Unlit Crew, Selections, and OOO

Hey Folks! Today was a bit of graphics work, and the beginnings of a design/UI change for AI interactions.

The graphics change was an experiment with a new unlit material on crew. If you look at yesterday's screenshot, you'll see the original lit shader with normal maps on the crewmember. It catches highlights and shadows from the environment, giving it a sense of shape and volume.

Unfortunately, it also makes it a bit hard to see the crew in some lighting situations. A case of realism not necessarily benefiting UI.

A technique some games have used to improve this usability, and to also give a distinct visual style, is to make characters unlit while the environments are shaded. This style is typical in an animated film, where characters are cel-shaded while the backgrounds are matte painted. I decided to see how it looked in this case, and here's what resulted:


Unlit character in a lit environment.

I don't mind it, actually. I'm not 100% sold on it either, though. I think it's one of those things I'll need to leave in as optional until later when I can see things in action. The one thing I can say with certainty is that unlit art assets will be easier to make since they require no normal maps. This is not only good for me, but for modders, as well. Again, though, we'll have to see.

I also started working on some new selection code for crew sim mode. Previously, the mode would just auto-select any AI that was performing an interaction set to show info to the user. So the brackets would jump around the crew at random intervals, and it was a bit confusing.

As an experiment, I think I'm going to let the user control which AI is selected, and only show status messages at the bottom if that AI is doing something that triggers a message. And for anyone not selected, I'll probably show an icon over that AI to indicate it's doing something. The user can then click on that AI or icon to see more info. This way, the user can focus on a single AI without getting bombarded by noisy info, but also be alerted to other goings-on in the ship.

So far, I've got the crew and items selectable by clicking, and the brackets will focus on that object. And relevant status messages appear if so.

Out of Office

Finally, I have to miss a couple more days of work (unfortunately). Our pet snake is still waiting for us in Canada, and our permits to export/import it finally arrived. So we're heading back to retrieve it. So I'll be away from the office for a few more days. Probably until Wednesday next week. It's a bummer, as I just reached my stride getting stuff done.

However, the good news is that this is our last major traveling obligation for a while! After that, we have minor errands like getting our new IDs and such, but shouldn't have to leave town (or miss whole days of work). Looking forward to it!

For now, have a good weekend, all, and see you next Wednesday!


Malacodor's picture

I like the character with lighting more, the unlit one looks cheap. Could you please show us an example where the lit character looks bad for comparison?

Ran around with a clown mask before it was cool

dcfedor's picture

I'm not sure if the lit character looks "bad," per se. Rather, I'm thinking it might be harder to use. If AI walks into an unlit section of ship, it'll make it harder to see/select:


This might be desirable for enemy AI if it's trying to hide, but the user's crew should be easy for the user to spot. There are of course ways to solve this. Using hotkeys to select/cycle crew, partially self-illuminate crew, etc.

Like I said, though, this is just an experiment. And it's easy enough (for now) to switch between rendering modes until it becomes clearer.

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

Malacodor's picture

Might be hard to find in a hurry, but looks good otherwise. There should be crew icons at the side of the screen for easy selection anyways. For example, if a crewman gets injured the corresponding icon flashes red, and if double-clicked the crewman gets selected and the camera is centered on them. This should solve the issue. Or simply use more lights. Characters with lighting simply look too good to be scrapped. ;-)

Ran around with a clown mask before it was cool