The Thumblog! Day 3 - OMG WE HAVE A DEBRIS TORNADO! And a story!

There have been a lot of exciting developments over the past few days. So I'm gonna cut the preambling introduction a bit short and get right to it! 

Story and Game Progression

At a group meeting carried out a few days ago, we pretty much settled on an interesting premise, which was based on the principle of having practically fully destructible environments in our game world. 

I don't want to spoil much of the story for two reasons : 

  1. It's not fully written yet - we've decided on the first 7 chapters which represent the introduction segment of the game and which will probably take up around 20 minutes of playtime 
  2. There are a few twists and turns here and there which I think would be best discovered by the player :) 

That said, I can confirm that it is a bit more experimental, narrative wise and that the inspiration is closer to something like Portal, Antichamber and the fantastic Stanley Parable. It's also turning out to be a silver-lining type of story. In other words, it's not particularly dark,gritty and grimy, but not necessarily positive either. We do have the ending though and personally speaking, making that part will be super exciting :) 

We pretty much settled on the game mechanics as well. That conversation started as I was ruminating on the concept of destruction and how that can be a game mechanic while showering and considered the potential of directing the debris to form new architecture which could help the player navigate the game levels. I was actually thinking how cool it would be if you could draw geometric shapes (or pretty much any line drawing) and have debris align and orbit around it. Debris dragons :D


Break and Make

After our group meeting, we had pretty much sussed out that the game would revolve around the concept of fracturing and destroying items and then being able to manipulate said items to form new geometrical shapes. We also agreed to make it an area based puzzle game with potentially a number of different solutions for each puzzle. 

For example, in one scenario the player could be placed before a 6m chasm with a 1.5m bench situated next to them. One potential solution could be to shatter the bench and draw a spline which connect the two sides of the chasm and then have the debris from the bench align to the spline to form a bridge. Or perhaps, draw said path and have the bench as one solid object traverse the path and ride it to the other side. 

The repurposing of debris in this way introduces a fairly original way to handle destructability in games and allows for novel approaches to traversing the environments presented to the player. The above example is pretty simple, but imagine having to traverse a 150m canyon using the same bench or the environment in general  :) 

Speaking of benches - here are a few test renders from assets built (and destroyed) - 

 

Having drafted an initial game design document outlining level progression and more, it was time to test the mechanics. The below videos illustrate what Achilleas has come up with in terms of destructability and post-break manipulation. 

The above video shows how we (well Achilleas did the coding, but I was on the line urging him to push all the buttons :D) managed to make the multi-component cabinet behave as it should. I had prefractured the front glass in an entirely different way than the body of the cabinet and hence we wanted to make it behave as it would in reality. I think we're on the right path as, following some hilarious physics-clipping explosions, the objects behaved as expected. 

The second video shows a gradually breaking apart of the cabinet (sans glass in this example) illustrating the mechanics of being able to selectively break apart objects. Maybe the player could chip at a part of an object and use only that lump of debris to accomplish a task? Maybe conservation of debris could prove to a factor to consider through gameplay? These are questions which are still to be discussed and decided upon. For the time being, we can indulge in the destructive urges hidden deep within and break things apart slowly, almost tenderly, until there is practically nothing left. And that's pretty cool :) 

The last video is the breakthrough point where an in-engine object could be conjured which could attract debris around it. The coolest thing is when that cube object is placed at a higher altitude and the debris just twirls around before settling. 

All of the above was accomplished using Blueprints exclusively. Achilleas is currently replicating the above behaviours in C++ which apparently offers a lot more freedom, especially when it comes to attributing properties to the debris chunks. Our game mechanics rely on being able to interact with the debris, as in stepping on newly formed debris bridges, so sorting that out is a pretty big priority.

Though we're still very early on in the project, things are falling nicely in place and we're getting some pretty cool looking results. 

The next few days will revolve around finalizing an asset production pipeline and working on the story a bit more. Stay tuned for more on that in the very near future!

 

-Andreas Kopriva

The Thumblog! Day 2 - Ideas born out of debris

Hello and welcome to the second installment of our Thumblog(!), the bit on the site were we share our experiences with game development. 

So onto developments! 

Basically, concepts were designed, decisions taken and some pretty awesome progress was made. 

Cthonosis

or "the dematerialisation of matter before a Cthonic entity's presence"

Following the experimentation with Apex destructibles I undertook in the last post, the joke about the game being an awesome 'bump-and-break' simulator actually began developing into a legitimate first idea for a game. In other words, I went with Option 1 and began considering as to whether it would be possible to have a game mechanic where you could have destructability through simply looking at things. Sharing that with our associated programmer, Achilleas and Frixos, the term Cthonosis (or "the dematerialisation of matter before  Cthonic entity's presence") was born! 

Furthermore, my tests with UE4 revealed my current ineptitude with the blueprints engine therefore I was faced with two choices : 

  1. Either spend the next few months/years/decades learning C++ and/or the Blueprints system inherent in UE4 (which does not sound like a bad idea, but it'd be cool to have a game out before I'm of retirement age) 
  2. Or try to expand the team and get someone who knows what they're doing to tackle the coding and mechanics

Enter the, abovementioned, Achilleas who has exhibited a motivational enthusiasm in getting involved with this and (hopefully!) future projects. 

Frixos on the other hand will be handling the development of the initial concept, which at the current moment revolves around an individual who can apparently cause pretty much everything to fall apart through his/her gaze.  We've briefly bounced around a few ideas on how this could develop such as having the character not have any control over this sudden ability, and then gradually get a handle on it, or perhaps waking up in a lab facility with this 'power' at hand and having to use it to navigate a series of puzzles (ala Portal). It's pretty early on at this point, and we've still got quite a long way to go before we settle down on something. 

We're basically at that point where we have a potential game mechanic, and we're discussing the directions that this could take. The only certainty is that this particular project will end up being a first-person perspective game. Well, I say certainty, but tomorrow that may change :). 

Unto technical developments!

Ruins and Misery

What has been worked on over the past few days has been the conversion of a few simple test meshes to APEX destructibles to figure out how the Destructive Gaze mechanic could work in UE4. The goals are grandiose, with as fully a destructible map as possible, so there are obviously a few challenges up ahead (include optimization to ensure good functionality on mobile platforms in the future). 

Firstly, a test was made using the Pot object introduced in the previous entry where the fbx file was imported into UE4 and converted into a destructible mesh using UE4's Voronoi fracturing algorithm. Achilleas then coded a potential mechanic which led to the following behaviour : 

Essentially, success! Therefore we move on to bigger and more ambitious things, such as partial destruction of meshes. 

Therefore a 'wall' (simple cube mesh) was built which was imported into the Lab and a Fragmentation Mesh Map (quickly designed in Photoshop) was applied unto it. This led to the creation of the following composite mesh : 

We have our support mesh (the one on the left) which serves as the indestructible component and which will remain in the game space regardless of how much damage it receives, and we have the twice fractured outside mesh which will serve as the destructible component and which will fracture based on localized damage and fall apart based on the map applied. 

We then spent close to 4 hours in a Google Hangout with Achilleas, trying to figure out how this could be behave as expected within UE4. At around 4am I kinda passed out, but Achilleas soldiered on and shared the following video illustrating that the mechanic had been implemented successfully : 

There appears to be a glitch in that, upon hitting a number of walls or generating enough debris, the destructability of the wall is confined to removing those fragments from the gamespace, 

Either way, the effect is pretty cool to begin with and at least we're moving in the right direction :) 

Next step is to begin considering test levels and playing around with a variety of effect to be applied to the gaze mechanic - perhaps a levitation and analogously gradual disassembly could look cool. Time will tell. 

It's off to build assets and learn how to break them up :) See you all soon, and we're open to your suggestions and ideas. 

-Andreas Kopriva

The Thumblog! Day 1 - A Pot is Broken

Greetings and welcome to the first installment of the Thumblog!

Firstly, I must explain that I've been away from the site for some time primarily due to poor time management and a large amount of work that I loaded myself with. I was also kinda lost as to what I wanted to contribute to this online space and as such handed over the reins to my associate Frixos, who enriched it with his Living Tale concept (update on that coming shortly btw). I now have a clearer vision along with some more time (paradoxical, considering that I enrolled in an Architectural Engineering diploma) to start working on this site again. 

Following recent discussions with friends (and hopefully, future associates :)), I was spurred to finally begin working on that game concept I initially had mentioned months ago. 

That original concept was a 2D platformer with combat elements (Metroidvania I guess?) taking place in a world where cadavers are repurposed by strange little creatures into architectural constructs. That is still the long-term plan, but over the past few days, I've come to understand that I have a long way to go before I possess an adequate skill-set to bring that to fruition. Furthermore, at this point (and especially considering my recent university enrollment) I do not really have much of a budget to pay people to help out sooooo yeaaaa. Therefore, I will be trying to create smaller projects as I come to grips with the tools, while simultaneously generating a larger project brief for the aforementioned larger game. 

Enter this blog. 

I am starting this Developer Diary of sorts, to essentially track my own progress, share my experiences, and also to keep me motivated in a way. As mentioned, the purpose is to create mini-projects which, when complete to an acceptable standard, will be made available to download. To be honest, I haven't considered distribution and availability at this point as I am at the very beginning of all this. But I'll probably be sharing models, maps, distributables, textures and whatever else I generate through this platform (probably under the Creative Commons license as well). 

With all that out of the way - here's the first concept outline and what I've done today : 

Destruction!!!

I've always been a huge fan of environment destruction in games, with my personal favorite being Red Faction: Guerrilla. Though I was a fan of the previous games, it was in this one where everything clicked into place for me and the destruction was glorious (even though the GeoMod engine no longer supported terrain deformation in Guerrilla :/) causing me to spend more time toppling buildings over than actually completing the game. 

Over the years I dabbled in modelling destruction, and with fluid simulations as well, having toyed around with Realflow enough to be able to build these guys : 

In terms of destruction, I familiarized myself with prefracturing objects using Voronoi diagrams and just setting up scenes where I would bombard rudimentary structures with heavy objects and watch them break into pieces. Here's a video :D : 

All this was done in a pre-rendered setting, so I currently have zero experience creating scenes such as the one above in a game engine such as UE4 (which is my engine of choice). That doesn't mean I wasn't gonna try. 

Like the real manly man that I am, I did not read any documentation and just proceeded to model a rudimentary pot object in C4D (my current editor of choice, though I am thinking of jumping to Maya LT in the near future) : 

Simple spline with a lathe modifier applied

... which I then exported and threw into Nvidia's PhysX Lab where I applied some Voronoi fracturing and got this really cool exploded view of it : 

I must have spent at least 15 minutes 'exploding' the pot - sooooo cool!

Now, I had done *some* research, primarily to see how feasible a massive scale destruction simulator would be in UE and found the following clip which lead me to begin looking into this methodology - 

The above video was done with UE3, but a subsequent search lead to the discovery of UE4 based examples. All of the available material suggests that not only is such a simulator feasible, but APEX object integration is pretty much built in UE3/4 at this point. Armed with the foolish confidence spurred by the belief that I'd just click on the mythical 'make stuff awesome' button surely placed in the middle of the UE4 interface, I opened a first person template in UE4 and imported my magical, prefractured pot. 

And it was at this point that I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Though I had gone through some UE4 tutorials months ago, and knew how to import and set up a rudimentary map, I had no idea how to make APEX items behave the way that I wanted them to. In other words, to fracture upon projectile collision and to then have those fragments conform to physical rules. 

After some tinkering, I managed to make my pot object fall apart but not upon being fired upon. Instead it fell apart if my actor bumped into it. Ideal if one is making a 'Clumsy Individual in an Antique Store Simulator' (hmmmmm...) but not exactly the desired outcome when one has visions of apocalyptic levels of destruction. 

Why shoot when your mere presence is so positively Cthonic that matter just disassembles in your presence?

I find that I am at a junction here and can either :

  1. Create what may be the world's first Cthonic entity simulator, whereby the mere presence of your character forces items to surrender to inevitable disassembly as they cannot fathom the madness of your presence on an atomic level - OR
  2. Begin learning the engine and maybe even learn some coding on the way.

Haven't yet decided to be honest :) 

Nevertheless, today I learned a bunch of things that I did not know yesterday, such as what APEX objects are and that UE4 appears to be flexible enough allow for the creation of relatively massive destruction based games. 

Not quite sure what tomorrow will bring, but it definitely feels good to be tinkering again :) 

 

-Andreas Kopriva