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Growing Leadwerks

Josh

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blog-0865846001425325077.jpgAs of this morning, the most recent Steam sale is now complete. The sales figures were excellent and we picked up a lot of new users. Most importantly, we've got a lot of new data on how people behave and what can be done to make them happy.

 

There's three stages a new Leadwerks user goes through to become a happy productive developer. The first is to actually buy the software. The main ingredients here are the demo, website pages describing the benefits of our approach to game development, and the intro video on the Steam store page. Above all, the basic promise of ease of use has to resonate with them. I've learned to not try to convince people who insist they need the most features, the biggest worlds, or want to make an MMO like World of Warcraft but ten times bigger...it's just not worth trying to make them happy. Leadwerks is about ease of use and the right blend of features to make game development fun and enjoyable.

 

Although we've done very well with my home-made video on Steam, and the website looks better than it ever has, the production quality is lacking that intangible extra polish, and it is unlikely I will ever be able to achieve that myself. A revamp of some aspects of the website and store page is being planned, with help from an external firm that specializes in this sort of thing. A slicker sales pitch that focuses more finely on the basic premise of Leadwerks will increase sales dramatically...but additional work is needed to make sure the user experience matches the expectations of new users.

 

The second stage is to learn how to use Leadwerks. This is accomplished with our documentation and tutorials. I think our programming documentation is nearly perfect. The layout is clean, attractive, and there are hundreds of small self-contained examples. The documentation on using the editor needs some updating, as much of it was written for the release of 3.0, and we've changed direction considerably since then. Finally, there is a lack of connection between what commands do and how to turn that into gameplay. I don't think we have to explain how to make every game in the world, but some more game-centric lessons that get into the guts of simple Lua scripting would make things easier.

 

To optimize this process the entire documentation is being revised and designed with a top-down approach. Instead of adding explanations of how to do something here and there, we're designing the entire sequence of learning before any of the material is even written. This will provide a better flow, with a linear sequence of lessons listed on a single page that teach you everything you need to know. This is being done with the help of a third party, and more information will follow.

 

Finally, the last stage, once users own Leadwerks and know how to use it, is product development. This basically boils down to three factors: new features, repair of discovered bugs in existing features, and maintenance of third party technologies (i.e. filing bug reports for drivers problems or the occasional Steam issue). This mostly falls on me, and is what I am most effective at. However, there are plans to accelerate the implementation of a few key features with the help of another party.

 

So basically that's my view of Leadwerks and my plan to gradually start farming out some of the functions that others can do better than me. I'm being vague because a lot of legal and financial stuff is still being solidified. I think this is a good way to grow gradually without too much risk, and you'll see the results of this over the next six months.



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Thank you for the transparency! I love seeing updates like this.

 

I look forward to seeing these things become a reality. :D

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  • Blog Entries

    • By Josh in Josh's Dev Blog 0
      Textures in Leadwerks don't actually store any pixel data in system memory. Instead the data is sent straight from the hard drive to the GPU and dumped from memory, because there is no reason to have all that data sitting around in RAM. However, I needed to implement texture saving for our terrain system so I implemented a simple "Pixmap" class for handling image data:
      class Pixmap : public SharedObject { VkFormat m_format; iVec2 m_size; shared_ptr<Buffer> m_pixels; int bpp; public: Pixmap(); const VkFormat& format; const iVec2& size; const shared_ptr<Buffer>& pixels; virtual shared_ptr<Pixmap> Copy(); virtual shared_ptr<Pixmap> Convert(const VkFormat format); virtual bool Save(const std::string& filename, const SaveFlags flags = SAVE_DEFAULT); virtual bool Save(shared_ptr<Stream>, const std::string& mimetype = "image/vnd-ms.dds", const SaveFlags flags = SAVE_DEFAULT); friend shared_ptr<Pixmap> CreatePixmap(const int, const int, const VkFormat, shared_ptr<Buffer> data); friend shared_ptr<Pixmap> LoadPixmap(const std::wstring&, const LoadFlags); }; shared_ptr<Pixmap> CreatePixmap(const int width, const int height, const VkFormat format = VK_FORMAT_R8G8B8A8_UNORM, shared_ptr<Buffer> data = nullptr); shared_ptr<Pixmap> LoadPixmap(const std::wstring& path, const LoadFlags flags = LOAD_DEFAULT); You can convert a pixmap from one format to another in order to compress raw RGBA pixels into BCn compressed data. The supported conversion formats are very limited and are only being implemented as they are needed. Pixmaps can be saved as DDS files, and the same rules apply. Support for the most common formats is being added.
      As a result, the terrain system can now save out all processed images as DDS files. The modern DDS format supports a lot of pixel formats, so even heightmaps can be saved. All of these files can be easily viewed in Visual Studio itself. It's by far the most reliable DDS viewer, as even the built-in Windows preview function is missing support for DX10 formats. Unfortunately there's really no modern DDS viewer application like the old Windows Texture Viewer.

      Storing terrain data in an easy-to-open standard texture format will make development easier for you. I intend to eliminate all "black box" file formats so all your game data is always easily viewable in a variety of tools, right up until the final publish step.
    • By Josh in Josh's Dev Blog 1
      I wanted to see if any of the terrain data can be compressed down, mostly to reduce GPU memory usage. I implemented some fast texture compression algorithms for BC1, BC3, BC4, BC5, and BC7 compression. BC6 and BC7 are not terribly useful in this situation because they involve a complex lookup table, so data from different textures can't be mixed and matched. I found two areas where texture compression could be used, in alpha layers and normal maps. I implemented BC3 compression for terrain alpha and could not see any artifacts. The compression is very fast, always less than one second even with the biggest textures I would care to use (4096 x 4096).
      For normals, BC1 (DXT1 and BC3 (DXT5) produce artifacts: (I accidentally left tessellation turned on high in these shots, which is why the framerate is low):

      BC5 gives a better appearance on this bumpy area and closely matches the original uncompressed normals. BC5 takes 1 byte per pixel, one quarter the size of uncomompressed RGBA. However, it only supports two channels, so we need one texture for normals and another for tangents, leaving us with a total 50% reduced size.

      Here are the results:
      2048 x 2048 Uncompressed Terrain:
      Heightmap = 2048 * 2048 * 2 = 8388608 Normal / tangents map = 16777216 Secret sauce = 67108864 Secret sauce 2 = 16777216 Total = 104 MB 2048 x 2048 Compressed Terrain:
      Heightmap = 2048 * 2048 * 2 = 8388608 Normal map = 4194304 Tangents = 4194304 Secret sauce = 16777216 Secret sauce 2 = 16777216 Total = 48 MB Additionally, for editable terrain an extra 32 MB of data needs to be stored, but this can be dumped once the terrain is made static. There are other things you can do to reduce the file size but it would not change the memory usage, and processing time is very high for "super-compression" techniques. I investigated this thoroughly and found the best compression methods for this situation that are pretty much instantaneous with no noticeable loss of quality, so I am satisfied.
    • By jen in jen's Blog 0
      My small project will be called Foregate, it will be a dark medieval Diablo style single player action RPG.
      The graphics will be simple, no PBR, 256x256 map, reasonably low-res models.
      Camera style? Top-down-ish I think? Like in Diablo exactly - and because the camera is not directly in-front of the 3 models, I can get away with low-resolution assets - bonus. Also, with top-down view, I won't have to worry about high resolution sky-boxes. 
      What's my plan for this project?
      I plan to make this project as small and as simple as possible, possibly release it as open-source, and have fun with it of course.
      My previous experience with game development (1-2 years ago?) was amateurish I think, still is now. I want to give it a go again, this time with experience although my skill in C++ is not really that good? Maybe I can improve it in this project.
      More about the game
      The content is not set in stone yet but I have a general idea of how the mechanics is going to look and feel - Diablo-ish obviously. It'll have monsters (ancient & mythical probably), loot when killing a monster, gold as in-game currency, visual grid inventory, player stats (level, strength, agility, vitality, energy, &c.). 
      The game will be single-player. Possibly a coop multiplayer also? I don't have any interest in making massive multi-player. 
      I started my development yesterday with the basic preparations (setting up project environment, &c.), today I made my first step in developing the core components; worker class, game state, task class.
      I have a game state that keeps a single source of truth for the entire application; all game data will be stored in this class as "states". 
      I also have a "Worker" which will do the processing of tasks in the game.
      I also have "object" class, this can be a monster, the player, a weapon, a prop, or an NPC.
      So the idea is to have a CQRS type of interaction between the classes and the data. Any action in the game will be interpreted as "Task" for the Worker class. The worker class iterates through the Task. Tasks can be created by any class interfaced with the Worker class trough "addNewTask" and the new tasks can be of a certain type i.e.: ATTACK, IDLE, SAVE_GAME, EXIT_GAME, the new task will also have a payload data and it's processed according to its task type e.g. an ATTACK with payload "{ Damage: 10, Target: MonsterA }" will reduce the health of MonsterA by 10 - the worker class will change the game state; find MonsterA in MonsterState and reduce its health by 10. 
      I think it's advantageous to have this type of centralized module where all actions are processed; I can do all sorts of procedures during the processes, maybe debug data, filter actions, mutate payloads, and such.
      How much time am I going to put into this?
      A couple of hours a day for 3 days a week maybe.
      So it's all a rough sketch for now and it's heading the right direction. I'll have more to report later on. 

      This is Forgate Castle, minus the castle, in the map Forgate; the starting location for the player. The fortification will have merchants, and quest givers.
       
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