Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Wrapup! Foliage and awkward bugs edition

Hey all!

This week I attempted to focus on gameplay which was a lot of fun and made some good improvements, albeit somewhat stymied by a persistent bug.

The gameplay was mainly focused on providing good user feedback and making the combat a bit more "snappy". I was looking quite a bit at the isometric Tomb Raiders as reference for this, even implementing a version of the trigger-able mine seen in those games. Also touched up the effects and feel of the primary weapon which I'm pretty happy with for now.

Unfortunately I have been stuck with a bug where the player mesh is lost every time I leave the editor so until I sort that out I can't really make a build. Frustrating but I will keep on it, I'll even rebuild the main character from scratch if I need to.

Due to the bug and migrating the project to the newest version of Unreal, I also spent a little time adding some more foliage. I'm excited about the new broad leafed plant as it was my first test in migrating the foliage over to gradient map texturing. The plant uses a height map to define the shader driven gradient mapping so I can easily swap out colors or stack them using indexes. My hope is that this will make them easier to use over a variety of environments and easy to balance the color in the scene. I will migrate the grass and other plants over soon as I start tightening up the environment more.

Hope everyone has a good weekend, and this is the last post prior to the holidays so there won't be any post next week.

 Happy holidays! - CJ

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Wrapup! Workflow and UE4 stream edition

Happy Friday!

This week was a fun one for me as I had a bit more time to delve into the game than usual. The two things I chose to focus on were artistic process and management design.


I've always been a bit fan of workflow improvement and optimization and was really inspired by Michael Pavlovich's GDC talk "Blurring the Separation Between Concept and Production." This led me to try out a new twist on my modelling process with the intent of getting things in engine faster. In general it is:

  1. Greyblock model - Quickly test something a very block, ugly version in engine to test overall scale and sillouhette
  2. High poly - Still focused on large shapes and not on details, using tools like Zbrush's Zremesher to get sculptable topology.
  3. "Auto" low poly and unwrap - Using tools like decimation master and unwrap in zbrush to get quick representative models
  4. Batch texture - Pipe low poly and high poly into Substance designer or Quixel suite to both bake and texture.
  5. Import into engine.
There are still a lot of steps I would like to streamline and automate more but I really like this process because it means in a very small time I can go from high poly to having something in engine that I can actually look at. Where this really shines is the fact that I can go back to any step in the process, refine something, and everything will update with very little to no effort.

Using the above process I made this crate, medical tub, and partition curtain. I'd like for everything to feel almost like a handpainted miniature, very tangible when I'm done so they all were piped through the same slightly dirty clay substance for now. I will be doing more of this work to flesh out the other models in the base before refining anymore textures too much so the area feels more lived in and less empty.


I also made some headway on the management portion of the game. I wanted to get some of the managment gameplay in and working as soon as possible to balance and give context for the more action oriented parts. I know that this isn't quite as exciting but I think will be very important for the overall game feel and balance. Right now I'm developing it as its own module so I can play through the days very quickly but will hook it up into the main game as soon as I feel it is more complete and balanced.
Right now it is loosely functional, you can cycle through the day's with a placeholder section that gives you a random amount of resources that you would normally fight for in the missions. I'm hooking up the UI so you can assign personnel and choose destinations now, with base upgrades to follow.


Finally, I also sat in on the weekly Unreal Engine twitch stream. This week they talked about developing the characters for Paragon and rendering challenges. Lots of fun to watch and interesting to hear them talk about some of the more technical aspects and developments. New upcoming tech includes:
  • New hair shading solution - Anisotropic highlights on masked hair with supporting techniques that get rid of most hard edge penetration issues.
  • New eye shading solution - Similar to skin shader but allows for more convincing wet surface. Coupled with material techniques for recreation of the lens, iris and other physical phenomena associated with the eye.
  • New cloth shading solution - Based on research and work done by Ready at Dawn for the Order, adds "fuzziness" which enables the recreation of a wide range of cloth types without fresnel fakery.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!     - CJ

Friday, December 4, 2015

Introducing: Evelyn

Hey all!

Hope everyone had a good nice Thanksgiving and are gearing up well for the upcoming holidays. With the hard drive debacle finally behind us, I have been making good headway on rebuilding the lost work and pushing forward with new additions. A new build should be coming shortly but due to the setback I would like to take a little time to fully playtest the game and make sure it is as functional as the previous build before putting out a new one. I'm shooting for next week assuming everything is relatively stable. Again, I apologize for the holdup.

In the meantime I have been working hard on designing the main character for the game. Though I'm sure it will change and evolve over time, I'm proud of the way the design turned out. So may I introduce you to the protagonist for Simulacra, a VI by the name of Evelyn.

Evelyn is a virtual intelligence in charge of the medical facility that the game's main base of operations. As such she is able to possess and puppeteer different machines, computers, etc. Her main form is that of a basic medical frame, designed for basic surgical and caring needs. I wanted her body to primarily represent an intent to help/rescue as that is a big theme in the game, and also didn't want it to read as a cyborg or human hybrid but as an advanced machine. Some touchstones of her design:

  • Medical color scheme and materials.
  •  Monitor for face represents both corporate culture and virtual being inside, not a fancy helmet.
  • Fiber optic hair wraps around and connects information to all parts of the body.
  • Machined legs informed by climbing prosthesis, support industrial design.
Please let me know what you think as well as what you would most like to see next. I've updated the poll with a few options for concept design after the game is back up and running at full steam.

Thanks all!

- CJ

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick note, there will not be a friday wrapup or much progress posted this week due to Turkey day. As most people (US dwellers at least) will be busy, I decided to hoard up the new content for release next week. Working on a short game discussion article and mostly finished on the main character design, look forward to it!

Thanks all, and regardless of your affinity to this particular holiday, take some time to be thankful of the people around you!  - CJ

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Quick update

Fortunately the backup I did have worked like a charm and with a few minor touchups of things I had done previously, is once again working. From a cursory overview it looks like most of the lost progress was purely visual upgrades to the base and such which shouldn't be too bad to redo. It mainly consists of redoing the proxy modeling work. So it looks like this week I will be poking at that a bit and trying to finish off the player's concept painting.

Thanks for the patience! - CJ

Hard drive woes

Hey all,

Just a quick status update. Unfortunately the hard drive repair was a bust, apparently though it presented as a low level recovery, what they found was a pretty severe mechanical failure. So no go on getting that stuff back.

Fortunately my backup should have a pretty good copy of the game with only a little backslide, I'll start getting that up and running soon now that I know the recovery isn't an option. Concept work on the main character is going well, so hopefully everything will be back online and moving forward again soon. As usual I will keep posting updates on progress.

Thanks! - CJ

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Missed Update

Hey all,

Sorry for the missed Friday Wrapup last week, have a lot of miscellaneous things happening like an impending move and other activities around the holidays. I still plan on keeping up with the updates as much as possible and if I happen to miss any, will post like this when I can. Still waiting on the harddrive which is frustrating but am at least enjoying other avenues of development. I'm currently working on the conceptual design of the main character which I will try to share soon even if it isn't entirely finished.

Thanks all! - CJ

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Wrapup! Locker edition

Happy Friday everyone!

Things were pretty slow this week as I am still waiting for news on whether my harddrive can be rebuilt or not. So unfortunately that means that there is no new build today. However I have tried to keep things moving forward in other areas, working in parallel to avoid overlap should I be able to integrate some of the lost progress from my old drive.

So this week was mainly comprised of:

  • Writing and Design - Wrote up a blog post with a synopsis of the game's story and overall design intent. Check it out here if you haven't already!
  • Learning - For a couple different reasons I have migrated to using Modo as an upgrade for my horribly outdated version of 3ds max. It is slow going but am getting a bit more used to it as I work.
  • Learning - I'm always on the lookout for pipeline and workflow improvements and decided to give a method of normal map baking by Nick Quackenbush for Substance designer a try. I tweaked it a bit by creating two unique bakers in Substance so I didn't have to save the files out. Pretty cool so far, definitely useful for the hard surface stuff I'm starting to work on!
  • Production - In an effort to work through the aforementioned "education" I decided to work on a couple very simple designs for the base, namely lockers. I wanted to learn using something relatively simple so I could work out the kinks while still moving forward. I will probably end up exposing a couple controls in Substance and saving out a few variations for the different areas but I'm pretty happy with how they look so far, even in an unpolished state.
Have an excellent weekend all! - CJ

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lore Synopsis and Game Premise


Once mankind progressed to the stars, the inevitable next step was the colonization of other planets. Corporations started funding expeditions to claim resources, set up factories, in an ever expanding search for monetary gain. In the furthest reaches of space, the possibilities were limitless, all ripe for the taking.

In one such remote corner of space, a small planet hangs alone amongst its fellow stars. It is Phengodia, named for the humble glow worm. Land and air unscarred by industrial development, it is reminiscent of a time long past. Striped with dark volcanic rock, carpeted with vibrant neon plantlife. At night the rocks gather sand like gigantic fingers poking through the soil, softly illuminated by the tree’s bioluminescent glow.

This is where Meridian, a pharmaceutical empire, enacted their black market “seed” program. The seed was that of human life, planted with one purpose in mind, to grow, mature, and one day be harvested. Life was their commodity and deep in space, beyond the reach of government and moral law it could be reaped without recourse.

Meridian established outposts to monitor the dweller settlements, artificially limiting their civilization by suppressing technological growth. The dwellers live in relative isolation from each other, small nomadic pockets, easily contained and controlled.

It is here in one such medical outpost that our story begins. You awaken as Evelyn, a synthetic virtual intelligence implanted in the outpost. Integrated into its very core, you feel every breath, every action taken within its walls. But you are alone, the facility is cold and empty. You are unable to go beyond its walls without a body, a shell. Pulsing fingers of electricity reach out as you extend your digital form, possessing a basic corporate shell, as easily as slipping on a new piece of clothes. Accessing the hatch you emerge into the sunlight, taking the first of many steps out into the wilderness.


Simulacra is at its core, an exploration action game. You play as a virtual intelligence, capable of puppeteering various bodies or shells with which you explore the world around you. Unlike most games of this type, you will be outnumbered and outgunned at most every turn. Nimble movement and quick thinking are your greatest tools, as you smoothly navigate the battlefield looking for opportunity. Once found, you temporarily shed your shell, moving at the speed of thought as your pure energy body. While in this “phantom” state you are able to turn enemies to your side, manipulate environmental resources, and force particular attributes of yourself on your foes. However the longer you stay in this form and actions you take, the more energy is drained, leaving you in a weakened state once you re-enter your shell. Balancing your situation and resources on the fly is key to survival.

This action heavy exploration portion of the game is the “meat and potatoes” of the title, but it will hopefully be balanced by light management gameplay and intriguing narrative once you return to the base. Out in the field you will encounter and rescue natives who will work alongside you and fight for your cause. As you play a virtual intelligence directly integrated into the base, each improvement you make to the base itself and the well being of the persons living there will directly impact and strengthen your abilities in the field. This will be the main method of “leveling up” your character, whether it be fortifying your shell with better protection or upgrading the computers for increased “phantom” abilities. Talking with the your key team members you are able to learn more about them and the world around you.

Hopefully you enjoyed that synopsis and game premise. I fully admit that the writing isn’t the best and needs proper editing. I’m quite rusty in that regard but with any luck it still managed to communicate the spirit of what I’m trying to accomplish. Of course the lore and premise of the game will continue to evolve as it develops, especially with your input!

Thanks all! - CJ

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Wrapup! Spooky edition

Happy Halloween everybody!

This week didn't quite go as planned but still managed to make some progress here and there. The barrier of course was my storage hard drive dying on me, but fortunately I already have a replacement installed and a couple week old backup of the data restored. I did end up sending out the dead drive for data recover, we will see how that goes. So in the meantime I am switching over to parallel tasks that won't require ugly reintegration should I get the data back in a usable form.

So this week was mainly:

  • Fighting with my hard drive
  • New text game build - More in depth design work, specifically on the text game test and its role in character abilities and upgrades.
  • Writing some basic lore and game premise info (will be shared soon, needs editing)
  • Made a material orb to be used as an standard primitive when authoring smart materials. More info below.
Please take a look at the text game and leave feedback and thoughts. The game is a lot cleaner now, and though it still doesn't have much in the way of player choice, it is getting closer to a rough "alpha" state.
The one art task that I focused on this week was to make a material orb for use when authoring textures. I've wanted to make one for a while so I could standardize and make it easier to craft "smart" materials more readily.
 If you aren't familiar with the concept of smart materials, they are a relatively new way of texturing models. By supplying the material with a small set of support textures that are baked for each asset, the material is able to adapt the visual detail to the contours and shapes of that specific asset. This means that if you make a "smart" metal material and then apply it to two different models, it will generate textures for each with the rust accumulating in all the right cracks and oil residue dripping down the surface in the right direction, etc. This coupled with physically based rendering makes it much easier to achieve good looking art that doesn't need adjusting in different lighting scenarios.
 A material orb simply makes this process a bit simpler and more streamlined as you can test the materials against the same model, and because it is built with this in mind, will look good on a variety of surfaces. By decoupling the material authoring from the unique model you can make a handful of materials that can texture an entire environment, and using newer previs techniques, use the materials to inform both the concept art and final models without any extra work.

Happy Halloween all!

- CJ

Rough textures testing out new material orb. 3 different lighting environments.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ah the wonders of technology!

Hey all!

So unfortunately I had one of those inevitable tech mishaps that happens periodically to all of us, namely, my hard drive died. This shouldn't be too terrible in theory as I believe I backed up all my files pretty recently but there is definitely going to be some lost work. Hopefully I can get back up to speed or at least switch gears and post some good content this week but forgive me if it doesn't happen.
Fortunately I already have a new replacement drive installed and working so fingers crossed this will just be a small hiccup.
So if you are reading this, go back up your data! :D

- CJ


Computer is at least back up and running, and have recovered a majority of the data from backup, though it is at least a couple weeks old if not more. So definitely some work lost but I'm at least happy that I have a working version of the game and such. Will probably bring in the drive to see if the remaining work can be recovered but I'm dubious.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Wrapup! first edition

Hey all!

This week was an exciting one for me, to finally have the game shared with the public is something I've wanted to do for a long time. I will try to do these weekly wrap ups to share any progress from the week, and it will also help me to stick to a bi-weekly build release. Look forward to a new build next week!

This week mainly consisted of:
  • General - Getting the game posted and setting up a few main threads to share it (Polycount, IndieDB)
  • Art - Greyblock modelling for base architecture and some initial texture and material work.
  • Design - Minor work on Design Test text adventure. New version posted on the game page.
  • Design - Cleanup and rework of design doc to prepare for next steps.
The main focus this week was Art, specifically for the game's base of operations. The location is intended to be a semi-derelict medical facility/bunker. I greyblocked (rough un-textured proxy) models for the various areas and started doing test decoration of the spaces. The current idea is to have four main sections; Clinic, Fabrication/Engineering, Lab, Bunks/Dorm. The layout is still quite temporary, it still needs to be informed by the design and narrative needs of the space but that being said I'm still happy with it as a start. I continue to enjoy making "smart" art using UE4's blueprints, using procedural rules to make it faster and easier for me to decorate.
For example, a simple blueprint that stacks a randomized number of crates on top of each other, randomly rotates each in 90 degree increments to break up the faces, then offsets and rotates by a couple of degrees for a more naturalistic final look. A pretty simple example but hopefully gets the idea across.

If you haven't already, please download and play the main game from the game page, or if you are short on time, take a look at the design text adventure.

Have a great weekend!

- CJ

Some of the greyblock models created for the base.

Slightly revised clinic with vertex painted sand and a few models slapped in.

Updated base with vertex paint and a few of the new models. Still needs actual decoration pass.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Game is live!

The game is finally ready and available on the game page!

There are assured to be a lot of problems but I am quite happy to be finally sharing this with everyone. Definitely looking forward to all of your thoughts and feedback.

You will notice on the game page that there are two links posted, one for the main game, and one for a design test. The intention for the design test is to use a "cheap" fast method like a text based game to iterate on the narrative/strategy layer of the game. Then once it is sufficiently robust, to integrate it into the main game for a more complete balanced experience.


- CJ
QWOP feels like Simulacra's spirit game at times :D

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Innaugural Post

Hey all!

My name is CJ, an Environment Modeler/Tech artist. I'm working on a game in Unreal Engine 4 in my spare time and it has reached a point that I would like to start sharing it with the world. My intention for this blog is to publicly continue its development and hopefully give a voice to anyone interested. It is made for fun, and made to be fun so I am eagerly looking forward to your thoughts.

In a brief nutshell I would currently describe the game as:
Futuristic Robin Hood, with nimble, smart, twin-stick shooter style gameplay.
Its not the best encapsulation of the idea, but the core experience pillars are:
  • Experience being a robin hood style figure, fighting for the little guy
  • Rich, convincing world to explore
  • Clean, thinking on your toes combat
  • Rewarding character and environment development
I'll get more into the influences at a later time but is fairly eclectic in its inspiration, from the action and fun of older titles like Super Metroid, to more modern titles with a sense of community, such as This War of Mine

I am in the process of figuring out the best sharing platform that I can upload it to and will be editing this post until I feel it is a good solid starting point. Once that is complete I will be posting periodically with game updates, polls and whatever organically comes up in the process. Over its development thus far I have kept to a pretty regular two week spread for each build of the game but that will naturally expand and contract. If real life gets in the way I will at least try to put something out whether it is a bit of fiction or otherwise to minimize the amount of radio silence.

*The game is now live, check it out on the game page!*

Thanks all for your time, hope to see you again soon!

- CJ

Small native encampment by the river's edge.
Out exploring the wilds.
Laser battle with the basic enemies.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Backdated Build Notes

Hey all!

Below is a backdated log of some of the initial development prior to releasing online. Mainly for those that are curious and to scratch that completionist itch should I decide to look back someday. Hence why it is before the "first" post.

- CJ

Release - Just havin’ a chat.

  • General 
    • Restructured some fundamental game state architecture. Now uses persistent custom game instance so is much cleaner in UI implementation and will make carrying information between maps much easier. 
    • Initial loading screen added to cover up transition between maps. 
    • Some basic setup for game progress, though it isn’t utilized yet. 
    • Getting closer to desired fix and result with Phantom, bug is fixed but reset of view isn’t desired. 
  • Base 
    • Multiple conversations available using new dialogue system. Placeholder portraits for now. Aster is most complete, Doctor after that, Tinkerer and his son are still pretty broken. 
    • IES Profiles added for a more nuanced lighting in the base. 
  • Wilderness 
    • Can now rescue villagers found out in the wilderness. They will give a small gift of a random supply for now. 
    • Updated laser gun sounds to give better player feedback. Now has a charge sound to go along with the charge shot. Also better visual effects to support it too (not socketed properly yet though) 
    • Added rumble to charging and releasing gunshot. 
    • Search command now works to highlight gatherables. 
    • Gatherables now picked up with the Use command instead of automatically.
Release - Humans and "Laz0rs"

  • Known bug: Creating the “phantom” with Dpad up can cause a mismatch between the control scheme and the camera angle, making it very difficult to move. This is reset when you load between maps.
  • Changed weapon to be more of a megaman/metroid style laser gun with charge shot. Hopefully will give combat a touch more variety as it develops. 
  • Initial “phase” hacking as phantom. Can hack energy pylons to cause them to become regenerative energy wells. 
  • Initial procedural decor, greyblocked most human models, finished some. Scale still a bit wonky and no collision. 
  • Initial pass of sound fx; including some loose environment sounds and combat fx. 
  • Map work on Wild01 including terrain texture polish and rework of Fir tree. 
  • Level ups now driven by data table making them much easier to balance. Consolidated level up system to reduce chance of data loss. 
  • Initial “Dwellers”, villagers that will eventually be rescued and possibly recruited. Currently have randomly generated gender, and name based off the gender. 
  • UI Controller Layout available in pause screen. No customization but allows for that in the future and will make maintenance easier. 
  • Player now dies correctly, playing an animation and loading the base map, instead of simply destroying the actor. 
Release - Workbench

  • Initial time of day setup - Randomizes lighting using three set times of day. Currently uses; Day, Evening, and Night. 
  • Test of bioluminescent foliage that is only active at night. (Very ugly right now) 
  • Resource pickups are now saved as part of the player so they will be able to eventually use them for base and equipment upgrades. 
  • Base now has initial UI for map screen and equipment upgrades. 
  • Equipment screen has subscreen for upgrading weapons (non-functional) 
  • Both equipment and upgrade screens show correct resource amounts 
  • Map screen allows for choice of destination (Currently only Wilds and Testing area) 
  • Fun little typewriter flourish when mousing over options in equipment screen. First exploration into shared macros. 
  • Main menu up and running, links to proper maps, and wipes player save data on “New game”. 
  • Tutorial now at least has warp out to actual game, contains notes for planned tutorial and how to play the game. 

Release - Initial

  • Relatively fleshed out “Wilderness 1” Map to explore 
  • Basic enemies spawn from destructible pylons 
  • Very bare-bones base 
  • Bare-bones core loop (base to gathering encounter, back to base) 
  • Initial experience gain and leveling up 
  • Experience and level are saved in file 
  • Bare-bones material gathering (colored orbs out in field)