News about Expedition

It’s been over a month since I last posted about Expedition; while we had to switch to client work for a little bit, that doesn’t mean the dev has stalled.

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As usual, you can discuss this update or the game in general at the community here.

Some of the things that have happened:

  • We went to GDC 2019, pitched the game to many people and got very useful feedback (and most people was pretty excited about the game). This will impact both the game design and the project to complete it since we are looking forward to having a better playable demo and gameplay video to send along the project deck.
  • I upgraded my computer, having future work on Expedition as one of the main motivations for the change.

We are currently working on making the game look better, especially on land, as well as being able to produce a build displaying a full gameplay cycle. We already went over a couple visual improvement cycles, trying different options especially for the vegetation. Since the game is meant to be portraying a “high scale” map, it was tricky. We tried using tree models but the varying zoom levels made it hard to settle on a polygon count and we hit performance issues when displaying big populated forests.

Another thing we tried was using TextureForest, which implements a technique that works pretty well for flight simulators, but for our case in which the camera zooms in pretty close, it didn’t look as good as we needed.

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What we are using now are flat textures for forests (obtained from the assets used by TextureForest). We are going to experiment a bit further by including normal maps and maybe very low poly models for the forests, but for now, I’m content on how it looks. It needs more variety, of course, but I like the style and I believe it successfully portraits the scale of the game, if maybe in a bit of a symbolic way.

Of course, in order for this to look half-decent, it should be rendered on a good heightmap. After trying to create the map manually it became evident that would be a lot of work and results were not very good so we had to find a way to generate the terrain with procedural tools. We experimented with the Gaia, but I found it cumbersome to use, and too intrusive in the project structure. Granted, I could have investigated more into it, but I didn’t feel it was going to be very helpful since it seemed aimed at a higher level of detail, first or third person scenes.

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In the end, I decided to use FractScape, a simple, effective, and pretty old tool that does the job very well. Basically, you start with a height map of the general shape you want, then it runs some displacement algorithms on it and applies textures to the heightmap based on the height, blending them nicely. It has a ton of other options to tweak the result but that’s the core of it. After you are done with it you can export the RAW heightmap as well as a TIFF splat map that can be loaded into Unity using a simple script to paint the terrains.

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Another big thing that was added since the last update was the first iteration of the combat mode. Right now your party can be ambushed, and if that happens you can command your expedition members to either attack or flee. There are melee and ranged units, and the combat is similar in some aspects to an RTS.

We are still working on the design of the second iteration of it where you can give more detailed commands to your units. But my idea, following the original version of Expedition, is having combat be almost automatically driven without any micromanagement on the player’s part. The role of the player is to keep the expedition members well fed, well equipped, rested and motivated.

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There were also big changes on the clouds, for now, we have discarded the plugin we were using, and we are instead showing a very simple mist effect that looks much, much better. From the gameplay perspective, we have completely disabled the effects that the clouds had on the player, removing both the storm mode and some effects we added afterward when transversing them. The reason is I could find a good justification to keep them as an interesting gameplay element.

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Sailing also had another big change, and now the sailing speed remains constant from the player’s perspective, regardless of the difference between wind direction and ship’s heading. However, time will pass quicker if you are sailing slowly, and this will affect your Expedition’s supplies. This makes sailing less tedious while still keeping the component of optimizing your voyages using prevailing winds currents.

We replaced the painting in the Title screen with a 3D scene. This is still early progress but I believe it works much better.

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One of the things about the game that I haven’t detailed a lot is the procedural stories aspect, the idea being that the game will be able to create histories around your characters and unveil them as you progress in your adventure. We included some initial components for that, but it’s still underdeveloped.

The foundations for this, or at least some inspiration, come from my latest 7DRL (Heroes of Noresskia), in which I toyed with the idea of an automated DM.

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And that’s it for now! Hopefully we’ll have a gameplay video up soon, showing how this all works together 🙂

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