November 30, 2012

A look at our Cinematics Editor

by groogy

Well if you want to make a living out of creating a game you have to sell it, make people look at it and get them interested enough to consider buying it. The sad truth about making a game is that you have to present it in a light that makes it look exceptional and pretty. At this first stage off attracting the customers eye the gameplay doesn’t matter yet. In order to make them look at your game and remember it, you have to make a good strong first impression. And you can only do that visually, with screenshots and trailers.

So last week I’ve been working on a cinematic editor for us to use in order to let our artists create something really awesome in order to make people excited about the game. The previous trailers have all been done by recording while walking around in the game. Now the artists have the possibility to create a cut-scene, place key frames for the camera and tweak post processing effects. Of course this cut-scene functionality will be used in-game as well.

The Cinematic Editor

The artists can manipulate the camera by simple number crunching in the panel to the right. But they can also enable free-flight mode and physically fly around to place they keyframes exactly where they want to. First I used N-order Bézier curve in order to make the flight smooth. Bézier have the property of giving really nice curves but unfortunate that they are not guaranteed to cross any more keyframes than the first and last ones. You can work with it, having the points act as “forces” pulling the curve instead of being physical positions. But it’s harder to work with. So we changed to an algorithm that is simpler to work with because it guarantees that the curve intersect every point, the Catmull-Rom spline .

In the editor in addition to camera keyframes we also support interpolation between different field of views, depth of field values, HDR exposures and the color gradings. Interpolating color grading is probably the effect that gave the most visual impact. Here is an small example of the system in action,all coder made of course

A lot of work were put into making this tool easy to use. Like the fact that they can set everything up using a free-flight camera so they can see exactly how everything will look at this current frame. That was probably what got most work on it in the entire editor. The actual implementation of the cinematic was straightforward with simple interpolation between set key-frames which is provided by the artist with the already spoken of tools.

Other than that it isn’t much special. You create a look at matrix and shader variables based on the values given by the artists and you provide the tools they need so it becomes easier for them to make awesome stuff. I can’t wait till I see them start using my tool :)

Also if you like what you see please go to http://www.indiedb.com/games/project-temporality and vote for us as the Indie Game of the year for 2012.

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A look at our Cinematics Editor A look at our Cinematics Editor A look at our Cinematics Editor A look at our Cinematics Editor
November 28, 2012

Pacing in Action/Puzzle games

by Niklas Hansson

So one very important issue for us in Project Temporality was the pacing, in this kind of games we feel it might completely make or break the game. Playing a game is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. But if you’re brain is working at the max all the time without having some time to relax a lot of people won’t enjoy it, it works well in games like chess but also see how many people plays chess compared to a computer game and still it has the competition factor that really helps it.

But if you struggle all the time it won’t be that fun in the long run, you need time to relax and feel smart, feel that you are improving and learning the game. Basically we want the player to feel that he is outwitting the game and to feel really good about that and also to have some time to relax and build up endurance for the next mind bending puzzle. For this discussion we will use three main examples that handles pacing very differently Portal,Braid and Q.U.B.E. I’m going to assume most people are familiar with portal and braid. Q.U.B.E is a first person action puzzle game to that centers around your ability to modify certain blocks in the wall to manipulate different elements in the game world, and how the game world and puzzles are changes almost completely between every section with the box extraction being it’s common denominator.

Portal first out is an brilliant example in pacing with a well set learning curve that lasts you through most of the game continually adding new things for the player to learn and explore keeping us on our toes while also keeping it all familiar due to it being built on the same game mechanic. What really makes it work for me is the puzzle time to relaxation time ratio. After every minde bending puzzle there is a section where you either explore the world and watch some interesting scenery or an interplay with GLADOS or often booth of these. There is no misstake how almost every map begins and ends with a GLADOS segment. This gives you a good time to relax and let your mind rest. It’s also filled with a ton of moments that forces you to use the portal gun to perform simple tasks which makes you feel smart and let you relax for the bigger puzzles.
Braid on the other side of pacing design. It consists of 6 worlds each introducing a slightly different time mechanic but all are still build around a similar core each world starts with 1-2 maps of really trivial puzzles exploring the mechanic but after that the puzzles get much harder sometimes requiring features of the game that you haven’t been informed of yet. Thankfully due to it’s non linear design you can move to a new map if you get stumped removing some of the pain. Most maps also consist of a couple of puzzles with some being trivial and some harder which allows you to move on and feel you make progress. And later then you learn or realize more about the games mechanic you can go back and pick off those unsolved puzzles one by one. And if you get stuck or bored you can just move to a new world get some easy puzzles out of way at the beginning and in that way your brain can relax for a while. While not as suitable as portal for really long play sessions in it’s own way braid’s pacing works out but it might also put you of from finishing the game.

Booth these games was quite different portal is much more story based and therefore couldn’t use the non linear pacing of Braid and braid having virtually no story (compared to portal) can’t really use interludes to break up pacing. The short texts at the begging and end of a world doesn’t break it up enough for that. But booth works in their own right, personally I feel portals pacing works better both in entertainment but also in puzzle progression but braid also works well.

The third game we have is Q.U.B.E that borrows elements from both of them. First out I have to say I don’t think that it’s a bad game in fact I enjoyed the part of it I played very much but the uneven pacing made me not finish the game in the end. Now as a developer I don’t have that much time playing games and even games I like often has to wait for weeks and months and I hope to get back to Q.U.B.E. The progression of puzzle difficulties is well thought out however it consists of puzzle after puzzle after puzzle with very little breaks the transport areas and small cutscenes simply does not give the mind the relaxation of the areas in portal (this might be partly down to there being no written story) also there are very few easy victories along the way once you get to the more complicated parts. But the deal breaker for me was that after the start of the sections I was often met with an entirely new game play mechanic that felt like it had no connection to the rest of the games except i extruded blocks from the walls to achieve it. I could be doing puzzles by bouncing balls to a laser based puzzle segment where i work with limited rotations to rotate the world. So every time I have worked out well how the game and gameplay worked a rug was dragged from under my feet and let me fall down and have to relearn everything from the start. While braids worlds worked differently they still felt familiar and similar here it feels like i was playing a new game and that was mentally exhausting.

For Temporality we want to be certain we hit the right sweet spot. Where the player gets challenging puzzles but that all feels doable and progresses and giving him nice breaks to rest his mind. Because we are more of a story game than a pure puzzler. We feel that it’s important to verify that the player always feels he are making progress on a puzzle and not just banging his head against the wall. So we have a 5 try rule a player should not need more than 5 tries to solve the puzzle and make headway the entire time. If the average player can’t solve the puzzle by then we are probably doing something wrong that stumps them. And after each puzzle we need a rewards area with perhaps story elements, reading some journals or enjoying some scenery. So that we don’t tire them out or make them feel that they are stumped. We also mix it up with puzzles that while not simple consists of familiar parts for the player that allows the player to solve them easily while feeling good about themselves for finding the way through out trickery.

We want the player to feel good about himself while playing our game. We also want to expand his range of thinking and see the world inside the game differently than how it looks, but not at the expense of stumping him. We want it booth ways and pacing is the tool to fullfill that. It’s gonna be a tough nut to crack but with enough Focus testing things should work out.

For the rest of the projects things are progressing well and we will have more info to share with you very soon.

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November 24, 2012

Weekly Update and puzzle solution

by Niklas Hansson

So it’s that time of the week again, Sadly we are a day late with this update but that happens. For today we are going to talk about what we have done the last week and of course the solution to the puzzle in the last post. It seems people overall wasn’t that interested in that compared to the amount of response we have gotten on other posts so we probably won’t do anything like that unless you tells us you want us to.

At the moment we are working very hard with creating 2 entirely new environments for the game, most of the material you see here is from our demo for this years Dream Build Play ( that sadly contained a weird last minute crash bug after around 10 minutes playtime on a single level due to being compiled with the wrong settings) Since then we have done a lot of work, we have updated our lightning model to use properly cosine weighted blurring for cubemaps (in laymen term this means that the blurriness of the reflection always correctly matches the blurriness of the specular highlight which basically makes it easier to make materials that looks real a basic thing about physically based shading (which incidentally will be a subject for further discussion at a later stage), Made various upgrades to our lightning function and how our material system handles specular and due to this we have had to go through every material in the game and tweak and adjust it. However with the exception for the God Rays Screens all the images we are showing this far is from the Xbox360 version of the Dream build Play demo.

This however is soon about to change this week we are putting the finishing touches on levels built in the new environments and during the next week or the week after that we will finally be able to share them which we are looking forward to because they are shaping out to be absolutely stunning. Besides that we are working in preparation for launching the game on steam green light so we are making sure we will have a ton of new and interesting material to share. Including a bunch of PC only features that will allow us to use the superior strength of the PC graphics card to improve the visual quality on a number of effects. We are also hard at work creating new devilish puzzles for the final stages of the game.

If you look at the image above and feel it seems familiar it’s because this is the room of this weeks puzzle question but seen from the players perspective this time so we promised you a puzzle solution last time so here we go. for ease of reference we readd the image.

You enter this room that is blocked in the middle by a big hole you have a closed door to the right. The middle of the room is cut off with a laser. High on the right side is a key to the exit .A clock is counting down a timer at the top of the screen.

You go and stand on the button that rotates the laser and rotate it until it hits the mirror.It now follows the dotted line. Now you have a path to walk around the hole, except that you are stuck because the reflected laser cuts of your current path so you can’t move past it. You have to rewind time then create a clone that manipulates the laser so that the real you is not trapped by the reflected laser.

After this you need to go forward and rotate the mirror so that it won’t block the path to the exit. If you do it like this and then run for the key, time will run out so you rewind time till the point the laser hits the mirror and starts a new time line that will run for the key while the other time-line rotates the mirror so that you can pass out before the door closes permanently due to failing the time limit.

You could add to this puzzle by making the last room not a key to collect but a button that needs to be pressed then you would need to manage more time lines. But due to time points(the points that allows you to manipulate time) concerns that would have made the level impossible. The puzzles in project Temporality is often full level puzzles where you have to find not only a solution but an efficient solution for every puzzle to have enough time points left to manage through the entire puzzle. Sometimes the obvious solution uses too much time points and an alternative needs to be found.

Working with multiple time lines like this and cooperating with yourself to solve problems are the basis of the game-play in Project Temporality.

We hope to have a lot more to share with you during the coming weeks.

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November 20, 2012

A simple puzzle in ProjectTemporality

by Niklas Hansson

So for this midweek post (not sure if we will be able to keep it up with two posts a week but hey we can try at least) we want to look again more to the game play of Project Temporality in the coming weeks we will talk about some of the core ideas and concepts that formed TP, we will also talk about our design philosophies and what we think will make a game fun, why pacing is so important to a game like PT and what we are doing to making it perfect.

But before all of that we just wanted to try to paint a clearer image in your mind about what PT is all about, it is kind of a hard game to explain in a way that allows people to really grasp it. Unless you actually play some levels it might look a lot simpler than it actually is. A big part of the basic idea of Project Temporality is freedom since you can manipulate time in a very flexible time different people will find different solutions to the problems with different usage of your time points. To make a simple analogy if you played the two portal games in the first portal game almost all walls where portal able surfaces which meant there was a lot of different ways to traverse the maps you had freedom in how you selected to solve the puzzles however in portal 2 the amount of surface you could place a portal on was often very limited which meant a lot of puzzles just involved finding portal-able surfaces first and then you could quickly figure out what to do. For me that felt boxed in I was walking through the steps someone else placed before me instead of finding my own way and my own solutions (btw I do love Portal 2 too of course). Thats the feeling we want to capture with Project Temporality it’s your world and your solutions we just create the puzzles. And during our focus testing it has happened quite a lot of times that testers solved a puzzle in a way we haven’t imagined.

Of course not all puzzles are like that, especially not since we showed you the solution. Which is why that first time experience is such a important part of the game and it is also the reason we don’t want to show of to many puzzles or to much about them here because then you will loose that wonderful step of discovering the world and how to manipulate it by yourself. However we want to show something here.

This is an top down image from the first puzzle involving lasers and mirrors. We have marked the entrance and the exit to the room for you we have also marked a key in the upper right room that needs to be collected and carried to the door by the exit to open it. We have a laser that shoots a beam that you can’t pass through and a mirror that would reflect the laser if hit (like with the doted lines) the two buttons rotate the laser clockwise or the mirror counter clockwise but only while you are standing on them. If the laser hits you it pushes you away and might push you down the hole. If that happens you die.

So what we’ll do is that you post your ideas for how you would solve the puzzle (using what you know about Project Temporalitys Game Play) and then in a day or so we post how we would have done it and how the mechanics to solve it works in PT. Remember that a good puzzle is trivial once you know the solutions so we believe it will be more fun for everyone involved this way,

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November 16, 2012

God Rays

by Niklas Hansson

For this week we have something exciting to share with you if you have watched our windows earlier they have been kinda boring a yellowish light only that you can’t see through. This was never intended to be a permanent solution but rather a”Well it’s better than it being black” solution. But it stuck around for surprisingly long. We recently started doing a bit of work where we cast rays from the camera through the corners of the window and use this to texture map a quad with the directions from the sky box. There was some issues with the normal lightning kicking in too because it’s a deferred rendering engine but they where solvable.

So after this we had our artists go in and add some really nice volumetric lightning effects by using additive polygonal planes. This started to looking really nice but to try to enhance the effect we decided to tru to create an implementation of crepuscular rays aka God Rays that we hoped would do two things. Once is filling out the artist made volumetric rays to create an even stronger feeling when you where looking into a window, But also to get some actual coloring depending on the light on the outside in the effect.

The basic implementation was a simple matter it’s basically a biased radial blur with some occlusion added in, very similar to the Kenny Mitchell article. However we apply the area to blur quite differently. We use all our windows as sun colors and even add in fr each window an approximation of how much sunlight would reach it even if the sun wasn’t visible. we also had to do some nice clipping of values to create a consistent look.

 

We are also working very hard on getting two of our new environments up and ready for use in real levels and they are looking really promising. And a lot of different game play tweaks and system changes, things really are moving well along and we hope to have even more exciting news to share with you shortly.

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November 13, 2012

Project Temporality in a Nutshell

by Niklas Hansson

So far we have mostly talked about technical issues and what we are doing on the visual side here but we are starting to get to a point where we are feeling confident enough about the direction the game is going into to share more in depth details of it’s development and the basic ideas and mechanisms that drives it. So here comes an post we made at IndieDB during this weekend that covers those subjects-

So far we at Defrost Games have been working on Project Temporality in various incarnations for around 1.5 years trying out different visual styles, mixing up game play and we finally are feeling ready to really share our Vision.

The basics of Project Temporality has many inspirations it started as a small project to feel our production pipelines and get a small game out in the market but it grew on us quickly. It started I guess along tome ago when I played  Cursor 10 a fascinating but in my view slightly flawed flash game where you had a certain amount of characters and every character lived for a certain time and they had to work together to solve puzzles. The flaw for me was that all characters start from the same beginning so it had a lot of repetitive work and no margin of error. For a flash game this wasn’t much of an issue however.

The other big part obviously comes from portal that in my mind created a new genre of games, finally moving puzzle games out of a flat 2d world and into a huge 3d world. Don’t get me wrong the use of portals was a good idea however to me the other parts of the production like the puzzles,the pacing etc shines even brighter.

Born out of this Project Temporality is a third person puzzle game developed around single player cooperation You used versions (called Time clones) of yourself working together to solve various puzzles. The basic setup is that time travel was discovered and subsequently forbidden because mankind as always fucked up. Earth is hold inside a Temporality field and field that cancels all time manipulations and all research on it is forbidden. You are a “volunteer” on a secret research ship beyond  Jupiter where they experiment with and test cybernetic time warping implants.

I will not try to cover the back story here more than that. But this makes a setup where you have to perform various activities to test and diagnose your implant to make certain it is working properly. Normally there would be doctors and scientists looking after you after each test but somethings have gone wrong.

You progress through the game learning more about your back story and your abilities along the way. But most of all you learn to think about time in a different way which is necessary to solve the later puzzles.

Project Temporality is really all about trying to change the ways the player thinks about time. Instead of considering it as a single arrow going forward as in physics we are treating it more like a branching tree that can double back on itself and sprout new branches whenever it feels like.

That does sound a bit quasi-philosophical. But the gist of it is that we want the player to experience this mental shift where they really have to change the way they think to solve the puzzles.

The player  is granted a couple of powers to facilitate this. He can of course rewind time backwards to undo prior mistakes or try different paths but this is not the game play it’s a mere side effect that also makes the game a lot more forgiving for casual players. The Core concept is the time clone which happens when you rewind time and then makes a new branch  from that time line, meaning that you take control of  a new Time Clone while the old you will continue performing any actions you did before rewinding time. This is the core mechanic for allowing you to cooperate with yourself however there is a key difference between our Time Clones and the canned recordings you have seen in other games. These are true clones and they will continue to perform the actions you recorded however they are still a part of the game world and if you change the game world they will not walk on air or anything like that, For example if you jumped on a platform and for some reason that platform has been moved in another time line your character will jump and fall not stand on an invisible platform

 

This ability is combined with a multitude of game play elements including Lasers,Platforms,Doors,Buttons and Temporality fielded objects amongst others. We will soon release some examples of puzzles to allow you all to better wrap your head around what Project Temporality is about, but in the end you can’t be told you really have to experience it to feel how different it is.

But I hope we have at least shed some light on the core of the game today.

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