This month has been quite a frantic experience for me, I've been in and out of hospital with random intestinal issues which has kept me away from the team for nearly a week, fortunately everyone is really enjoying themselves at the moment and the checkpoint/milestone system helped to keep things on track while I was away. So what have we achieved?
The Tnet server libraries are completed (for now), so we have an excellent foundation for our gameplay server. The database interface and architecture has been in development for the last few weeks, ahead of schedule, so we are now looking forward to getting persistent characters/accounts implemented in the next milestone. Concept artwork and Audio is on track and indeed ahead of schedule. We also now have textured and animated player characters in the world, with instantly swappable armour/body parts, so some great stuff!
I tasked myself with the unenviable checkpoint of gathering and presenting our target market research data this month, which has been... Unpleasant. I've never felt so much like I was back at school doing an utterly pointless exercise. The exception in this case is that the research is terribly important and interesting to me, although I had a very good idea of the situation before starting the project it was nice to confirm and in many cases exceed my market predictions. I can't reveal the research publicly quite yet, it's a little too persuasive :), but I promise to at some time. I hope that a combination of the research and early gameplay examples might help me find some small funding to cover the test server and initial legal costs.
One of the things I'm most pleased with this month is the addition of the rigged, textured and customizable male character model. It's been a nice task to have the artist model, rig and texture to the coders requirements, while at the same time the coder has developed the 3D format for bones, skinning and linked parts to the artists requirements. Before we embarked on this the artist mentioned that a previous project he had been a part of had fallen down because core artwork was developed without any kind of technical outline for its specifications, poly count, format etc. There's no doubt that this can be a huge problem for indie teams which do not spot the potential issues in their artwork pipelines before its too late. In our case we had to be even more careful, because of the sheer number of technical requirements which had to be followed to make the customization possible.
The export method requires us to develop in Max, export to Milkshape, then run through our own editor to set up the joints, that should give you an idea of the complexity of the work flow. If these requirements had not been figured out before the art was in production, we may have lost weeks or months of art development time or worse yet, the artist himself! Thankfully everything went smoothly and communication in IRC and over IM, usually through me, made sure that if anyone was barking up the wrong tree the issue would soon be identified and fixed before it became a problem. So the model format was completed along with the model, textures and initial animation.
I haven't noted it quite like this before, but a key aim in Tearsol Online is that we deliver close to 80% of the game content without any (down)loading screens. This means models, textures, landscapes, audio and GUI elements are constantly streaming to the users computer for caching. As you can imagine this makes every byte saved very important to us and the Model format is an excellent example of how we are working to make this level of streaming possible. By using space saving methods like moving normal calculation to the client and turning indexes into shorts we have roughly halved the size of our models, in addition we will also use compression / decompression systems in the content server and client to further reduce the size. Currently, the human model (that's seven separate body parts and eleven bones on ~1000 poly mesh) weighs in at nearly 10kb. Textures double this size, but I'm sure you'll agree it's an excellent start. We will also limit the number of different meshes and instead use client calculation to add detail and color tints to armour, producing a vast array of types without the additional download time. I'd like to write a more detailed analysis of the various techniques we are using to make this level of content streaming possible at some time in the future. So to finish, here's a shot of our male character in a few of his favourite poses, don't worry the goatee and hair are optional :D.
And finally, a wallpaper created to promote the official name of the game: Tearsol Online. I know its a bit busy for most of you, but I'm sure you can appreciate the artwork!
Visit Export-Games.com for public developer journals by a number of team members - including more frequent updates from me. Cheerio.