Wheaton's Dev News - Dev Feed
Mercredi, 09 Mai 2012 09:03
It's come to my attention that I haven't updated this website for a long while.
I generally don't like hiatuses, ( if this is even a word, but meh, you get my point ) but this was one of them.
Here, I give a small update, and some enlightment on the website's new name: "Nostalgia Vector".
This isn't usual for me to develop such a name.
Nostalgia Vector generally means that I'm broadening my horizons from a single project to a global concept and wish to keep some memories alive, namely, oldie games, through a vector of modernization and remake, to keep "good ole" memories alive.
I'd like to quote a few names: Take No Prisonners (1997, by Raven Software), Tomb Raider 1/2/3, The Infernal Machine, my own outdated (but still rehasheable) Metal Gear fangame projects, old dreams, and so on.
These are mostly projects I would wish to see rising back from the grave, or, more friendly speaking, have a makeover.
Since these games ( for the MOST ) part have no (or no more license) at all, I could try. I won't start all of them at once, this would be suicidal and a very bad thing for my imagination and inspiration. One thing at a time.
I don't really mean I'll do all these projects on the same TRLE/NGLE engine, but as far as I think of it, for the most part, it will be the case until contrary notice.
Note: this also means I'll have to make do with "lara croft's silly female animations -_-'. I could use those, but the moment they were created years ago, Lara was portrayed to display her feminine curves, something she's not looked at for anymore today ( eg: Tomb Raider Underworld's beta-tests revealed that testers looked longer at her detailed face than her female features. Gaming has changed.... A lot. )
Vendredi, 09 Mars 2012 10:21
This is no surprise for me and for readers, possibly, to notice that progress is slow, very very slow.
This is mostly due to the technique I use of making level after level in a linear fashion, while I should probably have focused on other, more optimized schemes.
What kind of scheme I could adopt was uneasy for me at first until I decided to go with BETA Mapping, so they call it.
In TRLE, Beta mapping means building a level with basic, almost MetalGearSolid-esque virtual reality textures, and stuff things afterwards; A very easy to understand architecture like this indeed allows me to recognize areas easily; and I can still set Triggers and elements easily enough.
I have not tried to explore this system in a hugh depth but the results are already promising. I have tried to apply the Beta Mapping scheme to Nub's Tomb's first level, and it seems I have got it right. What's the best about Beta Mapping is that the structure is entirely ready once I need to create this level, I only need texturing and placing ambiance; this doesnt' slow me down while I can work on other levels.
Stay tuned, I'll possibly post another news after that with screens of what Beta Mapping looks like.
Vendredi, 02 Décembre 2011 09:44
Having started to end ( FINALLY ) the QuetzalCoatl / Olmec Valley matter, I've started to study the matter of the V.I. Pudovkin.
This is normally the sneaky boat the Soviet Union used in The Infernal Machine to recover the Machine Part in Mexico, and ended up capturing Indy.
The main issue here is that if I didn't wish to butcher the storyline, the compromise had to be made to make the game happens in our era. Or, at least, in more TR1-esque 1990's. That still means the Soviet Union is disbanded, and, de facto, the V.I. Pudovkin cannot exist.
I have thought about several different ideas for replacing it. Namely, gameplay-wise, we'd still have to keep the early element of stealth like the Indiana Jones game. That would imply Lara would have to sneak her way a little before recovering her weaponry.
Luckily, the NGLE features a new function to have Lara loose her weapons but conserve ammo. ( relatively, earlier, you had to fool the game Lara was young ( TR4's tutorial level ) ), and you couldn't get her weapons back during the same level she lost them.
The different designs I studied were, well, that of an exact, modernized clone of the V.I. Pudovkin, an aircraft carrier ( I blame Ace Combat for that), a submarine, and ultimately, ended up on something completely different, aka, mixing all three together.
What we got here got me to work seriously on the enemy faction, and of course, the result of the work is none other than a stealth seaship, in the same vein of a certain James Bond movie. This level will have Lara find weapons, ammo, recover the Tablets of Testimony she found in Babylon ( those tablets replace Indy's speech in the original game upon translating them ), the Machine Parts ( expect a few surprises about this ! ), and ultimately, escape the flagship of the villain faction. How? Heck, IF I said that, it would ruin the fun!
No matter what, work on this level finally begun. The Olmec Valley still has incomplete bits, but most of all, probably has a corrupted WAD array, meaning I'll have to rework the level extensively in its innards to fix it.
Mercredi, 30 Novembre 2011 17:20
I'm finally getting some time / space to work on The Infernal Machine again.
I must say that the "The Olmec Valley" level is the longest I ever had to make. This level just takes forever. What's been particularly annoying is how the boss stage is hard to make. The thing we have here is a mess, as a huge snake probably isn't possible in NGLE ( as of now ! )
I tried several routes including a good old fashionned T-Red with impossible olmec-like engravings on him; yet, didn't make it work properly.
After looking a little at the Skribblerz's Chronicles Project, I think I might be able to get somewhere. I'll need a lot of reworking, sure, but the map reworking is already done. What I do need to be careful of, however, is how to balance the thing, now.
This might actually be the end of the olmec/aztec chapter of the story. Finally =D.
Jeudi, 27 Octobre 2011 19:30
This is a bizarre glitch. I can't show a screenshot yet; but overally, the QuetzalCoatl boss of the Olmec Valley apparently doesn't work as expected.
For some reason, instead of spawning the boss, Lara's camera strangely flips 180° and we now see the ground and not her, like if it was the ceilling. This sure is a bizarre glitch.
Samedi, 22 Octobre 2011 23:50
That One Purple Square.
This purple square, there ! Do you know what's so special about it?
This is both my dream and my nightmare. I have no idea who conceived the thing in the first place, but it sure does work. This is the Trigger system.
Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine was originally using an engine copied from the ID Tech engine. Those who know a little how mapping works on ID Tech engine rip-offs or the genuine thing will IMMEDIATELY realize how different the trigger system works.
The Tomb Raider Trigger system works by having a cluster, comprised of a single or several "code lines" physically placed in a level. Yes, I said code lines, because that's what they are.
On the other hand....
This is a picture from the Hammer editor, for Half-Life 2. This big yellow wall is a trigger. We clearly see the brush-based engine here, and Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine quite probably works in the same principle. The trigger here is an unvisible area during the game. Cross it, and a lot of stuff may happen. Trigger a music change, an event, somebody tossing a grenade at you, a cutscene, whatever you want.
Look up, now. What does it all have to do? We're dealing here with a system that's cobbled-together with several years of software evolution.
Gosh, how to explain the triggers in NGLE's engine?!
Since they're physically-placed codelines, let's say it that way. There is a switch on the sector, here. When Lara goes on that sector and activates the switch, this switch will trigger a codeline, a SWITCH-type, placed on it.
This will trigger the activation of the door nearby, effectively doing a classical "switch to open door" setup. Now, what is so crazy is on how there are different kinds of triggers.
A normal trigger is TRIGGER type. Usually, they're the default triggers. Place it in a sector, and when Lara moves through it, like, walking, jumping, running through it, she'll activate it. It will be used for example, when she walks out of a cave and we go from a dark and opressing background ambience track, to birds whistling background noises and a much more peaceful ambience.
While a simple TRIGGER-type trigger is simple to understand, the way they are physically placed in the levels are a curious decision. Not necessarly a BAD one, but still very curious. a normal TRIGGER will simply do : "when lara steps on you or jumps over you, do THIS.".
Now, what can "THIS" be? A door, or a trap, or an enemy, or the level's end, or a camera drawing the player's attention to somewhere.
There are different families of TRIGGERS, but also, different families of effects.
Commonly, there are:
TRIGGER - simple "for Lara" trigger,
HEAVY - not related to the Team Fortress 2 character of the same name; it's gonna be triggered by anything that isn't Lara, like, a rolling ball, an enemy, and anything else that can move but that isn't Lara.
DUMMY - used in suspended bridges to fake a floor while it's several feet under Lara. In a bridge's case, it allows her to walk on a wooden bridge above the real ground/river/lava. Without a DUMMY trigger placed exactly under the bridge, lara would just fall through it. In case of rivers, strangely, the DUMMY trigger must be placed inside the river's Room, and not the Room where the bridge item itself really is. Odd. Core Design, IF I ever get to talk with you, I'll ask about that.
ANTITRIGGER - Simply a trigger that cancels a Trigger. For example, walking or jumping over this one, will close a door, that a trigger previously opened.
PAD - Simply like a normal TRIGGER, except it only ever happens if Lara STEPS on it. If she jumps over it, it will stay quiet. Think of it as a way to make trapdoors, somehow, or walking on special floor that hides a mechanism or something.
I probably won't go over all the trigger kinds, but keep in mind that the ones I enumerated here are MOST of the commonly used triggers in the coding system.
Coding? Yes, because, in Tomb Raider games, nearly all of the game except a few hardcoded events, were made using these. The title fly-by background in Tomb Raider 4 has a camera fly around a structure and then go into a double-door, well, that double-door opens before the camera crosses it. It was triggered using a HEAVY trigger that was hidden on the camera's path. There are some triggers that are combinations of above kinds though. ANTIPAD, HEAVYANTITRIGGER, and so on.
When it comes to their effects, though, that's a whole different story. The system had no actual text-based coding, or terminal-like interface. All you could rely on, was that purple square.
The results can be:
CD: will play a different, specified CD track,
FINISH: clears the level and sends lara to another, specified level,
OBJECT: will activate an object in the map ( a door, an enemy, and so on ),
FLIPMAP: used to transform a room into an alternate version of itself (like, for example, filling a room with water and unfilling it afterwards ).
This allowed for example, in Tomb Raider III's level "Area 51", for Lara to have a door open on her arrival, the armory for example, but if a guard spots her, he'll run to a security panel. If he does, the armory will be locked out. How did it work? They had Lara trigger the opening of the door several rooms before, so it looks welcomingly open on her arrival, but then, trigger that guard guy when she's close to his starting point.
Happens the guard notices Lara, he will run to the panel. The panel is actually a simple decoration, a static, a prop. What really happens is a HEAVY-ANTITRIGGER located in the same place. The guard comes and activates the HEAVYANTITRIGGER linked to the OBJECT: the door previously opened. So, when he reaches the terminal, the door closes down.
This has one advantage, and one disadvantage, both huge in their own manners.
On the good side, this allows for very easy conception of levels, and not make them restricted to an elite of text-coding people. Nearly anybody can learn how simple this system is. After all, we are phyiscally placing simplified codelines in a level.
On the bad side, this system has several limitations; the major being: you cannot place two special triggers in the same place!
You cannot have a PAD and a HEAVY trigger, both different, but in the same place! That's because whenever you place a special trigger, the normal, generic TRIGGER ( lara-based ) will become part of it during the game.
So, if you have a switch that opens a door, you have a SWITCH trigger linked to the switch to........ well, recognize it as a switch. You then have a TRIGGER on the same slot, linked to the door. During the game, both will become one final entity, a SWITCH trigger linked to the door. But, if you placed two of these in the same place, how would the game understand what is what? It cannot. The trick usually is to build a hallway where you trigger each stuff separately, but that would mean Lara has to go in the same way and can't go back, or something like that, if the level requires it. This can get tricky if the storyline or the level's architecture would make this room "odd". How will you make this if it's during a deep-sea diving sequence? See.
In this way, Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine had much more ease to pull this off, mainly because its engine was superior. AT THE TIME.
Nowadays, we use NGLE for making Tomb Raider levels. Lara has much more polygons than she did before, levels are more detailed, and the engine is enhanced like never-before. While we have tons of improvements, the old systems still are used as primary level design methods, and then, a compromise was made.
The Script File. That thing was usually meant for the game's devs to indicate which levels appear in which order, which items are found in which levels, and how they're named, seen in the inventory, and so on. This script file was really really crippled and tuned down for TRLE.
This is the result of a de-crippled scripting system. Note on how the upper part of the Shambala level definition covers the main aspects of the level, while the lower one takes care of more obscure buisness.
There is so much to say about the new scripting methods, it won't be easy. I can guarantee I will want to write a proper article about the scripting system, though.
For now, the scripting system used by NGLE/TRLE is now powerful enough to allow replicating the Machine Part behavior.
If that doesn't convince, then how about this?
Vendredi, 21 Octobre 2011 19:08
The Build engine, a sector-based, used by Duke 3D ( and similar to Doom ), had a very bizarre inconsistency...
it was virtually impossible to have two rooms one above another. It was impossible to see two rooms one above another, not without a great parade of bugs and visual artifacts. That feature was in fact well existing in Duke 3D, and was concealed by having the player unable to see two floors at once. He could either see part of the bottom floor OR part of the top floor, but never both at once in a similar 2D map perspective.
After some reflexion and looking back at things with a new eye, I believe Core Design took care of this problem in Tomb Raider 1 not by making one single map, but by having several.
The rooms apparently are the trick Core Design figured out on how to operate a sector-based engine in FULL 3D environments, instead of actually stay stuck to 2D.
How did they do it? I do believe they chose to have not just one single map file to operate on, but rather, a cluster of them. See...
This screenshot here is an back-end render ( flawed ) of an area in the Babylon level of my remake. Where we can see pure white colour on the ground, is in fact a separate room undernearth. From a standard sector engine point of view, this looks legit. Why? Because there is no actual 3D to speak of. This "map" section has a definite height, width, length, and inside, we can give it any shape we want.
Second picture is a little more odd, because it's what is underneath this previous room. It does look ugly ( it wasn't meant to look like that ); though, the engine considers this to be another 2D sector map.
The part where Core Design went smart, is when they did this.
By actually cutting a section of the ceilling, we get it to transit with the floor of the room above, in a very similar way we do in the game "Portal". In fact, Lara changes room in a seamless way just like Chell does by crossing a portal in the eponymous game.
This allows to overlap and stack up rooms and sectors in a way the original Build engine from Duke 3D could never do. Core went smart, and yet, we will never see this in modern games.
Vendredi, 21 Octobre 2011 17:33
It's no surprise that when you remake a game from its native engine to another, you think it's gonna be easy - at least, at first. This hasn't occured to me for too long. Many people jump head-on into the error, that is, believing the rest of the remake will be just as easy.
Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine was built on the specifically-built proprietary "Jones Engine", though, from the looks of it, it was a very unique-game dedicated imitation of the Quake Engine. Quake I, II, III, Id Tech whatever, I do not know. However, the map system gives away the engine's particularities that truly makes it seem like a Quake engine rip-off. However, as I said above, no true link exists and it is an imitation.
That is in fact a VERY BIG nuisance.
The Quake Engine, also called ID Tech, starts from the principle that the world is full of void; that you create "bars", "plates", and "cubes" of matter out of nothing. This allows for quickly create basic geometry, then quickly stash it with lots of detail.
Having mapped quite a few times on ID Tech rip-offs, I saw that the ID Tech engine is brush-based; and this creates a lot of advantages, and problems. The advantages it creates are easier applications of physics to some extent, better lighting render, and...... In fact, everything we'd need for a Call Of Duty game. In fact, ironically, Call Of Duty uses an ID Tech licensed copy, based off ID Tech 3, the same that we once saw in Doom 3. And Medal Of Honor : Allied Assault.
I think brush-based engines are extremely effective when it comes to build games with huge, realistic-bent complex sceneries, provided we give them enough processing power. That is, this is in fact not what I aim for, nor it is in my reach.
What about Tomb Raider's engine then? What makes it so special I gave a lecture about the advantages and inherited disadvantages of the Brush-Based engines?
Tomb Raider's Engine ( which I will need to find a name for ) is a SECTOR-BASED ENGINE.
If anybody remembers Duke Nukem 3D, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, they will probably know what a sector-based engine is.
This is Mapster32, an updated version of the map editor for Duke Nukem 3D ( map: E1L1; aka "hollywood holocaust", the signature map of the game ). Notice on how the entire screen is solely comprised of a 2D view. This is a sector based game. While it allows much more complex geometry than Tomb Raider, it shares quite a few common points.
The sector-based games are built in mind as filling a world full of matter with void, effectively digging a "worldy" tunnel out of full matter. We add more and more space for the player to navigate, the engine making sure we can never fall into pure matter, as it's phyiscally impossible to move through matter ( if you get me ).
So, THERE is our main problem... And difference, from The Infernal Machine, a Brush-based-engine game, to Tomb Raider's engine, a sector-based game. This is quite a challenge, as the brush based engine has more flexibility on complex landscapes; on the other hand, Tomb Raider's sector engine is able to perform tricks that would proove very handy, and is naturally more optimized due to its sector rendering technique.
What's so special about sector based engines that they can do but brush based engines can't?
There was a level, in Duke Nukem 3D's Lunar Apocalypse level series, a bonus level; Lunatic Fringe. Or something like that. The point is, the level was a giant spinning station, and the middle possessed a beyond-odd 720° staircase in the same place. Yes, 720°, aka twice 360°. You would be at two places at the same time but also at one single place at once. This feature is incredibly hard to reproduce seamlessly in brush engines, as it's outright impossible and must be masqueraded.
This effect is especially visible in the Aetherium level of Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine. As soon as you start the level, the game has you to go around a huge square room, around a central vertical shaft. If you enter it from south, north, east or west, the shaft will prolongate in an impossible manner. Though the effect is seamless thanks to dated, static-lit graphics, a modern engine could not camouflage this feature properly.
Tomb Raider's engine uses a sector system, true, but also the "rooms", basically, yes, a room, made of sectors. It's possible to overlap many sectors in the same place; where a brush based engine would go insane from calculations to render the place, Tomb Raider's engine will consider the central shaft and its "forks in the road" as different places, but won't give a fuck about it. It will just allow Lara/Jones(?) to access whichever place the player wants to go to, according to the direction he comes in, like if it was normal.
Finally, it will be solely in design, imagination and audacity that a remake from two different engine kinds from another, that the battle will be fought. It's not a matter of porting models, and textures. While textures can be ripped, every asset has to be remade by hand, shall it be a weapon, an enemy, item, map, device, and machine part.
I will also definitely need to find a way to name the "Tomb Raider engine", we can't keep calling it the "Tomb Raider Engine", can we?!
The mapster picture is taken from the official eduke32 website, thanks to them.
Jeudi, 20 Octobre 2011 13:55
TRLE. Where to start with that thing?
TRLE or Tomb Raider Level Editor was a software and resource library released in early 2000's by Core Design along with Tomb Raider Chronicles, since they were going to discontinue this engine.
TRLE used Tomb Raider 4 : The Last Revelation's engine, albeit a modified version. Only a handful of levels from the original game were released along with it, though fully editable. However, flexibility wasn't in the party, as only the items found in one level, could be used in same level. This resulted in a series of early levels that often varied in map textures and environments, but enemies, items, puzzles and traps becoming more and more previsible with each released level by fans.
Some time later, a scattered ammount of programmers and coders eventually gave birth to the first tools that would allow to tune the levels's item databases ( WADs as they are often called ; "Where is All the Data ?!", an acronym famous back when Tomb Raider 1 came out, probably inherited by Doom which used similar acronyms during the making ).
Eventually, other tools like StrPix ( whose full name meaning is obvious to many ) came out, allowing to retexture items, and more importantly, allow import/export of meshes back and forth in .DXF format. This allowed a great ammount of 3rd party modelling softwares to eventually suddenly become compatible with TRLE, fully opening the gates to complete modification of game objects. By then, much of Tomb Raider 1/2/3's items were already ported and mostly working in TR4/TRLE's engine.
-As far as my personal experience goes, this is when I stopped having interest in TRLE for a long while. As such, I missed quite some bits of history. The events reprise some time later.-
In late 2000's, a website, the TRLE Search Engine, had gathered countless entries of homemade content, from puzzles to enemies, textures, Lara outfits, weapons, textures, sounds, and the list goes on. As of today, TRLE Search Engine keeps growing and benefits of quality usermade content based off many TR games and even beyond them ( heck, I even saw a Chris Redfield playermodel, once ! ).
Hhowever, it seems that a dedicated team that would later ( I believe ) take home on a website called Skribblerz, has managed to pull of a revised, more complete and bug free version of TRLE. Named NGLE, Next Generation Level Editor, this new version of TRLE would benefit of a much bigger vertices memory buffer ( allowing for much more detailed models to be accepted by the game ), bigger texture buffer ( going from 64² map textures to 256² ), OGG/MP3 support for audio files, FMV ability, and nearly unlimited scripting capabilities among other improvements. This now allowed TRLE to be more flexible and powerful than I ever imagined it would do back then.
Back when Tomb Raider Level Editor / Chronicles came out, the idea of a The Infernal Machine remake once crossed my mind. Sadly, it was impossible due to the limitations being much thighter than TR4's itself. As of today, NGLE's capabilities are largely offsetting TRLE's dated engine and allow gameplay elements beyond what I thought it would be capable of. The dream of a remake became reality, when work started on the Canyonlands level. Much, much of my gratitude is aimed to thank and compliment the Skribblerz team for turning my dreams, and that of many others, into a reality.
TRLE Back Then, and TRLE/NGLE Today:
Jeudi, 20 Octobre 2011 12:29
Indiana Jones & The Infernal Machine is a 3D adventure game very similar to the Tomb Raider series.
The player is in control of Dr Jones himself, tasked by the newly founded CIA ( circa 1947 ) to investigate a Soviet dig site in ex-bablyon, today Iraq. Indy uncovers the Russians are attempting to uncover the fabled Tower of Babel, or what's left of it. Luckily for Jones, the soviets are led by bookworm, field-incompetent Dr Genaddi Volodnikov, slowind their progress down. Jones soon certifies the babylonian legend to actually be true, but not so anymore. Babylonians, under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, were tasked to build a "Great Engine" to meet their back-then deity, Marduk.
Soon after the Engine was activated, Nebuchadnezzar saw the true intentions of the monster they were about to liberate, and ordered the machine disabled. Subsequently dubbed "The Infernal Machine", four priests fidel to Marduk fled their homeland, each parting with a critical component of the Machine, in the hopes that they will survive time away from the Babylonyan army, and eventually be reunited back together at the Engine.
Jones then sets out to uncover one by one the Infernal Machine Parts, before the USSR does. Little Jones know is, that both USSR and USA are totally oblivious of the Machine's true powers...
The game is comprised of six segments/Acts, with four main ones matching a designated Machine Part. Act #1 serves as the intro ( comprised of the Canyonlands tutorial level and Babylon ), Act#2 sets sight on the priest Urgon and the frozen landscapes of USSR occupied Kazahkstan and the fabled Sanctuary of Shambala.
Act #3 revolves around the tropical island of Palawaan set in the Phillipines, between Japanese remains of World War 2, and physic-law defying Lava Elementals. Many elements of this act are reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies.
Act #4 is set in the fabled, ruined Olmec civilization in today's Mexico, where a babylonyan priest watched over his Part, remotely safe from Babylon. Traps are omnipresent in this act, along with a typical "disarmed and captured" level reminiscent to that of Tomb Raider games.
Act #5 has Indy get closer to Iraq, to the sandy dunes of Sudan and Ancient Egypt, in quest for the last but not least tomb of the babylonyan priest Nub. Deeply lost under several stories of ruins, Indy will face countless hazards and enemies, including snakes, hyenas, elite Spetznaz ans even -robots-.
Act #6 is the game's Finale; indy has been robbed off the Machine Parts by his former CIA employer Simon Turner. As he tries to fix the machine in order to deactivate it after erroneous manoevers from Simon, the Machine dials itself up soon after being completed. The pinnacle of the plot unfolds when Jones tries to find his way in Marduk's chaotic, Aetherial realm and find a way back home.
An extra, bonus level is available right after the Aetherium, or if Indy purchases a costly $2500 treasure map leading him to the first tomb he was seen raiding in "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" : Peru, where René Bellocq once stole his hard work. This time, Indy will proove that he was the superior after all, after he unweils a second, much more valuable Idol than Bellocq's. Also, he won't need to speak Hovitos this time.