Computers, Entertainment, Games, Technology, Video Games

Overcooked – Fun Coop Multiplayer Action

I recently a recorded a bunch of videos of the game Overcooked on Xbox One.

Your goal is to assemble meals out of various ingredients, cook them, and serve them. Over time the meals get a bit more complicated and the levels get a lot more complicated. It is strongly designed to be played cooperatively with up to four people, and even supports two players on a single controller.

My only complaint would be the difficulty is based too much on complicated level design (and jumps up a bit too quickly). Some times the controls are not exactly tight and you can end up selecting the wrong thing – having levels with moving targets or slippery floors for instance just accentuates an otherwise minor problem. I would have preferred more meal variations (that are also more complicated) on simpler levels.

But despite all that it’s a fun party game that almost anyone can play. And of course it is made in Unity.

One final note. The first video in the playlist above was generated by Google Photos. It turned out well, except for its automatic cropping.

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Entertainment, Games, Programming, Unity, Video Games

Visualizing Gravity

Unity has a pretty cool feature called “gizmos”, that are things rendered only in the scene view of the Unity editor. Many built in game object types render a gizmo of some sort, but you can freely add your own. This can be very useful for debugging.

This is a visualization of the gravity (more precisely it’s the low resolution grid of gravity mentioned in the previous post). The direction of the line is the direction of the gravity, and the length is the strength.




Entertainment, Games, Programming, Unity, Video Games

The Gravity of the Situation

The most important feature in Gravitas is clearly the gravity, so getting it right is crucial. One important principal to be aware of when making games though is that “right” doesn’t necessarily mean “technically perfect” or “scientifically accurate”. “Feeling right” and being fun to play with is often more important.

Despite that, the gravity in Gravitas is essentially correct. By correct, I mean a numerical approximation of Newton’s law of universal gravitation. The formula for calculating the gravitational force between two masses is:

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where:

  • F is the force between the masses;
  • G is the gravitational constant (6.674×10−11 N · (m/kg)2);
  • m1 is the first mass;
  • m2 is the second mass;
  • r is the distance between the centers of the masses.

For simplicity and performance reasons, there are a few things to be aware of though. Firstly, I decided not to worry about real world units since the planets, ships and torpedoes are not realistically scaled to each other (either by size, mass or distance from each other). This means I can decide that my torpedoes have a mass of 1, thereby eliminating a multiplication for the most common case. This also means I can choose the value of G to be whatever looks or feels right.

This is still quite a significant calculation that has to be performed every frame for every torpedo/planet pair.

As it turns out though, the maximum number of torpedo/planet pairs is quite low. Based on the limits of the previous version of Gravitas, there were at most 9 ships, firing at most 3 torpedoes, with at most 11 planets. This means 9 × 3 × 11 = 297 times to calculate the strength of the gravity each frame. In practice I don’t think I ever so that many torpedoes (every ship using a triple-shot special power at once).

But then I wanted to add dust. By dust, I mean a trail from the torpedoes, that is also affected by gravity. At a minimum this should generate one particle per frame and be at least a couple of seconds long at normal torpedo speed. This means each torpedo could easily have a hundred dust particles all needing the same gravity calculation. All of a sudden there could be 300,000 gravitation calculations per frame.

On my laptop it ran fine. On my phone, not so much. There are a number of possible ways of solving this issue, but the one I settled on is based on the principle that accuracy of simulation of the dust particles (as opposed to the torpedoes) is not so important. That is, if the dust particles don’t behave perfectly, it doesn’t really matter.

One thing to notice about the gravity is that the only dynamic data it depends on is the position of the dust. The mass of the dust is fixed, and the position and mass of the planets are fixed (at least per round). My solution was to pre-calculate the strength of gravity on a dust particle for all the positions in a low-resolution grid. This means I can “calculate” the gravity by doing a relatively cheap lookup.

Entertainment, Games, Programming, Unity, Video Games

Gravitas approaching playability

Gravitas is rapidly approaching something playable, now that ships can be destroyed and new levels are generated.

“Something playable” is still quite far away from being an actual game. In terms of features required for even an alpha release, it still needs: scoring, match state, player lobby, AI, and better level generation.

Some other features I would rather have but aren’t strictly required include: special powers (especially warping, to get players out of impossible situations), better UI feedback for touch controls (which was not necessary for the original) and some match options.

But overall, progress is good.

Android, Android, Entertainment, Games, Programming, Technology, Unity, Video Games

Multi-platform – The real advantage of Unity

There have been quite a few mechanical additions since my last update, but the most significant thing in my latest video is it is the first on a non-Windows platform.

Unity has a large list of platforms it supports and a lot will work on all of them with no effort. For example, Gravitas currently builds and runs on Windows (Win32 and Windows 8.1 Store), Mac, Android and WebGL. With the exception of adding some settings (the Android package name for instance) I didn’t have to do anything platform specific for any of it.

Although there are very few hard limitations on what can be done on the different platforms, the wildly different performance characteristics mean you do have to think about different problems.

A more straightforward problem I recently solved (after the Day 20 – Android video was made) was to decide how to deal with different mobile device orientations.

My general philosophy is to try and support everything, so although landscape feels most natural for Gravitas, there isn’t really a reason not to support portrait. In fact, since the camera will adjust its zoom level to keep all the world on screen, it already supported portrait, albeit rather awkwardly. The dynamically generated levels are designed to have approximately a 16:9 aspect ratio. This means in portrait you get massive empty space above and below the planets, while making everything smaller than necessary. The solution? If the aspect ratio is less than 1, rotate the camera 90 degrees. This not only means portrait is supported, but in fact a far more general case of portrait-like aspect ratios is supported (and even better, has no mobile specific code at all).

Books, Entertainment, Reviews

Atonement (Star Trek: Voyager)

Although the title suggests this is just a review of Atonement (and is biased towards it), this is really a review of the three Voyager novels The Protectors, Acts of Contrition and Atonement which essentially make up a single story.

As a warning, this book (and by extension this review) contains heavy spoilers for the Destiny series, and the earlier Voyager relaunch stories (Full Circle to Eternal Tide).

Atonement (Star Trek: Voyager)

★★★★☆

Oliver Brown

2016-12-15

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Voyager and its crew and allies face some of the consequences of their first trip through the delta quadrant, while Seven of Nine struggles with the changing attitudes of the Federation following the events of Destiny.

One of the reasons I like Star Trek now is the sheer wealth of material available. The novels have been going from strength to strength, expanding the material in ways that would not have been possible while the show was still on TV. Despite this, I was a little concerned when the Voyager relaunch series began in Full Circle and immediately introduced a lot of new characters at once, and did so in a way that suggested they were going to stick around and be important. I think this trilogy has proven the idea was worth it.

At its core, there are two stories going on simultaneously, one in the Federation and one with the Full Circle fleet in the delta quadrant. Plot-wise they have nothing to do with each other and could have happily existed in separate works. Despite this, they do work well together solely because of the complicated relationships between all the characters – partly the existing ones between the characters we all know, but also significantly with the new ones introduced. Characters’ actions were frequently motivated by their relationship with those in the ‘other’ story so this structure helped emphasize this in a way that would have been lost had they been separate.

The Federation storyline deals with unexpected fallout from the destruction of the Borg. Seven of Nine and Tom Paris leave the Full Circle fleet to help with this in a story centred around the ethics and morality of the Federation trying to rebuild too quickly. Both Seven and Tom have to deal with the fact that they’ve spent years with a crew who respect and trust them, but now have to face an outside world that doesn’t. After all, Seven is not only a former Borg drone, but also one of only a handful that didn’t join the Caeliar gestalt; while Tom is still regarded as rebellious (and only kept in Starfleet due to Janeway’s influence) as well as reckless because of his handling of the situation with his daughter in Unworthy.

Described broadly, this idea of characters redeeming themselves, and being better than they appear is a common plot for Star Trek. But it is also one that works well, especially because of the complex interactions with the secondary characters (The Doctor, Axum, Samantha Wildman, Icheb and Admiral Akaar all feature to varying degrees).

The Full Circle fleet storyline also follows another typical plot found in Star Trek: how the Federation deals with large powers that don’t quite match their ideals, and specifically what happens if they try to subject a member of the Federation to their own idea of justice. Unfortunately, the ultimate resolution to this ends up a bit weak, but as consolation it leaves the door open for more in the future.

Constantly switching between the two plots is a little frustrating at times, but only because each one is so engrossing. During it all,  the new characters in the Full Circle fleet get enough time to get some depth and feel important (and in some cases like Liam O’Donnell, to stop feeling like one-dimensional caricatures). This didn’t blow me away like some have (like DTI: Watching the Clock or the Mirror Universe series), but it’s better than most other recent novels and is definitely the best of the Voyager relaunch and worth reading if you have any interest in Voyager. Although you should probably start at Full Circle and read them all.