Weekly Penguin
March 11th, 2024

A speed bump

Recent going-ons (or lack thereof)

It's been a bit quiet on the public front – and a bit dragging behind the scenes as well.

I've had some pretty bad health problems that forced me to dial back things from late January and a chunk of February. It can't be helped sadly. My biggest fear now is that this might've wrecked my schedule so bad I may have to shuffle everything around – and in the worst case scenario that means the reveal of The Next Game might get pushed further.

I really hope this isn't the case, but you never know with these things. 😣

That is also why this blog post got multiple delays; I focused so hard on getting the Next Game back on track that I kept forgetting to sit down and write this up.

What am I working on right now?

As I typed above, with the health problems I fell behind of my set personal schedule, not having progressed as much as would've preferred with the Next Game. That has put the TAGAP 3 and 4 updates on the back-burner (again), for which I'm sorry. 🥹

On the positive side, progress is still being made, no matter how slowly.

I recently talked on Bluesky how I was re-doing a big chunk of the Next Game's shaders for improved visuals. In less abstract terms, the lighting engine of the Next Game is quite different and it can do some interesting dynamic tricks.

One of these tricks is dynamically shading texture polygons per their alignment, adding to the illusion of depth. It's a gimmick achieved with adjusting colours, so no need to dive into the weird world of parallax textures. The original version from a year ago had the very basics of it, but in my feverish conditions I came up with an alternate version that would add even more 'dynamic detail' to things. In short, looking both more natural and with more depth.

Though the new version looks great, I at first worried about its potential performance hit. The original version pre-baked all the data to floating point numbers passed on to the shader as vertex colours. This was fast, but not wholly accurate – if you know your standard vertex colouring in OpenGL, you'll know what I mean by that. It got the job done, but it could've been so much better.

The new version doesn't pre-bake the end results, but instead calculates the vertex angles of each edge and lets the shader itself do all the distance calculations per colour fragment. This gives much better results and allows for much more in-depth manipulation of the colours (i.e. creating an automatic emboss (or embed) effect that takes the scene lighting into account, instead of having all this being static information drawn to the texture image).

However, I did have the worry that this shader could be a resource hog – having to do distance calculations per fragment for these types of texture polygons. The new dev station I got last year does have an RTX 4070, so it can run virtually anything without a sweat. However, I've always wanted to my games to run on low end hardware, so I had no choice but to dig up the old Windows 8.1 laptop and use its GTX860M to stress test things.

The impact of the new shaders were surprisingly non-existent, even with such drastic hardware difference. For the record, the old GTX860M based laptop runs the Next Game at solid 60 FPS. It's the most GPU-demanding game I've made so far for multitude of reasons, but it is also very stable. As in, it takes a lot more horsepower to run at 60 FPS than TAGAP 4... but if you reach that, it rarely if ever dips.

Naturally the RTX 4070 has no issues going 120 FPS and way beyond.

But hey, I've also made (slow) progress on assets generation as well. One of the enemies I had planned turned out to be one of the most complex things I've ever had to draw. Not because of the amount of details or moving parts, because of the form factor, its movement and how that affects art process. I'll explain this in more detail when I've been able to showcase the game itself, but oh boy, this took a while.

And finally, the in-game UI is now almost complete, only one more element missing. The UI has almost entirely reprogrammed from before. The main reason for this, again, was to make it support multiple gameplay types. However, like with everything else in the new engine, there are some quirks that were fun to implement. For example, unlike in TAGAP 4, the weapon wheel of the new game doesn't use any art assets for the wheel itself, it's just a shader maths.

Playlist

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!

I haven't progressed much here, either, as I was unable to even play games properly for a while, but getting back to things slowly.

Right before my health went to hell, I was wrapped up They Always Run by Alawar. Think a space western anti-hero story, akin to Italian westerns meet Firefly – only it is a 2D cinematic action platformer. You play as a three-armed bounty hunter who has his own mission, but almost accidentally ends up building a full crew with their own motives. It's pretty darn good.

Also a shout-out to Red Art Games who did the physical release. Getting the 'collector's edition' for this one was definitely worth it, the game has some amazing space-vistas well worth the art book.

First thing I wrapped up when coming back to semi-health was a 2D run-n-gun game. Shootas, Blood and Teef. It is a magnificently tongue-in-cheek title game based on the Orks of Warhammer 40k. If you've ever played anything 40k involving the Orks, you'll know the humour just writes itself. And with SB&T this is embraced fully – and the result is both hilarious and still loyal to the grimdark future setting. The game is by Rogueside, prior best known for Guns, Gore and Cannoli games.

And finally, I just completed Ghost of a Tale, mainly by Lionel Gallat. It is a medieval fairy-tale semi-stealth adventure where you play as a mouse minstrel in a kingdom ruled over by rats. Your main goal is to escape a prison you've been tossed into and search for your wife, all the while uncovering the secrets of past.

This crowdfunded gem of a game is really atmospheric and has solid world building, great writing and adorable character design. I have no idea how I missed this back in the day, as I'm sure I would've backed it if I had seen it. I hear a sequel is in the works, though the mainly-one-man-team of Mr. Gallat is moving engines from Unity (because obvious reasons), meaning it will take a while as he learns the ropes of Unreal.

What's next?

For the Next Game; one more 'basic arch-type' to set-up and then I'll move into creating the first objects for the cut-scenes. I'll start with basic stuff, so I can see how the new rendering techniques of the brand-new engine could be used to add some cinematic flair.

For the Playlist; Two of some of my most anticipated games for the year drop soon – Alone in the Dark and the sequel to Outcast – but I still can't play either. Ont he plus side, the NightDive remaster masterpiece Powerslave Exhumed just arrived in the mail, so obviously that's next. Another common NightDive win and a perfect excuse to revisit this oft forgotten Build gem.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin