Lacuna Passage - Devlog #75 - Inventory Icons, Habitat Status, and More

I don't really have a good intro for this month, so... Inventory icons! They're pretty cool.

I've been staring at placeholder numbers on the inventory screen for so long, so it's actually really exciting to finally have some finished art in the UI. The above images show the current 25 completed icons, but we should have roughly 100 total items in the first Survival Sandbox release.

I've also been working on several more integrated features between our habitats and their attached exterior modules. A simple addition of a new habitat status console in the airlock will allow you to quickly check all of your life support systems at a glance.

This will help you to make a game plan before you decide to exit the habitat for an EVA. Keeping tabs on your oxygen, water reserves, power and heat status will be very important.

As you can see above, this is a habitat that was just recently brought back online. Power is on and your reserse suit battery is being charged. The airlock is currently depressurized, but the interior temp is quite low still since the heater was just turned on, so it's probably best to let it get up to a comfortable temperature before entering. Most importantly, your water reclaimer seems to be offline. In this scenario all of the modules have been turned on, but it seems like there must be a component failure in the water reclaimer preventing it from collecting water. Which would be bad enough on its own, but unfortunately the reoxygenator also requires water to produce oxygen and with the water reserves empty it can't do its job. So you can see how this screen will be very helpful in evaluating any issues that might arise. The next step for our astronaut in this case would be to go on an EVA with some carbon filters, hoses, fuses, and maybe a circuit board in order to repair any component failures in the water reclaimer.

This kind of situation might be exactly what you face after finding your first habitat to take shelter in after starting a new Survival Sandbox playthrough. But before you get to your randomly selected starting habitat, you will spawn at a randomly selected landing site in an emergency landing pod. Eight of the 9 total habitats are possible starting habitats and each habitat currently has two possible landing sites which makes for a total of 16 possible starting positions for any one playthrough.

One of several possible emergency landing sites where you can start your playthrough...

A while back I showed some of our new rock and cliff models that I will be using to spruce up the landscape a bit and I've been slowly adding many unique formations to the terrain. Below are a collection of screenshots showing the new level of terrain detail with these added models.

Alright, that's it for the devlog this month. There's more that has been completed, but not much that would be fascinating to share right now. So back to work!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #63 - Survival Sandbox and New Interior Lightmapping

Sorry for posting this a day late, but the wonderful and confusing tradition of the Iowa Caucuses put a wrench in my plans to post yesterday. This month we have been adding some crucial features to our Survival Sandbox mode, including the brand new unique map.

We wanted the Survival Sandbox mode to stand on its own with a different map built specifically to maximize replayability. Most importantly that meant creating a map that has entirely unique terrain formations. We are happy to say that this map is nearly complete. We still plan on adding more large rock formations that are not pulled from the NASA satellite data. Generally we like to lean more towards realism, but many of our sourced heightmaps are fairly sparse. Mars is incredibly geologically diverse on a macro scale, but on the micro scale it is mostly flat and empty. So while the following screenshots do have a decent amount of variation we will still add lots of cliffs and larger formations to fill in the gaps.

We are happy to say that this new map is exactly the same scale as the one we will eventually be using for the story mode. Nearly 25 square miles. This gives us a ton of room to work with for some randomization features that will be largely unique to the Survival Sandbox.

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Above you can see a top down view of the entire Survival Sandbox map. The frame labeled "All Map Points" shows you all of our possible points of interest that can be randomized during each play through. Without giving away too many surprises for when we launch on Early Access, here are some basics of how the randomization works:

  • The Pink labeled dots are potential habitat locations, nine in total. Every time you play you will start near a different habitat around the outer edge of the map. There will be three habitats spawned for each playthrough, but we use an algorithm to ensure that they always form a natural "path" across roughly one third of the total map area. In Survival Sandbox mode it is likely that you will need to make your way from one habitat to the next after you run out of supplies, so this placement algorithm should help keep the same map feeling fresh with a different path every play through.
  • The Red labeled dots are our Waypoint Stations, 16 in total for each playthrough. These are important navigational checkpoints that help you in many ways we will be detailing later, but as you can see in the sample randomizations above they don't always appear in the same locations.
  • The Dark Blue labeled dots are currently referred to as our "Primary Objectives". Each objective will be unique, but they all function as a sort of "oasis" in the vast Mars desert. They are carefully positioned hubs that can expand your overall search radius when found. One example might be a broken down rover that contains an oxygen refill tank and a battery for recharging your suit. As you can see above, we use another algorithm here to ensure varied placement of Primary Objectives.
  • The Light Blue labeled dots are what we call our more general "Points of Interest". These will be our most heavily randomized objectives on the map. They are smaller and less important than Primary Objectives, but the more you find the more likely you are to maintain your extended survival on the red planet. These might be emergency food storage caches, downed weather balloons, geological research plots, or any number of other mission-related sites.

In general, the quantity and frequency of the sandbox map objectives may be greater than what you might expect in a real Mars mission, but we feel very good about the variety this adds to the gameplay and the real sense of discovery you get when stumbling upon these locations.

As you can see, our Survival Sandbox mode is not entirely procedural, nor is it entirely static. We are using light randomization features to add variety for replayability. We are applying this method with our habitat interiors as well. There will be nine possible habitat interiors to match our nine possible habitat spawn locations. So, even if you happen to spawn at the same habitat location on the map, the interior of that habitat may not be the same as it was before. Since each of these nine interiors are still designed by hand it allows us to have a higher fidelity for the art and especially the lighting. We have reintroduced the use of lightmapping to have the most realistic rendering possible. Below you will see our first pass at using our new lightmapping and reflection probe setup. You might also notice a few shots where we have managed to swap the lightmaps to simulate a power outage which you may encounter on your mission simulation.

Next month I hope to be able to share some details about our "survival event" system which will effectively serve as your primary antagonist for the Survival Sandbox mode. We really want you to feel like Mark Watney dodging curve balls left and right that might drastically impact your chances of survival on Mars. Creative problem solving and resource management will be key to overcoming the odds.

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

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #59 - New Cliffs and Rocks for Terrain

Normally our devlog posts at the beginning of the month are reserved for general development progress and gameplay systems, but Spencer and I wear many hats here at Random Seed Games and I've actually been working on some art related stuff over the last few weeks in preparation for our first survival sandbox map design.

We want to make the survival mode a unique experience from the story mode that will come later. So that means a unique map on release, and hopefully multiple unique maps over time. I decided that this would be a perfect time to revisit one of the most criticised aspects of our terrain... the rocks and cliffs.

The NASA data that we use for our terrain generation is incredibly helpful for creating basic formations, but there are some definite limitations. The data resolution and the inability to create overhanging rock formations combine to make the terrain look like a continuous flowing surface without many rugged features. To combat this we need to create rock meshes that protrude from the surface and form more realistic cliffs, etc. In the past we have relied on the Unity Asset Store as much as possible for rock models, but for cliffs we had difficulty finding appropriate models. So I spent some time this month creating my own cliff models using real Mars cliff photos as reference.

During the creation process I realized that these models might be useful to other developers working on desert environments or planets, so I packed everything up and posted it on the Unity Asset Store for $25. Each variation began as a uniform model which was modified by extruding the vertices using a heightmap generated from a high quality texture. Then each unique model needed to be optimized and adjusted to hide the texture seams as much as possible. Ultimately this provides us with very similar "building blocks" that combine perfectly to create larger formations.

The end result looks great, especially at very large scales where the repetition is more easily hidden. So if you are a developer or know someone who needs some realistic cliff models/textures you should check out our Asset Store page.

Additionally, we are still relying on some other Asset Store packages to supplement our own terrain assets. We did manage to find one set of cliff models that will work for us, but we had to make some significant edits to make the meshes modular and lower poly. The package also contained some really high quality rocks that will look great strewn around our terrain.

Arid Environment Rocks - Unity Asset Store

After working to match these rocks and cliffs with our own we feel much better equipped to start building our survival sandbox terrain.

New Relief Terrain Pack Shader

More recently we have also started investigating a new terrain shader in order to further improve our terrain quality. Our old terrain shader is a heavily modified version of an Asset Store terrain shader and it is having issues now with the Unity 5 physical rendering changes. This new Relief Terrain Pack shader may be our best option, and after some early tests it may actually improve our workflow for terrain creation overall. We don't have any screenshots of it in action for Lacuna Passage yet, but to get an idea of what's possible with the RTP shader check out the video below.

November has been a busy month for art development. The rest of December will now be devoted to building up the survival sandbox map design version 1.0 and populating it with randomized elements that will make every survival mode playthrough a new challenge.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #45 - See you at PAX East!

Random Seed Games is proud to announce that we will be featured in the Indie MEGABOOTH for PAX East! That's the good news. The kinda scary news is that we are still crunching on a brand new demo when the show starts in less than 5 days...

Lacuna Passage still has a ways to go before release, but we thought it was important to stay visible and get early feedback from players in a public forum like PAX East and we are honored to have been accepted into the MEGABOOTH. The new demo we will be showing is not like our old Prologue demo. This is entirely new content that will eventually constitute the introduction sequence of the final game. It is roughly 15 minutes of gameplay that gets you acclimated to the world, game controls, and narrative hooks.

We will try to post some video of the new demo soon, but here are some of things that we have been working on related to this demo:

Open Terrain

Obviously this is something that we have been touting for a long time. The open exploration of Lacuna Passage with accurate Mars terrain has been one of our biggest selling points, but until now we haven't really shown it in a playable form. The original Prologue demo was only a fraction of what we had planned for the total terrain and now with our PAX demo we will be showing off something much more representative of the final game. The total explorable area now is still only about 1/4th of what the full game will be, but this is mostly for narrative reasons in the early game.

Dynamic Music

The old Prologue demo only had small bits of intro and outro music. This time around we are actually scoring the narrative beats during gameplay and it feels great. A lot of credit goes to our amazing composer, Clark Aboud. You can expect to hear more soundtrack previews in the near future. For all of our game music we are now utilizing our Song Seed music plugin for Unity which we will hopefully be putting up on the Unity Asset Store soon after we return from Boston.

Interior Environments

We have been posting screenshot updates of the Foundation Base Habitat for quite some time now and at PAX we will be sharing these playable interior areas for the first time. Our lead artist Spencer Owen has been working insane hours to get everything ready for the show. The most exciting aspect of the Hab though will be the official introduction of IRA, Jessica's AI companion.

Misc Improvements

There are countless other minor improvements that we have made in the last month or so. We have added a new wind system that dynamically affects all blowing dust and our weather monitoring station instruments. We have a new night sky map that has more accurate star placement and an impressive visible milkyway.  There's really too much stuff to go over in one blog post.

If you want to check out the new demo you will have to come visit us in booth 6181 in the Indie MEGABOOTH next weekend!

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 #35 - Improvements to our terrain automation

Development is finally reaching the point where we are able to start placing content within our full-scale environment.

Our demo from the Game Developers Conference and the Midwest Game Developers Summit was effectively a test to ensure our tool set for terrain development was sufficient for the much larger scaled terrain that would be in the final game. The demo was approximately 5 square miles of terrain (though only a small part of it featured in the walkthrough) and now we are working with roughly 19 square miles of exploreable terrain for the final game. You can see a comparison below.

Anyone who has worked with terrains in Unity knows that there are dozens of variables and settings to tweak to get things looking just right. Doing all that manually for 16 terrain tiles (as opposed to 4 in the demo terrain) was not an option. In order to scale up our workflow for iterating and improving this larger area we needed to automate as much of the process as possible.

Transient

There are plenty of tools on the Unity Asset Store that are built specifically for this purpose, but after evaluating many of them we realized that we needed something more tailored to our setup. So we began working on a custom Unity Editor Window.

To the left you will see a preview of our Full Terrain Manager. This custom editor allows us to update materials, detail textures, heightmaps, colormaps, normalmaps, splatmaps, and detailmaps with the press of a button rather than manually assigning them one at a time for each of our 16 terrain tiles. This cuts a 2+ hour process down to less than 15 minutes. So if you aren't a developer and just want to know what this means for Lacuna Passage, it means we will have more time to make the terrain in the game as stunning as possible.

The next step will be to get our terrain streaming ironed out so that only the terrain tiles that are needed are loaded for the player at their current location. Then we can begin placing some of the other assets we have been working on to make this feel like a truly expansive Mars landscape with the same level of detail and quality you saw in our smaller demo terrain.

 

That's it for today's devlog, but check back in a couple weeks to see another art update from Spencer and his progress on the Foundation base camp Greenhouse.