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28. June 2013

I have been following the Loom Engine since it was first publicly released.  I even did a five part guided tour of Loom Engine functionality, so this is one that I've been keeping an eye on.  One of the major aspects of Loom was it was layered over top of Cocos2D-x, for better or worse.

Loom
(Sadly, not that Loom)

 

In this release, that has has changed.

 

Loom Engine

The Loom Engine saw a huge amount of work this sprint. You will notice substantial gains in performance and stability.

We shifted to the new bgfx-based renderer this sprint, improving Loom2D performance substantially and setting the stage to support DirectX and other graphics APIs. Cocos2DX is now unsupported.

We have extended Loom2D with some new features and filled in some missing features: 
* You can specify z-sorting mode to have C++ sort large numbers of sprites for you. This is demonstrated in IsoVille.
center() method on DisplayObject to set the pivot point to the center of the DO.
* Keyboard input now works.
* Touch handling is much better.
* TMX loading/rendering works (now implemented in LS).
loom2d.animation package is ported.
* Text rendering/text input works!
* Hierarchical alpha works.

All package names are lower case now. If you run a sprint27 project under sprint28 you will see a lot of errors due to this; we recommend doing a replace-in-files to replace all your import Loom2D.Display. with import loom2d.display. and so on - this will get you up and running within minutes. Don't do it by hand unless you like menial labor! :)

Loom projects now inherit from loom.Application and do not require a main.ls any longer. Cocos2DApplication and Cocos2DGame and Application are all combined now.

Feathers is now a standard Loom library and available to use in your projects!

The profiler works, and also reports a lot of object allocation statistics. Use profilerEnable and profilerDump in the Loom console to start it and have it report results.

Porting Feathers (50,000 lines of AS3 code) drove major improvements to LoomScript. Wins include:
is/as/instanceof now are compliant with AS3/JS standards.
* Allow {foo: "bar"} style Dictionary literals.
* Added NaN and isNaN, and some useful constants on System.Number.
* Convenience for porting: try/catch/finally parse, but the catch/finally blocks are never run. throw triggers a Debug.assert. Vararg type specification is now allowed (but does nothing). new <String>[] syntax is now supported for initializing Vectors.
Array is now an alias for Vector.<Object>.
* Fixed crashes related to printing too-long strings with trace().
Vector.push() is now much more efficient for pushing a single item.
* You may reference properties via super, ie, super.x.
trim/split work properly now, and are much faster.
* Added Number.fromString.
* Added a Base64 utility class.
* ByteArray gains uncompress and the position property.
Stage gains a method to dump the DisplayObject hierarchy; it also has a bunch of nice new methods for dealing with scaling/native size.

Loom CLI

Loom CLI's loom new template was updated to use the new Loom2D APIs as well as package naming convention. Also the default Curse Font color was changed to Blue, as the white font tended to disappear on the default background.

We added new commands:
loom gdb Launches the current Loom project under gdb to help debug runtime crashes.
loom gdb compile Compiles the current Loom project under gdb to help debug compiler crashes.
loom android release Prepares a release-ready APK! It has options to set the keystore and signing settings.
loom init Set up the current directory to be a Loom project. Mostly useful for tool developers.
loom build android --unsigned was removed

You can add --verbose to any CLI command to get more log output.

CLI now explains why it asking for your system password to update on OSX.

So, Cocos2D is out and a custom C++ renderer is in.  Additionally they added support for the feathers UI library as well as TMX loading/rendering.  There are other changes as well as numerous bug fixes, mentioned in the release post.  Loom is no longer completely free, although they offer a free option and quite reasonable pricing.  Of course, if you signed up when I first linked it, it's still free for you.

News Programming


17. June 2013

Dreemchest, the Lua based cross platform 2D game engine (and GFS sponsor!) have just released RC147.  The biggest new feature has to be the ability to publish your game to the Flash player.  That said, there were a number of additional improvements including support for ads and in-app purchases, two features that are basically a game engine must have these days.  The complete list of announced new features is:

  • Composer preferences dialog
  • Built-in updater
  • Properties of type StageObject
  • Exporting iOS apps to IPA
  • iOS small icon inside project settings
  • InApp purchases
  • iAds advertisements
  • GameCenter
  • Cryptography
  • HTTP requests
  • Samples for Ads, GameNetwork, InAppStore, Swipe
  • Compressed bundle option for command line packager
  • Asset browser filters
  • OTF font extension
  • Breakout sample game
  • URLRequest sample project
  • Crypto sample project

Dreemchest is currently available as a free download for MacOS and Windows.  You can download RC147 right here.

News


11. June 2013

One man game development studios are becoming more and more common these days and plenty of them are having success.  That said, what do you do when that one man doesn't happen to be an artist?  This post looks at some of the options the Indie game developer has for creating or acquiring art for their game.

 

Pixel Art

 

Big chunky pixels that look like they jumped out of the 1980s are becoming more and more common and there is a good reason for it.  Creating Pixel art is easy, at least relative to other art styles.  Don't get me wrong, it still requires some artistic talent…  representing a complex object with a few blobs is certainly a skill.  That said, you can churn out a ton of pixel art in a very short period of time.  The downside to pixel art, if you don't like the aesthetic ( like me ), you are greatly limiting the appeal of your game.  

 

Pixel Art Example:

 

Realm of the Mad God

ROTMG Screenshot Combat

 

Realm of the Mad God is probably one of the most successful pixel art titles.  As you can see, it has a very simple aesthetic, harking back to games from the NES era… and possibly earlier.

If I am honest, far too many Indie titles are pixel art based… because it is probably the most accessible art style.  As a result, I am overwhelmingly sick of it.  It takes a hell of a lot of buzz to get me to even look at a game using this art style now.  Of course, that's just me… plenty of people still love pixel art, so you will have an audience.

 

Pixel Art Tools

At the end of the day, any image manipulation tool that supports a "fat grid" can be used.  A fat grid is a zoomed in view that shows each individual pixel extremely scaled up, as well as a view of the image at it's regular size.  This means your traditional raster graphic packages such as Photoshop, The GIMP and Paint.NET can all be used.  Of course, a great many (insane???) people just use Paint that comes with Windows!

Additionally a number of Pixel Art focused tools have been developed over the years as well.

Pyxel Edit -- in beta, written in Air

aseprite -- Allegro Sprite Editor.  In pixel art style itself

Pixelmator -- MacOS only raster graphics application.  A vastly cheaper alternative to Photoshop with pixel friendly tools

Grafx2 -- a free pixel art oriented graphic application inspired by Deluxe Paint.  Open source too if that's your thing

GraphicsGale -- available as shareware, another pixel art focused application

ProMotion -- another pixel oriented editor, this one is commercial and has been used to create several commercial games. Not sure about it's development status.

PD Pro -- commercial software.  A Photoshop alternative that is vastly cheaper than photoshop

UltimatePaint -- another Deluxe Paint derived painting app

Pixen -- another Mac only pixel editing app.  Beta is available free, otherwise its $15.

 

Frankly at the end of the day, any pixel based image editing tool will do.  Some of the above programs do make more complicated tasks like animating or lighting a great deal easier than just using Paint, so looking into a dedicated app is certainly worthwhile.  Oh, and if you are under 30, you may be wondering WTF Deluxe Paint is?  Simply put, it was THE 2D game art package for the Amiga.  I think it's safe to say that most games in the early 90s had their art drawn in Deluxe Paint!  Since those days, its become the benchmark of sorts for game art packages.

 

 

Tutorials

YouTube Video on pixel Art using GIMP

Pixel Art for games ( using Photoshop )

PixelJoint -- The sites all about pixel art and hosts a series of tutorials.

FinalBossBlues -- Another series of pixel art tutorials

 

My personal opinion… Pixel art is way overdone, I am sick of it and have to imagine many other people are as well.  That said, its the easiest art form for a non-artist to crank out.

 

Voxels

Voxels are the pixel art of the 3D world.  Voxel is an amalgamation of the worlds VOLUME + Pixel.  So, basically they are a pixel with depth, which in every day parlance is what we call a cube.  Voxel worlds are made up of thousands and thousands of cubes… like a gigantic lego set.  Minecraft wasn't the first voxel game, not by a long shot ( there was a company called Novalogic that was obsessed with Voxels ), but it was easily the most popular.

 

Voxel Example:

Minecraft

Minecraft snapshot

Comanche Maximum Overkill ( 1992! )

Comanche92or 2

 

Voxel Tools

There are a number of tools available for editing voxels, some free, some not so free.

Voxel -- create Voxels on your iPad or iPhone.  Export in OBJ/MTL format or in Minecraft's .binvox format. Free

Sproxel -- free voxel editor.  Seems to have been abandoned in 2012.  Last version was Windows only, prior version available for MacOS. Free

Q-Block -- free, online, simple Voxel editor

Paint3D -- $20.  Windows application for editing voxels.

Zoxel -- I think its free.  Available for Linux and Windows, can export in OBJ.

Voxelogic Acropora -- Much higher end product than the above, for creating ultra high resolution landscapes.  Commercial, $90, with demo available

Cubicle Constructor -- Probably the most polished looking app of the above. Prices range from free to $80.

 

Personally, and this is just me, I've always hated voxels.  These days, a voxel game is going to look like a Minecraft clone as there were SOOOOO many Minecraft clones out there.  That said, Voxels work a lot like lego, so if you can create something visually impressive in lego, you can do the same in Voxels.

 

Vector Graphics

Vector graphics are increasingly common, as you can support multiple resolutions using a single art asset.  Since files are stored as a series of vectors, the image stays sharp regardless to how large or small it is scaled.  This can be a huge boon when supporting multiple resolutions especially with mobile devices.  In many ways, constructing an image using vector graphics is similar to working with construction paper.  You essentially layer shapes on top of other shapes to make more complex objects.  Working with vector graphics is a great deal more difficult than pixel art, but isn't outrageously difficult.

 

Vector Graphics Example:

Castle Crashers

Castle crashers 20100902050138751 001

 

Vector Graphic Tools

There are less vector graphic applications and some clear favourites when it comes to game creation.

Adobe Illustrator -- This is the Photoshop of vector graphics.  It's also got a LOT of stuff in their that you don't need, as the package was originally made for doing page layout in the print world.  Still probably the most used professional tool. Expensive! Only available by subscription now.

Adobe Flash -- Increasingly Flash is becoming more and more about game creation.  Flash Professional can be used to create and animate vector graphics, and commonly is!  Also expensive. Only available by subscription now.

Inkscape -- FREE!  Great free vector graphic package.  Very commonly used by those on a budget.

Corel Draw -- another commercial vector graphic package.  Targeted at the same market as Illustrator. Also expensive ( $500 )

iDraw -- Mac/iPad only, quite cheap ( 10$ iPad, 30$ Mac ).  I personally use this program.  More intuitive than Inkscape, simpler than Flash/Illustrator.  No timeline for animation though.

 

There are a couple 2D animation systems available as well.  You can draw your character once, cut them into pieces and let the software handle the animations.  Note that these tools work with regular bitmap graphics, not just vectors

2D IK animation tools

Spine -- 2D skeletal animation

Spriter -- another 2D animation tool

 

Vector Graphic Tutorials

2dgameartforprogrammers -- Has a ton of great vector graphic tutorials.  Be sure to check out the Apache Helicopter tutorial.

Gamasutra tutorial -- Same guy as above, great series.

Inkscape Tutorials -- A series of, you guessed it!  Inkscape tutorials.  Not necessarily game related, but techniques still apply

 

3D Art

I've been a hobbyist at 3D graphics for about as long as there has been an industry and even still, I can only JUST make art good enough for a game and even then I probably take 3x longer than an actual artist, and generate much lower quality work.  Don't kid yourself, 3D is as much a profession as programming.  It will take you years to learn to the point your results don't look like crap.  Don't worry, I wouldn't mention it if there weren't options for the less… talented.  I will discuss those in a second.

 

If you are interested in pursuing 3D, you can find a list of the most commonly used 3D applications right here.  Many of these applications have a price tag in the $5000 range.  However there is the freely available Blender package which is an incredibly capable 3D program for modelling, animating and texturing.  On the other hand, it isn't an easy application to get started with.  That is why I created this five part series, Blender for Programmers.  If you are interested in 3D, it is a good place to start.

 

3D for the less talented!

There are plenty of tools available with a much lower learning curve if you want to work in 3D.  This section mentions a few of them.

Poser -- Use existing character models.  Dress them up, animate and render or exports.  You can easily create animated characters using this application, and can buy a number of pre made assets if the existing content isn't enough for you.  Poser costs between $200 and $400, although it is quite commonly on sale.

Daz Studio Pro -- This program is a lot like Poser.  However it is free but comes with a lot less assets.  I did a tutorial on creating a sprite sheet with Daz and The GIMP if you want an idea what it is like.  That said, although Daz is free, they will spam you A LOT.  I still get two or three emails a week from them and it's not trivial getting yourself removed from the mailing list!

Make Human -- Create fully boned photorealistic humans with ease.  Oh, and it's free!  Used to be a Blender plugin, but now it's free.

Bryce -- Create stunning landscapes with basically zero effort or talent.  It's rather amazing the results you can get from this guy!

Sketchup -- Previously a google application for making 3D models for use in Google Earth.  There is a gigantic repository of models available for free.  If you need to create levels or cityscapes, this is a GREAT place to start.  There was a recent article on Gamasutra on exactly this.  Be careful with licensing issues though!

 

Sculpting Applications:

These applications are like working with 3D clay.  Even with little skill, you can make some remarkably awesome results.

Sculptris -- Free!  Baby brother of ZBrush.  Try it out, it's free.

ZBrush -- THE 3D sculpting application.  $700.

3D Coat -- In between Sculptris and ZBrush.  $350.  Often on sale on Steam, keep an eye. 

Mudbox -- Autodesk's sculpting application.  Most expensive in the list, $800.

 

Use existing assets

There are a HUGE number of assets available that you can buy or simply download online.  You should be able to source a ton of your assets this way.  The maxim You Get Way You Pay For isn't always true, but it often is!  On the other hand, simply because you paid for something doesn't make it good!  Working from many of these assets is tricky because they may not be suitable for games, may not be legally licensable, etc.  

 OpenGameArt -- a huge repository of game focused 2D and 3D art assets.

Blend Swap -- 8000+ freely available Blender Blend files.

Blender-Models -- Another Blender model resource

Mixamo -- 3d character model and animation on a pay per use basis.  Much like Bryce and Daz but online.  Upload your own model for animating, or buy one of theirs.

Content Paradise -- (paid) content for Poser.

Daz3D models -- (paid) content for Daz3D

Unity Asset Store -- if you use the Unity 3D package, there is a huge asset store of ready to drop in assets and scripts

Turbo Squid -- the biggest 3D object store.  Huge variety of content, quality and prices.

CGTrader -- buy and sell 3D assets.

GameTextures -- high quality game ready texture maps for sale.

There are a number of other asset stores available, this is just a small selection of the more common resources. 

 

Programmatic Art

Of course, you always have the option of creating a game that uses strictly programmatic art.  This is, art that is generated by an algorithm instead of an artist.

 

Programmatic Art Example

Rez

Rez ingame

 

Geometry Wars

Geometry wars galaxies 20070629054423884

 

Basically if you go this route, your art is in mathematic form.  On the one hand generating your game art algorithmically has the advantage of minimizing the need for artists.  On the other hand, it requires a completely different set of skills, especially when it comes to writing shaders!  Fortunately there are a few tools out there that help you create shaders visually.

 

Hire an Artist

Of course you may also decide at the end of the day you need an artist!  Obviously adding another person to your team can have a number of downsides…  you will lose a certain amount of creative control ( and should by the way!  Why are you working with an artist if you don't trust their artistic direction? ) over your baby.  Of course there is also a loss in either ownership or a cost involved.

 

Paying an artist, how?

This part is always tricky… how much does an artist cost?  Do you get what you pay for?  Will they work for free?  Will they work for a percentage?  How much of a percentage should I give?  What should I expect from an artist?  What should an artist expect from me?

 

To answer all of those questions, it depends.  It depends on so many things you can't give a simple answer.  Some games have much higher art requirements than others.  Some people have a budget and can pay for contract work, others do not.

 

The easiest and most likely most successful option is collaborating with an artist you know in real life.  Of course, this isn't always an option and can still lead to massive friction once things become about real money.  Make sure you establish the revenue split up front, and make sure fixed costs are accounted for before you start splitting up the pie.  Also be realistic that the pie may never actually arrive!

Contracting out pieces is a bit trickier.  Probably the simplest is to pay X amount per assets.  For example, pay 25$ for a textured tree model.  Working on bid work is by far the most straight forward, but you need to be very specific in what you need from the artist.  The more detail you can give, the better your relationship with go.  Instead of saying " I need a textured tree", say "I need a textured tree, under 300 polygons, a single texture no larger than 512x512 using a power of 2 resolution".  As to determining the cost X… well that is an art form in and off itself!

There is a good chance you have no money, and are willing to offer a percentage of future profits in return for labour.  If this is the route you are going, be VERY upfront about this, and don't pester people that aren't interested in such a work example.  The further along you are in the project, the more likely you will be to acquire a good artist.  If you can hand a game to someone with programmer art stand ins that the artist needs to replace, things will go a lot smoother.  If you've got an idea only… get further along before recruiting, unless you know an artist personally.  If you got an idea only… and that's all you've got ( no programming skills ) I would generally suggest not wasting anyones time.  In this day and age, amazingly enough, the idea is the LEAST important part of the process.  Everybody has the next killer game idea!  The reality is, its generally execution that makes a game great, not the idea.  Exceptions exist, but they are exactly that, exceptions.

 

Where to recruit artists?

Real life is obviously a great place, but not always or even often, an option.  Otherwise there are a number of places you can look for artists, often depending on the type of contract you are offering.

http://www.polycount.com/forum/ -- They have a series of recruiting forums, for paid and unpaid work.

http://www.reddit.com/r/GameDevClassifieds -- Post your jobs, make sure to note paid/unpaid status.  Browse for artists looking for work

http://www.gamedev.net/classifieds -- GameDev.net job boards, contract board and hobby recruiting listings.

http://www.conceptart.org/forumdisplay.php?f=11 -- Concept artists, not game artists, but theres an amazing amount of talent here.

http://forum.deviantart.com/jobs/ -- You get a WIIIIIDDDDDEEEE gamut of talent on this forum, many without game experience, but it is certainly another place to look, if even just to figure out payment amounts.  Forums are for paid work only!

http://www.game-artist.net/forums/employment/ -- Game art focused forums, have sub forums for all kinds of hiring.

 

Summary

At the end of the day, relationships are CRITICAL.  The network of contacts you make will be one of the most valuable assets you can acquire.  Deal fairly with people, don't misrepresent yourself or your project and act professionally.  Even if you aren't paying, act professionally.  It will pay off massively in the long run.  Also keep in mind, every relationship is a two way street.  If you don't like working with an artist you contact walk away ( … if not in breach of contract! ), you will both benefit in the end.

 

Make as much clear up front as possible… revenue split, paid/unpaid, detailed specs, etc… the less ambiguity, the smoother things will go.  Oh, and never pay 100% up front, EVER!

 

This post on scratches the surface of what is out there.  As you can see, even if you don't have artistic talent, there are tons of options out there for you!  If I missed something you feel I should have included, let me know!

 

 

Art Design Programming


10. June 2013

 

The Apple World Wide Developer conference is currently going on and generally there isn’t all that much of interest to game developers.  This year is a bit of an exception as they added SpriteKit to OSX Maverick (10.9) as well as an upcoming release of iOS.  SpriteKit seems to be a combination of sprite library and physics engine.  In their own words:

Sprite Kit provides a graphics rendering and animation infrastructure that you can use to animate arbitrary textured images—sprites. Sprite Kit uses a traditional rendering loop that allows processing on the contents of each frame before it is rendered. Your game determines the contents of the scene and how those contents change in each frame. Sprite Kit does the work to render frames of animation efficiently using the graphics hardware. Sprite Kit is optimized to allow essentially arbitrary changes to each frame of animation.

Sprite Kit also provides other functionality that is useful for games, including basic sound playback support and physics simulation. In addition, Xcode provides built-in support for Sprite Kit, allowing complex special effects and texture atlases to be easily created and then used in your app. This combination of framework and tools makes Sprite Kit a good choice for games and other apps that require similar kinds of animations. For other kinds of user-interface animation, use Core Animation instead.

Followed by:

Sprite Kit is available on iOS and OS X. It uses the graphics hardware available on the hosting device to efficiently composite 2D images together at high frame rates. Sprite Kit supports many different kinds of content, including:

  • Untextured or untextured rectangles (sprites)

  • Text

  • Arbitrary CGPath-based shapes

  • Video

Sprite Kit also provides support for cropping and other special effects, allowing these effects to be applied to all or a portion of the content. All of these elements can be animated or changed in each frame. You can also attach physics bodies to these elements so that they properly support forces and collisions.

By supporting a rich rendering infrastructure and handling all of the low-level work to submit drawing commands to OpenGL, Sprite Kit allows you to focus your efforts on solving higher-level design problems and creating great gameplay.

So basically it’s a 2D game engine competing with the likes of Cocos2D.  Of course, if you use SpriteKit you will be tied to iOS/OS/X and the newest release at that.  If you are an Apple only shop, this isn’t a big deal, but if you work cross platform or are targeting older hardware, this new library is pretty much useless for now.

 

If you have an Apple ID, you can log in and read the documentation here.

News


27. May 2013

 

In this day and age almost all graphics engines are behind the curtain based on 3D.  It's just the way graphics hardware works, so we now deal with textures instead of pixels  SpriteProjectand sprites.  At the end of the day, almost every single 3D game engine get a 2D sprite engine created on top off it, and now jMonkeyEngine is no exception with the release of The Sprite Project.

 

In case you have never heard of it, jMonkeyEngine is a complete Java based 3D engine, that is quite mature ( version 3+, over a decade old! ) and completely open source.  The Sprite Project is a 2D sprite engine built over top of it.  Here is a sample application taken from the documentation(pdf link).

 

package mygame;

import com.jme3.app.SimpleApplication;


public class Main extends SimpleApplication {

static Main app;

public static void main(String[] args) {
  app = new Main();
  app.start();
}

static SpriteEngine engine = new SpriteEngine();

@Override
public void simpleInitApp() {
  Sprite sprite = new Sprite(“Textures / Sprite.png”, “Sprite 1”, assetManager,
    true, true, 9, 1, 0.15f, “Loop”, “Start”);
  SpriteLibrary.l_guiNode = guiNode;
  SpriteLibrary library = new SpriteLibrary(“Library 1”, false);
  library.addSprite(sprite);
  engine.addLibrary(library);
}

@Override
public void simpleUpdate(float tpf) {
  engine.update(tpf);
  }
}

Pretty simple looking eh?

So if you are looking for a 2D sprite library built on top of a great Java 3D engine, you need look no further.


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