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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
Capital City 2.0
By Robert Basler on 2015-10-16 00:43:51
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

I've been working on the first trailer for Miranda pretty much continuously for six days now. Sometimes when you get a good idea, its hard to leave it alone. The first ten seconds took four days, the next five seconds I've got two days in and counting.

The first shot of the trailer is fully CG. I've tried CG work before, but never was really satisfied with what I produced. It was OK, but not good enough to show anyone. I put the new shot together with Blender which I've grown to appreciate is kind of amazing. Blender used to have a terrible, terrible user interface. It doesn't anymore, a change which really surprised me.

In addition to the 3D modelling and keyframe animation which I've done before, I learned to use Blender Compositor, which is a truly powerful and suprisingly easy-to-use tool. You work out what you need, wire the components together (literally) and out pops the effect you need. That isn't to say everything in Blender is easy. I spent a full day trying to figure out how to animate a Blender example I found on the internet because no matter what I tried, any change I made mangled the effect the file was generating. In the end I did get it to work, but the solution was not at all elegant. Most things I want to do in Blender I can find a video tutorial to show me how in seconds. Blender is a serious tool, it does a ton of stuff, and for someone new to it, there are a lot of places to look. YouTube and a lot of kind Blender gurus really help speed that search.

The second tool I'm using is Sony Movie Studio Platinum 13 which I picked up on sale on Steam a few weeks ago. Buying a non-game on Steam is a little weird, but I'm glad I did. I have been a long time Pinnacle Studio user and I always liked their workflow, but that program has always been a crashy piece of junk and I was looking for a replacement. So far I've been really impressed with Movie Studio. I've been able to figure out how to do all the things I need and it hasn't hung or crashed once - a real feat for a video editor (Pinnacle is not the only crashy video editor I've tried.) One feature it has that is really useful is the ability to open an image sequence as a movie. Lots of programs will put out image sequences successfully when video formats fail or produce unacceptable quality. Movie Studio also makes it really easy to build a 5.1 surround soundtrack so I'm looking forward to digging further into that.

A second ago I mentioned image sequences. The third tool I'm using is GIMP which outputs nice image sequences with this GIMP Plugin. I needed some simple animated text. GIMP by itself will make animated GIF's, but I needed better image quality and support for transparency. My first try I animated the text in Movie Studio and that worked alright, but it didn't give me enough control of the final result to produce the effect I wanted. In GIMP, I created the sequence of the animation, one frame per layer, output it to a sequence of PNG's and Movie Studio imported them perfectly.

The second shot I'm working on is of the buried former capital city on Miranda. I built a small version in-game before, it looked like this:

The original Capital City

The original Capital City had some problems, the main one being that all the buildings were actually a single 3D model, so pathfinding saw all of it as one large obstacle. Despite the behaviour of the lone tank in the screenshot above, tanks wouldn't normally path between the buildings. It looked OK, but broken pathfinding is unacceptable and it wasn't as grand as I wanted it to be - so it is now gone.

The new Capital City is 1.5KM x 2KM and is comprised of 448 separate buildings, the largest of which is 272m high. As soon as I added a few big buildings, I realized that draw distance was a problem for these gigantic new props. For smaller things like rocks, by the time they're a few hundred metres away they're pretty tiny and hardly noticeable if they stop rendering. When a giant building disappears it is unacceptably noticable. The building models are quite low-poly so continuing to draw them doesn't make much difference for performance. Now when a prop is placed in the world I check how big it is, smaller objects disappear closeby, large objects disappear much farther away.

Quite a bit of the time spent working on the trailer is fixing bugs and adding little features. A while ago I built a special CineCamera - sort of a stupid Source FilmMaker. When I went to use it again this week I not only had to figure out how to work it (couldn't find the documentation,) I had to spend an hour fixing it as well - it had gotten broken at some point in the last year.

Some of the shots I have planned require a lot of setup, so I added a command line switch to the server that prevents it from saving any changes to the database. That way I can set up a huge battle, give it a go, an if something doesn't work out I can easily go back to the initial setup and do it again.

I originally planned to go all fancy and render the trailer at 60FPS, but about halfway through the week I switched to 30FPS, the render time was killing me and my PC can't record video and render at 60FPS consistently.

Next up is a new sky. With the increased draw distance of the new buildings (they actually collide with the flat plane I use as a sky) as well as the unrestricted view of the CineCamera, I need to put in a proper sky-sphere and a better looking gradient effect and move the far clip plane a bit further out. Maybe I'll even add clouds.

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