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.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #22 - Survival Assets Preview

We are making continued progress with art development for Lacuna Passage and this week we would like to share a few new assets related to the survival elements of the game. Every food and water packet you will find in the game is fully rendered and detailed. Your inventory is not just a text list in a menu. You will have control over a very visual inventory consisting of dozens of unique assets. Check out some of the assets we have created so far below.

We are still adding even more items (including canned and boxed foods), but we are very happy with the look of the transparent and foil packets. On the technical side, most packets range between 200 and 400 polygons with a few of the more complex ones up near 1000.

When you are alone on Mars will you save your vacuum sealed dessert packs for last?

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #21 - Soundtrack Preview #4

Every once and a while we like to share a bit of the soundtrack as it builds and evolves over time. If you watched our video devlog from last week you might recognize the piece from the loops we used to demonstrate the dynamic soundtrack features of the game. They were originally meant just as test loops while we worked on the system side, but I liked them so much that they may find their way into the finished game. Here they are in their entirety. 

Once again, the music credit goes to the talented Clark Aboud. Here's a playlist of all the tracks we've shared so far.

"Ask an Astronaut" - Lacuna Passage Contest Winners

After reading through 30 excellent entries in our "Ask an Astronaut" writing contest we came to six finalists that really impressed us. Of those six we had a difficult time narrowing it down to only three winners, so... we are happy to announce our FOUR winners and two honorable mentions!

Each of our four winners will have their message included in the game as well as responses from the in-game characters they chose to write to. We settled on these particular entries because each of them presented unique ways for us to respond that will allow for great character building opportunities and entertaining side narratives. Join us in congratulating our winners by reading their entries below, but you will have to wait to hear the characters' responses in the final game! Here they are in no particular order:

contestwinners.png

Entry by Douglas Bonderud

To: Anton Bolshov
From: Vladimir Bolshov
Subject: была не была

Anton,

One of your friends came by the farmhouse today. It seems you are finally going. What assurances have they made of your return? The fields you seek could be fallow, or burning. What can you know of where God steps alone?

Your mother worries, wondering if they feed you enough and what you will eat on that forsaken rock. I am held captive by memory; your beardless face gray and pallid as I pulled you from the car, battery long dead in the storm. Three miles from the farm, and nearly lost forever—what happens at three million? Who comes for you then?

I would rather disagree with a son than bury him. Return home, and all is forgiven. Leave, and let come what may.


Entry by Barry Neville

To: Devi Chawla-Stuart
From: Louise Godrey
Subject: UK Female Today Reader Questions

Greetings Commander,

Being an award winning UK women's magazine we have taken a keen interest in both your mission and in particular yourself,  the sole UK national and sole female crewmember..

We intend to run an in-depth article hoping to discover more about you, your struggles to balance your UK upbringing with your Indian heritage, the impact your educational and career choices had upon your family and friends and to explore the moment you discovered your hard work and sacrifice had paid off and that you had been chosen to represent the UK and women everywhere on this legendary mission.  

In the lead up to this we have recently run a competition giving one lucky reader the chance to ask you 3 hard-hitting questions!
Our randomly chosen winner is Ms Audrey Neville and her questions are:

1. Do you wear special space bras?
2. How excited are you to be cooped up with 4 fit foreign men for so long?
3. How will you maintain your complexion in such a dry place so far away from the sun?
 
Kind Regards

Louise Godfrey
Editor of UK Female Today


Entry by Mark Biswas

To: Hermes Crew
From: Davis Jamies
Subject: (None)

Dear Hermes crew,

I’m an eighth-grade science teacher. I just wanted to first say thank you. None of you have ever met any of my students, but you have no idea how you motivate them. Just the fact that this mission exists makes science real and exciting to them, in a way that I could never impart. They all have a year-running science project where they track your progress and report on the news, which we do at the end of every week. They always want to talk about it––sometimes making it difficult to transition to other subjects!

I believe science education in the United States and elsewhere is too neglected, and it is important that children are able to be inspired to pursue STEM careers, as each of you were, if we are to solve the coming problems ahead. Unfortunately, we can’t have missions to Mars running all the time to capture students’ imaginations, so I’d like to ask you, what do you think should be done to improve science education and foster science literacy?

Kind Regards,

Davis Jamies
Guy B. Phillips Middle School
Chapel Hill, NC


Entry by Joseph Peterson

To: Hermes Crew
From: Samantha Beiswenger
Subject: "Ask an Astronaut" Question

To the Crew of the Hermes:

My name is Samantha Beiswenger from PS37 in Worthington. I am in the 5th grade. Ms. Bittles our principal assigned the entire school this “Ask an Astronaut” task. Lots of people have really good questions, some people have really stupid ones. Since I was sick the day it was assigned, I had a hard time coming up with a question that someone hadn’t already asked. Mr. Marginess is keeping a log so that way we don’t have copies :)

So, because Jane and Kip both wanted to know, and it seems I’m the only one brave enough to ask:

What do you do with all your poop?

Sincerely,
Samantha Beiswenger

honorablementions.png

Entry by Jon Parsons

Entry by Kevin Heyse


Thank you to all who entered. Keep an eye out for other contests we might open in the future!

"Ask an Astronaut" - Lacuna Passage Writing Contest

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A large part of the storytelling in Lacuna Passage takes place via written or audible journal entries, mission logs, communication between crew members, or communications from Earth. Some of these story fragments are critical to the plot related to the missing crew members of the Hermes and some of them are there to build a world around the characters and who they are.

Today we would like to announce a contest to incorporate your writing in Lacuna Passage. Your challenge is to write an email directed to the Hermes crew astronauts asking them questions about their mission before they arrive on the Red Planet. The top three entries will be selected and included in the game along with a response from one or more of the characters answering your questions. You will also receive the Physical Collector’s Edition of the game, Closed Beta access, and the Limited Edition Poster (all previously only available to Kickstarter backers).

To be eligible your entry needs to follow some basic guidelines:

  1. No more than 200 words.

  2. The text must be “in-fiction”. Do not make references to the game Lacuna Passage. You are communicating with fictional characters in the game, and if your entry is selected they will “communicate” back to you via in-game text.

  3. You may use your real name and details about you in the message, but that must be made clear in an explanation about your entry and you must give us permission to use your name in the game if we select your entry.

  4. You may submit no more than 5 entries.

Some ideas for framing your message:

  1. Write a message from a curious student who wants to know how to become an astronaut.

  2. Write a message from yourself asking specifics about the mission to Mars.

  3. Write a message from someone who knows the astronaut personally. If we like what you come up with we may incorporate the relationship into the astronaut’s backstory.

Your message can be directed at the crew of the Hermes (the 1st mission to Mars) as a group or any particular member of the crew. The following details about the crew should give you a start.

Commander - Anton Bolshov - Russia

Pilot - Elijah Conners - USA

Payload Commander - Devi Chawla-Stuart - UK/India

Flight Engineer - George Carpenter - USA

Science Officer - Dimitri Moroshkin - Russia

To submit your entry email us at info [at] lacunapassage.com. You can include your text as an attachment or in the body of the email. The deadline for entry will be 11:59PM Central Time US on Saturday, November 30th. Entries received after that time will not be eligible. Depending on the number of entries, we should be able to announce the winners by the end of December.

Make sure to spread the word on Twitter and Facebook, and good luck!