May 2007

Transfer market, new cursors, texture compression and more

Since the last update on Project “W” I worked on a lot of smaller things and also did a lot of work on the “background” of the game (the stuff most players won’t notice but which is still important to work on), so this news posting will be a collection of all the things I did over the last days.

Transfer market : This was actually the last thing that was really bugging me as up until recently each staff member would have the same image with only name and values being different, so I started to take care of this and in the final version there will be around a dozen of different faces for each of the professions (scienists, spies and generals) so the staff you hire is much more personalized and can easily be recognized.

New cursors : I finally got rid of the default windows cursor and created my own cursors for the game and now the cursor is also dynamic, which means that it’ll look different depending on where you hover or what you’re currently doing. So if you e.g. hover the cursor above a button it’ll be colored different so you quickly notice that clicking will trigger an action. I also added new cursors for assigning and moving armies and spies and for rotating the cube, with more different cursors to follow. It’s just a small thing but it adds a lot to the general usability of the UI.

Usability changes : During playtesting I noticed that several things in the game (e.g. the cursors above) concerning the user interfaces usabilitay weren’t as great as they should so I changed mostly some minor things. But one bigger change is a new hovering panel with detailed information on a division that’s stationed in a region. Before this change you had a very small listbox with units in that division withouth actually having additional information like the unit’s current health. So I replaced that listbox with a panel that shows only the armie’s name and strength and as soon as you hover your cursor above it a hovering panel will open that contains all important information on that division like the assigned general with his abilities and all units including their health. And btw. if you take a closer look at the globe you can see that the clouds are now a separate layer and are also moving across the globe which looks much better than the old static clouds.

Texture compression and VRAM-usage : By using a tool to see VRAM usage I quickly noticed that Project “W” used much to much VRAM (> 200 MBytes) which would have made it very slow on cards with only 128 MBytes of memory and after longer games (lots of stuff is loaded on demand) it would even use up the whole memory of a 256 MBytes graphics card. This was too much so started lowering texture sizes (where possible) and finally compressed most of the textures by hand using NVidia’s Photoshop plugin for creating DDS textures. At first I just wanted to compress “blind” by just having my texture manager always compress textures. And although this halved the amount of VRAM used it also degraded visualy quality far to much to be a option. But the plugin allows you to set the quality of compression and also to select different compression formats with different channels and so after around two works of compressing and optimizing textures the game now uses around 100 MBytes of VRAM and visual quality is almost the same. This means that for owners of cards with only 128 MBytes of VRAM the game should run faster, but as DDS also stores mipmaps the loading times of the game also decreased a lot no matter what graphics card you use.

As you can see a lot of stuff is happening and it’s getting closer to release each day…

First playtesting sessions and hardware requirements

Although there are still some minor things to do before I can call it a version that’s ready to getting released, Projekt “W” is now in a shape where you can actually play a whole game without it throwing an exception (so far all show-stoppers have been fixed). So today I made the first two playtesting session with the first one being interrupted with a bug that I quicly fixed followed by a second playtesting session.

And after those sessions I have to admit that I’m very pleased with how the game turned out and I already found it a lot of fun to play, especially as there aren’t a lot of new games out there that can be compared to Projekt “W”. The game’s pace is also roughly at the point where I predicted it to be and there are actually only a few minor things outstanding that need to be done and of course balancing, but that’s what playtesting is for. So I also started an issue list with all annoyances that turn up while playing the game and changes that could improve overall gameplay and hopefully after a lot of hours filled with playtesting I should have a game that other people will also enjoy.

In addition I tried out Projekt “W” on a slower machine with two different graphics card some days ago in order to roughly get a picture of the hardware needed to play it with full details. The CPU was an Athlon XP 2600+ with 1 GByte of memory running Windows XP (which can be considered very low-end by now) and I tested with a Geforce 6800 (vanilla, 256 MBytes VRAM) and a my trusty old Radeon 9700 (128 MBytes VRAM, somewhere from 2002) and both ran the game without any visual differences so I can safely say that it’ll at least look right on ATI hardware. The Radeon though is a very old card with only shader model 2.0 and the game ran very slow on it (around 15 FPS) but that may be connected to some of the shaders used by the game. The 6800 (which also is considered low-end by now) on the other hand ran the game at high frame rates and with the above configuration one should be able to play it with all details in 1024×768 with anti-aliasing enabled.

On the state of Project “W”

I just crossed the last remaining things off from my todo-list for the demo (except for one point which is finishing one of the remaining nation backgrounds) and so far I have been very pleased with it’s progress since I started on the new version back in august 2006 (I still have a backup from that date on my disk in order to quickly check progress). Recently a friend of mine came by and after showing him the current in-developement version he was stunned by the professional looks of it so I guess it’s going in the right direction and all the work I’ve put into it in the end will pay out.
The game itself also is very close to my initial vision (except for the missing stuff that’ll be implemented after the demo), it already plays nice (although playtesting is still to be done), looks good and so far also works without any serious bugs or problems so I’m very confident that the demo will make it’s way into the public within the next two months although I may release some test-candidate earlier to see if everything works on different hardware.

In addition to this short status update I also decided to put up some new screenshots that have been taken only a few hours ago. They’re from the recent version and show the new main menu background with animated lightning and some shots directly from the game showing that I (again) did some changes to the user interface to make some parts look more like a game UI and easier to distinguish.

Hotseat mode is in

As already hinted at in my last posting on the subject of Project “W” I implemented the hotseat-multiplayer-mode, which will be the only multiplayer-mode present in the demo. For those that don’t know about it, hotseat is a multiplayer-mode that only uses one PC and therefore only can be used in a turn-based game (like Project “W”).
So before starting such a game (see first screenshot) you choose what nation is controlled by a human player (other nations are played by the computer, disabling a whole nation is not possible but maybe later on with different game modes) and you can also set the number of ressources each nation has at the start of the game. In addition to that you’re also able to set a time limit for each player’s turn so that player’s will have to do all their stuff in a given time-frame.
The hotseat-mode itself therefore is so far finished but it may be possible that I have to change some gameplay related things compared to the normal singleplayer-mode, but that’s subject to gameplay testing later on.

Project Project