Continuing a past project!

This month, we went back to one of our older projects that we were stuck on. It was this one, originally intended to be a character that utilizes mesh swapping for expressions. We decided to go ahead and make her into a more regular character so we can use her on any platform. She still has a video game associated with her, but it's only at the concept phase and so we're just concentrating on the character for now.

We plan to publish a scene with her on Sketchfab, because it's been *checks Sketchfab* almost two years since we've published anything (but we're still getting new followers).
We probably won't let it be an actual 2 years of hiatus.

For now, it's still a work in progress of course, but we'll share some images anyways.


We decided to continue this character because we've been having a rough time with work and we're a little burnt out. I (Lussy) am tired of working with Blueprints all the time, and it's been about a year since I properly textured anything, and Geril's happy to be working with only a few bones and a basic rig. So I got to texturing and Geril made the mesh, rig and animations as usual.

For now, we only concentrated on the face and mimicry, so the body is a work in progress in every aspect.

In other news, we finished a prototype of the Oregon Trail project in the first week of the month. Because we worked with a history teacher, we took his advice and made the game more quiz-like. Now the baked project is in full Hungarian, and we haven't really made any new assets for it, just used some from the previous historical projects.
It's not that impressive or anything – it was done quite quickly – but it has a lot of modules and possibilities.
Here's a video.


Work-work and Rocksmith!

Hey, Lussy here.

This month has been much of the same, so we don't really have a lot to say about work-related stuff. We're still working on the Oregon Trail project, although it has changed considerably and the gameplay is somewhat different now. We'll talk more about it as soon as there is something new to show.

In other news, we've wanted to talk about Rocksmith.

I've been "playing", or rather using this software for half a year now. For more than a decade I've tried to learn bass – I've had the guitar but never had enough motivation to just sit down and do it. By disguising learning as a rhythm game, Rocksmith succeeded in getting me to spend at least one hour every day practicing songs.

The software itself, aside from the brilliant concept, is nothing special – in fact, it's rather cumbersome to use. We suspect that this is because of the engine it was built in (Gamebryo why?), but we're not sure. In any case, there are times when the UI is unresponsive and there are times when the sound glitches out. Sound is pretty important in a software like this, and the most annoying thing is the slight bit of latency that throws off my accuracy no matter how hard I try to stay in sync with the backing track. It also frequently misregisters notes. And that's not even mentioning the time when it froze the whole operating system, forcing us to cut the power to the computer, which then refused to recognize the hard drive until we reset it a few more times.

However, I am a big fan of the way the charts are made. Coming in after playing just about every rhythm game imaginable, the charts read intuitively, and after a few months, I could find the notes on the fretboard without having to look down at all.

As a learning tool, it reached its primary goal – I learned from it. The cable it comes bundled with (that we bought separately) is high quality and works well, so after I got tired of the latency issue and the somewhat weird sound mixing of the software, I could plug the guitar directly into my Macbook (which has no line in port, so I've had no way of doing this before) and use it with GarageBand's virtual amps. It has no latency (or at least very minimal, compared to Rocksmith) that way, and also sounds way better.

And since the game had created a habit of sitting down after work and at least playing a few songs, if not even learning anything new or working on new techniques, I continued this habit and paired it with looking up information manually and learning songs either by ear or from tabs.

I've read a lot of negative opinions about Rocksmith, because it's 'not really playing guitar' or 'not teaching enough' or 'not teaching things in the proper order', but while I agree with some of these – it really doesn't give enough information or proper feedback –, for some people (e.g., me), beginning something with proper lessons ruins the fun of playing around and figuring things out.

The same thing happened to me with drawing: as soon as I went to school, I was bombarded with rules on how to properly draw and what not to ever do if I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. And most of these rules are there for a reason, but if a student is forbidden from ever making these mistakes, they won't really learn why they shouldn't do them, they will only have a mental checklist of things to avoid, just because.

I could have been told in the beginning, for example, that deathgripping the neck was bad, but then I would never have stressed my hands out so much that they hurt for 3 days straight. I'm not saying it was good that they hurt, but now I can differentiate between good and bad pain instead of just taking someone's word for it, and I definitely won't make a habit of it since I know exactly what it leads to. But I guess the learning process just works differently for different kinds of people.

Wow, this turned into a really long ramble.
I guess the bottom line is, Rocksmith is a perfect example of a good idea with less-than-polished execution. It's far from being a good rhythm game, but it's a good way of starting to learn guitar or bass.


New historical project and also some OLP!

Whew, this has been a tough month.

We've been working on a new project based on The Oregon Trail video game. We're trying to recreate the game mechanics and most if it is already done in fact, and it has only been a week or so. It feels a little like practicing, really. We made it so that it will run on very low-spec devices, something we've never had to worry about in the past, so we're also learning new things.

The shaders are entirely unlit, and the graphical representation so far is very minimal. There is already a working menu system however, and the game can be started up and finished – something else that we've only got to once or twice. It's a bite sized project and it's satisfying to see how fast we are progressing with it.

The project is half Hungarian, half English at the moment, and the subject will most likely be related to Hungarian history, the historical accuracy assured by the same team that we worked with for our past historical projects. Here's a test playthrough of it. There is no UI design yet whatsoever, so it's very cluttered and basic, but gets the job done.

In other news, you can now throw weapons against the wall in Project OLP, and they will stick. So there's also that. Here's a strangely wide video:


Back from Japan!

Hey, this is Lussy.

We are back from Japan, and we have brought back an unbelievable amount of used video games for very cheap! The only issue was packing them all up without breaking them during flight, but we succeeded – nothing was harmed, we were victorious, cue Final Fantasy victory music.

After successfully securing tickets to two L'Arc~en~Ciel Christmas shows (L'ArChristmas...ha), we flew to Japan for two weeks. Geril has only attended one show, and I went to both of them – they were amazing, as expected.
So it was the tickets that gave us the final push to actually travel, but we were looking forward to thrifting for and playing all sorts of video games there – we are developers after all, so there were a lot of things to check out in Tokyo.

One thing is certain, we won't be able to look at thrifting the same again. In our country, everything costs way more by default, and the 'used' condition's standards are lower as well. In Book Offs in Japan, what we found in the 'junk' section for 100 Yen was about the same as the standard 'used' section here, however, even the Japanese 'used' section wasn't as expensive as ours usually are.

If you're going to Japan, and read about places in Akihabara like Super Potato – those flashier places are good for looking and browsing and all, and you'll be able to find the rarest games there in the best condition. But if you're willing to spend a little time (okay, a LOT of time) digging around in the 'Off' chain of stores (Book Off, Hard Off, Hobby Off), you'll be able to find a lot of things for dirt cheap. And even when shopping from the untested junk section, we've only had two games refuse to load, and we're still working on cleaning those games, so they might end up working as well.

Our haul. There are some unrelated objects in the photo too, sorry about that...
As far as consoles go, we've picked up a WonderSwan, a Nintendo DS Lite and DSi, a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation 2. The first three because we were missing them from our collection, and the second two for playing Japanese games. We've had a blast digging around for PS1, PS2 and N64 games during daytime and then going back to the hotel at night to try them out. I also had a great time looking for music CDs (which are still profitable in Japan, I've even bought a few recent ones), but since my Japanese is very patchy and I read slow, Geril often left me on the music floor and went through the whole shop by the time I was finished.

Aside from shopping around, we also visited all the arcades that we saw. And the rhythm game sections! Although they were very loud and very packed, a lot of thought went into them. For example, many of the games had an audio out where you could plug in your own headphones to hear the game better (the machines were placed tightly next to each other, so hearing anything properly is an issue). You could also pay with various cards instead of coins, including the subway card that the both of us have purchased, so when we ran out of coins we tapped into our transportation money.
Sadly the fighting games were almost always on the upper floors in the smoking sections, so we had to avoid those.

It was nice to see that video games weren't only purchased by the stereotypical target audience. We saw grey-haired old men browsing games, we've seen women browsing games, we saw everyone openly browsing the porn section – there was everything.

However, we made two major mistakes: not renting portable Wi-Fi and not learning Japanese in advance. While there were free Wi-Fi hotspots, we needed to register for almost all of them and their speed was very limited. In our hotel, we had a single hotspot for a 10-story building, so we were lucky if anything loaded.
And English... we're not sure if this is because people really don't speak English, or they are just too embarrassed to try, but almost nobody tried. So it would have been useful to speak the language just a little more fluently in order to have a better time.

Okay, that's it for this year. Happy New Year, everyone!


Still consistently working on OLP! (...sort of)


This month was a pretty intense crunch time for us, but we did make time for progressing with OLP.

Some of the systems we've integrated include head/eye IKs.
These were already included in the original OLP, but as a sort of always-on feature that we were surprised even worked. The version we've created now is only active when it absolutely needs to be.

IKs are activated when the character gets near an interactable item (in this case, a pickup). Once the item gets in range, it sends an overlap event that turns on the IK and saves the item's position.
This next part caused us some headache at first: if an item isn't moving, there's no need to get its position every tick. So we turned on sleep/wake events for the item to let the player character know when it was moving or physically active, so now the position only gets updated when it is absolutely necessary. We also included kill switches for the head and eye IKs separately, so when the characters are so small on the screen or running so fast that they wouldn't be visible anyways, they don't get calculated.

The most unnecessary feature we added in relation to this is a blink for when the IKs get activated or deactivated. Since the eye pops onto the target object immediately, it looked weird, but the blink fixes this. So even though it's unnecessary, we kind of like it.

Oh, and the Lookat node inside AnimBlueprints is a broken nightmare. We still have to do something about the head IK's transitions.

In other news, we are traveling to Tokyo next month!
At first, it was my (Lussy's) idea to go, and Geril was a little reluctant. But after checking out all the generously packed video game stores online, even he is pretty hyped up about the trip. We're pretty sure we'll be back at the end of next month with at least one very weird story about it.



Remaking old stuff!

So after last month, we continued working on Project OLP.

Our current concept of OLP is heavily based on this GDC video by David Rosen (we highly recommend checking this out!).

We've created our player character's movement animations by hooking up poses only and blending them from blueprints. The only actual animation sequence we used was the idle animation.

And her tail and ears are physically active.
We've also cleaned the project out of all outdated assets and code and started almost from scratch with all the experience we've gained since we last worked on this. It's kind of cathartic to be able to start it all over and have development go so much faster and smoother.

We're almost caught up with all the features that were present in the original project, only now they work better and the Tick event isn't as badly overused as it used to be (still looking for ways to optimize blueprints, though).

(Sorry about the last frames of the gifs, our capture software likes to mess things up as it stops capturing. Also, I'd like to note that it's impossible to arrange inserted pictures in this editor.)

Now that we could actually create some gameplay elements as opposed to only being able to move the character around, we've been creating pickup objects that can be used for combat, or as usable items. Geril is modeling all sorts of random things that players will be able to throw at each other when they don't have a weapon equipped. You'll be able to pick up most objects you see, and even destroy things to make more objects for yourself – if a wall shatters, you'll be able to take the bricks and throw them at your opponent. Different objects will have different properties and special effects: for example, a glass vial will shatter, leaving shards behind that will hurt whoever walks into them.

You can expect more to come in relation to this, we're kind of on a roll here.


On shipping something less than great...

We're not proud of every piece of work we've done.

I guess it's part of being a creator, but sometimes the final product of a project is so... not good, that we'd rather it didn't have our names attached to it.
It's a depressing feeling.

Story time.
We worked on a project for about a year. It was a day job for us, making a historical-educational movie that was rendered in Unreal Engine 4. We created AI for big armies and individual characters. It was kinda hard – most of the small team wasn't really familiar with UE4, and the assets were not optimized for videogame technologies (and some weren't even PBR). But the team decided to go ahead anyways.

We finished the AI and most of the logic by May, but the rest of the team had to work on a lot of other parts of the production as well, and so they had no time to test crowd simulation, combat and such.

Mid-June, they started rendering clips for the final movie, but they had trouble with the untested blueprints (as expected of untested technologies). Since we were already pushing the deadline, instead of properly testing and taking a step back and refining the system, the team rushed work and tried to work around smaller issues. On top of that, we didn't have time to properly train them to use the huge and complicated system they described they wanted, so the majority of the features we implemented went unused.

For example, we created a face customizer, kind of like in The Sims. A character could have a randomized, custom face applied, so the crowd didn't look like an army of clones. But instead of using that, they left the crowd without custom faces, so yeah, it does look like an army of clones. Or, at a lot of parts, blueprints weren't even used, just featureless skeletal meshes (no custom faces, no mimicry, not even eye movement).

We also had to animate a lot of scenes in a few days; scenes that would, under normal circumstances, take a few weeks, maybe a month to set up. So you can imagine what the quality of those animations is like.

When we saw the final version of the movie, we were baffled. We suspected, based on our communications with them, that the final result wasn't going to be spectacular, that the team had to cut corners to meet deadlines, but we never imagined they would ignore features we spent months on developing. It was just sad.

After watching (that was a funny situation, trying to keep a straight face in the office for our coworkers while watching the video), we came home and tried to go back to work but it was just too hard. I mean we spent a year on this project, and it looks and feels like we created nothing. Were we this bad at communicating, or was it just too complicated for others to use? Guess we'll never know. But it just about killed all of our motivation for a few weeks.

We're gonna continue working together with them on other projects – they said the main problem was the miscalculated deadline – and we're gonna use the experience we gained to try to make things better. It's just hard to do work after a result like this.
Especially on our own projects.

We wanted to post another Sketchfab thing this month, but this finished movie just shook us.
We've had almost no free time to work on our own stuff, and all for this...
But we digress.

We actually went back to our old project, Project OLP, to see if what we made back then was any good, or if we just imagined it. And... it still works, and it's a lot more developed than any of our other projects... so maybe we should continue working on it.
We'll decide later. But as for now, it's fun to work on something that we have full quality control over.

Still trying to figure out if there's life on mars.