It’s been a bit of gap since my last post and that’s not for want of doing gamedev! I’ve been working on completing a Web Developer program over the last 6 months so I generally have not had much head space to work in Unity and C#. I have become a better programmer, however, and hope that I can apply some of the things I’ve learned to my gamedev sideprojects.
(Sorry if I am talking too quietly on video – everyone was asleep in my house!)
Recently I been working on Data Structures and Sorting Algorithms and it made me think back to my pathfinding problems I was working on last fall. Getting a better understanding of algorithms made me want to tackle A* and see if I could create a version adapted to a 3D space game without grinding the framerate to a halt. If I can get it to work, I can get my AI to navigate the giant Ember ships during dogfights much more convincingly. One challenge is the A* complexity increases as you add a 3rd dimension since you go from testing 8 neighbor nodes per pass to testing 26! Not to mention the vast playing field makes the grid huge!
A couple things I am doing- AI ships will still do some Raycasting to see if they just have a clear shot to their target. If they get too close to an obstacle and its in the way they ask the A* pathfinder to find a path.
I plan to add a way to check if the path brings the ship to an open shot to the target early thus they can abandon the path. Also I could figure out a test that determines if a pathfinding can end at an early node because that node has line of sight. This will cut down on lots of searches when an AI is just jumping around one asteroid. I also want to add a way to cancel a path if the target moves into the open, etc.
Additionally, I may tap Unity’s job system to let a new thread handle the pathfinding to keep the program from stuttering as it calculates. I figure paths could be generated async with far enough lead time that the ship wont crash.
Ever since this summer I’ve been struggle to make my AI better. I have Behavior Trees in and really easy to debug logic now, but the path finding has become an issue. The AI stumbled across the age old robotics problem of escaping a concave obstacle. I added a big derelict alien space craft that is integral to the story and a super cool set piece to fight around and explore, but the AI acts like an idiot ramming itself into the structure with the current avoidance AI. The current avoidance works ok for smaller obstacles but when things go on for miles in one direction, path finding seems to be necessary. So, off to AI school I go again.
I looked into the new dynamic navmesh for Unity and its ability to be created on surfaces that don’t necessarily have to be horizontal. I thought I came up with a good hack, but it still doesn’t always work, and the dynamic building of individual navmeshes for lots of ships is going to be a problem when battles scale up. In the video below the agent doesn’t change its angle much, even tho I programmed it to do it and it was doing it a week ago… A great demonstration of how hacky and unreliable it is. It was an exciting idea tho, especially given all the off the shelf stuff you can use with the navmesh like steering and formations. Too bad..
Since I don’t really like how the navmesh system fails a lot and building the navmesh over and over is necessary and slow because you need to keep orienting the plane in different directions so the ship can move in 3D, I decided to start looking into other stuff. 3D A* was an obvious place to go, but A* is not super fast-especially in 3D over great distances. So, I am looking at a Jump Point A* where you can have a mesh of nodes, but you don’t have to traverse symetrical nodes and you can jump to ones where you need to make a decision. I am thinking of it as like a line of site type thing. If you don’t have a direct shot to the target, traverse through nav nodes that connect to create a clear path.
Currently I am working on ways of generating efficient node maps of my levels. I am thinking of using non-uniform cubes represented by a bounds object at runtime. When baking the navmesh info, the cube might start very big like 1km in volume and if it detects a collider within it, it will break into small cubes that test for colliders until you have some areas with finer navmesh data. This way the empty areas of the map would have fewer navnodes to traverse, but when a ship gets in close to an object they need to path find around the nav data will be more refined. This of course sounds great on paper, but I need to make sure I can generate such a thing without locking up Unity or making the player wait an hour for the next scene to load. If it works I think I can add some very cinematic dog fights and ship battles with the small craft dodging and weaving in and out of complex space stations or between capital ships.
April has been a busy month! I’ve been putting in a lot of hours bringing the game back to demo level with the new graphics and the new code spurred on by some good pressure due to awesome interview with Fists of Heaven and a video chat with ThatCooperFellow. In retrospect, the whole year has been rather busy if I think back on it…. here are some things I’ve been up to…
Lasers, missiles, explosions!
Since last year, I’ve:
rewritten a lot of the ship components – making the engines and maneuvering more realistic and customizable to work on all different ships,
made more complex AI with goal setting and steering,
implemented some moving origin capabilities to make the battlefields more expansive and allow for some seamless travel – still WIP,
created the beginnings of a procedural galaxy generator that builds different galaxies and nebula and plots planet locations as well as assigning star types, planet types-based on distance from the star etc- and other details,
created some new nebula types that can be randomized and colorized for more variation
created and found some procedural substance textures for planets that work with Unity5 lighting and can be randomized for variation through the galaxy generator
built a few new HDR space skyboxes
made new cap ship models that should lend themselves to part swapping to make more type variations (more to come),
new beam weapons and missiles,
more complex turret AI that takes orders from its main ship AI to focus fire, target certain types or even fire at any targets of opportunity,
more complex explosions that have multiple stages for bigger ships (still wip but already looking pretty cool)
implemented a new radar and target tracking system connected it to the AI
targeting now seamless allows for targeting whole ships or component pieces
targeting all based on factions and classes instead of unity tags – more complex relationships and more advanced decision making for AI
there is a new mission / battle editor that I worked on over the summer too – something I need to start revisiting soon.
Here is a recent video of some of the dogfighting action (hoping to get a cap ship video up soon too!)
I’ve been doing a lot of work on the AI this week. They are getting smart! I’ve got an FSM that uses steering behaviors now linking to a Goal processing AI so that each AI can determine goals and the steps to carry them out (or follow orders from other AI who commanded them!) Here is a gif of the AI attacking! No real complex thinking in that one tho!
Great productive game jam weekend! I really enjoyed making and playing Laser Star. The theme was ‘arcade’ and I think I captured that! It has a lot of challenge and style for something made over the course of three days (while still managing to hang with friends most of Friday night, and most of the day on Saturday.)
Premise: Galaga vs. Voxel Art Games vs. Infinite Runner
An homage to Galaga with style that reflects some of today’s games. Obviously the graphics are made using the same tools as Crossy Road and its millions of copycats. The perspective of the game was shifted to an above and behind the ship which gives it an infinite runner feel. The alien patterns are inspired by Galaga, but I never did get to creating a large block formation where the enemy can be hit easier…
The game is infinite as far as I can tell, I set it up to continue indefinitely and increase in speed for later iterations. Stage types will cycle as the speed increases.
There are about 7 stages with different make ups of enemies. There is an asteroid stage as well.
There are a number of enemies with unique patterns and abilities.
There are power ups which increase your lasers.
There are extra life bonuses for high score milestones up to 1,000,000 points.
This last week I’ve been polishing up the current build and sending it out to some testers to try it out. Also, on Tuesday I will be on the Space Game Junkie Podcast at about 10PM EST. Check it out! I’ve been a fan of the show and have really used them as a resource for inspiration and ideas.
Some of the major additions have been getting the Battle Editor up and running and adding an Instant Action mode which currently house some missions as well as a place to load player created battles. The game will also eventually include Dynamic Campaigns with a story line of the unfolding war as well as branching mission paths depending on the completion/failure of objectives.
After that I’m going to work on a Free Play mode where the player can visit the many star systems of the game to trade, take missions, fight and explore. I am hoping to figure out a way for the Battle Editor to add content to all three game modes – Players should be able to build their own campaigns and scripted missions, as well as make Instant Action battles and build missions / locations for the Free Play mode.
I recorded a video of playing the Capital Ship battle in Instant Action as well as a patrol mission.
Beyond the menu system, the battle editor saving and loading systems, and a lot of testing, I also added some other features. juskelis – maker of Starfire – offered to do a little alpha testing and had me make some tweaks to the roll of the ship as well offer the ability to invert the mouse. I also added warning messages for when power is low, armor is critical and when you take hull damage. I think it helps give the player some awareness about how much trouble they are in. Someday the console in the cockpit will spark etc.
Another thing I tweaked – the player can now swap through all the ships in their fleet and control them. Before it was designated ones, but after all the refactoring, the switching ships works for anything now. It could also work for turrets, but I disabled that for now as I don’t have a control interface for turrets yet-they are run by AI. I want to add more control eventually since it’ll be more fun to have it when flying the cap ships.
As for next steps, I guess I’d like to hear what Space Game Junkies think I should add and just keep plugging away. The power management system is still just a fraction complete – I want to add reactor components to ships and hook up the energy draws to them to balance ships. Then I want to create a custom load out screen so the player can select their weaponry. Particularly for the Instant missions as well as to be used on some campaign missions. After that, I really want to add a Frigate, Corvette and Battleship to the ship list. I have some ideas for some sick battles. I want to work in formations for all ship types as well. Currently ships don’t play nice when you have them form up. So I want to work on that. Oh and add more AI stuff since thats not complete yet either – maneuvers are their, but currently enemies just pick from them randomly. I want them to make some interesting choices.
Sometimes it feels like not much has happened in the last week or two, but actually if I reflect back, Space Warfare: Infinite has made some pretty good progress.
One of the key features of the ultimate vision of the game is in. It needs to be refined and tested, but the core functionality is there. (Meaning you can do it, but sometimes the game breaks…) You can now switch between ships in your fleet! You can be flying along fighting in your tiny fighter and then press a key and swap to a big capital ship destroyer. Fire off a few beam blasts and jump into another ship. The ship you left will keep flying and fighting as the AI takes over.
The ultimate idea is that you can choose to effect the outcome of the battle in all different capacities and see the battle from all different perspectives. Eventually you will be able to give some basic tactics at the beginning of the battle to each ship in your fleet and then during the fight you can issue commands – currently just in the Comm menu– but probably eventually in a little more RTS-ish like a holographic command screen on a command ship.
Capital Ship Control!
Another thing that wasn’t possible a week ago was capital ships doing anything other than sitting in one place and firing from their turrets. While that was cool, its not very practical for a giant flying behemoth covered in guns to sit in one place while fighter ships dance circles around its turrets. So now the AI is hooked up — cap ship specific AI maneuvers are still a work in progress — so the capital ships will fly around and slowly chasing things and try to hit them with the ‘big dumb guns’ on their bow while their turrets focus on whatever catches their attention.
Capital ships helped add a new feature to ships and AI – the idea of types and classes. Now AI can look for enemies in their own class size and choose to only attack those. What this means is that if a I set a big capital ship like a Destroyer to only attack other ‘Large’ class ships, it will not try to chase fighters and instead will try to aim its big guns at other big less nimble targets. The turrets currently run on their own AI so they do whatever they’ve been set to do. Fighter turrets look for fighters, anti-cap turrets aim at big ships, point defense targets incoming missiles. Eventually AI and the player will be able to command turrets to attack selected targets or get all turrets to focus fire. This will truly be the way to take down the bigger ships faster. The big ships have an absurd amount of armour and hull strength, but don’t actually last long when hit with powerful guns. Fighter cannons take more rounds than most fighters have and thats with every round hitting only one side of the armor.
Cameras and Controls
So not only do Capital Ships fly on their own, but now the player can control one too. At the moment this means you can fly it around, roll it so the turrets have a good angle to pick up targets, point it in a direction and fire a giant plasma cannon or a beam weapon from the front. Eventually more controls will come — like commanding all the turrets, launching fighters from carriers, commanding other ships from a bridge, launching nukes, managing shields and power.
Additionally, the capital ship controls made the need for new cameras to be added. Trying to fly a kilometer long skyscraper through a combat situation from a first-person or even a third-person perspective is somewhat difficult. A middle mouse button orbital camera was added so that you could get views from various angles around the ship as well as zoom out to see what is around. I’ve also added an FPS mouse look that puts you in the middle of your ship / or your cockpit on the fighter and allows you to look around and behind you. I am mapping these to the F1-12 keys like in Privateer and Wing Commander games. I have a bunch of directions plus the orbit and mouse look setup in there. The functionality is there, but I am still working to make it better.
I also upgraded to Unity 5 because I keep looking at the graphics advances, the new physics engine, and the frame rate boosts and just needed to make the jump. I thought the move would fix a turret issue I had where my turrets were spinning my ships – but I think the way I finally fixed it probably worked in Unity 4.6 as well. My problem involved wanted to have turrets (and other future stuff) be able to take their own damage and be targeted and destroyed. The turrets move but are children of another big damageable rigidbody thing as well. But I needed a collider and a rigidbody on the turrets so that hits would register on them. Every time I did this the turret or turrets would spin the ship, fly off the ship into space, stay on the ship but turn on their sides. Anyway, rumor has it you didn’t need a rigidbody on a collider in Unity 5, but that doesn’t seem to be true. I understand that now moving a static collider doesn’t result in a penalty, but I guess it wasn’t the same as my problem. Anyway, I figured out that if I turned my colliders into triggers on the turrets, they’d stop messing with my ships, stay in place and take damage. I don’t know if this is best practice but it works! I need to make sure other triggers are not included on the collision layer mask for projectiles, but other than that it works!
So while Unity 5 didn’t really solve my issue, it did speed up the game. I seem to be able to get more stuff going on the screen than before while still getting a decent FPS.
One downside was most of my scripts lost their inspector set variables and the UI doesn’t know where any of its components are. I’ve been slowly fixing it all, but things are a little scrappier at the moment. A few above screenshots have white boxes where UI is supposed to be, that was the most noticeable Unity 5 upgrade effect! It slowed work on other stuff down for sure. I am hoping tho that now that I am up and running with Unity 5, I can make use of the new shader and its better use of threading to keep the game fast and furious.
Part of last week and into the weekend has seen a lot of time devoted to reworking the AI. I also wanted to add some new visual elements and while I did not get around to modelling a bunch of capital ships, I did model a launch tube for the player to fly out of.
The launch tube is really just a mock up. It will get modeled in Blender someday in a more fleshed out way, but I wanted to add a more cinematic feel to the game play. It works! I have a whole idea for the first mission of the game and it will involve a FPS style run through the ship to the launch bay and then getting shot out into space. I won’t spoil too much, but lets just say my influences are books like The Lost Fleet, Old Man’s War, Armor and Starship Troopers. They all give a similar feel of a first battle against a superior force. I think it will be a rewarding intro if I can pull it off.
I’ve been reworking the AI from a Switch/Case (I know, terrible) to a class based approach like the one on the Unify Wiki and the one described in Unity 4.x AI Programming — but with my own twist.
I am starting with what they explain, but I am working on making it more modular so that I don’t have to write an base AIScript for every pilot style. I want to be able to drop behaviors and maneuvers onto a ship and have it fly a certain way. I am getting there. I’ve built a maneuver component that has the ship fly a pattern, the pattern is imported into the AI State at runtime. It’s still not exactly where I want, but it’s starting to work pretty well.
Once I perfect the way the pilots pull in the patterns, I will also be building in better decision making for the AI. I’ll build in which patterns are best for different situations offensive and defensive. Additionally I will be adding in cooperative moves and player commands to get assistance from wingmen. I’ve also got plans to start making AI adhere to the same targeting situations at the players so the player can lose an enemy etc.
After the dogfighting is passable, I will start working on getting the capital ships moving. They need to move differently than the fighters and small craft, but currently they just sit there and hope their turrets have something to aim at. It will be real cool when those things start to move.
This past week I’ve been working on unifying the ship code and it is just about done. Now the player and AI ship code is shared completely with added scripts for the extra player functions like input and UI things.
The shared code means that now enemies can use all the components like different weapons and specials. This means more varied ships (of course I need new ship models) with different fighting styles. I also want to redesign the AI to incorporate the ability to switch to different weapons for different situations or employ countermeasures to stop missiles. I am getting close to feeling pretty good about the player systems (by no means done) to go back to focusing on AI and mission scripting so those are going to be the next big push. That and some interchangeable component based cap ship models since they will be needed if I am going to create any type of campaign that is worthy of the game title. According to my giant list of To Do’s on Trello, I am 23% done (with the list…) but included in the list are a functioning Battle Editor, ‘complex AI’ and an energy management system. So yeah, almost done!
I’ve also been revamping the ‘radar’ system – I am calling it a scanner now in game.
Heat Signature Scanner
The scanners will have some nice game play effects. An asteroid or debris field will make the Visual Scanner pretty tough to track enemies while it should be fine in open space. Chaff could be launched to further distort a Visual Scanner. The EM and Heat scanners can come into play in more dense areas, but stealth ships or ships trying to be stealthy might try to mask their EM or Heat by running cold or creating anomalies. A ship might jam an EM scanner with lots of waves. Of course the most lowly fighter probably won’t have the advanced scanners unless the player upgrades. The Smart scanner is the magic radar that tells you what everything is and ignores unimportant stuff.
I envision Scanner / ECM ships like the Raptors in Battlestar Galactica doing scans and blocking them. Possibly being in a wing with one would give you a scanner buff while you were close by allowing you access to scanners beyond visual that you couldn’t get alone. Additionally, some stealth ships may need to be targeted manually. Currently ship targets can be cycled through with the E key (Next Enemy Target) or C key (Closest Enemy). If a target is undetectable by scanners, you should have to get it in your crosshairs and then manually target it with the R key (Right in Front of Me Target Key). After manually targeted, the stealth ship will be added to the list of targets to cycle through… I also imagine some stealth missions where the player tries to get some surveillance by drifting undetected. Could be awesome.
Target Cam / Info
I’ve also added a target camera and changed the UI in that area. The stock Unity sample assets box just isn’t really meshing what I need to display there. I sort of like the angled-ness of the boxes, but they are a little limiting with what I want to display. For now I may opt for a flat UI until I build cockpits or other assets UI assets that make everything look cool. I’m more programmer than artist and my dreams for the game sort of extend beyond the art I can create for it at the moment. In the meantime, I am going to build all the cool functionality and drop the art on it when I can.
Don’t worry, it’s not really 2FPS!
Targeted Damage, Armor and Hull Damage
You might also notice the little rectangle with a grey outline and a red inside. There is also one next to the crosshair. These are currently the armor and hull status system. Ships can now be damaged on the sides, the front and the back. If any one side’s armor goes down to zero, the hull is exposed on that side. Too much hull damage = boom! This adds some strategy to fights, you can make sure to favor one side if its damaged and keep it away from the enemy. If you lost all the armor in the front of the ship, you won’t want to play chicken with the enemy on a straight joust. Eventually some of the ship components like guns and radars will also have models stuck to the outside of the ship model. These will also be able to take damage. You can get your scanners knocked out or your engines.
I’ve been busy since the last Dev Log, but sometime its hard to tell what to update folks on. Cleaning up code is super useful for the game, but doesn’t make for screenshots. As the base ship class gets more and more cleaned up and unifies the player and AI scripts, some cool things will happen. More ship variety, AI that can use and switch between different weapon systems on their ship to match their situation, the ability to target a Friendly, press a button and hop into that ships cockpit while AI takes over yours… (yeah thats a big one…). Almost there….
I’ve been fooling around with Blender, but need to take a few online courses on UV Mapping because I am failing or at least asking ‘this has got to be easier’. I guess art assets could be a good reason for a kickstarter in the future if I can’t get the game to look right.
A semi-ok blender model of a fighter. not the best….
I did have great success in modeling debris from exploding ships. Basically just rectangular twisted scraps of metal. Thats about my skill level. But it looks cool!!
changed the zoom out for the player explosion so you can see it and take it in for a few seconds.