Early Access Update Femtio (50)
build id: 5E3098E0
nornware AB is happy to announce a new update to Space Beast Terror Fright.
NEW MENU BACKGROUND
It's really amazing (as an indie developer) to be able to add any kind of crazy / silly thing you want to your game, on a whim. Space photo-copiers, panic room toilets, friends' faces making silly expressions on player models, things like that. That's why you've all been staring at myself in the guise of a frightened space marine in the background of all the front-end menus of the game for a long time now.
However, I wasn't completely happy with that (menu background), and had for a long time been thinking about something more animated. I recalled how in the end of Portal (I think) there was a kind of fly-thru of the complex, down into the basement to see the place where they stored all the personality spheres (or whatever they were called). Since SBTF is basically all about basements (so to speak) I was thinking that it would be appropriate to have some kind of slow crawl through a map of the game with an appropriate muted / suggestive / mysterious shader.
This led to a pretty big refactoring of assets / loading / map generation and such, with the goal being to re-use as much as possible. Now the game takes a little bit longer to start up as I've chosen to keep as many things as possible in memory at all times, and also because on startup the initial background world is being generated. However after that all subsequent mission startup times have been sped up, and after each mission that same map is used for the following menu fly-thru background.
I really like how this new menu background turned out, and that in turn inspired me to iterate once again (this is the fifth time) on the main menu music theme.
NEW LEVEL STYLES (textures and geometry)
SBTF has always been based around computer generated maps / levels / missions. The actual logical data is very simple; walls and floors on a grid in a single plan, with gameplay elements like datacores, sentries, armories, etc placed where there are floors according to certain rules. The visual side of things is completely separate from that, and a big goal is to make things feel engaging and complex and compelling by having visuals that "amplify" the actuality of what is happening.
To this end I create what I call "styles" which are the geometric and textural elements that are used to generate what you see in a level, basically a relatively small number of interlocking parts that fit together to create a cohesive whole. This was obviously a big part of the initial investment in the early development of the game, and as I've been working now for many years without a dedicated artist I wasn't able to iterate on any of that or introduce new "styles" for your viewing pleasure. This was disappointing to me personally, as I knew that there was more potential to be leveraged from the system.
I had been mocking up some new styles that I really really liked, but as I had done initially (pre-2015) I'd been doing design mock-ups using placeholder textures that I cannot legally ship, so I was (as before) facing the task of creating a large amount of textures with bespoke designs but this time without support from any kind of artist. I can certainly do some basic stuff in Photoshop, but I'm not a professional artist by any stretch, and I was severely questioning my abilities to create textures that I would be happy with from an art direction perspective.
I'd been observing (with some envy) the proliferation of Physically Based Rendering (PBR) throughout the game industry for some time, and that the popularity of this "standard" had given rise to a number of very interesting tools (Allegorithmic / Quixel) that I realized could potentially amplify my abilities to get the job done; things like semi-automatic texture-mapping, realistic materials, etc. PBR was also especially intresting in the context of SBTF due to the inherent ability of the shading model to more accurately portray the differences between metals and plastics.
I had always been keenly aware that my renderer wasn't in any way theoretically grounded, and it was initially immediately apparent that it was hard to try to create shiny metals without it looking like they were shiny plastic, as well as not being able to represent microscopic surface roughness in any readable way. Looking at PBR theory I realized that the ability to 1) differentiate between conductors (metals) and dielectrics (non-metals) as well as 2) more properly model roughness were at the core of being able to better represent the kinds of materials that SBTF is full of (metals and plastics composed in what I affectionately call "rymdpaneler", or in English: "space panels").
In all of this hemming and hawing I did quite a bit of research into various production methods, even to the point of writing a custom decal-based normal map creation tool, and almost settling on using that along with Allegorithmic Substance Painter to create all the textures that I would need. The initial tests weren't terrible (from an aesthetic perspective), but they weren't very amazing either. Added to that was the realization that either I would have to manipulate the output from the PBR-based tools to fit my renderer (not very compelling), or more realistically upgrade my renderer to accept and properly render PBR materials. Even worse; what if the new PBR renderer made all of the old materials incompatible and thereby absolutely REQUIRED me to update every single existing material in the game?
Happily around that time industry contacts led me to the eminent Stan Brown, and it turned out that he was getting into specializing in the field of tiling PBR materials for my exact use case. After some initial talk and tests it was obvious to me that Stan would blow anything that I could produce out of the water, so I contracted with him to do all the new material work.
As a result, this update features 3 new level styles (Adamant, Bastion, and Disciple) designed in collaboration with Stan Brown, all featuring what I like to call Vaguely Physically Based Rendering materials. You will be able to see more clearly what is meant to be metal and what is meant to be plastic (Fresnel-Schlick approximation baby!) in these new styles, and happily I ended up being able to write a renderer that lets the VPBR materials exist side by side with the legacy materials quite well (bullet dodged!).
At least 2 more styles are included in the current batch of work, and will be released in subsequent updates as they are completed.
Oh yes; during all of the style work I've updated my geometry tools to support procedural pipes and bends. This enables a lot of new cool geometry that you will see in the new styles.
- Fixed some instances of erroneous door / fence rotations.
- Fixed a valid breach location that wasn't properly spawning breaches.
- Slightly slimmer widget graphics (menus).
- Adjusted xp -> rank algorithm according to community suggestions.
- All immutable assets (models and textures) are now always in memory, speeding up mission load.
- Fixed Campaign of the Week leaderboard to handle multiple years.
- Mission launch disabled when selecting a user plan, this could cause a crash.
As always, thank you for your support and patience.
/nornware AB c/o johno