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Planetary Rendering: Outerra and more


Stardreamer
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While we all wait for someone talented enough to create the perfect space game, be it Elite "possibly maybe sometime this millennium (if I can be bothered)" IV, Infinity: The Quest for the Longest Development Time EVER or one of the many independent projects that takes your fancy, it is amusing, interesting and intriguing (all at once!) to scour the internet for signs of What Could Be.

Today I found this on - of all places - YouTube. Ladies, Gentlemen and Sentient Bipedinoids it is my interstellar pleasure to introduce you to another few precious drops of imagination fodder:

The Outerra Engine

Spiffing, aren't they? Random planets look fab, but how about if you wanted to render a convincing Earth? They've got that covered too - the engine contains the Chromium browser engine that allows you to interact online while you play, and the developers to do...this:

When they're not documenting progress in the engine itself the engine-builders are even asking for suggestions as to what uses this fabulous miracle of code can be put. I think it took about seventeen seconds for someone to suggest a space game. Sixteen-point-four-three seconds too long, in my ever-so-humble opinion.

Moving swiftly on...Also while on Youtube tonight I found this next vid, where the coder has publicly stated his intent to code a space game - one I'd be very interested to see:

and this, where I'm not sure if this chap is only building a renderer for the sheer fun of it. I hope not, 'cos that would be an awesome waste of the man's looming talents:

(NB: If anyone here owns a Mac they might want to try out the actual, honest-to-gosh space game he developed for the relatively recent uDevGames contest - Ashima IV)

From tiny acorns do mighty oaks grow...if only I could time warp to the very picosecond when someone actually reaches the finish line!!!


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Pinback
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Theres some awesome game engines out there,its just a shame no one seems to be able to do

anything with them.


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DarkOne
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Would be nice to know if this was free, be cool to see that new open source project Pioneer using it for the planet surfaces 🙂

This is a great engine, man I need to learn how to program so I can do something with these engines. I have been wanting to learn for a while just with work, family and SSC where do I find the time?

But the planet surfaces and overall planet views from outer space look really good. I might have missed it but are they actually making a game using the engine or are they just building the engine?


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Stardreamer
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This is a great engine, man I need to learn how to program so I can do something with these engines. I have been wanting to learn for a while just with work, family and SSC where do I find the time?

I know what you mean! I can't code to save myself but seeing so many people fiddling but never completing anything makes me want to get in and do something myself...or at least start kicking some buttocks! 😆

I've often wondered how you manage to do all that you do here - the time demands must be quite considerable. However this site is an incredible achievement by itself, you know. You should be proud to have brought everyone together and given them a home.

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But the planet surfaces and overall planet views from outer space look really good. I might have missed it but are they actually making a game using the engine or are they just building the engine?

Here's something from their forum that answers that for you:

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Welcome to the 'Ideas' forum.

Outerra engine can be used to render planets seamlessly from space to ground, using arbitrary resolution elevation and land class data further refined by fractal algorithms to achieve detailed resolution. Currently we are concentrating on Earth, but Mars and Moon are also planned, and also algorithms and tools specifically tailored to artificial or completely procedural planets.

While it's still early tech, we are considering making a game with it to demonstrate its capabilities and also to make it more robust and feature rich in the process. For this I'd like to invite you to submit your ideas - what kind of game would you like to see made with the engine; what features should the game and engine have etc.

Any related ideas are welcome!

Brano

(Emphasis added)

What do you think? Should we show our support for the space game idea?


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Pinback
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I would like to see some alien worlds rendered or least a Mars type world,most of these game

engines always show earth worlds.Along with citys ranging from small colony settlements

upto mega citys,depending on the tec level you would also see road/rail networks. Alien

animals and plant life on the land,sea and air.Different weather effects,in a effect a living world.


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DarkOne
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Stardreamer wrote:
What do you think? Should we show our support for the space game idea?

Just posted something on their forums about it. hate to see a engine like this go to waste that's for sure.

Agree with you totally Pinback on creating just massive cities and great atmosphere effects. I think the reason why we don't see more of that is probably the taxing of the players gfx card and framerates. But you never know...


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scratt
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I love reading threads like this.

And really, all devs out there, including ourselves, who are working towards our own idea of the ultimate Space Sim do feel your pain, literally and figuratively, every day. We do sweat blood trying to get to the Nirvana you're all craving. And it's for selfish reasons. It's because we want to play it too!!

I myself have written 6 planet engines in the last 4 years. Each time I've decided that that will be the perfect model for my own personal Elite. And as close as many of us get to the goal it always seems to get further and further away. We've learned so much in the last 2 years. Can you imagine having spent that much time on a project and in some cases to just be getting started?

It's not just about the planet engine. Although technically it looks like the most impressive part of any space game, you can pretty much put one together (a basic one) in a week. The algorithms, and the basic designs all follow the same algorithms. After that it's small deviations in execution to get the best performance for your particular needs / design path.

On ArcNebula we have a planet engine capable of complete planetfall and vegetation, but at present going all the way to the planet surface is not viable on the current hardware we're aiming for when you factor in everything else that needs to go on in a space sim. Technically we've got pretty much everything you can see in the videos above, and have had for over a year!

Move our engine to a desktop and bingo, because that's where it came from originally!! At the moment we are trying to balance gameplay, with complexity, with combat mechanics and the overhead of running everything in the background on mobile devices.. But that's just our own personal hell! 🙂

I have a lot of sympathy for Flavien and "The Quest for Earth" guys, as they are going through the same kind of process. A year or two ago they were producing a lot of the same images that they are now. And to the untrained eye it doesn't seem to have moved forward much. I don't mean that disparagingly to you when I say "untrained eye". Sometimes it looks like we're all just sitting on our butts doing nothing even to us inside these projects!! But there is so much to this kind of game... and so much rinse, repeat, fail try again kind of work that you have to do to get this right.

A few things spring to mind that you need once you've got your planet engine. The planet engine being something everyone seems to focus on first and then burn out by the time they reach the next stage...

Trading Systems.

Procedural generation.

AI.

Races.

Physics.

Star Systems.

Planet Systems management.

Universe management.

Weapon Systems.

UI - For example, I have just spent the best part of a month working on the UI for ArcNebula.

Sound.

Models.

Textures.

HUD systems. Everything from sector scanners to hold management etc.

Music.

Networking.

That's just to list a few things... There are literally hundreds of components, all interlinked in a truly open space sim.

When you're bimbling around an Earth like planet there are about a million other things going on behind the scenes to keep the game running. You only need to look at the delays that have hit JumpGate (which is pretty much just a networked shooter) to see how even a big team with huge budgets can find this kind of genre challenging.

Plus it's rare for any big development house to ever get behind a Space Sim.

The burnout rate for Indies is massive, and it seems that Space Sims fall foul of this before any other kind of project.

If I had a penny for every Space Sim I've seen fail I'd have enough pennies to put a team together big enough to produce.... well... a Space Sim!

But we're on your side. Really we are. 🙂

EDIT : Something I was working on last week was what happens when you shoot at a Space Station.

Well first it has to decide if it's your friend or not. If it's your friend it has to perhaps be tolerant to a few stray shots. If not, or if you test it's tolerance too far it needs to decide what kind of action to take.

Let's say it launches a defence ship. Well has it got any?

Ok, let's say it has... Is any other ship landing or leaving the dock right now?

Let's say the dock exit is clear. Well it needs to launch one of those ships. But if the dock is busy it needs to queue that action.

When it does launch a ship finally, then it needs to tell any other ship trying to take off or land not to do anything.

What do those ships do if they are lining up to enter the dock.

Once that ship is launched it needs to decide if that was enough action to take, or if perhaps the defence ship got shot down it need to launch another. What if it doesn't have any left?

Does it have any missiles? Does it even have that capability?

What if while it's telling a defence ship to leave the dock it get's destroyed... The Space Station that is. What does the defence ship do now, and what do other ships in the dock do? What do the ships waiting to dock do?

For every possible outcome there has to be a decision that makes sense..

This kind of AI and management is the life blood of a realistic living system... and it needs to go on either in a macro form, or a short hand form for stations and systems and ships all over the current system and the universe as a whole.

I am describing this very loosely, but perhaps you get the picture. It's a headache. Add networking and multiplayer and you just magnified that!

Approach it without a plan and the whole system gets messier and messier - which is what happens to a lot of these projects whether you plan them perfectly from day one or not....

Just a small snapshot into my daily life there. 🙂


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Stardreamer
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Ok, let's say it has... Is any other ship landing or leaving the dock right now?

Some free-thinking for you:

1) Why are your defence ships using a civilian dock? Why not give them their own?

2) Why are your defence ships even using a dock at all?

2b) Do your defence ships even need to be piloted?

AI Drone-ships could easily limpet to a hull section designed to house and service them. No need to worry about docking - they just peel away from the station when danger rears. Everyone always assumes police/defence ships will have pilots, probably because that's the metaphor we're most used to on Earth, cops climbing out of black-and-whites. In the far-flung reaches of space you'd probably need a pilot on hand for superior decision making (debatable) but in a station defence scenario surely drones are all that's needed, backed up by human oversight from the station itself. In space, computers are likely to be doing most of the actual flying anyway. Robotic ships could pull stunts with acceleration that would liquefy human pilots, making them a formidable force. Between that and a fallible human pilot I know which *I* would rather have guarding my station!

Incidentally, this is why I should never be given political authority; human beings are always a secondary concern. 😆

I know my opening paragraph was a touch acerbic but please don't be offended by it: it's just my humour. It is often as fascinating to watch development of these games as it is fun to play them, and I think I speak for all of us here in SSC when I say how grateful and appreciative we are to even have the chance to play anything!

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Move our engine to a desktop and bingo

I've been saying that all along! 😆 Now you've just admitted your game is going to be wasted on the iPhone/PSP crowd you're aiming at - a real shame! (Well ok, certain aspects of it will be, heh).

To address the main thrust of your post:

I do understand that to produce a compelling, living simulation in the way most people see in our heads is possibly one of the most demanding challenges to be found in modern gaming but the aggravating thing is that we've come so close already on several occasions but we seem to be stuck at the point of continually trying to reinvent the wheel rather than building the rest of the car.

Let's take Elite 2: Frontier as an example. The basics of everything we're reaching for are there. All it needs is a few tweaks, nips and tucks - a sprinkle of graphical upgrade fairy dust, a better GUI, refined controls, an upgraded combat system...and bob really is your uncle. This is why Pioneer is so exciting, and perhaps why Braben's continual teasing is so aggravating: the goal-posts as laid out by this lovely little 1993 game are so very clearly expressed. All someone need do is stand upon the shoulders of giants to grasp it.

😕 I think I'm rambling. I'll stop now. 😳


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scratt
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Ha! Love your reply. Not offended at all. And some nice ideas in there too. Do you want a job? 😉

Don't be offended if we steal your ideas.

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All it needs is a few tweaks, nips and tucks - a sprinkle of graphical upgrade fairy dust, a better GUI, refined controls, an upgraded combat system...and bob really is your uncle.

Damn! Is that all. I will re-write our project plan overnight and get the team back on track Monday morning!

But seriously, all points noted, and taken on board.. And don't worry all our efforts on the iPhone and iPod will make it to the iPad and the PS3 at some point in the not too distant future..

Did I just hear our graphics team crying?


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Stardreamer
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Don't be offended if we steal your ideas.

Offended? Quite the opposite, dear chap. I'd be delighted! A mere credit is all I require. Oh, and about the job thing - it's probably too late for an ideas man to make any impact in your rapidly maturing project but feel free to tap me up as a consultant on future iterations! 😎

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Damn! Is that all. I will re-write our project plan overnight and get the team back on track Monday morning!

Yeah, crack that whip! 😀

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But seriously, all points noted, and taken on board.. And don't worry all our efforts on the iPhone and iPod will make it to the iPad and the PS3 at some point in the not too distant future..

Well thanks for listening. Frustration does tend to bring out my obnoxious side but I do try to maintain a level perspective on things like this. For every "just do this and that and bob's your uncle" I realise this could mean months of work even for an entire team of clever code-monkeys. I never intend to belittle the work of anyone who builds games, particularly since I'm nowhere near capable of doing so myself. And yeah, I'd read about the progression of platforms you'd stated. Maybe it's time to invest in a PS3 since I believe that will have the horse-power to run your game to the best of its abilities.


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Potsmoke66
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short:

i guess to make a planet rendering engine is one thing, to get that working in the game on many systems, platforms respecting that some still have this or that os, so and so graphic card or one and one cpu makes everything a little complicated and weakens our dreams.

so restrictions have to be made, many i guess.

consoles could be a solution, they offer a solid hardware and it runs for all users of them the same, no fiddling around with os restrictions, graphic card weaknesses*, it was that way when i started to play computer games many years (centuries in fact) ago, then everybody moved to the home computers (i still didn't believed then that it is better, but some people never listen), now it shows off i was right, consoles are truely the better solution, because everything is designed to play games, which is a very exhausting (the most imo) task for a computer and leaving systems like any PC with a crappy windows behind them.

tja, tja, they was telling me in those days: "you don't know much about that and bla bla bla...." now we have the mess and i'm laughing! 😆

*i encountered a new one of mine! yesterday i was optimizing it to play a very old racing game, you wouldn't believe a game from '99 a todays graphic card is to weak? anyways i did so, today i liked to start FFED3D just to test something, hey where are the icons gone? i never had that problem before on this machine, so i will have to find out what i have been tweaking wrong, others might find it useful, because they got that problem still since the beginning, i allways thought and also stated it, do this, check that, this will help but... holy makeroly!

it works perfect for my racing sim, almost, i have a older ati it works better for it and environment mapping kills the nvidia (pci express) while old ati (agp) is laughing about, and everythings wrong now in FFED3D, you see, not a easy task to get everything in a straight line.


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Potsmoke66
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another annoing and also scaring thing are the so called "security relevant updates" of windows, most of the time your machine get worse after it, i dont know why but i have made some bad experiences with that.

e.g. ~3 month ago one came up, stupidly trusting ms i pressed "yes", after reboot i found my keyboard doesn't works no more. preassuming my keyboards got a malfunction, ok short solution disconnected it from usb, connected it to ps2 port, restart, got my keyboard back, lucky me, i thought. 2 days ago dusting off MAME on my machine, hey what's happened? no more tabstopp, how can i run and configure mame without tab, rolling my computer up from the powersupply to the connected drives and everything, shouting, screaming, that ms is a bunch of mafiosi killing my tabstopp key, assuming they must have bought the key from me, because i can't use it if i like to and where i like to. finally i found a solution by reinstalling the old usb driver comes along with the keyboard and tabstopp is working again now, keybord driven again by usb. what a heck! 😈

this is my computer it is my keyboard, maybe it's not my windows, but then i change to linux 😈

and still i have no idea why excactly tabstopp didn't works at ps2 connected keyboard with mame. somewhere in the back of my mind a voice is telling me "ms don't wan't to play us this and that game or using this and that software because they don't lick the feet of mr. gates".


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DarkOne
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Just wait until Windows 7 SP1 comes out later this year. I'm sure it will cause people some heartache for those that play older games. I would have switched to linux a long time ago if I knew emulation was solid and I could get good framerates. I have to put linux on the kids machine if not I am rebuilding the thing month because of all the crap they try to install or spyware/malware gets installed.

Why not work to make a OS that runs all windows software flawlessly but has a linux/unix core? I really like OSX but there is really no games for it. The PC just needs a open source OS. Maybe Google can solve the problems with ChromeOS? But this planet engine is amazing and could be used for many applications its just more than likely it will be out of the indie gamers reach because there will probably be a cost to this amazing thing.


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XenoHelix
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@scratt (this is a humorous post, not to be taken literally).

Reminds me of my first project ... we utterly failed 😆 but we were young and quite inexperienced in such projects. We foolishly thought that since we can make the rendering engine sing and we know how to make applications (not games) we are ready to launch ...

I too have witnessed many failed projects, especially of the kind i like ... spacesims. So here is my rough estimate for a normal scale project ...

3 months (if you're good at it) - Trading Systems.

1 year (if you're good at it) - Procedural generation.

3 years (if you're good at it) - AI.

1 month (if you're good at it) - Races.

5 months (forget it, you suck at it. Trust me) - Physics.

10 months (better to make a tool for the automatic generation of this) - Star Systems.

6 months (if you're good at it) - Planet Systems management.

1 year (if you're good at it) - Universe management.

5 months (if you're good at it) - Weapon Systems.

10 months (You're gonna change this at least 5 times during development) - UI.

5 months - Sound.

(better to buy them 😛 ) - Models.

(better to buy them 😛 ) - Textures.

2 years (i hope you didn't flunk math)- HUD systems. Everything from sector scanners to hold management etc.

(i don't know) - Music.

3 years (you got to be insane to include that, but it's your call) - Networking.


total: I don't know. I'm both bored (and scared) to do the math 😆

PS: If you're not that good multiple by 2 and if you're alone (i seriously hope not) multiple by 30 !! 😆 .


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DarkOne
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Even though I don't do coding as a job I still lead the occasional team and your values are a bit skewed. Your saying it would take 11 yrs to write a decent space sim. I think I can learn a language and code something in that amount of time and I am a newb 🙂

I have watched many projects, take the millennium remake game for example. I have played this game which is a 2D game but a game none the less. And that was built in 4 months by two people. The Starstrike remake was built in less than a year and that is a 3D shooter. There is a few examples that your time table is a bit inaccurate, because if this is a possible time table for one person there would be no sense in making a game at all because technology changes so fast that it would be like you making a game DX8 and by the time your done DX11-12 is out. Your game would be laughed at.

I am not saying that programming is easy but I am saying that some people have more drive and probably more universal knowledge than what you think. I don't write code for a living but occasionally I do script things and if there is something I am trying to do and I don't have the time to write it from scratch I will google that particular style of code up for examples and I usually find something pretty close to get the job done or least have a good idea and rewrite it. It saves immense amounts of time. And I could see programmers doing that all the time.


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XenoHelix
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Ok, that was a humorous post of mine so delete it if you feel it doesn't serve the thread.

Games are not about knowledge of a programming language. They're about math, algorithms and modular programming structure. That's the foundation of game design and development. I agree that copy/paste can work in math and algorithms since we all use other peoples work but if you don't know how to lay down your code, you're toast.

Writing a 'remake' is hard but a lot easier than starting from scratch. You only have to replicate things you know how they work (a keen eye can easily determine the methods used simply by watching carefully).

I never questioned motivation or passion and certainly never did question knowledge. The fact is though that for every successful game (even if it's not known to us) there are 100 failed startups and that's because people don't know how things should work inside a game. Motivation is nice but it's what will get you started not what's gonna keep you going.

void main (void) {

string feature1 == 'Coolest space sim ever';

string feature2 == 'Extra flashy graphics';

string feature3 == 'Music, sound FX and speech to blow your head off';

string feature4 == 'Video clips, voice overs by Hollywood top stars';

string feature5 == 'Frontier 4 eat your heart out';

string feature6 == 'Perfect code that never crashes';

string feature7 == 'Runs on DOS, Windows, Linux, MAC';

startgame(feature1, feature2, feature3, feature4, feature5, feature6, feature7);

}

... can't remember which gamemaker package runs this code tho ... bummer 😛


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DarkOne
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Outerra has a Alpha Tech Demo out now and it looks quite impressive: http://www.outerra.com/forum/index.php?topic=637.0

I took it for a spin for a few minutes and very impressed with the sheer size, it seems endless. It did crash on me a few times, I use a ATI4890.


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SuperG
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Well this planet side procedural enigine is very cool. To me it shows they know the procedural aproach. But making a space sim that stand out is another thing. And this feature is very optional to that as space sim core play is in space. Planet side landing or seamless planetside flight is icing on the cake. I put it in feature creep. Also a full generated galacy is optional.

Making games is different then making tech demo. But a far fetch tech demo is good base to extend to a full blow game.

Also the first game might not get it right at once. Because with a game out you get masive feedback. Wich you can tweak your sequel with.

Also the refining stage polish and Q&A take lot of time. This factor is huge for sandbox games where there are unendless posibilities.

So nice looking planets but do they have a core role in the game like many point of interrest on them.

So to me it reality that good games are very rare and for niche genre like space sims it is even mre so. It takes just so much effort and commitmend to put a talented and experrience team on such project to deliver on expectation. Wich often are insane high. Lot of people dont comply to that but try and fail. But that because it isn't so easy.

And me to get the urge of do it my self, but I am realistic. Its a bridge around a planet to far.

I also got the impression that in the game bussness the people who deside who get on there prof team value more finished games on the CV then unfinished tech. For them finish a game is golden. A full featured demo would be the minimum.

Planets would be something for sequel 3 or even 5.


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