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Michaël Samyn
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« Reply #80 on: February 21, 2015, 04:49:08 AM »

There's a lot of mirrors in Sunset. It's a first person game but you do play a certain character. You can see this character only in shadows and reflections. Hence the importance of mirrors.

Mirrors in a game are a disaster in terms of performance because they basically require that the game is rendered not only once, but however many times as there are mirrors. But since Sunset is not a high-action twitch-based experience, we figured we could exchange performance for looks.

Graphics programmer Alex Mouton helped us with several tricks to improve performance of the mirrors. We're using a highly customized version of de facto standard mirror script for Unity, MirrorReflection.cs on each mirror. And we've added some tweaks like culling distance and fog, how many pixellights are used, etc. The biggest impact on performance was reducing the amount of mirrors rendered at any one point.



Sunset takes place in a single apartment. We set up trigger box colliders for every room -large rooms were divided in two or three parts. When you enter a room, the mirrors in all other rooms are switched off and the ones in this room switched on. We created a shader that could fade in the reflection to make this transition less abrupt.

Lowering the resolution of the rendertextures also helps. To compensate for the jaggedness, we added some logic that dynamically increases the resolution of the one mirror that the camera is looking at, when the character is standing still.



Most mirrors in Sunset are transparent. They are windows or glass doors. We like the visual layering effect that this brings, on top of the reflections of the character.

And if you look deep into Angela's eyes, you can see in the mirror reflection of her eyes the reflection of the city of San Bavón that she is looking at through the window. But that's done with a cubemap, which is much faster than a mirror but not precise enough for actual reflections.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2015, 05:02:25 AM by Michaël Samyn » Logged

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Michaël Samyn
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« Reply #81 on: February 27, 2015, 11:57:51 PM »

I'm surprised how consistently videogames start with a menu screen. All I do on that menu is click start. This is why our games have never had a menu screen. They just start. I love to throw people into the game immediately. No logos, no title, just start. We'll deal with the rest later.

But since we're trying to adhere to more conventions in Sunset (in an attempt to not weird people out so much —which has frustrated us in the past), and there was a perfect opportunity for it in the game, behold the Sunset menu screen:


Graciously photographed in the preview build of Sunset by Patricia Hernandez for Kotaku.

Sunset consists of a series of visits to a penthouse apartment. Every visit starts and ends with an elevator ride. In earlier prototypes, the elevator was a real 3D object, a little room that you could walk into with buttons to go up and down. We were worried, however, that players might forget where the elevator was, or find it tedious to have to walk there. And we wanted the game to have a fully featured menu screen, with control options, instructions, backstory, etc. So killing two birds with one stone, we decided to abstract the elevator into a 2D overlay screen from which you could reach the menu items. Turns out an elevator control panel is remarkably well suited for game control.

Three birds, actually! The elevator also functions as a loading and initializing screen. The game loads quickly with the light elevator scene. And only when you press the "UP" button does the main scene start loading. During the ride up, everything in the apartment is initialized and prepared for the new session, literally behind the screen.

We're building most of this interface with Unity's new UI tools. I find them a bit counterintuitive and unpredictable. But after some fidgeting, they get the job done.

Since elevators tend to have aluminium doors, an opportunity presented itself to show a blurry image of your avatar, Angela Burnes, in their reflection. Which is especially important to see since she wears different outfits on different days. It's just cute, to have this presence with you between sessions. And it grounds the voice-over audio that plays in the elevator.

Here's how we did that:



With the new UI tools, a 2D screen becomes a 3D object that lives in the same space as the 3D models. So Angela is being rendered to a texture in a place off screen. This texture is then projected onto the elevator door 2D UI object. We wanted to show Angela in the reflection affected solely by the elevator's lighting. But since we're using deferred lighting, we're very limited in how many layers we can exclude. We ran into a problem that when the main game scene was loaded, suddenly Angela was being affected by the sun light in that scene, even before the door opened. We solved this by putting Angela and her elevator camera and light inside of the shadow casting box that you see at the bottom of the picture.

I admit that I take delight in these kinds of "artisanal" DIY solutions offered by simulation technologies. I wish computers were fast enough to just let us build games like this all the time. Just tinkering and putting things together according to human logic.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2015, 12:21:06 AM by Michaël Samyn » Logged

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« Reply #82 on: February 28, 2015, 12:01:21 AM »

I'm surprised how consistently videogames start with a menu screen. All I do on that menu is click start. This is why our games have never had a menu screen. They just start. I love to throw people into the game immediately. No logos, no title, just start. We'll deal with the rest later.
I always go to the option and make sure the graphics are maxed and learn the controls first. Then hit start.

Cool looking menu though!
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« Reply #83 on: February 28, 2015, 12:25:24 AM »

I'm surprised how consistently videogames start with a menu screen. All I do on that menu is click start. This is why our games have never had a menu screen. They just start. I love to throw people into the game immediately. No logos, no title, just start. We'll deal with the rest later.
I always go to the option and make sure the graphics are maxed and learn the controls first. Then hit start.

I do that too sometimes, if I don't trust the game to give me the best suited options automatically. But I'm also a design snob and ideally no configuration should be necessary and I should adapt to the game's interface because to me interfaces are an integral part of the artistic expression.

But I have learned my lesson as a designer in the mean time.  Cry

Cool looking menu though!

Thanks!  Smiley
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« Reply #84 on: February 28, 2015, 12:31:10 AM »

In our "session per day" schedule (see above) in which we finish one of the 44 sessions in Sunset per work day (much like how Angela goes to work every day), we have now reached the end of Act I. This is only one quarter of the way in our classic 3 Act story structure (11 of a total of 44 plot points) because Act II is much longer and consists of 2 parts. Still calling this 60% done is conservative because what we're really doing now is filling the game with content. The difficult work has been done: all the systems have been built, the mechanics designed, the aesthetics decided on.
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« Reply #85 on: March 13, 2015, 11:43:08 PM »

We're at session 19 now, out of 44. But there's still a backlog of things to do. Not to mention playtesting and -tweaking (when will we do that?).

One of the problems of this session-per-day schedule is that some of the programming and some of the writing can only be done when the visual elements are finished. That sequence is often impossible to squeeze into a single day. Especially since the time needed to create visuals can be a bit hard to estimate. Luckily a lot of the writing and programming is quite light. That is if we stop ourselves from imagining all sorts of clever causal connections between actions and events.

There's a point, probably several, in every one of our productions when the game has become clear enough to wonder why you thought this was going to work (ie be fun for a player) in the first place. And you start panicking and thinking you need to add a lot of stuff to keep the player interested. But that's just the nerves talking. We need to force ourselves to focus on the initial reasons why the idea seemed so exciting to us and narrow the scope, instead of increasing it, to increase the impact of the things we have.

It's not an easy thing to do, psychologically. Coming up with ideas and creating new features is simple and quick. But making those, and the already existing ones, work (technically as well as in terms of entertainment and meaning) is something else. We have to resist the lure of doing the easy thing.

Sunset is not our longest production (that was The Path). But it is beyond comparison the biggest in terms of content. There's so many objects in the game. Many will only be seen for a few minutes. And we can only hope that players get something out of them. Because nothing exists without several reasons in the world of Sunset. Following the lead of The Path, we are using text to help draw attention to things and to stimulate the imagination. It's actually rather fun to come up with all the thoughts Angela has about her environment. And it's a great way to express her personality.

Spring is in the air here in Ghent. The season of release is about to start. Back to work!
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« Reply #86 on: March 18, 2015, 05:27:52 AM »

Today we're working on session 22 of a total of 44. So we're half way!

Strangely coincidentally, today is also the sixth birthday of the release of our game The Path and the 16th birthday of Auriea and I meeting in person for the first time and launching our collaborative web site entropy8zuper.org.
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« Reply #87 on: March 21, 2015, 11:53:18 PM »

I have my doubts about the open nature of Sunset. Almost everything you do in the game is entirely voluntary. Even the music is something you very often need to choose and play yourself. You basically need to make your own fun. Technically, it would be perfectly feasible to go through the entire game without interacting with anything except clicking on the "start session" button 44 times.

Of course we have the inclination to push people, to guide them to the good bits. And we do sometimes, subtly, but we don't want to ruin the atmosphere with such devices. It's hard to resist the urge to put big arrows in the game saying "look it this cool thing". There's so many nice things in the game that are so easy to miss. In fact, it's unavoidable that people will miss things.

But we have to trust the players. We have to trust them to take initiative. To actively engage with the game.
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« Reply #88 on: March 26, 2015, 11:34:34 PM »

We have reached the end of the second part of Act II. Good time to take a break. Actually I'm ready for a vacation at this point. We been crunching for several months now. Working from early in the morning to late at night, even in the weekends which used to be holy for us. Ruining our family life and generally losing connection with the world around us.

The only thing that keeps us going is the game itself. We believe so hard in it. It's such a beautiful place to spend time in and Angela and Ortega are such interesting characters to be around. Plus we get to invent all these fun things to amuse our players. That and our hobbies. I think that without my guitar practice and Auriea's painting class, we'd go completely mad. I've never valued hobbies much before but since I have one, I haven't had depressed moods nearly so often. Or maybe it's because it's a hobby as well as a learning process. Feeling yourself get better at something is very rewarding.

Anyway, Sunset!

Since work has been accumulating a bit, we've decided to move one of the weeks scheduled at the end of the production for polish and debugging to next week. With the goal of filling all the gaps and having a game that is complete up until the middle of Act II. Keep your fingers crossed!

In theory there's always the option of extending the schedule. And while financially that would be very hard for us, it would probably be the wise thing to do, given all the work that remains. But we're loathe to move the release date any further especially because we've been working so hard. We wouldn't be able to handle a few more months of such intense production. So we'd need a vacation first or schedule things more lightly. And that would get extremely expensive.

But when going over the game checking for things remaining to be done yesterday, I was surprised by how much we had actually done, how close the game is to being finished in those parts. I had expected to see many more gaps. And since we were able to do that, even though it looked and still looks completely crazy, I'm quite confident that we can do the rest of the game as well in the time scheduled.

The only things I still worry about is the little bugs and gameplay issues. Sunset is technically probably the easiest game we've ever built, but it contains by far the largest amount of little pieces of logic. And it's so easy for those to malfunction without noticing.  But we're scheduling a few playtest sessions next week. I'm very happy with the opportunity. It's easy to get comfortable with one's own design and logic but I want to see if it all makes sense to other people as well.
« Last Edit: March 26, 2015, 11:51:47 PM by Michaël Samyn » Logged

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« Reply #89 on: March 27, 2015, 12:28:43 AM »

i didnt know you had a devlog here! looks fantastic  Hand Thumbs Up Right Hand Thumbs Up Right
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« Reply #90 on: March 27, 2015, 06:10:39 AM »

Hello!  Smiley Thanks.  Toast Right
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« Reply #91 on: April 03, 2015, 12:02:43 AM »

I've just played a build of Sunset for over an hour. Despite of the millions of details that still need to be done, it feels very solid. I'm surprised by how pleasant that is. We tend to obsess over content and play experience but a program that just works smoothly is a pleasure in and of itself too. Maybe players don't feel that because they're used to playing finished things. And maybe Sunset isn't nearly as solid when somebody else plays it with a different style. I trust playtests will reveal this.

But for myself, I'm feeling pretty happy about it now.
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« Reply #92 on: April 03, 2015, 08:40:49 AM »

Ah how I long for that feeling. Everything I'm working on at the minute just feels like it's getting more and more broken the more I work on it!
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« Reply #93 on: April 03, 2015, 09:15:13 AM »

Yeah. Hate that. I'm sure we haven't seen the end of that one either. It's a roller coaster.
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« Reply #94 on: April 06, 2015, 11:34:51 PM »

I worry. I worry that few people will enjoy Sunset. We've made a lot of concessions and embraced many videogame conventions. But when I look at other games, games that have found their audience, Sunset is not even close. It's still very different and contains all these quirks of its makers. All these subtleties and unusual decisions. And there's very little about its design, structure or story that has much correlation with videogames that I know. Worst of all, I like Sunset, I love Sunset. And that's a liability. Because if I love it, most people will probably hate it. Despite of my best efforts.

On the upside, I realized today that the way sessions are connected in Sunset — by taking an elevator — is the same as in Doom. So at least we got that right.
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« Reply #95 on: April 15, 2015, 03:42:04 AM »

We've worked on one game session per day for several weeks now. But instead of continuing with session 34 of 44 today, we decided to flip the schedule around and work on session 43, the last session, first and then work our way backwards to where we were yesterday.

The reason is that the final session of the game holds the conclusion of the story. We want that to be a strong emotional moment and it requires a few elements that occur nowhere else in the game. To take away our feelings of insecurity and to allow for sufficient time to iterate, we're going to tackle that scene now. Really looking forward to seeing it!

So yes, let's call it 80% done!
(even if it feels like there's still quite a few months of work to do, months we don't have because we're announcing the release date today or tomorrow)
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« Reply #96 on: April 16, 2015, 12:14:07 AM »

The disadvantage of creating the end first is that it feels like the game is almost done. And that is just an illusion. An illusion that feels nice, though. Really look forward to feeling it for real!
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« Reply #97 on: April 16, 2015, 12:15:23 AM »

I have written a bit about the creation of the story for Sunset. The first part was published here: http://www.continue-play.com/feature/opinion/tale-of-tales-on-the-making-of-sunset-once-upon-a-time/
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« Reply #98 on: April 25, 2015, 11:42:24 PM »

The second part of the article about the creation of the story is now published here: http://www.continue-play.com/feature/opinion/tale-of-tales-on-the-making-of-sunset-stories-in-the-sun/. It's mostly about things that inspired us during our research: Bond movies, Playboy magazine, Yves Saint Laurent's apartment and Angela Davis and the Civil Rights movement.
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« Reply #99 on: April 25, 2015, 11:50:57 PM »

The crunch development is going really well. Whenever I panic about the amount of things still to do that lies ahead, I look back and feel comforted by the amount of things we have already done, in a similar time span. Our spirits are high too. And collaborators are delivering great work on time. We can do this.

The absolutely worst part of working 24/7 is the impact it has on family life. Luckily I work together with my wife, so at least we share that, even if there is not much free time left. But I really regret not being able to spend more time with my kids. They live mostly with their mother in another town and they're 17 and 18 now, so they have their own lives going. But still, I miss those short moments we used to have during weekends and vacations. If only to be in the same room ironing while my son plays Deus Ex or Last of Us on the Playstation. I even missed a theater performance by my daughter because of some stupid repository problem that had me freaking out about losing out entire game. It's my son's birthday tomorrow. At least I remembered that. If a bit too late to get gifts on time. Oh well, this time next month, I will have my life back.

What? Less than a month to go? Better get back to work!

Happy Sunday, everybody else!
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