As we prepare to release the beta test to our Kickstarter backers, we’ve been adjusting everything to make Himeko Sutori look like a professional and polished game.  One of the complaints that we heard pretty consistently with our earlier builds was that the 2D characters were inconsistent with the 3D world and that the game seemed to lack art direction.  So this month we focused on getting the perfect cartoony look for the 3D backgrounds and making levels by hand, with less use of automatic tools.  We hope you like the results.

Above you’ll see another one of our tests that put together several elements we’ve been working on.  First, let’s talk about those mountains.

In the first stages of Himeko Sutori’s world-map development, we had some pretty awful gray lumps sitting on the map to represent mountains.  It looked unprofessional, and we had to do something about it.  So we took to World Machine and started building entire levels procedurally.  That turned out pretty well, but those levels required a lot of work in World Machine and then a lot of touch-ups after import into the game editor.  We needed something to combine the professional look of World Machine’s terrain with the speed and ease of working in the game editor.  So what we did this month was use World Machine to create some reusable mountains.

With just a few meshes (four shown here) we can make quite a variety of maps.

Here is the template we built in World Machine that now lets us make individual mountains very quickly.

These mountains might look simple enough, but they are going to be very flexible and useful because of how we combined a splat map with tiled textures.  In essence, we have created mountains that we can rotate and scale to fit however we want into the game.  Most materials would get blurry if you make them too big, but because of our setup, the level of detail stays constant regardless of how big those mountains get.

Next, let’s take a closer look at the water.

There is a lot going on with this water–over 300 instructions.

This is the shader we use to draw our water.

We wanted our water to look good, but not too realistic.  We wanted it to flow, to switch to a waterfall when it gets steep, to change colors to reflect the sky and the sun, and to do everything automatically without additional programming or level setup.  The shader you see above is how we accomplished all of that.

Himeko Sutori’s water blends from nearly transparent to fully opaque, depending on water depth.  In the translucent area, you see distortions from the water’s ripples.  We created a special tiling normal map and height map that we use for bump mapping to simulate waves.  We use triplanar projection to draw the waterfall without warping, and to keep our normals facing the right way, we check to see if we’re looking at the positive or negative side of the XZ and YZ planes.  Then with all of that in place, the water animates a downhill flow automatically, calculated from the normal vector.  Then if we put that water material on a landscape mesh, we can sculpt the water and its flow exactly the same way that we can sculpt the landscape.

We put a lot of those same features to work on the other building blocks of the level.  And with better building blocks, we’ve been building better levels.

Stepping away from the waterfall test level shown above, let’s take a look at an underground battle map we made this month.

We placed every mesh in this cave by hand. It definitely has a different look from our previous battle maps.

This was our first attempt at an underground battle map in a long time.  The last was during our early experiments with a blocky, pixelated background.

Unlike the battle maps we’ve used previously–which generally involved rushing toward the enemy across mostly featureless and too-large battlefields–a handcrafted level like this provides some interesting tactical choices with bridges and other choke points.

Here is the battle grid for the cave map. Opportunities abound for flanking, defense, and ranged attacks.

We also built a city battle map using the same approach, placing most elements by hand.

You’ll be fighting thieves here during your early adventuring career.

Narrow passages can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your style.

We have some really great forest maps in the works too.  We’ll have to show those to you soon.

Now that we have a solid and consistent look for the game, and with all the tools in place to make better maps faster, we should be able to get you a beautiful and polished beta test soon.

As always, thank you for your continuing support for Himeko Sutori.  We’ll be back with more updates next month.