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A look back at what happened, and bit of talk about environments.

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November brought the usual chills with it, along with my monologue of our current progress.

We've been super busy re-designing a lot of areas, and doing some other fun stuff, including some real life commitments to courses, workshops, general work and the usual battle of feeling anxious about not getting as many things done as we'd like to. But that's life, can't really complain about that, now can we?

Nah I can, and do all the time. It SUCKS. Both the complaint and the complainer. ANYWHO-

What's up with the grant?
As mentioned previously, there was a grant I was awarded, which made me ran into some issues. The good news is, that the issue seems like it will get resolved by the end of December (touch wood, TOUCH WOOD!), so hopefully I won't need to sell off Grandpa to the circus. Though, the cheeky old man might actually do that by himself anyway, just for fun. Silly boomer.

I'm still not sure about any sort of external fund injection to the project, albeit I need to also correct myself: The EU crowdfunding law change I wrote as 'late October' in my last post, is actually November 10. Don't ask how I got that wrong, but I did. So at this point the details are still uncertain, and I cannot comment about it any further. Dementia runs in the family.

However, what I can mention is that some time ago we passed 300 wishlists on steam, which I hereby would like to thank you all for. Especially with the fact that compared to other teams, we're really really slow, and have still yet to show off the significant progress we're making. Know this though: with our current plans, you will get much more out of the game, than we originally planned, some of this you'll find below in this post.

Behind the scenes: How our backgrounds / environments are made

I wanted to create videos for this segment, as per 'tldrs', shot some footage, started editing and scoring it, but ultimately decided against it. It was just not on the level I wanted it to be, so for now, I've put that on hold. However, I still need to provide some updates to you guys, so we're back to the fun ways of doing things: me vomiting a wall of text, and you guys ignoring while looking for images. Well, I do hope you read at least some of it.

We're skipping over any backstory on how and why Creepslore exist, purely because it's far from done, and I've found talking about it to be too egocentric, and pointless. We're a bunch of unimportant no one's, so who cares, right? Hence we're kicking things off by showing you the how's and whys of our environments, how it started, and where it's currently leading us.

The VERY early version
Way back, when the game itself was just a 5 character, one location parody (or rather mockery) of Visual Novels, we started off with Tyranobuilder as our engine. Tyranobuilder is a rather easy to use tool, but it has some funky limitations. We thought that it would be more than enough for our goals, we weren't going to add anything special. Oh how we were wrong.

The first conceptual iteration of Creepslore was like this:

2D, black and white characters, with monochrome backgrounds, done with quick BSP mapping, with composited 3D models and some rudimentary post processing. These backgrounds weren't even 'rendered' so to speak (maps need to be compiled), as we just took screenshots in our viewports. Again, much simpler times, much less effort. The color purple was already the main focal point in this version, we really wanted characters to 'pop' from the backgrounds, and limiting things to a scheme like such, achieved this rather easily.

Not much time later, we began experimenting with more detail, where we exported the base layouts from J.A.C.K. (a BSP level editor) and added props in Blender. Then, the end product was rendered in Substance Painter. While this looked good, we had a lot of technical issues from the software crashing, or plain simply refusing to co-operate. That sonofa***** has a mind of it's own.

Around this time, our character count, and story grew so much bigger, that we ended up making things more and more complex. We began playing around with the idea that we should give players more freedom, more things to do, and not just stick to the typical 'Interactive Story' formula. Both of us are very much into 'exploration' types of games, or anything that let's you roam freely, at your own pace, despite not being essential to the gameplay. Now this doesn't mean 'walking simulator' on our end, but purely the ability to investigate whatever you wanted. Yet again, we tested things out, and made a version in which you could do so.

We were also reminiscing about the games we enjoyed as kids, and we came to the conclusion that we don't actually like our current style that much. We both grew up with 'old school' games from the 90's, and adored their looks. But, we also got annoyed at how emulating these, most people seemed to never understand what made those environments work, the way they did. Taking a look at indie games, the majority seemed to achieve the 'low polygon' look by simply not smoothing their objects, using solid color shades instead of textures, yet still having simple items, such as a box eat up 500 verticles. We're not purists by any means, but with the exception of a few developers out there, who truly tried to hone in on the early 3D style, the rest wasn't exactly using it, as they claimed. No offense.

Another one of our annoyances, at least mostly mine, was that there's barely anyone doing pre-rendered backgrounds anymore, specifically in a 2.5D format. The old Resident Evils, Final Fantasys, Chrono Cross and similarly styled products are the reason why I ever had the slightest interest in making games, and as a child I've found it to be the pinnacle of artistic expression. *shrugs*

Sure, technology changed, trends changed, but I cannot disregard the fact that I'm missing this method of presentation. Since that's how things are, how about we actually make it like such, instead of waiting for someone to MAYBE do what we'd want.

I whipped up a quick concept on how this would effectively look, and was quite pleased with the idea. Using a combination of the Trenchbroom Level Editor and Quake, I not only skipped over a lot of post processing, but achieved an era-accurate look, by simply using a rendering engine from the era. Sometimes the most obvious choice escapes us. Of course, this would lend us a big hand, but also a bit of a handicap as well. We didn't have set cameras, so we're going to need to literally position ourselves in game, and take our screenshots for the backgrounds.

Our triangle count is also limited to that of the engines, so we have to optimize everything as much as possible, otherwise we cannot compile the map. Luckily for us, there's a lot of forks of the Quake engine, eliminating or increasing limits, so we could be more lenient with our resources. Still, we didn't choose the 'best' version, but one that increased our limits, and mostly allowed us to use external textures. A quirk of the Quake engine is that it uses a set color palette and image size for it's textures, so being able to increase some of that resolution and load in elements that weren't bound by said color palette, allows us to be more vibrant. We'll be still building everything in a set palette, but after the level is compiled, the game will automatically load in the better looking textures.

Our environments finally started looking better, more unique, and filled me with great anticipation. There was just one more thing: I wanted scrolling backgrounds and more base resolution to work with. The issue here is, that the game's output is tied to your computer specs, and you cannot simply set any custom screen size, as you would like in a 3D package. Before we even started working on the game, we established one core rule that we had to follow: the game has to run in 1920x1080 natively. The problem here is that we couldn't take pictures bigger than that either, since our hardware didn't allow it, ergo: scrolling backgrounds had to be stitched together from multiple screenshots. Needless to say,
this didn't work out, as the field of view and other distortions made it quite hard to properly mask things together. I almost gave up on this element, when Nvidia came to the rescue.

What a lot of people don't seem to know, or rather, it's not a common knowledge, is that Nvidia GPUs have support for emulating bigger screen resolutions, than what your PC is actually capable of. So, you could set up a game to run in 4K, even if your graphics card didn't support it. The way this works, is that the the output will still be displayed in your native resolution, let's say 2K, but 4K of data is going to be shrunk into it, creating a crisper image. What this also means, is that when you take an ingame screenshot, you will end up with an image in 4K. I have no idea why this feature is not talked about, as it's super useful for a lot of things. Either way, it solved a huge problem with us, and even gave me more leeway in terms of post processing.

Let's start over
I'm not a fan of scrapping content, in fact, we tried to adhere to the philosophy of trying to re-use everything we could that we made for Creepslore in some way, be it either a re-purpose, an unlockable
or some other form of secret content. After more than 1 year of development however, I was trying to cumbersomely hack out weird methods that would allow us to use Tyranobuilder for more than it was ever meant for. Since I'm the one assembling things, it was mostly a 'me' issue, but I didn't know how my partner would react with me starting to doubt our engine. But it just didn't cut it anymore, I had to look for an alternative. Luckily, he was understanding after I showed him what more we could do, so I bought a license to Visionaire Studio, an adventure game engine and started from scratch again.

Now a lot of people might be wondering 'Why not Unity?' or anything else. Thing is, If I could, I would have my own engine for this very specific reason: a lot of things are overcrowded or lacking features
that I would need. Unity is good for what it is, but I despise it with a passion, I'd never want to touch it. It just has too many issues for me. VS on the other hand, has some extensive features, that would allow us to expand more on our explorations, and even add 3D characters. It was honestly a no-brainer decision. But it ended up giving us more work.

With new features and possibilities, our ideas suddenly doubled as well. Now we wanted to do much more. Since we weren't capped by Tyranobuilder by this point, we kept adding more and more things to the game plan. The funny thing is, that we ended up in an infinite circle because of this: new tools brought new features, which influenced our gameplay, which lead us down a path where the story became bigger yet again, which in turn resulted in a changing design.

When we switched over to Quake as a level design tool, we bypassed limits, by simply creating a modular environment. Our core location was a city, that was built with 'blocks' in mind, that we would
connect together through transitions. This was a bit wonky, and we never truly managed to get it perfectly right. Furthermore, since things escalated, our original city design was no longer viable as it started to clash with our story. While we could re-use parts of it, the overall picture differentiated so much from when we started the whole project, that it would only lead to confusion if left as is. Something had to be done.

I took one of our older locations, and tackled upgrading it. When we switched to the Quake engine, I tasked myself with creating props, that we could seamlessly insert into any location, but these were very generic, and couldn't be used for what we currently aimed for. So I've started creating entirely new ones, specifically for each environment.

A lot of things came from jokes, for example: A run down, Finnish SPA inside a cave. But this didn't make any sense with the changed story, so it evolved into a Japanese Bath, on the top of a mountain. Except, it didn't look like one. After gathering a lot of references, I reworked it (pictures from unrendered viewport) and became quite happy with it. Of course, once it get's the higher definition, and expanded color palette textures, it will be even better.

Another thing that had to be noted, is that when we started, we thought the game would take place in the 90's. Now, it was the 70's. Collecting more and more references from the era made me realize one flaw that most of us tends to forget: When designing for a specific period, we tend to focus solely on said time, and not before. Yeah, the 70's had it's own style, but the world existed before that as well, and it's not like everything suddenly changed from the 60's, it was a slow process. Not to mention, a lot of things were even older than that, and still stayed around in their original state for quite some time. It's such a simple thing, but we really tend to skip over it, and not remember that every process is gradual. We completely missed this the first time around, when we started on Creepslore. Welp.

Now and the Future
Currently, we're still reworking locations, while also writing more to the script. We picked a story branch, that has the most common elements with the others, and are focusing on that. The important thing is to get the environments right here, but to also make them viable for the other's. It wouldn't make sense if there was to be too big of a change between them, so we have to make absolutely sure that what we end up in one branch, will almost exactly fit into the other's as well. Things are taking a bit longer than expected, but hey, if it's worth the extra mile, and will be much better in the end, it's not a problem, right?

Between this and the last post, we've decided that it would be best to head into early access this year, with one branch, and continuously update it, by adding the rest later. It's not exactly a common choice for this type of game I think, but atleast people would have more of an inkling what Creepslore really was. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen in 2021, the soonest it will, would be the first quarter of 2022, assuming there's no other setbacks. Thing is, there's one added distraction that I didn't mention yet: I'm in my last semester of trade school, and forgot that I have to hand in a final project there as well, while also preparing for a graduation exam. Yeah, what I can I say, I'm senile with a super cluttered schedule...

While this doesn't effect much... to hell it does, lol. I wish I could put my full attention on the game, I wish we'd have something out already, but again, this is life now. Progress is there, but it's slow. Can't do anything about it this year, it is what it is. We won't forcefully try and speedrun development either, let alone release something that's crap. Things are done, when they're done.

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