What has Bram been up to?

Wed 19 November 2014
By Bram

So, it's been quiet for too long on this blog. It is about time to report on what I have been up to. Why not start with a small snippet of video?

Since July 2013 I have been mulling over the next step for my crane sim game. And as the holy grail, I have put forward an ambitious development target: deformable terrain. Frankly, I have not yet seen a single game getting this right. I most likely will not achieve completely realistic, sandbox-style, unlimited deformable terrain either. But I will surely try. The video above show a bulldozer at work in my terrain simulator.

Currently I have achieved the following:

  • Proper 3D terrain, not those crummy height-fields. So you can have overhangs.
  • Universally deformable terrain: you can dig anywhere and not just at designated spots.
  • Tunnelling! Yes - you can dig your own tunnel.
  • Soil mixing. You can dig up grey coloured dirt in the west, and deposit it on a brown coloured sediment in the east.
  • Near infinite size. I bound the height and depth (Z) of the plane. But in the long/lat (X/Y) directions, you can drive near infinitely far. And deform the terrain at any place. Distances are only limited by MAX_INT and the size of your disk, because any modifications you do to the terrain are stored to disk.
  • Procedural definition of the virgin grounds. I only store disturbances of the virgin ground. So you can dig a hole, then drive 8 hrs going in any direction, and drive 8 hrs back to the original location. Your hole in the ground will still be there! (This is a big thing!)
  • Tracing back your steps, BTW, is easy. Because while driving, depressions are made in the soil which are permanent. They will still be there, even after 100s of hrs of play. Everything persists.

I think this technology is pretty unique and not found in any other game. The basic tech is all implemented, and nearly good enough. What is not there at all, is game-play. Wonderful game technology is one thing. Making a interesting, fun to play game is another. There are some routes I could take w.r.t. the game-play:

  • Make it into an arcade style game with a lot of KATCHING! noises, and bright graphics every time you dig up a gem from the earth.
  • Do it like the original Little Crane game: break up the gameplay in a number of puzzle-like levels with simple goals. Digging for treasure, unearthing a temple, burying an item, digging a tunnel, building a dam and such, could all be simple objectives in such a game.
  • Make a full blown gold-mining simulator. Process earth by moving it into a trommel.
  • Make a full blown gold-mining simulator plus economic sim: borrow money from bank, buy claims, buy diesel, etc.
  • Make a full blown gold-mining simulator MMO. Buy and sell claims online. Bid for scarce resources (land) against other players.

The smaller the scope, the higher chance of succeeding of course, so I should avoid the latter ones.

Things I am doing at this moment include added more vehicles, like dump truck and excavator to the simulation. I also have to trace a bug where soil simulation goes hay wire at negative world coordinates. As my world is procedurally defined, I could cheat and spawn all action at large positive coordinates, but that feels wrong.