Category: News

Pathfinding for Dummies and Artificial Intelligence

Today we would like to give you a glimpse into how we tackle character navigation in Rick Future and how it is done in computer games in general.

Who needs Navigation?
Navigation, or Pathfinding to be exact, is needed in all games that have character moving by themselves – in other words, AI characters. It doesn’t matter whether that is your player character’s best friend and she’s just following you around, or whether it’s an enemy alien trying to eat your spleen. They all need to navigate around the levels to try and get from point A to point B – which is probably you.

Navigation_AI_transparent

 

Why is this difficult? Every toddler can do this!
Pathfinding is a bigger issue than one might think at first. Rarely can a character in a game get from point A to B in a straight line. There might be obstacles in between. The destination might lie in another room, on the other side of a wall. Or maybe there is just uneven terrain. Without Pathfinding, enemies would fall into holes, get stuck behind obstacles or simply walk straight into a wall.

The AI needs to find a path to his destination that leads through a door, or around that big crate in the middle of the room. But while this is a simple task for the human brain that all of us accomplish every day in real life without giving it a second thought – this is a HUGE problem for a computer. Let us explain why.

The AI has no idea what areas it is allowed to walk in, how much of a height difference the character could climb with a single step, or that it should use an open door, but not an open window to get into a house. The entire concept of a window is unknown to a computer. To the code, it is all just polygons. The object in front of it could be a sturdy wall, or it could be a flower.

Navigation_BlockedPath_transparent

 

Giving the computer something it can understand
To make navigation possible, game developers need to give the Pathfinding AI some information about the area that they are in, and in a way that they can understand. This is called a “Navigation Setup”. The most important part of this is defining an area in which the characters are allowed to move in. Here is an example from the engine room of Rick Future, without and with the navigation setup.

EngineRoom_Clean

EngineRoom_Nav

The blue area in the picture above is the area that the character is allowed to move in. Notice how the area avoids obstacles and walls. As long as the character only ever stays inside of this area, she won’t intersect with any of the geometry. This area is set up by the level designer, and is invisible in the final game.

The pathfinding is restricted to the inside of this area. That means, to get from one point to another, an character cannot leave the blue area at any time. That way the character won’t try to walk through walls, or jump up onto the second floor without using the door or the stairs.

The huge advantage of this is that the code that computes the path for a character can be relatively fast. In theory, the code could analyze all objects in the room and try to guess whether it counts as an obstacle or not. But that would eat up a lot of processing power. With just a little bit of extra setup for each level, the hardware requirements of a game can be kept at a reasonable level.

And that’s it!
And this is how basic navigation works in games.
While there are many different algorithms that can calculate these paths, and many different ways a navigation setup can be done, this basic principle is the same for all games, from Call of Duty to Rick Future.

Note:
The AI has a lot of other things to consider that I didn’t mention. Here are a few examples: A character that is very fat might need to take a longer route, because he can’t fit through small spaces. He should also keep a larger distance to the walls, so that his body doesn’t intersect with the geometry. The list goes on, but this would go well beyond an short introduction.

Captain on the bridge!

During the last weeks we have spent a lot of time designing the Eric’s bridge. We went through quite a few iterations until we ended up with something that we could all agree upon. Coming up with something that visualizes the bridge as it is know from the original stories while keeping it open to everything we need to do with it in the game was a bit tricky. The bridge couldn’t be too huge and empty for example since we need some space for the characters to move around and the navigation system to work properly. Also we needed seating for all three characters in addition to enough open space to walk around an interact with the objects in the location.
The bridge of the Eric can be considered a hub between different locations in the game. In order to travel to different planets or space stations Rick, Hubert or Evi need to be on the bridge and use the navigation computer to plot a course for the destination. This also involves a new little mini-game we haven’t yet talk about :) Furthermore being on the bridge allows you to actually look out in space and see which location you are currently in. This works out really well, since you can look out and see the stars and planets ahead of you or the vast landscape of an alien planet the Eric has just landed on. This really adds something to the mood.

As usual everything is to be considered work-in-progress and we might make further changes and tweaks later on. But it is always good to get stuff out and get feedback, so we wanted to share the current state of the location with you. Have a look at the screenshot below and let us know what you think. As usual all feedback is welcome.

RF_Oct_2015_1

The screenshot was taken in-game and shows the the three stations for Rick, Evi and Hubert. We have the pilot chair with the navigation computer in the front and Hubert and Evi’s stations on the sides. We are still playing around with different camera positions to what looks best. What you see in the screenshot now might not necessarily be the final perspective used in the game, but we couldn’t resist showing you a nice space vista! You can blame our Crytek heritage for this irrepressible urge :) Have fun!

 

 

 

New forum up and running

Well, it just took… forever.. but now the new forum software is up and running. This means we finally have a platform again, to discuss the game, exchange ideas and gather feedback.

Things should be much more stable, more spam free and a lot prettier than last time. As you might notice the forum is running on the MetalPop server with a Rick Future sub forum. This means we will eventually add sub forums for our other games.
As things move on we might also restructure the Rick Future forum itself. Right now it is pretty empty but as things move along we might to split the feedback, idea and general discussion into individual sub forums to keep things organized. Let’s see how things go :)

Our German community should also be happy. We added a special forum just for you guys to discuss in German. But please feel free to also head over to the international part of the forum and help out anybody with their questions over there.

So, waste not time, check out the new forum here and let us know what you think!

Evi-lution

Today we want to shed some light on the visual development of the female android EV-A2, or as her friends call her: Evi. She is one of the three playable main characters in the game. Together with Rick and Hubert, Evi forms the crew of the cargo ship Eric.

An older piece of Evi fan art

An older piece of Evi fan art

Over time the visual appearance of Evi in our game has changed quite a lot. When we started development many winters ago we were not even sure how the final model in-game would end up looking. The original Rick Future storyline only gave us a basic direction and it took us a while to arrive at what is in the game today. Even before we started on the game, several pieces of concept and fan art in various degrees of quality had been created. Certain elements had always been present in most drawings and concepts, such as the blueish color and a metallic body.

Bringing a character to life in a game, creating a new 3D model and defining what the character should look like is always a difficult task. Everybody has their own imagination of the character in their head and how it should look.  The tricky part is to make everybody happy and still make sure all the core elements that define the character are present.

An early Evi sketch

An early 2013 sketch

In earlier versions of the game we even tried out a completely different look for Evi using very different colors and shapes. Have a look at a more shapely, more female Evi using mainly orange colors. This concept was created when we were working on the first proof-of-concept prototype in CryENGINE3 back in 2013.

In the end there were many elements we didn’t like about this very different take on the character. It ended up looking a lot more female and less android than intended. Evi is clearly a female but this style was a bit too much on the sexy side, so we decided to go back and get a bit closer to the original metallic design.

For a time we even experimented and put some hair on Evi’s head. Besides the usual technical problems which hair in 3D engines brings with it, it made Evi look quite punk’ish and we canned the hair soon after. But just in case you are curious, check out the screenshots below to see how Evi looked around 2014.

Glam Rock Evi

Glam Rock Evi in CryENGINE around 2014

In the end we came a lot closer to the original silver-blue colors and cleaner shapes. If you compare the current model to the cover art of the latest audio episodes you can see that it is quite close.

In-game vs. Concept Evi

In-game vs. Concept Evi

Is that the final look? Well, who knows :) We are pretty happy with it now. Once all the animations and the facial setup is in we will do the first test, have her say a few sentences and see how things feel.
Let us know what you think! Like the design? Hate it? Let us hear you feedback!

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday!

This week we had our two-year  anniversary! We have been surviving as an independent studio for two years now! In June 2013 we exchanged the security of a monthly paycheck for the roller coaster-ride life as independent developers.
And to celebrate the occasion the Rick Future Game website received a complete makeover! New design, new screenshots, new content and new everything! We hope you like the new look!

There is a bit more work to do still and some things like the new forum are not up and running yet. You can expect to see some more updates to the site in the next weeks.
Along with a completely new layout we updated the FAQ section, added new screenshots and more info on the characters and the universe.


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