Shooting a movie for the Doofus game turned out to be more than a headache; a bad case of migraine I must say. Well it all began soon after releasing the game. The logical next step was to shoot a movie/video to put on Youtube. What was supposed to be a 2 hour job turned out to be a lot harder than I had anticipated. Most screencap utilities do a pretty good job at capturing screen movies, however, what I failed to realize is the fact that most of them are hopeless when capturing any Direct3D or OpenGL rendered visuals withing a game. I am extremely disappointed with capture software that is available for recording an in-game movie. I tried several applications that are available, both free and commercial ones, but all of them turned out to be poor — either extremely slow or extremely buggy.
In the end I had to manually write an AVI capture facility into the engine code; ie. physically get the Back-buffer, StretctRect it into a texture, download it off the GPU and store it’s contents into an AVI file via a bitmap, frame by frame. Similarly with the music and game sounds, for which I had to code in wave capture in OpenAL. Whew done! Unfortunately not all went as planned. I soon realized that the video and audio streams in the recorded AVI file went completely out of sync. That’s because the game’s frame-rate varies considerably while playing, whereas the sound is always played at the same rate. The problem unfortunately is — unlike the game the AVI file’s frame-rate is always fixed. So after a 1 min shoot, I could clearly notice a mismatch in video and sound. I tried unsuccessfully to correct the problem, but the problem still persists. That said, at least the results of video capture were better than any 3rd party application I had tried before. So it wasn’t a total waste of time.
So yeah, I could shoot video clips, albeit not as good as I would have liked. I wanted a 1024×768 res video and all I could manage was a 640×480 one at pretty moderate quality given that all the streaming was done into a MPG4 compressed stream and there was a noticeable loss in quality. Then came the next challenge; editing the video into a full streaming movie. Movie maker was a the only free option available and the app is not too difficult to use. However, the app encodes videos only in WMA format and I couldn’t locate a MPG , AVI or an FLV option. That meant I needed to convert the movie to a flash movie (FLV) so it could be streamed off the Internet using a SWF flash plugin. Bah! WTF! Well it turns out ffmpeg can re-encode movie files to most formats; including FLV and it’s free. Thank you ffmpeg.
Then it was Youtube. Well it seems when you upload a video to Youtube the server converts and re-encodes the uploaded video file using a really poor quality compression. I am not sure which format the FLV encoder on Youtube uses, but the results turned out to be a blocky pixelated mess. I guess, after some many conversion and switching formats, the video quality on Youtube turned out to be pretty poor. You can compare the quality with the ones on the Doofus website (the larger one here) and you will understand what I mean.
Bah! The next time I am directly streaming content into a external HD video recorder via the TV-out option of the video card to avoid such craziness!
A lot has happened on the game front as well. First let me start off by letting people know…. I have launched 3D Logic Software. That will be our business name under which the Doofus game/s will be released.
As far as the game release goes, the countdown has begun! I have not had too much time to update the blog since we were all working hard at the final push towards the finish line. Yes, the Doofus Game is to be released very soon. Keeping my fingers crossed.
I integrated Joystick support into the game engine a long time ago but I never actually played the Doofus game using a Joystick or a gamepad up until now. One of the testers logged an issue last week saying that the game’s camera movement was a bit slow for game controllers in general. So I decided to play the game out myself with a joystick. For the record I never play any game with any accessory other than the keyboard and mouse and after my recent experience with the gamepad, I must say I missed the mouse quite a bit. Maybe it’s just me or I have taken a strong disdain towards any kind of game controllers ever since my days with God Of War, and though I am a total fan of the GOW series, the experience with game controllers while playing that game has been more than a little unpleasant. I think I have been playing games with the mouse for too long. Maybe so much so that I have grown too accustomed to the Keyboard and Mouse. I truly don’t know. However, and this could very well just be me, I find controlling the camera using the mouse far simpler and more intuitive than a Gamepad or a Joystick axis.
I tried a lot of different games this week with a gamepad, which for the better part of this year, has sat inside the cupboard. I told myself, “It’s just a matter of time before I get the hang of this thing.” No chance! With every game I try it’s the same story. I just give up after struggling with the controller for about 10 mins. It’s been like 3 days and I still can’t control the Doofus game’s third person camera, which by the way is not at fault . For me, controlling Doofus’ third person camera just seems a lot more natural with the mouse than with the Keyboard. Not that I can’t do it, it just feels a lot more comfortable with the mouse. Fortunately for people that dislike the mouse, Doofus does run perfectly well on any game controller.
Some people say game controllers are great for flight simulators and maneuvering vehicles. Sorry, I haven’t had time to play those. I can tell you, FPS games are almost impossible to play. You can’t aim with these things and get fragged pretty easily. Maybe combat games fare better, but again I haven’t had time to play those either. I ran Tomb Raider demo I have on my system and even there I found my gamepad to be more than a challenge.
So, after this bout of testing, the gamepad goes right back in the desk from where it came. Ok maybe I have ranted enough for one post!
First the HD 4850. I was testing the game on the new HD 4850 (Palit 512MB) today and some interesting things I observed with the graphics card. For one it gives a serious bang for the buck. Doofus 3D clocked at about 140 FPS at a resolution of 1024×768, AF 16x with graphics quality set to high. Even with AA 2x Doofus 3D clocks more than 120 FPS and I have a strong suspicion the game was going CPU bound at those frame-rate, since the machine had a 3 year old CPU. I can tell you for a fact, the card is a serious performance monster, but then again Doofus 3D ain’t a top line game. However, for me, this is the first time I have seen Doofus 3D under 4x AA and 16x AF running at a playable FPS since up until now I have had only GeForce 6200, 6600 (and to some extent the 8600) cards. There is no denying that the HD 4850 is more than worth it’s price for someone who is looking for a budget card and expects to run most of the top-line games today. The card runs a little bit hot but that’s to be expected given the amount of triangles it can push and effects it can deliver. Hats off to AMD/ATI in that regards. If you are someone who is looking for a mid-range card right now, the HD 4850 is excellent value for money.
That was the overview from non-programming point of view. Now the programmer in me has something to say. The card maybe excellent, however it’s not all that cozy with ATI drivers. OpenGL drivers are a mess, with the bundled driver not even having extensions like EXT_stencil_two_side support. Even basic functionality like (for example glDrawRangeElements() ) seems to be broken at times, even showing messed up graphics when using Vertex Arrays on older cards. Now this exact same functionality is available under DirectX. Lets say it’s safe to assume that GL drivers haven’t been updated in a while and\or AMD/ATI just isn’t interested. The only issues that were reported in this round of testing were on ATI cards, so I had to literally debug the application on ATI hardware to ascertain that these were indeed driver problems. Some of the issues I have mentioned occur on guess what, the HD 4850 also. The only workaround seems to be, vendor specific hacks! That doesn’t make me a happy programmer at all!
The story with Direct3D is a lot better and no issues were observed under DirectX renderer of the game. That just tells you something doesn’t it!
For the last week I have been involved in rather uninteresting activity. Well, I have been literally throwing the game on all possible hardware configs hoping it will run. All of this (yes, again) to find out how the game fares when exposed to different hardware configurations. Well it may seem like this activity is rather mundane, then let me assure you — it is. Well, not entirely . It takes some effort to get a game to scale seamlessly to all kinds of hardware and currently I am enduring all the pain of crappy drivers and broken functionality, which, should I say, underscores some of the major headaches in real-time graphics development. It’s not like you can throw the game with it’s peak setting ON and expect it to run on a crappy Intel on-board graphic cards. Such a thing will just end in a disaster. The game must scale to different kinds of hardware and in our case especially so; that too seamlessly and effectively.
Doofus 3D is uniquely placed. It doesn’t aim to be a top-line, hardware intensive, hard-core gamer only, triple A (AAA) title. Neither is it a 2D game capable of running flawlessly under software rasterized graphics on your grandma’s old school PC. It is geared more towards intermediate level hardware. Hardware that most people have on their work laptops and home desktops. This effectively means an extremely wide range of hardware to cater to, and that in turn means scaling the game’s software paths (internally) based on a *lot* of underlying factors. Assuming a player to have a specific functionality available on his hardware setup can be catastrophic and disastrous. Such assumptions could mean a total failure of the game on a machine and could mean a potential loss of a buyer in the end.
While drawing up specs of Doofus 3D we were especially careful not to go overboard with graphics galore. Even with careful planning, there was significant feature creep, and with each new feature that was added, new countermeasures had to be put in place so that the game would scale to lower-end hardware. Not everything was straight forward, but we still did manage to push it through. If you have been following my blog for some time now, you would know that this is not the first time I am into such activity. I (personally) run such tests after each beta (feature addition/ feature freeze) of the game. That is probably why we haven’t faced too many problems this time around.
Under Doofus 3D we followed a process that is a bit different from traditional software development. Every beta under this game project was actually a feature complete runnable version of the game. Before or between any beta, every release was an internal alpha version. A beta meant, “A set of features is complete enough to be tested”. After each beta, each feature was tested on various hardware setups. Something like an iterative method of software development, but not quite. I would say, a process tailored specifically for our project and more specifically for our situation given our limitations.
Doofus 3D runs on most middle rung hardware without too much problems. It will run on on-board graphics cards too, but I find Intel on-board graphics to be an abomination. Hopeless hardware support for 3D graphics and equally crappy driver support! Enough reason for the engine to scale the game to run on a low setting when it detects an Intel graphics card. The situation with NVIDIA and ATI cards is a lot better with ATI’s low end cards (,assuming the price point, ) to be consistently outperforming NVIDIA cards. That said, NVIDA has the most stable hardware and drivers and most settings work uniformly across cards and driver setups, though there can be problems there as well. ATI’s drivers can be buggy at times and in case of OpenGL can be totally broken. Fortunately the O2 Engine and the Doofus Game can use either Direct3D or OpenGL as rendering APIs. For any high end or for that matter even for most mid-range graphics cards, Doofus 3D is not a problem at all.
Whew! The game has officially (finally) hit the last code-freeze today, actually yesterday but I tagged the repository today so it’s officially code freeze today. All the levels have been done and most of the internal (alpha) testing is complete. Yeah, the blog has been silent for a while; but that’s to be understood, I have been really hard pressed to finish this on time, yet I overshot my (mostly self-imposed) deadline by a good 15 days In part due to unforseen circumstances, in part due to my own faults, but that’s the way it goes (generally ). I am really glad it’s finally done and all but the most trivial issues remain. There is some artwork left though, I still have to finish up the initial screens and some sound-tracks and some sound-effects need to be incoroprated into the game as well. Some parts of the demo version also need to be finished up. However, I am going to hold on to that till I release the RC for one final bout of testing, that way I have a good feedback on which levels to include in the demo and which to hold off for the full version.
Ah! It’s the optimization phase of the project and I am knee deep in both CodeAnalyst and NVIDIA PerfHUD. As far as memory-leak testing goes, most, no all of the memory leak testing is done by my own custom memory manager built directly into the engine core, so no third-party leak detectors are needed by the game. AMD’s CodeAnanlyst is a utility that is invaluable when it comes to profiling applications for CPU usage and the fact that it’s free makes it even better. NVIDIA PerfHUD is probably the champion among graphics performance utilities and which, I think, is vital when it comes to bullet proofing any graphics application for GPU performance. Too bad it doesn’t support OpenGL yet, but the O2 Engine’s renderers mirror each other almost to the point where an performance enhancement under the Direct3D renderer is almost similarly experienced under the OpenGL renderer. I would have really liked PerfHUD to have supported OpenGL though. There are some issues under GL; like for instance, FBOs under OpenGL perform a tad bit slower than Render-Targets under Direct3D (on the same hardware), which I must admit has left me a little dumbfounded. Maybe it is just for my GPU (yeah My GPUs are a bit old I must say,) or maybe the drivers are at fault but I have noticed a performance variance between the two even after considerable experimentation and optimization. It would have been good to have a utility like PerfHUD to probe directly at the dra calls and/or FBO switches. I am trying my luck with GLExpert, but I am not there yet. I must however say that GLExpert is nothing compared to PerfHUD.
Update: Doofus Longears – Get ‘em Gems has been released and can be found on www.doofuslongears.com
Whew, finally found some time to update the blog. I have been frantically working on putting final polish to the game, business related activities, tweaking graphics, ironing out small glitches in gameplay, play-testing levels, and the list goes on!
My major headache was the background. There were a lot of people who had complained about the background not being up to the mark. So I decided to paint a brand new background from scratch. It was a hell of a lot difficult though. Doofus 3D being a cartoon game, I wanted to have a flamboyant background (, rich and colorful with a distinct cartoon touch). However it’s not quite that simple, it’s not as easy as firing up good ol’ GIMP and just having a go at painting any ordinary scene. Since you are painting for a sky-box you really have to be a lot more careful and lot more sensitive about how to handle depth in your scene, plus you have to paint for a full panoramic view. A lot of experimentation went into this one, believe me! Lot’s of hits and misses later, and after studing some other skyboxes this is what I ended up with.
Sorry, but I have been a little busy for the past two weeks. Too busy to blog I guess. I have been aiming for a code freeze on the Doofus game and it’s been hard work getting all the bugs and issues in. I’m going for the final push this time around to get at least the coding issues out of the way. The good thing is there isn’t too much left on the coding side, so I may be able to push out another beta by next week. Hopefully it will be the last and final beta before (; wait, don’t get your hopes up) at least one release candidate before Doofus goes gold. I guess there are still a sizable amount to levels to be completed.
Unlike release cycles of other software, Doofus game release cycles are a little bit different. I devised a new method after we initially found the old method to be rather monolithic for this particular project, and because of obvious constraints we have as a small team (unavailability of testers at specific times and things of that nature). Traditionally, you have a set of alpha releases of a product where each alpha release is tested in-house by both the developers and/or testers. Bugs are filed for specific releases and fixed during bug-fixing stage, whenever that maybe (, generally differs from project to project). Beta releases are pushed out when alpha releases get stable enough for “general consumption”. Beta releases are generally widely accepted as “almost complete” versions of the product. So a beta release often signifies a “feature-freeze” of the product. A bug fixed beta release can become a Release Candidate if the dev team feels confident enough which eventually turns Gold when everyone is confident enough.
In the case of the Doofus game, things are a little bit different. A beta release signifies a “feature freeze” for “a particular set of” features. Let me explain. When we started developing the game, the O2 Engine was the first to come (, before we started on the actual game code). The name “O2 engine” comes from the repository branch of my older game that was never released because it had too many flaws! I guess a lot was carried over including primitive libraries and some design decisions and implementations. Anyways, since the new project was a bit complex and our testing team small and working part-time, we decided to have specific release milestones having only limited set of completely complete features. When I say completely complete I mean “feature frozen”. Each beta release addressed different features. The first was for engine integration with geometry. The level structure was finalized and resource management was put in place. The first release looked really ugly because the renderer was partially finished.
The second beta addressed collision systems, basic gameplay things like triggers activators and integrations with third-party modules and libraries. The third was for rendering sub-systems, when those screenshots were posted. This release, the fourth, will be for AI (NPC) and Physics and that marks the end of the game features. The beta still has to go through a bug fixing stage before I am confident enough to even look at a RC, but it does mark and end to any major code modifications to the game code. Many would say the betas are actually alphas, but there are 2 reasons I call them beta releases. a) They are feature freeze releases. No features are added or removed to the already tested features. b) Our testers are no full-fledged project member so white-box testing responsibility falls on the dev team, mostly. That said, the beta testers are not just kids beating at the keyboard and have been instrumental in testing the product.
I guess this release has got me a bit exited, and I am working on the website/s at the same time. I have actually started on quite a few blog posts in the past week, but haven’t had the time to polish and/or finish them yet. Maybe this week will see more posts on the blog, I hope.