Stage 3: Azaria - Alpha Preview is being released today!

Stage 3: Azaria - Alpha Preview is being released today!

After working some months, we're ready to release Stage 3: Azaria - Alpha preview! 
it is the very first step in our development goals.
The game is far from done, but we will continue working on newer builds that the community can try and give feedback on!

What is the alpha preview version?

The Preview Version is a very early build of the game. This version is currently in development and is constantly being updated. For now it only includes our tutorial map but as the game progresses we will give you more maps to play.


Why release an alpha preview version?

Having the game released to the public when is not finished is something that many developers are skeptical about. For Stage 3: Azaria, we want to share the current state of the game with the public and let them play the game before the final release. We are also sharing levels that are currently in a very early stage of development for you to test.


How can I get in touch with the team?

You can always reach to us in our social media channels but we are also gamers at heart so we have a Discord channel where you can directly talk to us and share your experiences playing our games. You can join our Discord channel here!


PLATFORMS

The game works  on Windows (64 bit) and supports HTC Vive only. Optimizations are still being made but you can have a great experience with the requirements listed below:

Minimum:

  • OS: Windows 7/8.1/10 (64-bit versions)
  • Processor: CPU: Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 or better
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce™ GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon™ RX 480 or better
  • Storage: 8 GB available space

Recommended:

  • OS: Windows 7/8.1/10 (64-bit versions)
  • Processor: CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K or AMD Ryzen 5 1600X
  • Memory: 16 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 / AMD RX Vega 64
  • Storage: 8 GB available space

You can also check if your computer is VR Ready here.

With your help, we can bring Azaria to a new level. Make sure to join our discord channel so you can share feedback with the devs!
 

Stage 3: Azaria - Development diary 6: Blazing and Glazier warlocks

Hey everyone!

In this new development diary, we'll share some information about the fire & ice spells, as well as the lore behind them and the casters, the Blazing Warlock and the Glazier Warlock!

Blazing Warlock:  The Ebullient Scream

They are mages chosen for their pure and unstable emotions, which made them able to transform their fiery emotion into a burst of offensive magic, as one moment of big emotion can make them become the most powerful wizards for that short duration.
They can be calm as the wind, and at the next instant they can burst into an uncontrollable anger, making them unreliable teammates in the battlefield, as when they are flooded by emotions, they become emotion itself. Although they control Fire as another extension of their body, they depend on their emotions to unleash their power, and can be easily manipulated.

Here's a showcase of some of the fire spells we've been working on - They're not perfected, but there's a good example of what we want to accomplish with them.

One of the upgrades of our fire spell, is that the Fireball can be charged by rapidly putting together your hands. This makes the area of effect larger, the range increases and the damage multiplies.

Glazier Warlock: The Piercing Needle

These mages are chosen for their cautious, logical minds and emotions, which makes them able to strike on the very precise moment it is needed.

Their will never wavers, no matter the situation they always try to come up on the top. Ice magic allows them to slowly take the fight on their favor, using tactical moves like chess. Aside from magic, these Warlocks excel at manipulating allies and enemies. Their acts and emotions always try to go along to whatever situation favors them - taking things slow, and assuring their victory that way, although often overconfidence blinds them sometimes, not finishing a fight when they have the chance to.


Here's a showcase of some of the ice spells we've been working on - Like the fire spells, they're not perfected, but there's a good example of what we want to accomplish with them.

The Ice shard is an spell that when it collides with an enemy it adds a slow effect. If it collides with the floor it leaves a trace of snow which can be used to spawn an icicle by doing an upwards motion towards the desired direction.

The mages inside Unreal

Take a look at some in game screenshots of the Blazing and Glacier Warlocks inside Unreal Engine!

That's it for this week, hope you enjoyed the article!

Stage 3: Azaria - Development diary 5: New level design

Hey everyone!

We have some big changes going on inside Stage 3: Azaria's development. Today we'll tell you about the changes in the level design and the main objectives of the map, which are two of the most important aspects in the game. While we are changing our level design drastically, we believe it is for the best of the game; after all, it's you who are going to play it and we want you to have thousands of hours of fun with our games!

Let's begin by sharing information about the world of Stage 3, and the location where the battle takes place.

Heorogan's Castle

The universe of Stage 3 is composed of multiple families fighting for power and respect. Each one of these send their members to endure harsh training so they can become members of one of the following factions: Heiron Alliance, Viridian Resistance and Sanctum Order. Which are the main power holders in the continent. The families are recognized by the talent of their members, so the most respectful of them have very powerful members.

The Heorogan's family is the strongest in the kingdom and they possess a castle that is strategically positioned to gain advantage of the resources on their land. While controlling Azaria you will have to face Eolica Heorogan, whose army is composed of Heiron Alliance and Sanctum Order members, while trying to protect the castle's main gate.

Level design

The battle takes place in Heorogan's Castle territory and it's surrounded by giant floating islands that connect each other via magical artifacts. Before creating the art of the game we must make sure the level design has a new flow and the player finds it engaging. Let's take a look at some of the islands the player can explore.

First island

This is a 3 layer island, with height differences, designed so the player can keep track of the lower levels of the island by going to the edges. It has multiple paths to the objective on the second layer, so enemies wont be that predictable from where they will come from and they will be able to adapt to obstacle spells.

Objectives are situated on the topmost layer with spawning knights on the lowest layer and wisps on every level. The cover has been placed on the first and second level so the player can fight on these areas better.

First island blockout map

Second island

The second island has 2 entry points for knight enemies and keeps the objectives on the middle of the map. The player will need to go to the lower levels to secure a second objective, leaving the main objectives exposed to the topmost spawned enemies, keeping the player always moving on the map.

The main area is kept mostly symmetric but with some natural cover objects to make it interesting and fun.

Second island blockout map

Third island

A bridge island, it is used by the enemies to teleport between the main islands Has 3 entry/exit points and bridges that connect them, these bridges can be disabled by the player temporaly. Allowing the player to manage the waves of enemies coming at them. It has minimun cover and its not designed to be an area to fight enemies.

Third island blockout map

Modularity in art

While the game designers are focusing on making the game and levels fun, the art team is focused on trying to tell the story by creating the characters and how the world will look. At this stage, it is important to focus on modularity and the visual language that the models will translate to the player. Different forms and silhouettes give different feelings. For instance vertical lines give a sense of stability like the pillars of Greek columns or other architecture elements; while horizontal lines give a sense of peace, just like watching the ocean when there is a sunset.

When working on games, it is important to be as efficient as possible. You never know how the assets you create are going to be used in the game so the best you can do is to create pieces that by themselves don't make much impact but together can create something interesting. This is the beauty of creating worlds in games and it's where your creativity shines!

These are some of the pieces we are using to create architecture for Stage 3:

These simple pieces may seem that they won't do much impact in the world, but these are some of the combinations that can be made if used creatively:

As you can see, just by using six 3D models we can create a wide range of architectural elements. When these combined with the power of materials in Unreal Engine, the possibilities are endless! If you want to know more about how we are using materials to create art you can check our article here

We hope you enjoyed reading the article and learned more about how we are creating our games! That's it for this week newsletter, there are more awesome content coming up soon so stay tuned. If you wish to ask anything about the game or about the development don't be shy and let us know by the comments below. Until next week!

 

 

Stage 3: Azaria - Development diary 4: Using Megascans and Unreal Engine 4

Hey everyone! In this dev diary we want to share with you one of our workflows to texture our worlds using Quixel's Megascans and integrating it with Unreal Engine!

What are Megascans?

Megascans is a service provided by Quixel to access a huge library of photo scanned materials. We have been using Quixel for quite some time and we absolutely love everything about it!

Megascans library

We start off by downloading the material we wish in our library. The great thing about this service is that once you purchase the material you can download it forever even if you are no longer a subscriber.

Once you download the material, Megascans Bridge will automatically detect the file and add it to your computer library.

After that, you can export the textures to any program you wish to use. In this case we are using Unreal Engine. The good thing about it, is that it will automatically calibrate the textures which is very important when working with Physically Based Rendering.

We just need to import the textures to Unreal Engine. For our workflow, we are using 3 textures for each material: albedo, mask and normals. The mask stores grayscales textures in each channel, in our case we are storing: roughness, displacement and ambient occlusion. Note that the mask compression settings need to be "Mask" in order to get all the values accurately.

Material Library

Material libraries are super important in game development. They provide a non destructive workflow, fast iterations and can add incredibly amount of detail to your models. They are basically materials stored as Material Functions which you can then drag and drop into a Material and blend them with other materials. 

Creating the material function

The materials should be really simple because it can scale up really quickly when you put more materials on top on another. Like your typical material we will connect the texture inputs to their respective channels but we will take care of some stuff that will be useful to us in the long run.

Overview of the material function

This material connects all the texture inputs into their respective channels but have some useful UV tiling system that we will use for all the models we create in our game.

Tile setup

We just need to use the Object Radius to detect the size of our model. This will take care of the texel density of the 3d model regardless if it's too big or too small. Since we don't want to deal with decimals, we just want to divide it by a number to make the Tiling input a little more user friendly.

The rest of the material looks like this:

We could get more complex but like we stated above, we want to keep it simple. We just want 2 inputs: The material and the displacement mask. As for the albedo, we want to tint it in case we want to change the color later. One thing to keep in mind is that we are using a Constant Clamp to assure that the values don't go below 0 or above 1. This will make sure that the material properties don't break the energy conservation which is very important to achieve realistic materials.

After creating some materials and importing some textures from Megascans you can build a library like this:

The next step is to create our master material to apply it to our models.

Materials

The great thing about working with material libraries, is that we just can drag and drop them into our material and we can blend them between other materials! For instance we can just create 2 materials just by creating some inputs.

After that, is just a matter of creating a blend between those materials and use the vertex colors of the model to blend between those using Layered Materials.

Let's apply it to a simple sphere and see how it looks like.

The texture will tile depending on the object radius, so we won't see that much pixels even if we zoom in really close. You can always add Detail Texturing, if you wish to know more about it you can read more on our Optimization article.

After that is just a matter of paint the vertex colors using Mesh Paint Mode. After doing the same process with all the materials you wish to blend, you can create some cool materials and have the illusion of really complex surfaces even on simple models!

Mesh with vertex painting

RBG vertex color mode on

That's it for this article we hope you find it useful and apply this technique to your projects! If you have any questions don't hesitate to reach out to us in the comments!

Stage 3: Azaria - Development diary 3: Optimizing content for VR

We wanted to share with you what it's been and still is to work in a VR game compared to a traditional one. Specifically for creating worlds, it can make a big difference because the experience of using a VR device really changes everything we know about making games.

To the contrary of what many people think, ideas evolve and consolidate as we work in the game. We watch them grow, change and sometimes the changes need to be drastic if it's for the best of the game. Below is a collection of screenshots during the development process for the August build we worked for 2 months:

Hereogan's Castle process

There is a lot going on behind the scenes but the basic formula is to test the idea we have on paper and put is right away inside Unreal Engine. Most of them won't work as intended, specially for VR since the experience is completely different. But the process is reduced to iterate and look what works and what doesn't and continue to evolve the idea.

In this article we are going to talk about the considerations we need to take to create VR worlds inside Unreal Engine.

General considerations

Most people don't know it, but creating VR games can be extremely difficult because you need to get a high frame rate, in our case we need a minimum of 90 frames per second in order for the game to work. Otherwise, it can cause motion sickness and make the experience a not very enjoyable one for the player. While the hardware required to run these type of games is very powerful, we still need to optimize a lot to achieve high frame rates.

Texture resolution

This isn't for VR only games but we always need to take in consideration the size of the textures since it can decrease frame rate significantly if not handled well. The challenge here is to reduce the texture resolution while keeping the same amount of detail, since in a VR game people can look very close to the objects, we need to make sure the detail stays there.

Fortunately Unreal give us many tools for optimizing textures. Many developers wonder about how big the size of the texture should be and it really varies from project to project since the same object won't have the same impact if the game is a First Person Shooter versus a Third Person Action game and VR is not the exception. The good news is that we can easily know the size of the texture with Required Texture Resolution mode on.

This is how the object looks in the game:

torch.jpg

And with Required Texture Resolution mode on we can see how much texture resolution is required depending on how much screen space the object occupies.

With this mode you can see how much texture resolution is required depending on the type of game you are making. The problem with VR games is that most objects have the potential of occupying a lot of screen space since the player see the objects as if they were in real life size. That means that even when the object is close we need to maintain the same quality. In order to achieve this, we can use detail textures to give the player the resolution they are looking for while using low resolution textures.  This can be achieved easily just by using the DetailTexturing function inside the Material Editor.

detailtexturing.jpg

You can see the difference between the same object with Detail Textures applied and another one without it. With this, we are able to achieve high quality graphics while keeping the texture resolution low and increasing the game frame rate which is our primary goal.

Level of Detail

This is a huge one, while testing the game performance you can notice without the VR headset that the frame rates are going well, probably above 90 FPS. However, when you test it with the headset the performance can change drastically. We noticed that using Level of Detail (LOD) on all our models increase our frame rates by a considerable amount, while it may be obvious, you can't find the problem until you test with the headset on and this one was a huge bottle neck.

Like everything inside Unreal, this can be easily achieved in theStatic Mesh Editor using the LOD feature that automatically reduces the triangle count while calculating how much screen space it deserves. This can save hours of work since it's calculating everything for you and assigning the correct distance for each LOD.

As you can see, the Highest LOD uses 1014 triangles for the 3D model and the lowest use around 100. While the silhouette is terribly wrong when the object is close, it works perfectly well from a distance. For Stage 3: Azaria we used 5 LODs for all models and it increased the frame rate significantly.

Draw Calls

In our experience, the best you can do to optimize a VR game is to reduce the Draw Calls. Like everything you won't notice frame rate problems until you wear the headset, but if you use Unreal's tools to analize the rendering statistics you can see that the Draw Calls are the biggest bottleneck for a VR game. It is less forbidding for a project for PC and Consoles and we knew that for Mobile devices was a huge one, but we got the surprise it also have a heavy impact even on VR devices even when the machine is powerful enough.

It is easy to detect how many Draw calls your game has by using Unreal's optimization tools. By typing the Console Command.

These are the most used to track performance issues:

  • Stat scenerendering
  • Stat unit
  • Stat fps

These will give us an Overview of how much milliseconds takes to process the frame both for the GPU, CPU, Game code and Draw Calls.

scenerendering.jpg

As you can see, the Draw calls appear to be the lowest problem here but if you wear the headset you will find that it is actually the biggest bottleneck. You can also check how many Draw Calls your scene have and work your way around to reduce it, for Stage 3: Azaria we went from 2000 Draw Calls to 300. The easiest way to reduce them is inside Unreal, the typical workflow would be something along the lines of "exporting content from Engine to 3D Package, merge objects inside 3D package, create new LODs, reimport and replace old meshes for new ones". Like anything in Unreal, you can reduce these steps into a single click! Just use the Merge Actors feature and you are good to go.

You can see in this image that we have merged some of the Heorogan's Castle columns and reduced Draw Calls from probably 200 to 4.

drawcalls.jpg

This is how the Merge Actor window looks like and it does all those steps in a single click! The best thing is that it also merges LODs so you don't need to create them again. Our advice is to create LODs before reducing Draw Calls since you will get the new LODS for free.

Untitled-13.jpg

Advice and final words

If we were to put a list of insights that we got from experience these would be the most important:

  • Always test with a VR headset, you can't know how well or bad it goes until you try it on.
  • Epic has a lot of resources and information about VR development, be sure to read there first. Most likely they had the same problem you are experiencing and have a solution for it.
  • Use the tools provided by Epic: Performance statistics, LOD generation, Merge Actors, and the list can go on. These are tools that really speed up the process and help you to focus on what is most important: the game.
  • Avoid dynamic lightning whenever possible.

 

Stage 3: Azaria - Development diary 2: Fire Spells

We want to share with you one of the themes that really inspire us to make the kind of games we work on and that is: Magic!

In the Stage 3 universe, magic is controled by wizards who belong to the Sanctum Order. The purpose of this order is to train wizards and continue their family legacy by creating powerful mages that can serve as vital weapons in war times. Azaria is the leader of the Sanctum Order, therefore she has mastered the techniques like no other wizard in the realm has and the only one who can control all elements instead of just one. She's also able to control a secret element that we will share with you soon!

There are 4 main magic elements that can be controlled in Stage 3: fire, ice, lightning and earth. And today we want to show you what we have been working on with the fire element.

092817_ElementsLogo_Fire_V01-(1).png

 

In Stage 3, the fire is considered the most powerful and destructive element of them all, as it provides offensive attacks only. Only people with pure and unstable emotions are chosen to fit the role of the Blazing Warlock inside the Sanctum order - the reason is because they are able to channel their emotions into a burst of offensive magic.

Blazing Warlocks give in to their emotions. They can be calm as the wind, and at the next instant they can burst into an uncontrollable anger. They're not reliable teammates in the battlefield, as when they are flooded by emotions, they become emotion itself.

Azaria is able to morph fire into two different spells called: Infernal Flames and Fiery Horizon. Depending on your situation you may cast one instead of the other or even use both. In the following videos you can see both spells in action, take note that things are subject to change as we still develop the game, its part of the progress to reiterate and change things as more people play it and give us their feedback!

Infernal Flames:
Infernal Flames is one of the most basic and effective spells that can be casted by wielding the fire element. The mastery of this spell is not an easy task, as many mages can cast this spell but their range, power, area and accuracy depends on the amount of training they have done.

Internal Flames Charging

This is a projectile type spell that has an arc trajectory. Used by Azaria, the range, power, and area will depend on how much time the spell has been channeled. The more you charge the spell, the more powerful it is and the further it can go. It also has a chance to inflict a burning effect on the enemies, setting them on fire.

While this spell is great for consistent long range area damage, it can be a little weak if not charged enough. This is where the Fiery Horizon shines, because its used best in close quarters combat.

Fiery Horizon:
The Fiery Horizon was created with the purpose of defending yourself when you are overwhelmed by enemies. You will automatically activate it just by using your hand and creating a motion with it. When you do, you will throw a powerful magic arc covered with fire that will defend yourself from enemies that get in your way. 

Fiery Horizon

One of the core aspects of Stage 3: Azaria is that we want the player to experience something different than the traditional gaming can offer. By using the motion controllers, the player can really feel they are using magic instead of just pressing a button. And we really love the fact that the experience of using a VR can be very enjoyable and unique since it can give a fresh air on what we believe gaming is or can be.

That's it for this article, you can expect more articles for the rest of the spells, we can't wait to show you what we have been working on for the other elements!

 

Stage 3: Azaria - Development diary 1


It has been some time since we updated our blog - we've been quite busy with many new things in the studio, but now we're coming back with full force!

With that out of the way, today marks the beginning of our development Diaries for Stage 3: Azaria!

We'll start by telling you more about the game since this is the first time we post an article about it.
In this prequel of Stage 3, you will control Azaria, the most powerful hybrid mage of the realm, as you become the last bastion of defense of the Hereogan's Castle. While you battle for your life and beliefs, you will have to face Eolica's army, composed of skilled warriors and mages.
The Hereogan's Castle will become your battleground : fly, teleport, and stop time if necessary to access strategic places as enemies attack you with complex attack formations.
You can choose between 5 different magic elements to launch powerful spells and try different motions with the controller to cast hidden and unique abilities!

As developers, we are thrilled to share the game's progress with you. Below are some screenshots of the last build of the game we presented locally. All the images and videos we post here are not representative of the final version, but we want to be as transparent as possible while we share our journey with you.

We have tested our game with over 100 different people of all ages, from little children to hardcore gamers and even people who are not used to play games at all. We still test the game with people in a constant basis and we are so happy they really enjoy the game!
Perhaps you'd want to be a tester?  you can subscribe to our newsletter so you keep in touch with us, if that's the case.
You can watch some of the gameplay in this video recorded in our headquarters.

Also, we are working with Musicworks V.C Productions to create the music for the game. The process has been so interesting that deserves it's own article. But as a sneak peek, we are working closely with Jose, the composer of Stage 3 music, to create something unique and epic. we are even using Wwise to create interactive music and sound effects. You can listen to Stage 3: Azaria's main theme below.
Do you like where the music style is going?

Few weeks ago, we started to put some information out there, if you are the kind of person who visits IndieDB or Yunoia you can see them in the links, we even have a Presskit!

We will dedicate an article to tell you more about the story and characters of the Stage 3's universe. But for now we can tell you that there are 3 important factions: Heiron Alliance, Sanctum Order and Viridian Resistance. We have been working on the Sanctum Order units, which are composed of mages who can control different elements: fire, ice, earth and lightning. For those who don't know much about game development, we create 3D art to fill our world with characters and environments, this is the game model we have created for the Sanctum Order units. Expect more pictures of them soon!

Sanctum Order Unit

We are continuously adding more spells and creating interesting behaviors that will make you move a lot using the HTC Vive such as Fire slahes, thunderstorm and giant ice shards! As development progress we will start sharing with you some videos to show some action!

There is so much we want to share, things like the music, art, programming, the testing sessions and the list can go on. So expect more articles like these!