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August 23rd, 2010

Status update, August 2010

Another month, another status update. Last time I told you I was working on the Level 19. Well, Level 19 is pretty much complete, now it's a matter of creating the connected intro and interval cinematics moving the plot forward.

Virtual model work

I won't go into too much detail about the said cinematics, but I can say it involves something I like to call virtual model work. This is all my knowledge of old B-movie miniature model shots implemented into 2-D videogame engine. The best reference would be, not in terms of content but the working principal, the original 1933 King Kong. When Kong was shown from afar, he was 100% stop-motion creation. However, close-ups with actress Fay Wray demanded portions of Kong – the hand and face – to be built in 1:1 scale.

This is pretty much how some of these cinematics work. We have from-distance shots drawn using assets created with lesser detail – with native resolution of 800x600 we can do that without loosing any visible detail. For close shots I create the required portions of the objects in 1:1 scale with all the detail you'd expect from TAGAP2, down to bolts, rivets and seams.

Here is a quick example of what I mean. This is not from the said cinematic, but illustrates the idea;

Sprite vs. Hi-res Sprite comparison

Stunts

Other thing making things tricky is the fact that this particular cinematic involves an elaborate stunt. This is tough because, unlike with most modern games, TAGAP2 doesn't actually support recording movement data for display. Unlike in, say, Gears of War, cinematics of TAGAP engine aren't pre-recorded, but more like events that are set in motion and guided to the desired goal via carefully planned and commanded AI routines.

For example, Pablo walking across the room isn't made by recording player moving from point A to point B, but by creating an AI driven stand-in for Pablo and giving this stand-in a reason to move across the room and stop at point B. This means we can't just goof around until we get lucky with the stunt once and use that recorded data for the cinematics – we have to rig the situation so that it will go as planned every time. Every. Damn. Time. Achieving both this and the fact the stunt is supposed to look dangerous at the same time isn't easy.

Why are we using this system, then? For dozens of reasons, but most importantly that it takes the least possible amount of disk space and memory. For recorded animation data, even if it is parametric coordinates instead of per-frame-video, you would need to store a lot of information – as opposed to an entity entry in the game's precache and a few AI behavior guidelines. The game itself can get as big as it needs to get, but I won't sacrifice memory or disk space carelessly for non-gameplay cinematics, especially when the same can be achieved otherwise.

Up next

This cinematic will keep me occupied for a while, but once it's finished, the final confrontation awaits. Yep, we're that close to the final boss and the completion of the single player campaign! But please, don't start counting days and/or holding your breath just yet, there's still much work to be done.

Forum upgrade

As you may have noticed, the TAGAP forums have gone through a renewal. The main reason behind this upgrade is the excessive spam that has been hitting our forum, to the point I seriously considered shutting down the forum altogether. However, I'm under impression this new forum should be plenty more secure and also more feature-rich, so let's see how things turn out.

We got the forum running as fast as we could and thus it uses, for the moment, the plain phpBB3 basic layout. The TAGAP-themed layout is on the way and will be implemented as soon as I get it done.

Doctor Who

As you may have noticed from the recent weekly penguins featuring Frobisher, my quest to experience all things Doctor Who continues with the Big Finish Audio Productions. And oh boy, am I impressed! They are, in a word, brilliant. The soundscapes are so masterfully produced you will always get the idea what's going on and there is absolutely no need for narration. Stories are on par with the best of the Classic TV series and at times the productions feel superior; When the visual side of things is left to your imaginations, there are no wobbly sets – or if you are a purist you can always imagine them wobble.

I've now listened to a selection from each featured Doctor (5th, 6th, 7th and 8th) and now I'm focusing on adventures of Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and his new companion Charley Pollard (India Fisher). Like I suspected in my last blog, McGann is fantastic as the romantic Doctor, bringing a light-hearted, adventurous contrast to the manipulative 7th Doctor and the dark, war-torn 9th Doctor.

The biggest out-of-left-field surprise so far was 7th Doctor story Colditz. The story is great fit for McCoy's Doctor and it's an interesting concept, but the real kicker is the casting; The actual main villain of the plot is played by David Tennant. Yes, the Tenth Doctor himself. Here he is the most disgusting and slimy Nazi prison camp guard you can imagine and then some – and you'll buy the act 100%. The best part is that Tennant plays the role so well that after first shock you've completely forgotten he will take on the very same series as the lead hero. Just goes to prove how versatile an actor Tennant is.

And one more Doctor-related thing before I go; Even if you aren't fond of the stories in the latest Doctor Who DVD release, Revenge of the Cybermen / Silver Nemesis box set, do consider getting it for the extras. Especially the absolutely wonderful "Cheques, Lies and Videotape" is worth it alone. I've mentioned several times how I hate the fact I never had the change to get to know Doctor Who until mid 2000s and the series comeback, but this documentary made me consider that perhaps becoming a Whovian as late as in 21st century was for the best after all.

But again, lunch break is over – and time to go.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin