This time you’ve got me to help you…

A few months back I received an email from Marmalade Studios. Marmalade is the system I used to give me cross platform support. I pay for a licence yearly which is still covered by the ongoing sales on the long tale of the game. Anyway, the email informed me that Marmalade were pulling out of the Tools business to focus on their own development. They laid out a timetable and final release plan for the current tools but ultimately from March 2017 they will no longer be supporting their toolset. There was an offer to purchase rights to the source code, but as a small indie, that’s not really an option.

This doesn’t affect the current releases, but what it does mean is that any chances of me producing updates in the future have almost certainly been removed. And with every new OS release, the chance of the game not working are increased.

I know I have not been prolific with updates since the release of Doomdark’s Revenge settled. There was so many things I wanted to do, but just haven’t gotten around to. The reality is two fold, as amazing as the sales of the games have been, they are obviously not enough to support me full time, and secondly, the games were written quite frantically in the end and I never regained that sense of purpose after their release; this is not just for these games but for everything that I have been doing creatively.

I’ve been trying recently to tie up another release. The main reason for this is to produce a build with the latest version of Marmalade and get it out there to properly support the latest devices. In theory a new release should keep its visibility in the App Stores for a few more years. As part of this I’ve been slowing adding a couple of features: Discovery Mode, Difficulty Modes, Rationalise the code base between DDR and LOM. etc..

So with all this in mind I have been toying with the following: Uploading the source code to GitHub and making it open-source with the objective of transferring it to another cross platform solution, Cocos2d-x for example. Or, allowing people to port the engine to any other coding languages they like, so it could be used however they like.

The current codebase is written in c++, and thus moving to Cocos2d-x makes sense, but I quite like the idea of porting to c# or swift.

Moving to open source could also allow for the tool chain to be fully developed which would allow for more work to be put into ongoing development of the games.

Anyway, I shall think on this more, but if anyone is interested in getting involved, then drop me a note…

 

 

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We must not think that any task is hopeless…

t_tower0It’s been mentioned to me recently that it would be nice to have modding functionality for The Lords of Midnight. Opening the engine up was something I always wanted to do but I’m not sure to what level this needs to happen. Therefore if there is anyone out there who would be interested in modding LOM or using the engine, drop me an email, and we can discuss what approach to follow to make this happen.

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Shading the night sky…

One thing that got carried over from the original Midnight Engine was the shading of the landscape depending on the time of day. The original Lords of Midnight, has a different colour for night which is basically that all the white becomes black, but the blue remains the same.

In TME and therefore the remake, I have a tint colour for each time of the day, and the images are tinted toward that colour. That colour is generally a shade of grey and it is used to darken the dawn, brighten up to normal colours around midday, and then dark off fully to night. In reality, this is one area of the remake that I left in that I don’t like. Only because, it doesn’t really look like the original. The night view has a very distinctive look, and as you can see though, the remake doesn’t look the same. It’s fine as things goes, but I would have much rather made it look more like the original.

Doomdark’s Revenge however has a completely different approach. There is a dawn visual, and day visual, and a night visual.

I knew therefore that when I got around to releasing Doomdark’s Revenge, I was going to have to deal with this issue. The tinting method just didn’t cut it. Because I could tint to red, or tint to yellow, but not combine them.

To give you a little background. The colour changing was relatively easy on the ZX Spectrum. Partly because the images were very simple and were constructed, but also because of the way that the spectrum only had two colours in a 8×8 grid – known as the paper and ink. So all the effects were done by just changing the paper and the ink. These colours were not stored with the bitmap either, it was a different memory area. So in fact, what Lords of Midnight does is, clear the screen with paper and ink both white, draw all the pixels to the screen, which you can’t see, and then fills in the paper and ink colours which makes the screen appear.

Now, the choice I made when porting the game was to use full 24bit alpha’d bitmap images. I can discuss the merits, and the whys, and possibly the mistakes, of this decision. But, it’s not been one I can change easily.

The upshot is: changing colours on the fly isn’t easy. It’s much easier with 8bit palletised images. But believe it or not, despite the fact that the terrain images only use two colours, they actually use at least 255 colours in order to get smooth edges, as well as being alpha’d. Changing to palletised images just made it look awful.

Once solution that I knew could work would be to write a custom shader. Shaders are dark voodoo magic that happen on the graphics card. And I’ve never written one in my life. Had Mike been around, he would have knocked one out very quickly. But obviously he wasn’t, and as I was heading toward the original release of The Lords of Midnight, I didn’t have time to look into them.

Now however, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. With the latest update of The Lords of Midnight sat awaiting approval from the platform holders, I turned my attention back to Doomdark’s Revenge, and the next thing to address, was making the dawn landscape look proper. I was going to have to learn to write shaders. And that’s what I spent yesterday doing.

The end result is that I now create all my terrain images as being black and white. These two colours will be replaced by the shader as the image is being drawn to screen. However, I can’t just replace the two colours, I need to make sure that I where the two colours meet they get blended.

mountain_fragmentIf you click on the Mountain fragment you will see a blow up of the image, and see how this would work. Affectively the image can be considered thus; all black, all white, mixed. The mixed part always being where the two meet. So if we consider that we will replace all black (0,0,0) with new colour_a and replace all white (255,255,255) with new colour_b, the other colours will be a shade of grey from (1,1,1) to (254,254,254). What we actually do is  use the value of one of the colour components to work out the mix of our two new colours. so 0 is 100% colour_a and 255 is 100% colour_b. A value of 153 for example would be 40% colour_a and 60% colour_b.

Now, it’s not rocket surgery, there’s nothing particularly clever going on here, but for me I had to turn this into a shader, and that was new territory.  However, working within the Marmalade SDK and using the OpenGL ES shader reference manual, and a little bit of google… the process turned out a little easier than I expected.

Here is the landscape without the shader active.

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 02.07.47

 

But with the shader active, and the two colours adjusted depending on the time of day, we  get the following.

And, if we now revisit The Lords of Midnight, we get the resulting night landscape that I always wanted.

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 01.10.33

 

Not sure when this will make it back into the current release, probably after Doomdark’s Revenge is released and I’ve been able to fully test the shader across multiple platforms. But it will make it back.

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The Midnight Engine – iPhone

So I’ve taken, to porting The Midnight Engine to the iPhone. This is a task that I started 3 years ago. But as many of you loyally Midnight followers will know, time is not a friend to my projects.

I have been playing with getting the engine up and running under AirPlay SDK as this will hopefully give me a little more scope. It kinda goes against my normal philosophy with development, in that an engine must offer just the right amount of assistance to your project but not bog you down with far too many features that you don’t need nor want. There are reasons to consider AirPlay which I won’t go into here, but one of the advantages is that it allows me to keep development in C/C++ which is how TME was written. This is a bonus as I can just port the engine without having to rewrite – well that was the theory.

First I had to scrap my porting attempt from 3 years ago. A because there were an awful lot of errors, and B because I had no idea where I was at.

Creating a new project under XCode and Airplay, I had some 20,000 errors and warnings – mainly errors. Part of this problem was that the codebase had been written to cross-compile across OS’s. And it used to. Not any longer.

It’s been nearly 5 years since I did any proper work on TME, and things have moved on. The compiler didn’t like my code anymore. New keywords had been reserved. Warnings popped up for things that I’d never had warnings for before. eg. Comparing signed and unsigned variables. The Compiler was having different affects on areas of the code that previously compiled fine. The GNU compiler doesn’t appear to be as happy with namespaces as Visual Studio used to be. (that said I can’t get the old project to compile under VS2010 anymore!)

So I had to strip it back. And bit by bit put the code back into the project and painstakingly change everything that needed to be done to make it compile.

After a week – I’m done.

Now I need to do some testing and recoding. First is to get the project loading in the LOM database. This will allow me to wrinkle out some of the OS/Hardware issues in the TME libraries. After that I need to painstakingly test large chunks of the code to make sure they are still doing what I want them to…

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