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Thread: The Siege and The Sandfox - A Stealthvania set in an ancient desert kingdom

  1. #1
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    Exclamation The Siege and The Sandfox - A Stealthvania set in an ancient desert kingdom









    A shining city lies besieged in the heart of a vast desert. As the moon rises over the royal palace, a notorious thief watches the king die at a traitor’s hand. Discovered, falsely accused, and thrown into the dungeon, our thief must make their escape before the siege breaks.

    Master acrobatic abilities and traverse the cavernous depths of an ancient underground prison, evade detection by your captors and discover a greater evil stirs in the sands below. Fight for your city – foil the enemy’s attempt to strike at the heart of the kingdom.


    The Siege and the Sandfox is what we have termed a ‘Stealthvania’. By infusing stealth into the typical Metroidvania experience we’re creating a unique twist on the ever-popular genre.







    • Deep, acrobatic control system - Wall running, grappling, swinging and more.
    • Metroidvania style open world - Gain new abilities to help you explore the ancient fortress.
    • Stealth focused - Systemic stealth inspired by Thief and Mark of The Ninja.
    • Narrative driven - Deep lore to be discovered through ambient story telling.
    • Pixel Art - Authentic feeling art style, combined with UE4's modern lighting and particle systems.





    • First Pass on character controller + movement. Includes sneaking, jumping, mantling, slides, wall jumps.
    • First Pass camera system implemented.
    • Tilemaps for all biomes created.
    • Tilemap markup + collision system implemented.





  2. #2
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    Hi Guys,

    Thought it was long overdue for us to say hello to the official Unreal Engine forums. From now on, we'll try and keep this thread up to date with whatever we're working on.

    In the mean time, if you've got any questions or comments, we'd love to hear them!

  3. #3
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    Looks really nice,

    The swipe animation looks cool, but it feels strange to have such a heavy motion blur on the arm and almost nothing on the torch.

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    Totally love the pixel art art style and animations, can't wait to see some more! Plus I utterly love the pixel-version of the Unreal Engine logo at the start of your video

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    Thanks, Jess!

    The artists are rightly proud of the work they put into it


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    Hey, I'm one of the pixel pushing art types on Siege and the Sandfox, thanks for the nice words!

    After some internal review we decided that the lights in the game just weren't quite in keeping with the pixel art aesthetic, bit too much gradient/inner glow use and therefore too many colours so I went back and redrew the flames to be more cartoon-ish and energetic as well as reduce them to a six colour count. They lose a bit of their majesty without the particle effects and lighting on top from Unreal but the new flame still turned out nice in my opinion and looks more fitting in the game now than the old one did.

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    Next up is the smoke effects, they are a bit too busy and distracting and as such need a rethink, maybe ribbon particles for a simpler, more anime inspired look...

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    I remember seeing you guys showing this off at GDC, great to see it on the forums finally!

  8. #8
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    Thanks Steven, hope we gave a good impression despite being rather overwhelmed by the response!

  9. #9
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    Very nice! I'm loving the art and the direction this is going in general! Keep hammering away!!

  10. #10
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    AI

    My next job is to get cracking on the AI for the game.

    It’s no secret that we’re all fans of immersive sim and stealth games like thief, and so I'm looking to take a similar approach ourselves. Obviously things are a bit easier as we’re only dealing with 2 dimensions!
    The AI will use the AI Perception system and behaviour trees, as I've come to really like them while messing around with other projects. It may seem like overkill now, but it should pay off later when things get more complex.

    I've broken down my tasks into 3 sections - Navigation, perception, suspicion.

    Navigation

    This is the most straightforward part! All our tiles project out collision in 3d space, and then we can just place a nav mesh volume over this.

    Things started off bad:



    But got better by the end:



    As you can see, we had to work out a few issues with the nav mesh agent heights and so on, but our Engineer soon wrangled it into shape.

    Perception

    As said, we’re using the AI perception system here. It provides pretty much everything we need in a handy module, and plays nice with behaviour trees. At the moment I'm just using to check if a player can be seen in a very basic manner.

    Suspicion



    The suspicion system is what turns this from an action game into stealth. This is the system that makes the guards go ‘huh?’, investigate things and generally be interesting. Creating this ‘stretched second’ where you’re just about to be spotted is essential.
    For now, there’s just one global suspicion value on the character, which ticks up whenever the player is in sight. It’s scaled by distance (it goes up quicker if the player is closer), but doesn’t take into account anything else just yet.

    This value ties to 3 states:

    • Not suspicious - Continue patrolling
    • Suspicious - stop and look in the direction of the suspicion
    • Pursue - Move towards the source of the suspicion


    This value decays whenever the player isn't in it sight, and the tree structure means the AI gracefully drops back down to the previous behaviour.

    Putting it together

    Coming Soon! Have a bunch of non-Sandfox tasks to get rid of, but I'll make sure to post up how I get on asap. I'll make sure to include a lot more pictures too

  11. #11
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    Just a quick post to show a response to the criticism raised in the original post. Subtle tweaks have been made to the Torch bearing guard's Attack animation, adding a more recognizable tail to the flame as it follows the swing of the arm. Proof (if it was ever needed) that Leonardo da Vinci was correct.
    "Art is never finished, only abandoned."

    We are not abandoning this yet though!

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    Talking The polishing continues

    With the teams desire to try and be more faithful to the 16 bit era and use less, if not any, obvious transparent effects. This meant ditching the smoke effects we have and trying to come up with something more in keeping with our aesthetic. Ribbon particles seemed to be a cool way forward and so I have thrown something together and am quite happy with the result for now. The video is not the greatest quality unfortunately, Youtube Fu is not my strong point...


    Cheeky yawn from our hero, not as impressed as I am with the new effects!

    We are rolling with particle effects still as hand animating everything is going to take a very long time and has the added problem of always looking exactly the same, the chaos of a particle system is much more natural. We could get around that a bit (and have done with other animated items such as wall torches) by giving each instance a random start frame so if we have multiple torches in one scene, they aren't all flickering in time with each other!

    Other items to receive a bit of a buff are the doors. We felt they looked a bit too slim, unreadable to the player and when open didn't have any sense of depth as they kept the same 'lighting' as they opened or shut. At 8 frames, opening and shutting also felt a bit snappy when in reality, our hero would probably open and shut doors with a bit of care so as not to be discovered.

    I went back, basically binned the entire animation for each door (always hurts to do that!) in each environment and redrew them, giving the door more vibrant, brighter colours when shut (and therefore appearing closer to the camera) as well as being twice as thick. I then "painted it into the background" with darker colours as it opened up, giving much more sense of depth so the player didn't feel like it may still block their progress. I also extended both open and shut animations by 50% so more frames had to be drawn and added secondary motion such as the handle "chases the door" as its opened or shut and rattles as the door ends its swing open.

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    Old Palace Door | New Palace Door

    Up next is probably making the night sky a bit more dynamic, as the dawn and sunset shots make it feels very flat and dull right now but that will be something for another post. Any feedback or criticism is appreciated!

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    I finally managed to spend a bit of time working on the AI today.

    I had to make some changes to some related systems to allow everything to run properly in simulation mode. A few things relied on their being a controlled pawn within the world, so this was a good chance to clean that up. It feels much better to be able to play with the AI in simulation mode rather than having to navigate the player around to test things. For simple interactions I can just drag the player character around and check the AI response. I also set-up some basic way points to allow the AI to patrol:



    You can also see what I like to call the 'perception biscuit' as part of the gameplay debugging tool. As it's designed primarily for 3d games it's of limited use from the perspective, and the following image might give you a better idea of what's going on:



    Next on the list is getting the classification system working again. This is what takes the raw perception data, decides it's an enemy and if they should investigate. I'm hoping to get through some of that tomorrow, and I'll share any progress I make on here.

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    This looks amazing.

    I got one question though, how did you made the lighting so good on the characters? Is there any way to use normal maps for Paper2D sprites/flipbooks?

    Thank you and keep up the good work! ^_^
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  15. #15
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    This looks amazing indeed. Glad to see these paper2d projects coming up! We need more paper2d in the engine. When can we expect to play this beauty?

    Quote Originally Posted by Achilleon View Post
    This looks amazing.

    I got one question though, how did you made the lighting so good on the characters? Is there any way to use normal maps for Paper2D sprites/flipbooks?

    Thank you and keep up the good work! ^_^
    We need more paper2d in the engine. For our game, was have been using sprite dlight to get our normal maps, then we add them to our sprites. We haven't messed with lighting too much in our game, but it does work.
    Good War Games.
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  16. #16
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    That looks great!, One question are those debugging tools custom mode or came with the engine ( mostly speaking about the ones used in the AI the text displaying the controller name, behavior etc )
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pedwar2 View Post
    This looks amazing indeed. Glad to see these paper2d projects coming up! We need more paper2d in the engine. When can we expect to play this beauty?
    We are looking at some time next year. Plenty more to do, but we'll share as much as we can along the way.

    Quote Originally Posted by alvarofer0020 View Post
    That looks great!, One question are those debugging tools custom mode or came with the engine ( mostly speaking about the ones used in the AI the text displaying the controller name, behavior etc )
    These debugging tools are part of the Gameplay Debugger. It can be a little tricky to get it to display, but it's very useful as you can see. Let me know if you have an trouble as I made myself a cheat sheet to get it running.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Achilleon View Post
    This looks amazing.

    I got one question though, how did you made the lighting so good on the characters? Is there any way to use normal maps for Paper2D sprites/flipbooks?
    Thank you and keep up the good work! ^_^
    Hey Achilleon, thanks for the kind words. All the sprites in the game are just your standard, non emissive materials and accept the standard lighting of the engine, no normal maps here. The 'lighting' I assume you are referring to is just what our character artist has painted into the hero and guards to help give a sense of depth. No real easy way around that other than just handpainting each character frame by frame. Old school pixel art basically.

    You can use normal maps with sprites very easily, as they just use the standard Unreal material system setup. Tilemaps are set up differently for some reason and call in textures, not materials, so using normal maps there probably needs more thought. As we decided to not use normal maps (see below) I haven't looked much more closely into how I could use normal maps on tilemaps.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pedwar2 View Post
    For our game, we have been using sprite light to get our normal maps, then we add them to our sprites. We haven't messed with lighting too much in our game, but it does work.
    I've not actually used SpriteLamp in anger, only seen the website and various videos so this may be me getting some wires crossed, but what I took away from it was the user is basically drawing the RGB channels of the normal map for SpriteLamp and it just combines them together? I might as well just make the normal map myself in Photoshop and then pass a normalise filter over it via the Nvidia Photoshop plugin? It can do other stuff I assume such as make AO maps or allow dynamic adjutsment of the created normal with embosses and the like, akin to NDo, but I normally get those from the highpoly (obviously not really that applicable in a pixel art 2D game!) or use something like NDo or CrazyBump.

    We played around with the idea of normal mapping very early on in development and, whilst the results were quite nice, we always felt it removed something of the purity of the pixel art aesthetic for only a very subtle effect. There are some indie titles out there such as Megasphere and Dungeon of the Endless, that use normal mapped pixel art very well but ultimately it tends to work best on clean looking, hard edged "surfaces" (such as sci-fi environments, see MS and DotE examples linked) and our game has quite an old weathered look to most of the environment so it quickly just made the scene "noisy". It's also quite a lot of work for only a very subtle effect so the team decided against it.

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    Oh wow, the gameplay debugger looks extreamly useful for the AI work i have been doing, I managed to get it to show up But im sort of confused on how to get it to show up the Information about a specific Pawn / AIController in the world, As well extending it to display custom informaion inside said AIController and Pawn
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pedwar2 View Post
    This looks amazing indeed. Glad to see these paper2d projects coming up! We need more paper2d in the engine. When can we expect to play this beauty?

    We need more paper2d in the engine. For our game, was have been using sprite dlight to get our normal maps, then we add them to our sprites. We haven't messed with lighting too much in our game, but it does work.
    Thank you. I tried to make the normal look work but failed. I will probably ask for help later from you, but very later! ^-^ No need to derail the thread about my problem though so ending it here!

    Hey Achilleon, thanks for the kind words. All the sprites in the game are just your standard, non emissive materials and accept the standard lighting of the engine, no normal maps here. The 'lighting' I assume you are referring to is just what our character artist has painted into the hero and guards to help give a sense of depth. No real easy way around that other than just handpainting each character frame by frame. Old school pixel art basically.

    You can use normal maps with sprites very easily, as they just use the standard Unreal material system setup. Tilemaps are set up differently for some reason and call in textures, not materials, so using normal maps there probably needs more thought. As we decided to not use normal maps (see below) I haven't looked much more closely into how I could use normal maps on tilemaps.
    I see now. I worked on some tests and it seems that my culprit was the transluceny acting reeeeeeally weird when it interracts with any lighting around. Anyhow thank you and good luck with the project, we definitely need more of these! ^_^
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    Oh this is great stuff - do keep blogging!

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    Quote Originally Posted by alvarofer0020 View Post
    Oh wow, the gameplay debugger looks extreamly useful for the AI work i have been doing, I managed to get it to show up But im sort of confused on how to get it to show up the Information about a specific Pawn / AIController in the world, As well extending it to display custom informaion inside said AIController and Pawn
    Information on this is thin on the ground as far as I know. But what I do know is that it depends if you're running in PIE or Simulation mode. If you're in PIE mode, when you enable the debugger it'll pick whichever controller is closest to you (not sure if it's cursor position or world position). If you're in simulation mode, it'll use whichever one you click on - this is why it's preferable to be in simulation.

    I haven't yet had a chance to look at expanding it for your own purposes, but it's certainly something I'd like to get to in the future. Please do let me know if you get anywhere with it!

  23. #23
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    Reminds me of Prince Of Persia, UE4 style
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    The game looks amazing - love your pixel art.

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  25. #25
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    Such a good looking game man keep it up !!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frequia View Post
    Reminds me of Prince Of Persia, UE4 style
    Ding ding! 10 points. PoP is an inspiration and such a great series, glad it comes across in some form.

    Quote Originally Posted by SchnitzelDude View Post
    The game looks amazing - love your pixel art.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kalleal View Post
    Such a good looking game man keep it up !!
    Aww gosh, thanks a lot. Nice words like this are creative types fuel. Us pixel pushers thank you for your kind sentiments.

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    UI elements and never ending polish

    With us now looking to build in a nice tutorial area for preliminary outside play testing, I decided to have a go at blueprinting out dynamic control GUI elements that would fade up and down based on player proximity as well as be able to switch out sprites depending on platform being used (such as Xbox, PS4 or PC). Now I'm a pixel pusher by trade and logic always makes me cry but I was quite surprised how easy it was for me to thump this out and I was quite pleased with the results.


    I'm only so far along with it but the platform switching can be done within the blueprint via a simple variable so I'm assuming the code types in our team will be able to call that from a menu/option setup when the player decides what control system they are using and the game will adapt automatically. It will also eventually need to handles redefining the controls so it displays the appropriate button/key for the set action, but that's beyond the scope of what we need for the initial demo (and perhaps my abilities)!

    In other developments, I have always been a bit miffed that the dawn and sunset images worked so well and were far more interesting to look at (even though they are background visuals and shouldn't really be distracting the player) than the night scene was, it came off as far more flat and dull. With this in mind, I went back to it and decided to give it a new lick of paint. I searched around the internet for ideas of how to make night scenes a bit more interesting and dynamic and looked to the sunset/dawn scenes already done as well. The strong light source is what really let me make parts of the scene pop out so I decided it's a clear enough night time, why not have the full moon bounce a lot more light down to the mountainside below and pick up more detail of the rivers and city in the background.


    It didn't take too long to switch it up, I'm fairly happy with the results and it's another step in the right direction. Its only subtle changes from the old version for the most part and it may be touched up again in the future but for now we have plenty more to be getting on with. As usual, any criticism, questions or feedback are welcome.

  28. #28
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    Looking good! Keep up the amazing work!
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  29. #29
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    AI Update #2

    Creating a workable perception system for a 2D game in unreal has proved a much bigger challenge than we had expected. However, despite the initial problems we’ve managed to come up with something perfect for our needs. One of our coders, Rex, did a great job in creating us a bespoke sense configuration for 2D.



    What we now have is a collection of several 2D cones, which give a much better representation of the AI’s sight. We’ve also offset the position of the visibility raycast to go from eye to eye, rather than the centre of each character.

    These two changes have made a massive difference to how it functions, and give us much more room to add interesting gameplay features. There’s plenty of tweaking ahead but by and large the AI sees you when you think it should, and hiding from it is also much more intuitive than before.

    Speaking of tweaking these values, Rex also implemented a new debug to replace Epic’s own Gameplay debugger for our purposes. It easily lets us know which cone/s we are in, and if the AI is successfully able to raycast to the player.

    EQS

    Unreal Engine has a really powerful tool known as the ‘Environment Query System’. This system allows you to ask questions about the environment around you, and filter it down into useable bits of data. Using this hugely powerful tool for a 2D game is obviously overkill, but the key advantage is that they are very easy to create and test just using blueprint and the in-game editor. My aim wherever possible is for everything to remain completely readable by anyone on the team, so they can make their own improvements and suggestions.

    At the moment I’m only implementing a few simple tests, for example: ‘find the nearest waypoint I can successfully plot a path to’ and ‘pick a random spot near to where I last saw the player’. Here's an example of picking a nearby valid point (the blue points are discarded as the AI can't reach them):



    I’m looking forward to expanding these in the future using a few simple tricks to help the AI make smarter decisions without cheating too much. For example, when I create a query to pick a random spot near where the AI last saw the player, I can weight the results towards where the player actually is (even if they are hidden!).

    Last Known Position

    Another important aspect of our perception system is the concept of ‘last known position’, which I’ll refer to as LKP from now on to preserve my sanity!

    Unreal’s perception system has it’s own concept of LKP, but we aren’t currently using it just yet. My simplified version positions an object whenever the player leaves the view cones. This position is then used as a start point for a search, should the AI reach the point and still not get a visual on the player.

    Having this LKP object also allows me to deploy another classic stealth AI cheat which I like to refer to as ‘6th sense’.

    Imagine a situation where I pass through an AI’s view cones heading in a direction it can’t see. How do I make the AI seem smart and know which way the player has gone? Sure, I could make it super complicated by using things like Dead Reckoning combined with multiple EQS to decide which cover the player is likely to be in. This is the sort of thing you’d find in Crysis or Halo, and as such is somewhat beyond our scope as a 2D game.

    Instead, the LKP is updated for a short time (~0.5 seconds) after the AI has technically lost sight of them. From the player's perspective, this usually just looks like intuition, and would only look like cheating if the time is too long. As with most things in life, this is best explained with a gif.



    The green tick in the cross hair is my LKP. See how it continues to update even after the player character leaves the view cones.


    Suspicion

    Suspicion is what we use to determine what the AI thinks is worth investigating, and later chasing after. The rate the suspicion increases is determined by whichever cone the player character is currently in. If they are in more than one cone, the cone with the higher rate of suspicion is used.

    Currently we have 3 cones:

    Close Cone - Instant max suspicion. If the AI sees you here, it will chase immediately.
    Mid Cone - Average level increase.
    Far Cone - Small increase.

    Note that currently this suspicion system doesn’t take into account how well lit the player is. I’ll try adding a modifier based on that during the next pass as right now I just feel it’d muddy the waters while we test out the basics.

    I also added some code to cover colliding with the the AI. Spoilers - they don’t like it very much.

    Behavior Tree


    All these new features mean there’s a lot more going on in the Behavior Tree now. I think it’s time to start splitting these into separate behaviors . . .



    There are a few other issues that have started to appear, now things are a bit more complicated - I have quite a few areas where I quite harshly abort sequences if things change (like for example the player leaves the AI’s sight) and these now cause visible hitching as the AI flip flops between two branches. I’ll need to take a step back and rethink some of these longer sequences and find some more graceful break points.

    So, that’s all for now! What’s next?

    • Hooking up all the animations
    • Moving the view cone around (looking up and down, moving up and down slopes etc)
    • Adding some placeholder sounds
    • Lots of tweaking of the ‘magic numbers’ until it feels good



    Thanks for reading! I’d be happy to hear any feedback if people have any advice or thoughts to offer here.

  30. #30
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    I would never have known it was UE4, it looks like it was made using something that specializes in this sort of thing. Great work!

  31. #31
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    Yes.

    All the yes. So reminiscent of Prince of Persia! I hold that series close to my heart. I am so grateful you're taking a leap into creating a high-quality, stealth "Metroid/PoP" experience! All in Unreal Engine, too. This is very commendable.

  32. #32
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    Deep, acrobatic control system - Wall running, grappling, swinging and more.

    YES!

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    Everything will distort, everything will be unquantifiable

    We had been using refractive elements within the game from pretty much near the start of the project for the easy "+10 points" that refraction/distortion gives any game. The only problem was whilst the effects rendered great whilst in the editor (using a perspective based camera) when we moved to the orthographic camera in gameplay, any effects based on refraction were simply not rendered.


    Refractive Particles In Editor | Refractive Particles In Game

    We carried on this way for a while, knowing of the problem and assuming that the orthographic camera might get an update at some point to support more of the effects that Unreal is capable of rendering but after a while it became clear a different approach might be needed. As we don't actually NEED physically correct refraction, we just want to have the cool effect of heat haze or water visually appearing to distort the world behind it, refraction is actually overkill for our needs anyway. We got to thinking all we really need is to be able to distort the final scene texture and apply it to the scene with bounds of our choosing, either by particle effect or sprites. I started looking through post process effects and how they are applied to the screen (the Unreal Wiki came in very useful here) looking to the custom depth pass to mask out areas of the scene. This quickly felt like too much for the effect we wanted, a bit overkill, and I felt there must be a simpler way to do it. There was!

    By using the ScreenPosition node and distorting the scene texture via noise maps that are also panned and rotated on top of each other at mixed scales, we get a distorted, haze effect across the screen. We now only use this material on sprites or particles where we need the effect to happen and we quickly and easily get the intended effect on a orthographic camera in game, bringing our fires and watery effects to life, making the world feel more dynamic. The material I made up looks something like this if anyone wanted to achieve something similar in their 2D games, the premise can be carried across to any material type, particle, sprite or post process.


    With this hurdle overcome, we can now have the fire haze we wanted, along with distortion when walking behind waterfalls or pools of water within the game. These effects are all ongoing, work in progress (and some are quite subtle in these small potato GIF's) but I figured the post might be useful to budding 2D Unreal developers. As usual, any criticism or feedback is appreciated.


  34. #34
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    This is looking phenomenal! Can't wait to see more! Any idea of a release window?

  35. #35
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    Thanks for the compliments Brian (and everyone else!). Unfortunately we cannot comment on a release date yet, as it is still quite early in development, and there are a lot of unknowns.

    ...of course, you can follow our social media channels and sign up to our newsletter to stay notified on developments and news updates

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    Thank you for sharing how you set-up your refraction shader! It works so well in your environment, giving that nice finishing touch. (I'm especially in love with the last .gif of the underwater section).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jess.Hider View Post
    Thank you for sharing how you set-up your refraction shader! It works so well in your environment, giving that nice finishing touch. (I'm especially in love with the last .gif of the underwater section).
    Yeah, once the full set of effects are sorted and we have got the surface to react and ripple to entry/exit it should be very cool we hope. I'm sure I'll be throwing up a GIF of that when its done.

  38. #38
    0
    UE Community Manager
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Posts
    89
    Quote Originally Posted by Boxy View Post
    Yeah, once the full set of effects are sorted and we have got the surface to react and ripple to entry/exit it should be very cool we hope. I'm sure I'll be throwing up a GIF of that when its done.
    I'm going to hold you to that!

  39. #39
    1
    I can't believe you made this with Unreal. Really beautiful pixel art, but I'm impressed on the tech side, the way you managed to use the engine. Nice!

  40. #40
    1
    Great work guys! I'm super excited for this. It takes me back to when I used to look at screen for Super Nintendo games when I was a kid.

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