Project Spikes Update #5 – Fields and Laser Improvements

Time for another update! To kick this one off, I’ll introduce a new feature: fields!

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My laser arrays are much purpler than yours.

The red laser fields harm the player, while the purple ones destroy physics objects such as cubes and turrets. When the player goes through a red field, you die instantly too, so it’s probably best not to let that happen. These new fields are ripped from the old project mostly, but with a new appearance and a bit of new functionality, both of which slot nicely into the other game features (it’s lasers all around here). There’s also another tweak to lasers – I refer you to an image from last update:

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Entanglement. I ain’t having no quantum physics going on here!

As you can see, the laser beams don’t line up correctly and look like something MC Escher would draw. But I’ve changed the lasers to use a different shader, so they’re less solid-looking than before, and render correctly, giving a more subtle look. Talking about tweaks, the Force Gun provides force in a different way than before, in that it doesn’t really apply a force, it provides an impulsive… well, force I guess. Physics nerds will probably understand the difference, but for the average Joe, that just means the movement of objects is a bit more instant.

To accommodate the fields, I’ve split Tutorial 2 into two, and tweaked both halves a bit, so there’s basically a new tutorial level to stop the tutorials feeling like an avalanche of features and instructions.

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Things are starting to look a lot more colourful!

In the background are the red fields that kill you. You’ll also see part of a TV screen at the top of the tower – remember back in the real early version of the new project, when screenshots were added? You could press F5 to take a screenshot, and it would render the image to a screen in the level. That’s been added back, but this time the screens have a simple model. Every tutorial level has at least one screen, so you can see your last screenshot whenever you want.

I’m also partway done with the turret texturing job, which is taking much longer than anticipated. I’ve tweaked the angry turret face, and made one for destroyed angry turrets.

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No, Steve, noooo! I’ll get revenge for you!

Next update is going to be a big texturing/modelling update, because I’ve been putting off replacing placeholders for a long time (the Force Gun springs to mind, however hilarious it is). You can find the update over at IndieDB once it’s uploaded/authorised, so have fun playing! Don’t forget, this update contains all the features I mentioned back in the Update #4 post, including better turret collision and different textures on cubes based on how damaged they are.

-Daniel

Project Spikes Update #4 – Improving Physics

This update doesn’t have a download to accompany it, but I decided to at least tell you guys how things are going. Or I could disappear for a couple months, but would I do that? (Please don’t answer than, I’m a terrible developer. Development team. Developtron.)

I’ve been working a lot on the cubes and laser turrets in particular. Whereas before the cubes would simply disappear when the fell of the end of the level, now they have a death sequence, where the cubes now shrink into nothingness, but by the next downloadable version, there will also be a particle effect when the cube dies.

Additionally, the evil laser turrets can now harm good turrets and cubes (we offered them anger management classes, but all they did was turn their lasers on us). To show the level of harm inflicted upon the poor cubes/turrets, their texture will change as they get more hurt, to look increasingly abused. I’ve finished the beat-up textures for cubes, and by next update I’ll have done so for turrets, too, along with textures for turrets.

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From the bottom-left, going anti-clockwise: Pristine, Used, Chernobyl.

I’ve also made slightly better models for turrets and I’m halfway through texturing them. The good turrets look much the same, just with a couple more details on the legs and parts of the front, but evil turrets look more like the good turrets in construction, with a bit jutting out of the bottom with the second laser coming out of the lower part. But the best thing about the evil turrets: they now have angry faces!

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I’m not sure if the angry turret is funny or creepy. Or both.

This was a very comical suggestion from a friend, but maybe it needs more work. However, the angry eyebrows will stay. When either of the turrets dies, it turns into a pile of debris, which you can see in front of both turrets. Then you can fling the debris around like no tomorrow! You also can’t collide with the debris, so you won’t be subjected to a horrible bumpy ride while walking over it, and when you pick up a not-dead turret, you won’t collide with it, which was a problem before.

Under the hood there have been a lot of optimisations with turrets too, mostly that evil turrets now don’t have two turret scripts attached to them as I’ve re-written some of the laser’s code, so they use less memory. Which is always a bonus, because everyone loves having RAM lying about. There’s also a couple less interesting tweaks and additions to the pause menu, but no-one cares about that because it doesn’t have eyebrows.

Well, that’s about it for this update. I’ll keep you posted on how things are going, and I hope to put out a new download soon. I may also have a new level done by then, but we’ll see how that goes, because I might improve other stuff first.

-Daniel

Project Spikes – Angry Lasers

Here’s another update, with even more lasers!

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Oh yeah, two lasers. Swag.

Double Trouble

The red laser turrets are evil –  they’ll try to kill you with death and dying and lasers. It’s not enough to have just one laser either, they have two just to make sure. Also in this update are the reflective surfaces I promised last update – they’re the shiny walls in the background of the screenshot above. They’re used to guide lasers past barriers to activate laser collectors, a pretty fun feature.

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Reflecting lasers? How do I give you money!

You’ll find these lasers in one of the newer tutorial levels, which have been split into smaller sections so people don’t get overwhelmed by features. But that’s not all the laser goodness I have in store for you my good people, because there’s now a wall-mounted variety which stays static, so you’ll have to dodge it without blasting it out of the way.

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Because moving about is soooooo mainstream.

What else is new?

Well, there’s also two varieties of button that will activate events in the game – one you can press with the ‘E’ key (which can be configured in the startup options),  and another is activated by shooting cubes at it. Both are found in the new tutorial levels. Along with this is a bit of new scenery, in the form of bridge and fence models, which break up the monotony of blue blocks.

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Ooohhh, bridges are cool, and so is the colour red!

To go with the new buttons, I’ve also added a new cube spawner which will plonk out a cube for you to play with. Of course, it’ll only let you have one at a time, because any more than that would be greedy. The cube detectors have been improved massively too – now they actually steal the cube you put into them, so you can better tell when it’s been activated. Both the spawner and detector need textures, and at some point I need to make a turret spawner, but this is a good start.

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Everyone loves the classic red button, what other colour would it be?

Well, thanks for reading, as always you can go download the update over at Indie DB. It might take a while for the update downloads to be authenticated by them, but once it has been, then have fun playing.

-Daniel

Project Spikes – Laser Lovin’

LASERS.

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Everyone loves lasers.

*Ahem*, now that I’ve got your attention, this update features laser turrets. Lasers will be used to activate laser receivers, which then triggers moving platforms and other events. The turrets themselves are a half-finished model currently, without a proper texture, which will come later on. The laser itself is pretty much done though – it looks pretty attractive, and it subtly gets thicker and thinner over time so it’s not just a boring, static beam. The laser beam has the ability to reflect off special surfaces, but currently there aren’t any of those in the tutorial level – they’ll come next update. The next update will also feature aggressive versions that try to kill you, and they’ll have red lasers to help distinguish between these lasers, and the hostile ones.

Improvements over last update

Firstly, I’ve made an actual ladder model, rather than the placeholder image I took 20 seconds to make in GIMP. The model uses a grey material with a specular shader, so it’ll look shinier than other stuff in the level. It’s distinctive enough so that you’ll recognise it as a ladder, but it doesn’t look over the top either.

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Yup, ladders in pipes. Because why not.

Two (or maybe three?) things you’ll notice in the screenshot: this ladder is inside a pipe, pipes now have extra grey bits in their model, and you may also notice the shadow fidelity is much higher in this image than during gameplay from the previous update. The grey bits are there to break up the monotony while travelling through pipes, adding a more interesting view and also making the pipes look more solid. While adding pipes, I thought it would be cool to be able to climb up them, hence pipe-ladders. And the shadow fidelity is actually a quirk of how Unity creates shadows – before, the shadow render distance was massive, higher than the size of the level, which actually decreases their quality. Now I’ve made it so that shadows stop rendering after 200m (which can be decreased in the options menu), and the shadows look much better.

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I’ve done the old switcheroo on parts of the level.

The layout of the level has changed a bit to accommodate the extra section with the lasers. There is a large section in the centre that has been moved, so the level is a bit more like a circuit.

The button used for taking screenshots is now configurable in the startup menu, and by default you can now press F5 in addition to F to take a screenshot. You can now also press F4 to toggle the HUD (the user interface, as well as the gun), making it easier to take screenshots, such as the ones above. You can configure this key in the startup settings, too.

So, you wanna play? Well, you can do over at Indie DB! You’ll be able to find the game on the Downloads page, unless it hasn’t finished uploading, or they haven’t authorised the update yet. If you have any comments, ideas, complaints or death threats, you can share them either on this blog, the Indie DB page for the game, or on the Indie DB forum for this game. Have fun playing!

-Daniel

Project Spikes – Restarting From Scratch (kinda)

Hello everybody! It’s been a while since the last update, as many school things got in the way (ugh, exams), but I’ve been off for about a month, gathering new ideas for the game. I’ve also sorta started the project again, as many of the ideas in the old version were incomplete and I lost track of which parts were complete or not, so I decided starting afresh and resolving to complete one feature at a time was the way to go. So behold, the new update, which is a step back and a step forward at the same time!

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Because colourful logos are cool.

Re-introduction

While many of you will have played through the old game, I’m going to start off by explaining what the game will be all about. First and foremost, it’s a physics platformer, where the player (that’s you!) needs to use a load of special guns to defy physics and solve puzzles. Right now, all the update has is a crude version of the Force Gun with a placeholder texture and model, but I’ve concentrated on its actual mechanics rather than aesthetics so far, so it feels much more natural to move cubes around using it.

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I told you it’s a crude gun. I wasn’t lying.

What’s changed since last time?

I’m glad you asked, gold star for you! Well, previously all the coding shizzle was done in Javascript (well, Unityscript), but I’ve swapped that for C#, partly as a challenge for myself, an partly to broaden my coding skills. Everything seems to be working well, so the change has been beneficial so far.

So far, the game consists of a start menu and a tutorial level. That’s a heck of a lot less than the previous updates, but this is just a taster of how the levels will feel this time around – they’ll be larger than before, and have more features per level. The tutorial level contains all the features I’ve added so far, so it should give a pretty good idea of the game mechanics you’ll be dealing with in the final product.

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The skies are much bluer than before. So is the whole bloody level!

One new feature is pipes. In the tutorial are a few pipes that you can crawl through -they’re the blue, pipe-like things – to reach other parts of the level. Another new addition is ladders, which don’t have a model yet, but the climbing mechanic is working.

I’ve also added the ability to take screenshots in-game, by pressing the F key. It’ll create a .png image the size of the screen, plus it’ll change the texture of the grey rectangle in the image above into the screenshot. You can find the screenshots on Windows by navigating to the AppData/LocalLow folder, clicking on the ‘danielthenerdyguy’ folder (that’s me!), then the Project Spikes folder, and your images should be there, named after the time the images were taken. On Mac and Linux, I have no idea where they go, but they’ll be in the equivalent place. At points in the game, when you do specific tasks, the game will steal the camera off you and show you around the level like a cutscene, so when you activate something, the camera will move to show you the change in full so that you don’t miss it.

Recap time: the old features

Many of the old features have made it back, with performance and graphical improvements. Physics cubes look much nicer now, as they’re bright red and have a wavy outer edge, with normal maps applied to the edges stand out.

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Normal maps really make the outline stand out, especially when the cube is moving

The same basic texture has been applied to the switch platforms (the ones that switch between solid and non-solid upon jumping), albeit without the ‘Spikes’ logo in the corner. The platforms are blue when active and orange when inactive, because that colour combination definitely won’t land me with a lawsuit.

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My lawyers have told me to say the colour scheme isn’t reminiscent of Portal at all.

Along with switch platforms, moving platforms make a return too, with significant performance and functionality improvements, as I merged several different moving platform scripts into one magnificently efficient script. On my end, they’re much nicer to deal with, although you probably won’t see much of a difference.

The entire GUI has been drawn using the built-in Unity GUI stuff, but I’m holding out for Unity 4.6, which promises a new GUI system, so I decided not to put all that much effort into it at the moment.

Where can I play this update?

There are a few smaller features that aren’t worth going into much (like, super-awesome lens flares from the sun. However in hindsight, that should be the main feature). The update feels a little but raw right now, but once I start replacing placeholder textures and models, it will shape up pretty quickly. You can play the update over at the game’s IndieDB page, and feel free to leave any comments, ideas or problems here or over at IndieDB. If the download isn’t yet available, give it a couple hours or so, because IndieDB have to first approve the download before it’s available. But, when it’s ready, have fun!

-Daniel

The Future of Project Spikes

Firstly, thanks for the support I’ve gotten from everyone so far in the development of Project Spikes. It’s really helped me through to this point, all your help and feedback has been excellent, and I’m truly grateful for all the support. From what I can tell, you guys like the individual mechanics that are in place right now, and most of the feedback is for “more levels”. So I thought it would be useful to detail my plans for the game

The immediate future

From now until about the end of June, it’s very unlikely you’ll see anything playable. That’s not because I’m giving up, but I have A-levels coming up very shortly (and they’re pretty important, they largely determine my future), so I’m going to be taking a bit of a backseat with the game for now, at least in terms of getting updates out. In the background, I’ll still be doing work on the game, but slowly, as I have rather a lot of exams to prepare for (15, that’ll teach me for being optimistic back in September, and choosing to resit a couple modules). Sorry to disappoint, but most likely, no new content until they’re over.

The ‘exciting plans’ bit

Now for the part where I tell you the super-awesome plans I have! I’ve mentioned a few times now about making a proper plot for the game. This is what I’ll be spending a bit of time doing over the next few weeks – taking the stuff in my brain and putting it on paper, in story form. That’ll give me a rough idea of what I need to work to, and what to concentrate on each update.

I’m also working on re-doing the models and textures for the physics guns. They’re okaaaaaay, but I want them to stand out and have an immediate impact, I want them to really define themselves amongst the multitude of other famous videogame guns. I will consider what other types of gun I can add in the future, but the Force Gun, Shotgun, Laser Gun and Gravity Gun should all work extremely well together, regardless of whether or not I decide to add any other guns.

Then I need to consider enemies for the game. It feels extremely lonely at the moment, and the existing turrets are very outdated, so I need to replace them with newer alternatives and more lively enemies.I have many ideas, which will link in heavily with the storylines I have for the game so far.

Then will come the level design work. I’m pretty bad at this at the moment, partially because I’m not a pro at Blender so I’m not very good at making interesting level models so I rely on modular geometry in Unity (that’s just a technical way of saying “I use loads of tiny panels for the floors and walls rather than make a model of the whole level”). That has its advantages, as I can quickly change things around, but it’s very slow to process and render, so I need a quicker option. Hence the next paragraph!

Probably ditching Unity for UDK

Yup, I’ve been tinkering around a bit with UDK (Unreal Development Kit) for the past few days, and while I adore Unity for its ease of use, UDK is just so much more powerful compared to the free version of Unity. It doesn’t steal away all the nice features like Unity. On the other hand, the Unity community and official support from Unity Technologies itself is amazing, and there’s no end of help for beginners and advanced users alike. I’ve found similar sort of help from Epic Games for UDK, and I’m sure their community will help me get to grips with the technology, but it is daunting at first due to its raw power.

I can see an immediate improvement in the way games feel in UDK as opposed to in Unity, mostly in terms of presentation. So expect to see nicer scenery when I get a new update out (or don’t, less pressure for me!).

You can take this as a 99% confirmation that I’ll be switching to UDK at some point, so I look forward to taking all the progress I’ve made so far and doing it all over again in an unfamiliar environment. Such fun! But who doesn’t love a challenge? Plus I’ll have a longer-than-usual summer to work on the game, so it’s also a convenient time for me to hone my skills and push my game development skills further.

Releasing tutorials and test levels separate from the actual game

I want to keep the story and plot for the game a surprise to players so that when they play the full game for the first time, they don’t know what to expect from the plot and characters in the game. To do that and still be able to show players new features and how the game will look, I’ll release a separate test level and tutorial package that will replace the current Web Player builds I’ve been putting out, which will have sample levels representative of the ones you’ll find in the full game. That way, I’ll still be able to gather feedback on what features work and which ones need work. The full release has an open-ended development window right now, as I don’t want to rush it purely to get a game out there, rather I want to perfect it as much as I can before letting people loose on the completed product.

If you’ve read upto here, have a virtual cookie!

Seriously, cookies are amazing, go buy one now. That’s it for my little chat here, but if you have any questions regarding the game’s future, feel free to leave a comment below. I wish I had some nice screenshots of how things are going in UDK, but all I have so far is a few broken concepts hashed together. I’ll get better though! In the meantime, I’ll keep you updated, so good luck in your own projects.

More Lasers, Explosions and Better Options – 22/04/14 Update

I’ve been working on something I’ve wanted to add to the game for a long while now – lasers that reflect off certain surfaces. In proper levels, these surfaces will have proper textures so that they can be distinguished from other walls and floors, but I’ve had tons of work to do lately so I’ve only been able to implement the lasers themselves, in the form of an improved Laser Gun, as well as new player-operated laser turrets.

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Just walk upto these turrets and press “e”, and it will face the direction you’re looking in. When the beam collides with a reflective surface (in this update, the walls and floors of the room with the laser turret in act reflective), the beam will rebound off the surface. These surfaces will be used in levels to direct laser rays around obstacles and into laser receivers. This can produce loads of hectic-looking scenes, such as the one in the header image above, and could also lead to alternative objects that simply fire a laser in a fixed direction, as obstacles the player needs to avoid. The laser itself is a little bit wavy now, and collision points light up with a small particle effect.

Another thing I’ve been working on, as promised, is the new version of the Destruction Gun (which sucked), which will eventually become a shotgun/grenade launcher combo. It’s in a prototype phase so far, as in the actual mechanisms for the gun are there, but it’s using a recycled older model for guns right now, and on the whole, it lacks visual effects or sound, but the base mechanics work. To shoot the shotgun, left-click, and to shoot a ‘grenade’, right-click. The shotgun can destroy windows, and will blast away cubes and other physics objects, while the grenade will do the same, with a fairly large explosion radius, but this can hurt you too if you’re standing too close.

I’ve been working on a newer options menu too. The old system had presets for the visual quality of the game, which gives the player some choice but also restricts it in other ways. Now, you can change individual settings.

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One of the options – aniso level – doesn’t really do anything right now; it stands for anisotropic filtering level and is redundant as it doesn’t work for pixel-y tectures like the ones in my game. If you raise the shadow distance too much, then you’ll see visible dark banding on some surfaces. But the rest of the options are pretty cool, and allow for a greater level of customisation, plus the colour scheme works much better now.

The “advance cubes”, as I’ve called them in previous updates, have been replaced with teleporters, complete with a smoother transition between levels (plus the darkening of the screen while pausing is smoother, too). The teleporters have cool particle effects too. They work much better than the old cubes, and eventually I’ll change the backwards cubes to new teleporters too.

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Future Updates

Now, I have most of the gameplay features in place that I wish to be in the final game. I will add more and improve old ones as time goes on, but the current features are largely the ones that will stay in the game. Much of the work from now on will probably be on the game’s story, which I’m in the process of writing, and modelling new levels, as well as eventually trying to implement voice acting for proper characters in-game, which I’ve mentioned before.

From now, on, I’ll be releasing the game updates in a different kind of way. As the game’s going to be getting a proper storyline, which I don’t want to spoil too much by releasing updates every week or two, I will be releasing a separate build when a new game feature’s been added to see how you, my loyal players, react to it. That won’t be limited to just a gameplay feature, it could also be a layout for a level or a test level, or maybe even new textures. Then, when the time comes, the actual game, plot and all, will be released in a really really large update, although at this point I have no idea how much it will cost (if anything) or what the final product will take shape as. For now, you can play it here like always, and I look forward to hearing any feedback you may have. Have fun playing!