July 2011

Secret agency and some icons

As already told (countless times I guess now) I’m still working on the new GUI but I’m making good progress. Only one window needs to be transitioned over to the new GUI before I can call this milestone done and move over to work on other stuff like adding content and functionality. My current plan is to have a version with the new GUI and all features (only one feature of “Phase 2” is missing) done that I can release for public testing by this yeas end. But since real-life can’t be predicted please don’t count me on this, though I try to squeeze in as many hours for coding as possible to get it done.

So that one window that still needs (only some) work is the “secret agency” (espionage and sabotage for your agents) and that’s what I’m currently working on. The biggest problem with this window is that it includes a lot of different information, and even if I would have the whole screen available it would still be hard to present all of this at once (by “at once” I mean all of the information depending on the selected agent’s location, e.g. enemy region, division, free, etc.). And so after countless (at least a dozen) iterations of that window I finally have something setup that looks great, feels good and is intuitve to use (which is kinda important). In the screenshots below you can see the current version showing agent’s assigned to enemy regions displaying all important informations and the newly created (see bottom of the window) action list. That action list was a lot of work and it had several different iterations throughout the last few weeks, starting out as a plain and boring list of simple text buttons and now it has become a display of some nice icons :

So for that action list I had to create a dozen icons (only for enemy regions, the other agent assignments will need some new icons too). And for most of you this may sound like something that could be done in a few minuts, but it actually took me four days (with ~2h each day). Why you ask? Because it’s really hard to create icons that transport what they intend to use. That’s simple because you only have a very limited space (128x128px, in the game they’re even smaller) to create something that a user will directly recognize. And that task itself isn’t trivial, but you first have to come up with a design before you start creating that icon, and it often happens that you have a good idea and that the icon looks great in big, but when you put it into the game and only see a small represenation it just won’t work, meaning you can start all over. That’s why it often takes me such a long time to create several icons, and I guess everyone who did some small icons by themselves know what I’m talking about. So after finding a nice concept for every single icon that would work on a small space I created them using a 3D modeling application and rendering them with an ink’n’paint shader (think of cel-shading) to give them a nice, high-contrast look. Afterwards (depending on the icon) I also added some stuff in Photoshop and tested how they’d look in the game. So here you go, all of the new icons in one nice image. I hope they’ll transport their funtionality pretty well, though please note that in the game they also have a short caption as well as an extended tool-tip if you hover above them :

New toy (HD6850)

Back in the days before I got myself a PS3 I used to upgrade my PC every year. But since then (early 2009) I haven’t really bought any new PC games and thus never felt the need to upgrade my hardware. But well, my HD4850 (512 MB) started to show it’s age, especially when I wanted to play The Witcher 2 (I loved the first one, and the second one seems to be a great RPG too) and realized that even at lowered details and dialed back resolution (which isn’t really nice when you have a big display) the game was chugging along (20~25 fps with a lot of stuttering). So I decided to get me a new graphics card, and after reading through reviews and articles I settled for an Radeon HD6850. The HD4850 was a nice card (except that the cooling fan died, and the one you see in the shot is a replacement one I mounted myself), but for current games it just wasn’t enough anymore, and the new HD6850 has twice the VRAM and it’s cooling fan is even more silent than the already very-silent one on my HD4850 (it’s so silent you have to put your fingers into the fan to see if it’s actually working). And for roughly 135€ it wasn’t too expensive either, especially since it included a free copy of the recently released DIRT3, a game I wanted to buy anyway (I’m really into racing sims/games and own a nice steering wheel ). And yes, The Witcher 2 looks really stunning with this new toy, so hopefully the game itself will be as good as the first one, and DIR3 seems to support DX11, so I’m pretty sure this will look stunning too (especially when you’re used to the low-res 30fps visuals of current console games).

And yes, the HD6850 also supports Shader Model 5.0. So maybe I’ll start digging into this and try out some of this in OpenGL. Especially the new tesselation unit looks interesting. Though I’m still pretty busy with work on “Phase 2” of Projekt W and I don’t plan on putting any SM5.0 functioanlity into it (maybe I’ll try to apply hardware tesselation to the globe, just to see how it looks).