Thursday, 29 January 2015

Earliest Post Ever

Friday is going to be a busy day so decided to post my blog in the morning instead, and this way ensure that something gets posted as I will be leaving the office at 3PM today to celebrate someones birthday and help myself to the local mead.

My task list is quite meager today with just three crash bugs to attend (and as I write this at 7:30AM I have already fixed two of them), and currently looking at a report that the Fantasy Characters (third party content) was crashing the new character animation system, so that has been dealt with though you can see from the shot above that the relative difference in size between these and the new Reloaded once are causing the chappies to float a little.  I dare say there will be a lot of work and tweaks to the engine as more custom content comes in and needs to be anticipated correctly when importing.

Given the 'seaming' abundance of time, I will be spending most of it building and testing versions, and of course uploading Steam editions as this will be our new testing ground in February in accordance with our plan to start testing the Steam infrastructure and the Multiplayer as part of the main experience.

The plan at the start of the year was to spend all January adding the remaining core functionalism and all of February testing it, with a release to Early Access in March in time for GDC.  It's great that this plan has worked so far, and I am looking forward to making lots of maps and testing every corner of the software, and it's very rare I get a WHOLE MONTH to test something prior to release so done correctly I think we can assure ourselves of a stable release.  Granted we still need to add lots of things, lots more optimization opportunities and increase the available content, but as 'core engine' products go, I think it will present as an interesting product to many Steam users who perhaps have had their fill of playing game after game, and would not mind making one for a change.

Exciting times ahead and looking forward to seeing how our 'very tentative' Steam pre-test goes this weekend with our alpha testers, as this will be the first time we have used Steam keys for a beta test!  Fingers crossed :)


Our new project management software Wrike has a pie chart and bar graph which shows the contrast between newly submitted tasks and tasks completed, and today we beat Week 2 in terms of completed items which was pretty cool!

My remaining tasks with a day to spare is to solve the Windows XP BSOD which relates to an issue with the engine crashing out on one of our alpha testers, and to make a build for the weekend and also transfer final files for a Steam build too, which is timely as I am pretty knackered from the last two days and looking forward to an early night's sleep for an early start Friday when I plan to start work at 7AM to get a little more done in the final day of 'functionality' development, from here on in it's all testing and minor tweaking.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Games Day - Three Done, Two Nearly There, More To Come

In addition to the various fixes afforded today, I took a serious look at the game levels we will be bundling with the core product and after I got the light-mapper to work again, the speed of the games where pretty good and I had a lot of fun running around as a player rather than a fixer, and aside from some AI and Performance tuning I think we're on our way to creating a great game play experience.

Also participated in a multi-player test this afternoon which successfully uploaded a new level to the Steam Workshop, hosted that game, joiners informed through the software that they need to subscribe to the item, which was then downloaded locally for them, and the game could be connected and run, complete with custom content in an encrypted package to protect the artists assets, and once again I see this as being one of the most fun and engaging features of the product, despite it being one of the last things we elected to add.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Some Great New Sample Levels Joining The Build

Another great day of fixes, and following on from a 15 hour day yesterday I only had a handful of issues left to deal with before the next big build, which mainly includes taking new assets, testing them and adding them to the core asset collection to be part of the installer, and including the new (very cool) levels that will be provided as samples for new Reloaded users, and example shots provided below as a taste of what is to come.

One tip suggested by Rick to share is that when you lightmap your scenes, and have a dynamic shadow such an animating tree casting on the floor, and your entity is not being shadowed that sits under the tree, make sure you set the Entity Shader Technique to HIGHEST as this is the only one which supports shadow-shading.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Content And Sample Game Levels

With the bulk of the 'functionality' work concluded last week, this week, the third since the start of 2015 will be about adding content, game samples and testing everything as we layer on the final fixes and polish before a major build for some serious testing during February.

Many of the sample levels created for us by third parties either through competitions or directly as a contribution sometimes dipped into legacy or custom content, and so we are painstakingly bringing those into the core asset library, renaming them, putting them in the correct category folder and using a cool new hack I created, the old levels can be instructed through a .REPLACE feature, to swap in the location of the new entity to replace the old one, avoiding the need for the level artist to have to go in and manually replace anything, which I thought was a very nice time saver (and sanity saver).

Friday, 23 January 2015

Flea Swatting Stage

After the monster UBER Character work yesterday and last night, today was a little nicer with some opportunities to squash little bugs and tweaks, which has gone well so far, so the plan is to continue getting the list down to reasonable levels, and then make a test and build for the internal alpha testers for the weekend.

Finally finished at 3:30AM last night, but the Uber Character can now hold any weapon style, and when stood can pivot his upper body around to face and shoot you, and transition to normal animations, plus blend the two states together using a special frame override which can impose static frame poses onto a running model animations, which I thought was a nice touch!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Coding To Rocky Theme Tune

You just know no bug is safe when you're casually playing movie themes in the background, and then the Rocky theme tune comes on, so it is perhaps best for the bugs that all of today I was working on the Uber Character task, which involves adding Rocket, Shotgun, Uzi and Assault Rifle animation sets to the character animation system which was estimated at 6 hours and looks to be taking entirely that allocation.

I also added a sub-task to this goal, which was to use the new animation frames created to pose the upper body of the character for twisting and firing, and I was about to start writing new DBP commands to override an animation with fixed animation frame poses, when I discovered a SetFrameEx command that I must have written years ago that does exactly that, which I thought amusing and very very useful indeed, thanks TGC!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Crashes Be Gone

A crash that has been plaguing the software for sometime has now been squashed, and turned out to be the rather simple fact that the Steam API needed to be totally closed down when the executable was terminated, or modules would be left hanging and dire consequences ensued.

As Pool Night is 'Singles Knock-Out' I have decided to stay at home and have an evening of 'more work' which according to my task list on Wrike means I start the code which will allow the Uber Character to hold ANY weapon style (pistol, shotgun, uzi, rocket, none), partially to give this character template life in the first build to help future character artists but mainly to provide the necessary character for the multiplayer gaming where each player can naturally select and run around with any weapon, and you want to see that in a good way, so it's my mission for the evening and hopefully I can get another task knocked off before the final 'function' week is over and we move tentatively to internal testing of a near-final build that will eventually become the Early Access release on Steam.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Strategy Meeting Day

A good meeting today and one decision is that we will likely be releasing a build for all pledgers at the start of February so something for you to look forward to, and also as part of the meeting before we headed off for lunch was a funny rag doll pose as I was defeating characters in the new Get To The River level which will feature in the final Early Access build (thanks to our recent competition winner):

It was great fun winding my way around a brilliantly designed level, and then started to realize I was in the GTTR (Get To The River) level, just massively embellished, and sure the AI can be a little slow to react but the combination of pistol, shotgun, uzi and rocket men as I battled to get to the jetty and the river was pretty awesome and I look forward to sharing it in the next two weeks!

Monday, 19 January 2015

2015 - Week Three

With base line multiplayer sessions in the main IDE, finalized performance and visual settings abd a dwindling list of priority tasks, all that really remains is the Character Kit and Workshop functionality to be introduced, which are the goals for this week, and with a strategy meeting thrown in the week has been reduced by a fifth, but I am also skipping the Pool knock-out Wednesday night which gives me half a day back so all in all should be a good productive week.

Also tackled some left-over nags regarding the Zombie support in the engine with fixes to the ability for them to walk OVER dead zombies, use whole body detection (instead of half body shooting bug) and the last one which was the random vertex corrupt which turned out to be a head reset feature which the Zombies have no use for, and I wanted to post a second picture of something you do not see every day (not that you see Zombies every day), is our total dominance of the Android Educational Chart, perhaps the dream of every app developer and all thanks to the power and awesomeness of App Game Kit 2 now available on Steam (blatant plug):

Friday, 16 January 2015

Welcome To The Slightly Drunk More Than Two Sentences Blog Post

Well after only 2 hours sleep between THU and FRI, and then a solid stint through to 5PM I decided to play fair to my own body and start to shut down the serious stuff.  The new build for the internal alpha testers was uploaded, my own tests went well, a GREAT result from our first Reloaded multi-player mash-up through Steam and a fantastic end to the week.  Surely I deserved a 'blended bourbon' and Cherry Zero mixer (or four) :)  I write my blog post-JD so excuse the exaggerated arm waving but the two sentence tether has been removed for Friday and I am free-styling my way through this post!

A very VERY early snapshot of my Character Kit prototype which I am confining to a weekend (or three) development so it does not get in the way of the main engine work.  More uniforms have been created as well.

If I had to choose from music for this shot, it would be The Ecstasy Of Gold by Ennio Morricone.  Maybe one day I can get away with this on YouTube without getting sued..

Speaking about todays work, a HUGE pile of completed items lies in my wake, and for the first time we had a multi-user mashup in the engine which means each of us make a quick level, then hit the M button and played the level over Steam and had a blast!  It was SO COOL!

On other news, the children of AGK2 continues to blaze a trail on the popular app charts.

I'll give you a guess, we did not develop Toca Hair Salon 2 ;)  We also got a nice treat from the real world too, you know, the top selling and top paid iOS and Android charts that all developers dream of being on.  Not bad for a few weeks of work with the ultra powerful and cross-platform king App Game Kit 2!

If I said this app took just 'weeks' to develop from scratch, you would not believe me so I will not stretch your credulity, but I started it mid-Jan and handed over the project by early March to start the Reloaded project back in 2013 or 2014, so long I cannot recall :)

Now back to Reloaded, hurray!  With Friday a resounding success, the plan for next week is to finish off the multi-player (Ravey) while I continue to close the stability gaps in the product to produce something as close to solid as a rock for the Steam Early Access release.  It's already feeling pretty solid, but with weeks of functionality development and a whole month of testing ahead, I am pretty confident right now.

Not to mention by little weekend task of moving the Character Kit closer to completion, and if possible, inclusion into the main Early Access release. The plan is that characters can be created for both the single player games AND the multi-player games, and the ability to put your own faces on the characters will be especially cool in the multi-player side of things.  It's one thing to frag a friend in a death-match, but quite another to run up to them and see their own face staring back at you :)  It's gonna rock!!

That's slightly more than two sentences, but it's Friday so enjoy the rambling. Just got stuck into a bowl of pasta, Godfather sound track in the background, a bourbon mix by my side, a dog waiting for his walk and a time team in my future, the perfect Friday for a saddy-coder who's social life was tied to a tree and left for the wolves many many moons ago.  Until Monday, enjoy your weekend and be happy!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Short Two Sentence Blog For Busy People

Today was meant to be about adding the multi-player button to the main IDE, which has taken all of 45 minutes, with the real bulk of the day being work on shadows and using more DirectX 9 hacks to do things like making the shadow camera render target NULL, accessing the depth stencil surface directly from a render which increases performance, improving the PCF for HIGHEST REAL-TIME and ALL PRE-BAKE settings.

After last nights victory at Pool and the subsequent celebrations I am not really in the mood for chilling out this evening, so will be returning to Wrike and knocking off a few more items into the completed column, not least because some new issues have been reported from yesterdays build so plenty for me to be getting on with before the planet I am on blows away altogether.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

All But One

Great day today, and solved a nightmare of a bug which had the power to wipe out whole chunks of level entities at a single stroke, so that will be in an emergency build going out to the internal alpha testers this evening, and my last item from the current urgent list is the issue of the LOWEST shadows looking rather crude, and I have a sneaky suspicion the shadow textures have been using debug 256x256 render targets all this time, instead of the intended 2048x2048 ones!

Apart from that, the software is looking very well with more progress on the skin tone part of the Character Kit (all asset generation right now) and the multiplayer hook which can now take advantage of the Workshop system on Steam so hopefully Thursday will see another rush of completed items and move us ever closer that stable solid release we are aiming for by the end of January.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Another 10 Bugs Fixed

Slow and steady is the grind to eliminating the remaining small mountain of bugs and naggy issues, and they are dropping one by one which is great fun, and with each build the software gets stronger, such as the new ability for the static lights to really stand out and work very well in the new lighting process.

Also, new character skins emerge from our character artist as he juggles asset creation for the newly forming Character Kit, which will not only have the ability to play musical heads but also allow the user to choose from a wide variety of realistic skin tones with the slide of a mouse.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Many Fixes - Custom Media Happy

I had about ten items on my urgent list for today, and defeated all but one which I am likely to solve this evening as it's the zero rag-doll animation death issue which should be pretty simple to deal with, but in the main I am happy with the fixes including a serious one which prevented certain entities from the store from rendering properly, including off the shelf stuff as seen below.

I also started work on the Character Kit, which is a very simple tool which will allow you to assemble unique characters for your level, and although the first version will only contain a few bodies, heads and texture variations, it will be designed to be expandable both from the store and from your own custom contributions.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Seven Hours On One Task - But It Was Worth It

I started with about eight or so high critical tasks, and ended the first part of my day (9AM-7PM-No-Food) with seven left to do, but it was a great day though as I have increased the loading speed of the whole test game pipeline, largely by moving plenty of the 'load once' instructions to before the editor starts, and also making a 4 second improvement in the step that generates a mega texture for distant terrain rendering. On my system, an empty level used to take 16 seconds from clicking Test Game to starting the game, but in the new build it now only takes 9 seconds and I have identified a 1.5 second pause when generating water and 4 seconds when initializing physics, both of which I think I can shave down, but it might not make it into the priority list, moving on.

You will notice I am exceeding my two sentence barrier today as it's Friday and you will need some mind fuel for the weekend. Happy to provide!  Above is a cool new character skin from our artist Adam, who will no doubt be making an appearance as either a default character or a skin choice for the future Character Creation Kit.

It's now one week back, and 5 dev days into 2015 and I am still feeling very charged from my rest over the holidays.  I have booked my flight to San Francisco to attend GDC in March, and my all accounts looks to be a great show with Intel exhibiting outside the Expo hall for ALL FIVE DAYS (of which I may very well be part of), and Steam are preparing something pretty big it seems surrounding their mysterious Steam Machines device(s).  I will be blogging and tweeting there as per usual, so if you want to catch up for a drink of Guinness and a Pie, I'll be following the attendant crowds as we stumble from one drinking hole to another.

Work on the Steam side is also going very well, with our resident Steam-tech-head Ravey solving the various challenges that will allow you to create, share and play not only your stock asset levels, but also store and custom content too, in glorious multi-player.  I can't wait to see what the community does with THAT, exciting times and let's hope we cover enough bases for our Steam launch (early access build).

My Friday night plans are pretty typical of a bedroom coder, eat something quickly (as the body needs energy after 10 hours in the saddle), walk the dog, make some tea and continue my quest to knock all the high priority items off my list before I go to bed.  Rest assured there will be more on Monday, but I'll still get a buzz out of clearing my proverbial inbox.  As it is Friday, I might treat myself to a J.D & Coke, a recipe I have improved by substituting regular for something called Coke Zero Cherry, which makes an awesome mixer and is literally one calorie (could them, one).  Now if only they could distill a 1 calorie bourbon, fat gits like me can rejoice the world over and drink ourselves thin!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Coding To TV Theme Tunes

Having listened to the theme tune to Morse over the last two days, I decided to start listening to a collection of 50 TV theme tunes on YouTube, I continued to plug away, defeating all manner of high priority nasties from the ever-trying-to-grow-larger list of tweaks and fixes needed to make a solid piece of software, and doing quite well at it according to Wrike, our new project management software which gave my a scare earlier today when it refused to bring up my daily list of tasks for a good few minutes past 9AM.

It is quite rewarding to stick to existing functionality rather than invent new stuff to pile onto the creation, as it means I get more time to actually use what already exists, and iron out those rough edges that I have taken for granted but would be a jarring experience for any new user, which I am concluding would be the majority of Steam users coming to the product, and I can report a warm fussy feeling as the product becomes rounded every day I sit down to work on it :)

58 In 3

Yesterday (and the two previous days) saw the completion of 58 tasks, plus 19 deferred and 8 cancelled from the mega tweak list of 180 items, meaning we're well on our way to achieving our goal of a good candidate build by the end of the month.

In other news, the newsletter is out, so for more information beyond this miniblog, you can read this much better blog:

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

IDE Stability And Shadow Flicker Fixed

I've been informed that my comment about finishing in two months was a little erroneous in that it gave them impression that I would have the 'entire' product finished in two months, when in fact my intent was simply to highlight that I will have a stable early access build ready for a Steam launch at that time, and the final product will in reality be a work in progress as we continue to add features to the game maker.

Been trialing a new project management system over the last two days called Wrike which has proved to be very efficient at making me efficient, and as a result quite a lot of naggy little issues have already been eliminated from the engine making the internal build I have right now very cool, and it has been suggested that an early internal build can be made to our internal alpha testers in the not too distant future, lucky fellows!

Monday, 5 January 2015

First Official TGC Day Of 2015

Happy New Year fellow game creators, I will be spending the next two months in the deepest darkest cave I can find to finish the Reloaded project you've been following for the best part of two years now, and in order to do that I am redirecting all energies to a single point of focus to ensure I deliver. 

To this end my daily blog will be condensed into two sentences only (plus optional screenshot or video) to re-enforce my laser-like focus on the goal and to keep you informed about the project all be it in a highly compressed and efficient manner until such time as I can return to the surface and the sunshine and join you again in the wonderful world of game creation.