DT: Dark & Light, Pt1

Hey everyone! As I’ve mentioned many times, our team works on both short term projects–what’s about to go into the next alpha, which, in this case, is conversations–and long term projects. This week and next week, I’d like to show you one of these second things–a long-term project that Allie and Angelo have been working on, on-and-off behind their work on happiness, traits, and conversations, and that still has a lot of work needed on it before we will see it in the game. Consider this a super early preview of their work on darkness and light, especially in how it manifests itself in the game at night time!

Lights & Darkness

Recap from the video:

  • In the updated roadmap we posted two weeks ago, you may have noticed the mission surviving vs thriving.
  • Surviving in the wild should be one tier of challenge, and overcoming that to instead thrive and flourish is another tier of challenge.
  • Under that mission, is an entry for darkness. “Darkness” means that one way we could make hearthling survival a challenge is to introduce the concept of darkness to hearthlings, monsters, and animals. Perhaps some monsters only spawn or approach in the dark. Perhaps your hearthlings become afraid if they spend too long in dark places. Maybe some items can only be crafted in light or dark places.
  • One way you might know that your town is thriving is that you’ve gotten enough resources to cover your village in beautiful lanterns.
  • This sort of system starts as a gameplay design, and none of it is at all finalized yet, which is why it’s still in the proposed section of the roadmap.
  • Tuning our depiction of lights and shadows, however, is a sufficiently huge rendering project in our custom engine that Artist Allie and Engineer Angelo started looking at how darkness and light might be effectively portrayed in the game way far in advance, just in case our ideal solution was not realizable, or in case we discovered that it would take months of rendering work to achieve.
  • Allie and Designer Richard first decided that light is such a fundamentally visual concept that “lit” areas should be obvious in world, without a special game overlay. This led Allie to these very first, early explorations of what it might look like if the area “lit” by a lamp was very obviously denoted. Because light is something our eyes intuitively understand, though, we soon got into hairy territory: what happens if the lights are different colors? And why was it that when we blended yellow lights with our green ground, we got green instead of a warm and cozy orange?
  • Green is a ghostly color, Allie said, and quite frankly, despite our best efforts, the Ascendancy houses look haunted at night. The orange cubemitters in the fire help a little, but not nearly enough. Rayya’s Children is in a bit of a better place, because their lights are red and the desert is gray, but Allie felt strongly that not only could she use light to show lit areas, that she could also dramatically improve the tone of the game by altering how light and color interacted in the world.
  • Allie’s first job was to define for herself what tone she wanted Stonehearth’s nighttime to have. Our game is supposed to be cozy, heroic, and mysterious, so a super dark or scary nighttime was out. Instead, nighttime, should be tranquil, with cozy lit areas and mysterious dark areas.
  • Allie looked to Arthur Rackham, a childhood favorite, for inspiration–in particular, the fact that his nighttime scenes had very bright skies. She also looked at real world examples of towns that radiated warm colors. Failure, she felt, would be if the town was so brightly lit that it felt washed out.
  • Allie started with a screenshot of a town at night, and started to paint over it: adding a very bright starlit sky, washing the whole environment with a soft moon blue, and turning the lamps into sparks of yellow. The resulting scene however, did not satisfy the gameplay goal of telling the player that lanterns were providing light, so she began to increase the radius of light around them and turn down the ambient blue of the surrounding areas.
  • She was concerned though, that this picture still did not provide enough information to the player as to what areas were lit and which weren’t. I mean, if a hearthling might someday be in danger because they’re in a dark region as opposed to a lit region, you the player should see clearly where one ends and the other begins, right? So she started to experiment with making the edges of the lit areas distinct. Would lit regions merge together? Overlap? Form spiorgraph patterns?
  • Allie now calls these experiments “big dumb circles” because first of all, if you zoom out, all you’ll see is giant circles, which isn’t adorable and cozy at all, and second of all, because they did the opposite of the original goal, which was to convey lit areas naturally, without needing a special game vision mode to see them. Instead, we were putting the game vision mode into the scene permanently.
  • In the end, Allie settled on this solution, which was to make all the “lit” areas in the game a paler ambient color than the surrounding darkness. The brightness does not come directly from the lights themselves–it’s more of an ambient brightness, but it allows for beautiful and brightly colored lights and also the clear communication of what is “lit” and what is not.
  • Due to the fact that lights are complicated, and we use a custom engine, it was not at all clear at this point as to whether it was even feasible to get the look from Allie’s picture into Stonehearth, so next week, let’s take a look at how Engineer Angelo went about prototyping Allie’s nighttime suggestions into the actual engine.
  • For a sneak peek, at this, you can take a look at the stream they did together last Thursday.
  • Just to again be super clear, this work is a long way from making it into the game, but we’d love to get your thoughts on how it’s going!

Other Announcements

Our weekly stream should happen as usual on Thursday at 6:00pm PST! See you there!