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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
What is Taking so Long?!?
By Robert Basler on 2018-04-25 01:46:27
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

I had a nice little squee moment this afternoon. I finished one of the procedural rock formation types with its final material, and seeing it in-game it was better than I could have hoped for. It looks great. I took lots of screenshots.

Ambient Occlusion is also working at last, and it looks fantastic. Ambient Occlusion (AO) is the phenomenon where crevices and indented areas are darkened (their ambient light is obscured.) I felt that AO was critically important for selling the reality of Miranda's new procedural rock formations and it turns out I was right. AO anchors the rocks to the ground and gives them complexity and depth. It really does add the perfect finishing touch they needed.

I also finally solved a longstanding bug which resulted in random bright spots on the terrain. Math is hard.

Oh! And the game has a new icon.


Those are some good upgrades, and there are a whole bunch of other smaller improvements, but I also have a lot more things that are only partially done.

Miranda currently has three biomes, there's the Scorched Desert (the black one), the Ash Flats (the white one) and one I refer to simply as Glassed (black hexagons.) One of the big upgrades I've been working on is to redo the terrain texturing. Miranda uses a technique called Wang Tiling to reduce texture memory use. The downside of Wang tiling is that it is very difficult to eliminate visible tiling artifacts (repetition) on the terrain. Miranda's new texturing system uses much bigger textures and DXT compression to reduce memory use, and the initial testing of the new art shows it is a total success at eliminating tiling artifacts.

A huge part of this task has been reshooting all the terrain textures in the game. I took the pictures for Miranda's textures a long time ago, and with considerably lower resolutions required, so I just didn't shoot enough material to build the new gigantic textures. I spent a whole afternoon last week experimenting with different cameras and lenses to try to eliminate vignetting, get flat lighting and sharp focus across the whole texture image. Cameras seem pretty good when you use them for family snaps or scenery shots, but when what you need is perfectly lit, perfectly exposed, perfectly focused high-resolution pictures, it is a real challenge.

[Indie texture shooting setup: cookie sheet, full spectrum light and a highchair.]

Once I have 15 or so perfect shots, I combine 12 of them into a single 400MB, 10000x10000 texture, use the other three to paint out the seams, make the texture tileable, and it's ready to try in-game. So far I've shot 5 new textures, including two for an entirely new biome. There are two I'm happy with, three that need more work, and about ten still to do. I did get to take a fun afternoon trip to the pet store with my daughter - most of the textures on Miranda are actually fish tank sand and gravel. One more happy thing is that there was absolutely no advantage to removing the old texturing system, so the original biomes will remain, perfectly preserved for posterity in a small area somewhere on Miranda.


Okay, that doesn't sound too bad. But here are some of the other things I'm working on:

  • I've created two types of procedural rock formations and the one is great, performs well and looks fantastic, but the other is still running too slow and has a bunch of rendering issues. At this point I'm still not sure if it is fixable or if I need to try a different technique.
  • Miranda's terrain has these weird creases at some block boundaries. They don't look terrible but they don't look good. I already spent an evening trying to figure out what is causing them, but so far no joy.
  • With all the additions, memory is becoming an issue both on the video card and for the game itself. Miranda is a 32-bit app, and the large bulk of video cards have < 1GB of RAM, overshooting either of these limits is a big problem.
  • The new rock formations have made it apparent that much of the current map is impractical for gameplay so some big changes are needed to the map. It's going to take some considerable time to re-learn the terrain design program and build a whole new world. This is a total stretch goal at this point. Pretend I didn't say anything about it.
  • I've also been working on a new boot screen - the screen players see when the game starts. It is a bit more dramatic than the current company logo but in this case the art is done, but the code isn't.
  • One thing that is working great is the micro-prop system. Now I just have to do all the art for it.

On top of that I have two tech upgrades I'd still like to do which would make a huge improvement to all the weapon and explosion effects. Given that the whole point of this update is a huge visual step forward, I am feeling pretty strongly about doing them. Oh, and one more render upgrade that depends entirely on how these two go.

I have a date in mind for the next update, you can probably guess when it is, and it is coming up fast. Given my visual target and the state of the game today, I'm not feeling super optimistic about hitting that date.

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