A long overdue update / by sandy sutherland

It's a little embarassing to notice my last blog post was August last year. I've actually been thinking about and working on Flak Jack a whole lot since that time, but my day job at Weta has taken over. For almost a year I've been working on a major sequence for the film, War For The Planet of the Apes. We are days away from finishing which hopefully means more free time to dive back into Unreal Engine.

Scope vs time

At this stage, progress on the game has been very slow in terms of actual on-the-box development time. I'm being very ambitious, and available time to work on the game has certainly been less than I would have liked. Having said that, I'm not overly worried. I don't have a deadline I'm being held to, and I have plenty of experience working on things that just take time, so motivation and persistence are on my side. I've also had time to document a lot of ideas and spend time thinking about systems. I have a solid day job that pays the bills, even if it requires crunch periods that take time away from other things. Basically, this thing is for fun, it's not something I have to do to stay off the streets. Time is just starting to free up again so I'll be able to block in a few core game systems like flying and basic shooting, as well as a solid pass on the environment art.

Design progress

I've done a huge amount of writing and re-designing the structure of the game, really thinking about ways I can make the game a smooth, seamless, immersive experience in VR. On one hand, I'm making "just" another third person shooter game. However, there are a whole lot of really strange idea's I'm planning to try that I hope will set the game apart. It's cinematic but with no cutscenes. It's a small character study, on a massive stage, its silly and fun but with some darker undertones. One positive side effect of work getting in the way is that I've had time to think over ideas and concepts. Many have evolved into much better ideas. Some faded and died. Overall though, the ideas have had time to just sit with me, and I can say that I'm still super excited about what I'm aiming for. Words are cheap of course, so until I start to implement some of these designs, who knows how well they will really click together. It's going to be really hard to strike just the right tone. One thing is for sure, nobody has made what I'm going to try, especially in VR. That is both terrifying and exciting. More details will come down the line once some implementations are further developed.

Vive!

Late last year I applied for a developer grant from Epic Games. I shot them a quick summary of my game, and then kind of forgot about it. A few weeks later, I get an email back saying they were going to send me out a Vive headset. Nice! Thank you Epic! I could say goodbye to the Oculus DK2, and Razer Hydra. 

The Vintage Aviator / RAF Museum Visit / Imperial War Museum

Earlier this year we had a chance to go and visit Hood Aerodrome in Masterton, a couple of hours north of Wellington. This is the home of The Vintage Aviator, one of the best collections of functional, flying WW1 airplanes on Earth. We were there for one of their flying weekends, where you are given incredible access to the planes, there are flying demonstrations and a very informative walking tour of each plane as they sit out on the field. It was an extreamly valuable opportunity to gather photo, video and audio reference. Some of the planes in the collection are the only ones in existence in the whole world, and they are only a few hours drive from my house. Amazing.

In February, we went on a 3 week trip to the UK. I took a day to myself to go and visit the RAF Museum in North London. They have a relatively new exhibition focusing on the aircraft of WW1 and the history of aviation as part of the war effort. It's an amazing display, and I had the whole thing almost to myself for a few hours. I also paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum which itself has an amazing exhibition of WW1 stories and relics. WW1 sure was an insane time period.

I will post a gallery of the reference photos and video I took on these trips very soon!

Terrain / Environment development

One major goal for the game is to give you that vast sense of scale, of what it feels like to be 3km's up in the air, in an open cockpit wood and fabric plane, cold air and engine oil blasting you in the face, high above the vast wasteland of The Western Front. To achieve that I need a space with huge view distances, right now I'm targetting an area of 200kmx200km in size, with an accessable play space maybe 100 - 150km in size. I'm using real world Satellite terrain data, and then detailing that procedurally. I will eventually do a far more detailed blog post about it, but right now I'm going through a second revision of the terrain process as I try and use Houdini 16's new heightfield tools, combined with Quixel Megascan textures and Substance Designer textures. I am still using Truesky for my clouds and lighting solution, which is due to receive a pretty major update in the not to distant future. Some very cool stuff.

Some early progress on terrain. 200km square. Real world scale and real roads.

Some early progress on terrain. 200km square. Real world scale and real roads.

A very quick test of mixing textures in Megascan Studio. No mans land craters + puddles

A very quick test of mixing textures in Megascan Studio. No mans land craters + puddles