Autumn Update - 2016

And that seemed like a quiet spot! Damn birds!


As you can see, we're not very active on socials in this leg of the year: between working on the dungeon crawler's parts of the game and creating a 2.0 site and forum from scratch (more about it soon-ish), we do what we can.

One could argue that, marketing being most important, you're never too late to do it properly.
Personally, I embrace our anti-hero philosophy of non-achieving, and made peace with things I cannot handle at the moment.

So, THANK YOU for keep checking this page and our other online caves and huts, with a frankly encouraging patience, to see if we are getting somewhere :)

One thing we do handle on the development front, though, is bringing Aeon of Sands to the finish line with each day' work!

We aim to have the whole game playable, from start to finish, between the holiday season and early 2017, and after that, polish it  and test it extensively!

And maybe, just maybe, learn how to market it in the meantime, so that we don't end like the guy in the animation here, devoured by large crows, while trying to sustain himself with not-edible mushrooms in the wilderness...



Marco Pedrana, a target for hungry crows in the post-marketing wilderness.





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Aeon of Sands - NPC creation process, updated

This summer I will still be sludging through the opponents creation, trying to get a sense of what misses yet, or is out of place, in the growing and roaring sea of game assets.

Here below, a 3 minutes video in which I illustrate the creation process of a creature, from the puppet sketch to the final frames of animation in game.


As I mention on passing in there, the dirty puppet underlying the animation, and the time it requires to be cleaned out, are a necessity for my keeping together the creature, to be able to give it consistency with all its frames and all the other creatures; this imposed constraint is actually boring to keep with, but effective in avoiding me going away in 100 different directions at the same time.

When I do not care for consistency, but only for expression, I would normally keep the puppet sketch - that encompass my understanding of the object - on one side, as a shorthand note, and do something only slightly related to it on a new page.

What I found is that in game design, that almost never happen, sadly.

As a result, this is the face of my dizzyness, that's amazingly similar to the result of hitting yourself with a magic in game.





Marco Pedrana, graphic slave of Two Bits Kid, artist. I don't really have blue sparkles on my face.




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Fonts: The Quest for Readability

Hello again!

We have now nearly 80% of the game finished and we are relieved to see more and more of the game content becoming safe from major revisions.
Today we tackle a bit of the remaining 20%, that includes checking that the presentation of the content is good enough not to distract you or prevent you from enjoying the game.

She might, but we are still polishing it.


Take for instance the body of text of more than 80.000 words that accounts for the backbone of our game story.
You wouldn't want to crawl through a novel badly formatted, with an unreadable font, no matter how interesting you find the story; in the same way, you wouldn't want to click compulsively through AoS' dialogue, pressing 'Continue' just to skip an eye tiring wall of text.

This kind of revision is something that is scary, yet, there's an exhilarating freedom in savaging in a few hours what you spent weeks to carefully create: the old fonts, the text box, the dialogue paragraphs.

One thing was sure: the old font was not working for us, nor for the ladies and gents who tested the game at demo-events like Talk&Play or Gameover 2015.

Font nightmare


That first font was born from the need to show blocks of text up to about 600 characters, in a fixed text display box of 505x118 px.

This basically means, leaving 1/3 of the box's height for the dialogue choices, we still have 10 lines (an average of 90 uneven characters at 4x8 px size).

At first we thought that would be ok.

We wanted a crisp pixel look with no aliasing, and we still had no decisions for the resizing of the game screen, so the first thing I did was create a bitmap font of that 4x8 px size.
The results? Passably readable at fullscreen, on a 20 inches monitor. A pain at anything less or in windowed mode.

No, no, no, no, no, no...


Back in April, I started to look around for a Creative Commons licensed font that was suitable for commercial projects and that was also good for us. We tested more than 20 promising candidates, ranging still in the 8 to 12 pixels height area.

Some were nice, actually really nice, but very few were actually readable, in discrete quantities.
Of the readable ones, instead, pretty much none captured the feeling of cheap thrills from sci-fi crumpled pulp magazines outta the fifties, that tints the Aeon of Sands world.

At last I decided to go and create one myself, using the great tool provided for free at Fontstruct. If you are an indie developer on a budget or you just love typography, you should take a look!

Monospaced or not? Bitmap or Truetype? 8 or 16 px? So many choices... 


As soon as I started drawing the font, it was apparent that anything below 12 px compromised the readibility of our story, while, on the other hand, only fonts of 8 or 16 px scaled well with our resolution changes in game, so I settled at a 16 px font.

After three iterations, plus a minor revision, the end result is Pantella, our very own font named after the city where the game starts, well readable both in windowed and fullscreen modes.

Pantella. Or not a hole under our feet.


How will it look in the new 'cage' of the user interface that we are implementing to meet the needs of the different monitors resolutions and ratios?

For that you'll have to read the follow-up post of Florian in the next weeks!



Marco Pedrana, font-lover half of Two Bits Kid, artist. I want a vacation.





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Aeon of Sands - watch our first recorded devlog #1



This was our first devlog livestream about our game Aeon of Sands - the trail. We are very happy that the audio and the stream went very well. It's was a bit difficult to setup, because in Italy the internet connections are not that stable ;-), but OBS has a lot of options to finetune the stream. I do recommend this nice piece of software!

If you have still some questions about real time combat, character development, puzzles or story...feel free to send us question by twittergoogle+ or facebook.

Live Game Session Sunday 05 June, 18:00 GMT on Youtube!


Hello!

We have a surprise announcement to make:




Live Aeon of Sands game session!
Sunday 05 June, 18:00 GMT


We will have a one hour live session on youtube live to play a couple of early levels of the game, and to answer your questions.

Please write us your questions in advance here in the blogpost's comment or by twitter, google+ or facebook.

We will try to answer them all during the live stream!

You're very welcome to join us and to spread the news to your friends!

Stay tuned,

Marco & Florian

Monthly Update: May

Hello, and welcome back for our monthly Aeon of Sands update!

They cam from the des... Ahem, rust ants make short work of  Setrani.

What have we done the last weeks, you're probably asking?
We worked mostly on 3 areas: opponents, text presentation, and a new dynamic light system.

In addition to that, a bit of work was done on the games mazes, that are due for a major playthrough next week, when all of us devs will convene for a 72 hours stress test.

This playthrough will mark the start of the last leg of development!


Opponents


A major NPC, Harro, from the concept to the greyscale animation.

Take the example above: that's Harro, a city guard, a soldier of the domed city where the game starts.
He was first imagined, character and purpose, as part of the game story in 2012; then his appearance designed the next year,  you can see it in the left of the image, as his dialogues were written.

Last month he was finally greyscaled in animation, and these days he gets colored and completed.

The animation of the opponents is an ongoing task. The completion of the last ones will take us somewhere around the month of july. With that, all the graphic assets will be finally done!

There's a feeling of exhilarating freedom about it: >90% of the graphics are there, the engine is ready, the A.I. gets finetuned every week, and new mechanics implemented.
Now we can finally construct more complex scenarios, stage more challenging fights and have fun adding puzzles that we talked about for months.


From dialogue in-game illustration to finished animation!

Here above is another one, Calca, a very peculiar nomad ravager: a crazy lady who effortlessly travels the desert by herself, whereas doing that in AoS is a certain death sentence.

She was first introduced in the game dialogues in january 2014, and became a favorite toy of the story, a character getting a life of her own into it, despite the writer's original intention.

In the summer that year she got illustrated into the various scenes she appeared in, like the one in the upper part of the image above, and finally, last week, she got her complete animation in color, with her eyeglasses and bladed giant toothpick.


Text presentation

AoS leans on a large amount of dialogue' text that structure its story. This means that we have to be extra thoughtful in how we present the text to the players. We cannot have walls of words hampering you from actual enjoying the games story.

To achieve this goal, we started to change the dialogue font. This process went through many iterations, into a much more readable one. We passed from a bitmap-font we created 2,5 years ago, to creative commons fonts, ranging from 8 to 16 px.
But really, none of these fonts were both easy to read and with a style that fit with the narration of the game world.


The original font, intended for fullscreen, turned out not really readable.

In the end, we resorted to design our own truetype font, by the name of Pantella, our hero' city; it had to support a consistent display of text, at a size of about 16 px; it was to be modern (AoS is not a fairy tales game), with tall lowercase, and kerning and spacing to tie the narration, while separating words.

We used Fontstruct by Fontshop for the task, that lets you design your own fonts and release them with a Creative Commons license, if you like to.

The new font, aptly called Pantella.
Then we turned to the text formatting.

This is a task that will bleed into polishing the game and will be complete only with the final revision of the game texts, scheduled for the summer.

Lighting system

As you may know, we use a Löve 2D as engine. Therefore lighting, even a fake lighting shader is a bit tricky.
The problem: We have no real 3D engine and therefore we have no 3d model you can throw at the glsl lighting shader.

After some research, a friend of us had the amazing idea. We developed a deferred rendering approach with a precalculated depth pass. Here you see our very new lightning system in action. 

(Please ignore the placeholder Skeletons, they still miss normals and depth values.)

test samples: glsl lighting shader in action


Here is a small sample of an ambient moving lightsource (disabled Adblock or Ghostery to see this tweet).


Monthly Update: April



Hello,
Marco here, writing from a wet corner of Italy, with spring just around the corner, strutting around like a whimsical young lady, promising she has places to go.
So I better keep this April update short, to go join her out for a bit!

Graphics

Last month saw me basically going on creating NPCs and monsters, as I anticipated in March post.
This is a task that, punctuated by some minor fixing of other assets' graphics, or maybe creating acid spitting traps, or scribbling mysterious symbols on wall' plaques, is taking more time than I thought.

But I'm getting there, as this nice guy, see below, testifies. Word of warning: it's a sucker for love. Don't let it get to close to show its affection!

A centipede, a bit of combat, and two spells in action


Gameplay

Meanwhile in the not so cold Germany, the sun is shining too on Florian. This month he managed to advance his dungeon building task and to cram thousands of little features into the game: the stacking of inventory items like ammunitions, and the addition of a new particle system.

Therefore we have updated APE@Github, a particle Editor Tool originally created by mkdxdx for the LÖVE2D game engine. If you wanna play around with this little neat tool, just grab it here: ape_v3.love .

Particle Editor in action



That's it for this month! We save video teaser and music talks for later, as our plans on them go forward on a separate track from the main game's one,

I plan to complete most of the graphic assets for the whole game in may, maybe june at most. After that, for me, it will be only polishing, testing, and marketing!


Marco Pedrana, slacker half of Two Bits Kid, artist, spring lover. I take naps.

Monthly Update: March

Hello everybody! As you can see, we skipped the updates for January and February, while, as anticipated, we worked on the backgrounds and walls for the dungeons, and the remaining story illustrations.

We're happy to tell you that all of them are now done and gone!


Graphics and Gameplay

As it happened, in January, Marco created a totally new ambientation, that we add to 'The Ruin', a place that will hold an estimated 2 - 3 hours sidequest.

Setrani walks through a ruin, from game

It's a special place, and one for which Florian is creating new challenges right now, among which, a puzzle with tower defense mechanics, that we'll get to test, in their early form tomorrow already!

As the settings graphics are completed, Marco has moved to the NPCs and monsters; beside the demo ones, (rats and undeads that you should be familiar with, by now), the list of them accounts for more than 30 different opponents, with about 10 frames of animation each.

Half of them, roughly, are humanoids, of the various tribes that live in the desert that is Aeon of Sands, while the rest is, well, other stuff :)

Three different animation sets for humanoid NPCs

Audio

In the last days of December, we started working with a talented musician and great friend, Gabriele Artuso, who is creating the theme for the game, and many great tracks besides.



We are saving a special blog post for his contribution, let us just say here that to use live recorded traditional instruments as base for the game soundtrack is both a challenge and exhilarating!

Roadmap

Ideally before the end of April, but realistically on the next three months, we plan to work on the following tasks:
  • complete all NPCs and monsters in game!
  • finish at least 2 large dungeons
  • record the video teaser
  • prepare for the Greenlight campaign!

After that, only dungeon creation, gameplay finetuning, test and marketing until the end!

So stay with us, and remember to follow us on your social site of preference, Twitter, Facebook or Google+, to get the snippets from the development as fresh as they come, and help us spread the word!




Setrani: Misgivings. Roleplaying the Hero




In my dreams, I flee.

Since I was a kid, I run during the night, so much that is it any wonder that I don't want to do anything during the day?

One time, it's a creature half man, half bull, running on the walls with an axe; a few times it's the guards, or the force of gravity, then it's spies, a tiny spider, chinchillas...

Last night it was epic: a lost civilization, moving labyrinths, dark abyss, yellow train stations in the summer sun in the '70s, and Lovecraftian cultists, who glue on my teeth a sticky slime to have a magical second sight.

Anyway, the recurring element of these dreams is that sooner or later during the flight, I step through a non-existant forest along the railroad in my backyards, each time feeling the thrill of the as-fast-as-possible getaway from home, and my pleasure at my escape route of choice, which I'm sure my pursuers will fathom just too late. And so I run along the railroad trail, from my town to the next, and then I wonder where to go, like I'm not knowing any place after that, or I'm struggling too hard to imagine things, I'm at a loss.

In short, it doesn't matter: it only matters that I know these woods at night, that they don't exist but that I love them, and that I run, and how magnificent is that thrill!
How beautiful that flight, crazy, terrified, forgetful of all ties, traitor of all pacts, mindful only of my salvation.

In my dreams, I embrace my secret call to cowardice.

The above, in a nutshell is Setrani: his motivations, what he cares for, his character.
Law abiding to a fault during the day, he looks with hostility on the hostile environment outside his shell, a self-content bother-me-not city clerk, forced, as the game starts, out in the desert, to face a challenge from which he cannot escape.

While the above is about Setrani's character, Setrani's behaviour, instead, is something about you, the game player: will he stick to his basic impulse to self-preservation at all costs, or will he weigh in the greater good into his decisions? Will he not take sides except his own, or not even that, or, rather, try to look past sides entirely? That's your call!

The general story will happen or not, regardless of Setrani's choices and behaviour: he is only a character in a larger play.
However, the choices available to him (that is, you) will affect the point of view on that story, the experience of that play, as well as how some events will turn out.


Marco Pedrana, the daydreamer, good for nothing half of Two Bits Kid, artist, liar, cowardly backstabber, I don't have red hair.

Developer Diary - Shader and Pixelart Technology

SiENcE
My name is Florian and i'm one part of TwoBitKids. I'm coding the game, create gameplay mechanics and do parts of the level design. I code games for over 10 years now (i.e. Ultima Iris, an 3D client for Ultima Online).

Today I want to describe to you how we combine pixelart with shader technology to change scene ambience.

2D equals 3D ?

All games use either OpenGL or Direct3D and these APIs are clearly made for 3D. 2D is only a complicated abstraction and reduction of these APIs.

That's why in my opinion all current video games are 3D games and can use shaders.

There are 3 types of shaders:
  1. Pixel Shader attempt to manipulate the color of each pixel of a given texture. They are used to define the material of the surface (reflection, refraction).
  2. Vertex Shader attempt to manipulate the vertices. They are mostly used for 3D to transform your polygons and meshes.
  3. Geometry Shaders are processed after vertex shaders and are used for rendering hair or shadow volumes.
Most 2D games only use pixel shaders, because the vertices or geometry is fixed to stick onto the pixel grid. When 2D games use pixel shaders, they only try to change the material (color) of their sprites. When speaking of changing the color of a pixel I not only mean red, blue and green, but also the whole ambience of a scene.
Here steps in: Color Grading.

Color Grading variations with random LUT Tables

Color Grading

Color Grading is a technique used in movies for changing the ambience of scenes. It's mostly used for changing Brightness, Saturation or Contrast. But you can also change the curves of bright and dark areas and do selective changes to colors.

In Aeon of Sands we use color grading to change the ambience of the game in certain scenes or situations like day, night, combat or with spell effects.

Here you can see how a scene can change its mood from day to sunset to night.

Day
Sunset
Night


To use color grading in video games, you need a color grading shader and a so called LUT table (3D color lookup table). In the pictures above, the only thing we have changed was background and the lut table.

Here is the standard 16bit lut table...

and a modified one.


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If you want to try color-grading for yourself, read the following references:
http://udn.epicgames.com/Three/ColorGrading.html
http://kpulv.com/359/Dev_Log__Color_Grading_Shader/

 

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