Thursday, 29 November 2012

Inside a developers mind

Its late, I'm tired. So I thought...I'll share some thoughts about ADR.

Firstly apologies for almost two years of silence on this blog.

If you know the origins of Ashura: Dark Reign, your probably familiar with the fact that I never wanted to do this project in the first place. I was new to the Unreal Modding scene at the time and my skills was, well...not to be at the standard one might actually think who could undertake a role and then taking on many roles through the development process.

I did not even imagine or expect the reception ADR has a massed since the project officially started to take shape from March 2006. Winning Mod awards on websites such as ModDb, getting international recognition in videogame magazines in Germany and UK. (Possibly more that I don't even know about.)

There has been many times when I have given up working on the game like some of the other past members.

ADR is very ambitious. It has an awesome story line. I can put working on the game off for months due to lack of creative inspiration. Sometimes I want to quit. I say "Okay. if such amount of work isn't done. I give up."

And yet....when that time come around, I have this great amount of inspiration and things start coming together. I'm sure this game has a cursed. Either that or the Devil has his hand in this.
I say this because when the team finally decided on the plot and name, the forum post number was '666'.

No joke.

When I talk to some members, we kinda joke about this.

As I mentioned before about myself lacking the skills, the time I have spent on ADR hasn't always been about ADR. Due to the development process and lack of key members with required skills I have had to study new software and techniques to pull things together. 3D modeling, and animation mainly.

The wooden stiff animation of the UT2004 tech demo....yea..that was my work.
You can see how inexperienced I was then. Thankfully my animations are a lot better now and usually have secondary movement applied to them.

In the last few years I took on some programming, thanks to guidance of Javier 'Xaklse' Osset.
ADR's programming genius who really brought this game to life, and gave the Sonic community a new toy to play with. The Sonic GDK. The base code to Ashura: Dark Reign.

With Javiers help I gained an insight into the mechanics of Unrealscript.
I'm not code God like he is, but I have managed to create additional fuctionality to alter the GDK to support new features such as Grinding, pulleys. Bringing various used items in the offical games into Ashura Dark Reign.

My Skills in level design was how should I say...too expressive.
I used to populate levels with so much eye candy that it looked too realistic.

Realism is kind of bad for Sonic.
Look at Sonic'06 as an example, then look at Sonic Unleashed and Generations.

With Sonic you got to think about time, speed, multiple routes, player attraction, and most importantly... scale.

Everything has scale right? well with Sonic. you have tomultiply that due to the speed in which he runs at. and that can be frustrating.

Sonic has always been a cartoon character since his conception on paper.
So thus the world should have a slight cartoon feel to it.

In recent months I have gone wioth the old K.I.S.S (Keep.It.Simple.Stupid) technique
Surprisingly. it works

Designing Sonic levels is not an easy adventure. I would prefer creating a level for Halo, Half life, or Doom, than for Sonic.

Time for me to sleep.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Jan 2001 Video - Post Mortem

With each new video, we can always expect a bashing from fans who love to criticize.
We are not professionals. We are amatures learning to create something to a certain standard of Cool with the limited time we have in a week and with our own system specifications. Improving when and where we can along with having a life away from the computer and always remember this is a fangame, not an official videogame company release. Some of us do not have high end systems.

Visual Video Issues:
Sonic runs like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk!
This is a problem with ADR's acceleration/deceleration code which lacks proper walking, jogging and running times and is still being worked on. The aim is to recreate the classic Sonic gameplay movement.

The video and all screenshots are taken on the following system spec:

AMD Phenom Quad core 3.6GHZ
ATI Radeon XT1800 512MB (5 year old graphics card)

Graphics in all screenshots and the newly released video is low. There is no Options menu for changing graphics in the Unreal Development Kit. Until we get around to creating the menu the quality will look some what poor, and again I am using a dated graphics card.

The animations in UT2004 version of ADR was very wooden and did not blend correctly.
Animations now in the UDK version are almost identicle to those in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors.
The wooden animations are gone but some blending  issues still remain that needs to be fine tuned.

Poor Frame rate:
The team has said the frame rate is very good, with the exception of entering areas where the level loads the next section of the map which causes the game to slow down. None of these areas was featured in the video.
Another reason is that the video was captured using an ATI X1800 XT 512mb graphics card which is now over 5 years old running the game and video capture software at the same time. Frame rate on this card ingame is good averaging at about 28fps.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

ADR - Jan 2011 Progress Video Released

After a very long wait, the latest Progress video showing Ashura Dark Reign on Unreal Engine 3 since moving over to the Unreal Development Kit from Unreal Tournament 2004 has been released.

Somethings that we have created have not been included in the video due to bugs, incomplete level locations and other issues forcing them to be pulled back from being shown.

Until the next time...Enjoy

Friday, 17 December 2010

World Space Limitations

Everyone knows that Sonic was a platformer in his glory days.  Zooming from left to right; running through loops and corkscrews, jumping up and down collecting rings and smashing badniks at breakneck speeds. Well... maybe not so much at that speed. Sonic ranked high in platforming games up until the mid 1990s. 1998 saw him make the transition to 3D and he sort of lost his appeal ever since. It’s taken along time to grasp that the best place for Sonic in terms of level design and game play should be 2.5D; and with some areas in 3D like Sonic Colors and Unleashed. 

ADR was originally going down the path of the adventure series, primarily in 3D. This was proving quite a challenge in terms of planning levels.

The game world for any map inside the Unreal Engine is limited to 10 'Real world' square kilometres. In order to make better usage of the space we have; we had to resolve certain design limitations. Render times and world space Vs speed.

A full 3d level has to render what is in front of the player. Occlusion is good for the most part but when there is a lot of geometry and action going on in front of the player this can cause computer slowdowns.  In the 2D perspective, anything in the distance can be very low poly. Add a post process volume to blur the distance slightly and no one would be the wiser if it was low poly or high poly intensive. Meaning: the more polygons on a single model, the more time it takes to render the screen frame by frame.

Space Vs Speed
With sonic not being the typical platform character with his speed boosting ability, running from one side of the world map to the other took approximately 3 to 4 minutes. This in game play terms isn’t quite good. He was too damn fast.

Slowing him down was an option but that also made him lack a certain degree of character.
Scaling down all in game assets and the player character was another option, but that can also cause a lot of problems on the programming side of things, like breaking something with the physics code calculations and can also defiantly confuse the rendering engine.

 From watching various Sonic: Unleashed videos it looked like the game levels encompass several miles due to the speed at which Sonic runs at. Level design had to practically move to a more orientated 2D perspective instead of 3D. Thus sort of keeping his speed, bringing rendering times down and bring ease to level designing.

In the end it was decided 2.5D took more precedence over 3D in ADR.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Development History

ADR first officially started production in March of 2006 after approximately eight months of doing background research into the Sonic franchise and asking questions via polls playing the games and browsing forums trying to piece together information for a game worthy of what the fans seem to demand.

ADR has had its fair share of difficulties. People promising to help out but then couldn’t for one reason or another and the lack of support from talented individuals being scarce to bring the game to its full potential.

The development really kicked off when Digimaks & Xaklse joined the ranks as Level designer and monitor coder respectively. Since then with a little harassment from me; Xaklse has practically single handily coded the entire Sonic game mechanics. Without Xaklse’s help, there wouldn’t have been an ADR as he was the only coder who was dedicated to the project.

The first map to be publically shown was Digimaks version of Sky sanctuary back in mid to late 2006. Later his creation of Marble Zone (which was never released) was used as a test level for certain game mechanics as they were made available to the team to check out. From that moment game play started to feel more like Sonic.

It was a while before we could run through loops and SpinDash into items. But when that finally became available, it felt we had finally started to achieve getting the feel of Sonic into the Unreal engine.

For the longest time the team suffered major blow backs in development. Levels just didn’t really feel worthy of an actual release, some mechanics proved to be difficult to code, alternatives had to be made or full abandonment of a certain in game mechanic as it just was not possible without the actual engine source code.

When the Unreal Development Kit became available (and most importantly, free to use depending on HOW you wish to use it) and after a small discussion with the team, we decided to switch to the newest Unreal game engine due to certain mechanics not working and with our new fan base having a hard time in locating a Unreal Tournament 2004 copy in stores or even having to resort to piracy in order to just play our modification. With the switch, we would have better access to next generation technology such as realistic physics, up to date code and visual effects, not to mention that ADR would become a full fan game (Unreal Tournament 2004 wouldn’t be required in order to play our game) and no longer a deemed modification.

ADRs development has changed a lot over the years. Most of it can be classified as experimental in order to capture the experience of playing a Sonic game. Testing and redoing stuff, trying to find that perfect combination, just to find where the game should really lie.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Breaking News

The festive season is almost upon us, so for all the Ashura: Dark Reign fans. I decided to not keep you in the dark anymore, and instead document the on going developement of the game.

I will be discussing obviously the development process, flaws, new features, and including screenshots and video footage. Thats right. Video Footage. =D