Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wordpress

I've set up another blog over at Wordpress.  Not sure if I'm going to switch over, but it's looking appealing, the main downside being the hipsters.  For the time being, I'll continue to post content in both places.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Long time no see

Once again, I've been slow in updating recently.  Mostly, that's been due to my continued work with GameBanshee, as I've been working on reviews and walkthrough content for the last month or so.  Recently, my review on Fallout: New Vegas' Old World Blues DLC went up, and you can find my thoughts on it there if you'd like them.  I really appreciate the creativity Obsidian's been showing with their Fallout DLCs, and more than any developer lately they've been giving a sense of true added value and worth to their content offerings... goes to show the value of strong storytelling and world design when creating expansions, something many developers could learn about handling their DLC.

I've also been making progress on my mod, Thirst.  As I mentioned before, it's been going a little bit more slowly due to my other obligations.  I'm also at a stage right now where, unfortunately, for all the work I've been doing, there's little to show.  Currently I'm working on the first major dungeon area in the game, and considering the size of the area, the amount of detail invested in it, the actual design work behind it, the writing, etc., it's been hard to show major milestones... while one room might look great, the next might be completely missing, that sort of thing.  Due to the nature of the environment, I can't provide the same visual variety or design rationalisation that goes into it, as well.  Between that, there's also been some overhauls to writing, changes to scripting and progression, that sort of thing.  So, apologies for not being able to treat readers with too many screenshots or videos at this point.  I'll be giving a more thorough update when I have something that's presentable.

One major issue I've been battling is that the models I've been using to build the dungeon environment don't play well with dim lighting.  It's quite curious - they seem to exhibit a degree of self-illumination, even when there are absolutely no lights present at all.

Did someone shut out the lights? ... oh, wait.
Meanwhile, in the single-player campaign, BioWare use the same models to great effect.  I have to imagine that it all comes down to the lightmapper yet again.  Compare this to the same bits and pieces used in the official game:

That's more like it.
It's also pretty apparent that the lightmapper used for the single-player stuff is significantly better if you examine the second screenshot.  Notice how the light bounces softly off of the contours of the wall and pillar, with a small amount of bloom serving to provide strong contrast between the light and dark.  Not only is it more realistic, artistically it also really brings out the good qualities of the core artwork.  Meanwhile, using the lightmapper that comes with the Toolset...

I had to use fog as a substitute for legitimate darkness.  It works, but is still kind of a "cheat."
Not only is everything significantly brighter, but the light is flatter as well.  The subtle detailing in the normal maps appears washed out.  The ambient occlusion that gets baked in looks rough and flat, lacking in depth.  The lights don't really blend together very well - there's no subtle interplay of colour as they meet.  There are partial work-arounds for all of these problems (using more intense lights, extremely dark shadows, bounced and reflected lights added manually), but none of these really allow for the same degree of quality found in any of the official levels.  And unfortunately, it means I have to settle for levels that are going to look good, but never quite as good as what's seen in the Dragon Age game proper.

These environments have actually come a ways since I last showed them.
That said, it's still possible to get good results in certain situations, as seen above, and outdoor environments are just fine as well.  I know I've spent a few posts bringing this up before, but it really is the one thing in the way of bringing my worlds to life.  BioWare, next time you make an RPG engine and release tools for it, could you please use a real-time lighting solution?  Nothing too fancy, just something that doesn't require me to wait half an hour to render.  Come on, you have a license for Unreal Engine... I've seen tower defense games, top-down shooters, platformers, casual sports games, survival horror, I'm sure you can add RPG to that list too.

Anyway, that's enough complaining for one post.  I have a few ideas for articles floating around which I may follow up on, and I'll be sure to provide a more substantial progress update on Thirst when I'm able to provide something a bit more substantive.