|Last update: June 17th, 2013||
I spent the first half of August with finishing some advanced Scene-Object features. Everything turned out pretty much I wanted it to be which is a good motivation for the next weeks. Advanced users can expect a nice bunch of new features regarding Scene-Objects in NL2 to play with. Most features are designed to add life to the scene, but there are also features which will help increase framerates such as the ability to have multiple LODs (levels of detail) depending on the viewing distance. Multiple levels of detail are very important especially for better looking foliage. Next to 3DS mesh-files, NoLimits2 will also support LWO (LightWave) mesh-files, this file-format has a couple of advantages compared to the very old 3DS format. It is important that alll the new advanced Scene-Object features are independent from the mesh format and will be customized in a separate text file. That means that the whole thing will only become a bit more complicated for users creating Scene-Objects that are actually making use of the new features. For most simple and static objects, the 3DS or LWO files can be directly added to a NL2 park without any changes, pretty much the same as it works in NL1. Buster has already his hands on the new features and maybe he will talk a bit about them in his next guest report. The second half of August was used for experimental stuff. One feature I would like to have in NL2 is a dynamic day-night cycle, unfortunately this topic is more complicated than I originally thought. Moving the sun around is pretty easy but it takes more than that so it will actually look cool. At least the skybox needs to be dynamic as well and dynamic clouds could not hurt, too. All these things have quite an impact on the framerate when not optimized well and optimization takes a lot of time. I stopped working on the dynamic day-night cycle because of that but planned to continue on it as soon as more core roller-coaster functionality is done. [ol]
Not much happened within the last two months. It is summer time and I more or less tried to enjoy the good weather, which kept me from making serious progress on NL2. I thankfully accepted Kay's (Buster) offer to write a couple of lines from his point of view of the state of development to keep the *cough* monthly *cough* news going. Thanks! [ol]
Since Ole is busy with coding ;-) I got the chance to talk a bit about
NoLimits2 and how it develops. Being a beta-tester allows me to look at
the software as a normal user and not as a developer. So, here's what I
can say about NL2 (as it is now):
The first thing that is very different to NL1.x is the combination of editor and Sim in one program. At first I didn't think this was a good step. It turned out that my doubts were mainly due to the experience I have with NL1. Having played around with NL2, or rather what is to become NL2, for quite some time now, I must say that Ole’s decision to combine Sim and Editor was brilliant. It will be a big advantage to see how everything will look the moment you build it. Will these two objects align? Will it make the tunnel test? How will this effect work out? Just check while you build. Easy. No need for repetitive switching between Sim and Editor anymore. I think that this will be one of the most useful innovations when it comes to building.
Then of course there's the graphics. Although NL1.x has been updated multiple times, it slowly fell behind in the graphics department and, while still looking good, can't really compete with modern games anymore. And as Ole already posted before, further updating an outdated engine is useless. So, although there can't be said much about actual roller coasters in the Sim right now, there's already a lot of eye candy implemented that will further improve the realism of the Sim.
One of the most important things apparently was the water. I guess Ole was sick of those simple mirrors. He already improved the water a lot in NL1.x, but NL2 takes it to a new level. The water actually looks like water now. You can see the ground below where it's shallow and you'll notice the refraction effect. Of course the water is not completely transparent, so the deeper it gets, the less likely it is that you can see the ground. Of course it also features realistic reflections and 3D-waves on the surface. All in all, it's pretty good looking. And yes, you can have dolphins and bass now, if you want to.
engine part 2
Sometimes I have the attitude to begin working on new stuff, without finishing what I was working on last. In most cases, the lost of interest for the current work is caused by encountered difficulties that can make you mad if you do not find a good solution for a certain problem in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes it is simply better to focus on something new instead of wasting time trying hard to find a solution. The downside is, that over the years, the list of unfinished things of NoLimits2 development grew to a number where it is no fun anymore. It was time to check off the list of unfinished things this time, which was what I did the last month. I am quite pleased with the results of the last weeks, even though I did not find the best solution possible for each problem. As I mentioned before, I feel it is time to start showing screenshots of the development process. Please keep in mind that the screenshots are only a very small indication of how far the project is progressed and I will not show screenshots every month. A lot of stuff you will see in the screenshots are only temporary and will be improved later, like textures or the graphical user interface. Okay enough of talk, now to the screenshots...
NoLimits2 terrain engine
All screenshots show the new terrain engine in general with a focus on multi-texture layers, new water-reflection/refraction, and auto-plants. One new feature I am working on right now are automatically generated grass objects, which I call auto-plants. The grass objects are directly tied to the local texture of the terrain, which means that there will be no grass if there is no grass layer visible. The auto-plants are optimized in a way that they will not be visible in the far distance and are generated on the fly to save memory and optimize creation time. The auto-plants are handled pretty much like normal scene objects, so exchanging the plant-objects is an option of the terrain settings inside the editor. Many thanks go to Kay "Buster" for quickly providing me with textures and objects, so I could instantly try out the auto-plants. If you read thins, I really appreciate it, I know you are busy at the monent. [ol]
Another month passed way too fast. I am almost working at full strength now, but again it felt to me like I was making no progress at all. Within the last couple of weeks I was almost entirely doing experimental stuff and working on tools that will help to speed up development time in the near future. All of these tools have absolutely nothing to do with neither coasters nor simulations, so I do not want to bore you with details. To give you an idea anyway, one of the tools is for helping developing vertex and pixel shaders. One important feature of the NoLimits' new engine is the new terrain and I already spent months on it. The terrain engine makes heavy use of vertex and pixel shaders to allow for multiple texture layers, high detail levels, larger building areas and improved water reflection and refraction effects. I will use vertex and pixel shader effects for other stuff like shadows and dynamic lighting, too. Programming those shader programs is an error-prone task and takes a lot of time in general, hopefully the new tools will help. Maybe next month I will show screenshots of the new terrain, it looks pretty amazing. Speaking of shaders, the hardware requirements for NoLimits 2 will be higher than for NL1, but this should be no surprise. I am not really targetting the latest hardware, because I prefer if my software is performing well even on older machines and portable computers, but a more or less up-to-date graphics card is available on most computers nowadays anyway, so this should not be an issue at all. Last year, I was experimenting on a Linux port of NL1, but I decided to instead focus on NL2. I realized that the amount of work for a complete Linux port would be much higher than for the Mac port. I guess a Linux version of NL1 makes no sense at all at this point and would be a waste of time, so I stopped the work on the Linux port. [ol]
The monthly news about my progress working on NL2 turned out very short for this March. The reason is that I was not able to work for the last 3 weeks because of health problems. A couple of days ago I started to work again, but right now I am able to work a couple of hours per day, only. Hopefully I will be able to report more pleasant news next month. There is not much to tell about NL2 at this point, except for that most parts of the file handling will be changed compared to NL1.x. Instead of a global folder for tracks, objects and environments, NL2 will use a project based folder architecture which means that each track is stored in a separated folder with all the resource-files required by the track (custom cartextures, scene-objects etc.) located inside. Project folders can be compressed from within the application to a single package file. Users are not required to uncompress a package file unless they want to change its content. I guess this is the most universal way to handle it without the problems NL1.x has, like file-name conflicts, requirement of additional packaging tools and file access rights issues. [ol]
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