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  #1  
Old 05-30-2018, 02:15 PM
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Shadow Shadow is offline
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Default Engine thoughts

At the beginning of every game I take a step back and consider if I should switch engines or if I should just enhance our current engine. Note: we are almost to alpha with our latest game, Din's Legacy, so the last time I did this was several months ago.

When I started working on our first game, Depths of Peril, in late 2004 the decision was fairly easy. The choices were mostly license an engine like Unreal or Quake ($100,000+ per game), use an open source engine (usually graphics only and open source can cause lots of issues), or write my own engine. Given the options available at the time, I felt writing our own engine was the only realistic choice for us.

Fourteen years later, things have changed greatly. There are now several powerful engines that provide an entire game framework and don't cost too much, the big two being Unreal and Unity. If you are just starting out, these are great choices (so are probably many other engines), but Soldak isn't just starting out so it's much more complicated.

Some pros of other engines: better graphics (this is the big one), better physics, mobile versions, console versions, and probably many other small things.

Some cons of other engines: dynamic world problematic (need to be able to load huge parts, if not all, of a world in the background), random levels problematic (works against things like packaging, light maps, and pathfinding - basically everything that happens when you build/compile a level), might have to redo or rework many of our current assets, licensing costs (not nearly is bad as it used to be), learning curve, start over with game code or lots of porting work, no source code (some have it and some don't), and probably various other things.

The pros and cons list is where I get stuck every time. The pro of having better graphics would be very, very nice, but the cons list is basically everything that makes a Soldak game unique. Potentially losing dynamic and random worlds is basically a non-starter for us. Add on top of that all of the ramp up time to learn how everything works, rework/redo old art work, and port or rewrite all of our needed game code, it really just isn't feasible (we would go out of business before finishing the game). This is essentially why every game, I stick with our engine. Our engine has drastically changed over the years though, as I add new features. If I was from the marketing department, I would probably just say it is a new engine each time there is a major graphics change or brand it in some way.

Now if we ever decide to make a more linear RPG that will be a different story since a lot of the cons would go away. Anyway, these are some of my thoughts when I have to make a decision about an engine for each game.

As always comments are welcome and encouraged!
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  #2  
Old 05-30-2018, 03:40 PM
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narnach narnach is offline
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Dynamic world generation is something you can do in Unity. My friend's been doodling around with a Pathfinder/D&D based game in 3d and uses a random dungeon generator and a dynamic navmesh generation middleware to base his navigation on. I'm not sure how he deals with lightmaps, or if he has to rely on dynamic lighting instead of using pre-baked lightmaps.

There are quite a few middleware solutions for things like dungeon generation, inventory systems, AI behaviour trees, etc. The downside is that you might end up fighting with some libraries that _almost_ do what you want them to do, but not quite. Reaching out to the developers of those libraries can often get you the support you need, though.

It might be worth it to take a few weeks and do a bit of prototype development to see how many of the potential problems you foresaw are really problems, or things you can find solutions for.
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Old 05-31-2018, 04:02 AM
ScrObot ScrObot is offline
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(Well apparently tonight was essay writing night.)

We obviously love the dynamic worlds, relationships and randomness that make a Soldak game a Soldak game. But the graphics and asset reuse is killing you at this point.

Yes, you've made a lot of progress on the engine and systems since Depths of Peril... but you can take screenshots from DoP, Din's Curse, and Zombasite and they are so very close, especially with the reused and reworked monsters, environments, town setup, map system, inventory, etc. -- to the point that you'd think one was a base game and the other two were expansions.

I think one of the reasons Drox Operative is favored by a lot of us is because it didn't reuse assets, and it gave us a whole new feel -- even if the underpinnings were very much rooted in its predecessors.

One more reason I really like Drox is that it "feels" smoother and more responsive. Running your character around in DoP/DC/Z has always been kind of clunky feeling. A simple speed boost and stamina removal isn't going to fix that.

The older engine (and again, we do see the improvements made over the years, not trying to dump on the work you've put in) and art and asset reuse is sinking you, and I am worried about the Din's Legacy not selling well, because it's sounding like more of the same -- yes, with the skill mutation twist, but that sounds like it could just be an expansion to an existing game.

We know it's a ton of money and time to create new assets, and we also know it's a ton of money and time to switch engines. But with Zombasite not selling well, I can't imagine Din's Legacy is going to somehow become a breakout hit, with the majority of gamers seeing it compared to the previous non-Drox titles. Every review is going to harp on the fact that it's a not-too-extensive rejigger of the previous games with some new systems laid on top of it.

I think you're going to have to cut the old code loose and start over to get something that looks fresh -- even if you get it to a point where the systems work similar to how they do in your current engine. But you're not starting from scratch, because you have years of honing and optimizing the existing engine and systems, you'll be able to bang them out much faster this time around.

I'm far from a graphics snob, so don't assume I'm overly biased in that direction -- but there's a limit, and IMO you fall in an unfortunate valley where the graphics are good, but just not "good enough" for the style for 2018.

Being a one man show is extremely difficult in today's landscape, which is one of the reasons 8-bit (or less) art style is prolific in the indie scene -- it's far easier and cheaper than 3D models with an eye towards realism.

I was trying to think of other series to compare... Diablo isn't a great example because they were bigger teams and longer timelines. Elder Scrolls and Fallout as well. But even in those game, where there is a few common elements (Fallout's Super Mutants, for example), everything else feels pretty fresh -- it doesn't look like they took the prior game, beefed up some enemies, added a couple new biomes, added a few new systems and released it. Plus, those games are much more story-heavy than any Soldak game, which counts for something. They could release a sequel to Skyrim with the same engine and assets, just with a new map a a few new enemies and factions, and if the story aspect was solid, it'd still be good. But that's a crutch that Soldak games don't have.

Torchlight to Torchlight 2 was the best thing I could come up with -- and again, they totally different. It's an iteration, but it's not just an optimization pass and a new system or two; it's an entirely different game from the ground up.

One solid example in the indie world would be Arcen Games, and they have quite a few parallels with Soldak, IMO. They run on a skeleton crew, and have churned out quite a few different feeling games across a disparate genres over the years. They've also gone through the engine switch dance successfully. Bionic Dues is a really fun roguelike, Starward Rogue is a procedural bullet hell/roguelike mashup. A Valley Without Wind 1/2 were procedural metroidvanias with base building (1) and strategy (2) elements. They're most known for AI War which is a massive space RTS. Add a couple more (unique, not iterative) strategy type titles, a light Zelda 1-ish game, and even a puzzle game in the vein of Tetris... they've been all over the place.

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  #4  
Old 05-31-2018, 11:16 AM
joku joku is offline
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Another consideration is modding.

With the current engine, it's very easy to modify the data. Making, installing, and managing mods is all very simple compared to most other games. In moving to a new engine, you could lose this.

However, what your engine is currently lacking is some way of modifying code. A new engine may make it easier to implement some sort of scripting api, an often requested feature. This would open up the modding potential of your games.

I know the modding community for your games is rather small, but it is something you ought to consider. The change to a new engine could help the modding community grow, or diminish it further.
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