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).

Screen Shot 03-19-17 at 09.29 PM

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.

Screen Shot 03-23-17 at 10.57 PM

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).

Screen Shot 03-23-17 at 10.52 PM_2

 

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… :)

Mar 082016
 
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Those last few weeks have been rather intense in terms of workload but they’re definitely bearing fruits. It’s fantastic watching everything come together. I feel a bit like Tilo, catching a tantalizing glimpse of the outside world! :)

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Talking of the outside world, I recently took a field trip with a friend of mine to an old abbey in the south of France. There, I was able to capture amazing new textures to improve the looks of Dwindling Heights and give it a more authentic cachet in some areas. And again it’s one of those rare occasions where I can actually work on GoaT while leaving the house!

It’s hard to believe but it’s going to be three years almost to the day that I have started working in earnest on Ghost of a Tale. How time flies when you’re having fun… 😀

I found an old picture of the environment I showcased during the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (running on Unity 4.0) and compared it with a recent screenshot (running on 5.3), just for the heck of it (it’s obviously not the same location)…

ScreenShot 2016_03_07 22;51;36001

So much work and experience gathered in-between those two pictures! And great people met along the way without whom Ghost of a Tale would not be what it is today (Paul, Cyrille, Jeremiah, I’m looking your way).

Which brings me to the crux of this update: if everything goes well (and it’s a big “if” of course) we should go to beta within the next couple of weeks. The beta version will contain all of the pre-release’s features but some will be incomplete (as they’re still being worked on). Place-holder asides though it should give us a good idea of the game’s actual state.

The goal for us is to get feedback from people who never played the game before. And hopefully we won’t have any bad surprises! On that topic, we already have a short list of potential testers so I think we’re all set on that side… 😉

An unknown that remains in the equation is we’re going to try and move to Unity 5.4 when it’s released (very soon). The reason is a few of the bugs we still have (and which unfortunately affected a couple of recent Unity games) are supposed to be taken care of. So fingers crossed!

And as always, please feel free to express your support and/or ask questions in the comments section below…