Lacuna Passage - Devlog #31 - The Midwest Game Developers Summit

Last week we posted (mistakenly only in a Kickstarter update) about taking a trip to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin (yes, that's a place) for the Midwest Game Developers Summit (yes, that's a thing).

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We decided to bring along our improved Prologue demo that we created for GDC and show it publicly for the first time in the MGDS expo hall. And the response that we got from players was awesome.

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The recently added controller support came in very handy and the game felt great played on a big screen with a controller in your hands.

Our players walked away with some cool stickers and we took their names and emails so that we could send all the photos they took in the game to them later. We were blown away by some of the pictures they took and collected our favorites in an album (click below to enlarge or view on Imgur).

I also gave a talk at the conference entitled "AAA" Indie: Big Games with Small Teams and Tiny Budgets. If you are interested in seeing some behind the scenes development details about Lacuna Passage you can check out a video recording of the talk below, but the audio is not great so make sure you enable captions to help you follow along.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #29 - Habitat Interior Designs

Since we posted our last few videos we have made even more progress with the time-of-day systems by adding in clouds and stars which you can see below.

Exaggerated clouds to demonstrate the rim-lighting effect as the sun passes behind the clouds

Exaggerated clouds to demonstrate the rim-lighting effect as the sun passes behind the clouds

Subtle, wispy clouds like you would find on Mars

Subtle, wispy clouds like you would find on Mars

With these systems mostly complete I have now moved on to improve our scripts for controlling inventory and context sensitive object interaction. One of the first steps in doing this has been to make a “tag” system. This will allow us to display information about any object just by looking at them. Below you can see these new tags in their early form.

I’m also very happy to officially announce that we now have a new full-time team member! My brother Spencer (who can be seen in the original Kickstarter pitch video) has joined us as a full-time artist and general assistant for the project.

Spencer and Jeremy (another part-time project volunteer) have been focused these last few weeks on developing the designs for the main habitat, otherwise known as the Hab. Jeremy has been creating a set of modular elements that can be combined like lego pieces and Spencer has been utilizing those modular pieces to rough out several different internal “modules” of the Hab. Below you can see the first three modules we have begun designing. The crew bunks, a bathroom/laundry area, and a couch seating area.

Crew Bunks

Crew Bunks

Bathroom/Laundry

Bathroom/Laundry

Couch Seating

Couch Seating

These are still very early screenshots. There we be lots of detail added in the final designs, especially when we start to apply more textures. With Spencer working on these models full-time we expect lots of progress in the coming weeks.

We are taking a lot of care in designing this habitat not as a sprawling space base out of a science fiction film, but rather a dense, functional living space that would be reasonable for an early mission to Mars. The Hab is one of three planned structures that will make up the Foundation Base Camp. The others are a greenhouse and laboratory, which we will begin building soon.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #26 - Development Since GDC

After returning from GDC last month we have come back to development with a renewed vigor. I met some great people and attended some great sessions, all of which have inspired the direction we will take from here on out. Today I want to discuss some of our current objectives.

One of our big focuses right now is to polish up our dynamic music system. Over the last several months we have determined that our music solution might be a valuable addition to the Unity Asset Store. The system we have designed solves a unique problem that we think other developers might be able to benefit from (you can see an early version of the system in this devlog video we posted a while back). With the announcement during GDC that FMOD will be free for indie developers with small budgets we were worried that our system might become redundant, but after looking at the pros and cons of using FMOD we are convinced that our system provides a simpler and more streamlined workflow for developers looking to utilize dynamic music stems without the need for an external editor. We will likely charge a small amount for our scripts on the Asset Store to see if we can subsidize part of our development cost with the income.

Some of you may have heard of the game Extrasolar which utilizes a non-real-time photography mechanic. The developers of Extrasolar gave a talk at GDC called “Game Design at 0.0003 FPS” where they detailed some of the specifics of their system and it got me thinking of ways we could benefit from this approach. We obviously still have to maintain a decent frame rate for the exploration elements of Lacuna Passage (which the player can influence by selecting different quality settings), but when the player chooses to take a photo we have some leeway. We can render a higher quality screenshot from a secondary camera with more image effects than the primary game camera at the cost of only an extra half second of rendering time.

These are some examples of non-real-time photos taken from the game Extrasolar. Click to see the full resolution.

These are some examples of non-real-time photos taken from the game Extrasolar. Click to see the full resolution.

For those with high-end gaming rigs, taking a photo will take almost no time at all and the quality will be identical or even slightly better than the quality of their game-view camera. Those with lower-end hardware running on low quality settings will still get the same high-quality photographs just with a slightly longer rendering time (still less than a second). Since we don’t have to worry about rendering multiple frames per second when taking a photo we can create a unified quality for all photos for all players. This is especially useful when we look at our VR implementation. Obviously we can’t take a screenshot of the view straight from the Rift or we get a distorted, double-vision photo. Below you will see what a photo taken from the Rift looks like with our new secondary camera system.

Top image is the view from the Rift cameras. Bottom image is the photo taken from that view. Click to see full resolution.

Top image is the view from the Rift cameras. Bottom image is the photo taken from that view. Click to see full resolution.

We have also been working to improve our asset pipeline so our artists can produce content faster and more efficiently. An important part of this process is our Asset Previewer. Our Asset Previewer is actually a small separate Unity project that contains all of our shaders from the game and some tools for viewing assets that help to ensure that when they are put in the game they will fit with the scale and style of all the other existing assets. This is extremely useful for us since we cannot afford to purchase Unity Pro licenses for all of our artists. They can preview assets with this project in the free version of Unity and I can import them into the main project later.

Recently we added a feature that lets us export animated gifs straight from the Asset Previewer to create seamless turntables of our assets. Between these gifs and other screenshots we can get a great idea of what an asset will look like before we ever need to place it in the game. Here are some examples.

Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient

The weeks since GDC have been extremely productive for us and we hope to keep up this pace. If there is anything else you’d like to see about our development just let us know in the comments!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #25 - GDC Mega Update

Regretfully, it has been almost two months since our last official update. Well today I am remedying that with a really exciting post about my upcoming trip to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (actually I'm writing this from the airport on my way there). The team can’t wait to show our work to all the conference attendees, but I wanted to share with you first all the work we have done to prepare for this trip.

We have created a demo that we are calling Lacuna Passage Prologue which will serve as a sneak peek of what players will expect to see in the final game. It has story elements that tie into where the game will start, but the gameplay is more of a linear tutorial to introduce important concepts in a short time span for demonstration purposes. This Prologue content may or may not be incorporated into the final game. It depends a lot on the feedback we receive while at GDC and if we think it is valuable to the experience we want to create. Since a lot may change in the coming months we are not planning to distribute this content to backers prior to release, but we have created a video play through for you all to watch and added a bunch of new screenshots.

We would love to hear what you think of the direction we are taking. If anyone is interested we might do a more in-depth run down of how we built this demo in a future devlog. This is a great opportunity for us to get even more people excited about Lacuna Passage who may never have heard of us before. Feel free to share the video or screenshots with your friends and family.

If anyone will be attending GDC and would like to play a live demonstration of the Prologue content you can email me at <contact [at] randomseedgames.com>. I will also be wearing bright red Lacuna Passage tshirts all week, so if you see me just flag me down!

Wish us luck!
Tyler Owen
Project Lead

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #23 - Steam Dev Days and The Months Ahead

Hi there! My name is Tyler Owen and I'm the lead developer for Lacuna Passage. I normally write these posts anyway, but I wanted to make this one a little more personal while discussing some of our plans for the coming weeks and months ahead of us.

Steam Dev Days

This Wednesday and Thursday I will be attending the first Steam Dev Days event in Seattle with my father Jeff Owen (who has been kindly assisting with many of the financial and business-related elements of Random Seed Games). The conference is an invite-only event for approved Steam partners, which, thanks to the support of our followers on Steam Greenlight, we are.

Our goals in attending the event are threefold. 1) To learn more about the specifics of Steam publishing and SDK integration, 2) To explore the future possibilities related to VR and Steam Machines, and 3) To meet up with other indie developers.

This will be our first real conference visit since starting development of Lacuna Passage. Unfortunately we will not have a proper demo along with us, but it seems that will not be the focus of the conference anyways. The announced sessions and the fact that this is invite only for developers indicate that this conference will not be about promoting or demoing games. It will be about learning the Steam infrastructure directly from Valve and networking with other developers to learn from their experiences. That's what we intend to do. Our acceptance onto Steam through the Greenlight process might arguably be more important to the future of our company than even the funding support we received via Kickstarter so we don't want to waste this opportunity.

If any other developers are interested in talking shop while at the conference, please get in touch with us via email or twitter and we can figure out a time to meet up.

The Months Ahead

It is becoming apparent that we may not be able to provide as many behind-the-scenes details over the coming months as we have since the Kickstarter. This is due to many factors, but most importantly, we don't want to spoil things for our players. Since so much of Lacuna Passage revolves around the story we want to tell, we need to be careful that those story details are not revealed too early. We want many of our art assets and locations in the game to be a genuine surprise. What that means is that as we continue development there may be periods of time where we are unable to share what we are working on. A lack of updates will NOT mean a lack of progress. We will try to continue discussing our work as best as we can, but our visual updates may be fewer and farther between. We hope you all understand.

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With that being said, we do have just a small visual preview of a large asset from our lead artist Cameron. Above is the nearly finished high poly render of the mobile drilling rig.