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A New Dawn (Anniversary: Art: Tech: Video)

On the day after the City of Heroes 11th Anniversary, Missing Worlds Media is proud to demonstrate the first prototypes of City of Titans character costuming and combat systems.

I hope you all liked the video.

Now, I get to tell you all about what’s inside it.

Some of what you saw is pretty self-explanatory. Today, my friends, you saw a game. It’s not finished, there’s a long way to go, but we have combat. We have life, we have death. And, of course, respawn.

But I’d like to focus on the character creator. It’s a very large part of our future, and there’s a lot left to do, but what has been done needs a little explanation.

There’s a bit of a vocabulary builder here, a bit I have to tell you so you can understand what we’ve done. Mesh, Texture, Skeleton, Rig.

Everyone here has done paper mache sculpture in school, right? You take some chicken wire, you put paper mache over it? That’s kind of how video game models work.

First, you build the mesh. That’s basically the wireframe, the sculpted model of the character.

Then you draw textures. That’s the paper mache. All sorts of surface details are in it. The same mesh can be a rock wall, a brick wall, or a metal wall, just by changing the texture.

Then you add a skeleton - that’s like sticking a skeleton inside your model.

Then you can animate it… wait, nope. One step left. You need to weight it.

Weighting is like telling the model parts of it are made out of steel, and some out of cardboard, and some out of spandex. Weighting tells the game how much and how fast something can bend and jiggle.

This is not an easy procedure, when you get down to it.

The male character you see there is our third major version. (Don’t worry, there’s a female character, and a buff male, and a buff female too, but we’re focusing on this one first for a bunch of technical reasons.)

The first character we made just… well, it was a disaster for a whole bunch of reasons. We could animate it, but we couldn’t change costume pieces on it. The proportions were off. The skeleton wasn’t right. And for some reason there was a spiral cut running all the way up the leg. I still haven’t figured out how that happened.

So we tried again, with the specs written down and some professional advice.

The end result looked good, but when we looked inside, we discovered the mesh had unsealed end loops. Basically, think of it as a blimp with big holes in the side.

Everything was just a little… off.

But we learned from it. And we made our own again. It took time. More time than I want to think about, and more effort from more of our artists than I want to discuss. We put our blood into this guy.

And he works. (His face, mind you, we’re going to redo in the next pass.)

You’ll notice what you see isn’t merely a costume changing, either. Each arm, each leg, the head, the body, they all change colors and patterns independently.

But we went a step further.

You’ll notice this wasn’t a scripted demo. We’ve got a functional UI. It’s not finished, but it does all the things a UI needs to do - it controls each individual part, and they react to it on the layers we tell them to react to.

Those tiny buttons are a lot of hard work right there. It’d have been a lot easier to just run it off internal commands.

But what you can see is only part of the story.

We’ve got some very special technology in this game, and we call it Cassandra. It’s something we made ourselves, and it does something tricky.

Any character we make can be put on the screen in one draw call. No matter how complicated, how many fancy armor bits you add to it, it takes only one draw call to put it on the screen.

A draw call is basically the single operation of a video card. The fewer there are, the more things you can cram on the screen at once. A normal character is six or eight draw calls. A CoH character was… call it fifteen, once you add all the parts up.

This means we can fit more characters on the screen, and more complicated characters on the screen. It means our characters will be unitary and unified, and it means we can make them do more things.

Which is pretty awesome.

What does this mean to you? Let’s say we’ve got a social raid. That’s where about a hundred people hang out in a zone, chat, tell bad jokes, organize, fight one big multi-stage video game end-boss like you were in a japanese video game. It’s not the most hardcore thing, but it’s fun, it’s rewarding.

Well, you pack a hundred people in a zone things start slowing down. Some games, you might have to turn off your aura, or change to a costume with only one color and no cape to keep your frame rate happy.

We’re making sure that doesn’t happen. The physics on the cape may degrade a bit, but the costume itself is not going to cause issues. If your PC can run CoT, your PC can raid.

This is just the start. What you see is a character creator that can do everything the old one could, and more. Animal heads, peg legs, robot arms, they will all just work.

The costumes you see are just the beginning

And I hope you’ve noticed something very special. You’ll be able to choose what the costumes are made out of. Spandex. Armored Spandex. Leather. Steel.

That’s something we’ve been working very hard to provide to you, and it’ll be workable the same way colors and textures (costume patterns) are.

What you see isn’t finished. It’s going to be a while. These costumes you see are the very first ones that worked, and we’re going to need to redo them, because we learned a lot of lessons making them.

Yeah, we’re keeping Odo around till we’re sure we’re done with character creation. It’s not hard to swap him out, and it makes no sense to do it early. We might need a Version 4.

But it works.

And that’s a heck of a step.

Happy Anniversary.

Happy New Dawn.

Video elements by - too many to count :D

Video Edited by - Nathaniel 'Doctor Tyche' Downes

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