Weekly Penguin
September 20th, 2019

Dark clouds and good games

What am I working on now?

After Project Classic TAGAP, I'm taking a short break from the already-released games to work exclusively on TAGAP 4 for a bit. Oh boy, it's good to be able to say that now! Don't worry, new version of TAGAP 3 /w the improvements seen in Classic TAGAP is in the pipeline, I'm just in a creative streak right now and I might as well take an advantage of it.

For TAGAP 4, there are three things I'm juggling – new content generation features, a new enemy and the very first game level.

I'm not going to write about the enemy just yet, let's see if it makes it to the reveal. However, the first level I'm working on is a big deal. Whilst I have done plenty of short test snippets for testing purposes, this is the first actual map that will go into the game – and the one that will be used for the gameplay reveal later this year.

The reason why I started with this one is simple; its structure. The level has two clear halves and whilst the final level will have a more typical flow, I can create an alternate version of the map for the gameplay reveal. The level will be mostly the same, but with steeply accelerated challenge curve – this way I can show off the very basics and give a hint of how bonkers the action will get. Think less like E3 bullshit vertical slice and more like a level that shifts to highest gear mid-way through.

As for the new content creation tools, I have developed quite a few of those for the TAGAP Engine since TAGAP 3. For example, if I want a busted hole in a wall, I will just place a trigger called 'hole' and give it a size – and that's it. Upon map load, the engine measures which textures it overlaps, automatically generating the right kind of hole (i.e. busted concrete or peeled metal). There's no longer need to painstakingly create such details via image layers or using edge textures.

The latest tool I'm working on is called 'wire'. It's what it says, really; a hanging wire. There were plenty of these in TAGAP 3, but all of them where custom textures or layers displayed as 'flags'. The need to custom craft and/or place each one was time consuming as heck, so I decided to create a tool for automating this. Not only is creating such wires (or vines, ropes, chains, whatever we need) ten times faster now, the tool is made specifically for this purpose, so the shape of the wire won't oddly distort when swaying – unlike some of the ones in TAGAP 3 made using a tool for canvas flags.

The Dark Cloud

In the last blog post last year, before the tragic personal events that followed, I mentioned that there were some dark clouds forming in the horizon that endanger TAGAP and Penguin DT. Well, those clouds haven't gone away, they've been looming over me ever since, causing stress and sapping away motivation. However, the situation is reaching its climax in the not-too-distant future.

The differences in outcomes couldn't be more drastic, ranging from 'almost nothing changes' to 'I'll be living under a bridge come next year'. So, the next time I'm writing a blog update, I may finally know whether the gameplay reveal of December will be a trailer for something awesome in the future – or a memoriam to a fondly-remembered dead project.

Or I may not know. This wouldn't be the first time I've been promised clarity on the matter, only to be let down.

Oh well, let's talk about something positive that I can rely upon; good video games!


Playlist is a regular feature in our Penguin DT blog; A chance to highlight cool games both old and new that I've been playing. As always, I believe that in order to make games, you need to play them, preferably with a broad scope when it comes to genres, so each day I dedicate at least an hour to actually playing games. The rest of the free time? There is no such thing, it all belongs to TAGAP!

Since the last Playlist update, I've gone through quite a few amazing games – wrapped up the brilliant Bloodstained, shot tons of Nazis in the divisive Wolfenstein: Youngblood, enjoyed the spot-on throw-back Build-shooter Ion Fury and – finally – entered the mind-bending world of Remedy's Control.

I'm not going to blabber about all of them in detail, as that would make this blog post several pages long. However, I DO have to talk about Ion Fury and Control, though. Ion Fury by Voidpoint and 3D Realms is bloody amazing. It really feels like a previously-unreleased classic from the era and studios that brought us Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior and Blood. The gameplay is super smooth, every weapon has its place and every level is laden with secrets, optional routes and gags. God I've missed this kind of FPS design!

I have a really soft spot for Build Engine, by the way, as it was the first FPS engine I started to tinker around with and I know it quite well. And seeing all the crazy stuff Voidpoint is pulling off puts a smile on my face. It's almost like when you see a clever Lego build or something – you've played with this stuff since you were a kid, but the innovative ways good designers utilize them never ceases to amaze.

Control, on the other hand, is Remedy Entertainment's latest cinematic masterpiece. I won't go too much into the story or the world of the game, because unravelling the story and character motivations whilst learning about the world, layer by layer, are the real driving force of the experience. I will, however, confirm that Control shares the universe with Remedy's previous hit, Alan Wake – to the point that, judging by teaser images, the upcoming DLC will lead into Control / Alan Wake crossover event!

I can talk about the gameplay and game structure without spoilers, though. In the very beginning, the game can come of as something super-simplistic. When you only have one gun, no special moves and no abilities, it's the most bare-bones shooter you can think of. But soon enough, you start to unlock skills and cross-dimensional abilities that turn the gameplay on its head. I'm talking about going from 'Max Payne without slow-mo' to 'Force Unleashed with guns', if that makes sense.

Structure wise, Control is the best kind of action adventure – that is to say, a Metroidvania. More powers and abilities you unlock, more of the setting you have access to – and more powers you can unlock. The game also seems to borrow a few things from the dreaded Dark Souls type games – with your bonfire equivalents, attacks based on recharging energy and tough boss fights. It's nowhere near as restrictive or arbitrary as in Souls-likes, mind you, so don't be scared away by that. I.e. the energy is for doing super-power-level stuff, not menial tasks.

I also have to point out that while I'm not someone who worships graphics, Control is one of the best looking games I've ever played. I don't even remember when was the last time I was this impressed by both the technology and the design of the game visuals. I'm not kidding when I say I haven't been this amazed by the use of dynamic lighting since DOOM 3 was a new thing, so that's saying something. The way light and shadows fill a space – one as surreal as Control can get – is a sight to behold.

And all this is on PS4 Pro, by the way. The PC version supports RTX on top of everything, so if you have one of those Bill Gates Budget™ graphics cards, you'll have a beauty of a game to gawk at.

What's next?

On TAGAP front; work continues of TAGAP 4 level, likely in form of texture asset creation – and that new version of TAGAP 3 is in the pipeline.

On games front; a tough question, I haven't decided yet. As I'm writing this, I just wrapped up Control and its side missions. How about either Sinking City or perhaps Darksiders III?

On that dark cloud front; stress-filled sleepless nights.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin