WC4 Remake first test

Pedro

Admiral
Inspired by Howie Days amazing WC1 project Definance Industries has helped me put together the first bit of a gameplay test of the WCIV remake.


It's super early days; to be honest I hadn't done any gameplay work at all until now, but I was rather envious of having something playable to develop in, and whilst I've not put much time into this it should be said that Defiance is an unstoppable modelling machine and I felt somewhat guilty for not representing that.

So the past the couple of weeks has seen:
Homing missiles
Engine flames
Very basic enemy motion
Shields
Lasers
Explosions
Sound effects
Spinning debris
External camera
The HUD system (so far only being used to update the Radar; it's pretty impossible to find an enemy without one! :D)
The moving throttle and joystick are also quite recent editions

So as not to do Defiance a disservice I should point out that all effects so far are programmer art, free textures (plus one purchase) and pre-first pass particle effects. Things will definitely improve once I expose the particle editor to him.

It's been an on and off project, despite not having done any gameplay work there have been changes that I imagine no one here cares about (nor should they) such as switching over to the Vulkan rendering API and improved loading and effect management. The remake is secondary to the primary task of updating my own engine, so progress is likely to be pretty slow.
Some progress has also been made with Grims help in figuring out the files formats.

It uses a hierarchical system, and one entity definition can reference many others; for instance the debris is a single model, but each piece is has the following lines:
- EntityWithID: RazorDebris6
Inherits: [Debris/DebrisSection]
Where RazorDebris6 is an example bone name. Which is enough to set them up with their own motion, collision and particle effects.
The AI's use the same inputs as the player
The codebase design means that support for multiple titles file formats can be added without cluttering up the codebase (scripting will mostly be driven by the event system).

The remake will require WCIV and use the original file formats (and in time WC3 and WCP).
Since it's quicker for me I haven't revived the graphical editor (there is one, but I won't unless anyone is interested). It won't be that mod friendly without it; but as the aim is to support the existing file formats I'm hopeful that I will be able to bring existing WCP mods over to it in time.
 
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Pedro

Admiral
Wow. It's been quite a week here. And it's only Tuesday :D .
To be clear it's this week only for this project :) I get very little free time for coding, I had to work on this through my lunch breaks to get this done as my only other option would be neglecting the twins. Hopefully things will move faster when I shave almost two hours off my daily commute in a few months. Defiance does have a tonne of visual suggestions but I'll probably bunch them all up together rather than doing regular updates.

It was a useful endeavor however; it highlighted a couple of bugs and a few more design questions.
For example what to do about shields? Does anyone know if the spherical shields fighters have were canon or an engine limitation? Neither me nor defiance could find any FMV where the fighters take hits, just capships. Collision wise we could match the fighters shape either when the shields are down, or even when they are up; or just stick to the bounding sphere regardless like the original games.
 
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AD

Finder of things, Doer of stuff
There's a couple of scenes with fighters taking hits. The first one isn't that useful because the Hellcats in the intro are taken out mostly with the Fission cannons and are pretty much one hit kills that don't really allow for shield hits.

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However, the later scene with Banshees opening the Peleus series does have shield hits. Three Banshees are attacked by two Excaliburs but despite the dialogue saying their shields are down you definitely see sheild hits.

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Pedro

Admiral
Thanks for that AD, I'd checked the first one but forgotten about the Banshees. That's interesting, it looks like it's an ellipsoid to me - not tightly hugging the hull but not a full sphere like in the game, what do you reckon? That could look pretty nice in game. The color references are really helpful too.
When making these kind of decisions we've been looking to the FMV, an ellipsoid for the shields and 1:1 collision for the mesh sounds like a nice compromise
 

Quarto

Unknown Enemy
With regards to shields and collisions, you above all need to allow your engine the flexibility to use the original game solutions regardless of what they are.

Spherical shields are, by now, such a common fixture of WC games that they can be considered canon - or, if we insist that gameplay is not necessarily always canon, then we can at least say they are canonical to the gameplay. They were undoubtedly originally an engine limitation, but by the time of WCP, you clearly see that the game can handle collision meshes on fighters (as happens on corvettes, which are fighters in all but name), yet they choose to stick with spherical shields for everything other than corvettes.

When it comes to hull collisions, the proper canonical solution would of course be to use collision trees. But this is the last thing you want to do. If you don't believe me, go play WC Saga. The FS2 engine handles collisions using collision trees, so Saga provides a case study in examining the gameplay implications of such a change. And - in this particular aspect - Saga's gameplay is utterly horrid. You see on your screen a game that looks like WC3, but the moment you try to hit something, you go "hey, this was never that hard before!"

In short: check what the game does, and use that. If the game uses a collision sphere, use a collision sphere. If it uses a collision tree, use collision trees (I'm not sure if WCP uses collision trees for fighters, or if it only does so for corvettes, but you'd still need the functionality to use either option).

The only collision-related area in which I would consider straying from the originals is in the case of collisions between ships. While I think in most cases WC uses the same type of collision detection for collisions as it does for gun hits, this can be highly frustrating, as time and again, you collide when it feels like it should have been a near miss. For this reason, at least for the player, a collision tree should be used when checking crashes. Of course, this will also need some variability in regards to the effect of shields on crashes - in WC3/4, shields seem to only blunt the damage, whereas in WCP, if you crash with your shields on, not only do the shields absorb some or all of the damage, but also they "bounce" you off.

By the way, it's a small nitpick given the scale of this whole project, but please have a close look at how cockpits move in WCP. I think this small change is something that has a truly dramatic visual effect - if you add motion to the cockpit mesh you currently have, it will add tonnes to the feel of the game.
 

Pedro

Admiral
Thanks for the feedback.

I'm inclined to agree with you on the collision, I'm also concerned that suddenly making fighters harder to hit with shields down would just be frustrating and out of place. Still I love the look in the FMV, I'll definitely try applying that to the visual effect, I may also try using ellipsoids for the collision. WCIV's controls were a bit twitchy so a slightly smaller target might feel ok. But as you said we have to support everything anyway.

As for the cockpit motion; it's going to take some real balancing with the location but I'd like to make use of at least the screen that the radar is currently displaying on. I'll try and add some at least for the next build but I'll keep it fairly subtle until the camera positioning is resolved.
 

FekLeyrTarg

Rear Admiral
Excellent work so far. Even though it is still in an early development phase, the gameplay feels much smoother than in Realspace3D.

Perhabs having the option between the spheroid and the ellipsoid shields in the graphics settings may not be a bad idea.
Fun fact: WCSaga uses the ellipsoid shields.

If you'd like to have some awesome energy weapons effects: Perhabs you could re-use the ones from WCSaga as it did an excellent job in remastering their look. Either that or you could also ask Howard Day if he'd like to contribute as he's the expert in energy weapons and explosions. :)

On a personal off-topic side note:
I'm actually very fond of WCSaga's gameplay, as it feels smoother and more precise than in Realspace3D. And for some reason, I never had any problem with aiming and hitting something despite the hitboxes being smaller than in the original games. But taste is subjective I suppose.
 

Pedro

Admiral
I'm really glad people feel like it's at a point to start talking about those kind of flourishes, but honestly those lasers etc are all programmer art. If this was a 2D game they'd be doodles in MS Paint. This demo isn't even pre-production yet.
I'm excited to see what Defiance Industries will do when I give him the tools he needs to add lasers etc.

Obviously explosions from Howard Day would be amazing - the explosions in RGO are probably the best I've ever seen; but I've faith that Defaince will do amazing replacements to my placeholder artwork.
 
If we use the FMV as the bible, then we see shots clearly pass through where the shields would be and hit the hull, now we can fudge the collision mesh a bit and make it larger. If we keep the sphere for hull collisions, we'll have to do some fancy work arounds with the hull hit FX? The early demo highlights some of the issues where we see the particle emitter for the hit spawn off the radius of the collision sphere rather then the hull itself after the shields are down which looks a bit hinkey. Just my two cents. I think we should probably game balance it a bit and play around.
 

AD

Finder of things, Doer of stuff
There really isn't much FMV reference in WC3 to compare the WC4 footage to, but the one instance we do see shield effects (in the console exclusive planet scenes) the shields are definitely elipsoid. They still match the ingame shield look but the entire shield lights up when hit.

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Pedro

Admiral
Thanks for all this AD. I've already changed the (visual) shield shape to match. I'm matching the color and shape of the banshee shield. I've kept a rim effect in there but now it's scaled by the distance from the impact. I've also changed the blending and am rendering the back faces to allow us to see rear impacts.
The one cue I want to take from the WC3 shot is that electric style effect; everyone expects it from the games. Whilst I'm keen to match the FMV as closely as possible I'd like to at least have a subtle similar effect in the noise texture.
It already looks a lot better but I'll hold off showing anything until the impact and noise textures have been replaced. I also want to mess around with some slight refraction which will help with the cloaking effect later on anyway.
 
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-danr-

Vice Admiral
As others have said, this is looking very promising!

Just a random side-thought; and not really relevant or important, but is there any plan to implement Blair's hand on the flight stick?
 
As others have said, this is looking very promising!

Just a random side-thought; and not really relevant or important, but is there any plan to implement Blair's hand on the flight stick?
Not really, I mean we could model a character for it but I don't think it's that big an attraction. If there were a mass outcry for virtual Blair maybe.
 

-danr-

Vice Admiral
Well, I have to say, the hand and the legs add a lot to the Wing Commander "feel".
I would second that.

@DefianceIndustries

For me, Wing Commander IV's immersion took a real hit for its lack of cockpits - so just the fact that you're including them is great. A virtual pilot would be a nice bonus too. I'm just thrilled to see cockpits to be honest.

Now to take this even further off topic: how faithful are you intending to keep things in terms of mission ship selection?

Specifically, I recall that our time with Confed is spent flying only Hellcats and Longbows. I would love to have had an option for a Thunderbolt. They're still in service and some of the missions really seemed to suit them.

It's probably too much work for the sake of the few Confed missions, but something I'd love to see nevertheless.
 
@-danr- we intend on using the original mission trees, so probably not for the campaign, at least not at first; that said there's always a multiplayer option...😁
 
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Pedro

Admiral
@-danr- we intend on using the original mission trees, so probably not for the campaign, at least not at first; that said there's always a multiplayer option...😁
This basically. Once we start editing things like that the mission balancing would come unravelled and the hope is to use the original files unaltered. I'm not going to discourage any modders after release however :)

That said I am also all for an animated character for the cockpit. It would add some extra work to the VR mode as you need an IK system to match the neck with your own but I’d be willing to take the time.

The other place I’d like to experiment with characters are the rooms on the capships. As I see it we have 3 options; use the original files unaltered, try one of these new AI upscaling systems or recreate the rooms in 3D.
I think the only viable option is probably the first but I’d love to do a single test of the other two.
 
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ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
That said I am also all for an animated character for the cockpit. It would add some extra work to the VR mode as you need an IK system to match the neck with your own but I’d be willing to take the time.
Since you have an actual joystick and throttle moving around, it seems a little unfinished to just have them move around with an invisible hand. I don't think you necessarily need to model a character, but gloves on the sticks would be good.
 
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