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April's Milestone Reached

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 11:08am
Lead Developer
It's been another good month for Antilia's development, with another milestone reached. It's been a while since I went into any detail regarding development, so this week I'd like to explain where things are going right now.

There are a lot of challenges in developing a game like Antilia, and it usually isn't the programming challenges that I find the most difficult. I am, first and foremost, a programmer, so the programming challenges are generally just a matter of time. It's all the other stuff - especially the content - that presents a real challenge.

It has been my long-standing philosophy that producing good content requires good tools, and the right tools. If the tools make content creation quick, easy, even fun - then the game will see not only more content, but a superior kind of content. If building something is fun, than as soon as the job is done the content author is happy to jump into working on the next bit. If building content is tedious, time-consuming, and frustrating - not only does that slow the author down, but after each piece is completed the author needs a break.

One particular content challenge that has come up repeatedly in the development of Antilia is the creation of 3D meshes and models and getting them into the game. Getting meshes into the previous Antilia alpha (which you see in the Media Gallery) was a very involved process - two different 3D modeling packages, 3 file converters, and a third tool I wrote in Toi to paint textures onto the meshes. It got the job done, but getting each object into the game required a lot of converting files back and forth, moving them around, fixing conversion glitches, etc. It wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't fun.

That is the challenge that I set out to solve this past month. There aren't a whole lot of choices for 3D modeling packages within the budget of myself and potential volunteers... basically Blender, which even with the vastly improved 2.5 interface still falls well short of what I would call an 'easy to use, fun solution'. In my opinion, using Blender to make simple game meshes is a lot like using AutoCAD to draw a quick sketch. All the tools are there - hidden among 200 other tools and overly-flexible interface options that you're never going to touch.

So, to solve the problem, I turned to doing what I do best: writing code. I set out to create a minimal mesh editor with just the features I need, and a simple user-interface centered around the general workflow of creating meshes: modeling, uv mapping, painting, rigging, and then animating. There's still a bit of work to do before it's fully functional - but it's showing a lot of promise, and may present me with some interesting opportunities inside and outside the game.

Unlike a lot of modeling packages, the idea here is "Keep It Simple". There is really only one tool for modeling - the draw lines tool. You draw a set of lines outlining the mesh, and using a set of rules the editor automatically determines how to 'skin' the shape. It is fast, flexible, and personally I find it to be a very enjoyable way of 3D modeling.

Best of all, this is all done inside from within the same editor that the volunteers and I use to create other content, such as landscapes and towns. World builders will be able to instantly flip to the mesh editor, make a change to a mesh, flip back to the world editor and see the change immediately.

Now that is what I call a productive workflow.
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