Debug UI, and Art Style

Hey Folks! Sorry for yet another late news post. It was another one of those days of running errands to get family established here. Today we opened no less than 5 accounts! And the scary thing is we still have a few left to go. Health insurance is the next big one, and we are not looking forward to picking apart that knot of confusion.

The work I did manage to finish was one part debugging UI, and one part art discussion.

The debugging UI is a way for me to monitor an AI's stats in realtime, to compare them to the AI's behavior. I want to make sure AIs are seeking out ways to fulfill their needs in logical ways. And hopefully, that will lead to some interesting AI interactions and strategy.

Right now, I've got the UI showing the AI's current list of priorities (conditions it needs to address), as well as the interactions in its queue. Each interaction also lists the target AI or item, so I can see where the AI plans to perform the interaction. Finally, I can also see the AI's current animation state, which is a value that controls which animation should be played next.

Upon my first few tests, it was information overload. But I think I can probably focus on individual data while checking the AI movements and look for discrepancies. One thing I'm already noticing is that a queue can go from 2 items to 0 items in a flash, even though each one should take some time to complete. I'll have to look into that next, maybe.

On the art side, I've been chatting a bit more with the artist about graphics styles. The other day, he sent me this tantalizing animation:


I could be very okay with this :)

What you're looking at is his sample art applied to some walls and floor, as well as his modified crew rig. The crew rig is a lot like the one we've seen before, just with some "X" shaped cross-sections to give the illusion of thickness at different angles. And the walls are just 2-sided sprites with a top sprite.

Now, let me be clear. This 2.5D style is something I like a lot. Many of my favorite games are some variation of this isometric-like pixel art.

However, the thing that worries me is that this may seriously inflate the complexity of each art asset. Those walls now require 3 sprites per segment, instead of top-down's single sprite. And for something like a chair, it might require up to 5 sprites.

What's more, a chair-shaped object wouldn't nicely fit a cube mesh, since the chair is more L-shaped. Seeing the chair at any angle that showed any two adjacent sides (e.g. front and left, or rear and left) would look wrong if they were just sprites painted on a cube. The edges wouldn't line up. Here's a simpler example:


Trying to show a non-cube shape using sprites on a cube.

Basically, there are no sprites (a.k.a. textures) that could be applied to the sides of this cube to make it look correct from all angles. We'd need a 3D mesh to approximate this shape so it would look correct from a non-orthogonal direction. And if we're using 3D models, well, then we need separate meshes and potentially complex texture maps. Starting to get more expensive to make, and out of reach for non-professional modders.

I could me missing something, of course. Maybe there's an example of this already out there. And the goal is certainly worth attaining. But I don't want to start down this path only to discover it's too expensive to build (and too hard for modders to use).

It's a dilemma. And maybe I'll let this stew on the back burner for a few days...


Rovlad's picture

One thing I DON'T like about this new art direction is that the crew members are almost indistinguishable from the background, while they are, supposedly, the main focus point from player's point of view. Even in ASCII rogue-likes main characters are very different from their surroundings, in both shape and color.

I understand this is just a mock-up but it's still something to take into consideration.

dcfedor's picture

I can see what you mean. If nothing else, the palette may need some brightening or other change to differentiate it from the backdrop. Animation and lighting/highlights may also play into it.

But yes, we will need to be able to see the crew to play this game :)

Dan Fedor - Founder, Blue Bottle Games

ScottH's picture

The 2.5x format would offer a LOT more options to differentiate crew members, but as you said it's .5x more work.