These days I’m lucky enough to spend time with a great artist: Jean-Baptiste Dessaux (Jb for short). He is going to work on the graphic side of Artillery Royale.
I’m very happy that this part of the project is moving forward! We are going to try to answer some critical gameplay questions; for example the proportion of the character versus the map or the style of the game.
Size IS IMPORTANT
In classic artillery games, players often move military tanks (or in the particular case of the Worms series: worms). These characters are slow, which gives artillery all its meaning.
In Artillery Royale, the characters are not intended to move slowly, they are humanoids. This could be a gameplay problem. Indeed if the player can quickly move his characters close to those of the other player, why would he use artillery rather than nearby weapons?
That’s partly why we have another gameplay mechanism: distance limits per character. For example, the bishop can move a certain distance, the knight a bit more, etc (it’s because the game has some chess board game roots). But even for me, it seems a little bit odd.
We will see how it goes!
By working with Jb I came to realize that doing a map generator is probably too early for the game. I’ll go for a pre-built map so the gameplay can be tested in advance. It’s always sad to remove features from the codebase but that’s how programs/projects dev work.
This article will be updated as I add parts to the game. Last update was on the 30th of October 2020
In this blog post, I will talk about the technological choices I made and go deeper in some technical details about the game.
The game is based on the Unity engine which allows you to export on all platforms, from PC/Mac to consoles via mobile platforms. I made that choice because I know Unity quite well and I like coding in C#. But to be honest, everything is not perfect in the Unity world.
Love / hate relationship
I love Unity because it’s very easy to get started with, there are plenty of online tutorials and examples, and the assets store has some good gems. All this gets you to pass the prototype phase pretty quickly.
I hate Unity because they have different ways to do the same thing (usually they buy some popular asset, integrate it in the software and that’s it, they do not remove the part it replaces). They also sometimes remove features without giving anything in replacement (last example with the networking part).
When I started the game, I thought “it’s going to be easy because Unity has all the needed tools including a good 2D physics engine”. But after a while playing with it, I found a bunch of blocking limitations.
First, it’s very hard to customize, you can play with physics materials and change the mass, friction, and all those variables, even the gravity scale itself. But still, in the end, it’s a bunch of variables that you’ve changed here and there. You get easily confused and it’s not even practical to test.
Second, and that was the blocker, the Physics engine is non-deterministic. It means that given a set of inputs (i.e.: force, mass, and start position) if you play it two times, you will probably not have the same output. Unfortunately, this is not compatible with Artillery Royale Gameplay. If a player at some point has a good aim, now the right force and play the same move again, they should get their bullet at the very same spot.
You will see that the deterministic part is even more important because of network implementation.
So I took some time to re-implement basic physic equations but kept some of Unity existing pieces like colliders and collision resolutions.
About the destructible map
I found a great asset on the store that allows you to take any Sprite and make it destructible. I bought it without even thinking and at first, I was in love.
But after some prototyping, I found out that because the asset was working on pixels and not shapes it would never render the way I wanted.
So I made my own destructible map which is based on Sprite Mask and custom polygon colliders, all of this is easily done with Unity and a bit of shape math.
I made some new prototype with a new solution of my own, tailored for that particular game. Indeed, being a turn-based game, I will go for a “turn replay” mechanism: the idea is to record the turn of the player (with a specific optimized stream format) and broadcast it to the other player in near real time. This will also allow keeping a record of any game for later replays.
You can now see how important it is to have deterministic physics, so I don’t need to record every movement in the replay stream.
With some tweaks and the right amount of smoothing I think it gave some good result.
But when you have to move your character on these maps it’s quite challenging, and I was wondering how I can have something better on that side and keep some of the interesting shapes?
Second attempt: Combinatory
I experimented with something I call a “combinatory” map. It’s a name I made up, I did not see any reference online talking about this approach.
The idea behind it is to take some basic shapes, like rectangles, triangles, and circles in different sizes and positions, and merge them into a single block.
If you apply some smoothing, you get something really convincing (IMHO). And this time it’s easy to navigate. Too easy probably.
When working on an important part of a game, it’s always good to ask for external feedbacks. So it’s what I did when I started to work with Jean-Baptiste the designer.
We came to the conclusion that the solution will be to mix the combinatory approach and some pre-made elements like platforms or other static objects.
This is what it looks like
Building a good random map generator is very hard, on this blog post I’ve shown you only the good results, but you can be sure that one out of two tries leads to some weird and probably unplayable map.
I’m going to work harder on this topic, but it will not be included in the playable. On this demo, you will find a handcrafted static map, tested for playability and fun!