May 052017
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale update! 🙂

We’ve been working on so many things over the last few weeks that I have a hard time keeping track! But just to summarize (in no particular order): new quests, dialogs for new NPCs (where Paul is doing a bang-up job as usual), optimizations, whiteboxing, Xbox One certification and new locations!

And speaking of new places you’ll get to explore in the game… As promised in the previous update here’s your first look at the catacombs sprawling under Dwindling Heights!

Catacombs!

The catacombs are the burial ground for soldiers and commanders whose bodies were entombed over the centuries since before Dwindling Heights ever became a prison.

As expected it’s a dark, eerie place. No doubts quite dangerous for a minstrel mouse!

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It is whispered there might even be relics of the War of the Green Flame under there. And it’s probably haunted too! Although spiders might make quicker work of explorers than ghosts. But who knows…

One thing is for sure though, the Dying Lights lend a chilly atmosphere to the place. Their spectral blue flames do not give out any heat but they possess the distinctive feature of being virtually eternal. Indeed they cannot be put out by normal means. Which is why they’re often a fixture of pirate ships as even the strongest of storms won’t snuff them out.

Some sailors even say on a calm night while sailing on lake Vaelia you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the ghostly blue lights from long ago sunken ships deep under the waters.

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(Oh and just to be clear: the catacombs are not yet in the early access version of Ghost of a Tale. We still have to connect several elements before you get a chance to explore them 🙂 )

Magnet Aim:

One of the aspects of the game that was recently overhauled is the throwing mechanics. In the game Tilo can throw several types of items (sticks, bottles, slime jars, etc…) to different effects. For example if you time your moves properly you could throw a bottle at a guard’s head to momentarily knock him out.

But up to now it was a finicky business. You had to perfectly align your target then throw and after that it was literally hit-and-miss. In short there was really no way to precisely aim at something.

As a result the experience wasn’t really fun and didn’t feel responsive enough. So I recently implemented a system we baptized “Magnet Aim”. It’s not exactly a locking system in the traditional sense of the term as Ghost of a Tale is definitely not a fighting/combat game. So we came up with something else, as illustrated by this short video:

 

(Note that for the video I made the targeting distance longer than in the actual game, for testing purposes)

Basically you just need to aim roughly in the right direction and the targeting reticle with snap to the relevant place (within a certain threshold of accuracy). If you throw at that moment, Tilo will send the projectile flying with mostly predictable results.

Now of course if you deviate a lot with the camera (say you aim wildly to the side of your target) then the aiming reticle will snap back to the center of the screen and Tilo will simply throw straight ahead. Similarly if your target is moving fast then it might not be a sure hit anyway.

We feel it’s a nice mixture of getting a little help from the system while still requiring the players to know what they’re doing. Of course you can turn off that feature in the gameplay options if you prefer to solely rely on your skills.

Loading Speed:

In the previous update I mentioned our new reloading process. So I thought I’d just show you a short demonstration of its speed. Please keep in mind that my machine has a solid-state drive so it’s already pretty fast.

(Please note that in this video I’m reloading a save located at a completely different place and progress of the game)

 

In the previous version when reloading a save we also reloaded almost the entire game (in order to reset things back to their default state). But we reworked our data managing system (thanks to Cyrille) and are now able to surgically reset things in the game’s world as needed. So we don’t have to wait for all the game’s locations to be read again from the disk.

This might not seem like a big deal for very fast gaming PCs but it makes a lot of difference on consoles and more modest PCs.

That’s it for this update. Thank you for coming by and as usual don’t hesitate to leave your questions/remarks/support down in the comments section! See you in the next update! 🙂

Apr 032017
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale development update! This is a rather sizeable one to make up for last month because we were so busy preparing for GDC. So think of it as a double-issue! 🙂

GDC Adventures!

Paul single handedly took care of the Ghost of a Tale booth like a champ! He had to stand and talk for three days straight but he had a grand old time overall. And it seems everyone who played the game really liked it!

So it was an excellent experience and Paul even gave away some swag (big thumbs up to forum user Nautilus for his nifty screenshots)!

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Although I wasn’t personally present at GDC let me give a big thank you to the Unity people who were nice enough to invite us and feature Ghost of a Tale in some of their tech demos and on the mighty large screen looming over their booth!

(Oh my, who could the chirpy fellow on the right-hand picture be…?!!)

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Whiteboxing:

So I’ve finally started the long stretch of “whiteboxing” all the remaining areas of the game. Meaning creating locations out of cubes and low-rez polygonal volumes. This is a crucial phase, as it’s going to allow us to explore for the first time the entirety of the game’s breadth.

The goal is to clearly define space and indicate all the required areas while remaining suitable rough (to avoid getting bogged down by details).

It’s a mixture of composition (from a graphical standpoint) and game design (interesting paths to navigate) while also encompassing sheer functionality (things need to make sense for the world’s characters).

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So far whiteboxing is done for all the as-of-yet off-limits areas in Dwindling Heights (barracks, commissary, commander’s office, cellar, etc…).

Even without the final models and textures it’s great to get the sense that everything is properly connected from an architectural standpoint.

 

Xbox One Preview Version Status:

Just as we were ready to submit the game to Microsoft we uncovered an unfortunate memory leak bug within the Unity engine (specifically related to the console) which keeps us from finalizing the process.

Basically the player could save and reload their save 2 or 3 times before hitting the bug. Both Unity and Microsoft are of course aware of the issue and I’m sure they’re going to do whatever is in their power to fix it as soon as possible.

We’ll keep you posted whenever we hear back from them!

 

Rocking Assets:

I’ve created assets which will be used to populate the new locations, among which are some new rocks!

I do use quite a few photogrammetry rocks in the game but I wanted to have more “designed” ones that feel graphical and purposeful, as opposed to simply realistic. So this time I chose a different workflow.

In the past I had used Zbrush to create rocks but was never happy with the result. So this time I went back to the basics and simply started from a cube in Maya. Cutting faces and pulling vertices allowed me to remain focused on the shape above all things. No details, no distractions. Just thinking about faces and silhouette.

Then I created a tileable texture in Photoshop containing all the fine details, cracks and small crevices that I needed.

At the heart of this method is the clear delineation between “shape-features” and “surface-features”. The earlier is only concerned with polygons, the latter with textures. While it’s important to remain aware at all times of how both domains are going to overlap I made sure I never attempted to add small features to the shape if it would be better suited for texturing and vice-versa.

This allowed for the final result to retain a fairly stylized looks and yet appear appropriately realistic when seen up close.

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An advantage of this technique is that all the rocks share the same textures (diffuse, normal, etc…) so memory wise it’s quite a boon.

It also means I can simply swap the diffuse texture for a completely different look. And the models themselves are very light since I only split edges where it can be seen (silhouetting).

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Water Works:

I’ve just started developing a new shader for large bodies of water (ie: Lake Vaelia!). It’s a rather cheap/simple shader (since it doesn’t even use the Gerstner algorithm) but at this very early stage it’s showing promises.

(Thanks to Cyrille for helping me with non-trivial sine-waves math!)

 

And another quick test of an even earlier version of the water in different lighting conditions (night/morning/afternoon/evening). It might seem obvious but I can’t stress out enough the importance of always checking your assets in different lighting conditions!

(Apologies for the terrible quality of the video grab)

 

That’s it for this update. Once more, thank you all for reading and don’t hesitate to post your questions/remarks in the comments section. See you all in the next update! 🙂

Dec 202016
 
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Welcome to this new Ghost of a Tale update! How time flies. Paul, Cyrille and I have been working like crazy on a lot of different things over the last months.

Work has been roughly divided between enhancing the early access (fixing the bugs, adding features) and working on the final game (new locations, game mechanics, etc…).

By the way, just to avoid any confusion: some of the screenshots displayed in this update are from new areas which are not yet open to the public! They’re just a taste of things to come… 😉

(In the screenshot below Tilo -or is it the famed Red Ranger?- has found an old place in the forest. Some say it dates back to the War of the Green Flame…)

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The new build update available today provides a solid cushion for the new mechanics (to which I alluded in the previous update) which will be part of the final game. It also represents a clean slate of some sort.

Indeed after the last build update we took a long hard look at what could be improved and we found several areas where we could do better (from an artistic, visual and coding standpoint).

We knew that since those changes were so fundamental we would lose previous saves compatibility. We didn’t take that lightly but we assessed the prospective benefits and we decided that since the game is still in early access it was really worth it. And we hope you will agree with us!

Performance:

Last time I alluded to performance improvements and I can confirm they are indeed substantial! As an example I tried running the game in 720p on a very old computer of mine which doesn’t even have a proper gaming card (it’s got an old Quadro) and while before it was struggling to reach a barely playable 20fps it now runs above 40fps!

Some other average machines that could barely run the previous build at 30fps in 720p can now do so at 1080p (or close to 60fps at 720p).

Finally on my powerful gaming machine the average framerate went from 90fps to nearly 150fps (which is admittedly a little ridiculous).

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So all in all I’d say it was well worth the effort! 🙂

But that’s not all: We have implemented a new kick-ass sectioning system that allows us to streamline everything we display and I’m happy to report that there is no more stuttering or micro-freezes when transitioning between areas.

Visuals:

As you guys know Ghost of a Tale relies a lot on tessellation and I reworked all the tessellation shaders using a new shader editor for Unity by Amplify which takes care of the remaining issues in previous builds: transition with distance looks much better, all the micro-cracks/back-faces scintillating artifacts are gone and finally it does a much better job at showcasing the humidity and wetness of some materials.

(In the screenshot below you can also see the improved sub-surface scattering shader on Tilo’s ears and hands)

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Plus you get new settings to change the tessellation’s amount and distance to your liking.

Some textures have also been doubled in resolution for a finer look and detail mapping now plays a much bigger role in delivering crisper textures when seen up close.

Gameplay:

Tilos’ costumes are now directly affecting Tilo’s capacities as well as the guards’ detection. Cloth items now influence Tilo’s endurance, the rate at which he recovers his stamina, his sprint speed, auditive discretion and visual conspicuousness.

Costumes don’t affect Tilo’s health/stamina anymore, meaning there’s no issue anymore with losing health/stamina when switching between different costumes.

It feels much better because the new items now really have a discernible impact on Tilo’s skills. All this is in preparation for the upcoming game mechanic when you can find some costumes that allow Tilo to run around without being attacked right away by the guards.

(On the screenshot below you can spot Tilo in a suspended basket which works as a new shortcut between the top of the tower and the garden below)

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Xbox One:

There’s not a lot to report on that front unfortunately; we have submitted a build to Microsoft in order to enter the Game Preview certification process but that was a while back and we haven’t heard from them since.

Anyway, since this is totally out of our control we will keep concentrating on the PC version!

Regarding the new build I invite you all to go here to read the release notes for all the details.

Finally we wish you all happy holidays! Thank you for sticking with us throughout this year of development! And stay tuned for more Ghost of a Tale related news to come in 2017! 🙂

May 092016
 
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Welcome! At the moment we are all intensely focused on a single goal: reaching closed beta status. Which is the phase preceding the pre-release (at which point you’ll get a chance to experience the game for yourself). There’s still some work to be done but we’re definitely nearing the end of the tunnel!

We’re testing things all the time, making sure one change doesn’t break anything distantly related. So when we do release, bugs will not be of the kind anyone can see within the five minutes of playing. No, they’ll be much more devious than that… 😀

As you probably know, Ghost of a Tale relies a lot on tessellation. Now tessellation is great because it creates micro details based on a texture while the base mesh (the original “flat” model) remains quite simple (and thus does not tax CPU or memory as much).

In the following pictures you can see the base (Maya) meshes for the set. Their density is kept quite low and mostly uniform:

ScreenShot 2016_04_07 14;51;14001a

And here’s the final in-game picture, with textures and lighting (although the torch’s fire particles are turned off):

ScreenShot 2016_04_07 15;18;10001small

One of the issues with tessellation though is that it’s not “stable” by definition. Meaning it constantly re-evaluates the subdivision level, usually depending on the camera’s distance to the mesh.

The result of which can lead to “swimming” textures artifacts; the details created by tessellation seem to constantly morph in an almost organic way. It’s quite distracting and can look frankly rather poor.

But not long ago I have found a way to fix this issue and now all the environment feels rock solid; no more wobbly textures! Yay! 🙂

Here is an example of Tilo walking near that tunnel area.

 

On a different topic I’ve just integrated the new sound effects provided by Nicolas (www.nicolastiteux.com), the foley artist helping on the game, and they sound awesome! It’s a delight hearing Tilo scamper from a ground surface made of earth to climbing steps made of stone to plodding on a wooden floor, etc…

Jeremiah has also been delivering soundtracks and they’re (as usual) terrific; they blend in super nicely when talking to characters and bring another level of immersion.

Finally here’s a little time-lapse type video of the day quickly going by over Dwindling Heights. It looks far better in the game because you can see braziers lit around the tower but I thought you’d like to see it anyway.

 

And with that I’ll go back to work and end this update. Thank you for reading it and for your patience waiting for the game, of course. I think you’re all going to be pretty happy when the time finally comes… 🙂