In ‘general beta updates’ news we’re continuing to chase bugs in both our IWBUMS public beta and the public vehicles beta. The IWBUMS beta needs to be polished and bug-crunched until it’s ready for release, and the vehicles beta needs to be fixed up until the cars are in a good enough state to be released as an ‘experimental vehicle’ toggle in the Build 39 IWBUMS beta very shortly afterwards – alongside the new map extension.
We’ll be releasing a new IWBUMS version once Chris W has finished off his rooftops/building rendering fixes (primarily the issues surrounding player-built constructions) later this week, while a new vehicles build will probably appear beforehand – which will make cars climbing on top of other cars and burnt-out wrecks impossible and make cars ‘jump’ less when striking zeds.
Vehicle Build 15 also came out last Thursday which, among other bugs, improved fluidity should cars come to a stop and need to start moving again.
Work has also continued to improve the sounds that vehicles make and, while still a work in progress, we hope that you agree that they are far improved on what we had last week.
As you may know from previous Mondoids, we now have Mark Rowley working alongside us to integrate the long-awaited animations system we’ve constructed – which will in turn open the door to all manner of improvement and features that’ve been cooking backstage. Now his work is becoming a part of our internal animations build we thought it high time to drop the curtain on him, and have a Mondoid chat.
Before we begin it’s probably also worth mentioning that Mark’s colleague at Bitbaboon, Steve, will also be joining us for a little while each week to help out with MP issues – primarily looking at a fix for zombie lag and its resultant unfair injuries. [General Arcade’s Stas was initially being set on this, but was called away elsewhere and will hopefully return to PZ a little further down the line].
Hello Mark! First off, can you give a bit of background about who you are and the sort of stuff you’ve worked on previously?
Well I taught myself how to program way back on the C64, then progressed onto the Amiga and the demo/cracking scene. Then later on I studied electronics and decided to get a ‘real job’. I worked in fire detection, weights and measures and almost made a career at the Ministry of Defence before I was lucky enough to get offered a position at my first games company… that was 17 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.
Since then I have worked at many companies all over the world, on many titles. In terms of animation systems specifically I’ve worked on multiple games engines, but the largest would be the Assassins Creed Engine, Don King’s Prizefighter for Take2, procedural animations for Prince of Persia while at Ubisoft and then London 2012 Official Olympics game at SEGA.
There have been many others in between though. A good data-driven animation system can really allow content creators to bring a game to life. There’s a video of my GDC talk that covered animation issues and the Olympics game here, if anyone’s interested.
Where’ve you encountered PZ before and what brought you into its orbit?
PZ has always been a game I have enjoyed and followed, so when I heard they were looking for some help, I jumped at the chance. I know Lemmy from long ago, during our mutual time at Reflections on Driv3r, and I have heard a lot about Will from colleagues at SEGA. It’s a very small industry!
While we had crossed paths a couple of years ago during my time at SEGA, it’s only been recently that I have been in a position to help out.
Just to get everyone up to speed – where was the new animation system when you joined us, and what have you added/improved in the past month or so?
It’s pretty impressive, lots of features and efficient, so my focus has been to make it easier to maintain and extend, and get it delivered to the players.
Over my career I have found the enormous value in data driven systems, and we have now implemented the foundation systems into PZ to allow data driven animation and character states that should mean its robust, easy to extend and more importantly easy to maintain.
You’re currently merging your work in, so what’s next? What plans have you and the team concocted?
The animation system is being merged system by system, and then we will hook each of them up. Each character ‘state’ will be implemented and updated to use the animation system as much as possible so in the future it becomes really easy to extend.
My work is also a drive to reduce code and eliminate bugs before they happen. As an example, let’s take ‘climbing over an object’ which in the initial anims build required code to pick a new animation for each and every type of object. This meant that whenever we wanted to add a new type of object and a new climb animation it would mean diving into the code and manually hooking up all the data.
Now we’re driving this logic through the animation system with much simpler queries to the player’s state and world which makes the change through pure data, and to help manage it we have a nice simple editor to go with the changes called AnimZed.
As a PZ player, during your work with the animation system so far and having access to Martin’s model and movement databanks, what aspects of the new animation system have you spotted that you reckon will bring cool stuff to the game? Will it be worth the (lengthy) (very lengthy) wait?
Firstly it will just be the way animation seems much smoother, but over time as we evolve the systems we can start to add more depth and subtlety. We have also looked at extracting the velocity and motion of character from the Animation data, so changing the pace can be controlled by Martin a lot more precisely.
Couple this extracted motion with the ability to blend between states of animation, and we will start to see more than just simple switches in animation. Imagine instead of walking and then suddenly limping when you get an injury, seeing that limp get progressively worse and really slowing you down the worse it gets… which will be even more fun when you’re slowing down those Z’s and watching them limp mindlessly after you.
It’s pretty evident that the wait has been a really long one, but I think it will be worth it when players start to see much more depth to the way things move, but also for the developers with the ability it creates to add more dynamic content – adding greater variations of players and zombie movement without the massive amounts of work it would previously involve.
It’s also making it much easier to bring other things, like animals, to the world without writing lots of complex code. I know the whole team is looking forward to unleashing this guy on the world.
This week we’ve also been getting your colleague Steve wired up to the PZ coding mainframe. I’m sure we’ll talk to him at a later date blog-wise, but in the meantime would you mind introducing him and the sort of work he’ll be doing?
Sure, I have worked with Steve for over 10 years now at various studios around the world, and around 4 years ago we started our own company specializing in helping out other studios and developers with their projects. I won’t steal his thunder, but Steve is one of the most thorough and skilled engineers I have ever worked with … for us both to working on PZ is awesome.
I believe he’s going to be looking at a backlog of network features and fixes, but we’ll let him explain his plans himself later.
Thanks Mark! We genuinely love you.
Today’s featured image from Jim. A general list of stuff added to PZ, and vids of features being worked on, is kept here – so you don’t have to plough through endless Mondoids for info. The Centralized Block of Non-Italicised Text would like to direct your attention to the PZ Wiki should you feel like editing or amending something, and the PZ Mailing List that can send blogs like this and patch notes direct to your mailbox. We also live on Twitter right here! Our Discord is open for chat and hijinks too.