Planet Gamedev

Timothy Lottes

Atari Shock Reloaded?

by Timothy Lottes ( at August 29, 2015 02:49 PM

Maybe this post should just be called "Indie Shock". Interesting graph below posted on twitter of the number of Steam game releases over time. Saturating isn't it?

Thoughts From Personal Perspective as a Consumer
Engines like Unity and Unreal make it much easier to produce games, but the games tend to be more similar, staying within the limitations imposed by the these mass market engines. Same effect happens as independent engine tech all falls into the same local minimum, or developers limit risk by staying in the confines of well walked genre. This makes it harder for a consumer to differentiate between titles. Choice in a sea of noise is random. It is not as much the content which shapes purchase decision in that case, but rather how the consumer gets directed by marketing.

As it becomes harder to choose, and as more choices result in failure of satisfaction, the barrier to purchase increases, and even the falling price cannot compensate. The price of free is actually quite high: the opportunity cost of doing something more compelling with one's time.

"Nobody Cares" aka the Excuse For Being Mediocre
Why bother investing time to achieve greatness? Proponents of this line of thinking often present justification in the form that the average consumer cannot tell the difference between low and high quality. For a producer this is effectively a self selecting choice to continue to swim in that sea of noise. Some forms of greatness may not be perceived at the conscious level, may not be something a consumer can articulate in words, but instead may only manifest in feel and yet have profound effect.

Knowledge of excellence in some aspect which effects only a fraction of the market, say awesome multi-GPU support, establishes a hint that the producer cares about the product at a level beyond serving me a microwaved pre-constructed hamburger. It is very hard to maintain employment of the creative and driven individuals which produce top content without allowing them to strive for greatness, even sometimes at the compromise of maximum profitability.

As a consumer in a sea of noise, I select for the expression of producers looking to be the best that is possible. Who, given the limitation of architecture and time, choose paths which compromise in a way which allows a unique realization of the ultimate form of their art.

Ketogenic Diet - Working on Year 2

by Timothy Lottes ( at August 29, 2015 01:56 PM

Part way into year two on a Ketogenic diet, breaking the diet only once and a while on business trips. The diet is basically mostly fat, some protein, with almost no carbs.

Initially established in the 1920s as a way to control seizures for people with epilepsy, the Ketogenic diet is being successfully used as a metabolic treatment for cancer by a few individuals, but is largely being ignored by medical professionals. The diet works by shifting the body's metabolism from glucose (sourced from carbs or converted from excess protein) to ketones produced in the liver (sourced from fat and oil). The diet has natural anti-inflammatory properties. The theory of how a Ketogenic diet fights cancer revolves around the idea that cancer is mostly a mitochondrial metabolic disease. Specifically that cancer cells tend to have damaged mitochondria which switch to a more primitive glucose fulled fermentation as their primary energy generation process. Starving cancer cells of glucose places them in extreme metabolic stress, allowing the body to fight back. One of the primary ways to track cancer is by looking at the process of tumor angiogenesis via periodic MRIs with contrast. Effectively watching over time as the cancer causes the body to develop ever stronger network of blood vessels to feed the cancer with glucose. Successful treatments of cancer can reverse this process. I suspect ultimately that everyone has cancer even if only at some undetectable amount. The question is if the body's balance shifts between a state which enables the cancer to grow, or a state which causes the cancer to die. Cancer becomes terminal when there is no longer a way to shift back the balance.

The Ketogenic diet for me is a lifestyle choice not made out of medical necessity. My personal tastes tend to really align with the diet, and it is a great way to stay in shape, more so when you have a career sitting at a desk typing away on keyboards. Counter to how the media vilifies fat as the source of the nation's obesity problem, it is near impossible to maintain body fat on the diet which involves mostly eating fat: the body is in a constant state of fat burning, instead of fat storage.

Looking back, it was relatively hard to get started. The realization that America's entire food culture and supply chain is optimized for the delivery of carbs, leaves a demilitarized zone filled with land mines for the oil fueled consumer. Just finding things which are in the parameters required for the diet can be quite a challenge. After a while, planning every meal, weighting all ingredients, measuring ketone levels or blood glucose levels, is replaced with driving by feel alone. The transition between carb burning and ketone burning body state goes through a standard process of horrible sugar withdrawal symptoms, bouts of fatigue and brain fog, eventually returning to the feeling of being normal, but then unaffected by the standard cravings carb eaters have. The first transition takes weeks, however after being ketone burning for this long, the transition now only takes me a few days.

Over time the diet becomes as enjoyable as the standard high-carb diet, and even more so in many regards, because of the ability to easily take in 70% fat at a given meal (like bacon wrapped sour cream). Unlike sugar, there is no crash afterwards, and the body provides some rather strong signals to stop eating before you over do it, instead of telling you to keep going as is the standard practice with sugars. Here is an example of the kind of foods my wife and I eat: butter on low heat, mixed in spice, garlic, and boiled shrimp. Consumed head, shells and all, with sour cream on the side straight to bring up the fat content,

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Game From Scratch

Is it a Vacation? Or the Beginning of an RPG Tutorial Series?

by at August 28, 2015 07:42 PM


Hello All,


Just a quick note on what’s coming up at  First up, the end of summer is fast approaching and I think it’s time for a road trip vacation.  Last year I took a similar trip and it rained every single day, so this year I’ve learned from my mistake and I am bringing along a laptop and will be doing a little work while lounging by the pool ( or more likely locked inside watching the rain ).  This isn’t exactly a hardship, as I enjoy what I do after all.


Since it is a vacation however, I am going to be taking a somewhat different approach to what I am working on.  First off, there will be no videos produced, since I wont be bringing the proper equipment with me.  Second, traditional series will be on hold until I get back, so don’t expect any updates to existing tutorial series for at least a week, although I should get an in progress “Closer Look at” post out before I depart or shortly thereafter.


Instead I am intending to do exploratory work on a pet project I’ve been kicking around in the back of my head…  There is one topic that is incredibly underserved when it comes to books and tutorials.  One that is incredibly popular, but due to it’s massive nature, most people don’t really get into it for one reason or another.  Computer Roleplaying Games.


I have considered doing an RPG tutorial ( CRPG I suppose) for ages.  It was games like Ultima, Bards Tale, Might and Magic, Wizardry, Autoduel, Wasteland, etc… that truly got me hooked on gaming.  It’s the genre of game I personally am also the most interested in developing.  There are a couple problems about doing a tutorial series about RPGs.


First off, I will have to learn a ton to actually cover the subject.  I have never created an RPG before, so this is obviously going to be one of those “learning as I go” projects.  This isn’t really a huge concern to me to be honest.  It’s not actually a hugely complicated project, just a ton of tiny intricate moving pieces that need to be organized.


Second, they are massive.  There are so many subjects to cover and to be frank, a lot of what makes a roleplaying game work is actually the tooling behind it.  World editors, scripting systems, world state, databases, this kind of stuff.  You quickly find yourself creating your own game engine, scripting language, adhoc database, etc…  and quite frankly, the value of doing this is minimal, and the value of doing it in tutorial form even less.  Not many of you are going to want to use my poorly rolled engine ( I’m a fervent believe in the Make Games not Engines ethos… although I think making tools is a brilliant use of time ).


On the other hand, if I use an existing engine, my demographic is going to be small as well.  Right now I think the most popular engine in terms of potential readers is probably Unity.  So the series that might appeal to the most users is “Creating an RPG in Unity”.  This has many problems.  First is easily explained with a handy Venn diagram.



The Dark Blue portion is the most engaged audience, this represents the portion of the community that use Unity and are interested in RPGs and read GameFromScratch.  As you can also tell, it’s the smallest portion, although this is generally the way these diagrams work.  There are the two slightly lighter blue areas, and those represent people that have 2/3rd interest in the project.


Simply put, by picking a game engine, it narrows down the potential audience substantially.  On the other hand, as I said earlier, not using an engine is a very bad choice.  Also to be completely honest, without a serious amount of modification ( which would require a source license ), Unity doesn’t actually seem like a great choice for an RPG, at least for small teams.  Of course some exceptional games have been made using Unity, such as Wastelands 2, Pillars of Eternity and Shadowrun Returns, but they all had huge teams and most likely had source licenses.


It’s this limited audience that has always kept me away from the idea; and a lack of time has kept me from simply working on my own game.  This is one of the challenges of running, I need to work on either a broad variety of topics, or on topics of interest to a large enough segment of the community.  This keeps me from spending a ton of time developing my own game.  This isn’t really a big deal, I actually enjoy teaching more than I enjoy development these days.


I hit upon an idea however that I think might be useful to the greatest number of people.  To appeal to enough readers to justify the time spent, to be effective enough you could actually use the results, to be productive enough that you could actually finish a game and be interesting enough that I would actually enjoy working on it.  That’s a lot of enoughs eh?


To start out making an RPG engine of sorts, you would need a number of moving parts to start from.

  • a game engine/collection of libraries to handle the technical bits.  Rendering, input, that kind of stuff
  • a scene graph, world storage format.  Basically the data structure in memory and on disk that your game will reside in.  This could be part of the engine you chose, but for an RPG, you will probably want more control or possibly to decouple it from the engine for a variety of reasons.
  • a world editor.  This one is big.  HUGE in fact.  My thought at first was to create if from scratch, but that could literally take a single developer years.  More on this point later, as again, it’s a big one.
  • RPG logic.  There’s all kinds of things that are somewhat unique to RPG games, from massive state driven game levels, time management, to simple random generators, dialog trees, class abilities, game entities, etc.  Basically the common logic that goes into an RPG that makes an RPG and RPG, regardless to if its 2D/2.5D or 3D, sci/fi or high fantasy.
  • misc tools…  conversation / internationalization tools, sprite effect tools, world item asset creation/database, etc.  Some of these could be part of the engine, some could be part of the editor, some could be stand alone and all may depend on the RPG logic layer.  File this section under miscellaneous/everything I forgot.

There are many different choices, but all of have their strengths and weaknesses.


An immediate thought would be LibGDX.  From the game engine side of things, it certainly ticks almost all of the boxes.  There are three big downsides to this choice however.  First, I run into the Unity factor again… if I go with LibGDX, I lose all readers interest that don’t want to use LibGDX or Java.   Second, there is a lack of out of the box scripting support.  I wish there was Lua ( or jLua, or whatever the Java equivalent is ) support out of the box.  I think it would be easy enough to add in support for a scripting language for the LJGWL target, but once you start getting into Android and then the RoboVM trickery then we are talking a layer of black magic I currently do not possess.  It may not actually prove to be that difficult, but this is a portion of LibGDX that I’ve always just let others wrap their brains around.  Finally, and one of the big ones…  no level tool, at least not yet.  There is Overlap2D, but it’s just not there for me yet.  Plus frankly, trying to extend it with the ECS and MVC design its chosen… this would be nightmarish.


Those end up being the big two sticking points for me, the availability of a scripting language, but one that has to be optional… and a solid base to build a level editor upon.


In terms of level editor, one of the most immediately obvious answers is TileD.  I like Tiled… I actually looked at the source a number of times considering doing exactly this very thing… and I decided it would be WAYYYYYY too much work.  Tiled’s code is nice and clean Qt C++, that’s not really the issue… the issue is the pure amount of work you would have to do to extend it.  I believe they are refactoring towards extensibility, but this is a WIP.


Of course Unreal and Unity can be turned into level editors, but this will start feeling like a hack right away, and without Unity source you are quickly going to be stuck in the Unity design model, which for an RPG, would lead to an organizational mess almost right away.  With Unreal you get the source, but realistically you aren’t going to want to extend the editor, at least not with a fairly large developer team.  Plus that API is changing A LOT, so expect huge breaks every time there is a new release.  Pretty much ever major game shipped on one of these engines pretty much locks to a version and sticks with it…


You could also extend a content creation platform too… this is actually a pretty popular choice.  You could extend an app like Blender, Maya or Max to use as your authoring environment, but this again is a highly specialized development and of interest to a very small segment of the community.  Also it can very easily get hackish fast.


Of course, I wouldn’t have shared this massive wall of text unless I thought I had an idea now would I?  Well, it’s that idea I am going to flesh out during my vacation, decide if it’s viable, both from a tech perspective and a time perspective.


So… what are my thoughts?


Godot.  Or perhaps, sorta Godot.


Godot ships with a Unity-like 2d/3d editor, and a game engine capable of providing the technical bits in a cross platform manner.


More importantly, Godot editor is mature, 2D/3D friendly, scriptable and most importantly, modular and extensible.  In fact, the entire GDScript language is implemented as an extension module for Godot.  Therefore it should be possible to create RPG tooling ( creature editors, pathing, item inventory, conversation tools ) that can plug into Godot, but not require users to build the editor from scratch.  Basically it would enable me to create an RPG world editor using Godot, that enabled people that arent even interested in using Godot game engine, without having to fork Godot itself.  Of course you could use Godot the editor and Godot the engine to create your game.  However you could potentially use Godot the editor and say… LibGDX, or Phaser or SFML, Ogre, jMonkeyEngine, Paradox, Mono, whatever…. to implement your engine.


Obviously that just covers the editor/engine portion of the scenario… this leaves two very big missing pieces.


RPGLib.  Right now I am thinking it would be smart to provide generic RPG-esque functionality as a C++ library.  This would be usable then by the vast majority of programmers, regardless to the language they want to work in.  ideally I will use 3rd party libraries as much as possible to offload as much work as I can.  Think of this layer like the run-time that provides generic RPG-esque services to the underlying game ( the Godot editor would be a consumer of services provided by this layer ).  This layer wouldn’t care what engine you are running in, if your game is 2D, 2.5D or 3D.  It would be use to provide things like persistence, algorithms like pathfinding, a database of sorts, etc.  In theory you should be able to slot it in to a variety of games and build upon it. 


WorldFormat.  This one is tricky and is going to require a fair bit of brain juice…  basically I want to decouple the world format from the game engine.  In fact I want to decouple the world format from the game, but I dont think this is even close to possible.  Basically a world is a database, graph or tree of entities in memory.  The other side of this coin is, it also needs to be saveable to and loadable from disk.  Think about how the Tiled editor has the TMX format and all of the various game engines capable of loading it?  This would be like that, but with a great deal more database like behavior.  This would enable you to write a loader/importer for your favourite game engine of choice, and make use of Godot as your world editor of choice, but load it in whatever game engine you desired.  Of course this loader would be responsible for populating your game engines scene graph…


Think roughly this…



Now one major downside is my C++ is meh at best and extremely rusty.  Then again, only way to brush off the rust is practice, no?


The end goal is to keep each layer dependent only on the layer below it, and have zero dependencies back to the Godot editor layer.  This means a user could take and make use of just the services layer.  Or the Game Format + Services layer.  Or simply the output from the level editor and ignore the rest.  Or they could use the provided loader, the Godot editor, the RPG services, etc… and have a turnkey solution to build an RPG upon.



…anyways, that’s the thought bouncing around my head right now.  On my vacation I plan to tackle two key points.  First, I want to see if the Godot editor is in fact as easy to extend as I think it is.  Second I am going to start defining as best as I can what functionality goes into what layer.  One final thing to keep in mind out of all of this… I am not intending to reinvent the wheel.  An RPG for example requires animated sprites or models, playing sound effects and music, etc…  these are NOT the responsibility of any of this, that’s left for the game engine or game implementer to handle.  The closest this comes who thing comes to any of those services is perhaps providing resources via the Game Engine Specific loader.


Of course, I’d be interesting in know if you guess out there would be interested in a series like this?  It would take a very long time, as I will be continuing to generate the kind of content you would expect from GameFromScratch.  It would however be a fairly good sink of my time, so I want to gauge the level of interest before a dump a ton of time into this.  Also, do you see any glaring flaws in my early concept so far… and recommendations or changes you would make?


Or frankly, does this all look like the ramblings of a mad man desperately in need of a vacation? Smile

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Procedural World

Voxel Occlusion

by Miguel Cepero ( at August 28, 2015 01:36 PM

Real time rendering systems (like the ones in game engines) have two big problems to solve: First to determine what is visible from the camera's point of view, then to render what is visible.

While rendering is now a soft problem, finding out what is potentially visible remains difficult. There is a long history of hackery in this topic: BSP trees, PVS, portals etc. (The acronyms in this case make it sound simpler.) These approaches perform well for some cases to then fail miserably in other cases. What works for indoors breaks in large open spaces. To make it worse, these visibility structures take long to build. For an application where the content constantly changes, they are a very poor choice or not practical at all.

Occlusion testing on the other hand is a dynamic approach to visibility. The idea is simple: using a simplified model of the scene we can predict when some portions of the scene become eclipsed by another parts of the scene.

The challenge is how to do it very quickly. If the test is not fast enough, it could still be faster to render everything than to test and then render the visible parts. It is necessary to find out simplified models of the scene geometry. Naturally these simple, approximated models must cover as much of the original content as possible.

Voxels and clipmap scenes make it very easy to perform occlusion tests. I wrote about this before: Covering the Sun with a finger.

We just finished a new improved version of this system, and we were ecstatic to see how good the occluder coverage turned out to be. In this post I will show how it can be done.

Before anything else, here is a video of the new occluder system in action:

A Voxel Farm scene is broken down into chunks. For each chunk the system computes several quads (a four vertex polygon) that are fully inscribed in the solid section of a chunk. They also are as large as possible. A very simple example is shown here, where a horizontal platform produces a series of horizontal quads:

These quads do not need to be axis aligned. As long as they remain inside the solid parts of the cell, they could go in any direction. The following image shows occluder quads going at different angles:

Here is how it works:

Each chunk is generated or loaded as a voxel buffer. You can imagine this as a 3D matrix, where each element is a voxel.

The voxel buffer is scanned along each main axis. The following images depict the process of scanning along one direction. Below there is a representation of the 3D buffer as a slice. If this was a top down view, you can imagine this is a vertical wall going at an angle:

For each direction, two 2D voxel buffers are computed. One stores where the ray enters the solid and the second where the ray exits the solid.

For each 2D buffer, the maximum solid rectangle is computed. A candidate rectangle can grow if the neighboring point in the buffer is also solid and its depth value does not differ more than a given threshold.

Each buffer can produce one quad, showing in blue and green in the following image:
Here is another example where a jump in depth (5 to 9) makes the green occluder much smaller:

In fact, if we run again the function that finds the maximum rectangle on the second 2D buffer it will return another quad, this time covering the missing piece :
Once we have the occluders for all chunks in a scene, we can test very quickly whether a given chunk in the scene is hidden behind other chunks. Our engine does this using a software rasterizer, which renders the occluder quads to a depth buffer. This buffer can be used to test all chunks in the scene. If a chunk's area on screen is covered in the depth  buffer by a closer depth, it means the chunk is not visible.

This depth buffer can be very low resolution. We currently use a 64x64 buffer to make sure the software rasterization is fast. Here you can see how the buffer looks like:

It is also possible not to use our rasterizer test at all and feed the quads to a system like Umbra. What really matters is not how the test is performed, but how good and simple the occluder quads are.

While this can still be improved, I'm very happy with this system. It is probably the best optimization we have ever done.

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Unity Editor finally comes to Linux

by at August 26, 2015 06:26 PM


… in beta form, that is.  It was announced a while back that Unity was working on a Linux version of their editor.  It appears it has finally arrived, according to this blog post, replicated below:


Hello again, lovely people!
Last month, I wrote a blog post detailing our plans for Unity on Linux.  Well, I’m back again to tell you the big day has come; today we’re releasing an experimental build of Unity for Linux!
An Experimental Build

Today’s build is what we call an experimental build; future support is not yet guaranteed.  Your adoption and feedback will help us determine if this is something we can sustain alongside our Mac and Windows builds.

Today’s build is based off Unity 5.1.0f3 and comes with the ability to export to the following runtimes:

  • Linux, Mac, Windows Standalone
  • WebGL
  • WebPlayer
  • Android
  • Tizen
  • SamsungTV
System Requirements
  • 64-bit Ubuntu 12.04 or newer (just like our player, the editor will run on most ‘modern’ 64-bit Linux distributions, but official support is only provided for 64-bit Ubuntu 12.04 or newer)
  • Modern Nvidia, AMD, or Intel graphics card with vendor-supported graphics drivers
Feedback and Issues

We’ve created a new section of the forums for you to provide feedback and report issues.  That’s the primary place where we’ll be communicating with our users who are using the Linux build, so be sure to check it out.  Crashes of the editor will pop up the bug reporter, which we encourage you to use in that case (because we’ll get the stacktrace).

That’s all for now. You can find the downloads here:

Read more about the release notes and known issues in our forum post.

Much love from Unity


I know there are a lot of Linux devs out there that have been calling for a Linux version for quite some time. I am curious to see how popular it will actually be though. In the end, many of the people that embrace Linux as opposed to MacOS, are also the type that embrace open source. Why then would this demographic gravitate to Unity, when open source friendly options like Godot exist? I don't personally have any Linux installs at the moment, so I wont be testing this new release.

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Unity Comes to Linux: Experimental Build Now Available

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Today’s build is based off Unity 5.1.0f3 and comes with the ability to export to the following runtimes:

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