Amazingly, I clocked about 4-5 hours of talking today! Shows how many major decisions had to be made in light of our demo release last week. The decision is one that I hope will please everyone reading my blog. We have decided NOT to pull the demo, and instead spend some weeks improving it based directly on the feedback from the community. Our objective was to show the great results you can get from using our game maker, and we did not make the grade, so we're going to continue working on the engine until it does. Remember the marathon we went through to get performance great on low-end hardware, well now we're looking at the visual and game play feedback with the same venom.
The first tweak to go in the demo is the brightness and contrast adjustment, and when you put the old and new renders side by side you can see how much nicer the new one is. I don't think we have any debate here, and we have also added F2 and F3 controls so you can adjust these settings to suit your own project levels.
I achieved the new setting values by taking a screenshot and putting into PSP and tweaked it until I was happy with the balance. I then migrated that know-how into a post process shader to achieve the same graphical modifications, but this time in real-time.
My next assault on the dated visuals is to make our entities blend much more naturally into the scene. As almost every game has some form of baking step, I figured I would research my own for inclusion into the standalone export part of the engine's tool set.
I only had a few hours over the weekend but started a quick prototype which applies something called Ambient Occlusion mapping to the brick stack and to the inside of one of the buildings. Here you can see ambient occlusion around the creases of every polygon and also a point light which is casting the shadow. The scene does not get have it's normal mapping, specular, diffuse coloring and other small touches but you can clearly appreciate how these baked shadows will contribute to the final scene.
My plan is to create a system which can take a game export, extract the static geometry, batch them by locality and texture groups, apply the baking process, then insert the pre-baked geometry back into the level. I still need to find a solution for baking shadows on the terrain (which is a woefully stretched mega texture right now) and somehow keep the memory footprint for a whole level worth of light-map textures down.
I am also going to add the UZI and SHOTGUN characters into the demo as well to really mix things up, and I am sure some engine features will come from implementing those and getting the AI just right.
At the same time as making these engine improvements, I will also be recruiting a top artist to help me blend in the demo scenery for a more pleasing layout. For example the left wall in the first screen shot is a sharp line intersecting the grassy floor which is much too clean. Adding some floor textures to blend with the wall, maybe small grasses or fallen rock pieces will blend it better into the scene.
While I work on the engine and visual elements, my Ravey and Simon team will be working on the remaining editor and engine elements relating to the main list to ensure development of the strictly editor based features proceed at pace as well.
Our hope is that we can put out another demo at the end of this enhancement work that will not only improve the perception of the product, but provide additional features for the next major build. It will also mean you will get extra assets, more in-game features and a much nicer end result when you have finished your masterpiece and ready for the pre-bake. Don't worry though we are not inserting the pre-bake into the test game process, and your real-time shadows will still work in the improved engine, only in the standalone game export phase (at this point). There might be calls to have the pre-bake as a button in the IDE so you can see what it looks like on the fly, but bear in mind industrial quality pre-bakes can take hours :)
Final bit of good news. I got a good slot and cool interview via N4G site over the weekend, which was nice: http://n4g.com/news/1549410/fps-creator-reloaded-gets-free-gameplay-tech-demo