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etodd makes games

Screenshot Saturday 173

Posted by , 30 May 2014 - - - - - - · 595 views

Last week was a huge update, so this week is a bit smaller.
First, we’re hard at work on the animations. Here are some early WIP animations:
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There are also a ton of new player sounds to accompany those animations, but those aren’t very screenshotable. Posted Image
I also vastly improved the god ray effect from last week, so everything is much smoother. Here’s another 4K screenshot of it:
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In other news, Geel has been working on a brand new time trial mode. Check it out!
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I also launched an Official Wikifor Lemma in partnership with Gameiki this week. It’s not very active yet, but I’m sure it will grow as people find more nifty things tucked away in the game.
Lastly, we are in full-scale preparation mode for various game expos and competitions. The first one we’ll be at is the Midwest Game Developer Summitin July. Hope to see you there!

Screenshot Saturday 172

Posted by , 23 May 2014 - - - - - - · 600 views

Big update this week!
First, I updated the logo. I rotated the cubes 45 degrees to try and convey a better sense of speed and movement. What do you think?
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Next, I added support for 4K screenshots. Now I can hit Alt-S and my renderer resizes all of its buffers to 4096×2304 (biggest 16:9 resolution supported by XNA), renders the scene, saves it to a PNG, then resizes everything back to normal.
Here’s a 4K screenshot for you, showing off another nifty new feature: god rays!
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Lastly, I’m happy to announce that geel9 (of scrap.tf fame) joined the Lemma team this week and already contributed some new code in the form of Steam integration:
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And an awesome in-game console:
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That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Mirrored on my blog

The Poor Man's Dialogue Tree

Posted by , 19 May 2014 - - - - - - · 2,587 views

As some of you may know, Lemma has an interactive dialogue system that lets you exchange text messages with an AI character.
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I implemented every conversation manually in code (well, scripts) until this week, when I got fed up and decided to automate the process!
Like the last article in this series, my system has all the hallmarks of a Poor Man’s solution: developed in-house, tailor-made, simple, and based on free and open source software.

Step 1: What exactly am I doing
This might shock you, but I decided to model conversations as trees. Hold on to your butts, guys.
The big problem with a purely tree-based system is that the number of branches can easily explode to an unmanageable size. When I was scripting conversations manually, I could use tricky code to express complex behavior without explicitly writing out every possibility.
For example: let’s say you’re making a game about Mexican drug cartels. It’s called 4:20 to Yuma. Early in the game, an NPC named Enrique asks you at gunpoint where his money is hidden. You have two choices: tell him where it actually is, or lie.
At that point, technically the entire game splits into two possible outcomes. In our conversation tree model, we would model this as two giant branches.
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Now eventually, that choice will have an impact on the game, but in the meantime, Enrique will probably behave the same either way. He’ll drag you out to wherever you said the money was. Your choice only has an impact once you reach the destination and Enrique finds out if you told the truth or not.
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Let’s say it’s a long journey and there’s a lot of dialogue along the way. That dialogue is the same regardless of your initial choice, yet we have to keep two separate copies of it to maintain our initial branches.
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This is less than ideal. A purely tree-based model is clearly too simple for our purposes. On the other hand, I don’t want to implement a full-on visual programming language because a) that sounds hard and b) the whole purpose of this system is to avoid convoluted code.
In the end, I decided to add one new construct to our tree-based system: variables. This lets me set a variable, continue on with the rest of my dialogue, and branch based on that variable later, like this:
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It’s still pretty simple, but much more powerful. An added advantage is that you can easily split the dialogue into multiple files and link them together using variables.

Step 2: Author
I needed a fast, visual way to design dialogue. I immediately ruled out an in-game editor. It would be way too much work to write everything from scratch. I looked at a variety of flowcharting tools before settling on JointJS, an HTML5 flowchart library that integrates nicely with Backbone and jQuery. I dusted off my JavaScript skills and set to work.
I started with this example, which demonstrates how to combine regular HTML elements with the SVG it uses to render the boxes and connections.
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JointJS turned out to be an absolute joy to work with. It has clear separation between the model and presentation layers. Each node is a Backbone model, and it’s pretty easy to create a new type of node:
joint.shapes.dialogue = {};
joint.shapes.dialogue.Base = joint.shapes.devs.Model.extend(
    defaults: joint.util.deepSupplement
            type: 'dialogue.Base',
            size: { width: 200, height: 64 },
            name: '',
                rect: { stroke: 'none', 'fill-opacity': 0 },
                text: { display: 'none' },
                '.inPorts circle': { magnet: 'passive' },
                '.outPorts circle': { magnet: true, },
After a whole lot of JavaScript hacking and CSS styling, I ended up with this:
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I came up with five node types:
  • Text – displays a message from the AI character. Can link to one Text, Node, Set, or Branch, or to one or more Choices.
  • Node – does nothing. Can link to one Text, Node, Set, or Branch, or to one or more Choices.
  • Choice - presents a choice to the player. Can link to one Text, Node, Set, or Branch.
  • Set – sets a variable to a value. Can link to one Text, Node, Set, or Branch.
  • Branch – takes one of several paths based on the value of a variable. Each port can link to one Text, Node, Set, or Branch.
I chose these rules to make it easier for the authoring tool to validate the dialogue tree. They still offer a lot of power. You can start execution at any node other than a Choice and it will make sense.
The purpose of the Node type is two-fold. First, it allows me to start a conversation by offering Choices to the player without displaying a Text from the AI character. Second, it allows me to link Branches to Choices, which is useful if I want to offer choices A and B in one case and choices C and D in another case.
The words you see in the Text and Choice nodes are localization markers. I write a few words that describe the gist of the message. Later I write the full message in an Excel spreadsheet and my localization system fills in the correct text (more on that in another article!) The localization marker doubles as a unique identifier that can be accessed in code as well.
Try the demo yourself! Right-click to show the menu. Source code here. Tested in Chrome and Firefox.

Step 3: Export
One great thing about a JointJS graph is that, since it’s a Backbone model, it can export and import to and from JSON. It even picks up your custom properties!
Here’s my save code:
localStorage[filename] = JSON.stringify(graph);
And here’s how I load it back up:
Here’s how to export the data to a file and have the user download it:
function offerDownload(name, data)
	var a = $('<a>');
	a.attr('download', name);
	a.attr('href', 'data:application/json,' + encodeURIComponent(JSON.stringify(data)));
	a.attr('target', '_blank');
The JSON data includes a lot of information about the visual layout of the graph. This is great because the graph will load up exactly how you left it, but all that extra information can make it tough to parse in your game engine. I found it necessary to write a function that goes through the JSON and pulls out only the parts needed in a game engine.
Step 4: Execute
Almost done! Now we just parse the JSON data, pick an initial node, and start executing the instructions.
I used the excellent Json.NET library for parsing. Here’s the entirety of my execution code:
public void Execute(Node node, IListener listener, int textLevel = 1)
    string next = null;
    switch (node.type)
        case DialogueForest.Node.Type.Node:
            if (node.choices != null && node.choices.Count > 0)
                listener.Choice(node.name, node.choices.Select(x => this[x].name));
            next = node.next;
        case DialogueForest.Node.Type.Text:
            listener.Text(node.name, textLevel);
            if (node.choices != null && node.choices.Count > 0)
                listener.Choice(node.name, node.choices.Select(x => this[x].name));
            next = node.next;
        case DialogueForest.Node.Type.Set:
            listener.Set(node.variable, node.value);
            next = node.next;
        case DialogueForest.Node.Type.Branch:
            string key = listener.Get(node.variable);
            if (key == null || !node.branches.TryGetValue(key, out next))
                node.branches.TryGetValue("_default", out next);
    if (next != null)
        this.Execute(this[next], listener, textLevel);
The IListener interface provides four functions: Text and Choice to display messages and choices to the player, and Get and Set for accessing variables. There’s not much more to it, but you can check out the full code here.

I think the types of conversations you can express with this system are pretty varied, but if it’s not enough it would be very easy to add new kinds of nodes. Go forth and dialogue!

edit: Yes, it's not a tree, it's a directed graph. My bad!

Mirrored on my blog

Screenshot Saturday 170

Posted by , 10 May 2014 - - - - - - · 758 views

Hello and welcome to another week of Lemma development progress updates!

This time I did a lot more work on the player character. I spent a ton of time in GIMP working on the texture map. I didn’t skimp on memory space, it’s a full 4096×4096. The GIMP file is over 150MB.

I also split the model into three distinct materials: a shiny one for the chest, neck, and pants, a less shiny one for the hands, and a completely dull one for the hoodie. I stored the mappings for these materials in the texture’s alpha channel.

Finally I cut the triangle count from almost 60,000 down to about 26,000 without noticeably decreasing the visual quality. I did this by removing an extraneous subsurf layer from the hands and baking the high-res data into the normal map. Here’s the final result:
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(Ignore the shadow hole near the shoes… it’s a geometry issue)
I also did a ton of work on the animation system. I was using linear matrix interpolation, which can result in a lot of weird squashing when blending between animations:
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Now I decompose each bone matrix into its scale, rotation, and translation components and blend them individually. The result is much more natural:
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I also now use quadratic easing to blend between animations. Before, the model would move to the target pose at a constant speed and then instantly stop, like this:
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Now the model accelerates and decelerates much more naturally:
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Finally, I implemented a nifty technique to improve the shadows even more. Normally you bias your shadow map samples by a constant amount, or perhaps you scale it by the “depth slope”, so that more problematic triangles facing perpendicular to the camera get more bias.

Shadow map bias is a necessary evil because it causes Peter Pan artifacts, where the shadow becomes detached from the shadow caster:
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I was researching all this when I stumbled on normal offset shadows. It’s simple: offset your shadow map sample in the direction of the normal. It works beautifully:
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It also has the added benefit of simulating a bit of depth in your texture if you use a normal map.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!
Mirrored on my blog

Screenshot Saturday 169

Posted by , 02 May 2014 - - - - - - · 815 views

This week I finally implemented SSAO! It’s pretty basic, but it works.
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Check out the effect source code here.
It’s a big deal for me because I tried it once before and it came out like this:
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I’m also still working on the player model. I think it’s close to being in a usable state. What do you think? Is that a ponytail, or a brain slug?
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Like I mentioned last week, I’m using Rigify to rig the mesh. I wrote a little Blender operator that bakes all the IK animations into a format I can use. If there’s interest I’ll post an article soon about the whole process, because Rigify is surprisingly hard to find information about online.
Lots of other stuff is happening too, it’s just not very screenshotable. For example, I finally figured out a way to prevent people from infinitely spamming the wall-jump straight up a corner, and I did it without nerfing legitimate wall-jumps at all. Great success!
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading.
Mirrored on my blog

May 2014 »