Planitia Update 28: What Price Animation?!

Okay, while I love how the units in Planitia look, I hate the fact that they aren’t animated. This makes it tough to figure out exactly what a unit is supposed to be doing.

Unfortunately, I Are No Artist, and the selection of sprites on the internet that have a walk animation and face in eight directions is rather limited. I started by ripping sprites out of Powermonger, which worked but they are just so darn pixelated.

My friend Ryan suggested I try one of Reiner’s tilesets.

Now, I’ll be frank. I don’t really like Reiner’s sprites simply because they look so mundane. The sprites I’ve got are colorful! They’re retro! People seem to like them! And they don’t animate.

But I went ahead and gave it a go. I used the farmer set on this page.

Here’s how it turned out.

Note that farmers now face the direction they walk in and have a two-frame walk cycle (the sprite set has an eight-frame walk cycle in each direction, but I only implemented two as a test).

Short of suckeri…er, finding another artist willing to do an eight-way walk cycle for me for free, this is the only way I’ll get animated sprites into the game. What do you guys think?

PIX

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting updates on Planitia is because I’ve had this weird graphical bug that I haven’t been able to get rid of. How bad is it? Well…here, see for yourself:

Huh...the paint's run.  But I used Krylon!

Note that some of the houses are drawing just fine, while others are drawing as green-and-brown smears. It’s not awful, but it’s like a pimple on an otherwise attractive face – it’s all you notice.

Now, it’s obvious what is happening – the houses that aren’t drawing right are losing their texture coordinates. The renderer no longer draws the entire texture over the house but just a single pixel from the texture – thus, the solid green and brown colors. This happens if all texture coordinates for the mesh are set to 0, 0.

But it’s not obvious why that’s happening. The hardest bugs to debug are the ones that only happen some of the time and DirectX’s infamous undebuggability just makes it worse. So after several evenings of playing around with DirectX’s render states to absolutely no effect I finally just gave up and moved on to other stuff. I knew I’d have to come back and fix this bug eventually and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

And this morning I decided to take another shot at it. My renderer supports two sets of texture coordinates but the second set of coordinates isn’t set on this mesh…perhaps it was picking up the second set accidentally? Let’s turn the second set off completely. Damn! That still doesn’t fix it! How about if we specify the same set of coordinates for the second set as the first? Holy smoke, that still doesn’t fix it…

Now, at work I’ve been working on my first renderer in a production environment. It’s for a Kaplan SAT program. I’m working on the PC version and I was having trouble with a cartoon shader I was writing. Searching “debug vertex shaders” brought up several recommendations to “just use PIX”.

PIX? What’s that?

It’s the official DirectX debugging tool. It’s included with the DirectX SDK. And I had no idea it existed. Mostly because nobody told me. (Baleful glare at all my programmer friends.)

With PIX I was able to figure out what was wrong with my shader at work, so I decided to use it to try to fix my bug on Planitia.

PIX is pretty easy to use. You start by creating a new experiment:

Point the Program path field to the executable you want to debug, then choose one of the four options below it. Options 1 and 4 provide the most data, but if you’re just debugging something it’s probably too much (it’s much more useful if you’re optimizing). I like option 2, where PIX takes a “snapshot” of what DirectX is doing whenever you press F12.

Click “Start Experiment” and your program will run. PIX will add some text to show you that it is functioning properly:

Now it’s running. To debug my problem I panned the camera over to a house that wasn’t drawing correctly and hit F12.

Now when I exit the program PIX brings up the results of the experiment.

Now we’ve got a TON of information about what DirectX was doing during the frame we captured. Let’s look at the Events window…

And expand Frame 270.

We now have a list of every. Single. Freakin’. Thing DirectX did during that frame. DirectX is inscrutable no more!

Not only do we have the list of commands, but the Details window shows exactly what that command drew:

So let’s step through the list of draw commands…ah, here’s the first house it drew. This house was drawn correctly (except that since it wasn’t on the screen, it wasn’t actually drawn at all, as shown by the Viewport window). Notice the columns that show the texture coordinates for the house.

Let’s keep stepping…wait, what the hell?

A problem drawing a point sprite list? Why is it drawing a point sprite list? There aren’t any point sprites in the scene! Wait a minute, I’ll bet…

Yep. The very next thing it tries to draw is the broken house. Notice that the texture coordinates are now missing.

And now I know what the problem is. I was calling Draw() on a point sprite system that didn’t actually draw any point sprites. This put the renderer into “point sprite mode” – and point sprites don’t have any texture coordinates. Now, sometimes the renderer would fix itself on the next draw call – and sometimes it wouldn’t, and the house would be drawn with no texture coordinates.

The fix: change this code:

To this code:

Time taken: ten minutes.

Minor lesson learned: I shouldn’t call DrawPrimitive() if I don’t actually have any primitives to draw.

Major lesson learned: I should use PIX – and I shouldn’t ever complain again about DirectX being undebuggable.

Name That Game 46!

Oooh, we’re getting close to 50! Will Viridian do something special for the 50th Name That Game?!

Um, no. No, he probably won’t. Sorry.

ANYway, today’s game is a fairly generic RPG…one so generic that (gasp! shock! horror!) it didn’t grab me and I never got very far into it.

How to get a head in RPGs.

Name and developer, please! If you win, I’ll give you a No-Prize!

PSRD Breach: Women in Gaming

I try to keep the PSRD breaches on this site to a minimum, but it’s time. So, here is the warning: I am about to piss you off. If you don’t want to be pissed at me, do not continue reading.

Okay, so science discovers yet again what anybody with a brain cell already knows – that men and women are interested in different subjects and this is the reason why there are so few women in technical fields. This also explains why there are so few women in game development.

This has infuriated me in the past. I got into a rather vituperative conversation about two years ago on Game Girl Advance about why are so few women in game development and why the ones who do enter the field seem to get a lot of attention, especially if they are attractive. (I posted there under the handle BadmanX). A poster in that thread explained patiently that the only reason women aren’t more prevalent in game development is because of sexism.

Hello? Hello? Are you shitting me? (Oh, I’m going to swear in this post too. Just a warning. Megan, stop reading.) Most HR departments are falling all over themselves to hire women! Do you really fucking think that HR directors all over the country are saying to themselves, “Wow, what a fantastic resume…TOO BAD SHE’S A CHICK! Into the round file with her!” Don’t be absurd.

Attempting to appease the Gods of Political Correctness by artificially “evening out” the number of male and female game developers is doomed to failure. It will only hurt the game development industry and companies shouldn’t bother, no matter how much the feminists bitch.

On the other hand…making games tailored for women was and is a fantastic idea. Women arrived to the gaming party a little late, but now they are here and ignoring them is just stupid. People just need to come to grips with the fact that far fewer women are going to be inspired to make their own games than men. And there probably always will be.

Name That Game 45!

This game was kind of a big deal when it came out because of its use of semi-famous actors in its full-motion video, but the gameplay looked awful so I never gave it a shot.

Killin' goblins, killin' goblins, killin' goblins all day!

Name and developer, please! Your reward will be to be cast as the lead in the next game I make that uses full-motion video!

360 Games First Reactions!

GRAND THEFT AUTO IV

Pros:

In 300 Yards, Turn Left – Driving is far easier in GTA4 than in previous versions. Your accelerator is now the right trigger, which makes it easier to pick a speed other than “stop” and “full throttle”. This by itself makes the cars easier to drive; I noticed I was sideswiping and dinging a lot less than I used to. You can also look at your map and drop a waypoint anywhere that the computer will dutifully guide you to with a helpful yellow or green line on your minimap. These two features by themselves were worth the price of admission to me.

Superior Cap Popping – Shooting is far better in this game than in previous versions. Locking on is much easier, and the bug in previous GTAs that had you shooting straight into the air when targets were very close appears to be fixed. I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I despise having to aim a reticle with a thumbstick; GTA4 allows you to lock on to do body shots and then tweak your aim with the thumbstick to go for specialty shots like headshots. I love it. This feature by itself was worth the price of admission to me.

Oh, Wow, That’s Pretty – Holy crap this game looks good. When you’re driving around Liberty City it can easily look like a movie. I’ve had several moments already where I had to just stop and look around because the graphics were so pretty. (I’ve even failed missions because of this. “Come on, Niko, Darden’s getting away!” “Yeah, but Roman – we’re driving by the bay and the sun is setting!”)

And You Thought San Andreas Had A Lot To Do – There’s even more optional content in this game than in San Andreas, and I never came close to exhausting that game. Now you have TV stations. You have a carnival full of minigames and rides. Plus there’s the “standard” compliment of radio stations, dating games, collection quests, etc, etc, etc, etc. Frankly, I don’t understand how they managed to fit all this on a DVD with only slightly more storage capacity than the one GTA: San Andreas came on (7 GBs versus the PS2’s 4.7 GBs).

Cons:

Two Days in the Valley – All of the characters faces are right smack-dab in the middle of the Uncanny Valley. CJ and Sweet from GTA: San Andreas were more convincing actors than these characters. I know I’ll get used to it, but right now it’s hard to take Vlad’s ragings seriously when he looks like a damn plasticine doll.

I’m RUBBERMAN! – The ragdoll physics engine GTA4 uses can produce some very interesting results; getting hit by a car usually results in Niko doing some spontaneous yoga. Frankly, I hate ragdoll physics and was very disappointed when practically every game gave up the concept of gibs in lieu of them. I was very, very happy when Team Fortress 2 brought back the gibs in spades. I guess Rockstar hasn’t gotten the memo yet: gibs > ragdolls.

Realistic Cellphone Mechanics – A lot of the functionality of the game is now accessed through your cellphone, which is just as confusing to use as most are in real life. The first time I tried changing radio stations I got the cellphone instead, and I accidentally initiated a multiplayer game when I just wanted to listen to Lazlow.

Dunno Yet:

Who Am I? – In GTA you played a nameless bank robber. In GTA: Vice City you played Tommy Vercetti, a mobster. In GTA: San Andreas you played Carl Johnson, a gangbanger. What do these people have in common? They are all self-professed career criminals. Thus, controlling them as they committed crimes felt very natural.

In Grand Theft Auto IV you play Niko Bellic, an immigrant from an unspecified Eastern European country. He fought in the Cold War and ran afoul of some loan sharks back in the Old Country and fled to Liberty City to get away from all that. He is not a self-professed career criminal, thus it felt kind of weird when the very first thing I did when I got control of him was jack a car. Weird, but interesting – I definitely want to see where this storyline goes.

Overall: This is the game that convinced me that it was time to get a 360 and so far I’m very, very glad I did.

NARUTO: RISE OF A NINJA

Pros:

Konoha Never Looked So Good – Seriously. It looks better than the show. It’s another jaw-dropping 360 game.

Konoha Never Felt So Free – You can go just about anywhere in Konoha you want at any time. Frankly I don’t know why people still make linear, level-based action-adventure games when sandbox games just feel and play so much better.

Surprisingly Deep Combat – There are four basic moves in melee combat – vertical attacks, which try to keep the enemy close, horizontal attacks, which try to push the enemy away, throws and blocks. But out of these four moves the designers have developed a deep combat system. Chaining moves in certain ways causes some hits to become unblockable and can also cause hits to do knockback, setting up your opponent for a jutsu. It’s much deeper than the previous Naruto fighters I’ve played on the GameCube.

Kage Bunshin No Jutsu! – There really is nothing like being able to do the Shadow Clone Jutsu or the Sexy Jutsu yourself. And the mechanic the game provides for doing them really makes it feel like you are doing them yourself – you push both thumbsticks in different directions to do the different hand signs necessary to start the jutsu. If you’re doing this in combat you can be knocked out of your jutsu attempt by an attack or a thrown kunai, so it’s best to hit your opponent with a normal combo first and knock them down, then attempt the jutsu while they are getting up.

Cons:

This Sounds Familiar – The only beef I’ve got with Rise of a Ninja is the fact that the storyline covers the first couple seasons of the Naruto anime, starting with his failing the Genin exam and ending with his fight with Gaara. This is stuff that is going to be very, very familiar to any Naruto fan so it’s kind of disappointing to hear it again. A new storyline would have been much more welcome.

Overall: I’d been hearing that this game was winning over converts who actually hate Naruto with its great combat and open-ended gameplay, so I wasn’t surprised when I ended up loving it.

MASS EFFECT

Pros:

Whoa, Look – ACTING! – After seeing so many games (including GTA4) completely fail to render realistic characters convincingly enough, it was nice to see a game that does it right. The characters in Mass Effect both look and move very well, and have nice lipsynching. The overall effect is great, and it’s a good thing too, considering how much dialog this game has.

Conversation System Designed By God – Mass Effect has the best conversation system ever created for an RPG. Not only does it quickly and easily let you direct the flow of the conversation so that they happen in a realistic manner, the wheel setup also lets you easily see which options will move the conversation to a close and which wont, as well as which options will get you Paragon points and which ones will get you Renegade points. It’s so good that I immediately invested points into maxing out my Charm skill so that my character would have more dialog options in conversations.

Pretty Is Now Standard – Once again I was blown away by the visuals produced by the Xbox 360. It’s all so shiny! I want to live there!

Look, Mommy! An Alien! – I am very impressed by how well the different facial/body structures of the aliens in Mass Effect work. Early in the game Nihlus, a Turien, sees a transmission showing that a human colony is under attack by the Geth, an evil alien race that hasn’t been seen in 200 years. He doesn’t say anything and his mouth does not open, but the flaps of his cheeks widen in surprise – and even though he’s an alien, you can tell that it’s surprise he’s feeling because of how well it’s blocked. Excellent stuff, and there’s even more later in the game.

Cons:

Way To Go, Mass Effect, You Hit My Number-One Pet Peeve – Class, what’s my number-one pet peeve on consoles? That’s right – aiming a targeting reticle with a thumbstick! Mass Effect’s combat is real-time action-adventure-style combat, but with no targeting lock-on. Yes, you must aim your weapons manually, and yes, I have had so much trouble with that. Fortunately you can set the level of tolerance in the options, so that your aim can be a little off and still hit (raising your weapon skill helps with this too). So it’s not going to be fatal like it was for Resident Evil 4…but man it’s annoying to see such a good game make such a huge mistake.

ding – This is the first RPG I’ve ever played that didn’t make a big deal out of you levelling up. If there’s a level-up indicator I’ve never noticed it, only discovering when I went into the options menu that I’ve gained two levels and have skill points to distribute. The game also doesn’t do a good job of letting you know that you have to allocate skill points for your other party members as well.

Smaller Than Advertised – After struggling through the first combat sequence on Eden Prime the game presented me with the Citadel, a huge, beautiful futuristic city. My first thought was, “Mass Effect, if you will let me run around that entire city at ground level then all is forgiven.” But that’s not what happened, of course. While the area to explore isn’t small, it is limited to only the locations where Plot can happen. That’s kind of disappointing.

Overall: I will struggle through the combat because the rest of the package is soooo good, but I wish that weren’t necessary.

Guess What I Bought Last Night?

My first Achivement was “Off the Boat” from Grand Theft Auto IV. I like that 🙂

I really had no choice but to buy it. One of the reasons I haven’t had much to talk about on the site recently is because I haven’t played a new game in months.

Comment Problems

Okay, I’m really sorry guys. My site was having some problems where users were getting the administration panel when they logged in – as you might guess, this was very disconcerting to me because it meant they could edit my blog. I ended up having to remove the ability to create user accounts at all and just use standard comments. That means you won’t be able to create an account on the site that will remember you. I’m really sorry about this. I may be able to change back in the future. We’ll see.

Name That Game 44!

This one will be easy.

We must prepare ourselves for a possible velociraptor attack!

This was one of my favorite RPGs. It’s light, fun, and doesn’t take a thousand hours to complete. I swear, when I hear some RPG designers touting the huge number of hours of gameplay their games allegedly have, I just don’t know where I’m going to find the strength

Name and developer, please. If you win, your reward will be the satisfaction of knowing you are right!