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One of the many legacies of our original 2006-07 development effort is the simplicity of most game systems. Our great challenge back then was how to distill the sprawling complexity and variation of real-world ecological systems into something simple enough for our audience to learn quickly (and for us to implement almost as quickly). The elk and stranger wolf zones are one product of that time. We didn’t want to make players wander excessively in search of prey or other wolves. We figured that real wolves do know roughly where to find elk, so establishing elk hunting zones on the map recognized that canine knowledge while also helping players. Limiting the scent spores to those zones, for both elk and stranger wolves, was partly for usability’s sake (again, to prevent tedious wandering) and partly for technical reasons (those scent effects had a performance impact on 2005-era computers).
But now, a full decade later (!), we are redesigning these systems.
Elk certainly do have favored grazing areas, but these extend over much larger areas than our small hunting zones. So we’re building a new spawning system that will put elk and other animals anywhere they would realistically be found. In contrast to the current system, elk and other animals will always be out there — somewhere — for you to find. For example, in Tower Fall, elk might be found almost anywhere, but they’re most common in the uplands where conditions are wetter and grass is greenest. That’s in the summertime. In the fall, they move down into lower elevations. We’ll model this with our new more sophisticated spawning system — for elk, for moose, and for other animals including stranger wolves.
With such wide-ranging prey, players will truly depend on scent view to find elk and other animals. In our new scent system, scent spores will float long distances on the wind. Players can pick up a scent trail a kilometer or two downwind. By heading upwind into these scents, players will hone in on their target — and then pick up a scented trail of elk tracks to close the remaining distance.
Scents floating on the wind
Scented elk tracks
We’ve got these systems built. Now we have to make sure they work well for players. When searching for windborne scents, it’s quite possible to run around for much longer than I would consider fun. It’s also not clear when to start looking for the scented trackmarks. (We can’t rely on those alone because, unlike the floating scents, they’re much harder to spot at any significant distance.) And younger players may still need additional help to avoid frustration. So we’ve got some work to do on it.
While this new system will make it harder to find prey, we believe there will be more satisfaction in the search as well. These new spawning and scent systems will also factor into decisions about den and homesite selection. And they’ll be especially interesting in regard to rival wolf packs….but that’s a topic for another day.
(And yes, this will be added to the existing game as a free update, and will be incorporated into Tower Fall, which will be available for additional purchase upon release in 2018.)
This week we've made a little video showing how we add the fur to the new wolf. This new wolf and fur effect will be added to the main game in late 2017 and also part of the Tower Fall episode coming in 2018.
Fur is one of the most challenging things to create in realtime 3D. Hollywood movies with realistic fur require hours to render each frame, but of course we can't afford that kind of rendering time in a game -- in fact, each frame must render in less than .03 seconds. We've tried just about every fur technique available for the Unity game engine, and in this video I demonstrate the one we've chosen. As you'll see, there is a fine line between fluffy and ridiculous. We're using this same method on the mule deer, though their fur is so short that the effect is especially nice.
We know a lot of our players are artists and animators -- and perhaps future game developers as well -- so we hope you enjoy this video. Let us know if you are interested in seeing more like this!
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