Back in the thick of it.

I have been working pretty hard on helping the Urban Terror team when I can, as well as working on my own stuff. I bounce back and forth on Hand & Foot and Urban Terror when I have something to do. Right now it’s mostly Urban Terror, and more specifically making assets. I have a mountain of tasks for Crenshaw. I would say that in the end I will have made 400+ unique props for it.

I have done the heavy lifting of organizing production on Crenshaw. I started off with the basics. I got the last beta from 2006, exported the raw geometric data, and cleaned it up in Maya3d. This work was very tedious, and not at all exciting, that I can assure you.

crenshaw_export_01
ugly geometry

Sadly this wasn’t the latest and greatest source I had from 2007.  Most of the shots on urbanterror.info from back when I started the rework are of the stuff I did in late 2006 and early 2007.  But sadly, all that work was lost forever in a hard drive crash and subsequent computer failure In 2007.  I am not saying I am blaming it solely on Dell Computers, but I am.  Before I started the this remake of Crenshaw in 2005, I bought a Dell Dimension 3000 with all upgraded hardware to mimic the machine I had while working at The Collective. This machine was solely bought to remake Crenshaw.

I only had that machine for two years, and after it died I put it in storage, and I would deal with it later.  When I pulled it out of storage, I got the bad news, I lost all the work I had.  So, Crenshaw was put on indefinite hold since the new game company I was working for forbid me from working on outside games.   I replaced the bad parts and gave the Dell to my mother when she moved from Pomona to Phoenix. Sadly, it didn’t last long for her either, as it died in less then a year. That was my very last Dell computer, and PC, for a long time as I made the switch back to Apple, and bought a 24 inch iMac in 2008, then I bought a Macbook Pro in 2010 for our mobile development studio. So, now that I have proven I am the backup poster child, back to remake 2.

I had to create the Crenshaw base level in Unreal 4, and get it ready for importing the mountain of geometry I will be adding in over the course of production.  I also had to setup all the software I was going to need.  This went smoothly, for the most part, even on the machine I have now.

The first thing I did was make one prop to get myself immersed in the process and asset pipeline for Unreal 4.  I did this by taking one prop and making it from scratch through the entire process.  This was the utility pole from an earlier posting, and on my blog post on the Urban Terror main page.

After that I was a man on a mission.  I went headlong on cleaning up and reworking one of the buildings from Crenshaw.

It was a lot of fun, and It was good for me to have something simple to start off on.  Then after it was all cleaned up, I moved on to other buildings.  So as not to burn out, I would work on random props along the way as I saw a need for them.  For example, I needed doors for the buildings, so I reworked that, and I also reworked the fire hydrant next to the utility pole on the street in the blue spawn.

Rendering out these images to share work in progress with the team was becoming quite a pain.  So someone pointed me to sketchfab.  Its an online 3d viewer where you can post your assets and people can inspect them.  I found it quite useful, so I posted a few props that I had in the works, this time with PBR materials which is much easier then trying to do it in Maya, then export and change them for Unreal 4.

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One prop down, 400+ more to go

utility_pole_wip_render15After the completion of this prop, I realized I have like 400 more to go for the completion of Crenshaw for the new version of Urban Terror on Unreal 4 Engine.  I am really out of practice, and a lot has changed since the last time I was cranking props out, for both my levels and for sale on Turbosquid.

No longer Phoning it in.

I have been slowing reworking ut_crenshaw for the new version of Urban Terror on Unreal 4. One of the things I am doing first is going through all the modeled props from the old level, and redoing them.  Because of the limitations of the IDTech3 engine, I had to forego a lot of detail that I wanted to add.  Now, I can do this right and give it the detail to make it immersive.  Below you can see the contrast from props modeled then verses now.

crenshaw takes a dip

ut_crenshaw had a main area, it was the courtyard/pool area in the middle of the level.  This was the focal point of the level, especially when it came to visuals.  When I reworked the level for the final time during the 3.x days, this was the area that got the most attention in my proof of concept art pass.

So this was the perfect place to start again with Unreal 4.  The first thing I did was recreate the rounded pool.  I looked for some real world reference, I didn’t have a lot to go on other then memory and old screenshots.

apartmentpool

 

apartmentpool2

These was the closest reference shots to the original pool I could find.  I liked the design of the pool, and thought this is the one.  If necessary I can heavily modify it, but it was a good starting place.

pool_mesh

This was my first attempt, and when I was finished UVing and texturing it, I threw it in unreal.  The problem I noticed right away was that I made it too low, poly.  It seems that old habits die hard.  So, I took another crack at it, and kicked the poly count up a notch, hey the old one can always be part of the LOD set right?

pool_wip_01

pool_wip_02

Here you can see that I greatly increased the polys on the sides of the pool, but not on the bottom or the concrete pavers sections at the top.  Next thing to do was to check it in game and make sure that its right.pool_wip_ingame_01

pool_wip_ingame_02The extra polys to the pool sides really did make it look much better.  So I decided to take a crack at adding back in the other necessary items like the diving board, lights, and drains.divingboard_in_maya

divingboard_ingameSo, for now, the pool is pretty much done.  We will be going back later and revisiting the textures to add in things like stains, grunge, and dirt.  But for now we will just move on and start working on the fence that surrounds the pool as that will be the most complex to make.  Everyone thinks that making a chain link fence is easy.  Make a few cylinders, and stretch a plane with a chain link texture alpha.  Well, not if you are looking to make something that looks a little closer to the real thing.

chain_link_fence_wip

pool_signs_wip

This will be a working gate that will open and close, so I had to make sure that the hinges were correctly placed, and that it makes sense to open and close.  Ok, the next thing I am going to tackle are all the props located in the pool area, such as pool cleaning supplies, some lounge tables, and chaise chairs, and heck maybe even an umbrella or two.

 

 

Crenshaw Resurgence

One of my favorite levels from the game Urban Terror and my very own passion project was ut_crenshaw.  It was well received when it was released with Urban Terror back in 2003.  In fact, it was a fan favorite with the competitive capture the flag crowd for its deceptively symmetrical layout with competition in mind.

ut_crenshaw

After release, a game studio located in Newport Beach California called the Collective, had a few people that just happened to play Urban Terror and thought the gritty urban style of ut_crenshaw would fit their upcoming title Mark Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents under pressure.  So, they contacted me and asked if I would be willing to fly out for an interview with them.  At the time I was living in Salt Lake City where I was working on my Information Systems Security degree at ITT Tech.

After I got back home, I received word that they were offering me the choice of an Environment Artist or Level Designer position. I let them know I had finals soon, but after my exams ended, I took the job, and it started me down a path as an entertainment software professional.

Over the years I tried to support Crenshaw as best I could considering that some companies would not allow me to work on personal projects while under contract.  I made an ill fated attempt to update Crenshaw in 2006.

It started off as a small art and lighting update as well as a few small route changes that were suggested to me by a few competitive clans on how to make the level also work for the team survivor game mode as well as capture the flag.  Then it kinda got outta hand.

I remade the entire map in Maya 3d.  And attempted to re-import the level back into GTKRadiant as an .md3 model.

crenshaw04

This was just my normal work flow, since at the time I was working on a next gen first person shooter using UDK and I really was itching to make crenshaw look next gen.  But sadly, with the limitations of the old IDtech 3 engine, it was a lost cause.  It ran at a horrible frame-rate for many reasons, including the sheer amount of detail and textures this new art pass had.  Plus lighting was a nightmare.  I must have tried 4 different lighting schemes to hide all the issues the engine had.

 

I have to admit I was very disheartened.  I didn’t want to release anything that might jeopardize my professional career by releasing something that wasn’t up to par.  Which sucked because the team at Frozensand was expecting to add this level in the upcoming beta version 4.0.  There was a lot of hype surrounding it at the time.

Then the worst thing that could happen did. right before I was set to move from LA to San Diego for a job at THQ, my hard drive up and just died.  Sadly I didn’t have time to work on recovering the data, so my computer sat in storage for quite a while.  When I was able to finally get to it, I found that I lost weeks of work that never got backed up off site, and that and the fact that THQ wouldn’t allow me to work on outside projects, was the final nail in what would be ut4_crenshaw’s coffin.

I didn’t release ut4_crenshaw_beta even though It was sent to QA for testing.  It was never added to Urban Terror 4.0, and pretty much just died like many of the 3.x maps did.  Over the years since, many have contacted me asking if they could take the mantle of moving it over to 4.x, and I always said no.  This map was my baby, it was personal. I had a vision for it that I was not willing to compromise on.  However I did promise that if the Frozensand team ever decided to move Urban Terror to a modern next gen game engine, I would take the level back up and give it the love it deserved.

So endeth the history lesson concerning Crenshaw.  Now , why bring it up do you ask? Well, as we all know Frozensand has announced that they are moving over Urban Terror to Unreal 4.  This project is called Urban Terror Resurgence.

So, being a man of my word, I will be updating Crenshaw to this newer version in all its next gen glory.

 

Hand & Foot update

I have been working on Hand & Foot again since I have no more contract work going on.  Art is still temp for the most part.  I have added some more simple UI elements so that its easier to navigate for testing.  I also added more options for gameplay, as well as a back-end database to store all the game data for statistics.  I figured since we are not playing against real people in this game, stats are going to be very important measurements of your progress and skill against ever increasingly difficult AI opponents.

I did a lot of research and what I found was that a game like this is bad for human opponents, even though its turn based, games can last so long that getting anyone to complete a game would be rare.  Its not like poker where someone can leave and be replaced at each hand.  A hand in this game can take a rather long time, in the neighborhood of 10-15 min.  an entire game can take an hour or more.

01
Game Life LLC – Splash Screen

The 10 AI opponents I have programmed all have differing play styles and personalities.  I have played a lot of Hand & Foot with real life opponents.  You would be amazed at the differing play styles you find.  No two players I have played against play the same.  And that goes for the in game banter and smack talk as well.

02
Main Menu / Start Screen

I have also made sure to give the player a myriad of game rule options. I wanted to make sure that the player can tailor the game experience for the type of game they want to play.  That means they can choose 2-4 player games, along with a multitude of deck, scoring, and rule options.

03.png
advanced game options menu

Right now all the avatars are temp, non animated flat images. and reactions are handled with text bubbles.  Later I will be adding fully animated AI avatars with dialogue.  I don’t have an animator at present, so I am still looking for one.  The reactions to play will be fairly organic for all the AI.  And depending on the AI you choose to play against, the smack talk will be fairly interesting.  I plan on having a diverse set of reactions to each set of game conditions.  My AI system consists of custom coded behavior trees, state machines, and black boarding.  Each AI has custom play characteristics and reactions to your play as well as the play of other AI.  For example each AI has a panic level based on a set of current game conditions.

CURRENT PANIC LEVEL
current panic level will return the panic score for AI ranging from a score of 0 to 10 based on current game conditions.

  • 0 (nobody can do squat, they’re just as screwed as you are so play your game)
  • 2 ( a player is in their foot, but they have no books, and plenty of cards so all is good)
  • 3 or 4 (a: player could have made a red book, but is still is in their hand….don’t panic just yet)
  • 3 or 4 (b: player could have made two black books, but is still in their hand….don’t panic just yet)
  • 3 or 4 (c: player might be in their foot with a few cards left, but no books, so no reason to freak out just yet)
  • 5 or 6 (a: player could be in foot with two black books, its getting serious)
  • 5 or 6 (b: player could be in foot with a red book, its getting serious)
  • 7 or 8 (a: player could be in foot with two black books and a few cards left…panic)
  • 7 or 8 (b: Player could be in foot with red book and a few cards left, …panic)
  • 7 or 8 (c: Player could be in foot with red book and two black books, if he gets rid of his cards, you’re screwed…panic)
  • 10 (Player is in foot, made books to go out and has less then 3 cards left and looks to be trying to go out. CRAP!!! )

This is a rudimentary explanation of the system, and if you have played hand & foot this should make sense to you.

05.png
player 2’s [AI] turn, he has 3 cards in his hand with 4 melds
The user interface all had to fit onto a 1024×768 screen.  This is the default iPad screen size and one of the most popular screen resolution for older PC’s.  But the game on PC can be resized to fit the screen, and the game will run on other tablet sizes, all screen shots here are from a Kindle Fire 7″ 1280×800.

06.png
the player is in his foot with 2 red books and one black, and can now pass

There are not a lot of canasta games out there, and of the one or two I have seen, they didn’t have multiple opponents, and you couldn’t see everyone’s cards. With this interface choice, all you have to do is click on an opponent avatar and you can quickly see their melds/books at a glance.  And you can always see their current card count for both hand and foot, as well as red and black books created.  I found this to be the better choice for the screen real estate I had to work with.

04.png

One of the things I learned on my other apps was that you don’t want to rely on outside services for your leader-boards and achievements.  For example when I made FlickEm, we decided to use Openfeint since Apple’s Game Center wasn’t quite ready for prime time.  That system went defunct maybe a year or two after the game was released and I had no way of handling the loss of that service.  So, having said that, its best not to have an outside service for stat tracking.  I am just handling it in game locally, so no sharing.  I might add a social media button to share high scores or achievements, but that’s something I can look into at a later date.

Ok, so I would call this a pretty full update on where things stand currently.  I am also working on a short alpha play through video, be on the lookout for that. Till then, back to the grindstone.

closing my website

In an effort to save even more money I have decided to shut down josephmauke.com.  Honestly, no one was really viewing it anymore so the expense of keeping the domain, and hosting was a true waste of money with so many free options out there.  I had my entire portfolio of game related items on there, but hardly anyone was looking at them.  I figured moving back to a free site was the best option and since my site was using wordpress integration for my blog I thought why not here.

Google should eventually pick this site up if someone googles my name in the future, although it could take a while, and my old site might come up for a while longer until that happens.