Fiptubat 0.5

This release is mostly cosmetic: I added a new level, UI and models. The full list of fixed issues can be found here.

New Level(s)

The new level is an industrial complex, built using props from the Phishers’ Gauntlet project that I abandoned. I’ve also added some third-party assets:

The title scene also has some limited scenery, with other player characters crouching behind cover.

New UI

Mostly, I got rid of the smiley faces that showed the player status. My original plan there was to have images similar to Jagged Alliance 2 that become increasingly bloodied as they take damage, but I found this to be dead weight.

I also replaced the fonts. Instead of Arial, I’m using this archaic typewriter font. I’ve also used Ampad Brush in the title scene to make the buttons resemble graffiti on the walls.

Screenshots of the level

It’s still a bit empty, even after adding props, but I’m starting to get tired of this project. For something that was originally meant to be a proof of concept, it’s gone further than I expected. I’ll probably leave it for a month and come back to it, but I’m a bit stuck on what to add next.

Fiptubat: Character Models

Finally, some character models!

The new character models in the Editor. Right of the screen is a human one; to the left is a patrol bot, and a turret in the background.

Humanoid

The human models are based off WW1-era infrantry, such as these Vickers gunners. They were supposed to have helmets, but that seems to clip with the camera, so I’ve hidden them for now. I may add them back for NPCs to distinguish them from the player-controlled units, and I would like to add some slightly different skins.

The animations are adapted from Kubold’s Pistol AnimSet Pro asset. Integrating this took about two weeks, and along the way I ran into a hilarious rigging bug (shown below). However, it was well worth the price.

I'm pretty sure arms shouldn't look like this...

Player-controlled units still have a few issues:

  • When moving, they’re supposed to point their gun at the ground, but the camera controls override that. I’m not an expert with guns, but that doesn’t strike me as good firearm safety. NPCs obey this fine.
  • The camera movements are influenced by the animations, which makes aiming a little harder. I’ve also had to remove the crosshairs graphic.
  • When climbing, the camera occasionally clips through the scenery. I suppose I could just remove climbing entirely…

Turrets

These are based off the Swiss MG-11, a derivative of the Maxim gun, converted into a heavy emplaced raygun. If you look closely, you can see handles on the back. I’m not going to implement this, but the idea is that in-universe this would allow them to be manually operated when remote control (inevitably) fails. I’ve also ditched their scan animation entirely. Now they only move/rotate when a target is confirmed.

Patrol Bots

After redesigning the turrets, I decided that a similar aesthetic for the patrol bots made sense. In this case, a Maxim-esque gun with fixed traverse: the gun aims by rotating the body towards the target, with vertical aiming controlled via animation. They’re supposed to visibly hover while moving, but that doesn’t seem to work when they’re aiming. I suspect that’s really a configuration issue with the animator.

Next steps

  1. Add an extraction vehicle. I bought another asset that I’d like to use here.
  2. Expand the level. I was originally going to add a new one,

As usual, you can find it here.

Fiptubat gameplay demo

I finally have a gameplay video for Fiptubat – warts and all. It shows the player units picking their spots and moving to them, basic combat, and swapping turns with a hostile faction.

The video shows one really annoying bug that I haven’t got to the bottom of yet. Player units sometimes start jerking around when standing still, and I’ve tried quite a few things without any success. I had originally planned to fix this before filming, but decided that it didn’t break the core gameplay enough to hold back everything.

New game project: FIPTUBAT

About a year ago, I screwed up the boot loader on my computer, which put a crimp in my development work. While trying to fix that, I spent a lot of time watching Christoper Odd’s XCOM 2 playthroughs, and it eventually lead to a new game project. I’ve been working on this since May.

The idea I had was to try doing a turn-based tactics game (such as XCOM, Jagged Alliance or Silent Storm) from a first-person perspective, i.e. from the perspective of the units themselves. This has lead to a few interesting design implications around player units in particular:

  • Should player units be allowed to look around without costing action points?
  • How should aiming work? Should it be freeform like in a first-person shooter, or should the player choose from a list of existing targets?
  • Should player units be allowed to move at all without costing action points (e.g. stepping in/out of cover)?

It’s currently a WebGL prototype, available here. There’s no screenshots yet, but the general turn-based mechanism, combat and objectives are functional.

Phisher’s Gauntlet: Change of plans

A couple of months ago, I somehow managed to corrupt the OS on my computer. After teaching myself some basic digital forensics, I managed to recover most of my Unity projects…except for the prefabs for the demo level. That means the level is essentially empty. FUUUUUUUU!

I still have my code up-to-date in Git, so at least I’m not completely screwed. However, between this and finding it hard to program in my spare time (since that’s what I do for a living), I’ve decided to put this aside until January.

Back in the game

Been a while…I blame hardware issues.

Back in January, I decided to update my Linux kernel to include some patches for Spectre. Unfortunately, this screwed up my graphics card drivers, so I couldn’t run Unity (or even some of my games). I thought I’d wait for a bit and get Mint 19 when it’s stable.

Just two weeks ago, I decided to try upgrading Mint to 18.3 (which is stable, and will be supported until 2021), but that didn’t make things any better. Eventually, I gave up and did a fresh install, overwriting my entire hard drive. I missed one or two projects (particularly a project for a generic AI framework and automated test bed for it), but most of my stuff was backed up. Including the stuff I actually wanted to work on 🙂

So, I’m starting The Phishers’ Gauntlet again. This time, I’ve set up a Git repo for version control, and have given myself a year to finish it. I’m planning the 0.1 release to be at the end of this month, though I’m already ahead of where I wanted to be thanks to backing things up 🙂

New project: The Phisher’s Gauntlet

I’ve decided to do a spinoff version of Spamocalypse for my next project. It’s based around an enemy I wanted to add, but had no time for beyond an off-hand joke: Phishers.

Summary

For anyone who doesn’t known, phishing involves misrepresentating a site or other trusted entity to steal personal information (login details, financial information – anything!). OWASP have a definition and examples here. Generally, if you get an email asking you to sign into your account…delete it.

Now I have that out of the way, the game I have in mind is currently titled “The Phishers’ Gauntlet”. The idea is that the player is cut off when a city is evacuated in the face of a invasion by the Word of Turscar, and forced to make their way through the Phisher-infested alleyways to a ROFLcopter that is waiting. The Phishers, an offshoot of the Turscarites, will either lurk on top of rooftops and wait for something to hit their Phishing Rods, or stalk the player on the ground.

Comparison with Spamocalypse

A lot of this will be taken from Spamocalypse, but there will be a few differences:

  • More player characters (see below)
  • Combat will be more of an option
  • No loot, though I may bring in notes again
  • Time limits. If you don’t get to the ROLFcopter in time, you will be left behind

Player Characters

In Spamocalypse, I had only one player character – an expy of Garrett from the Thief games. This time, I have at least three in mind. Two of these are parodies of some IT security people I tend to read.

  • Roy Thunt, the combat expert. A parody of security researcher Troy Hunt, portrayed as a Crocodile Dundee-style hunter.
  • Bryan Krabs, the stealth expert. Spoofing Brian Krebs, an investigative journalist who specialises in IT security.
  • Ardino Enube, a random person in over their head. I’ll probably do them first

I heartily recommend reading the people I’m spoofing. Troy is a security researcher who runs the database breach notification site HaveIBeenPwned, and does a lot of security training for developers. He has a fair amount of information about data breaches, password management, and general web security. I’ve developed an interest in that in my day job, but he’s quite readable, so worth reading even if you aren’t very technical.
Brian is a journalist who, among other things like reporting on malware like Stuxnet and Mirai and investigating spam networks, once managed to foil a plot to frame him for possessing heroin…by lurking on the forums where the plot was being hatched. It reminds me of a certain level in the original Thief, where you rob a crime lord who just ordered a (failed) hit on Garrett…

I’m planning to give myself a year to develop this, starting from next Saturday. I have a very rough game design document done (available here).

New projects

I haven’t worked on anything major since I finished Spamocalypse – I just needed a break, and work has been burning me out a little in the meantime. However, I’ve started working on two new projects, trying to decide which I like more. One is best described as a smaller-scale version of Hearts of Iron, and the other is a real-time tactics game. Both are set in a fictional world I’ve had kicking around my head for a few years now.

The world
The original premise of this world is that some hills in my part of Ireland were once inhabited by dwarves, or humans who started living underground during the Iron Age. However, during the mid 19th Century, something goes wrong, and the whole area turns into a S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-style forbidden zone. Among the many, many things that have changed is that humans in the affected area have turned into orcs (AKA Fomorians…or trolls).
Galway is controlled by the Anglo-French Empire, the result of the British and French forming a military, then political alliance in the face of the Habsburgs of Spain/Austria forming a superpower. The Firtollán League, the alliance of the dwarven city states of Ireland, has been forced to ask them for help in keeping the Fomorians locked up in the peninsula.

HOI-style
The first one (Governor) player is the recently appointed governor of Galway, some time around the turn of the 19th/20th century. After a long, distinguished career in the Anglo-French colonial administration, Galway is your final posting before retirement. But can you last that long? All you have to do is approve various budget decisions, and try to avoid being sacked.
This would be based on managing several different factors: your popularity with the locals, the opinion of the press outside Galway, what the dwarves/Firtollan League thinks of you, your budget and your troops. The first three influence what your superiors think of you; if that becomes too low, you will be sacked, forced to resign or…forced to face a Full Independent Inquiry!

Tactics game
I was originally going to do a turn-based tactics game in the style of Jagged Alliance 2 or XCOM, but I’ve changed this to a real-time version. The only definite part is that it will build on what I learned from Spamocalypse – in particular, planning out systems so I can test more efficiently, using mock components. However, it will probably focus on hunting various monsters, including the Fomorians. I’m leaning more towards this one, purely because I can recycle some of my previous AI code.

So, it’s taken me three months to write this. I should probably decide on one of these and get on with it 🙂

Spamocalypse Postmortem

So, I finally released Spamocalypse last week, after two years of working at it in my free time. Now is as good a time as any to look back and see what went well, what didn’t, and what I would do differently.

Original plan
There were three goals I set myself when I started. The first (LOS) was to figure out how to make the bots see the player, while taking lighting into account. The second (Sound) was to figure out how to make them hear the player, and the third (Brain) was to find a way to make different NPC types react differently to specific stimuli. All of these have actually been achieved, though not without some work.

LOS
My original method for determining if the bots could see the player was to use an extruded box for their vision range, and storing the lighting inside a customised pathfinding system. It worked at first, but there were two problems: twenty or more MeshColliders in a scene for line-of-sight checks is expensive, and converting the player’s position into a Node consistently took about four milliseconds, which slowed the main thread down enough to be noticeable.
My fixes for these were to use capsule colliders for the humanoid NPCs, and to create a physics-based light calculation mechanism. Capsule colliders involve only two distance checks (one for the radius and one for the height), as opposed to the eight required by the extruded box (one for each vertex). The physics-based LightRadius mechanism is based mainly off trigger colliders and raycasting, which is considerably faster.
This did require ripping out my pathfinding code and converting the AI to use Unity’s builtin NavMesh. However, that works a lot better, so I probably should have done that from the start.

Sound
The sound detection originally used an octagonal mesh to manage their hearing range. I made their ability to detect the player be inversely proportional to distance, giving the player a chance to avoid them at longer distances. That part has not changed. I also originally made them only react to Sockpuppets, but when I started adding other alert sounds, I realised that a ScriptableObject was the ideal way to store these. From that alone, I’ve learned how to use Unity’s ScriptableObjects for holding common data.
The one major performance change I made was to not use OnTriggerStay for processing sound events. OnTriggerStay runs on the physics timestep, which by default is every 50th of a second. However, I found it ran much better if I ran it on a Coroutine every 5th of a second.

Brain
Originally, I used a C# delegate to distinguish between the different AI responses. Delegates in C# are a way to call a different implementation of a method at run time; in this case, each NPC type had a different search and attack method. However, this became a bit too convoluted when I started adding different effects: the bots were supposed to play smoke when moving, the spammers are supposed to vomit when attacking, and so on.
Currently, moderators and bots are subclasses of the main SpammerFSM class. The only difference here is that their search and attack methods override the search and attack methods in the SpammerFSM, allowing me to subtly change how they react to a sockpuppet, or when they start attacking. However, it’s still a bit clunky. I think that for my next project, I’ll use interfaces instead, which should allow me to customise the NPC types more effectively.

What worked
So, apart from the three goals I set myself, what worked? Well, I found a more efficient way to calculate light intensity. I figured out a basic way of doing player objectives, and I found some basic mechanisms for making it clear that the player can interact with something. All of these are going to be useful in future projects.

What didn’t
The biggest problem is that I had too much scope creep. I kept thinking of new ideas to add in, each of which added their own bugs. The project just became too damn complicated for me to test by myself. Which leads me into the next problem: I have a problem getting people to try it. I hate nagging people, so I tend to just announce projects and see if anyone plays it. I still don’t know if the Mac build works! (That said, the analytics on GameJolt tell me that I’ve had 3 downloads out of 23, with no complaints…)

What can I do about this
The first thing I could try is to scope things better, i.e. decide what I’m actually going to do. That’s something that will probably come with practice. I deliberately refused to give myself any deadlines, mainly because my day job has some pretty unrealistic tight ones, but I may have to consider this.
Another, more concrete thing would be to try decoupling the systems. For example, the SpammerFSM class and its subclasses rely on the LevelManager class – but that has to include objectives for a level, which makes testing the AI in isolation tricky. A way around this would be do what I did for the light calculation: create an interface that defines what methods the class will have. The key thing here is that any class that implements it will include those methods, but the exact details will vary.
I’m also thinking of setting up my own Git server for source control. Source control is basically a way of keeping track of who changed which line of code, and when. In particular, that would have been very handy for figuring out when and how I made the NPCs deaf for over a month! I do have some stuff on GitHub, but I’d prefer to keep my full projects private for now.

So, there’s some things I can improve, but I’d say this was pretty successful overall. Not least because I actually finished it!