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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Technique Training: Mountains out of mole hills!

Time for another Technique Training, class is in session!

One of the hallmark features of game-guru is the terrain system, which is basically the main difference between the old FPS Creator X9/10 and Game Guru (or FPS Creator Reloaded, if you remember it back that far).  This system, however, initially feels very bland.  With a little work though, you too can get pretty excellent looking terrain if you have an idea of how to use the tools available!

The first thing we're going to need is some inspiration.  As always, I start in the usual place - google image search.

 It's really that simple, honest.

Today, I've selected this picture as my inspiration.  Please note, it's not designed to be a direct copy, but rather just something to give me ideas and a general feel for how I want my terrain to look.


So what we're going to do to start is load up a new, flat level and make the terrain sculpting tool the largest size possible (With the + key).  Once it's the largest size possible, you're going to simply pick a point and make a mountain, right?

We're all done, right?
So you've made your giant lump.  Congratulations!  You've now officially joined the ranks of 'first time Game-Guru' user!   Obviously, this is wholly insufficient for what we need.  We are looking for a broad, jagged mountain range.  So at this point the next step is to offset your position a little bit and 'build up' some larger hills to the side and front of it.  I generally will try to add a light slope to the front as well because most mountains have this feature.

It's a little better, more 'mountainy', for sure.  Miles to go though.
Now a big part of making mountains in GG look decent is adding depth to them; this is done not by adding tons and tons of hills but rather using a physical parallax effect.  What's parallax, you ask?  Parallax, simply put, is a layering method to produce a more depthful effect when looking at a flat image.  In the past (and even in today's modern indy games/side scrollers/etc) it was used to produce a look that provides a faux three dimensional effect.  In this case, we're going to be basically placing one mountain range BEHIND another.

Image courtesy of
In the case of game guru, we're going to create a parallax style background by using physical elements.  The layering of mountain ranges will provide a *REAL* tangible feel to them, which is part of why I chose the original picture.  If you notice, said picture has two basic seams of mountains running next to each other.  That's what we're going to achieve here.

Note, this second mountain range is the one on the right, offset about one max size half circle width.
At this point you've got the basic terrain features.  And boy do I mean basic.  You have a few lumps and some rounded components which show the barest approximation of that beautiful vista I chose earlier.  Don't worry, we'll tighten it up.  The next thing you're going to want to do is make the circle about half of maximum size and start drawing lines to connect the ranges and taper off.

Still looking very much like a mashed potato mountain, but getting closer.

At this point you're thinking "Yeah, yeah... This is the easy stuff.  ANYONE can do this.  These mountains are neither good nor convincing!".  And you'd not be wrong. Except this is just the barest piece.  The next part is the crucial part, the part that really shapes this into a realistic mountain.  You want to take your brush size down to the smallest size possible.  What you're going to do now is starting at the top of the mountain and steadily drawing lines down to the bottom.  This is to represent the hard edges you find on any mountain (aside from dome types, that is). Continue drawing lines down the side, breaking lines of into separate branches.  Make sure you don't spend too long in one place or you will have a very ugly spire sticking up.

Remember to start at the top!
Continue tracing down the mountain, and going over each major ridge to give it a hard rocky look.  It doesn't take much experience to do this.  You can pick up the technique pretty fast.

When you overdo a section, like I did on the right, plan on doing a little extra to make it look natural.
After about 20 or 30 minutes of fine shaping you'll have a much more realistic rock face with hard ridges, faults, etc.  It's real important to try to capture the shape of the type of mountain you are working with.

Definitely looking more mountainous now!
So you can see that it's looking more like a mountain but there's still a lot of overly sharp edges which don't quite look right.  Even the most harsh mountain range still has SOME degree of erosion to it.  So after you get this much of your shaping done, adjust your tool to be about half of maximum size again.  Click on the blend mode tool and start doing 'taps' over the harder terrain to soften it up.  It's important not to overdo the blend tool so just highlight an area and click once, twice, or however much is needed until you get the desired shape.  This will make the mountains seem far more natural.  You also can use the shift key to create indents or create channels (as opposed to ridges).  You can also do single shift-clicks to create minor pockmarks that are far more realistic than a single click to raise terrain.

It's subtle, but you can see the difference the most on the right.
Now depending on how good you want this to look, you can probably stop there if you really just want some background mountains for a game.  But if you're trying to create a photorealistic shot, you're going to want to adjust every component.  Let's start by changing from the 'lush' terrain to 'Lush HD' and putting all the graphical settings in GG to 'highest'.

Hard to believe this was a bland old mound 30 mins ago, eh?
Understanding what you're working with for mountains is very important; if you're just winging it, you're going to look amateurish.  And we wouldn't want that, would we?  So take a look at some reference material, research growth patterns in geology, whatever.  In this case, I'll save you some trouble on a rudimentary thing like vegetation.  Vegetation rarely grows on the tops of mountains. It's typically moderate or dense at the bottom and then becomes more sparse as it goes up. 

Just a start, but the basic concept is there.
With Game Guru, I prefer vegetation quantity on 100%.  The width and height for this were set at 50% (default values).  I initially started with swapping the sky to my 'moonlit ocean' sky.  Vegetation matching as a result required a darker, less obtrusive color.  This one I think is called 'thistle'.

Lookin' good for something not even done yet!
While that's nice, I realized I wanted to give the other terrain features as well including the half-rounded hill, inlet with island, and simple path. It's important to lay down secondary vegetation as well.  For this I used foliage bushes 1 and 2.  For bush 1 (the smaller of the two) I used the spray tool (the "I") key.  For the larger bushes (bush 2) I hand positioned them and rotated them periodically to give them a more natural look.

Adding some minor vegetation to the island and inlet.
One of the tricks I use to make inlets is to reduce the terrain to a depth I like (moderately shallow, player-depth water) then use the Level mode tool to 'cut out' the terrain I want.  I usually move the mouse around rather slow for specific areas and moderately fast for areas to give a slight elevation to (such as that slight beach in front of the island).

Continue tuning until you get the desired result.

Creeping foliage up the side, a good waterfront, reasonable mountains... success!

Around this time you can add decals for fog (free ones on the forums, HERE or HERE which will provide you reasonably decent fog that you can tune to either give a misty mountain appearance or perhaps that of a volcano.

Placement of these is trial and error but not terribly difficult.

That said, I wanted to get close to the original, if possible.  so I added a few more pieces including a rounded hill that had a sharp cutoff through it to give a similar appearance to what is in the original picture.  I used the level tool to cut through the mound to give it that sharp rock face.

The leveling tool is one of my favorite additions to the toolkit.

Now it's time to set the sky and colors.   It takes a little twiddling but you'll notice that when I switched the sky up I had serious issues with the existing foliage being too dark; here again I had to go modify it to suit the scene, as you will often do.

Thistle is real good, but pretty dark, overall. 
You can find yourself in a number of possibilities the terrain system.  It's very flexible and fluid if you're willing to invest the time into trying to learn new things.
Probably my favorite pic of the lot.

One trick is to take rocks from the scenery that comes with Game Guru and add them to the mountain.

You can get a sense of my workflow here with the reference photo on the left and the editor on the right.
In the above picture I'm positioning one of several rocks which are masked by the vegetation system.

The final result came out pretty good.  Of course there's always more work that could be done but overall I'm pleased with the results.  Hopefully you'll be pleased with your results too.  Feel free to post some images of your own to and link them in the comments.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Update to Oldpman's amusement set

So a few weeks ago I wrote a post in detail about the new 'Oldpman Abandoned Amusement' set.   It's a real winner, in short.  But there were a few minor words I had about it for improvements and shockingly Oldpman really took my words to heart and ran with it.

Primarily the two items I felt were missing:
  • The entryway was disappointingly simple.
  • There was only one color of bumper car.
Well he sure stepped up on this, check out these awesome additions:

 I'd only added one new color; he added 4!

And that's a heck of a jump over the original single yellow car.  The best is yet to come though because he dropped this bombshell as well:

Ok so when he said he made a new entrance I expected.. I don't know, something wimpy; sort of blocky, simple... just .. why waste the time right?  A big simple entrance, nothing major.  But wow, this is one of the best, if not THE BEST piece of the whole set.  I *LOVE* this piece's artistic flair.  It looks gorgeous in game as well.

Thanks oldpman!  More impressively the cost remains a scant $4.50 USD so it's definitely worth a look!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In progress, again

Another inprogress shot.
Current elements are the voodoo kit stuff, some freebie hangars, my terrain set, and mega pack 1.  It still looks really chunky, bad, and amateurish but it's coming along.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Just some prototyping of a level.  Remember, set the large elements first.  Get your basic layout set and then start working on detail.  This isn't even 1% of the total work represented here but I'm satisfied with some of what I've done layout wise.  Some elements will likely change (those uniform height buildings on the left, for instance).

Mo' money mo' reviews yo

So basically it goes like this:  I have recently started getting paid decent sums (beer money level) from My Game Creators Store and have started funneling that back into assets to purchase for review/use.

So I picked up a number of really nice pieces to review, I plan on doing reviews on them in the next few weeks.

More of oldpman's stuff, including an update to his carnival set.  Seems like he really listened to my input and went with some really welcome additions.  I can't wait to show them.

I also got the Wizard of Id's  underground set.  It's got a lot of nice pieces including illumination mapped lamps I desperately needed.

Lastly I picked up Reliquia's new stealth fighter.  It's an impressive piece of work and I'm anxious to give it a go.

I've also continued working on my own game, which I still need a good name for.  :(

The basic flow of it will be a sci-fi loot and shoot.   The most recent level, a backwater space station/relay really came together a bit with the basic prototyping last night.  I mean I've been working for weeks on various forms/shapes of it and never quite put it together.  Last night went exceptionally well with is so I'm looking forward to getting it moving in a forward direction, for once.

Levels are starting to come together but I still struggle with my design and flow objectives.  I want to retain an old school exploration feel but with more updated look of games like Deus Ex: HR.    That's tough to balance, so I will probably have to dial back my desires considerably.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Review: Oldpman's Carnival/Amusement Set

So it might seem a little unfair to some, but I'm going to be reviewing another of Oldpman's products.  He produces a lot on a consistent basis and much of it isn't stuff that's really up my alley but is of frequently very good quality.

I noticed he hit an abandoned amusement park pack and before it was even complete as a kit, I already hit buy.  I was pleased to notice between the time of that purchase and now I've been gifted with a few extras.  So there's a lot here to review on what is a very well priced kit.

Now I'll admit as I've said in the past vending machines, arcade machines, and amusement parks all capture my fancy.  I personally live near a major east coast USA park (Hershey Park) and spent much of my youth there so I have many fond memories.  There's also a few abandoned ones in the area.

Almost immediately the pictures he had up reminded me of another park.  Specifically the infamous Pripyat park, in Chernobyl.

Looking at some pictures and comparing against what he'd posted, it was a pretty close match.

I see similar looking yellow bumper cars.  I see the strange Soviet-esque architecture.

I see the copper floor model.  Yep, looks right. Definitely Pripyat.

One thing bothered me though - In many of the pictures, I saw a red cart as well.  And this kit didn't come with a red cart.  Well, nothing copy, paste, recolor (hooray for of the DDS file couldn't fix.

Behold, my addition to the kit.  I'll send it over to Oldpman and ask him to add it in.

Variety is the spice of life, after all, even in former Soviet Russia.

So on to the kit itself.  It contains a wide variety of objects.  There's walls, wall corners, a coconut shy, a full set of bumper car items, a ferris wheel, a round-a-bout carousel, two hanging chair carousels (one is animated), some flower planters, benches, etc.  
Overall, it's a hell of a value for $4.50; initially when I purchased this it had about 6 items and I was playing around with trying to get regular objects to fit with them well.  So it's refreshing to see him add walls and what not to help round out the kit.  Let's see what we can do with it.

As you can see I've begun assembling your regular run of the mill amusement park.  I decided to try to use as many free assets or stock assets as possible to help setup this park in a meaningful way.  I did however use the 'Wizard of Id' Sci-Fi Wall kit, but only for an entryway because the stock entryway is a bit simple.

This is just a little bland for my tastes.

That's more like it; parks should be grandiose on entry!
So basically I found the park actually worked exceptionally well with stock assets.  Here's a list of some of the preferred ones that I used:
  • Blue/Brown Port-a-potties
  • Barbed wire chain link fence
  • Tent (canvas) - used for creating a custom amusement, a shooting gallery: 
  • Standard wooden boxes with wooden crate palette as an improvised countertop
  • Dumpsters
  • Structure (Building A and B)
  • Some free tree-lines from Belidos
  • Some free picnic tables I snagged a while back from Valuable Assets
  • Other basic assets I am failing to remember.  Nothing major though.   Just your usual signs, boxes, crates, etc.  
So let's fix that entrance and really give it the proper treatment for a busted down amusement park.

There we go.  Notice the simple signage, mountain being added as a backdrop, broken chain link fence, etc.
Continuing on, obviously it needs detail work.  I want to see how this is going to look in a near finished state.  Here's the 'final' version:

At this point that treeline encircles the entire 'zone' and the mountain is very detailed now, lots of ridges, chimneys, chutes, etc.  Unfortunately when I went into the game the graphic settings were clearly too low.  So I put on an overcast sky, added fog, tweaked lighting as I've done a hundred times before... Added my 1024px High Quality Road Set and some dried vegetation. 

Here's some snaps in no particular order:

It's surprising how just a little lighting change, the right elements, and configuration can really bring a scene together, eh?


The Bottom Line:  If you're in the market for a really superb kit which matches a lot of the stock pieces, has great mood and represents a good value for the price  - then this is definitely a buy.  I will say it's pretty contingent upon your 'need' for a kit like this.  For my upcoming game there's an abandoned entertainment zone so this suits very well.   Oldpman's work continues to impress.

Updates to the set have been done in response to this article, read the update HERE!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Technique Evaluation: Advanced lighting techniques (lighting part three)

Welcome to 'lighting part three', a tutorial on advanced lighting techniques in Game-Guru. I warn you, this subject matter is heady and can be difficult to really grasp.  It is, however, vital, if you wish to get the best quality in terms of lighting and performance from your Game-Guru engine.

If you've not see the other two tutorials, please do them in order first:
Part 1 - Lighting
Part 2 - Interior lighting

As you will NEED the understanding from those two to get the relevant pieces from this lesson.

So right out of the box let me say that on it's own, the lighting situation in Game-Guru is ABYSMAL.  I mean it's really painfully dreadful in how archaic and primitive it is.  That said, I am a firm believer that you can take even simple tools and craft fine products.  So I've done a lot of the hard work for you to work out the details of what's involved with getting your lighting looking as clean and slick as possible.

I've modified our room from the previous lesson from this:
 Remember this?

To this:

So it's a little dark but you can see I've replaced the chairs with the plasma tubes from the new Sci-Fi DLC.  I've added *ONE* green static light to provide some illumination but these are getting almost all of their color from the illumination map they ship with.

On mapping

What's an illumination map?  Some of the more high quality items on the store or available as DLCs from "The Game Creators, Inc." include what's called a illumination map as well as the standard normal map (Normals create bump-mapping which is introduced via specularity).

This is how your computer sees a normal mapped texture.
What?  Huh? Spec-u-whatity?  I assumed a level of knowledge you don't have, sorry about that.  Ok so you *PROBABLY* know how textures and mapping work but if you don't the basic concept is similar to wrapping a gift for christmas.  If a plain colored brown box is your model, then texture mapping is the actual gift-wrap.  Think of Normal-mapping as a sort of color coding which introduces a false sense of depth to a two dimensional piece of wrapping paper by putting it in that awful red/blue color with 3d goggles that were such a rage in the 80's.

This is a normal map for a tinfoil texture.
The lighter blue areas create a 'shiny' spot for the rendering engine.  The darker red/blue areas affect the lighting in such a way that it will artificially shadow and shade a two dimensional texture and make it look THREE dimensional even though it's not.  So you end up with some really photo-realistic results.  This is actually a pretty regular way for games to handle three-dimensional rendering these days.  In terms of our gift wrapping example, it's a gift wrapped in three-dimensional holographic paper which looks really awesome with those silly paper glasses on.

A very simple window reflection mask, aka Illumination map.
So going back to it, what's an Illumination map?   Now that you know how a texture map and normal map work; what the hell is an illumination map?  Ok - this takes the whole concept of texture mapping and adds another layer (some applications add many, many more, but this is a very simple one that very many game engines use, including Game-Guru).  It's simply a high-low value which tells the game engine if a portion of the texture should be really bright at all times.  This gives it an appearance of being illuminated (imagine that).

In terms of our gift wrapping example, imagine using neon-light up paint on the three-dimensional wrapping paper.  That's what game-guru is doing here, in that dark room, to make those barrels look green and stand out no matter what.

An important thing to note is that without an illumination map, you are completely relying on the normal map to provide lighting; as such a lit object such as a window, skylight, lamp, etc will never look right without illumination mapping!

Got it? 

Still want to go on?

Good.  From here on, things get much more difficult.  The rewards at the end are worth it though.

There are TWO types of light sources in Game Guru (Hereforth referred to simply as "GG"):  Static and Dynamic types.  A static light source is used when light mapping, as discussed in tutorial #2.  A dynamic light source can be used to light dynamically - meaning it can be turned on/off/etc.

Dynamic light sources are the real weak point here.  While static mapping helps a LOT to alleviate this, they are simply echoes of what you really want to see.  So there are a few principles about dynamic lighting you need to understand.  First is that a dynamic light will shine through walls.  So it will go through a room and into the next one, lighting up those objects.   Further, the engine as of current can only render *2* dynamic lights at any given time in view.  So make sure you plan accordingly; try to make sure if you're using dynamic lights that you do not ever use them in large quantities in an area.  Use them sparingly as spot lighting, to draw attention to an area or illuminate something important. 

What alien?

In the above picture I've got our four plasma tubes and a friendly Alien NPC in our room.  I'm using very low ambient and surface level lighting (10 each) and have four green static lights and one large white static light on the right.   Note the lack of illumination mapping on the ceiling tiles means those light bars don't stand out much.  Also notice there is no green reflection on the alien.  Just a few points of light coming from our sun source which unfortunately will always filter through walls.  Again, not a world ender - just plan around it.

 Oh, there he is!

So at this point what I've done is kept the same light levels but added a green dynamic light of moderate size slightly forward and between the array of objects.  This provides more room lighting overall as well as  a green tint to our alien, which provides a sense of realism.  It still looks.. off but at least is a little more respectable.

Here what I've done is decrease shadows slightly, increase bloom significantly, and increased surface lighting (which is how much light is shown from received sources).  It's definitely got that 'radioactive' feel I was going for now.

Color usage:
- Saving colors in mspaint for gg use later

Static lighting secrets

First, a quick summary of our principles before we begin:
- Size matters
- Intensity via overlap and clustering
- Overlapping colors
- Mixing dynamic and static lights

Just a heads up - we're changing our example for the rest of this lesson - it will herein be a car parked in a garage (buildings pack, warehouse interiors, small blue warehouse) with a *ZERO AMBIENT LIGHTING setting and very low surface lighting value of 1!

This is a single 500 size static light.

Now let's get onto our first principle - Size matters.  This is relevant not because of the inherent phallic innuendo but because in the realm of static lighting, you are fighting with really weak influences on your environment.  The simplest way to improve that is to simply use a rule of thumb - a static light's size and influence is roughly 1/5th that of a dynamic light. So a size 500 dynamic light needs a size 2500 static light.  Even then it won't QUITE be the same, but it will help significantly cover areas and properly detail lights.  Here's our example with a 2500 size static light:

So in the above, if you go to full size on it, this picture shows very clearly a reasonably well lit car in a garage with traces of light spilling out the door onto the terrain below.  The problem, while it looks *OK* and would quite honestly be acceptable in most cases for a Game-Guru offering,  is that it won't illuminate *ENOUGH*.  So what I've done is this:

I've added a single dynamic light of 500 size.  So you can see here the light is moderately brighter; the walls light up more and you still have light spilling out.  But there's also trace light spilling out through the walls on the sides onto the ground.  If you setup your scene right, people will never notice.  That said, it is an error and it's up to you whether this is the optimum route to take.  Personally I would just use the size 2500 light and make an illumination map for the light piece up top.  I've also found that certain light colors simply don't show up much.  Whites and bright blues, for instance, are pretty bad at lighting scenes.  That said you can improve this by adding MORE STATIC LIGHTS.  Now in my experience this can be overkill; you can totally wash out a scene by using more than three overlapping static lights.  Here's three small (100 size) static lights overlapping right above the car.

Note the intensity of the weak lighting, it's position, and how it impacts the scene.  It gives the appearance of a dim blue light being cast on the car. It also makes the car LOOK blue.  Red static lights are especially bad at this.

Here we're using several medium (200 size) cyan static lights.  It still washes out the scene but lights up the back wall now.  This, to me, just doesn't cut the mustard.  Compare all that work setting up those lights to just one LARGE (1500 size) cyan light.

Seems like an improvement to me, though it's still not where it should be. So we add a dynamic light!

So basically what we've got here is a large static cyan light (1500) and a dynamic white light (size 500).  This was done to show how to provide emitted lighting while still having cyan contrasting.
We still have the light filtering out the sides so I'd probably use cheap filler models (non-enterable buildings, for instance) on either side to hide the excess dynamic lighting.  Alternately you can make the dynamic light smaller.


Special thanks to Wolf @ the Game-Guru forums for this!
Inside of your Game-Guru file, you'll find a 'Setup.ini' file.  It has several lightmapper related settings.  The higher the numbers, the longer it will take for the lightmapper to compile, but the better it will look on static surfaces.
The lower the number.. the more it will look like a travesty like this:

I think I used size 8 quality 8 here?

This is not something I can provide a one size fits all solution to.  I'm going to recommend you try adding up to increments of 128 each time or use 1024 as a starting block.  You'll need to close and reopen Game Guru each time to achieve lighting of sufficient quality.

Also if you recall earlier, I said *NOT* to use white lighting.  This is mostly true.  White lighting for some reason doesn't quite affect textures in a meaningful way.  It helps illuminate a scene, but doesn't really do more than just raise existing values.  So I use this chart:

Note the color values.  This tutorial I just linked above is a HUGE piece of properly lighting a scene.  You want to add to a scene, not detract.  Use your colors to really draw a person in and make them feel at home.  For examples, check out Wolf's Shavra: Renaissance game.  He's got a real good handle on usage of static lighting; he's even written his own tutorial HERE.  Be aware your static lighting is directly proportionate to surface levels in the Tab-Tab screen.  And my last little tidbit - when using static lighting, turn your shadows WAY, WAY down.  Those shadows will interfere with generated lightmapped shadows.  I typically have mine down around 10 or at most 20 for just the barest hint of shadow.

Thanks, let me know if this helped you at all!