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Evan Todd

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A member registered Dec 30, 2013 · View creator page →

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Seven

Seven is the character with the most screen-time in the game. And she's a no-nonsense badass. I knew I needed to dedicate
some time to her.

I started out last week by playing hair stylist. I wanted to take Overwatch's wavy hair and bring it into Deceiver's neon aesthetic.

Next I modeled some cyberpunk combat boots.

Then the rest of her outfit.

The last piece was a military ALICE pack, but I'll get to that later!

Rain audio

Logan whipped up a looping rain sound for me. Previously I've just ramped the volume up and down based on a system that calculates how much rain is falling near you. But this time I wanted to control not only the volume, but also the positioning. So if you're standing under an overhang, the
rain will sound like it's coming from outside.

I already had a grid of raycast results surrounding the camera to drive the particle system, so I just ran some weighted averages on that to figure out where to place the rain sound. I used a Wwise RTPC to set the spread to 100% when the sound is close to the camera, so if there's rain all around you, you'll hear it in both ears.

Reverb voxel

I spent a day and a half on this crazy voxel-based reverb system. When my level importer builds a level, it first chops the level up into chunks.
Then at the center of each chunk, it queries the AI navigation mesh and collects all the points that are "visible" from that chunk.

Then it rasterizes those points into three "shells", for close range, middle range, and far range geometry. Each shell is sort of like a spherical
black and white bitmap image. If the close range bitmap is 100% black, then that means we're in a pretty tight space.

The importer spits out three coefficients for each voxel chunk, representing the amount of close range, middle range, and far range reverb. After this it runs the whole voxel through a smoothing kernel and writes the result out to a file.

At runtime, whenever a sound plays or a sound emitter moves, it's just a quick lookup to figure out what reverb values to use.

I'd like to write more about this soon. Hopefully there will be another Poor Man's article on it. :)

Adaptive client-side interpolation delay

I watched a talk on Overwatch netcode:

Pretty much the only thing they mentioned that I wasn't doing already was the adaptive interpolation delay. Basically, if you have a reliable
connection (regardless of ping), the game will buffer incoming packets for a shorter amount of time, because it trusts that new packets will
come in on time. This reduces latency.

If your connection is dropping packets left and right, the game will start to jitter. Eventually it will decide to increase the interpolation buffer to smooth over those missing packets. I use a simple scoring algorithm with some basic hysteresis to prevent the client from switching back and forth all the time.

Of course, algorithms often do the wrong thing, so it's important to give people control whenever possible. Hence this menu option:

Store art

The character in the store art I've been using dates back to 2014... and it shows.

With Seven's model finally done, I decided to redesign the store art and focus it around her, since she's the most important character.

First I tried just adding her to the existing scene:

This worked okay, but I was never quite satisfied with this color scheme. I tried messing with the lighting.

At this point I started soliciting feedback from some fellow developers, and they all thought it looked confusing and muddy. The foreground and
background bled into each other too much.

I kept messing with the lighting.

Everyone wanted me to switch to cold background, warm foreground, so I tried that:

Eventually I realized the old 2014 model had to go. It wasn't up to par. I also had to spend some time in the Blender compositor to get ambient
occlusion to behave the way I wanted to. By the end I had seven render layers, some of which spit out multiple passes.

At this point I slapped the logo on top and realized it would never work. The logo is surrounded by a dark border, and it didn't stand out against
the dark background at all. So I switched back to a pink background, and also threw in some geometry from a level I've already completed.

You can see I also removed the scan lines from the logo. On their own, they were okay-ish, but I realized they were just too complex and I couldn't
make them work with anything else.

I'm still not 100% happy with the colors on Seven; I think she might not stand out enough. But after two whole days of tweaking I think my time is better spent elsewhere. I've never had this much trouble with store art before.

The capsule art stands out pretty well, but I'm still worried about it.

The problem I've had with this game from the beginning is that it's essentially two different games in one, complete with two different art
styles. There's the exploration game with vibrant, feminine colors, and then there's the drone combat game with deep, masculine colors. Which
style do I use for marketing materials?

A fellow dev suggested doing a simple A/B test with Facebook ads, which I actually tried once a few years ago. The sample size for a $50 ad spend (on the order of 50 clicks) seemed to small for me to take action on. I dunno. It might be a good idea.

Hello! It's been a while since the last update. I was out of the loop for a few days recovering from wisdom teeth removal. Also, while the past few weeks have been very productive, it's more like a thousand small improvements rather than two or three big ones. I'm writing a lot of commit messages like this:

Story mode changes

I was able to watch some brand new players get a little lost and confused in the Docks level I posted last time, and have since refined the level design to the point where my sister had no problem finding her way around. Some super dedicated playtesters in our Discord server also found a ton of bugs and exploits which I was happy to patch.

I also decided to include audio logs in the game, to give more time to explore the characters without having to build expensive cutscenes. Other small touches to add life to the Docks include this fire effect which didn't turn out quite right on the first try:

Drone combat tweaks

The active armor effect has been a problem for a while. It was too subtle. Just some sparkles around your drone. I finally did what I should have done months ago:

Back in August I posted about "drone repulsion". Basically, if two drones are crawling around and they bump into each other, the slower one takes damage and goes flying. The intent was to avoid the problem of shooting at a player, just barely missing, and landing anti-climatically right next to them, so close that your shields overlap. Drone repulsion ensures no two drones ever overlap.

The problem is when you're crawling along, suddenly bump into an enemy drone, and your drone goes flying 20 meters without any input on your part. It's jarring, disorienting, and not fun.

So I got rid of it and instead solved the problem of near-misses in a much more obvious way: use a sphere-cast rather than a raycast. Now if you're flying toward an enemy and any part of your shield touches their shield, that counts as a hit for you. Once you land and start crawling, no more drone repulsion.

Can't believe it took me this long to figure this out.

New map

This is Treatment Plant. Actually it's an old map by Ian Cuslidge, but it's been revamped, cleaned up and welded together to accommodate the new rendering system and game types.

Other news

Special thanks to Ryan Evans for pointing me in the right direction to get my game recognized by graphics drivers so that it runs on discrete GPUs rather than integrated Intel HD garbage. Here's the code in question:

#if _WIN32
extern "C"
{
    _declspec(dllexport) DWORD NvOptimusEnablement = 0x00000001;
    __declspec(dllexport) int AmdPowerXpressRequestHighPerformance = 1;
}
#endif

Also, look for a new entry in the "Poor Man's" series of game programming articles this coming Tuesday.

In the course of poring over old screenshots and gifs for said article, I dug up a couple neat images from the past 2.5 years of development:

Hey fyfyone! I'm not sure how you got a copy of the game without "purchasing" it (in this case just claiming a free key). At any rate, send me an email at evan (at) helveticascenar.io and I'll get you a key so you can keep playing.

And yes, the final full game release will definitely be on itch as well as Steam!

Glad you like the look of the game. I'm planning on releasing a public demo along with a Kickstarter in late January / early February!

CTF tweaking

CTF turned out to be a bit too easy to score in. There was no incentive to capture the batteries, which takes a lot away from the game. So I added force fields around the flags. Now you have to beat down the force field before capturing the flag, which encourages you to earn more energy to improve your damage output and capture flags quicker.

Story mode

Started working on story mode again, beginning with the most important features, like shopping cart physics:



The story mode is basically Dishonored, except there are no people and all you do is climb.

For a long time, the first level has had a problem of not feeling like a real place with a purpose. It feels like everything was put there just for you, the player. I spent some time fleshing out the level and making it feel more like a city with a life of its own:





This is like, version 10 of this level. There's still a lot of work to do on it. I would like to add more NPCs.

Maybe try hitting the "check for updates" button? Or right-click the game name and hit "Repair"? This sounds like an issue with itch. What OS are you on?

The game is in closed alpha right now - all the keys have been claimed! Hang on for just a bit and there will be a free public demo when the Kickstarter comes out.

Replied to Lorin in itch.io API.error

Ah, I see. Yeah you needed to grab a key before they ran out. Weird that the app is giving you an option to install the game at all, since the alpha is closed at the moment. Hang on for just a bit longer and there will be a public free demo when the Kickstarter comes out!

Playtest feedback

I've had a ton of incredibly useful playtest feedback the past two weeks. Here are some of the gameplay changes and additions I've made in response to feedback:

Team bases are now surrounded with indestructible force fields to prevent spawn camping.



My friend Zac Fierce gave some great feedback about abilities. Previously, you could carry three abilities, which were permanent. Abilities got mapped to X, Y, and B in the order they were purchased. You could "toggle" them on and off by pressing X/Y/B to select the ability, and then right trigger "fired" the ability. The ability automatically toggled itself off after firing.

One of the problems with this system was that it changed the behavior of the right trigger without telling you. If you switched to the shotgun and attemped to fire, you'd expect it to fire and then toggle back to the normal movement/jump ability. But if the shotgun wasn't ready to fire, you none of that would happen, which might leave you confused as to which mode you're in.

Zac suggested putting the movement ability on a separate button, but I didn't want to add complexity to the controls. There was also the problem that the reticle gives tons of feedback about where you can and can't jump, and of course if you have a weapon equipped, you can fire it anywhere you want. So I would need two reticle indicators, one to show whether you can jump, and one to show whether you can fire. I might still do this, but it will take some thought to pull it off without complicating things too much.

Here's what I ended up doing. Rather than toggling abilities on and off, I made it so that when you press Y, it switches to the Y ability and stays there until you select a different ability. I also cut the number of abilities down to two, so that I could map the movement/jump ability to X. I also now allow abilities to be replaced, so while you can only carry two at a time, you can buy as many of them as you can afford.

The upgrade menu also now lets you choose which slot you want the ability to go in, which solves another issue. When someone always buys the shotgun first, they build up muscle memory that says "Y is shotgun". If they change the order of buying, the old system would change their control bindings so that Y is something else. The new system lets the player choose their control bindings regardless of purchase order.

Here it is in action:



Another feature request I heard a lot was for a "capture the flag" game mode. So that's in now:



Another common complaint dealt with the camera. I've explained previously how I use a cone to nudge the camera away from whatever surface the player lands on, so that they're more likely to be aiming in a direction they can shoot toward next.

Unfortunately I've always kept this cone active, even after the player has landed on the surface. This prevented the player from looking directly back at the surface they were attached to. They would have to swing the camera around the cone. This was an easy fix. After landing on a surface, there's a half second where the cone does its thing, and then I disable it. Now you can swing the camera around any way you like without regard for level geometry.

Spotting was another requested feature. I already have text emotes in the game that allow players to shout out specific turrets or batteries, but it's much more intuitive to just aim at something, hit a button, and have everyone see it.



Assault needed a bit of balancing. It was weighted pretty heavily in favor of the defenders. I'm balancing this by giving the attackers a pretty hefty chunk of energy to start with, and also by adding time to the clock and giving the attackers extra lives for every turret they destroy.

Also, players on the attacker team used to have an individual pool of lives, which meant one player could run out of lives and get stuck spectating. I switched to a ticket system so that lives are shared across all players.

That takes care of gameplay changes for the most part. Of course I've been tweaking cooldowns, damage values, and other numbers like crazy. But that's not very interesting.

One thing everyone agrees is very interesting is authentication! I asked itch.io to add third-party OAuth support, and they did it! Now you can log in to the game using your web browser even if you don't have the itch app installed.



I also integrated the Steam SDK, which will also log you in automatically.



Some players were having issues initiating and maintaining a connection, so I made another pass at the netcode and added some redundancy and improved latency handling. Now I'm sending every message at least twice as a pre-emptive measure. Also, when packets arrive delayed or out of order, the game does a better job of fast-forwarding to catch up with the server.

Another common feature request was mouse support in the menus. This is mostly done now.



Tons of other minor improvements have also been made. Players can edit server settings in-game. The game now gives more feedback when you kill another player. There's now an FOV slider. The input system now respects your operating system's keyboard layout. The crash reporter system has allowed me to fix a number of crash bugs.

I'm also putting together some assets for the upcoming Kickstarter. Progress continues!

Thanks, glad you like it!

Thanks :)

Hm. Did itch make you go through the "purchasing" process to get the game? It does require you to claim a key before downloading the game.

Sorry about that. What operating system and hardware?

Sorry, the channels aren't done yet. :) Working on it!

Posted in Tutorial needed

Hit "Story". There's a rudimentary tutorial. :)

Hey Zac,

Thanks for playing and leaving such in-depth feedback. :)

You make some good points about the ability controls, which yeah, they've been an issue from the start. This is an old issue I should revisit now.

Gamepad controls are one barrier here. Spacebar sounds great for desktop, but the best thing I can think of on gamepad is right bumper, which isn't great.

The second problem is that the sniper actually takes your shield down completely while it's activated. It would be too powerful otherwise. The assumption there is that you only have the sniper activated while sniping.

I'll see if I can come up with anything. On the bright side, the ability ordering actually works exactly how you described, or at least it should work that way. If you buy the shotgun and map it to 1, it should stay mapped to 1 throughout the match. :)

Thanks again man!

Posted in Maximized 4x

The latest patch includes a fix that will hopefully solve this issue. Last Laugh or FreakOrama, could either of you try deleting your settings file (or maybe just move it to your desktop) and boot the game again to see if it still starts with the wrong resolution? I'd really appreciate it!

There will be an open demo in a month or two! For now it's just a limited test to kick the tires and find as many bugs as possible.

Replied to FreakOrama in Maximized 4x

Okay, thanks. I'm assuming your screen is 1920x1080. This will help a ton in figuring out what the issue is. Hopefully an easy fix.

Posted in Maximized 4x

Huh. Okay so in the settings menu, are you able to select resolutions that are larger than your screen? That really should not happen...

Glad you like it. Keep at it, you'll definitely get there! This was the best I could do 13 years ago: 

Posted in Maximized 4x

Do you have multiple monitors? That's been an issue for some people. It tries to fill the screen on boot. Although I've got two monitors and it only fills one of them. Not sure what causes it.

What graphics card do you have? And do you use any configuration stuff that combines your monitors into one?

Anyway if you check the config file you can change the "width" and "height" properties manually. Check the readme to find the config file: https://github.com/etodd/deceiver/blob/master/shipme.txt

The multiplayer alpha is live! Limited number of keys, check it out now: https://etodd.itch.io/deceiver

Here's the trailer:

Dedicated servers


I shopped around for a while but ended up back where I started: Digital Ocean. So, the reason you're not supposed to use VMs is because performance is unpredictable; you never know when someone else on the host is going to saturate the CPU with a massive cron job or something. Theoretically you should be shielded from that, but in reality, it's not great for realtime applications.

I personally can't yet say whether it's an issue or not. But I did purchase special "high CPU" instances, which guarantee that you get two dedicated physical cores. One instance each for US East, US West, and Europe. I'm running four server processes per core for now.



Also set up an extremely simple alerting system that sends me an email when a server process crashes, and when a client uploads a crash dump.



Dashboard

I added a simple dashboard to the master server that allows me to execute SQL commands and keep an eye on connected servers and clients.



The bulk of this feature was done on stream:


Spotting

Someone on stream suggested adding a "spot" feature which would allow players to call out targets for their team. I thought it was a pretty good idea. This feature was also done on stream:


Gifs

Needed some new gifs for the website, so I recorded a few.





The alpha is basically ready. I might have to launch without itch's OAuth support. We'll see.

GDEX

My friend Charles Dickens loaned me some massive TVs that made this booth a sight to behold:





Deceiver got two honorable mentions for something something art-related, and best of show. The weekend was a lot of fun, and there were a ton of great games. BOMBFEST absolutely stole the show!



One interesting insight was that the game played really really fast, much faster than previous builds. One one hand, that's great, people love the action, but on the other hand, I could tell people were getting tired playing the game. It's very demanding. Players would become completely absorbed for 10 minutes, then snap out of it and say "okay that's enough of that".

That was one thing I noticed about the best of show winner MageQuit. Despite offering a lot of PvP action, it actually plays pretty slowly and gives players a ton of downtime. I realized this design works great for local multiplayer games where you're mainly trying to hang out with friends anyway.

This ties in with something I read a while back about the success of PUBG. That game also has a ton of downtime, which is great for streamers because they need time to interact with their chat.

For now, I tempered the pacing a bit by increasing cooldown times. It's a stop-gap measure. I would like to find another way to facilitate those all-important peaks and valleys in pacing. I think larger maps and larger teams would be a great way to do that.

Website, Steam

I made some major improvements to the website on the advice of the illustrious Jessie Kooner.



I also submitted a Steam store page for approval from Valve so people can wishlist the game.

This leaves two items on the alpha release to-do list. First, I'm waiting on itch.io to enable OAuth support. Second, I need to buy and deploy some dedicated servers.

I wanted to release tomorrow, but it's looking like I'll have to push it to next week. At any rate, it's getting close!

Trailer
I spent a few weeks animating, capturing, and editing a trailer. I started out working on some story scenes:






Animation can be really tricky. Here's a problem I encountered with Blender's "Child Of" constraint:



I export the animation at 24 fps, but play it back at 60 fps. That causes the cigarette to shake around a little. Fortunately you don't really see the cigarette too closely in the shot I had planned.

At any rate, I talked to the wonderful M. Joshua who advised me to hold off on the story elements. The trailer isn't for the full release, only for a multiplayer alpha.

I did finish the trailer, and even managed to cram a teensy bit of story into it. OBS Studio wasn't able to record even 720p video at 60 fps without hitching, so I picked up an HDMI pass-through recording box and hooked it up to my laptop. Worked beautifully at 1080p 60 fps. This is the first time I've been able to make a 1080p trailer.

Generators

The Assault mode is a bit like League of Legends. Team A tries to destroy Team B's turrets. When people try this mode, they immediately want to know if they can repair their turrets. A repair tool has been on my to-do list for some time, but I wasn't excited about adding a whole new ability that accomplishes only one purpose.

Then I started thinking about Sensors. These have been in the game almost from day one, but they've never felt overpowered like everything else does. They detect and track enemy drones, and they create a stealth zone where you become invisible. That's it.

I decided to combine the repair tool idea with Sensors and ended up with Generators. In addition to the old sensor functionality, these also passively generate energy at a fairly good clip. They pay for themselves within 30 seconds or so. They also slowly heal any minions and turrets in range. I also buffed them up and gave them more health and a shield. You can spawn a ton of these near a turret to get a whole bunch of healing power.

Prepare for alpha

The multiplayer alpha is really close to release. Just need to polish a few things and deploy the servers. I tested my ability to run multiple instances on the same server. It looks like I could run about 6 games with 4 players each on a single t1.micro.

I added support for GameJolt login. Also added a crash reporter on Windows:



It also opens the GitHub issues page after uploading the crash dump.

I'm showing the game at GDEX this weekend, then at LexPlay next month.

(Edited 1 time)

Cooldowns, again

Cooldowns have gone through the most iteration to date. Aside from the health system, movement system, reticle code, and story. :P

People were having a hard time equating the three pips below the reticle with the amount of "charges" they had left. The bolter made things more confusing both for the player and for the code, because it let your fire three bolts per charge. Then the shotgun came along, which required two whole charges to fire. Things were getting crazy.

I did away with all that and replaced it with an actual heat-based cooldown system. Looks like this:



You can also see the new muzzle flash effect in that gif.

Linux

I finally re-installed linux on my desktop, and wonder of wonders, the graphics drivers worked out of the box. That never happens. I was shocked. Here's the built-in open source AMD drivers running the game faster than Windows 10:



Spawn effects

Jack made a pretty awesome spawn sound which had basically zero accompanying visuals, so I added some:



Adding controllers on the fly

I never realized what a huge win this feature is. Especially at expos, it's great to be able to add and remove players on the fly as people come and go. Took maybe 50 lines of code. Totally worth it.

Friends, admins

I finally added some rudimentary friend functionality. You can create a server and mark it as "private", which means only friends are allowed to join. I also added the ability to mark others as server admins, which means they can change the server settings, switch maps on the fly, mess with teams, and kick people.

Tons of other stuff is going on in the background, including work on the first official trailer (woah)

The Last of the Jaggies

It took me two and a half years, but I freakin' FINALLY murdered the last surviving jaggies.

I started out using a typical edge detection post-process effect for the glowing edges. Then for a while I was supersampling the edges. Then I switched to a new system based on GL_LINES, which finally gave me some nice anti-aliasing. As a refresher, here's the comparison:



This has worked pretty well for the most part, except for a few cases where I got Z-fighting between the solid geometry and the lines. It looked like this:



I tried to mitigate this by restoring the depth buffer with a shader that sampled multiple pixels, taking the farthest one, but it wasn't enough.

A lot of times it was more subtle than the above example. The anti-aliasing would get cut off by the depth buffer:



Long story short, turns out drawing lines on top of solid objects is a common problem in 3D modelling software, and thus OpenGL has a built-in solution called glPolygonOffset. You render the solid geometry with a specially calculated depth offset that takes the depth derivative into account. So polygons that have a larger depth differential get offset more.

Rendering the whole scene with this offset messed things up for my culling system, so I settled on drawing the scene once normally, then instead of restoring the depth buffer later for edge rendering, I render the whole scene again in a depth-only pass with the polygon offset enabled.

It works beautifully:





Shotgun kick

I'll leave you with this gif of a feature I threw in yesterday. The shotgun has a teensy bit of kick now.



It's a minor thing in the grand scheme, but it makes me happy.

Objective labels

After adding text emotes last week, I realized how useful it is to be able to reference points on the map by name. To facilitate this, I added labels for batteries and turrets. Batteries are numbered, turrets have letters. These labels also appear in the event feed in the top right, so there are multiple ways to find out which objective requires your attention.



Shell casings

This was a no-brainer. The bolter, shotgun, and sniper now eject spent cartridges. They're purely aesthetic. The cartridges are sized differently for the different weapons.



eeeeeeeeeeeee i love it

Audio

Jack has been summoning incredible sounds out of the ether despite being one of the busier human beings I know. I spent most of this week hooking them up and experimenting with spatial audio. I was kindly given a trial copy of Wwise Reflect, which I immediately integrated. Unfortunately, the plugin didn't quite work for our use case. We're switching to a more standard reverb setup where the game scales different reverb presets from 0-1 depending on the results of a few raycasts.

Reverb is nice, but obstruction and occlusion is essential for gameplay. Obstruction is easy enough - one raycast is enough to determine whether a sound is blocked or not.

Occlusion is trickier. Let's say a sound is just barely obstructed by the edge of a wall. The sound would not be affected much, because the occlusion wouldn't be very high. In some sense, the sound just takes a slight detour around the obstruction, arriving at the listener barely distorted.

I'm approximating occlusion by estimating how far the sound would have to travel to reach the listener without penetrating any walls. If the sound is nearby but behind a large wall that we can't get around easily, the occlusion should be 100%.

To calculate this, I'm leveraging the AI nav mesh. When a sound source is obstructed, the audio system does a pathfind to determine how occluded it is. Here's a visualization:



Sound doesn't actually work this way, but the total path distance minus the straight-line distance is a good rough estimate of how far "out of its way" a sound will have to travel to reach the listener.

Map switcher



Server admins can now select which map will load next, even if the map is outside the server's normal rotation. They can also force the server to instantly switch maps.

This week has been INSANE. I don't even know why. When productivity strikes, you don't ask questions. You just go with it.

Shotgun
We coded up a shotgun live on stream:


The result:



Full auto bolter

The bolter is now full auto:



Speed changes, 20% map shrinkage

I increased the drone crawl speed a bit, and then decreased some other numbers to make it even faster in comparison. I slowed down the fly speed, decreased the drone's maximum range, and shrunk all the maps by 20%. This makes it more viable to tactically change your position by crawling, where before, everything was so spread out and the crawl speed was so slow that you felt essentially rooted in place. It feels like a whole different game now.

Camera rotation clamping

I clamp the camera's rotation so that the player is never stuck aiming straight into the wall they are attached to. At first, I clamped it against the wall's plane, but then I realized it was okay to let the player aim into the wall a little bit, so I switched to a cone. If the player tries to rotate the camera so that the look vector is inside the cone, the game pushes the camera back.

There were a few problems with this system. First, I didn't realize the algorithm needed multiple iterations to keep the camera out of the cone. So sometimes you would see the camera jitter a bit over the course of a few frames. I corrected this by running multiple iterations in one frame.

Second and more importantly, the cone sometimes pushed the camera out in a way that changed the player's aim unexpectedly. When landing on a new surface, I would start the cone perpendicular to the camera, then slerp its quaternion toward the final rotation of the surface. Unfortunately, slerp doesn't always rotate in the most direct path, and that caused it to move the cone in weird ways.

The new system immediately sets the cone orthogonal to the surface. Instead of tweening the cone's rotation over time, it tweens the cone's size. The cone starts out at 0 degrees and slowly expands to 45 degrees. This pushes the camera in a very smooth and predictable way.

I still have to smooth out the cone's rotation when crawling between surfaces, so I switched from a quaternion slerp to a linear vector lerp which takes a more direct path to the desired rotation. The end result is much more smooth and never disrupts the player's aim.

Here you can see the system nudging the camera away from the wall after landing:



Drone repulsion

I've had a pretty major problem until now, which is that you could shoot at a drone, barely miss, and anti-climactically land right next to them, with your character models uselessly clipping through each other. Worse, it's incredibly difficult to hit someone once you're that close; the physics just don't line up.

I corrected this by adding "repulsion". If two drones are just crawling around and their shields bump into each other, one drone will take a hit and the other will go flying. Drones that just landed take precedence. If both drones are just crawling around, the one that's moving faster takes precedence.

This change helps introduce more space and movement between players. Interestingly, this extra flight does not take one of your three cooldowns like it normally would.

Extra drone upgrade

I had a hard time keeping track of how many drones I had left while playing. It was always a surprise when I lost a match by using up my drone stock. So now I display your remaining drones at all times in the UI. I also added a new upgrade which allows you to purchase extra drones for a relatively high price. These changes are designed to make people play more carefully.

noclip in replays

I've had a replay system for a while, but the camera has always been a bit weird. I added support for noclip, which will hopefully allow me to film some neat scenes for a trailer.



Server regions

Servers now know which region they are in, and the client asks you which region you're in, and the master server matches the two together.



Text emotes and chat

The UI for this is still a bit rough, but chat messages and text emotes (a la Rocket League) are in.



Misc

Players are now rewarded for damaging other players, even if they didn't get a kill. Servers will now kick you after a certain period of inactivity to prevent AFK players from clogging up matches. I've also made a ton of improvements to the netcode, making it more robust and improving the client-side prediction.

(Edited 1 time)

Smooth camera

Thanks to Twitch viewer RayMarch for this one. They suggested adding some lag and springiness to the camera so you can better see when your drone hits something.



This makes things much less confusing when you bounce off an enemy:



The camera locks up again when you're done dashing or flying, so you can still do precision aiming.

UI cleanup

After seeing the first gif above, someone pointed out the "danger" sign blocking your view of the spider drone. The UI has a number of status indicators that turn on and off depending on the player state. These were scattered along the central vertical axis. I standardized their size and position and made the stack up nicely to the right of the reticle.



Turret tweak

Also visible in the second gif above is the newly tweaked turret design. Previously the base of the turret was dark, meaning spider drones could not shoot or climb on it. This caused some issues, as you're trying to aim at the turret and suddenly get a big confusing X on the screen indicating you can't shoot there. The new turret base allows you to crawl on it while avoiding other gameplay issues by having the actual turret body hover a foot above the base.

Build ID overlay

You can also see the new build ID overlay in the screenshot above. This will help me debug issues when people submit screenshots, and hopefully prevent people from taking pre-alpha screenshots as final quality.

Staggered grid experiment

I tried staggering the grid points to create a triangular pattern rather than rectangular:



I found the rectangular pattern emphasized the level geometry more clearly, while the triangular pattern distracted from it. I ended up undoing this change.

Kicking

Server admins can now kick people. You can even kick someone playing on the same screen as you.



Progressive upgrade pricing

Each upgrade you purchase now increases the price of all future upgrades. This makes the order of purchase more important, and also allows me to price things relatively cheaply at the beginning, which gives the player more options. Previously you really could only choose between the four cheapest upgrades at first.

Map work

Revamped Office:



Cleaned up and updated Refinery:



Cleaned up and updated Plaza:



Also, I tested out how Samsa looks in-engine. :)

Team switcher

A ton of features have gone in recently to bring the game closer to a multiplayer demo. Previously, players chose teams before starting a match, but that didn't work for networked multiplayer. Also, there was no way to switch teams in the middle of a match. Until now!



Plus if you're a server admin, you can move other players to different teams as well.

Sniper ricochets

This is a little subtle and hard to see, but sniper bullets now work the same way as player movement: if the target survives the impact, the bullet ricochets. Sorry, I didn't have time to compile a trick-shot montage set to Breaking Benjamin.



IPv6

The master server and game server now listen on IPv6 as well as IPv4. If a client connects to the master server over IPv6, the master will return IPv6 addresses for all game servers. I suspect this may be a brittle solution that somehow breaks at some point, but it's good to have the plumbing done and know the code is future-proof. In related news, here's a great article I just read about what IPv6 could have been.

Minion pathing

Minions use a simple heuristic to determine which target to attack: whichever is closest. Now take a look at this map:



It has two floors stacked on top of each other. There's a turret on the upper floor. A minion who spawns on the floor directly beneath the turret will assume that the turret is the closest target, and kick off a pathfinding request to make its way there.

Unfortunately, the path to the turret turns out to be a roundabout excursion up a series of ramps, and will likely take the minion past other, closer targets. This is a problem. There's no way of knowing which target is actually closest without calculating a pathfinding solution for each and every one, which would be prohibitively expensive.

Instead, I decided to mark up the map with some extra pathfinding information. I added some special Blender objects which allow me to say "if you're inside area X, and you want to reach target Y, then you'll have to pass through point Z to get there". This metadata does not impact the actual pathfinding, it only improves the accuracy of the heuristic for choosing targets.

While I was messing around with minions, I also implemented a basic obstacle avoidance algorithm to keep them from running into each other and clumping together. The algorithm is this: if a minion is in front of you, turn to the right.

Another improvement I made is that if a minion attacks a player and then loses sight of them, they will advance to the last known position of the player and search for them before moving on to a new target.

In-game UI notifications

One piece of feedback I've received recently is that players have a hard time keeping track of the game state. How many batteries do I have? How many turrets do I have? Did the enemy just capture something of mine?

So now I'm highlighting batteries and turrets outside the player's range with colored icons. There are also icons for "under attack" and "lost", so you can easily see which things require your attention. If you happen to be looking away from the object that's under attack at the time, there's also a text notification.



Resolution switcher

I finally added settings for screen resolution, fullscreen/windowed, and v-sync. The settings menu is finally done.



Multiplayer demo

All of this is coming together to culminate in a multiplayer demo hopefully by the end of September. Prepare your bodies

Samsa

I made a robot doggie. His name is Samsa. He plays a fairly critical role in the story. Don't worry, nothing bad ever happens to dogs in video games and movies and literature.

I didn't like how he turned out first. He has to unfold into a sort of command center, which dictates certain design limitations:



At this point, the vibe he gave was more Stegosaurus than Golden Retriever. I asked Twitter how to make him cuter, and they told me to shorten and speed up the footsteps, add some Z-axis roll, and add an antenna. A lot of them also suggested "googly eyes", but that was a bit much for this game. I implemented everything else:



The antenna idea was brilliant because it's so easy and fun to animate and adds a ton of visual interest:



Damage buffering

One of the abilities in Deceiver is called "active armor". You hit a button, and any incoming damage gets reflected back at the attacker. Like so:



If you watch that gif closely, you can see that I react well in advance of the actual bolt impact. But what if it was really close? If you look in the top left of the gif, you can see the ping is over 200ms. If I reacted just in time from my perspective, I would be 200ms too late from the server's perspective.

To solve this problem, I created a buffer for all player damage. That means the server acknowledges incoming damage, but waits for a split second before actually applying it. And by a split second, I mean whatever the player's ping is, plus one frame for good measure.

Here's what that looks like. The bolt disappears and spawns a particle effect instantly, but the damage doesn't actually register until 200ms later:



Now I can react to the bolt right up to the moment the bolt impacts. Note that damage buffering is unnecessary and in fact detrimental between two players playing splitscreen on the same client!

Yes, this skews the game against attackers, but I think it's much more frustrating to get killed cheaply due to lag, as opposed to the minor annoyance of having your hits not register. Especially in a game where a lot of damage comes from non-player characters.

While developing this feature, I used a tool Ryan Evans recommended to me called clumsy, which simulates bad network conditions. Brain-dead simple to operate.

Lastly, I added pings to the scoreboard, so you can rage at players who have Comcast.



P.S. - Sound is coming. This is me being completely hyped out of my mind.

Upgrades to the upgrade system


Upgrades in this game have always had a certain risk/reward mechanic. They take a few seconds to purchase, during which your drone remains immobile and vulnerable. Most of the time this was fine because you had to be at a friendly base in order to upgrade, but sometimes the base got captured while you were upgrading, which kicked you out of the upgrade menu.

Someone at Indy Pop Con suggested an idea that would both add some visual interest and make players invulnerable while upgrading:



At first, I was stressing out about the edge cases and physics of flipping a drone around - what happens if two drones are attached to the base when it flips? What if an enemy drone flies through the gap into the void while the base is flipping?

Then I realized I had to fake the whole thing. Nothing actually moves at all; I disable the drone's collision and animate the model, but otherwise, the drone just sits there. No physics objects move at all. About half of this feature was implemented live on stream.

itch.io integration

I spent a day getting cURL building on Mac, Windows, and Linux, which allowed me to make HTTP requests. Now I'm using itch.io's API for login and authentication. Launch the game from the itch app, and my game receives a JWT via an environment variable. The game talks to the master server, which talks to itch, et voilà, it magically knows your name. Scary. Steam authentication will work basically the same way.

Virtual servers

Now that we have actual user profiles, it's finally time to let people connect to each other. Until now, I had half-assed plans for a matchmaking system similar to the one I use in campaign mode, but then I decided to try an idea I've been wanting to do since at least 2011. It goes like this.

I really miss community-run servers in games. It's hard to build a community for, say, Overwatch, without a dedicated place for people to meet. Even if it's not a community per se, some of my favorite memories happened in dedicated servers with custom game rules. That's gone now. These days it's a lot easier to pay some cloud provider and not have to worry about community-run servers falling out of date or distributing malware.

So the idea is: virtual dedicated servers. Anyone can create a dedicated server for free. It's just a database row that holds a name, a set of game rules, and a list of admins. When someone wants to play on this "server", a real dedicated server is allocated from the pool and set up with the custom game rules. It's like giving gamers their own little version of Amazon Web Services. Here it is in action.



Still a lot of work to do, especially on the server browser queries. I'd like to use a Reddit-like algorithm to keep popular servers at the top while still surfacing new configurations.

I'm using the fantastic SQLite for the database. Their build process combines all their source files into a single 6.8 MB C file. Super easy to set up.

Title screen redesign

The title screen also doubles as the first level in story mode, so it's super important. Here's how it used to look:



I didn't like how the dark colors contrasted with the white outlines, and the nighttime setting didn't mesh very well with the start of a journey. Also, the level had you moving to the left to progress, which felt surprisingly jarring since our brains associate left-to-right movement with progress. Finally, there wasn't much room to explore and mess around, and the tutorial was very linear.

So I flipped everything around to progress toward the right, changed the colors, opened up the layout a bit, and integrated the tutorial more seamlessly with the environment. Here's how it looks now:



Cinematic

The cinematic I've been working on is done, for now at least. It's a little over a minute long.



Unfortunately I realized it needs to happen in the third level rather than the second, which means I still have another cinematic to do for level 2 before this vertical slice is done. I'm excited for it though, along with all the other story stuff. I recently found a way to cut the story down to 9 levels, 2 of which are already done.

Kill cam highlighting

This is a minor but important quality of life improvement. The kill cam now highlights your killer when they're not directly visible. I basically just change the depth test to pass when the depth is greater, and then render the mesh with transparency. Easy peasy.

Indy Popcon

Pictures!







This was a lot of fun, but unfortunately I won't be going back next year. There were maybe ten games total; most of the con focused on unlicensed pop culture stuff and YouTube personalities. Most people were not interested in my game at all, but those who did sit down and play almost always went away with a huge grin on their face, so that was encouraging!

Gameplay recording

I recorded almost 400 MB of gameplay. This works by blasting all network packets from the server directly into a file, then playing them back in order. I can record an 8 minute play session in under 10 MB.



The only downside is that the network protocol does not capture camera angles, so I can only watch replays in this weird top-down view.

Here's some highlights:


Right player stalks left player from the top of a pillar


Left player captures a battery but immediately gets smashed


Right player gets overwhelmed by left player's minion army


Left player does a good job of staying behind their minions


Right player holds their own against minions, left player not so much

I got a ton of player feedback from Indy Popcon, which means I have a huge list of cool stuff to work on. A few notable changes already implemented:

Camera culling

Yes I'm still improving this. Previously I used a cone shape to cull geometry between the camera and the player's drone. The issue was that, if you backed up close to a wall, it would intersect with the narrow part of the cone, leaving you a tiny circle to see through. I switched from a cone to a paraboloid, which slightly improved the situation:



There was another issue as well. When transitioning from one surface to another, the player's rotation lerps smoothly, which is nice. The problem was that, all the culling planes were based on this lerped rotation, which resulted in a lot of popping and graphical artifacts during the lerp. Now the culling transitions immediately from one surface to the next, while the player model still lerps smoothly.

Cooldown tweaks



Previously, after a cooldown, all three of your jumps recharged instantly. Now they recharge individually, similar to Overwatch's Tracer, which was the original inspiration for this system. The difference with this new system is, the first jump takes a long time to recharge, while the other two recharge much faster. I want to give players an interesting choice here: do you immediately use the first jump because it's an emergency, or do you wait a split second longer to gain more future mobility?

That's all for now. Big changes in progress. Next milestone is GDEX in September.

WIP Cinematic

Been working on this cinematic where the player gets shot and drugged:



The player's model and Meursault's model are in separate blend files, so I created a "workspace" blend file with all the models linked in, so I can animate them together. Then I save the animations back out to their respective blend files, then line everything up in-game.

Settings menu



Finally fleshed out the settings menu. Almost every graphical effect can be turned off. All keys can be rebound, and the tutorial prompts and UI instantly update to reflect the change. In my last game, there was one menu for both keyboard and gamepad controls; if you plugged in a gamepad, you could only change the gamepad controls. One person was confused because they forgot they had a gamepad plugged in. Anyway, for this game I'm doing two separate menus. The gamepad menu is only visible if you plug in a gamepad. Also, other local players can change their own gamepad settings, but not the keyboard controls or any other settings.

Gameplay tweaks

I made a few changes in an attempt to move away from twitchy Call of Duty-esque gameplay. First, I halved the gamepad acceleration so that it takes 0.4 seconds to reach full speed. Then I slowed down the ADS zoom speed, and the speed at which drones and bolts fly. I also tweaked the energy rewards to encourage players to capture and hold batteries rather than aggressively attack all the time.

Also, it's a minor detail, but I'm experimenting with analog zoom; the degree to which you pull the trigger affects how far the camera zooms in. We'll see if people like it or not. Probably doesn't make too much of a difference.

Indy Popcon

Almost ready for Indy Popcon. Tweaked the promo art a bit more and had it printed out:



Along with this one:



Also put up a quick website: http://deceivergame.com

Jupiter_Hadley: thanks for giving it a shot! It's "grepr start", in case anyone else has trouble.

I just really like the death sequence. Truly terrifying.

Super cool. The aesthetics make this game. What does the Q button do?