Platform Masters Title
Platform Masters - Will you be the world's next platform master?

Train - track ties using the multi-image method

Date: Oct 1, 2010
Screenshot #81: World 11, a high speed freight train that zips by everything at a blazing fast 192 mph (309 km/h), is the most motivating world for me to design. After all, Platform Masters takes place in 2073 so it wouldn't be too unusual for such trains to go so fast. Because it's so motivating, you can expect plenty of rich detail in this world - cities, residential areas, forests, a highway, even a train station with road signs all zipping by, perhaps even railroad crossing areas. The levels in world 11 are generally very horizontal, more so than world 1, with very little coverage on the vertical axis. You can even jump around on the train cars, but watch out so that you don't fall on the ground - you lose a life immediately when that happens so think of the ground as a bottomless pit. This shouldn't be a problem though because you'll have to go beyond the ends of the train for it to happen (and only the jumbo and supersize levels do that).

Ever since I first began working on the scenery for world 11, I've had trouble getting the train track's ties to look correct. With several methods available and uncertainty on the spacing, sizes, etc., I've been stumped until I did both research (via Wikipedia) to get rid of the sizing and spacing issue. If Wikipedia didn't help, searching on Google did. With that resolved, I then took a closer look at the pros and cons of each method and any submethods. As I have things set in Platform Masters as of the time this screenshot was taken, the rails themselves are 4 CU high (about 7.04 inches, 17.9 cm; unsure of the standards but it seems a bit too high) and 4.7083 feet (143.5 cm; the standard in the US). The ties, however, were the most troublesome part. In my case, they are 4 CU wide (narrower than the standard of 9 inches), and 8.5 feet long (259.1 cm; the standard). The spacing between the ties has varied a lot, from 12 CU (21.12 inches, 53.6 cm; the standard (that's exactly 3000 per mile)) to even as high as 32 CU (56.3 inches, 143.1 cm; based on the distance the train moves each drawing frame).

While the spacing and sizes have been pretty much finalized based on the standards, the method of processing the image file (making the image file) is the worst. There are 4 methods available, each with their own pros and cons: the fixed image, fixed height, the ground decal, and the multi-image methods. The fixed image method uses just a single image that doesn't move outside simple position adjustments based on the position of the camera. A slight step up is the fixed height method which uses 12 separate images to create a perspective effect, but the image's height never changes. A step up from that is the multi-image method which also includes variable height. It requires considerably more memory (about 1.7 MB) but it produces the best results of any method. The ground decal method uses the same system as ground decals (the same as the clouds), but the motion and shape is quite jittery due to the need of having draws being at an exact pixel rather than fractions.

My preference is toward the multi-image routine. This in itself has multiple ways of doing it: the line-vertex-connecting method, the connect and erase method, and the repeated scaling method. The line-vertex-connecting method is the heart of all 3 methods and involves plotting vertices (precalculated) and connecting them. This is very time-consuming, but this method is distinguished from repeated use making the tracks require 60 or so hours to complete. The connect and erase method was a solution to the problem where the ties got increasingly wider the closer to the ground the camera was or the far edges of the image - it involves erasing a line at the end of the process. The repeated scaling method is the solve-all for everything - I form the base image in the same way as the line-vertex-connecting method, except make it 840 pixels tall instead of just a max of 24 then I repeatedly duplicate and scale this image. Scaling it on both axes simultaneously produces the effect you see in the screenshot which is not what I need. Scaling it vertically without interpolation then scaling it horizontally with interpolation produces the sharp edges with antialiasing that you see in the screenshots below.

In the end, after a pause in development spanning several months (about Dec 9, 2010), I decided to go with a maglev train instead. Given that PM takes place in 2073 and the train goes at 192 mph, a maglev makes a lot more sense. It also has 2 nice bonuses as well. The first is that is far faster and easier for me to design a maglev than a standard track-based train. The second is that it requires about 3 or 4 MB less memory, allowing room for other enhancements to the scene.

Clouds - the high density new textures close

Date: Dec 12, 2010
Screenshot #82: After another pause in development, while playing another game, I thought of using the results I came up with after stage 3 of the process for making the clouds (the feathering effects) as an alpha map of sorts and using an actual texture. I also thought of a way to fix the sudden contrast between the far clouds and the cloud deck. So, for nearly 5 hours, I fiddled around with the "plasma" option under "filters > render > clouds > plasma" in "The GIMP" realizing the potential. So, after extensive testing, I found out that, through a combination of "color to alpha", "alpha to selection", then bucket-filling white into a black background, I got the texture for the clouds. However, I didn't want just any texture. I wanted something that was bright, fairly smooth all around, and tileable. "Make seamless" often fails, causing weird artifacts to occur in the center of each edge. This is what often caused me a lot of problems and where roughly 4 1/2 hours of my time went to - finding something that actually worked and didn't have those sharp points at the edges. The fix was to repeatedly flip the result I got, a half-sized result, and join them together. Unless you look closely enough, especially in a world that uses an overcast sky, you otherwise wouldn't easily see this effect. Compared to what the clouds were like before, this is a huge improvement. The clouds are meant to be the primary "eye candy" in Platform Masters so the richly-detailed texture is a nice bonus.

Shortly after processing the video, I noticed that I had about 60.8% sky coverage (5/8 broken) when I was trying for 6/8 broken sky coverage. I ended up redoing the clouds, to increase the density further. This is the result - about 70.6% sky coverage (which is close enough).

Clouds - the high density new textures high

Date: Dec 12, 2010
Screenshot #83: Higher up, the smoothness gives way to a very nice-looking texture. Just look at the large cloud in front of the closest mountains and on the left side of the screen.

Clouds - the medium density new textures

Date: Dec 12, 2010
Screenshot #84: The medium-density clouds have been rearranged some and they, too, have the texture applied to them. Covering less of the sky, about 41.4% (3/8 scattered), it's more difficult to see the flipping effect with the medium-density clouds. The low density clouds, at the time this screenshot was taken, haven't been reprocessed yet, but they will eventually hover around 10% sky coverage (1/8 scattered), for comparison.

Clouds - the overcast new textures

Date: Dec 12, 2010
Screenshot #85: When the sky is 8/8 overcast (100% sky coverage) and you get high enough to see far enough, the flipping is much easier to see, as this screenshot shows. Compared to the first screenshots of Ronnisa Plains from high above the clouds, this is a radical improvement, and then some!

Clouds - the smooth textures up close

Date: Dec 12, 2010
Screenshot #86: When close to the clouds, the texture is extremely smooth-looking and even pixelated if you look closely enough (especially at the bottom where it's the most intense; this effect even resembles what a 3D game would do, without texture smoothing enabled (keep in mind that Platform Masters is purely 2D - not a single 3D function is used (I don't know any.).).). Isn't it just peaceful up there, gliding among the clouds like a small airplane? Of course, this isn't all of the improvements in store for the clouds. The cloud deck remains unchanged - all white, but I do have several fixes planned for that. One awesome effect involves a more vertical expanse for the closest part of the clouds - an effect much like the edges of the clouds, except upright instead of on the sides.

Clouds - the low density new textures

Date: Dec 13, 2010
Screenshot #87: With 10.1% sky coverage (1/8 scattered), the low density clouds are done. Aside from the the vertical expanse for the closest part of the clouds (a bonus enhancement - it's not necessary, but a nice addon), and the cloud deck getting fixed, there really isn't much else that remains with the clouds for enhancements.

Clouds - dark clouds in Carnivalesta

Date: Dec 13, 2010
Screenshot #88: Carnivalesta takes place during the night so it's logical to expect that the clouds will be quite dark. They are. They're just a bit brighter due to sky glow from all the towns and cities in the mountains and even the very bright carnival grounds themselves.

Rain - a simulation of the rain in Ronnisa Plains

Date: Dec 13, 2010
Screenshot #89: Do you remember what Ronnisa Plains looked like when I first released screenshots of it? Ronnisa Plains has sure undergone a major change given this screenshot, hasn't it? Sure the overcast sky is now textured, the key difference is what occurs below the clouds. It's raining! This changes the atmosphere of Ronnisa Plains considerably. I spent 2 days making the 9 zones for the rain. While making the various zones, I also made simulations of what the rain will look like in the game, before I imported everything into the game engine. That's what this screenshot is of - the simulation I created once all 9 zones were done. The closest zone, with a scaling of 1, is drawn in front of the entire scene, except the tall grass in the foreground.

One of the most unique things about Ronnisa Plains is that the fog color and fog intensity vary. Below the clouds, the visibility is low and the fog is a dark gray color. Above the clouds, as in the case with screenshots 85 and 86, the fog range more than triples and the fog color is that light blue used with every other day time setting. As you might expect, above the clouds, there is no rain. However, you generally won't see what's above the clouds in Ronnisa Plains for a long time - you'll need to get up really, really high to do that.

The odd white "line" you see on the road is actually a 1-block-tall (4.7 feet, 143 cm) barrier that sort of functions as a guard rail, in case a car loses control, such as from a tire blowout or driver error (almost all hydrogen-burning traffic in PM is actually driven by computers). There are other enhancements in store though coming up.

By the way, Ronnisa Plains isn't even the only world that has active precipitation. There is another world that uses snow, (and no, it's not Nodera Ice Shelf - that uses the high density clouds rather than overcast). Given that Nodera Ice Shelf involves the arctic, you'd expect that world 16 has snow instead of rain.

Rain - the rain free baseline

Date: Dec 14, 2010
Screenshot #90: After the road has been enhanced in full, now with the lines, the barrier (seen before), and traffic (seen before, though it's been updated), Ronnisa Plains looks a lot different. In addition, the visibility is significantly reduced and the clouds have a texture. However, the main feature of Ronnisa Plains isn't the highway, the river, the hills (the hills remain to be added, and otherwise need to be redone), or even the 4-foot-tall grass, rather, it's the rain. Where's the rain at in this actual screenshot from the game? It's absent for one reason - it's to provide a baseline (a control as it's known in the scientific community). This way, you'll know what Ronnisa Plains looks like without the rain, so you can compare the differences in the 8 following screenshots.