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February 20th, 2012

Penguins and snakes

I've been pretty ill recently – suffering some seasonal flu of sorts – but that didn't stop me from working TAGAPs 2 and 3. Well, for one day it did, the first day-long break from all things TAGAP I've taken since Duke Nukem Forever landed in my mailbox. Still, work continues.

What am I working on right now?

I'm teaching Pablo how to swim. You would think a penguin doesn't need any swimming lessons, but if you've played TAGAP 2 or the very first game, you've probably noticed that Pablo hasn't been really good at it. I originally intended it to appear as if the heavy weaponry forced Pablo to struggle with swimming, but after the introduction of tummy slides and double-jump flips even that explanation flew out the window. Still, the only truly watery level in TAGAP 2 being the one with a submarine, there wasn't much pressure to tune this aspect of the game.

But TAGAP 3 is a different story. Water comes into play more prominently and thus we can no longer tip-toe around the issue; Pablo has to swim like pro. And not only that, the transitions between swimming, walking and jumping all now happen on-the-fly, in real time. In the first TAGAP we achieved this via a hack – the swimming level was a separate map with a 'flying' Pablo entity placed into water – but there is no such trickery here. Jump into water and start to zip around your submerged foes with ease. Heck, you can even land to the bottom and tummy slide along the underwater surface if you wish!

Also, working on Pablo's swimming made respect the parametric skeletal 2D animation system I've cooked up more. With only a couple of lines of code, Pablo kicks about in water naturally, while the stuff already in place handles transitions between the swimming, walking and jumping automatically.

And you know, I haven't even gotten into the best bit yet. You see, all the above is not part of AI behaviours, but physics engine. In case of our engine at least it means it doesn't matter what kind of AI the entity is using, as long as it is tagged with 'SPECIAL_SWIM' tag, it can swap from walking to swimming and back again. I haven't had the change to test drive this yet, mind you, but I'm fairly sure that Follow-enemies (like Rockhopper Elites in TAGAP 2) should be able to follow Pablo into water and even out again without much additional work. If everything goes as planned, this should provide some really interesting action scenes.

On the gaming front

If January was the month of Mass Effect 2 – it took me almost the whole month to complete the playthrough with all the expansions and all the side-missions I came across – February has been the month of Metal Gear Solid, thanks to the brand new Metal Gear Solid HD Collection.

I've really been enjoying the experience. In the past I've only had the change to play the two first MGS titles, Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation and Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance on the first Xbox. I'm enjoying it; They're expertly written, especially Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. In fact, one lesson from these games I will be taking to heart when writing TAGAP 3; Every time MGS titles refer to something important that happened in the past series titles, that sequence is shown and/or explained in short manner. This way the game can be understood even by people who haven't played a single Metal Gear game before.

While I haven't gotten to the last game in the bunch, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, yet, I can honestly recommend the package. These games have aged really well, MGS3 in particular sporting some truly awe-inspiring moments that triumph over PS2's technical limitations with excellent art design and cinematic approach. Not only that, but consider you'll get two of the most revered stealth-games, their recent hand-held companion piece AND the two very first Metal Gears released for the MSX computers, the package borderlines on a 'steal' with its budget price tag. Go get it now, I say, if you're least bit interested.

Doctor Who

Quick update on this topic; The return of Tom Baker as the Doctor in Big Finish audios is stuff of legends. The stories in Fourth Doctor Adventures series are a brilliant mixture of the classic and the modern. The feel is absolutely as it was in the classic 70s serials down to the acting, music and sound effects, while the stories themselves move faster with a modern pace.

Also; I finally managed to tune Petja into these audio adventures as well. In fact, since he is now working on the majority of TAGAP 3 soundscape and not just the music, it was my suggestion that he should try a couple of these audio adventures out, just to witness the full force of well-managed audio production. You know what? I think I got the man hooked on these too!

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin