Dev Diary – August 2023

This post was long due, sorry for the delay! The return from Gamescom was quite bumpy as various thing here decided to break and stop working, but we’re back on track now.

Minami Snap ready for a chill ride at night.

What’s up?

Things went well this month, especially the trip to Gamescom, sure the highlight of the past weeks. I met for the first time with fellow VR developers and we hanged out all together for a whole day, visiting the convention and drinking beer on the riverside of Köln. There were Quest developers working both on App Lab and main store games, and even a few people directly from Meta. It was great to chat with them all and exchange opinions and views. The days leading to the Gamescom were also a good moment to rebuild this website from scratch, as you can see already, and to create some nice stickers for our games to give away during the convention and to friends.

Borrowed the cutting machine from my girlfriend, thanks again honey!

As mentioned above, the return home was less pleasing because as soon as I resumed my routine, a number of things stopped working in some way: Unity failed to bake lightmaps, Git couldn’t push commits anymore, my trustworthy mouse died, my car desperately needed repairs and during the time I’m writing this post, this website went down due to a 3rd party service failure. It took more or less a week to solve all those in no particular order, plus a hefty quote from the mechanic, but well at least it’s good to be back.

Tangible progress

During August and in these first days of September, I felt like Downtown Club made some satisfying progress. Not that it wasn’t moving forward previously, but now we are nearly done with all the graphic assets, and this feels especially great.

We spent a ton of time on visuals, from asset creation to final implementation and performance check, plus all the steps in-between. While the artist created the core assets for cars, drivers and environments, I worked on the technical part such as shaders, lighting, road network and assembling the Downtown map. Since the very early days of DTC, various things have been remade from scratch: the map, the drivers, the car interiors. While chatting with the artist some days ago, he mentioned how DTC now looks like its own sequel, considering how much better it is compared to the beginning… Can’t argue with that!

So what’s left now? The Downtown map is close to completion, few visual details remain, then everything else is pretty much all coding and yet more performance optimisation. Most of the time will be spent on a new opponents AI due to the different physics system I added last month, then it’s all matter of creating smaller modules that I should be able to easily write and link together. Lots of core features are already in place and working, after all. But wait- this doesn’t mean I have a release date, you know the drill already!

Perfectly clear windows

From older screenshots, you might recall Downtown Club already had some basic implementation of interior mapping, a visual technique made famous by Insomniac’s Spiderman game in 2018, even if it was invented fifteen years ago from now. The first implementation in DTC followed the original method by Joost van Dongen, which is geometrically very accurate but suffers from a lack of variety and customisation due to the way the shader works (unless you split each building in many different materials, but that’s bad for performance), in fact I used a very generic grey room that could kinda fit well with everything.

But I went back to the drawing board and decided to use a different, even older technique known as parallax mapping. While geometrically inaccurate and glitchy at steep view angles, it is both cheaper to render (depending by the specific parallax method) and makes it possible to map unique rooms to each window of a building, with any sort of combination, offset, size, depth and perfect alignment with the facade. And with the help of some better textures, I think the results speak from themselves. Have a look (left is old, right is new):

The store windows on the ground floor make up for the whole look!
It’s cool to peek into giant, busy office buildings.

New preview video soon

Before going to Gamescom, I quickly pieced together a preview video with various beauty shots of the cars and the map, so I could easily show people what I was working on and how it looked at the moment. That video will remain private, but I’m preparing a longer one with a few updates that I will publish soon (hopefully this week)! Please note it will be more like a showcase rather than a gameplay video, you’ll have to wait some more for that.

But there’s more: yesterday I recorded a quick video of me driving around the Downtown at night, directly from Quest 2. The video was only meant to be sent to the artist and a bunch of friends, but I actually liked how it turned out and thought it was a good idea to share it in the official Discord server. The video is unlisted on Youtube since it’s not really meant for the public, but now you know where to find it. 😉

Wrapping up

I wish this diary could have been more satisfying and include the aforementioned video here, but that would mean to publish this post even later than it already is! So let me quickly stop here and rush back to work on what’s left of the Downtown map. See you very soon!

Danjel Ricci “SkyArcher”