Tuesday 29 October 2013

Folk Tale Dev Blog 15

The last fortnight has been all about the graveyard content kit and starting the work of integrating all the component parts that make up the Sandbox Foundation Layer. For the sandbox tower-defense mini-game ( designed to test siege mechanics ) we wanted an area of the map to coax players out from behind their walls to seek out useful treasure that would help extend survival. The mini-game makes extensive use of the Grassland Kit, so we needed a Point Of Interest that could use most of that kit while feeling quite a bit different with the addition of new props, ambient lighting tweaks, and monsters. With Undead monsters trending in the Favorite Monsters forum topic, graveyards being a human construction with a good fit to the human village that you'll be protecting, and finally Halloween approaching, a Graveyard Kit made a lot of sense.

Content Kit - Graveyard

The Graveyard Kit adds a set of props designed to work well with the Grassland Kit. With a little creativity and a handful of props ( see image below ), it will be easy to create a great looking location.

Graveyard Kit Sample


While environment props set the picture, what really brings a location alive and tells a story are characters and monsters. With both the Necromancer and Skeleton trending in the favorite monster forum topic, we promoted them into production and brought them to life.


Undead Skeleton Warrior

Visual Effects - Special Abilities

Necromancers use dark magic to bind the dead to their will. Developing visual effects for special abilities begins with a concept illustration and notes of what we want to achieve. Effects need to sit within a consistent fx theme for the character that includes color, matter, and props. Undead visual effects make use of a haunting green color. It's not vibrant green because we've reserved that for poison effects; nor is it blue/purple to avoid being lost in the blue of night time. The Necromancer animates the dead, so we make extensive use of skulls and bones, as well as unholy flames.

Moving into production, we break down the effect composition into parts and create grayscale textures that will be color tinted and animated at run-time. Many effects can be setup as a one-shot time-based effect without needing additional scripting. For more advanced effects we can write custom scripts to introduce paths and object spawning, or write custom shaders to achieve certain effects like warping the screen to achieve a blastwave effect. After a lot of tweaking and performance testing to make sure the effect doesn't kill the frame rate, we record a video to use as a reference during sound design.

Sound Design

Sound effects are created by layering individual sounds that contribute distinct aspects to the final sound. For example a low frequency reverse-swooshing sound can provide the build up to an explosion of energy sound. Being spells, we can hint at the magical nature with high frequency sparkling sounds, and add in a dash of the skeletons that are being summoned by replicating bone snapping and movement. Individual sounds are either licensed from larger commercial libraries, or recorded from scratch using an assortment of strange sources. For example, the sound of snapping bones can be replicated by breaking sticks of celery close to the microphone.

The final effect can be seen in the cinematic video below starting at 0'28".

Bringing It All Together - Our Mini Cinematic

With our environment designed, characters positioned, ambient lighting setup, and visual effects at the ready, we can record a couple of video snippets to combine together into a short sequence. Other than cross-fading between clips, no other editing has been done to the visuals; it's raw footage captured straight out of the engine running on ultra graphics.

Featured Icon

Non-Halloween Work

Additional work has been done on sandbox code and content. The Human Smelt building is now finished and work started on the three tiers of the Human Cottage, and in programming we're busy pulling all the code together for update 0.2 which will be the Location Editor Preview.

Monday 14 October 2013

Folk Tale Dev Blog 14

A mini-celebration this week with the release of patch introducing the greatly requested Load/Save function. Judging by the lack of support incidents in the forum, it appears the effort that went into testing was most certainly worth it. This was the first time we released an opt-in test build to the community prior to the main release, with members finding a number of bugs. I'd like to thank those who participated in the test for their efforts. Given it's success, we're going to repeat the practice in the future. Eager community members get their hands on unpolished builds a little sooner and help find bugs we've missed, while players happy to wait for the main updates receive more robust patches. That sounds like a lot of positives with few negatives.

On all other fronts, development continues unabated providing more great content to share. So without further ado, here's a look at what's been keeping the team busy.

Location Editor / Tower Defense Mini-Game

One of the ongoing challenges we face in the tile-based Location Editor is how to achieve a natural look where the tendency is for things to look a little square. With the Art Team iterating on the first set of tiles shared in previous blogs, the programming team took a run at adding smooth roads and paths. Adding road tiles was quickly ruled out, and a decision made to try a spline-based ( curves ) solution.

The results are extremely usable in the Location Editor where player-designers are likely to be highly proficient with a mouse. We now need to look closely at how easy to use it would be for less proficient players, and hope to receive plenty of feedback when the Location Editor Preview is made available in major update 0.2.

Concept Art

In the Tutorial we packed five environments into a single map to provide a taste of what to expect from the wider world. In Sandbox, we have an opportunity to explore each of those environments in much greater detail.

For desert environments, we're drawing on the ecology, geology, and architecture of both the Utah and Saharan Deserts. Utah has without a doubt some of the most visually astounding geological features, but we need to look further afield to North Africa for the ecology and architecture that we're after. Ancient Saharan cities such as Timbuktu provide a wealth of architectural inspiration. We'll be building the whole region up as nomadic bandit territory, dotted with trade outposts.

Sometimes concept art emerges that isn't what you originally had in mind, but gets you thinking in a completely new direction. Varsahik are a snake-raptor hybrid; fast on their feet, with a venomous spit and razor-sharp talons. Disturb a nest of this feisty fiends and you're in for a fast paced chaotic encounter that could see you ripped to shreds.

The name Varsahik is based on the Sanskrit word for venonomous snake - varṣāhika.

Art Assets: Characters

Prioritizing assets we need for the Tower Defense Mini-Game, the Art Team have progressed the Swamp Beast from concept to fully animated character complete with telegraphed special moves providing players with a short window of opportunity to move troops out of harms way. The video includes reference sound effects used to brief to our Sound Designer. Visual effects to go with the special moves will be added later.

Art Assets: Buildings

We've started the process of migrating the buildings found in the Tutorial to the three-tiered setup that will be used in Sandbox. Following on from the concept art shared in the last blog, the Windmill and Woodcutter Hut exteriors are now complete.

Featured Icon

Community-Driven Content

With the Favorite Monster forum thread providing great feedback ( please vote! ) one of the next tasks is to create two of the emerging favorites: the Skeleton cannon-fodder and the Necromancer boss. While not the leading monsters in each group, they are the best fit for the environment we are developing for the Sandbox Tower-Defense Mini-Game. We plan to add a derelict Crypt/Mausoleum point of interest that will contain some special loot to help you survive longer, but you'll have to venture out from behind your city walls to go and grab it.