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Peons with personality – Dev Blog 55

A busy week – which has shot past. Time seems to be going faster and faster as I approach the Kickstarter date (I may have mentioned it before, August 13th – less than a month!). As regular readers will know, I take feedback about Fringe Planet very seriously. One of the bits of feedback I’ve received recently is that the peons graphically have very little personality. So one of my jobs this week was to look into that feedback. The peons will appear a lot in the Kickstarter materials, so it’s important to give them some personality. So let’s take a look at the current peon:

Peons with no damage

And these are the same peons after their trousers and coat have been damaged, and the coat being splattered with the some blood:

Peons with damage

As you can see, though the clothes are dynamic in nature, they are pretty boring to look at. Also the faces seem very generic. So I’m going to be addressing the peon graphical personality issue in two ways.

Clothes

 

Peon clothes

I’m very happy with the current clothing system. Having layers on the peons which can be worn away as well as get dirty is pretty awesome. But the base textures I’m using for  the clothing is pretty boring alas. So I’ll be re-doing all the clothing to feature a lot more interesting textures (much more shading, more patterns, just a lot more interesting than the current solid colours). I may also get an artist on board to help me with this – if you know of anyone, please point them in my general direction!

Faces

Peon head

This is what I’ve been working on this week. I’m working on a system to dynamically generate skins for peon faces. This will later also involve dynamically updating the peons facial features (if they are sad, or asleep, or had an eye plucked out). The goal of this system is to remove the flat colours of the base skin, as well as making the peon facial features more interesting. This is still very WIP at the moment, so I’ll just go through the process I’m currently working on (hopefully will be able to share screenshots of the final system next week).

Step 1 – The skull

The peon head is flat. Completely. So in order to simulate how skin would actually look (and therefore shading, and faux pixel lighting) I start with generating a very generic skull. Though a skull with an actual nose. There are different parameters here that can be tweaked to change what the skull looks like. For instance – eye socket size, eye socket locations, forehead width, cheek size, nostril space, mouth size, etc; etc;

Step 2 – The skin

This virtual skull, though flat, is black and white, so I can use it as a heightmap. I can use this heightmap to fake what a decent pixel artist would do by adding shading to an image. The nose and forehead (being highest) will have the lightest skin coloured pixels, “deeper” things (such as eye sockets) will be dark in colour. Though, I do use a virtual light – meaning that the light falling on the face isn’t right in front of the face, but rather slightly to the left, which helps create shadows, and therefore more variation on the skin (so for instance the right hand side of the nose will be darker than the left hand size of it).

Step 3 – Components

The skull and base skin are the majority of the work, the penultimate step is fairly simple development wise. From generating the skull, I know where the eyeballs are located, where the lips are located. So I take some pre-drawn assets (i.e. a bunch of different eyes) and simple paste them on top of the skin. I’m still looking for the specific art style that I’ll be using for the pre-drawn assets – but once they are added, you go from having the impression to the face, to actually having a face texture.

Step 4 – Clean up

Fringe Planet is a voxel game, and of course all the current particles and the majority of model textures are all quite pixelised. The final step is to pixelise this new face texture, so that the peons look like they belong in their surroundings. Once this is all done, the texture is saved and applied to the peon model.

Final thoughts

This is quite a complex system to build, and adding it so close to the Kickstarter is quite a risky thing to do. However, I think having peons with personality will really help the game be noticed on Kickstarter (which is of course the most important thing – the funding from the Kickstarter is incredibly important). However, I’m not going too take too much of a risk. I’ve given myself a cut-off point of next Wednesday to get all these systems in place (i.e. new clothes textures, and the full facial generation). If it doesn’t happen by then, I’ll have to throw caution to the wind and go with the current iteration of peon graphics. Thanks for reading, and finally, here is a picture of bug in texture generating (placing a pre-drawn asset on a peon face).

Peons Nodding

 

 

 

There is a lot more to read about Fringe Planet… why not try:

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