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Resurfacing

Hello everybody! Did you miss us?

This blog went without updates for an unusually  long time. You might’ve been thinking that Chaos Cult Games went belly-up and development stopped; however, nothing would be further from the truth. I’ve been busy with rewriting lots of foundational code basically from scratch, while my friends and partners were drawing, modeling texturing etc, preparing new content. All that to make Xenos look way nicer than before.

When I started working on Xenos, (that was almost a year ago. My god, it IS taking longer than planned!) the game world was made up of small tiles. And these tiles had little objects, modeled with all the art skill of an experienced programmer. It looked ugly, but it was workable. Today, when art is created by actual artists, this approach is both ugly and counterproductive; so I had to change everything.

example of a chunk

A single chunk in Unity editor

The new Xenos game world is made of chunks, that are around 100 times bigger that a tile was (i.e. a chunk is approximately 10×10 tiles area). Each chunk can have any number of objects inside, that can be arranged however we like – no grid of tiles is required. And, of course, the objects are not made with voxels anymore, but modeled traditionally with polygons and lots of detail (at least, more detail. We still have to deal with performance limitations). This new approach allows for much more interesting and varied environment, but it also brought lots of technical difficulties. The procedural map generation that worked on tile map, naturally, stopped working. I had to make some new algorithms and I’m still nowhere near the complexity and flexibility I had with tiles. Pathfinding on a tile map is really easy compared to tile-less environment. Again, I reworked it, but it’s no longer as robust as before. Algorithm  for loading part of map on-the-fly – to create seamless environment – works with new system, but is unacceptably slow (went from 200ms to several seconds.) I’ve yet to fix this, and for now Xenos is limited to a single location.

In addition to that, content development is much slower now. Where before I could just decide: “I need a new table for this house”, model said table in 10 minutes with voxels and add it to the game, now I have to ask an artist to create that table. Which takes maybe an hour of actual work, and the work does not start immediately. Of all people working on Xenos, I’m the only one without a full-time job, after all.

On the plus side, with more generic art requirements, we’ve been able to make use of ready-made assets in Asset Store. These help considerably.

Current status of Xenos development is this:

  • We have working chunk-based system, that supports most of game mechanics from current demo.
  • We have a number of assets to create a town location, kind of like the one in demo (but not enough)
  • We’re building different buildings and parts of environment for this location, but we don’t have nearly enough yet.
  • We have concept art for player character and alien robots, and it’s being turned into actual models right now.

So, I think we can wrap these things up and create a new demo version somewhere around october. While you’re waiting, be sure to check new screenshots and concept art on IndieDB!

Exciting times

When I posted Xenos demo two weeks ago, I was hoping that people would play it and maybe become interested in my game. It did work: the site was visited by more than a thousand people, and many of them played the demo (and some gave valuable feedback).

But, in addition to these people, Xenos also attracted some unexpected attention from game developers – unexpected, but most surely welcome. I’ve originally started development all by myself, and thought it would stay that way. I’m glad to say that I was very wrong. At first, my friend and fellow developer from Mail.Ru Games – Timofej Nikitchenko – joined me as a partner at Chaos Cult Games. Then, some people who saw the game on tigsource.com forums offered to help out with art for Xenos. And Timofej, who has lots of contacts in russian game development (he’s a pretty outgoing guy, as opposed to me) brought in basically a whole art team, willing to make art for us.

Between these two categories, we now have more artists that I know what to do with – probably more than 10 people, although some of them would probably drop out later. This means that this whole operation just became way more serious. More people, more resources, more possibilities and less tight budget – all of this has to be put to good use now.

What does it mean for Xenos? As a first thing, the pseudo-voxel art style is gone. I’ve originally devised it as a way to make as many assets as possible myself; now it’s not a problem and we can do better. The whole concept of grid-based world – made up of all those small squares – is gone too, as it’s too restricting artistically. The world would still be a grid under the hood, but made of bigger, much more varied pieces, with unrestricted object placement.

These changes mean that around two or three months of my previous work would go down the drain: all art assets, all map generation code, pathfinding, storage, physics etc. This sort of thing happens in game development, and I’m not at all sad to see it gone: I know I can do better now. Right now, I’m busy working on the new tile-less world prototype; and our concept artists are creating sketches to finalize new Xenos art style.

While I can’t show any pretty pictures this time, soon, I hope, we’ll have loads of them. Stay tuned for the new, much better Xenos!

Pretty pictures

A quick update: some time ago I’ve asked a professional artist to create GUI textures for Xenos. He has finished this work, and now Xenos looks prettier than ever! I’m updating the demo with new textures now, so you can check it out. Or just look at these pictures:

new_ui_1

 

new_ui_2

 

The new demo also has a couple of bugs fixed: objects are no longer usable from behind a wall, and container interface auto-closes when you move away.

Going through feedback

Yesterday the demo version went public on this site. I’ve shown it to everyone who would play and gathered quite a bit of feedback. I want to thank everyone who told me their thoughts on the game, no matter how small or trivial.

Today, I’m compiling everything I heard into a big list, so I can decide what is important and what isn’t. Here’s what people wanted from Xenos:

Important things

That is, things that many(more than one) players noticed/complained about.

  1. Objects such as cabinets can be accessed from behind walls. This is a bug that nearly everyone mentioned. I knew about it beforehand, but it seemed kinda minor. That just shows how skewed a developer’s perspective might be.
    bug_open_through_wall

    Opening a bookcase though the wall.

  2. You can’t kill aliens. That’s not a bug, but it’s the most commonly requested feature by far. A lot of people would equip a crowbar, or a sledgehammer, and try to pound aliens with it, only to discover that it does not work. Originally, I wanted the aliens to be invincible, because, well, aliens! But it seems confusing, so I’m adding attack options in the next update. Killing/disabling an alien bot wouldn’t be easy, though!
  3. Equipping items is confusing and counter-intuitive. In Xenos, you can equip any item in your “hand” slot, which is kinda realistic, but does not match expectations set by other games. Most people wanted to put clothes into some “body” slot that does not even exist. Also, the mechanic where you have to take an item in hand and then click on stuff was missed by most people. I certainly need to rethink my approach to using items and objects; I’m just not sure how to make both usable and intuitive. Back to the drawing board on this one…
  4. The “loot” interface is unwieldy, especially having to close it with mouse click. A lot of people suggested that it should close automatically when player moves, so I’m going to experiment with it.
  5. The status effects and especially the health/damage systems is confusing. I don’t think I can make it absolutely clear without “dumbing down” (It’s a pretty complex system right now, expect a full-blown post dedicated to explaining it.) However, I clearly need to make it clearer. I think I would add a “character screen”, similar to inventory, that would show an expanded view of all your status effects and counters, with explaining tooltips. I would also add some sort of full-screen effect when you’re hurt, wounded etc., to make it more obvious that your avatar is having problems.
  6. The whole situation is confusing; a few people just couldn’t understand what’s going on and what they’re supposed to do. This is important, but sort of inevitable with an early preview – I had to put player basically in the middle of a war zone, because the game does not have anything else at the moment. I hope Xenos would become less confusing with new versions, when I add friendly NPCs etc.

Less important things

That is, things that only one or couple players mentioned, but that still seem relevant.

  1. The game needs a map. I planned to add it right from the start, but this was a low-priority feature that I postponed indefinitely… now that someone asked for it, the priority increased (though it’s still in the “less important things”) I guess map would become more important when the game world would be larger – and I’d have to make it larger for the next version.
  2. The game needs more sound. Or, actually, it needs any sound: right now Xenos is silent. This is another planned but postponed feature, that I really should prioritize more.
  3. bug_light_through_wall

    Torchlight does not respect obstacles

    The torchlight works through walls and obstacles. This is quite unrealistic, and apparently bugs some people. Unfortunately, making a correct light with shadows is quite a task: my hippie freeloader edition of Unity3D does not support shadows at all, and coding them by hand would require a lot of effort. Still, I might bite the bullet and do it sometime.

  4. Aliens are not scary and seem chaotic. There are too many of them, and they don’t try to kill the player. Actually, that’s working “as designed”, because I never intended alien bots to be scary – they are doing their own incomprehensible alien things, and don’t attack the player because they actually don’t care. Having said that,   probably need to make bots seem more purposeful, and add some sort of “scary” alien that would actively harm the player. Just to make things more interesting and varied.
  5. Some people really miss crafting. Right now, most items are useless, and none can be used to create something new. I should add at least some crafting functionality, although the bulk of it would probably have to wait for some future version.
  6. Interface needs hotkeys. “I” for inventory, “Esc” to close open windows. This is pretty basic functionality, I’m surprised that only one person complained… and somewhat ashamed that I missed it myself.
  7. Buildings like stores etc need sign-boards, to make them stand out more. This should be easy to add…
  8. Town generally needs more stuff on the streets, to make  it less boring. This is something I’ve been working on, but more stuff can certainly be added. However, as I plan to add new locations to the game in next version, I think fleshing out town location would remain pretty low-priority for now.

Least important things

That is, things that some people mentioned, but that I won’t do for some reason.

  1. One person suggested making terrain 3-dimensional (i.e. adding varying height.) While this certainly would add more depth (literally!) to the game, and make it more visually interesting, changing terrain to 3D would require changing lots of code. Too much to be feasible at this stage, actually, so Xenos would stay perfectly flat.
  2. Someone also suggested adding “civilian” NPCs to the town map, that try to run from invaders. That’s a nice idea, but I won’t be implementing it. Mainly because in next version, I plan for the game to start outside of town, and by the time the player gets there, everyone would be either dead or gone. So, I don’t want to spend time on a feature that won’t actually be visible.

Whew, that was a lot of feedback! I’ll go and fix all those things listed above now. Meanwhile, I’m open for even MORE feedback – so play the game, and show it to your friends if you like what you see.

Playable demo!

Finally, you can try playing Xenos! The alpha demo is available here right on this site. It is playable in browser, provided you have Unity Web Player installed (or if you don’t, it can be installed with one click on a Windows machine or Mac).

This version is far from final. Lots of stuff is not done yet; in addition to that, making a browser-friendly demo required some compromises. The game world in demo is only 256×256 tiles, so as to fit it in memory all at once. It’s not much of a problem currently, since everything interesting fits in this space.

There’s not much gameplay yet: you can explore the town overrun by aliens and try to not get killed in the process. The “goal” of the game is to find and drive the car. It’s harder than it looks, ’cause the car tank is empty, and you’d have to search for fuel (hint: there’s a gas station there.) Most of the stuff that can be found in town is useless for now, and you can’t do anything to aliens: only run away.

For me, at least, even this version seems kinda fun. What do you think?