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.


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).

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.

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.

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.

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!

Spamocalypse release 1.0.0

Finally, two years since I started working on it, Spamocalypse has reached version 1.0.0. My brother tested 0.8.1 and made some suggestions, some of which I have implemented:

  • The map and notes have an alternative method for closing. You can still close them using the “close” buttons, but pressing Escape or F/M will now do that as well
  • I finally fixed a bug in the camera rotation, which would have resulted in the player appearing to stand upside down. One of the current known issues is that on my Linux machine, camera rotation using the mouse is locked to the screen, so I didn’t realise that this could occur. I have fixed it, though he found it amusing.
  • The knife animation was too short, i.e. it didn’t travel far enough. I’ve increased the thrust length so it is a bit easier to use.
  • He also mentioned that it was hard to aim the SQLer when the spammers are moving laterally. However, that’s due to the SQLer rounds being physics-based, so the player would have to manually aim it to account for this. I haven’t implemented this, but it might come into future games.
  • I increased the Moderator’s turning speed while trying to investigate an collision issue with the spammers. I couldn’t reproduce that issue, but make the Mods turn faster will make them react faster to the player
  • .

Anyway, this is the official release of Spamocalypse. Here’s the release trailer:

Spamocalypse 0.8.1: last build before release

I’ve been working on Spamocalypse for two years. I’ve run out of things to add…so this is going to be my last test release before the Big One.

Most of the changes are fixes for gaps in the scenery, and rebuilding some models so the nav mesh could go inside some buildings. I’ve also updated the player’s footsteps so sprinting and walking have different noises, and the SQLer aiming camera is a little higher so it doesn’t clip through the stock.

Spamocalypse 0.7.2: NPCs aren’t deaf any more

I am an eejit. While trying to fix the performance issues a month ago, I think I broke the spammers’ sound detection. However, I didn’t realise this until I tried making them go on alert if they heard a SQL round miss. I’m not even sure if that’s when it happened!

The root cause of this bug is that I had converted their sound detection to use a Coroutine with a 0.2-second interval, rather than OnTriggerStay. OnTriggerStay runs on the physics timestmp, which by default is 50 times a second – which is a bit more intensive than I wanted. However, when converting it, I forgot to actually make it run more than once! So, the spammers were effectively deaf, which pretty much defeated the point of the game.

Another thing that was broken was their Sockpuppet detection. This was a physics issue – I had set the Spammer layer to ignore collisions with the Decoy layer. However, that’s the layer which is supposed to contain the Sockpuppets!

There are two things that would have helped with this:

  • Automated testing. I might have noticed this if I had a dedicated scene where I can set some bots to detect and attack things in a controlled setting. This
  • Source control. Why should I try remembering what I changed last week when the computer has a record of that for me? I have some familiarity with Git in my day job.

Spamocalypse 0.6.1

Finally, I have a new build to show off. I originally built this on Sunday and uploaded to GameJolt, but when trying to take some screenshots, I found a few bugs that required a patch.

Bug fixes

  • I converted the colliders for line-of-sight checks to use Capsule Colliders instead of Mesh Colliders. The Museum level had almost 30 MeshColliders for this, which really screwed up performance. The other levels were okay, but Capsules covered roughly the same area as the extruded box I was using. I really should have properly tested that sooner.
  • I also fixed a long-standing bug in the line-of-sight code that caused the spammers to spot the player as soon as they came within 5 metres – regardless of how bright the player’s surroundings are.
  • I removed the directional light from the Museum level. The component I was using to calculate its effect on NPCs and the player was ignoring the colliders on the upper levels of the museum, which resulted in the player being “in the moonlight” while indoors, in a windowless room. There’s only one part that’s outdoors in that level, and there’s other lights there anyway, so I didn’t even need it!
  • There was a note in the Inner City level which wasn’t assigned – this caused the game to freeze up when the player tried to read it. Game breaker!
  • The player’s compass in the Inner City level didn’t rotate properly. I had assigned it to the UI layer in an attempt to stop it from clipping through walls, but the camera that handles UI doesn’t rotate. I may add this back in the next build – I think the idea is sound, I just didn’t do it properly

New mechanics
As if I didn’t have scope creep already, I went and added more:

  • Bushes. Yes, you can hide in bushes now. They rustle if you move into them too quickly, so no running and diving into them!
  • Light switches. I should really have added this sooner, but I didn’t think of it until I started testing it last weekend. It meant changing the lighting from baked to real-time, but that does mean I can get shadows from NPCs, so it’s good.
  • Firewall controls now include a sound effect and light to make it clearer that they’ve been used.

Known issues

  • The SQLer doesn’t quite aim where the player’s looking. I am considering adding a secondary fire mechanism that would allow the player to aim down the sights.
  • Occlusion culling might be inaccurate in one or two levels. This results in buildings “disappearing” while you’re looking at them. I think I fixed this in the original build on Sunday, but this is present just in case.
  • The museum map doesn’t include the new garden on the upper floor.

Spamocalypse 0.5.0: new level, stats, and artwork.

Finally, I have a new build, which brings Spamocalypse to 0.5.0. The changes:

  • I added the final level. This uses the same scenery as the first (non-tutorial) level, but there’s no loot to steal this time – just get to the sewers where you started!
  • I also added a credits scene (see below for a screenshot). This will display your total stats over the course of the game – number of deaths, kills, loot stolen and how often you were spotted.
  • I finally fixed that bug where you could lean over while jumping. It wasn’t a game-breaker, but it looked bloody weird.
  • Some general artwork updates. In particular, the SQLer now fires darts instead of blobs. They still use a sphere collider to handle physics, but I figure that will do.
  • Refactored the patrol points so they have a component attached to them. This component, PatrolPoints.cs, just holds their position, purely so I can filter through the scene more easily.

Here’s the credits screen. You can skip the credits and stats by pressing “Escape”

The next stage is to create more props for the levels, giving the player more places to hide or things to look at, then any bug or UI fixes I can think of. Nearly two years in development…I might actually finish this after all!

Spamocalypse Updates: Mac build, bug fixes, new GUI

Less than a week since the last build, and I’ve had some feedback from several places.

Firstly, I now have a Mac build. This is completely untested – I don’t have a Mac myself to test it on, but somebody commented on the Feedback Friday thread that they couldn’t test Spamocalypse because they were on a Mac…so, I figured why not. Just don’t blame me if it breaks! 😛

New UI
The biggest criticism I had on the thread was that my GUI was awful – it was basically white rectangles that turned orange when highlighted. It mostly worked, but the style just didn’t match the game. So, I reworked the GUI completely so that the menus look like a piece of parchment, with red wax seals representing the buttons. It’s not 100% complete – I may rework the new briefing menu so that the text is over multiple pages, since I’m using a book as the background – but here’s a pair of before-and-after screenshots:



Bug and mechanic fixes
It wouldn’t be an “Early Access” game without these! So, here’s the list of stuff I fixed.

  • I forgot to assign some buttons for the game over screens. It basically looked like the game had frozen.
  • I finally fixed an issue where you could jump while leaning. This didn’t break anything, but it looked weird to be leaning at a 30 degree angle while jumping.
  • The way ladders used to work was that they would turn the player’s Rigidbody kinematic, and convert forwards/backwards movement to up/down movement, while leaving sideways movement unaffected. I’ve changed this to make the player’s Rigidbody ignore gravity instead, so that they won’t go through an object when using it. I’ve also added a tutorial message explaining how to use it.
  • One of my workmates thought the exhaustion mechanic needed to be refined. I’ve tweaked it so you can’t run, jump, attack or climb a ladder while exhausted, but you can move…albeit at a snail’s pace. I may adjust the speed later

Finally, a new build (and up on GameJolt)

Work’s been draining my enthusiasm lately, but I’ve finally created a new build of Spamocalypse. The main changes are:

  • Lifts and ladders. I am planning to rebuild the remaining levels to use more ladders, just to give the player some more routes.
  • I rebuilt the tutorial level from scratch. It now has more buildings to hide in or look inside, and a few ladders and a lift. Most of the buildings are empty, but I’ll think of more props later.
  • Some extra effects: the Moderators have green clouds flying around them, the spammers will actually vomit particles at you, and the bots now have a chimney that spews smoke
  • Some graphics fixes: there were a few parts in levels where the player can see through gaps in the scenery. With my old pitch-black sky, this wasn’t a problem. However, with the skyboxes I have, this becomes more noticeable.
  • Fixed a bug in the lighting check, where the coroutine only ran once, and then that light would never the player until they exited and entered again. The sun/moon light wasn’t affected by this.

So, I think I have the mechanics pretty much finished. At this point, it’s now just extra props and bug fixes. I’ve also finally uploaded it to Gamejolt as a mostly-complete work-in-progress (albeit as version 0.1.0). I’m going to keep Dropbox as a mirror.

18 months of work down the drain

This is a massive, rage-inducing WTF moment. I kept having problems with the pathfinding code marking corridors as impassable even though there was enough room to walk along them, and having issues with checking underneath objects, particularly in buildsings with more than one floor. I decided to try updating my pathfinding code in Spamocalypse to use the latest version in my repository, mainly because that allows me to store the navigation data in a ScriptableObject. I thought of using separate meshes for separate floors, or possibly separate rooms, but I then ran into an issue where the dictionaries weren’t being set up on load, resulting in NPCs not being able to find a path and thus trying to walk through obstacles.

I’ve been using this code for around 18 months now. The reason I started using it is because I first started the project on Unity 4.6, when pathfinding was only available to Pro users, and for my thesis project I built/adapted a pathfinding system to track where units died in a team deathmatch game. The way it works is that I cast rays downwards at regular intervals to check if an NPC can walk at that position, and store the result. The only problem is that casting at regular intervals doesn’t really work with arbitrary shapes like those in a real-world city, especially if there are floors below it. So, a few weeks ago I started considering just using the built-in pathfinding system, but I kept putting it off because I thought that refactoring it would take too long…and I didn’t want my code to go to waste. The sunk cost fallacy rears its ugly head!



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