Exo One Kickstarter Update. Jungle Tests, IndieCade and Moar!

September seemed to really zip by, and it was a bit of a scattered month in terms of what I was working on. I spent time on everything from the story to planet tech tests to bug hunting.

Here’s a peek at the Jungle test:

https://twitter.com/JayWeston/status/911215247297355777

Read the whole update on Kickstarter here.

 

 

Exo One August Update

Had a pretty good, distraction-free and sickness-free month! Work was done! Huzzah!

What’s been happening, then? Here’s a quick rundown (spoiler alerts!):

  • Finished “skybox particles” for Island World
  • 2x Dunes biomes + rocky biome completed + biome blending. Super happy with the general scale, realism and variation in this planet. Tweets of WIPs below!
  • Not as happy with the water skipping gameplay as I once was. Now that there’s “charge/power” levels and pulling up controls, it’s a little less satisfying and simple. Going to leave this and see if a solution pops into my brain at some point!
  • Biome texturing mostly complete
  • Island World around 90% complete. Still needs some objects/fine detail placement/intro work etc. This planet has taken far longer than usual/expected because of two different plugins I don’t normally use/didn’t play well together. Now that I’m more comfortable with both, future planets using these should be much faster.
  • Fixed old nagging terrain specular issues.
  • Debugging performance issues in island world.
  • Had some difficulties marrying fog/water/terrain for Island World and combining certain plugins to create the effects on this planet.
    • The huge range of Unity plugins is great, getting them to work together sometimes is another thing!
    • Two water plugin options that were solid as of 6 months ago are now both deprecated or unsupported and not working properly in Unity 5.6. I’ve fudged my way around one of them for now.
  • Spent quite some time ‘debugging’ above plugin issues, texture issues/profiling/bug reporting.
  • Fireflies can now be picked up (they follow you) on the Ice World, which give more sporadic charge the more you have following you.
  • Wind now pushes you in the direction clouds move
  • A fair bit of time spent learning Fog Volume 3

Pretty Pictures of Things

https://twitter.com/JayWeston/status/903831753856389121

https://twitter.com/JayWeston/status/903855352243920896

https://twitter.com/JayWeston/status/901428170359951360

Here’s a WIP that includes Rhy’s latest music track for the Island World:

https://twitter.com/JayWeston/status/898883801702481920

And here’s a new one of the terrain biomes blending together:

isoIslandWorld

Cya next time!

Exo One July Recap

Just a quick one, breaking down what has been happening. After losing a couple weeks and a computer HDD, I’m now back in action, new computer fully operational with all software reinstalled. If you’re a computer nerd, you might be interested to know I got:

Ryzen PC

Ryzen 1700x
16gb FlareX Ram
Two M.2 SSDs
…and kept my old GTX 780

I was hoping the speed difference would be quite noticeable in Unity but… meh, not heaps. My old i7-4820k was already quite good, so I guess I’m not heaps surprised. I did just render a short video, though, and it really ploughed through that in record speed. Also, Map Magic generates terrain segments a bit faster, but again in general, I was hoping Unity would become super snappy and responsive, but it hasn’t. Compile times seem much the same, as do scene saving times, etc.

I also bought a Cyberpower UPS battery backup, as I was paranoid my old machine might have lost some HDDs from dodgy electrics in my office/s over the years.

Intro Sequence Progress

Unfortunately, after all this new computer mumbo jumbo (and a big delay in receiving the UPS), then some work on Exo One for AVCON, I’ve really only done a few days solid work. Here’s a peek at an improved intro sequence that I’ve been meaning to do forever:

AVCON

Exo One Next to Hollow Knight and Forts

Exo One next to Hollow Knight and Forts

I opted not to actually attend AVCON the other week, because I was concerned I’d get sick again, so huge thanks to my partner and some very helpful local dev friends of mine!

https://twitter.com/JayWeston/status/889015173293289472

Was nice to get this write-up of Exo One by Chris at Hyper.

Of course, I got the con-flu anyway, but I can work through it for the most part. Bad things happen in threes or something? Therefore it’s all smooth sailing this month!

Tasks Completed

Bit of a small task list (lots of small things) for the month:

  • Hunting for writers complete (pretty much ready to go)
  • Story prep work for writer
  • New Ryzen PC received, reinstalled all the things…
  • Intro Sequence
    • Added transport monolith animation
    • Crater impact + FX
    • White flash + sound
    • Steaming craft
  • Improved low speed craft handling (doesn’t float about as awkwardly now)
  • AVCON prep (got Restart working properly)
  • Improved high altitude sky, so that we can’t see the world end so easily
  • Improved craft appearance (reflection probe)
  • Custom rain (needed custom solution outside of trueSky, due to high speed movement of the craft)
  • Switched temporal AA method to standard Unity for slightly nicer looking AA
  • Some terrain improvements, possible due to streaming/not having to worry about generation time.

Catch you for the next update! Should start seeing some more progress very soon.

 

 

Bye-bye, 2 Weeks

This is going to be a shitty update because a) I got nothing done and b) I hate making excuses and c) I can’t go to AVCON.

First off, I got pretty sick last week and had to go on antibiotics. I’ve just recovered from that, so with AVCON only a few days away, I’ve decided it’d be unwise to dive into the virus zone that is games events. I’m yet to attend an event without getting sick afterward. Luckily, I have friends and my partner who are going to show Exo One for me. I have enough energy to go and setup/tear down on the Friday/Sunday, so that should be safe enough I guess.

Secondly, (this is the comedy part) as I started feeling better and sat back down to do some work, my OS SSD died and failed to boot. SMART and Crystal Disk stats gave some conflicting info, and I did a Windows 10 reinstall, which lasted only 2 days before the drive died again.  Really average timing prior to AVCON, and zero chance I can show the new build now :(

Spent all day today sourcing new parts for a new computer, as this is actually the 3rd time in 3-4 years I’ve lost HDDs! The first time was due to an unlucky purchase of an infamous model of hard drive that failed at a high rate, the second time was from a power surge, and this last time I don’t know, but all the houses I’ve lived in the last few years (3!) have had power issues (brown outs and black outs). That may have something to do with it. I also fear the computer is just ‘haunted’ (dodgy motherboard or PSU or???) hence the new computer.

I’ve grabbed a bunch of premium brands/parts to try and reduce hardware failures as much as possible and ordered a pure sine wave UPS (uninterruptible power supply) that arrives next week to ensure my home’s power isn’t causing problems. So now I do the impossible and not put together my fast new computer – I don’t really want to take a brand new machine to a games event I’m not attending. I wouldn’t use it beforehand without the UPS anyway, just in case. You would be paranoid too if you’d lost this many HDDs :P

I’m planning on using this downtime for story work, as that can all be done easily on my laptop.

Apologies to anyone that was hoping to say hi at AVCON, but at least you’ll still be able to play Exo One! I’m off to put in a new OS HDD and get Exo One running on the TV before Friday.

Hopefully a more positive update at the end of the month!

Exo One June 30 Progress Update

A quick update on what I’ve been working on for Exo One this past couple of weeks, now that Kickstarter is pretty well settled for now:

The new version of the backer preview build should now work for 4k screens/odd resolutions. Check your Humble email/download link if you had issues in the past.

Worked on the story for a couple of days.

Rhys fixed an old, annoying camera bug. In some situations the camera would tilt annoyingly. Still one or two other oddities to fix yet.

Pre-order page is now up on Humble here, if you missed out on the Kickstarter: https://www.humblebundle.com/g/exo_one

Slight ‘wing tip trail’ upgrade on the craft in glider mode.

Partial world streaming tests. Instead of generating terrain in real time, I’ve pre-generated it in a huge area, which results in a big performance gain, and hopefully no frame rate spikes for people without beast CPUs. There’s still plenty to explore, but this would mean no more infinite terrain. With the focus of the game more on the movement and feels, and without a huge amount of ‘content’ to find, I think this is fine. I’m still yet to complete testing this as I have to actually stream the terrain in. Have to see if there’s a framerate spike from that next.

As part of optimization tests, I’ve tested baked lighting as the terrain now exists (pre-generated) before the game starts. This would mean a slight improvement in distant shadows, but unsure if I’ll be using it as I have less control over lighting (afaik, need to spend a little more time) and there would be a huge lightmap generate time for the number of terrains.

Pre-generated, streamed terrain (if they’re as smooth as I hope) will have a number of other advantages visually as well, since I won’t have to try quite so hard to keep frame rates super high to account for frame rate spikes.

Terminus Nominee – best game/design. Pleased to announce Exo One was a close runner up/nominee for Best Game and Best Game Design for TERMINUS this year. Full details:  https://terminusevent.squarespace.com/2017-award-winners

Wind air currents. These are nice little atmospheric objects you can find if you look for them. If you manage to get inside the air current, they will give you a speed boost. I may toy with other ideas like having your controls become harder to handle within as well, so you have to ‘wrestle with’ the turbulence/speed.


First Ansel Tests. 
While this didn’t work in Unity 5.4, now that I’m in 5.6 we are in business. Just need to remove my own camera controls while in Ansel mode to make this work, since now the camera controls are competing with Ansel’s. Below is just a silly retro snap:

New trueSky, MapMagic, material updates. Here’s a screenshot of Sagan4 with the latest versions of these plugins, using MegaSplat for their rather awesome texture clustering (minimizes tiling effects):

exo one sagan 4

AVCON. If you’re in Adelaide and are coming to AVCON, I’ll see you there! Unsure yet whether I’ll be bringing an older or newer version of the game. Might depend on what state the current build is in.

Catch you for the next update, where I hope to have made some solid progress on planet streaming!

Post-Kickstarter Update

Progress

I’ve had a little time to decompress, and since then I’ve been doing the following things:

  • Managing all the rewards/surveys/spreadsheets post-Kickstarter.
  • Some add-on rewards (the self-print poster) will be sent out shortly. Just trying to minimize the time I spend sending out rewards as new survey results trickle in.
  • Trying to track down a small number of show-stopper bugs for some players, but not having much luck. This is thankfully only a tiny number of players as far as I know.
  • Upgrading Unity to 5.6 for its various speed improvements and new plugin versions, which are also offering speed improvements on top.
  • Experimenting a little with Voxeland, a Voxel terrain plugin for Unity (integration 1000% unconfirmed!) by the creator of Map Magic
  • Posting a bunch of new bug reports for all the issues I’m running into while upgrading to 5.6
  • Boring stuff like accounting/tax planning for the Kickstarter money

Next

Moving forward, I’ll be working with Rhys and Tim to plan out the next planets and the music to go with them.

I’ll be completing the Tidal Locked world and optimizing it. Since I created it during the Kickstarter, it was a bit more thrown together than usual, and I’ll likely need to combine all three biomes into one for performance reasons, as all three biomes generate at once due to their close proximity to one another.

I’ll also be integrating fixes from plugin developers as they come in for Unity 5.6.

Plus, I’ll be setting up a pre-order page for Exo One via Humble Bundle too, probably so that pre-order customers get instant access to the backer preview build.

Since survey responses have now slowed to only a couple of responses a day, you can probably expect to receive your Rezzed poster add-on (if you pledged for it) today or tomorrow. Please fill out your survey if you haven’t already!

Polls

I’ll be sending out the first backer-poll very shortly, stay tuned!

Off Topic, Other Games

After an almost games-free Kickstarter month, I’ve finally had downtime to get back to playing a few games. Lately, I’m back on Rocket League, and having a few games of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.

I also tried Klei’s Oxygen Not Included, which I liked, but perhaps feels just a little too much like work for me to want to spend that much time with it. When I’m working on solving coding puzzles and business problems all day, somehow base-building/management stuff doesn’t appeal as much as driving around whacking a ball in Rocket League!

Oh, I also tried the new dirt tracks on iRacing, really great physics! I had one race and finished 3rd in my (super low skill!) tier :)

Finally, check out this amazing looking game I spotted via all the E3 press:

I could watch this 1000 times! If all I do is press a button to advance the pretty graphics, I’m sold!

Catch you for the next update, hopefully with a screenshot or two from Unity 5.6!

Kickstarter Success

wormhole

Kickstarter Successfully Funded!

Thanks to all 1076 backers, we have ended our Kickstarter campaign for Exo One with a total of $40,103 after targeting $35,000! Couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support, sharing, advice and encouragement! I’m so grateful!

What’s Next?

If you missed out on pledging before the deadline, I’ll be investigating post-campaign options for supporting Exo One, once things have calmed down.

Then, development will enter full-steam-ahead-mode! I hope to bring you a truly unique game that takes you to the farthest reaches of outer space for a mesmerizing, sci-fi, planet-hopping journey!

Stay tuned and follow the Exbleative blog, as I continue to write about Exo One’s development. You can also sign up to the Exo One newsletter here.

Exo One at AVCON

I’ll be at AVCON (a comics and games event) here in Adelaide, South Australia to show off the latest version of Exo One in July, so please come and say hi!

Once again thanks to all who helped me succeed with the Exo One Kickstarter!

How I Sell Sky Photos to Make Video Games

TLDR: 15 years ago I left AAA racing game developer, Ratbag, to form Hyperfocal Design, which sells only sky textures (hemispherical sky photos). I’ve since been able to develop indie games mostly full-time using the passive income. AMA!

From 3D in high school to race tracks in games

I was in high school when I began working with 3D software, and this new obsession eventually landed me a job at Ratbag. While there, I helped make tracks for the PC racing game Powerslide, and designed Dirt Track Racing. We made it part way toward an unreleased car combat game that looked a lot like GTA meets Mad Max, before I left to form my own company. I’d been inspired by reading Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

Leaving game development to start a business

With a little background in photography, and experience using textures in 3D, I somewhat blindly jumped ship with the thought to make some random texture maps and sell them on Turbosquid. I drifted towards doing skies, because no one looked at me like I was a big weirdo, as they would when I was taking photos for dirt textures! Plus I could go to the same location every time and get a different end product!

To fund the business, I sold my Nissan Silvia sports car and promptly ran out of money a year later(!).

After scraping the bottom of my bank balance for another year after that, Hyperfocal Design began making decent money, and since that point has been a fairly solid, reliable source of passive income, meaning I don’t have to actively work on the business to make money. That’s only partially true, of course, since the longer I neglect the business, the less it gets promoted, the less updates go out, the more competition comes in, and the less money I make.

The time-line

…went something like:

  • 5 years at Ratbag
  • 2 years of scraping through to get Hyperfocal off the ground
  • A few more years doing well (during this time, Ratbag ‘went under’ – closed by the publisher, Midway)
  • A year trying my hand at professional poker (I really love the game, but boy is this a stressful career choice!)
  • A few more years at Hyperfocal
  • After getting a real creative itch again, went back to developing games with Saxon Druce from Ratbag
  • A few years of making Zombie games with Saxon before parting ways
  • 1 year creating Unknown Orbit, solo (first Unity title)
  • 1 year back to Hyperfocal
  • 1 year making prototypes + vr prototypes
  • Now: Over a year working on Exo One

During this time, I very rarely ever worked on Hyperfocal every day, except for the latest 1-year stretch. Mostly I’d put in a few months here and there, which allowed me more time to do whatever else I liked – semi-professional poker, training for triathlons, traveling, surfing, bread making, and whatever else I was interested in at the time.

While I’ve been comfortable from Hyperfocal’s income, it doesn’t bring in the big dollars or allow me to hire employees or anything like that. But with a pretty low-key lifestyle I haven’t had to worry too much about money, while simultaneously not being chained to a desk 8 hrs a day. I’m also confident that if I had a higher income target, I could have certainly made it happen (as I did recently in 2015 where I dedicated the whole year full time).

When Ratbag went under, I was particularly glad that I’d gone and formed a business where no single entity (a publisher in this case) could ‘fire me’ or cut off my entire income stream. For Hyperfocal to die off, I need to lose every one of 100’s of customers a year, which isn’t likely.

Back to games

So since I began making games again with Saxon 8 years ago, I’ve been mostly making indie games while Hyperfocal pays the bills. If Hyperfocal ever started declining too much, I was perfectly free to take some time to prop it up. I wasn’t forced either way to do one or the other, and I was never at risk of sudden and complete income loss.

I’ve also been fortunate that the zombie games we worked on together contributed a little to some additional passive income, which has certainly been a nice additional safety net.

Setting up your own content creation/passive income streams

If you’re a game developer, or someone with skills in 2D/3D art, coding, sound, music, etc, there are good opportunities to create niche ‘content’, plugins, assets, etc that may help supplement your income, or fund your lifestyle entirely. Especially since so many game developers use Unity these days.

If this sounds interesting to you, I’d ask myself:

  • Where do my skills lie
  • What do developers need (in my case, choosing skies was a nice choice, since so many games take place outdoors!)
  • What niches are under served or don’t suffer as much from multiple, similar assets.
  • What could I teach? (unless you’re a complete beginner, there’s people out there who know less than you!)

I’d personally (as an artist type!) look at assets that tick one of these boxes:

  • Don’t require constant updating as new Unity versions come out (or even assets that are completely untied from any software)
  • Can be sold for a higher price. Lower prices typically = you dealing with more support issues.
  • Has a creative aspect that can’t be easily copied (so making yet more 3D, real-world gun models would probably be a poor choice! )

Since working on Exo One, here’s just a few things I’ve noticed, which may or may not be of interest:

  • Substances and procedurally generated textures are now pretty amazing, and there’s not enough of them
  • Despite already having music in the game, I get a deluge of emails from musicians wanting to help (good luck, musicians!)
  • But zero emails from voice actors, despite, as above, already having voice/story/narration in the game
  • “Sim-lish” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1_NVYPMmhE (voices that sound like a language, but are just gibberish, to go with text), is popular in games, but there’s zero libraries out there as far as I can see
  • Real time volumetric skies are starting to look rather awesome!
  • Having decent support and response time from plugin developers is incredibly important, especially when so many people like myself are solo or small teams that rely on that support to put a game out.
  • Ensuring plugins work with other plugins is pretty huge
  • Platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter can help you get things started

To end with, I’ll just say I’d encourage you to think about whether you have some skill that you can use to create products to help create your own passive income streams. As real-time graphics have gotten increasingly realistic, often a product or ‘content’ can also be sold to people in film/vfx and architectural visualization as well.

Depending on your skills, products could include art assets, sound/music libraries, plugins, a course where you teach something, etc.

Market your stuff!!

Perhaps the biggest challenge these days with almost anything, is that everyone is doing it – you will absolutely need to do some marketing and promotion! I also encourage you to put your face and name behind your business, to give it a personal angle.

Throughout Hyperfocal Design’s life, I’ve rarely put much if anything into promotion for my products, outside of sending an email to my newsletter. “Back in the day”, I got by with newsletters + Google search, but you can no longer guarantee a good Google placing. In 2015 when I finally decided to stop being a wuss-bag and actually market Hyperfocal’s latest product, I had my best year ever! It is hard, and your ego is on the line, but power through!

Tell me your experiences

If you’re currently selling on the Unity asset store, I’m curious to know your experiences as well!

I’m happy to answer any questions you have in the comments. 

I’m currently Kickstarting Exo One, and the campaign is now in its final days. If you like the look of it, please consider spreading the word, thanks!

EXO ONE Reveal Trailer + Kickstarter is LIVE!

EXO ONE’s Kickstarter just went live! You can view the campaign here.

What is EXO ONE?

EXO ONE is a momentum-based, exoplanetary exploration game being developed mostly by myself (Jay Weston) in Unity. Players pilot a strange, spherical alien craft that can manipulate the laws of gravity, on mankind’s first ill-fated mission outside the solar system. The gameplay mechanics are inspired by games like Tiny Wings (iOS), Journey (PS3), and Tribes Ascend (PC). Every aspect of the game is laser focussed towards delivering an entrancing, flowing and exhilarating feeling of movement across a range of alien exoplanets.

EXOONEKSTrailer

EXO ONE at EGX Rezzed

After being selected to show the game in the EGX Rezzed: Leftfield Collection in London, EXO ONE received praise from a range of media at the event, going on to be named among the events top games by Eurogamer and The Guardian (among others!).

IMG_4803

Edge-y

This month, Edge magazine, in a 2-page preview, said, “Tiny Wings, Journey and Kubrick collide in this sci-fi delight”.

edge magazine exo one

This is a real career highlight for me, I can’t say I ever expected to see my name or my game in its pages. And yes, it’ll be framed on my wall for alllll timmmeee! Now all I have to do is live up to the hype! Eep!

The New Reveal Trailer

You can watch the Reveal Trailer, launching today to coincide with the Kickstarter:

The trailer shows for the first time substantially more gameplay, as well as the future-historian narrator that features throughout the game.

Kickstarter

So after over a year of development on the game, I decided to move forward with the Kickstarter launch to raise the quality bar, and help fund the remaining 8-9 months of development. Myself, along with Rhys Lindsay (our musician) and Tim Mcburnie (artist) will be looking for $35,000 AUD (or $26,000 USD) to complete all 12 planets, record music, develop concept art, record the voice overs and optimize the game. The campaign focuses on almost entirely digital rewards to keep overhead low when fulfilling rewards, with the sole physical reward being a limited run of one of Tim’s posters, signed by the team. The campaign will run until the end of the month.
Here’s the reward grid:
rewardGrid2

Hyping

A week ago I began sending out preview builds to press in the hopes for some launch day coverage of the campaign. The preview build, which will be similar to the Backer Alpha build reward, contains a quick tutorial scene and 2 planets. I’ve also beamed out a press release, which you can check out here if you’re curious. And I’ll be all over the rest of the internet as well, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc!

Helping

As you perhaps know, the first 48 hrs of a Kickstarter are super important, so if you’re thinking of backing EXO ONE, I’d love if you considered backing it on day one to help drive momentum and help the campaign become a success! Otherwise, I’d be super grateful if you could help out in the following ways!
After a long crunch period working up to EGX Rezzed, and then without much pause to get this campaign ready, I feel like I have done all I can to try and make the Kickstarter a success. With a little luck and your support, hopefully, the campaign will reach its goal!
Thanks for following along.
Regards,
Jay

New EXO ONE trailer and Kickstarter campaign coming soon!

kickstarter-logo-light-large

Very excited to be taking EXO ONE to Kickstarter to complete the game, and at a higher standard than would be possible on my own.

I’d really appreciate if you’re a fan of the game, to help me spread the word, whether that’s simply hitting Like on social media, Re-Tweeting, or just telling friends. You can follow Exbleative’s Kickstarter profile page here, and when the campaign goes live, you’ll be notified immediately.

Here are some other ways you can track the project and keep up to date:

At the same time, I’ll be revealing a shiny new trailer that will be featuring in the Kickstarter. Here’s a taste!

EXOONEKSTrailer

I’ve been really working hard to get this all out since I returned from Rezzed a couple of weeks ago (hi again if I met you there!), and look forward to sharing the Kickstarter URL and trailer with you all very shortly.

Thanks for following along!

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