Moving Beyond the Pale | The Brick Dead Project

Unity 2014-03-05 21-30-00-96 I now had a goal. This was something I wanted -needed- to create . I had a rough concept. The fleshing out of setting and mechanics came together easily enough. I needed a character that could create a ball and a platform to bounce it on. Wizards and spaceships are the standard video game fallbacks for these kinds of impossible feats. I opted for the former as most of the modern brick-breaking games I had played featured spaceships or Tron-styled digital doodads.

The theme helped me more than I ever could have imagined. Suddenly I had a fiction with decades of fan expectations to fill in the gaps. My planned energy system became mana. The player controlled paddle became an anti-magic shield. My balls became magic (Hey! You in the back! Stop snickering!). My concept of removing the paddle to launch a new ball mid-game now transcended a gameplay mechanic and was practically taken as a given. Of course a mage stops casting one spell to pop off another! The theme and mechanics meshed perfectly.

The ball tracking problem was handled easily enough by bringing down the ‘house lights’ and adding lighting to the ball itself. Tack on a stylized trail and you’ve got a fast object that’s not only easier to follow, but easier to predict. The final piece of Operation: Keep Your Eyes on the Ball concerned the style of the bricks themselves. The long, monolithic walls of a traditional brick-breaker would have to go. In its stead would need to be a softer (visually speaking) brick that could still form a wall but allow for gaps of transparency. I tried a few different shapes and a few oddball tricks to no avail. I’ll have to come back to that one. Breakout wasn’t built in a day. Well, I built Breakout in a day, but I’m sure that the original… Grr, maybe it’s better not to think about these things too much.

Anyway, this place could use some dressing up.

The role of art is to make a world which can be inhabited – William Saroyan

So, we’ve established that art is not my strong suit. Fortunately, there are a great many other folks who do not share my artistic deficit. Even better, the Internet gives us all a place to dump the latest fruits of out hobby.

There are a HUGE number outlets jam packed with assets freely available under public domain or various flavors of Creative Commons (I’ll put together a wall of links for ya later). Specialty sites like texture warehouse CG Textures and collective resources such as OpenGameArt.org hold treasure troves of game pieces waiting to be played with. Unity themselves even chip in to get enterprising game makers on their way in the form of their own free asset packages. Of course, if you’re willing to spend some cash, your options increase directly proportional to the amount of money you’re willing to hemorrhage. An entire cottage industry has sprung up in the wake of the modern Indie game movement for selling all manner of game components and licensing rights. Heck, there’s a bloody App Store style shop built right into the Unity 3D application offering everything from a $2 3D modeled kitten to $475 water effects to $10 walk animations to magic snake oil that promises to let you create the game of your dreams without ever touching the keyboard for $100. It is a bizarre bazaar that shows just how far video game design tools have come to where it is possible to generate income just from playful hobbyists like myself. Check it out for yourself on the web here.

Paydirt! Look at all this great stuff I found! I got some trees and some ground textures and a pack of graveyard models and I even sprung for a four-pack of wizards that was on sale. Speaking of which:

if (gameBudget>0) pimp Amazon shopping link to support GUO Crazy Projects

I gathered up all my new goodies and eagerly threw them into Unity.

It was horrible.

I didn’t like the way the ground textures tiled or looked next to each other. The dirt didn’t jive with the grass. The graveyard set was scaled too small, rotated the wrong way, and didn’t have bump mapping. Each of the four wizards exploded in a hierarchy of components I had never seen before, let along knew what to do with. Worse, each of these assets had been developed by completely different artists in their own little bubbles miles away from my own little bubble. They didn’t mesh with each other's vision, let alone my own.

It was obvious there was no turn-key solution. I was going to need to don many, many hats to get this project done, including my artist beret.

Even in this latest upset, a silver lining appeared: The graveyard tombstones. They were the new brick shape I had been looking for! Easily lined up to form a wall with gaps between them and perfectly fitting with the darkened fantasy scene I had envisioned. All I had to do was resize ‘em, turn ‘em, attach my script, and… Bingo! It was was final piece of the setting I needed. I had a fantasy setting with a wizard battling the undead. Certainly not the most original setting, but more than enough to fuel my imagination and ground this project in it’s own fiction. It was no small perk that this particular bundle of assets, a beyond generous demo for xiaolianhuastudio’s “Make Your Fantasy Game” package, came with a bunch of other idea starters for this setting such as tombs and ground fog. They may be a little low res and low polygon, but to get me going, it was priceless.

Unity 2014-03-05 21-16-52-55My next lucky burst of art came from a Unity presentation I caught on YouTube while looking for tutorials. Allegorithmic had created a new tech to replace textures called Substances. The concept behind substances is that small sample bitmaps are combined with a mathematical algorithm to procedurally create all new textures without the need of an artist.

Let me put this in perspective. At this very moment there are probably hundreds of people at major studios around the world drawing rocks. All day, every day. Grey rock, black rock, dirty rock, wet rock, sandy rock. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. There are a lot of rocks in video games. With a substance, you create one rock and a math problem that adds modifiers to colors, patterns, and blending with other samples like sand or mud. Blamo! You now have a little file capable of creating an infinite number of rocks complete with mathematically correct normal mapping.

Pretty great, right? It gets better. One of the free sample substances available on the Unity Asset Store was that of a cobblestone path. I discovered that by setting the tiling of the stones to zero I could get an image of the bare ground beneath. Likewise, by increasing the moss on the stones to 100% I could generate a lush, grass-like texture. Since all the resulting textures were generated algorithmically from the same random seed the resultant dirt, grass, and road textures matched perfectly when mixed together on the terrain. A little bit of Photoshop color correction gave me spectacular results beyond my wildest dreams. All from a tiny 9k file.

It’s amazing what a little paint on the walls can do. I was instantly reinvigorated by my new setting. Now it was time to get back to work.

So… What the heck does bouncing, rock-breaking magic look like anyway?

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