From the Burrow

TaleSpire Dev Log 202

2020-07-14 20:28:46 +0000

Allo folks,

Some good progress today. The new batcher seems to be laying out tiles correctly now, so I can kind of build again. I haven’t hooked into the new physics engine so I can only build on the build plane currently.

What was nice was I could do some quick performance tests to see what ballpark we are in. I was able to spawn 10000 tiles in one frame without dropping below 60fps which is very promising. There are things the code doesn’t have to deal with yet, such as animations and physics. However I’m feeling confident that we’ll be able to get a large speed up in tile spawning over what we have in the beta today.

Here is a very wip, potentially misleading clip :P

Next, I’ll be adding jobs to build the per-zone physics data. It won’t be the code that ships, but like this, it will give me some insights into how the final system might behave.

Seeya folks!

TaleSpire Dev Log 201

2020-07-12 21:07:32 +0000

Hey again folks.

Saturday’s work went well. I spent most of it reviewing the current code and double-checking the tile spawning implementation. We’ve put out a bunch of fixes since the beta release, and so I wanted to be sure the code still matched my design notes from earlier in the development. Luckily it did, and working through all the code paths gave me a much clearer idea of what needed doing first.

It looks like I can get something working without having to handle uncommitted changes[0] at the same time. This means the response time of build actions will be unacceptable (as it requires a round trip to the session host), but it will let me tackle the tooling and copy/paste before having to deal with that additional complexity.

That’s all for now.


[0] In TaleSpire, in order to keep network traffic low enough to be manageable, we send ‘operations’ over the network. These are instructions telling the game what to change on each person’s copy of the board. For this to work, all operations must be applied in the correct order. However, games feel bad unless changes happen as soon as you request them, so we keep track of changes that have not been given their final order yet. These are what we call ‘uncommitted’ changes.

TaleSpire Dev Log 200

2020-07-10 21:57:52 +0000

Heya folks,

On Thursday, I continued work on the batching code. I got a first approximation written[0], but upon trying to hook it into the existing setup, I noticed that disabling the current system is not trivial. In fact, I had a choice between working a bunch for a test that wouldn’t teach me much[1] or just plowing into the real work of replacing the current system. I chose the latter.

This means that the goal I set for myself of “something rendering by the weekend” was not feasible, and I shouldn’t push myself unnecessarily. The task of replacing the system touches a lot of code and requires a different mental approach.

So instead of fretting Friday, I decided I’d take it off and just work Saturday instead. One of the blessings of working for yourself :)

Because of that, I have no news for today. I also expect that the updates from me for the next week will be variations of “Replacing part X of the old tile system”. However I will try to keep the posts coming in case anything interesting crops up.

Until then, Bye!

[0] Approximation as it just positions all the parts of the tile at the tile’s origin. So it’ll be a mess but will show if things are working. I did this as the math requires a focus to make sure I don’t screw it up and should be taken slowly.

[1] I have already made experiments to learn how the BatchRendererGroup behaves, and the process of writing the batching code had given me a good deal of the context I had hoped to get from the exercise.

TaleSpire Dev Log 199

2020-07-09 01:20:28 +0000

It’s the summer holidays over here, so we’ll see a little less of Ree this week as he takes some well-earned breaks. However, you still have to put up with me :)

Today I’ve been looking at writing the batching for the rendering as we move away from Unity’s GameObjects. It’s slow going, but I should have something running before the weekend. This version won’t have GPU-culling, but it will let me progress on the rest of the systems that need rewriting. Once this is working, Ree and I can work out the bare essentials we need for the animation system the tiles will use.

I also had another brief look into Unity’s new physics engine, and I’m reasonably confident we’ll be able to drive that efficiently. More on that another time.

Back tomorrow with more very incremental news :)


TaleSpire Dev Log 198

2020-07-07 23:40:29 +0000

Just signing off for the night, so not gonna write much.

I got the server patch tested and deployed. It will have no effect on the current TaleSpire release, but the next patch will start using it.

Right. Sleep is in order. Bye!

TaleSpire Dev Log 197

2020-07-07 02:43:56 +0000

Hey folks, I hope your week has started well.

Ree has been busy taking care of business and working on rulers, and I’ve turned my attention to the backend.

I really want to get TS streaming zones rather than downloading the whole board, but before I do that, I want to look into any issues in the current system.

First orders of business are finishing the changes to session management and removing a bunch of old code. We have had quite a few updates to the server code since launch, and the old code has a mental cost when working on the system.

Most of this is relatively straightforward. However, it requires a lot of care and double-checking to make sure the updates never interrupt service.

I’ll probably push the server update tomorrow with is the safest part (adding new code). I can then update TaleSpire to use these new entry-points, and then soon we’ll be in a good position to remove the old ones.

Until next time.


TaleSpire Dev Log 196

2020-07-02 19:42:43 +0000

Today we got another patch out, which felt good. Since then, work has continued of visuals for the rulers, and I’ve made a couple of tweaks I can show.

First, creatures have their own panel now. A little while back, we made placing creatures not transition to building mode, and this continues on that path of changes we want to the building experience.

creature panel wip

I’ve also patched the backend and thrown in test UI for units. This will let you set the default units for the campaign. In time we will likely add ways to add multiple units (for larger distances), and we’ve also thought about per board settings so your overworld could be measured in a more appropriate scale. That is all still up in the air, though, and the UI is just so we can make progress with the rulers.

units wip

That’s all for now.


TaleSpire Dev Log 195

2020-06-30 23:28:48 +0000

Hi all. Work has gone well today.

Ree’s been working across a few tasks include starting on the proper ruler UX.

I spent the first half the day working through the list of feature requests categorizing them. I’m hoping to put out a more organized list by the end of play tomorrow so that you can have a peek at it before the Dev Stream this Friday.

That work is super tedious, though, so I took a break and added support for customizing the names of the four stats used by all creatures. It looks like this now:

yay stats

This hasn’t yet been merged into master, but the backend has already been patched to support it. While I was doing that, I added the flag that indicates flying to all creatures. So we can now persist this info once we ship that feature.

That’s the lot for today.

Seeya next time

TaleSpire Dev Log 194

2020-06-25 00:05:40 +0000

WARNING: The visuals for, and even the kinds of, rulers in this log are 100% temporary. The point is to work out a possible structure for the code and network sync. Drawing any data or conclusions from the clips presented in this update is meaningless.

Heya folks, today Ree has been prototyping props, and I’m going to ramble below about what I’ve been noodling with.

After seeing a conversation in the discord about area-of-effect, I got a strong desire to hack on rulers again. My goal was to make a prototype of one possible mechanism which could give us fairly a simple way to define rulers.

I wanted the ability to support simple point-to-point or volume rulers, but also ones with some additional adjustable parameter (like a cone area-of-effect)

The approach is as follows:

  • A ruler is a container which holds some different visuals for rulers (which I’ll call presentations in this update)
  • The ruler is a simple state machine with four states
    • Placing the first point
    • Placing the second point
    • Adjusting the ‘parameter’ (optional step)
    • Done
  • The ruler might be visible to other players. In which case it handles the sync
  • A presentation does not have to support a parameter
  • Presentations can be cycled at any point before the ‘Done’ state

The ‘parameter’ is one part that might seem a bit vague right now. We should talk about it, but first, have a peek at this clip.

testing rulers kinds

Unlike the sphere and line rulers, the circle area-of-effect presentation had an additional step after placing the center and defining the radius. It allowed the user to show a slice of the circle. To make this, I needed the third point to be on a plane defined by the first and second points. From the volume selection tool, I had already seen that it was handy to define a plane to raycast against, so I decided to add that to the parameter. The optional parameter is either a point on the board (just like the first two), or it can define a plane to constrain the point. Simple stuff but might allow some useful tools.

So this prototype is done we can kick the tires and see if it’s in the right ballpark. It’s totally fine if we throw it all away, or gut it and do something similar. The main thing is that it’s something tactile in-game that we can play around with.

With this itch scratched, I’ve jumped branch to look at the session/chat panel prototype again.

That’s all for now. Seeya

p.s. Here is a little clip showing sync working between two copies of TaleSpire.

testing ruler sync

TaleSpire Dev Log 193

2020-06-21 16:31:32 +0000

Hi folks.

I’ve been poking a little at the occlusion culling, so I thought I’d show something I found handy.

We are not moving to Unity’s scriptable rendering pipeline yet. This means much of the work I’m doing right now is finding out how we should hook into Unity’s traditional rendering stack.

I really like BatchRendererGroup as it lets us set up batches and not have to update them per frame[0]. We can then map the batch-id to a specific zone and kind of asset. This now means that any active camera (or one that is told to render) will render the things we have submitted in those batches.

We really want to use lower-poly meshes for the shadows and occlusion-culling, so what we should put in those batches is actually the low poly-meshes (which we are going to call occlusion-meshes from now on). However, we don’t want to render the mesh itself to the final scene, we just want it to cast shadows in the main view and populate a depth buffer for us to use later.

Now those used to Unity might think of layers. You can tag objects with a specific layer and then tell a camera to only render particular layers. The issue with this is that if you filter out an object, you also can’t see it’s shadows, so that won’t do. Next, we could see that when adding batches to the BatchRendererGroup we can set the ShadowCastingMode to ShadowsOnly. Awesome, now we only get shadows in the main view… however, we then don’t get any depth information in the depth buffer. Damn. What ended up working was the following:

  • Make a shader with only a ShadowCaster pass [1].
  • Make a material using this, and use that in AddBatch.
  • Render the scene from the same orientation using a camera with a replacement shader and with a depth RenderTexture as the target.

What’s nice about this is that lights will now use our occlusion-meshes, but those meshes won’t show up in the final render.

With the depth buffer available, we now generate the depth-chain, as mentioned in a previous dev-log. We then have everything we need to get into the meat bit of the occlusion culling. Once we know what to draw, we will use DrawMeshInstancedIndirect to submit the high-poly meshes for rendering. At this point, we make sure to set receiveShadows to false and the ShadowCastingMode to Off. This lets us receive the shadows we computed earlier without asking Unity to compute more from these more detailed meshes.

Right now, all the tests I’m doing are just with randomly placed spheres, so screenshots are a little meaningless, however, once we get into the using real assets, I’ll start showing more.

Next, I need to work out a little mistake I’ve created in the depth-chain, refactor the tests to be a little easier to handle, and then get into the culling compute shader. Once I have this first test working, I’ll need to do a lot of planning to work out how we want to handle the data in the TaleSpire. The goal is to find a balance where we do as little per-frame work and as small per-frame GPU uploads as possible.

Until next time, Peace.

[0] and handle culling ourselves which is handy too [1] here is the shader we used in our recent tests

// Very minimal
Shader "OccluderShadowCaster"
            Tags {"LightMode"="ShadowCaster"}

            #pragma vertex vert
            #pragma fragment frag
            #pragma multi_compile_shadowcaster
            #pragma multi_compile_instancing
            #include "UnityCG.cginc"

            struct appdata
                float4 vertex : POSITION;
                float3 normal : NORMAL;

            struct v2f {

            v2f vert(appdata v)
                v2f o;
                return o;

            float4 frag(v2f i) : SV_Target