNDING...


As well as a struggle for finding the right words… at least to me.
I have been writing on this post for quite some time now and somehow I can’t write a “normal” or rather objective review about it anymore. Honestly, I simply got too involved. - A classic journalistic mistake on my part… I am sorry for that.

On the other hand, this game already saw some great reviews (for example: gamerssphere, indieretronews or IGM), especially since its indiegogo campaign launched about three weeks ago. Why would I want to repeat the good work others already did and probably bore you to death by once again analyzing this game completely? You know me, you know I am honest… so, as always, be prepared for some honest words about this game or rather about another crucial aspect that comes along with it: The funding.


Hint: Please go and just play the demo of this game, available on indiegogo or the main page of Courier of the Crypts. It is really not the rule that all the games running a crowdfunding campaign already have a working demo - especially on such an advanced level! Use this chance, play it and experience it yourself instead of just reading about it.


THE INDIE SPIRIT


Rarely have I seen such an indiegame treasure, let alone got to know the incredible and passionate person creating it completely from scratch without the help of modern, “making your life easier” game engines. You might not be a fan of this genre and style but I know there are thousands of gamers out there that are. I know it’s not fair to say one game deserves it more than another, but looking at a developer who put in already four years of work, sacrificing a lot in a country where that really means something and then putting all his energy into a campaign for - pardon my French - “cheesy” 10.000 Euro, just to go fulltime and finish the game within the next year…

I don’t know, when on the other hand games are funded with a goal of half a million Euro, just to be “overfunded” immediately afterwards by another half million, mostly because of their name, that doesn’t sound too fair to me either. And it really makes me think whether crowdfunding is still a realistic option for small and independent ideas or if it's not mostly in favor of the big names like everything else by now. It’s not like this 10.000 Euro is his own pay for a year… even if it was - shaking my head - no,… they include paying several different production-related services he needs to pay for as well as providing the funders with their promised stuff like posters, soundtracks, copies, art books and so on. I am sorry it seems I am talking too much about money but the point is that I just can’t believe what’s going on here. If I were to put a production cost on that game - measured from my “humble” location and social background meaning; regarding the things I’d have to pay - it would easily be five times as much.


A TRUE CONTRIBUTION TO VIDEOGAMING


When you brows all those games on kickstarter or indiegogo or wherever, games up to this price range usually are some mediocre games for mobile platforms that most likely get boring after an hour of playing and in my opinion not really enrich the important videogame legacy.

But here you get a full game comparable to Super Nintendo standards - or true game standards, if you will! Not a game with five minute long, procedurally created, identical but re-colored levels and the annoying advertisement screen after each one.

Here you will play a full adventure from A to Z, explore, find secrets, fight a lot of classical and creepy monsters, solve puzzles, immerse in great gameplay, atmosphere and an actual, but imaginative story. You will see beautifully created and animated pixelart down to the last detail, you will feel that every pixel is there for a reason and you will also have a challenge for a change… seriously, what more can I say? - What more can any review say?

I know this game would have probably been one of my favorite games when I was young and played in some ways similar games like for example Zelda - A Link to the Past. You know, I already backed this game but personally I also seriously regret getting the new Assassin’s Creed. I feel like I should have supported this game even more and instead put the 60 Euro I spent on yet another super polished “collect the chests”-game also on Courier of the Crypts.

Ok, enough whining… it’s just sad that this game somehow struggles to reach its audience, because that’s all it needs. I can’t believe there aren’t at least 1.000 reasonable gamers out there that really appreciate true, classic and entertaining games like this! Well, obviously there are a lot of gamers out there that like this game cause believe it or not: This game was already greenlit on Steam weeks ago! Then again, currently only the funding matters and although Emberheart Games will never give up on this project and there are some backup strategies already under consideration, whatever they might be it will most likely lead to the fact that it will take way longer for this game to finally come out.

The clock is ticking and if you can, please support at least by spreading the word, cause - hesitatingly speaking it out: “This game really deserves it.” In the end it is up to you not only to say “Yes, I would buy it when it comes out”, but to help it getting out in the first place! How about being part of a real miraculous Christmas story?

Play more! Support more!

Monday, December 1, 2014

CLOUDFALL: NIGHT'S TALE

CUTE, COLORFUL AND RELAXING

sIPX' 2nd placed RIG2014 Indie Title



Ever dreamed of being a cloud? Just floating around, curiously observing with nothing to worry about? Well, in Cloudfall: Night's Tale, being currently developed for Steam by MoodOven, there actually is something worry about: Finding a way home! Nevertheless that doesn’t keep the small, nameless concentration of water from remaining optimistic.

In a world painted by the colors of imagination it will be your task as player to control this cloud and to depart on a journey of exploration and puzzle solving. Though you might encounter dangerous situations, according to the developers, accompanied by the appropriate, sort of "-scaping" music, this game will focus on relaxation and having a good time instead of quick reactions and frustrating constant death: “We don’t need more 'who can shoot' or 'drive faster' games. We want to create something that makes you smile after you come home from work, something you can just enjoy without being stressed.”.

Structured similar to classic games like Super Metroid, Cloudfall will consist of one big world, separated into different areas featuring different looks and challenges. Learning new abilities (such as letting it rain, getting charged with electricity) in combination with the power of deduction is not only the key to solving certain puzzles but also what periodically opens up new areas and progresses the game.

Although the developers didn't want to give away too much about the story yet, judging from the first cover artworks it seems that the small cloud is up against an evil entity of nothingness that threatens to consume the world.
I presume that the story will go hand in hand with the simplistic but already utmost artistic (and still not nearly finished) looks of the game. The little cloud will be the protagonist of a similar simple yet fantastic story and surely master its ambitious tasks.


I for one can't wait to play this colorful and imaginative adventure on my computer sometime next year. - Although somehow predestined to be a game especially for mobile platforms, MoodOven first want to focus on the personal computer segment and then consider bringing this game to iPhones, iPads & Co afterwards.


Play more! Relax more!

I strongly suggest following and supporting the development of the game as well as the creators under the following links:

Twitter: @MoodOven, @MrVatigo, @bitserum

(a website is currently in development and I will post the link as soon as it's available)