It was exciting to see the first major review posted for BlastZone 2 on GameTunnel.com. While there was a lot of praise for the game on there, with one of the reviewers awarding an 8/10 score, other reviewers gave lower scores, citing the repetitive background graphics. I noticed that the negatives in the reviews didn't mention gameplay elements much, so I decided to revamp much of the graphics. My hope for this was so players wouldn't have a bad first impression from the background graphics and not give the gameplay enough of a chance from that. I thought the initial graphics looked good, having a lot of detail, but the same pattern would repeat several times across the screen. I knew the solution to this would be to have much more expansive and varied environments that wouldn't repeat across the screen at all.
At the time I was following the new id Tech 5 technology by John Carmack, and I wanted to take a step in that direction with BlastZone 2. I wasn't going to attempt megatexture, but I wanted to push larger texture sizes with S3TC compression and eliminate texture tiling in the game. I did some research and found a powerful terrain editor to accomplish what I set out to do. I used it to build 16 times as much unique texture data draped across the terrain and over 9 times as much unique geometry data for 3 of the 4 backgrounds. At the same time, I managed to figure out a few good terrain optimizations to offset much of the performance penalty for the increased detail, which worked out great so I didn't have to increase the minimum requirements to run the game.
|BlastZone 2 v1.09b with new terrain and shader water|
After I accomplished the background upgrades, I moved to adding Fragment and Vertex shader support to the game engine. Using these allow me to add much more detail to the game by doing all the lighting vector calculations for every pixel on the screen. This allows models to have much more definition, bumpiness, shadowing, and realistic reflections with only a very small reduction of performance. This wasn't implemented for the v1.0 release because this is a much more sophisticated form of graphics programming than whats used in most of the game. It took a while to learn how to leverage these features, but it was very gratifying to see them working in the end. I developed shaders to add normal mapping and specular mapping to all the player ships and enemy ships and bosses in the game and I developed a water shader for the home planet environment as well. They it was incredible how much detail I was able to add through these methods. Look below for a good before and after shot.
|Original model on top, new model with shaders on bottom|
Once all these updates were released for the game, a reviewer from the indie game review site Bytten.com contacted me about BlastZone 2. I gladly provided a review copy and the article posted was very positive! The reviewer pointed out the graphics and varied gameplay as big positives for the game and awarded a 84% score! I was happy to read this review and glad the graphics updates turned a negative point from previous reviews into a positive point for the new review. My hard work had payed off!
See the review HERE!