The team is super excited to be in the full swing of production! The design team is greyboxing Timber Hearth & its moon, the art team is concepting the next planets & modeling characters, the tech team is writing shaders & overhauling the dialogue system--WHEW! And that doesn't even mention our writer, Kelsey, who's doing awesome work expanding the story throughout the solar system! Y'all, there's never a day of rest at the Outer Wilds Ventures!
This update sees Alex discusses the greyboxing process on the home planet, Timber Hearth, then Wesley discusses updating the art & lighting throughout the solar system, and finally Loan introduces our last mobile release, Beacon 38, and how it relates to Outer Wilds!
One lat thing before we turn it over to Alex: in case your friends didn't get in on the campaign, we now have a "Slacker Backer" pre-order available on our homepage. Have them play the alpha demo and join Outer Wilds Ventures! Now over to Alex!
The starting village on Timber Hearth has been playtested to hell and back, it’s clearly effective at establishing the tone of the game, and it’s literally award-winning. So it should come as no surprise that we’ve decided to essentially redesign the whole shebang. Which is why we now find ourselves in the strange situation of making a graybox for a piece of level design that hasn’t changed in years.
“But what is a graybox?” you ask.* A graybox is a rough version of a level, often made by shoving untextured cubes together (hence the- well you get it), which is created by level designers to block out a space and test it with gameplay. Since most of the locations in Outer Wilds exist on or below the surfaces of spheres, we graybox our levels in Maya using a collection of tools that help us do things like build paths on curved surfaces and carve out caves and canyons.
After we playtest the space and make any necessary adjustments based on player feedback, the graybox gets handed over to the art team to be magically transmogrified** into a hi-res terrain filled with props and beautiful lighting.So that’s what we’re currently doing with Timber Hearth. As for the why...well, the old village definitely worked, but there were some things that always felt a bit off:
The new design we’re working on tackles all of these issues with a variety of interesting nouns including geysers, sequoias, mine shafts, sap wine, waterfalls, and folklore. I’ll leave the specifics for a later post, but early playtest results are promising. For those of you who haven’t played the alpha, this should be a much better introduction to the game, and for those of you who have, hey, now you don’t have to play the same thing all over again!
* I realize you could have asked “Why would you scrap something that clearly works?” or “IS NOTHING SACRED!?”, but I’m going to talk about grayboxing anyway, so let’s just pretend you didn’t.
** This is what actually happens so far as I am aware.
Wesley here, with an update to our lighting system. One of the difficulties in making a game like outer wilds is that most game engines are designed to work with static objects. In most games, the player moves through an environment that is always fixed in space, never moving. Game engines have been designed with optimizing for these kinds of situations, so most of the cool new graphics features, like physically based rendering, rely upon static environments to work. Because Outer Wilds is actually a simulation of a solar system, with all of the planets moving around through space, we can't take advantage of many of those built-in features.
Luckily, the newest addition to our team, Logan, is a bona-fide genius when it comes to graphics programming, and he came up with a great solution to our lighting problem. If you played the alpha demo or watched our vertical slice video, you may remember that everything looks pitch black when the sun is gone.
While we want certain areas in the game to be dark and foreboding, we also wanted to contrast that with the bright sunlight and picturesque nature of the starting area, Timber Hearth. Logan devised a system for planetary ambient lighting, so we can create the illusion of global illumination and atmospheric diffusion of light, all with a simple point light attached to a gradient! The new results are spectacular, and allow us much more creative freedom in how we light our planets.
In the screenshot above, you can see that surfaces have different lighting at different angles relative to the center of the planet, as well as a falloff we can control so that we can still have dark canyons and caves for travelers to explore. We can also control color and intensity per planet, so that each planet has a dramatically different feel. You still won't be able to see clearly at night without your flashlight or a probe light, but you will at least have some bearing as to where you are. It also has the benefit of adding color to shadows while the sun is out, so the environments feel much more lively in the daylight.
We are very happy with the results of the new lighting system, and when combined with the atmosphere system Logan is currently working on, it will help the solar system to feel much more expansive and fun to explore. Below is a gallery so you can see some more shots of the new lighting in action!
In the News!
Just Press Start did a great developer interview with Alex & Avimaan, and Play3r.net also did a nice preview/background piece on the game as well! We're so grateful for all the interest expressed in the game!
Bug of the Week!
We'd like to introduce a new feature to our updates that recognizes and celebrates the imprecise beauty that is game development. The beauty below happened before we updated the shaders on Timber Hearth: get to close to a light source and...POOF! You get what Wesley has named "Party Mode."
That bug fixed, we look forward to what we can show you next update! A reminder that the Outer Wilds Forum is the best place to discuss all things Outer Wilds! We're hard at work writing the code, making the models, designing the systems, and roasting the marshmallows needed to finish the game! Until next time, travelers!
The Mobius Team
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