Eric has been hard at work updating our lighting. He’s implemented the Oren-Nayar lighting model and added a few tweaks and bug fixes to help improve the overall look of the game. We’ve been testing it out in our newest star system, the Teide System, which is lit by a Brown Dwarf star. Here are two screenshots showing off the lighting changes.
One of the complaints that we have had while play testing Eterium was that the navigation hazards like asteroid fields and mine fields were too difficult for some players. Unlike the enemy AI, nav hazard difficulty did not dynamically adjust. Adjusting difficulty for a nav hazard is much more difficult than an enemy AI. The enemy AI can have its abilities updated in real time. Without major replumbing, nav hazards can only have their difficulty set at the beginning of the mission. Furthermore, enemy AI difficulty is not saved between deaths. When the player reloads a checkpoint, he also reloads his difficulty. The reason for this is that in the act of dying, the difficulty settings are basically destroyed. If difficulty carried over between reloads, then the game would become ridiculously easy. Since that AI adapts in real time, it really is not necessary to carry the difficulty over after death. But in the case of nav hazards, the only real way to determine success or failure is whether the player crashed into a hazard or not. In the case of asteroids, most collisions, especially at the speed the player is likely flying, are fatal. Nav hazard difficulty must carry over between missions. But we cannot allow the nav hazards to get too easy; sometimes the player makes a mistake and dies in an asteroid field, this does not mean that the nav hazards should get easier.
One of the difficult things about creating a game based on a genre from the 90s is that many fundamental philosophies of gameplay have changed since then. Back in the 90s, gamers would buy games like Wing Commander and they would read the generous manual that came with it. But in modern gaming, reading a manual is almost unheard of; in fact most games don’t even ship with a manual anymore. So how do we explain to new players how to play a game as complicated as Eterium without forcing them to read a manual or “attend” training missions? What if a player is returning to the game after a long time of not playing and doesn’t remember all the details? Do they need to fly the training missions again, just to continue their game? Most modern FPS and Third Person games play similar to each other, so a veteran gamer can quickly pick up and play. While Eterium plays very similar to Wing Commander and other space sims, it is still a very complex and complicated game, particularly for modern trends.
Our final conclusion is to develop an intelligent tutorial system (optional of course) that will analyze how the player is playing the game, find his mistakes, and display a relevant tip for the player in a discrete location that does not interfere with the action. In the case of the screenshot below, I forgot how to turn my engines on, so I was stuck on the flight deck. The tutorial reminded me that pressing Y on my Xbox controller will get me going. (Of course our tutorial tips also support keyboard/mouse and joystick for those players not using an Xbox controller).
A new programmer, Eric Duhon, has joined our team. He has been hard at working bringing Nvidia 3D Vision support to Eterium! We’ve got a few screenshots for you today. If you have a 3D display and Nvidia 3D Vision (or capability of viewing JPS files) you can download the JPS files below. Otherwise, here are (scaled down) side by side jpegs. If you diverge your eyes so the two images join together into one you can get a sense of the 3D.3D JPS File
I have been working on updating the tutorials. The original tutorials were not dynamic based on key assignments and controller types. Here are some examples of my progress so far. For the Xbox Controller, I actually show a picture of the button, but I did not feel this was necessary for joysticks (which I can only determine generic button 1..2..3.. etc) and keyboard.
I was watching an episode of Star Trek Enterprise and I got the idea to have asteroid fields have dust clouds. I originally had the clouds the same intensity as on the show, but I felt it was too sharp a contrast to the normal background of the current sector, so I drew it back a bit. Here is a screenshot, notice the yellowish dust color.
I have finished rewriting the Laser FX system. Lasers in games are very difficult because in reality lasers travel at the speed of light, however a laser traveling at the speed of light in a game would pretty much remove any requirement to aim; the laser would strike the enemy almost the moment the trigger was pulled. The lasers in Eterium act more like bullets, travelling at a much slower speed. Laser speeds, unlike lasers in real life, are actually affected by the velocity of the player. The difference between a bullet and a laser bolt is that a laser bolt is usually a long cylindrical burst whereas a bullet is a very small object. It is far more likely for the player to see abnormalities with a laser bolt than a bullet. The problem we were experiencing in Eterium was that the laser bolts would often appear to not come from the player’s guns at all. The lasers were following the trajectory they had when they were shot, not the trajectory the player was currently following. To solve this, the new laser system has the laser “grow” out of the gun. While in this growing phase, the originating point of the laser is always updated to the position of the gun, even while the laser follows its original trajectory. This results in a feel that the laser is bending rather than firing from an incorrect location. While I was updating the lasers, I made them appear significantly better as well. Here are some screenshots.
I have finished creating the missions in Chapter 3. A total of 23 missions are now complete. Many of them still need some tweaks and balance adjustments. I have also created the Signus sector and started work on Chapter 4. Here are a couple screenshots from the first mission in Chapter 4. I’vebe busy working on getting some of the UI elements closer to final. In these screen shots you’ll notice the tactical displays have new shield and armor graphics.