Content Update #2 is Out!

I’m very excited to announce that Content Update #2 is out! To celebrate, I’m running a 60% discount. Until March 31st, you can get Hypergate for less than $4 USD from the Steam Store page.

This latest update includes:

  • 2 new ships
  • 3rd-person view
  • Removal of online DRM
  • Attachments (new upgradeable components that are separate from equipment)
  • Additional graphical effects
  • Improvements to both mouse piloting and controls customization
  • Several bug fixes

Most of these features come from player requests. (In reality, my to-do list was quite long, because it included a lot of nitty-gritty details like “test ending cinematic again”, “increase maximum particle count”, etc.) Players like to be heard, and I’m happy to implement features that improve their game play experience.

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So, what’s next in terms of Hypergate updates? Some feedback has already revealed a couple of minor, non-critical issues that should be corrected, so I’ll be releasing tweaks to those features in the very near future. I’m also still working on voice recording for another 10 campaign missions, scheduled for Content Update #3. My hope is that Content Update #3 will be released at the end of 2020.

But what about after Content Update #3? I’ve been giving this a bit of thought.

Developing a Hypergate sequel would be a great deal of fun. While I’d still aim for the intense, action/arcade-based game play, I think a couple of elements like being able to actually fly through a gate or navigate a specific route through the gate network would be a neat addition. At this point, I’m just fiddling around with ideas in my head to see what sticks. A sequel is still a long ways away, and in the meantime, there’s more Hypergate content to develop!

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Thanks for your support, everyone. I hope you enjoy this latest update!

One final note. Most of my posts lately have been about my technical progress on Hypergate. But if you would like to read about other aspects of my game development journey (creative design, sound effects, working with my voice actors, marketing, or even how to get started), please leave a comment below and I’d be happy to share my experiences and what I’ve learned on the subject. Otherwise I’ll just pick whatever topic I want and yammer on about that instead.

GN

Feb. 17 – Where I’m At

Content Update #2 is coming along nicely! Here is my to-do list:

  • ability to buy new ships
  • develop boost/engine sounds for new ships
  • ability to buy and use attachments
  • integrate attachments and new ships into LAN play
  • third-person fighter view
  • add third-person EMP effect
  • remove online DRM and allow offline mode
  • add short engine thruster contrails for extra cool appearance
  • add volcanic planet from new upcoming missions
  • validor first-person cockpit
  • nausica first-person cockpit
  • cruisers should explode into chunks when dead
  • graphical effect: film grain
  • graphical effect: chromatic aberration
  • player request: add mouse pilot sensitivity option
  • bug: fix an issue with mission warp-in sequence in 3rd-person view
  • bug: fix an issue that occurs with empty mission stats
  • bug: fix warp zoom when colliding with objects
  • bug: fix issue that occurs with laserbolt depth testing
  • bug: target leading in 3rd-person view needs tweaking
  • bug: fighters can get stuck in cruiser debris

Third-person view and the ability to buy new ships are the features I’m most excited about. I’ve also added some quality-of-life things, such as short engine trails and improved post-processing effects. Cruisers will now also explode into chunks. I should’ve implemented this a long time ago! It makes destroying them so satisfying you’ll need a cigarette afterwards.

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The player blows an enemy cruiser into several different pieces.

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The player will be able to choose between 3 different ships to fly.

Another major feature is actually a removal: I’m removing online DRM! Ultimately, I care more about providing a good experience for legitimate players than foaming at the mouth to viciously defend my creation like a rabid hyena. I don’t want anyone to suffer because they don’t have a good Internet connection! After Content Update #2, Hypergate players won’t need an Internet connection to play. Of course, the leaderboard and other online features won’t work in offline mode until a connection is restored, but this won’t inhibit gameplay at all.

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A new Hypergate location, Autumn Reach, will be an important location in Content Update #3’s continued story.

A new interesting feature I’m working on is attachments. These are micro-upgrades that you choose from to enhance specific ship abilities. Each one is upgradeable a total of 4 times, and you can equip only one attachment at a time from the Upgrade Hangar. By choosing the appropriate attachment, you can gain a slight advantage over your unwitting opponents. Here they are:

  • Emitter coil: Increase shield strength by a few percent
  • Hex wave package: Increase EMP time by a couple of seconds
  • Energetics projector: Infuse cannons with some extra damage
  • Heat sink: Increase heat dissipation by a few percent
  • Afterburner chamber: Increase boost speed by a few percent
  • High-energy sensor package: Increase gun and missile locking ranges

I’m optimistically hoping to release Content Update #2 at the end of March. Stay tuned and don’t change that channel!

GN

Jan. 11 – Where I’m At

Here’s a brief update on things! As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ll be releasing several updates to Hypergate of various sizes. Like all updates I provide for Hypergate, they are free and require no separate DLC-type downloads. They’re just straight-up updates, for your gaming pleasure.

Content Update #1 is already released. It included 5 new Instant Action locations, Steam Cloud Saves, 8 new pieces of equipment, and several other minor things.

Content Update #2 is what I’m currently working on. It will include a third-person view, two new ships to fly, and possibly some more graphical improvements or new equipment mechanics. I’ve also been toying with the idea of allowing the player to customize the colours on their fighter. Here are a couple of recent development screenshots.

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Content Update #2 will add third-person view.

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The Nausica fighter, coming in Content Update #2.

Content Update #3 is also underway, but requires a lot more work and time to complete! This is because it will include 10 new Campaign missions, and possibly the option of playing Instant Action as either the ISC or the Marauders. Voice recording for the new campaign missions—which will complete the story of the NIA—has started but several of the parts don’t have actors lined up yet.

GN

Doing Ludum Dare

I participated in Ludum Dare 45 this year.

Ludum Dare is a semi-annual competition where you attempt to make a game over a single weekend. There are two flavours. The first is the “Compo”, where you have 48 hours to make everything as a single individual (no teams). You must release your source code and all art must be your own (or, properly derived from existing assets that you have rights to use). The second is the “Jam”, where you have 72 hours, can work in a team, and enjoy slightly more relaxed rules.

I chose the Compo because it’s meant to be the ultimate test of your game development skills: 48 hours to develop everything yourself. The result of my work was Robo-Fort, shown here:

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The theme for the competition was “start with nothing”. My application of this theme was that you started with nothing by having to push boxes and build a fort to defend precious cargo. You started with no fort, so you had to build one.

(Some folks, however, took this entirely to the next level: some entries had no graphics, resources, or even levels, and you had to find/build/buy them yourself in order to make the game playable. Now that’s creative! You should check them out.)

Before I started, I set a few ground rules for myself. I would still eat, shower, and sleep. I would also allocate a lot of time at the beginning to sort through my ideas and decide what I wanted to do. It turned out, this wasn’t a problem. When the event started, I was already an hour’s drive away from home and out with friends for a social obligation. That gave me plenty of time to let ideas marinate in my head after the theme was released. When I finally arrived at home, the event was already 3 hours underway and I had a fully formed idea of the mechanics and game play.

A rough timeline of my progress looks something like this:

ludum-dare-45-timeline.png

Here are some personal tips I embraced that contributed to my success in being able to finish Robo-Fort on time.

  1. I intentionally gave myself a ton of time at the beginning to sort through ideas. The 3-hour delay before I got home didn’t concern me in the slightest. That time to think before coding is required.
  2. My morning routine (breakfast, shower, coffee, etc.) helps me focus, so I made sure to still do that.
  3. Test continuously. I would periodically stop at natural breakpoints and just play the game.
  4. Slept 8 hours each night to keep me from writing bad code or (worse) making bad decisions.
  5. My goal was to have a minimum playable version done by Saturday evening (after about 32 hours).
  6. If I got stuck on a non-technical idea, I immediately set the project aside and did something different (like washing the dishes) to let me think. The worst thing I could do was waste valuable time coding when I didn’t have anything to code.
  7. Lastly, I allocated the final hours on Sunday for music, since I knew that this was my weakest “skill”.

Ultimately, the Compo is not just a test of game development skills. It is also a test of self-knowledge, because in order to complete your game, you must force yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be. Even if it’s only for 48 hours. Plus, the skills you apply for the Compo (e.g., think and plan before you code, know what you have time for and what you don’t, etc.) apply to regular game development, too.

Robo-Fort (LD45 Submission by Geoff Nagy) Sun, Oct 6 2_18_45 pm.png

Games are judged on the Ludum Dare website by the other participants over the following several weeks after submission according to a “karma” scheme: in order to get your game judged by other players, you also have to judge others’ games. This was a ton of fun and I played about 60 over the course of the next several days. It was really something to immerse yourself in so many different fun worlds, and in each game, the developers’ passion shone through. I played one of the games that ended up winning, and the winning title was well-deserved.

Robo-Fort ended up scoring 360th overall, out of 2613 submissions. That’s within the top 14%, so not bad. (And top 6% in the “Graphics” category!) Some folks had difficulty seeing my (rather broad, in hindsight) interpretation of the theme (“start with nothing”), so that’s something to keep in mind for next time. Overall, Ludum Dare 45 was a fun experience that I’d recommend to any reasonably experienced programmer or developer looking to challenge themselves and test their skills.

GN

Making My Models

Game art is really not one of my strong suits. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I think Hypergate looks pretty good. But first and foremost, I consider myself a programmer, not an artist.

Here’s a 3D model I built back around 6 years ago at the beginning of Hypergate’s development. (I couldn’t find the original textures.)

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This was originally an enemy fighter.

 

Not bad, but I think my more-recent Hypergate art looks better:

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The Validor A, a new fighter in a future update.

Now, having worked previously with some truly talented game artists during my brief time in the VR industry, I know that my art skills don’t come close to theirs. But, I recognize that my improvements were only possible through lots of practice. And you can learn too.

The goal of this post is to provide a brief outline of my workflow for building and texturing 3D models for my games, including Hypergate. It’s a relatively simple, methodical approach that works for me.

Our case study will be the Validor A, the new fighter shown above that will be part of a future Hypergate Content Update. The focus here will be on high-level steps, not artistic design. This is also not a technical tutorial on modelling.

So, let’s get started.

1. Build the Model Shape

The first step – and really, the hardest – is shaping the model. Blender is my tool of choice. It’s free, has great community support, and is regularly updated.

I usually start with a cube and extrude. I’ll sub-divide a few faces and add loop cuts here and there. My approach is to first focus on the large details. My space ships tend to have big wings, gun turrets underneath, a cockpit, and a few greebles on top or below. I’ll start with the large pieces like wings and the nose to get the shape figured out. As always, I’m prepared to use Ctrl-Z as I iterate. The Mirror modifier in Blender is a great way to ensure that my design is symmetrical.

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Once the wings and nose are worked out, I’ll shape the cockpit. I’ll add greebles on the wings to aid the appearance of appropriate scale. This can be done using the Extrude command. I’ll extrude cylinders for turrets or antennae, and shape boxes into fins. Cylinders work great for rear thrusters, too.

2. Add Seams

Seams define edges where you want to cut your mesh when performing texture unwrapping. Think of it like slicing up a stuffed animal or an orange with scissors: if you wanted to paint each segment of the animal or fruit on a flat canvas, where would you cut to get the flattest and easiest-to-paint segments? The red lines in the wireframe image below show the seams.

seams-model

A rough starting guideline is that I’ll usually want to add seams on the natural sharp edges of my model. This minimizes the texture distortion and provides a bit of robustness if I’m going to use a lower-resolution texture. Of course, there are exceptions, and I always end up adding seams elsewhere as required.

3. Unwrap

Unwrapping is an iterative process. After adding seams, I make sure I’ve done it right by doing a simple unwrap and viewing the resulting UV islands.

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Enabling “Stretch” for “Angles” in the right-hand Properties toolbox helps to visualize distortion.

Chances are, I may need to add a few more seams here and there and repeat the unwrap process to eliminate distortion. I miss seams accidentally on my first try all the time.

4. Adjust UV Islands

After I’ve unwrapped the model, I’ll apply a simple diffuse texture of a checkerboard with lorem ipsum text to my model. The checkerboard helps visualize scale and the text indicates direction. (Often my textures will include text like safety stickers.)

I’ll now translate, scale, and rotate the UV islands until I get the appropriate levels of detail for each component of the ship. Often I’ll group related UV islands together to make texturing easier later on.

In rare cases, I might need to go back and add more seams and do some re-unwrapping. “Pinning” UV vertices is very useful for ensuring that vertices I know to be correct won’t change during subsequent unwraps.

5. Exporting UV Layout and Texturing

My image editor of choice is GIMP. For small fighters in Hypergate, I’ll usually export a 2048×2048 image of my UV islands from Blender for texturing, although the final in-game textures end up smaller than this for reasons I’ll explain later. For larger objects like cruisers, I’ll usually export 4096×4096-sized UV layouts.

In GIMP, I start by adding a base colour layer (off-white, in the case of the Validor A). I colour individual UV islands, add some panelling, warning stripes, service panels, warning stickers, arrows, some text, vents, rivets, LEDs, and engine glow. I also add dirt and scratch layers. The “Layer Mask” feature in GIMP is a great way to add the appearance of worn-out paint or labels. This becomes the diffuse texture of the model.

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I’ll also export emission, specular, and normal maps. These are just exported versions of the diffuse texture with the appropriate layers turned on or off, and further separately tweaked. The “Normal Map” plugin for GIMP is how I build my normal maps.

6. Applying Final Textures

By now, I’ve got diffuse, emission, specular, and normal maps for my model. In Blender, I’ll replace the original checkerboard material with a new one that uses these four textures. I’ll create four “Image Textures” in the “Texture” tab, setting their “Influences” appropriately.

7. Final Optimizations

2048×2048 is a pretty large texture size for a 10 meter fighter travelling at a couple hundred meters per second. This can eat up valuable GPU memory, takes longer to load from file, and is simply just an unnecessary level of detail. For small fighters in Hypergate, I usually export the following image textures:

  • Diffuse: 512×512 RGB PNG
  • Emission: 256×256 Greyscale PNG
  • Specular: 256×256 Greyscale PNG
  • Normal: 512×512 Greyscale PNG

This generally gives good results in terms of both level-of-detail and image sizes. Larger or slower objects are assigned larger textures to maintain good visual quality.

The model itself is exported as a Wavefront .OBJ file. I’ll export several levels of detail for each object. (The Decimate modifier is really useful here.) The small fighters typically have the following levels of detail, although it varies on the model:

  • High quality: 4,000 – 6,000 triangles
  • Medium quality: 2,000 – 4,000 triangles
  • Low quality: 1,000 – 2,000 triangles or less (I just set the Decimate modifier to the bare minimum that maintains the general model shape)

So how long does this entire process take? It depends. When I rush myself with this kind of work, it usually results in poor quality and more mistakes. A ship like the Validor A might take me about 2-3 days’ worth of full-time work, from start to finish.

I hope that this guide has been somewhat useful. Like I said, it is rather high-level. Comments are more than welcome if you have suggestions or would like more details on a particular step.

GN

Nov. 21 – Where I’m At

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Several months ago, I released Content Update #1 for Hypergate. This included the following features:

  • 5 new Instant Action maps
  • 8 new equipment upgrades
  • Steam Cloud saves
  • Improved look-and-feel for the main menu system
  • Several other minor enhancements

The update was well-received by existing fans, and also brought in some new ones.

I’m currently planning at least one more major Content Update, scheduled for mid-to-late 2020. This update will include 10 additional missions and will complete the story of the Novan Interplanetary Alliance. These missions will contain additional story elements, but the focus of the gameplay will be the same: warp in and blow up anything that moves. The script is complete and voice recording has started.

At least 2 minor updates are planned as well. These will include additional ships to fly, as well as the ability to play as the ISC or Marauders in Instant Action mode. I’ve also been playing around with the idea of adding a third-person flight mode, squad commands, and “attachments”: small additional enhancements that provide unique abilities to upgrades you’ve already earned.

Updates to Hypergate will always be free. Updates will always be integrated into the main game, not just as separately-acquired DLC. I’m a big fan of “game ownership”. Once you’ve bought the game, you get everything else that comes with it.

In my mind, a video game is more than just gameplay. The complete video game experience should include occasional updates and developer support, bug fixes when required, and a listening ear for players.

So, Hypergate players have bought the game experience, not just the game itself. Extra content is part of that experience. It’s also a thank-you to existing players for taking part in the world I’ve created. (And also for trusting me with their hard-earned $10 USD!)

Check out Hypergate’s main website, or the Steam Page itself. 

GN

Aug. 3 – Where I’m At

Hypergate has been out for about 8 months and is available on Steam! Reviews are positive and folks seem to enjoy playing it.

I haven’t written anything on this blog since I released the game, although I’ve been very active on Twitter. (As an aside, the Twitter game dev community is pretty awesome! Lots of cool work being shown there, by a lot of cool folks. Be sure to check out #screenshotsaturday.) There is also a main Hypergate website here. I’ve released some updates to the game here and there, to fix a few reported bugs as well as enhance some existing features.

Currently, I’m working on the first major Content Update. This will include additional instant action locations, more equipment for your ship, Steam Cloud Saves, and a few other enhancements. I’m hoping to release Content Update #1 this month (August).

I’m also planning a second Content Update for release near the end of the year. It will include 10 more missions to continue the story of the Novan Interplanetary Alliance, and at least 2 new ships to fly.

At some point, I might write a summary of Hypergate’s 5-year development story, if I can remember it all. At the very least, some sort of abridged timeline might be interesting.

GN

 

Feb. 18 – Where I’m At

Has it really been November since my last update? Geez. I guess the only way to excuse this supreme degree of laziness is to post a progress update telling you how much I’ve completed.

There’s a lot, actually:

  • Added an option for FXAA and optimized some graphics performance settings
  • Reworked some models (arg) including the gates and the marauder/alien cruisers, turrets, and fighters
  • Made final dev passes on some of the campaign missions
  • Made major improvements to the UI system
  • Added improved in-game tutorial/teaching notifications
  • Added new backdrop assets to the game
  • A few other minor improvements and fixes

The next steps will involve polishing the instant action mode and doing final passes on all of the remaining campaign missions. There’s also the issue of multiplayer, which Hypergate supports (I’ll probably talk about this in a future post, as there’s a lot to say!). The thing that’s important to me is that I can really see the final game taking shape now.

Also, I’m on the Twitters now! More fine-grained progress updates (screenshots, brief videos, etc.) will be posted there: https://twitter.com/geoff_nagy.

But, I can’t just leave you folks without any screenshots, so here we are:

 

GN

Nov. 26 – Where I’m At

Okay!

After some Asteroids Millennium-related stuff got taken care of (a bug here, an extra feature there), I experienced a day or so of mental peace where I felt absolutely no desire to work on any projects at all. I was peaceful and content, and it was horrible and boring.

Eventually, though, the desire to build something – anything – resurfaced with a fiery vengeance like last night’s curry and once again I knew no peace. Fortunately, because this is my normal mental state, I knew precisely how to deal with it: I started drawing up plans, prototypes, and mock-ups for a few different game designs, wondering what to work on next. While I won’t deny that I came up with some ideas that I would love to explore later in the far future, none of them really grabbed hold of me as much as the idea of working on Gateway again.

By now, I had learned a lot from Asteroids Millennium, which I considered to be very well organized. This was mainly just architectural stuff, the types of logs to keep, asset munging, etc., and it made me painfully aware that Gateway was lagging far behind what I now considered to be a sound structure, in terms of both code and project organization, at least for myself. So, for my first task, I dug my hands up to the elbows into Gateway‘s deepest, lowest dungeons of satanic code and vowed to cleanse the demons even if it was the last thing I did.

After a few part-time weeks of refactoring and some excessive use of the backspace key, I brought Gateway up to my Asteroids Millennium standards, or at least pretty close. And it felt good.

“Now,” I said to myself, rolling my sleeves up even further, “enough of this screenshot nonsense. Let’s post a full demo video and get this sucker to official alpha status.”

I’m not going to get into the development details, but it suffices to say that I once again exorcised my code into something fully playable. This included adding a few new minor features (such as the ability to destroy entire cruisers, which I always thought the game badly needed), improving existing features, and some performance optimizations. I also found an idiotic bug in my level editor that I’m amazed didn’t snap me in the ass until now.

Gateway is officially alpha, and here’s a game play video of a special demo mission that doesn’t appear in the single-player campaign. Oh, and it’s not called Gateway anymore, either. Apparently that’s the name of an interactive fiction video game from 1992. So I’ve tentatively renamed the entire project Hypergate, which sounds way cooler and probably won’t buy me a lawsuit. Surprise!

GN

Doing Something Different

Okay, I’m taking another break from Gateway. I’ve completed some work since the gameplay test, but I really felt the need to work on other things for a bit. During my break I wrote two small games. One is a simple open-source FPS, where you shoot drones that are trying to kill you in an open meadow. The other is a modernized version of Asteroids…and it’s ready for release on Steam in just a couple of weeks! …But I’m getting ahead of myself.

No-Fly Zone

So! The first-person drone-shooting game:

It’s really super simple. This is just a toy project that I hoped would be useful for anyone wanting to learn about game development using OpenGL. All of the source code and assets are available on my public repository. It also runs in both Windows and Linux.

But what I really want to write about is what I did after that.

Asteroids Millennium

After I released No-Fly Zone, I realized that I could probably consider selling some of my work!

[Aside: After some introspection I realized that somewhere between the age of 10 and…um, my current still-youthful age, I had mysteriously acquired the opinion that selling my work was evil and giving knowledge to the world was good. Further introspection revealed that if I did both of these things I would still average out to an “okay” person and I could live with that.]

But what kind of game would I write? The number of small projects I had successfully completed in the last year or so had demonstrated that my chances of finishing a 3-4 month-long project were pretty high. (I also didn’t want to re-purpose an old project.) So, my goal was to sell a game that would take about that long to build. Eventually, I settled on a modern remake of the classic Asteroids—it had mechanics that were easily understood and I had some fun ideas that would really add new life to the game. It also wouldn’t take forever to implement.

After 4 months of development (and also some beta testing with colleagues), I had a product that I felt was ready. Working to set things up on Steam went smoothly, partly because I wisely started the process more than a month before my planned release date. I didn’t know what to expect since I had never done this before, but the folks at Valve spent a lot of time writing great documentation and tutorials.

Here’s the store pageAsteroids Millennium is scheduled for release August 7th.

GN