Content, content, content

I’ve been preparing for the release of public playable demo of Xenos. There’s still a lot stuff to do before I consider it ready: I guesstimated it last week and came with 4-5 weeks in total. A lot of this time is going to be spent on adding content to the game – I mean, as opposed to writing code, adding new features etc.

Even a relatively small game location requires many objects – static models, effects, items etc. I’m working now with a town sized at 256×256 tiles (that’s the size of a “block” of map that is stored in a single file on disk). It has around 20 different buildings that use some 20 kinds of wall objects and 50 kinds of tile objects – things like furniture, stuff lying around etc. And I think it needs even more, perhaps twice that number. It turns out, a town has tons of different stuff – who would’ve thought, right?

As I’m spending most of my time making models and putting them on the map (the town map is not procedurally generated – I want to have an example made by hand before I tackle generation), today’s post is gonna be mostly pictures.
content_houses

Here we have some residential houses. This (and most of the following) picture is shot in editor mode, which allows me to put camera higher than in-game, to fit more on a single picture.
content_cafeHere’s a little cafe. Currently it mostly reuses the same models as residential houses: it’s just a really big kitchen and many tables. And chairs.

content_store A general store with a parking lot. With a small house in background.

content_warehouse

A warehouse with crates. No game can be considered complete if it doesn’t feature crates (although, these are just cardboard boxes actually. I guess they’ll have to do..)

content_workshopSome sort of workshop. I think workshops and generally industrial  buildings are in the most dire need of more models. I had to resort to sprinkling “generic rubble” around here.

content_gas

A gas station. Looks sorta empty, but it would be of huge importance when I add refuelling mechanic to the game.

content_invThis picture shows a different kind of content: items. To make a more-or-less believable abandoned town, I have to put lots of items in the houses. Since Xenos is set immediately, or maybe soon after, the apocalypse, I can’t just explain empty containers with “everything has been looted”, like zombie games do: there are no looters yet – in fact, you play one of the first. I made dozens of items, event though lots of them still use the generic “gray box” icon, and don’t do anything useful in-game. Some don’t even have any descriptions: try writing interesting 5-15 word descriptions for 20 items in a row and you’d understand why.

I think town content is mostly ready for the demo; but I need at least some alien objects to add: their metal robotic structures, traps, and maybe a couple of alien “species”.

Also, if you can think of any useful object or item to add, don’t hesitate to suggest it in comments. I don’t promise I’d add it immediately, but it would probably find its way into the game sooner or later.

 

On vision and violence

Xenos development has stalled a bit lately, because I’ve been sick. I had a mother of all fevers last week, but fortunately I got better, and am now back to the game. This means that I don’t have many exciting new features to describe; but I still don’t want to leave this blog silent for a long time… So, let’s talk about Xenos vision: what would the game actually be about?

I have to say that my ideas about Xenos change all the time, sometimes radically. When I just started first prototype, back in 2011, I envisioned some sort of cross between Crimsonland and Terraria: a top-down game of frantic shooting combined with resources gathering and building. Today, there’s no building (although some is planned) and no shooting (ditto), and the accent is mostly on gathering and exploration. Ideas for Xenos that I have today might also change in the future – though maybe not so radically, since the game is already under development.

And my current ideas about what Xenos should be were born from my musings on violence in games. I’m not going to argue that videogame violence is inherently bad, or good for that matter – that’s better left to psychologists. But what I clearly see is that it’s prevalentIt’s not just that games are violent: it’s that violence is basically the only tool game protagonists have. If we take more “traditional” games (i.e., exclude puzzles and casual games etc, that don’t feature any violence at all), most of them are structured like this: “There’s something wrong with the world. Go kill those people, then everything’s gonna be OK.” Some games – a precious few – embellish this formula somewhat, making it “There’s something wrong with the world. Go figure out who to kill so that everything would be OK” or “There’s something wrong with the world. Go kill those people… oh, that’s making it worse!” And we praise these games for being “serious”, for offering “moral choices” etc. Having hundreds  and thousands of games repeat this same formula seems kinda sad.

I don’t want to do that. I’ve decided that for Xenos, violence would not be the only, or even the main, tool of the protagonist. And that actually meshes quite good with the theme of alien invasion… I mean, I could make the game about blasting aliens to pieces. But realistically speaking, a single guy could never blast the whole invasion out of existence, no matter how badass he is. The only way to do that is postulate some sort of “hive mind” or “mothership”, that, once destroyed, takes the entire alien race with it. In my book, that’s a cheap and cheesy trick, but even Duke Nukem basically uses it with Cycloid Emperor. And Duke is probably the most badass hero in the universe.

But, if you can’t defeat the aliens though sheer firepower – what would you do with them? Making a game without any victory condition seems way sadder than using violence in the same way everybody does. Another cheesy trick that I frankly don’t like is finding some way to “speak” with aliens and then basically telling them off. Some games use this, like Space Rangers or UFO: Aftermath for example: you speak with aliens, explain that humans are a sentient race, and invaders immediately see the error of their ways and stop. I think it’s really cheap, but what choice do I have? I can’t kill them, I can’t tell them off…

Ligthning-flinging robots and alien poison gas.

Ligthning-flinging robots and alien poison gas.

Let’s talk about the difference between aliens and zombies. I know, that seems like a sudden diversion, but bear with me – it’s actually relevant. You see, Xenos is really looking like Project Zomboid, only with aliens instead of zombies. What’s the difference? Well, first, zombies are stupid, easily destroyed, but numerous. You kill them by the dozen, but more always come, and in the end there are too many. Xenos’ aliens, on the other hand, are relatively rare, but really tough. You just don’t dismantle an armored alien robot with a monkey wrench – or a shotgun, for that matter.  Also, zombies pursue the living relentlessly, longing for their brains; but aliens basically don’t care about humans. They just do their stuff, and if you get in the way, you die. And we humans have no idea what that “stuff” is. I think these aliens are actually a lot like a natural force. Take thunderstorms for instance: we can’t do much about a thunderstorm, and we don’t know why or when a thunderstorm appears (OK, we do, but didn’t for most of human history). Mostly, we just try to stay out of the way, just like with aliens in Xenos.

And what do we, as a species, do with natural forces? We study them; we subvert them; we use them to our advantage. That’s  what Xenos should be about: you should study and subvert aliens to win. The victory condition would be humanity that learned to live with the alien “menace” and ever transformed the “menace” to “boon”. I like this idea, because it’s not something that’s been done to death (like the “destroy the hivemind” trick), and it’s not something that’s achieved through violence. Also, being a technocrat and a transhumanist, I really like the “triumph of science” vibe. Of course, this ending raises a question of whether subverting and using a supposedly sentient race is any better than genocide, but that is actually an interesting question to raise (If aliens in Xenos are in fact sentient. They might not be.)

I don’t plan to make Xenos an entirely non-violent game. It’s a sandbox, after all, and a sandbox should offer maximum freedom, including, in this case, freedom to blast some aliens, and/or humans, with a shotgun. But violence would not be the path to victory, and that’s enough for me.

Playing around with cameras

I’m busily adding new stuff to the game; but all this stuff seems kinda disjoint. I’ve added lots of different models, items, and a couple of new mechanics (like hunger and eating), but they don’t yet form a coherent whole, and as such I don’t really intend to write about them.

In the meantime, I have something to show and discuss. While Xenos is a 2D game mechanically, it is rendered using 3D models. This means, among other things, that I can change camera behaviour willy-nilly, without affecting the rest of the game. I’ve played around with different camera angles lately, and here’s the results:

High camera

High camera

High camera

This is the “default” setup that was used in all screenshots to-date. The camera is pretty high, with a small field-of-view. It’s supposed to add a “toy-like” feel to the game, but I’m not sure it’s working. Character controls use a “top-down” style: WASD moves in cardinal directions, and mouse is used to target things.

Low camera

Low camera

Low camera

This is a variant of previous setup where camera is moved closer to the ground, but its field-of-view is increased. This gives a sort of fish-eye effect, exaggerating the 3D feel. Controls are the same as with high camera.

Isometric camera.

Isometric camera

Isometric camera

An opposite to low, this is “infinitely high” camera. Perspective is disabled at all, and the game looks 2D. Every model is always seen from the same angle, which is both nice (because I only need to worry about this angle when creating models) and bad (because it may be hard to see in this angle). Isometric look is sorta “real old-school”.

Top-down camera

Topdown camera

Topdown camera

This camera uses the same height and field-of-view as “high” one, but it’s looking directly down, and in a cardinal grid direction. This view reminds me of original Grand Theft Auto, which is probably a good thing. It’s also old-school, and my shitty 3D-models look least shitty in this view – mainly because it’s hard to make out anything (-8. Now, for something really different…

FPS camera

FPS camera

FPS camera

Yes, I can easily switch to full first-person view! Control scheme has to change – now, WASD controls forward/backward and strafe movements, and mouse rotates character around. I suppose that any on-screen menus would have to be modal with this camera (that is, you’re either moving around or using inventory or whatever, never both at the same time). First-person view make the world around seem way bigger and more mysterious than bird’s eye views. However, voxel models don’t look so good, and repetition becomes more apparent. Also, I need to add roofs for this view.

MMO camera

MMO camera

MMO camera

As a compromise between FPS and bird’s eye, I tried this view. I call it “MMO” because the characted is controlled in the same way as in WoW and the likes: WASD moves forward/backward and turns character, and mouse is used to interact with the world and on-screen GUI. I must say that the character model looks especially ugly this close.

 Poll

I actually like all of these views, and have a hard time choosing. So here’s a little poll where anyone can vote for whatever camera mode you like.