Sunday 27 January 2013

Mobilizing Community For Game Translation

by Simon Dean, Project Lead

It's not the most sensational blog title ever written I grant you, and no crowd puller judging by the tumbleweed that rolled across our teaser post on facebook. But for Gamers out there for whom English is not your native language, this snippet of news hopefully provides for a little cheer: the Folk Tale demo is planned to ship with translations*. I heard that moan from the back of the room, "Oh no, more terrible auto-translation." No no no. They'll be great translations. Why? Because we're appealing to the Folk Tale community to help us translate Folk Tale using the Community Translation Tool web app.

"Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen." Well yes, naturally there is some risk.  So we've gone one step further and added voting.  You won't be able to up-vote your own translations, and all translations are anonymous ( apart from to us ).  Translations voted as being the best quality will make it into the demo and your name included in the credits ( subject to your opt-in via the app profile page ).

Thanks to feedback from one of our community members in Poland, we've added Glossary Tags, our solution to consistent referencing of terminology.  For example, Peter may refer in his translations to werewolves as "hairy dogs" whereas Sally might refer to them as "fanged beasts".  In an ideal world everyone would refer to werewolves in the same way as voted for by the community, and that's where Glossary Tags come in.  By inserting tags into your translations, we can insert the highest rated translation for that tag.  Now all we need to do is expand on this to support multiple inflections.

During February, we're providing email newsletter subscribers with access to the alpha build of the web app.  You are invited to take a look around, add a few test translations, vote on a few, and generally familiarize yourself with how the app works.   We'd love to hear your feedback on ways we can improve the system ready for go-live in March.  We will be wiping the translation database of all data at the end of alpha, so please don't spend too long providing accurate translations.

Once the system is live, we hope to modify Folk Tale to grab live translation updates from our servers, updating the base translations so Kickstarter backers get to see the translations in-game as soon as they are approved.

Email Newsletter and Beta Sign Up
Gain access to the Community Translation Tool by signing up for beta and opting in to receive the monthly newsletter.

* text translations only, subject to the success of the community translation project

Sunday 20 January 2013

The Folly Of Releasing Games Too Early

by Simon Dean, Project Lead

It comes as no surprise that with a growing community comes an increasing call for information on when everyone can get their hands on the Folk Tale demo. Today I'd like to shine some light on our current thinking.

For those of you who don't follow gaming news, there have been a number of high profile cases recently of games including The War Z and Towns where a significant number of vocal customers accused the games of not being ready for release or to have mislead them in some way. In the case of The War Z, Valve pulled it from sale on Steam and for the developers a PR disaster ensued. Towns has fared better and remains on sale, presumably because of their regular updates, supportive community, and smaller volume of complaints.

The outcry of the wider gaming community has echoed reservations we already had; that it would be a mistake to release the Folk Tale demo early, no matter how keen our community is to start playing. To do so would risk the 18 months of hard work all the team have put into development. So instead, once we consider the demo polished and ready, we're going to be contacting members of the gaming press to participate in first impression sessions. It will be these select journalists who confirm whether it's ready or not. If they do not, we'll head back for more development with our tail between our legs, but with our reputation in tact as hopefully no damaging coverage will be published. Of course we hope all our hard work in refining the demo will be well received, and there will be a modest fanfare and maybe even a little dance as a torrent of articles drives potential backers to the Folk Tale Kickstarter campaign that we'd launch shortly thereafter. At least that's how I see it happening in my delusional mind.

So when will the demo be released? That's still the subject of much debate.  We're considering providing a few months of alpha exclusivity to reward backers before commencing the demo closed beta.

Greater Communication
In the meantime, we have increased our regular communications in the build up to demo launch to help keep you up to date on Folk Tale news. The most significant step was the launch of our new monthly email newsletter to everyone who has opted in during sign up for beta. We plan to establish regular features including a summary of news from the previous month, as well as highlighting important questions that we hope to get answered.  At the moment we are asking you the very important question of what gameplay mode should we prioritize in development following completion of the demo. Transparency is as important to us as it is to you.

A few weeks ago we started posting a weekly image from development to via Twitter ( #screenshotsaturday ) which has already generated coverage on indiestatik.  Twitter ( @gamesfoundry #FolkTaleGame ) has the latest snippets of news and thoughts as they happen. The more significant tweets are posted on the facebook page.

If there are other ways you would like us to communicate, please let us know ( our email is at the top of the right panel on this page ).

Beta Signup
For those of you visiting for the first time, applications for closed beta are now open.  Please don't forget to opt in if you wish to receive the email newsletter.

Friday 4 January 2013

Kickstarter: Preparations Begin

In a previous blog we outlined our reasons for adopting a wait and see stance with regards Kickstarter's launch in the UK. In the first month of its launch, we didn't have a huge list of similar UK projects to observe. Projects that we thought would reach their funding targets, didn't. Slowly but surely though, a few projects including Sui Generis and Maia started to reach their funding goals, and by the onset of Winter a number of the UK's best-known game designer-royalty including Peter Molyneux ( Godus ) and David Braben ( Elite: Dangerous ) had launched successful campaigns.

These projects have inadvertently addressed a number of the concerns we had. It appears that the Kickstarter community is prepared to back non-US originating projects, and in doing so supporters have now entered their credit card details, in theory reducing the barrier of additional steps required to support UK projects. Our concern still remains of not being able to quote pledge tiers primarily in USD, but by providing approx. conversion values in USD and EUR in each tier hopefully this doesn't put potential supporters off.

So with the Folk Tale demo approaching completion, we've decided to bite the bullet and start planning and designing our Kickstarter campaign page. It's very early stages, and once we've made progress we'll be sharing a preview link through our newsletter which we'd very much like you to provide feedback on. We need to do everything we can to give the campaign the greatest chance of success.

The provisional campaign launch is April. We shall keep you posted.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Folk Tale Character Shader R&D

by Simon Dean, Project Lead

While the dev team take some well earned time off over the festive break, I've been tinkering with the main character shader used in Folk Tale, looking at ways we can introduce character customization after we've shipped the demo.

One of the design objectives for the final game is to add variety to characters so they don't all look like they came off a drone factory line. While some of that will come from varying geometry such as hair styles, clothing and props, there are a number of simple old-school tricks we can do at the shader level.

Color Tinting

Both skin tone and clothing colors can be varied by converting areas of the artists original diffuse texture to grayscale and applying one or more tint colors in the shader. By painting vertices in the geometry with differing levels of red, we can determine not only which parts of the model are tinted, but the influence level too. However, this tends to result in a fairly obvious tinted look ( as seen in the middle ), so I plan to add some variety by introducing color tints directly onto the texture map. That way we should be able to get some nice color gradient blends happening on clothing.

Selective Scaling

Using the green vertex color channel we can define areas of influence for scaling out the vertices along it's normal, allowing us to bulk up muscle areas. For testing purposes I've just splashed on vertex color, but hopefully the technical artists ( familiar with painting bone influence weights during the skinning process ) will exert finer control and produce more natural results.

Height Scaling

This is just a float value applied to the height of every vertex. I still need to offset this so that character scales upwards from the pivot point between their feet rather than the center of the character which causes them to scale into the terrain. I'll also replace this with a vector, since only scaling the y-axis can produce unnatural results.

What's Next?

I want to explore how much variation we can get into faces. Being an RTS with quite a few characters on screen at once, we don't have a heap of polys to play with in the faces. DX11 tessellation might help out when the camera is up close, but at the moment we're keeping Folk Tale on DX9 so that's not an option. As part of previous R&D the shader already supports tessellation with a DX9 fallback, but it remains commented out.

The vertex color blue and alpha channels free, so I plan to bring those into play.

I would like to be able to define a hard edge and not have the influence bleed over into the faces the other side of the edge. I've tried flood filling a selection of faces which looks correct in 3ds Max, but it's still not producing the desired results in Unity.

Finally I'll add a scale influence float to provide better control over muscle bulking.



The height float value has been replaced with a vector to allow scaling on all three axis. Because scaling is done in model space, I needed to offset the geometry height based on y-scale and original geometry height so that the characters feet remain in the correct position. The w value of the Scaling parameter is free, so I'll set that when the customized character is initialized.

I've added a Muscle Bulk Factor parameter to allow dampening of how much influence a 100% green vertex color has. This should enable us to vary the muscle bulk per character instance.

I've reverted back to the artist's original diffuse map to see how well a non-grayscale texture combines with the color tint. Seems to work quite nicely, but I'll have to discuss how we proceed with the artists to ensure the system supports their needs. I've also added a lerp for a nicer blend between tinted and non-tinted vertices.

To get rid of the unwanted bleed associated with using vertex colors, I've requested our technical artist Tom adds double edge loops where skin changes to cloth, slightly extruding the cloth. This should significantly reduce the visual impact.