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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsOverpass - Hot air balloon exploration
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Nate_G
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« on: April 23, 2017, 12:00:21 AM »

Overpass




Overpass (working title) is a game about piloting a hot-air balloon across a vast environment. You'll be largely at the mercy of the winds, which change direction periodically. Navigation requires careful observation of the environment, combined with a unique mapping system.

I’m building it in Unity, and I'm building the entire game using the visual scripting tool PlayMaker. So far I haven’t written a single line of code, and don’t intend for that to change!  

There’s a sort of physics-based sim element to the balloon piloting. You can go up and down, and that’s pretty much it. There's no lateral control. Air travel is a deliberately slow affair, with lengthy flights between points of interest. This is one of the central pillars of the design, so I’ll write loads about this at some point.

The mapping system is fairly in depth. You’ll have scant details about the environment when you start. The map has an instrument which will allow you to plot points based on the clues you’ll uncover, measuring angles and triangulating to identify key points of interest.

In short, I'm trying to create a sort of relaxing immersive sim.

===

All the art is temporary placeholder stuff I've done myself. I'm hoping at some point to bring on an artist, but in the mean time I like to take the art far enough to communicate the vibe I'm aiming for, or to help me figure out mechanics and world-building.  

===

Early screenshots from 2016






« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 12:27:39 AM by Nate_G » Logged

Overpass
Devlog
A hot air balloon exploration game.
jctwood
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2017, 02:24:10 AM »

This is a really ambitious project but it seems like you are making a lot of progress! I love the idea of exploring from the air using the map, having the map in the physical space is really cool as well! Look forward to more Smiley
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Nate_G
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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2017, 05:07:06 AM »

Cheer jctwood! Agreed, it feels like the biggest/most ambitious project I've done so far, but weirdly it also feels very much like the most manageable. I've been using PlayMaker extensively over the last 18 months for my day job so I've developed some solid processes which are making development so far feel really straightforward and enjoyable. I've also approached it in a really low-pressure way, just tinkering here and there over the last 9 months or so on the core balloon mechanics.

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Overpass
Devlog
A hot air balloon exploration game.
Pishtaco
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2017, 05:44:06 AM »

I'm very interested to hear how you will deal with the passage of time.

Will you have visual cues for air movement? Moving clouds, say?
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Nate_G
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2017, 12:55:11 PM »

I'm very interested to hear how you will deal with the passage of time.

I'm not settled on it yet, but I may well do a day-night cycle if I can make it a meaningful mechanic. My thought process here is that you can't really travel at night as you won't be able to see the landmarks, which forces the player to land. This could force the player to be more considered with their planning and perhaps the deliberate pacing could be good, but equally it could feel be quite frustrating if there isn't something equally interesting to do or consider during the night. Questions like this tend to work themselves out as the game comes together, and I have a bunch of different ideas for things to do with this, so for now I'm letting it percolate.

Will you have visual cues for air movement? Moving clouds, say?

This is an interesting one. Part of the point of the game is that the player needs to use the landmarks and mapping system to identify both the player's location, and the points at which the air streams cross so that they can move from place to place. Giving too many visual clues about the location, form and direction of the air streams would remove the need to engage with this system. That said, I'm also attempting to support a form of play that ignores the map, without entirely undermining it.  So, my current (heh) thinking is that there'll be sporadic clouds to give clues now and then, but not in an overt manner. On this point, I actually flew from London to Scotland and back this weekend, and spent the entire flight in between two distinct layers of clouds, so I'll exploit that.
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Overpass
Devlog
A hot air balloon exploration game.
Nate_G
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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2017, 03:29:10 AM »

Fuel System and World Design


This week I’ve been working on the fuel system, and by extension, some world design. The burner consumes fuel to heat the balloon, so there’s some very light resource management involved.



This very much isn’t a survival game, so I want to keep this system simple, intuitive and fun to engage with. It’s something to keep in mind as you prepare to embark and while flying, rather than to constantly fret over. I want flying to be a chilled, almost meditative experience, in which you maintain your height by tweaking balloon temperature, monitoring your instruments, surveying the landscape and tracking your progress on the map. I’m also very wary of it just being straight up boring, so the fuel will be one of the systems to occupy you in a very gentle way while you’re aloft. It should be just enough to keep you active and engaged, but not a manic plate-spinning experience.

I got a super cool physics-rope extension for Unity, Ultimate Rope Editor, so inside the cabin you've now got 4 tanks, and you'll need to connect the hose to a full tank to fuel the burner. When one tank runs out, grab the hose and connect it to a new tank. It adds a really satisfying bit of physicality to the experience, and elevates what is a fairly mundane task.

Fuel hose:




Obviously if you empty all your tanks mid-flight, the balloon is coming down. There’s no fail states in the game, so you’ll glide to the ground gently as the balloon cools rather than crash and burn. But it does raise the question of where to get fuel once you’re grounded.

The environment of the game is largely a wasteland, dotted with places to touch down and explore. In earlier versions these places were islands in a sea, but that ended up feeling too linear and prescriptive as you simply moved from point to point. So now the places you’ll visit are less explicitly identified, which hopefully makes it feel more like you’re exploring a vast area, increasing the sense of freedom. These places of note will be villages, ruins and such, and the wasteland is largely empty.

The idea I’m currently running with is that the game takes place in a drained sea, inspired in part by the Aral Sea. The Aral is a sea that straddles Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and was once one of the largest lakes in the world. Since the 60’s though it’s largely dried up due to the rivers that fed it being diverted for irrigation. The sea was also known for featuring hundreds of islands, which have presumably become hills in the landscape. So the places you’ll visit in Overpass are the former islands and the settlements that sprung up on the drained sea bed.

Aral Sea Comparison:


Stranded Ships in the Aral Sea:

(Image from Stormchaser.ca)

I’ve also been reading about the thawing of permafrost throughout the world, and the methane gas pockets that form beneath the grass. So I’m going to integrate that idea into Overpass. The cabin has an external hose ending in a nozzle that you’ll plunge into the gas pockets, and suck up the gas to store in the tanks in the cabin. I’ll pepper the landscape with these pocket mounds, so it will feel like a natural phenomenon, and a very convenient way to replenish your fuel should you run out mid-journey.

Gas pockets:




I never intended for the game to have any sort of ecological aspect, but it’s hard not to be fascinated and concerned by these phenomenon. Conceptually they fit perfectly with the mechanics of the game, so I’m going to explore this angle further as the game develops.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2017, 05:01:50 AM by Nate_G » Logged

Overpass
Devlog
A hot air balloon exploration game.
Nate_G
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« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2017, 05:19:36 AM »


First pass at the Gas Mounds ended up looking a little like something a radioactive dinosaur might leave behind:






Second pass is a little better:






Again, it's all temp art, but it's useful to have something beyond grey boxes to communicate the idea.
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Overpass
Devlog
A hot air balloon exploration game.
coughlinjon
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« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2017, 09:21:55 AM »

I'm really excited you're making this Smiley
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2017, 09:31:55 AM »

Yassssssss  Grin
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Nate_G
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« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2017, 11:05:55 AM »

Thanks for the support!

Worked more on the gas extraction mechanic last night. Pretty happy with how this is coming on.




« Last Edit: May 08, 2017, 12:01:54 PM by Nate_G » Logged

Overpass
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A hot air balloon exploration game.
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« Reply #10 on: May 08, 2017, 11:30:36 AM »

Looking better all the time buddy!
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Nate_G
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« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2018, 05:13:22 AM »

Crikey, it's been over a year since I last posted here. I have been tinkering with it in that time though. There's plenty to write about, but here's some recent screenshots for now.










« Last Edit: May 31, 2018, 11:57:57 PM by Nate_G » Logged

Overpass
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A hot air balloon exploration game.
Pishtaco
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« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2018, 12:47:40 PM »

I'm glad this is still going. I like the rotation of the landing legs in the first picture. Are there going to be spikier, more dangerous-looking mountains?
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2018, 07:18:25 AM »

I'm also happy to hear this one's not dead!  Hand Thumbs Up Left
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Nate_G
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« Reply #14 on: June 01, 2018, 08:43:20 AM »

Thanks y'all Smiley

I realised those pictures were pretty small so I went back and linked them to bigger versions.

As for mountains, that's something I'm still experimenting with. There's no such thing as crashing or dying or anything like that, so the environment isn't going to be a hazard as such. But mountains and more vertically imposing environments are definitely on the cards, it won't be entirely gentle rolling sand dunes!
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Overpass
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A hot air balloon exploration game.
Nate_G
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« Reply #15 on: June 02, 2018, 12:09:28 AM »

Pishtaco mentioned the balloon's landing gear, so I put together a quick video showing some early tests of landing on different terrains:





The idea is that you should be able to land on just about any walkable surface and the legs will adjust to keep the balloon level. I'll return to this at some point, the leg IK animation needs more work, and I want to convey the weight of the balloon.
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Overpass
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A hot air balloon exploration game.
Nate_G
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« Reply #16 on: June 05, 2018, 01:45:36 PM »

The thread's essentially been abandoned for the best part of a year. I was made redundant and then started a new job in August/September (I’m now a game designer at Bossa Studios). I was previously working from home, which left me with quite a lot of time to chip away at the game. Now I work in an office, have slightly longer days, have a daily commute, and my job is really creatively satisfying, so I kinda eased off on Overpass for a bit, though I never completely stopped working on it.  

Anyhow.

I’ve had a couple of big wins over the past few months thanks to some fantastic Unity assets.

Late last year I splurged on Denis Pahunov’s MapMagic, which is a brilliant, node-based, procedural terrain generator. It’s a pleasure to use, quite powerful, and easily handles infinite terrains. When I started working on Overpass I wasn’t sure how big my environment would be, I was being pretty conservative as I didn’t know how I could handle a big terrain.

My environment’s not infinite, but MapMagic has given me the confidence to make the terrain really quite big. I’m not settled on size yet, but we’re talking hundreds of kilometres square. And when you consider that the balloon travels no faster than about 15km/h, that’s a lot. I’ll use MapMagic to generate the various environment types, and then I’ll populate that with authored Points Of Interest.

Here's a couple of early sketches I did to learn the tool. They're not amazing as they were put together really quickly, but they proved that it would suit my purposes.





The other easy win was chucking money at Hendrik Haupt’s Enviro Sky & Weather. I knew I wanted a day/night cycle in the game, and I’ve built a couple from scratch in the past, but I really didn’t want to do that again, so I kind of just avoided the issue for months. However, the cycle ties into the mechanics and theme of time passing and eventually I couldn’t really progress without addressing the issue. So I bit the bullet and bought Enviro, which in addition to a dynamic skybox and a very nice weather system, has a built-in day/night system. It literally took a couple of minutes to set up, and it instantly made the world feel alive, so I’m pretty stoked with that.


I’ll go into proper detail about what the terrain and day/night cycle mean for the game at some point.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 12:15:41 AM by Nate_G » Logged

Overpass
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A hot air balloon exploration game.
Ninety
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« Reply #17 on: June 28, 2018, 03:10:17 AM »

Looking fantastic. Sorry to bump the thread but I just came across this, I'll be following Smiley
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Deosperada
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« Reply #18 on: June 28, 2018, 06:03:06 AM »

I love ideas like this, and I'm loving the overall aesthetic as well. Looking forward! Congrats on the job too, gotta love Bossa
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Nate_G
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« Reply #19 on: July 11, 2018, 12:24:21 AM »

Thanks for the bump and comments Ninety, much appreciated!!

Cheers Deosperada! Yeah it's a great place to work, cooking up some fun stuff Smiley

A few weeks ago I took another pass at the inventory system. I'm a huge fan of diegetic inventories and minimal UI, it's something I've tried to push in all my games.





This video also shows off the pass-time mechanic.
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Overpass
Devlog
A hot air balloon exploration game.
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