I have had a lot of questions from people on the status and progress of the game. The favorite question is “When is the game going to get released?” I have a separate blog open for this but since I don’t put any technical stuff on that blog, I decided to throw in some more details on the things that are happening with the game. First, the game is on track and we are doing great thus far. Most of the team is contributing little to nothing at the moment. Except the beta testers, who are busy at work. So for the time I am pretty much pulling the programming side of things alone. There isn’t much left anyways but there are just too many small small things to take care of.
First the AI. It is not yet up to my satisfaction. Enemies sometimes get stuck into walls, fall off cliffs or behave weird. I don’t think this is going to be too much of an issue. Such issues are generally solved by clever heuristics and eliminating obvious redundant conditions. All entities in the O2 Engine’s AI module are handled by individual state-machines and are fully modeled on state transition logic. These redundant conditions are in fact eliminated quite nicely with the state logic, i.e. having a specific state to handle a specific condition. Also some tweaks here and there are due. I had initially feared that the AI would take significant CPU cycles, and since I am doing all shadow silhouette calculations on the CPU, the game would become significantly CPU bound. That is clearly not the case. The game does not go CPU bound except for some low end single core machines and you generally do not have any problems with CPUs 1.8 GHz and above. With shadows turned OFF, the game can run on a P III 1 GHz easy.
In fact I am finding things are quite the opposite. The game has difficulty pushing geometry on lower end graphics cards and is probably more fill rate intensive than I would have liked. Of course this is when running with shadow volumes ON. That was expected since stenciling, especially for stencil shadows, is the most time consuming activity for the GPU. The engine does aggressively cull out shadows when it can, and just yesterday I finished a new optimization technique that decimates shadow volumes for static geometry at the cost of some CPU overhead. Even so, stenciling can be suicidal on lower end cards with limited fill rate, especially when occlusion geometry has high polygon count. Having said that, I am getting an FPS of about 30-34 on a card like the old Geforce 6200 TC with everything from glow effects to full screen bloom turned on. For any higher level card and for that matter even a mid-range card, pushing Doofus 3D level geometry along with volume shadows is a walk in the park.
However, we are marketing the game as a casual game and as with most casual games, it must run with bare minimum hardware. Most casual gamers don’t have a clue what a graphics card is, or what an update of a driver means. They have nothing more than an on-board card. True, these days mother-boards do ship with ATI and NVIDIA chipsets, bit unfortunately not all. My main concern is the game running on on-board Intel cards. Intel cards are lousy, and that is putting it mildly. These cards can sometimes exhibit ridiculous behavior and are giving me maximum headaches as of now. A few days back I was running the game on a machine with an on-board Intel card and the game used to run at 10 FPS at a resolution of 640×480, and at a nice 34 FPS at a resolution of 800×600, then used to drop again for higher resolutions. Explain that! No it wasn’t some program running in the background. I stopped all programs and some services and disconnected from the internet. Still this wired behaviour.
The fact is the game needs to scale to hardware so that it can run even on crappy GPUs. This is easier said than done and my current task is to see that the game detects and adjusts itself to even the most basic graphics hardware. There are also issues which are too specific to cover here like driver issues, render-to-texture issues and things like that. I also need to work on further optimizations to juice out higher FPS values. In the meantime the beta testing is also throwing up new bugs. Fortunately there have been no major bugs like GPFs or crashes reported by any of the beta testers. The game ran on most of the systems tested thus far. Sometimes a little slower than expected, sometimes with a lot of z-fighting of shadows, but the main thing is it ran.
That’s about it. The march continues, and I hope I can wind things down slowly and come out of this almost infinite beta.