Lacuna Passage - Devlog #61 - Terrain Updates, Inventory, and More

The holidays have been a busy time for us and our families, but we've still made a good deal of progress this last month. As we move closer and closer to an eventual Early Access release for our survival sandbox mode we have been evaluating every aspect of the game that we think is necessary to make a good first impression.

Terrain Updates

Even with Early Access we will really only get one chance to show the potential of the full game, so we decided that the terrain was such a large part of what we are trying to do that it needed to be at a higher level of quality. To do that we have officially transitioned to using the new terrain shader that we mentioned last month. And as an added bonus, the new terrain shader has allowed us to increase the fog distance so that there is even more visible terrain while exploring.

We still need to randomly place our new rock models and modular cliffs, but the setup of the textures and shaders was more than half the battle. We can now quickly iterate on the general topography of the map and all of our settings for texture coverage can be regenerated based on our complicated ruleset in World Machine which you can see below.

It's not a simple process, but it is streamlined and optimized to allow us the most flexibility when prototyping new terrain features. We will be shooting for a terrain equal in size to what will comprise the final game map for the story mode (roughly 20 square miles of explorable terrain), but this will be a distinct and separate map with the potential for multiple maps after release.

Inventory Additions

Over the holidays we also worked on expanding our internal inventory database that will dictate what kinds of items you can expect to collect, craft, and consume during the course of the game. That list is now well over 100 items long with many more additions yet to come. Some mechanical changes have also been prototyped, including nutritional differences between ingesting raw food packets versus prepared food packets. Here is a tease of our spreadsheet for managing these items and the impact they will have on your gameplay.

New Unity Asset Packs

Last month we posted about how we began selling our own cliff and rock models on the Unity Asset Store. This month we started posting some supplemental music content to the Asset Store that will eventually be promoted as part of our Song Seed music plugin for Unity. Our composer, Clark Aboud, has been working on some amazing music unrelated to Lacuna Passage and we thought we would try to sell some of that music to help support him and our continued development. We have now released two dynamic loop packs that can be used with any game, but will work particularly well with Song Seed when it is eventually released. As a demonstration of how these loop packs can be used, you can play the tracks below which are complete songs composed entirely of these perfectly looping clips.

If you are a game developer, or know someone who might be interested in these loop packs, you can visit our Unity Asset Store publisher page which has links to purchase either pack.

TIMEframe Holiday Sale

As the holiday season comes to a close we did want to remind you all that our other game TIMEframe is still currently on sale for our lowest price since launch. Of course, if you were a Lacuna Passage Kickstarter backer you should already have your free copy, but perhaps you would like to buy another copy for a friend or just to support us as we continue to work on Lacuna Passage. We are quite proud of our 86% positive review average on Steam. If you have already played the game we would love to hear what you think. Visit our store page and leave your own review. Every little thing you can do to spread the word about our projects helps immensely. And for those of you who have already left a review, thank you!

Game with the Devs - Play Heroes of the Storm with us!

Spencer and I are working very hard to bring you Lacuna Passage, but we still take time here and there to relax and unwind a little. Over the last few months we have been enjoying Blizzard's MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, during our lunch breaks. We are big fans of the game now and we thought it might be fun to bring fans of TIMEframe and Lacuna Passage into the mix. It doesn't matter if you are a DOTA2 or LoL grizzled veteran, or if you don't even know what a MOBA game is. We would love to have you join us for an occasional match and if you are new we can help show you the ropes. We are by no means professionals, but when you work from home with a very small dev team it helps to be reminded of the people you are making games for and interact with them on a more regular basis. I just recently upgraded my internet connection (I live in the middle of a nature preserve) so hopefully we can even stream the games and participate with Twitch chat too. Come play with us! You can use our referral links below to get started with the game and we will announce our play sessions over Twitter with info on how to join us.

Spencer's Heroes of the Storm Referral Link

Tyler's Heroes of the Storm Referral Link

That's it for this devlog. Thanks for reading. We've got lots to do!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #48 - The next phase of Lacuna Passage development

This past month has been hectic, but we are finally back with a focus on Lacuna Passage.

Some of you had concerns about TIMEframe being a distraction for us last month so this month we want to talk about all the tangible ways that it has positively impacted our continued development of Lacuna Passage.

Demonstration of the Song Seed Music plugin used in both Lacuna Passage and TIMEframe

First and foremost has been the refinement of our dynamic music system, Song Seed. We have been building Song Seed over several iterations in the last year or so specifically for use in Lacuna Passage. The demo we previewed at PAX East was the first public implementation of our dynamic soundtrack and it worked really well for us, but there was still a lot that needed to be done. We realized a long time ago that this system would be very beneficial for other developers as well, so after PAX East we began working harder on the public version which worked well with the timing of our updated release of TIMEframe. Music is a huge part of TIMEframe so we were able to use it as a real-world test of the system. In fact, in addition to our own implementation in TIMEframe, we have just opened up a beta test of the Song Seed Unity plugin. So if you are a Unity developer interested in helping us improve this tech that will be a big part of Lacuna Passage please let us know (and check out the example video above). Soon after testing we will be releasing the plugin on the Unity Asset Store at a modest price. The proceeds from this will all be funneled straight into Lacuna Passage development as well.

Another benefit of working on TIMEframe that cannot be stressed enough has been learning the ins and outs of Steam integration. Lacuna Passage has always been our priority, but it has also been our first foray into commercial game development. We had no experience with integrating with Steam until now. After working on TIMEframe we now have a much firmer grasp on what that integration requires. Store page setup, game package installation, authentication, achievements, trading cards, cloud saves, DLC… the list goes on and on. We have used TIMEframe as our test bed for these features and this has given us invaluable experience as we now implement many of these features in Lacuna Passage. We are now looking forward to a tentative release date of June 30th for TIMEframe which will give us even more experience in running an active product and managing customer relations. Once again, all the proceeds will directly benefit Lacuna Passage development. (And as a reminder, all Lacuna Passage Kickstarter backers will be receiving a free copy of the game and the original soundtrack).

Last but not least, we have been experimenting with new features that have been added to Unity in versions 4.6 through 5.0. We have not updated Lacuna Passage past 4.6.2, but with our work on TIMEframe we have had a chance to see how these more recent updates might affect Lacuna Passage. The new user interface features in Unity might drastically improve the way that we handle the rendering of the datapad for example. There have also been several performance enhancing changes that could positively impact our open-world memory management. We have been able to evaluate these new features in TIMEframe on a smaller scale without any disruption to our Lacuna Passage project management. It would have taken us orders of magnitude more time to even test these options in Lacuna Passage itself.

These are only a few of the most direct benefits we have experienced while working on TIMEframe, and as we move forward into this next chapter of Lacuna Passage development we feel much more confident in our ability to deliver on our original promises. Game development is not a straight path. There will always be bumps and detours, but we work extremely hard to ensure that every decision we make benefits our ultimate goal of delivering the best Mars exploration narrative experience that we possibly can. Over the next few weeks we will have more regular updates with the art and design of Lacuna Passage.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #43 - New Terrain Data and Story Flowchart System

Last month we mentioned that we would be switching primarily to TIMEframe development for about a month. Well, soon after we announced that we got some news that required us to switch priorities once again. We are now focused on Lacuna Passage in preparation for an important deadline that we can't talk about just yet. As soon as that deadline is met we will jump straight back to TIMEframe so that we can have that finished and up on Steam, hopefully by the end of March. This is a Lacuna Passage devlog however, so let's get to the stuff you are here to see!

Gathering More Mars Terrain Data

It should be no surprise to you by now that the Martian landscape is a huge focus for us. We have established a base level of detail for the full-scale terrain of the game, but now we are slowly starting to fill in more fine details using patchwork combinations of additional Mars data renders. We recently received a new batch of renders that you can see below.

We actually use a different image format than the above example renders for our heightmaps, but this method helps you to see the details of the terrain better from a top-down perspective.

Story Flowcharts

A big change for us this month is the addition of a new story flowchart system. This might look complicated, but it's actually a huge improvement over our previous method.

A while ago we discussed how we transitioned away from using the Playmaker visual scripting system in favor of using C#. Well, a few areas of development have actually suffered because of that transition. Using a state machine is hugely beneficial for something as complex as a branching storyline, so we have begun using Playmaker again for defining story progress and save points. This visual reference for player progress is much easier for us to manage than a complex series of C# scripts. Of course, most of the execution of story events is happening via code, but state machines are now the driver behind that code. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of time it takes us to add new story content to the game.

New Song Seed Demo Video

We finally have a good video demonstration of how Song Seed will work in both Lacuna Passage and TIMEframe. There's not much to say here that I don't discuss in better detail in the video, so if you are interested in how our dynamic music will work mechanically you can just check out the video above.

If you have any questions this month let us know in the comments!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #37 - Song Seed, Saving, and Physics

The last few weeks have been very busy for us on the systems-side of development, so let's dive right in.

Song Seed Unity Plugin Progress

We are inching ever closer to the release of our Unity plugin, Song Seed. We did a short introduction video for the plugin in a standalone post a few months backs. Since then we have been hard at work, adding new features, ironing out bugs, and beginning to create the documentation.

Example of Song Seed documentation diagrams

We should be close to doing a beta test for Song Seed, so if any Unity developers are reading this and are interested in helping us test it, please contact us.

Any music loops should work with the system, but our composer for Lacuna Passage, Clark Aboud, is currently working on some custom loops packs specifically designed for Song Seed which will also be available on the Unity Asset Store soon.

Saving and Loading in Lacuna Passage

NOTE: Saves no longer function as described below. We have made save files accessible in a save folder.

Lately we have begun tying our background gameplay systems into a central saving and loading feature that will be fairly unique in Lacuna Passage. To prevent players from manipulating their save data to "cheat" the survival randomization we will be utilizing a save system that deletes your save every time you reload the game. When you quit it will create a new save.

This effectively creates a form of "permanent pause". When you quit the game it's more like you are putting it on pause and when you restart the game it's like resuming it again. You cannot choose when you save or duplicate/copy your save files. Every time you die you will have to start over from the very beginning. If that sounds punishing, don't worry. Dying is a huge part of Lacuna Passage and each time you restart it will be with a new wealth of survival knowledge (in fact, taking notes is strongly encouraged). Each playthrough will be an opportunity for you to improve on your previous run.

Above you can see a very simple demonstration of loading in the player's previous position and rotation. A bunch of other things (including survival stats, time of day, and weather) are also being reloaded in the background. Now that the basics are in place we can extend the saving and loading as we fill the world with more content.

Physics Items

We haven't really touched upon many of the different types of items you will be able to interact with in Lacuna Passage. Obviously we will have things like food items which will need to be collected for survival, but those are small enough to fit in your suit pouches. So what about items that are too large to fit in your suit, but are still small enough to be carried? Well, you will have to carry them... with physics!

As you can see in the images above, a small number of items in the game will need to be physically carried. These items will often be necessary for certain survival challenges so keeping note of their locations around the Foundation Base will be critical. You won't be able to just pull them up from a menu, so don't lose them. I'm sure you can envision a survival scenario that might require the above fire extinguisher. Other examples might include an emergency generator or a power drill.

Also, it's really fun to throw them around :)

If you have any questions about this month's devlog just let us know in the comments!

 

If you're still reading... here's a sneak peak of some more progress on the Greenhouse Spencer has been working on since last month...

Click to enlarge

Make sure to check back for the art devlog post coming on the 15th to see more!

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 #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.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #12 - Soundtrack Preview #2

We are very excited to share another sample of music from the Lacuna Passage soundtrack. All credit goes to our talented composer Clark Aboud.

You will probably notice the new flood lights in the video. This is just one of many new assets that we are beginning to import into the game. These flood lights are interesting visual markers that can help you find your way at night. Some cloth physics are also on display here which we hope to use on things like flags and tarps sparingly throughout the game. We think that bit of movement makes the world feel more alive and reactive.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #8 - Soundtrack Preview #1

We are very excited to share a sampling of music from the Lacuna Passage soundtrack today. The video above showcases some of the main themes you will experience while exploring the landscapes of Mars.

Music will have a very important role in the game and we hope to never loop or repeat any tracks during a single play-through. The progression of the soundtrack will respond to how you explore the environment, with new layers and movements triggered by your actions.

We are working with the very talented Clark Aboud to create these soundscapes and we plan to share more samples as we move closer to a Kickstarter. The funding from a Kickstarter would allow us to develop the full soundtrack that we think the game deserves. If you like what you hear make sure to share the video with others! We greatly appreciate your interest and support.