Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Shadow maps make me happy

I’ve been watching some WW2 footage, some war movies, some video game footage, etc, in a bid to up the visuals in GTB. A lot of it can’t be seen in a screenshot, it’s moving-picture stuff really. UI’ve also been re-visiting how I make the shadow maps, and massively boosting their resolution. What PC’s can’t handle a 2048 square texture these days? None, I suspect.

Anyway here is a very sparse GTB screenshot:

And here is the same frame, but without the shadowmap.

I think the shadowmap wins by a huge margin. (It’s more apparent full screen, when moving and zooming etc. Combining a grayscale shadowmap with tileable textures not only makes it look less 2D, but it also means you can detect the repeating tile patterns a lot less. I am using a tile-based system to afford easy level design for players. I’m also toying with the idea of automatically generating the shadow maps from the player-designed paths. I think it’s quite doable, although non trivial, and better than expecting players to use photoshop etc.


Running to keep up

About 8 years ago I was chatting to the receptionist at a games company I worked for, and she was telling me about a conversation she had recently with the lead coder (and general all round engine god) of the company. He had been working late (as usual) and looked up at her, a bit vacant and said “I can’t handle this any more”. By which he meant the long long hours of coding, coding, staring at a screen (he had 3) and pouring over complex algorithms to get the code to be faster, faster… He wasn’t an 18 year old student any more, and it hit him really suddenly.

That’s kind of the whole lifestyle trying to keep up in the world of game production.

It’s not just games. I remember a quote by Glenn Tipton, guitarist for Judas Priest, where he said he loved the new wave of neo-classical heavy metal guitarists, because even in his forties, it meant he couldn’t put his feet up and know he was good. They were always pushing him every year to be faster, flashier, better.

There's always someone who can play faster than you...

I’m sure it’s true in every field, weight lifting, (any kind of sport really), comedy, writing… the pressure goes up and up each year. In order to suceed, you need to be better than the people who came before, and every year, the cumulative pile of stuff that came before gets bigger and better.

I am VERY aware of the fact that you can go to steam right now and buy a lot of once-big-budget games for the same price as buying one of mine. I’m not trying to play AAA games at their own game, but I’m trying to keep my games as fresh and modern and polished as I can. The harsh fact is, I can’t expect to make a game that’s just *as good* as Gratuitous Space Battles, and expect it to sell as well, three years later. That’s planning to fail. I need to address every single thing I know was wrong with GSB, and if I achieve that, I expect to maybe match that games sales, nothing more.

So in comes better online integration, achievements, better unlocks, hopefully better user customisation. Better artwork, better all-over-polish, better play testing and bug testing. And that means hiring more artists,  spending more time, being more obsessive with detail. This is not an easy gig. This is anything but an easy gig. And yet I love it. When I tried the battlefield 3 beta, I was noting everything that impressed me about it, knowing I need to get that sort of detail into GTB. When GTB comes out, BF3 will be old news. It will be yet another rung on the ladder of what gamers expect.

Note: I’m not just talking about graphics. I couldn’t begin to compete with the shaders and the pixel-pushing power of the frostbite engine. I’m talking about polish, all those little things that make games more playable, approachable, long-lasting and easy to use. Stuff like animated menus, text that nicely fades in and out, and is pin-sharp. intuitive GUI’s that are in just the right place, taking up just the right amount of space. Really well thought-out color palettes, sounds that all seem to fit together, flawless execution of UI stuff, great tutorials etc.

Back to work…