In this article, we will cover the different changes and issues we experienced with Unity 2017.2, the reasons behind our decision to stick with Unity 5.2 after these tests, the new tools we have added to our workflow and the plans we have for 2018 and the new features we are rolling out for the game.
The struggle with Unity 2017
A few weeks ago and after a lot of reluctance on our part, we started to upgrade the game towards a newer, faster and more feature rich Unity version. During our early tests porting the scenes and our custom tools we found no problems, however, everything changed when it came time to prepare a test build.
There was no way around it. Unity 2017 took in average 400% longer to build a simple scene than Unity 5.2, and the more custom shaders we added to the project (for skin, eyes, hair, etc) the longer it took. Soon, it came to a point where our test build of the first scene would take up to 8 hours to build in a fairly new PC, while also giving a bunch of shader-related errors due mostly to Unity's new Post-Processing stack.
After several days of trying to find workarounds to these issues, it became clear that any time we would save on making the game with the new Unity would be wasted on build times, since we have at times the need to make several builds in a day (especially when testing out the multiplayer).
Faced with this problem, we decided to roll back the game and continue developing it with Unity 5.2, a much more stable release of the engine which we are also much more comfortable with.
There was a downside to this, however, and it was that we would lose many of the exciting features and ease of use that came with unity 2017. But then, our programmer decided to step up to the task and slowly but surely develop several alternatives and replacement for those unavailable features so we could make full use of them in the game, with the added advantage of a greater flexibility since it has been developed entirely by our own team.
New features for Unity 5.2+
After all the time we had to spend with Unity 2017 and its shader management issues, we also had to make multiple iterations of our own skin rendering systems. This had the happy result of improving greatly both its quality and performance.
We now have a fully functional skin shading technique with real translucency and physically accurate lighting, highly detailed surface irregularities and distortions, as well as with full support for facial expression maps.
To add even more detail to all the art in the game, we have added 2 new tools to our workflow that will take the game to a new level of quality. These tools are Allegorithmic's Substance Painter and Susbtance Designer.
These are tools that we've tried to use in the past, but both our budget and our hardware made it impossible. Now, as we push hard to bring our game to a much more refined and polished state, we see it is time to give a big push to the graphics and gameplay.
Another core feature that we had in Unity 2017 and lost when going back to Unity 5.2 was the called "Post Process Stack", which is an easier and more efficient way of rendering all the filter effects for the game.
Currently, we have been working on a solution of our own that creates a similarly easy way to manage post process effects in a game while also being able to see them and edit them in real-time while making the game, which greatly reduces the time it takes to make a scene have the right feeling.
Modern effects and features such as Screen Space based reflections, improved ambient occlusion, tessellation, GPU particles, dynamic hair etc are all being currently added to the game, as well as an expanded and revamped deferred rendering to guarantee that the game can have all the effects and complex lighting situations we require without compromising the performance.
What's next, for 2018?
Next year will come the release of Episode 1. We don't have an exact release date yet, due to the size of our team and the huge amounts of technical work ahead of us. As we hurry up with all the details and polishing the technical stuff around the game, the gameplay elements are mostly ready as well as all the story beats. The dialogues have been fully recorded and prepared, the music and collectibles are in place, and it is mostly a matter of building, testing, and putting everything together for the best experience.
In January, we will release new videos from both the game and the multiplayer tests we have been making, and soon afterwards the first trailers for Ep. 1 will be ready for the public. We are very excited for you all to see and play the game we've been working so hard on for all these years, and hopeful that once it is released it will surpass your expectations.
Our budget is still the main and most pressing issue we face right now, and as such, the tools and Unity extensions we have been developing to sell on the Asset Store will still be a big focus of our work during next year, as a means to secure that the game can be developed to completion without depending exclusively on our day time jobs, crowdfunding nor any unstable sources.
However, and excluding a few days off for the Holidays, this month will be a big push towards the game's development trying to smooth all the rough edges that the project has right now, tweaking the AI and a few story elements for a more straight-forward experience, as well as optimizing our net code to make sure that, no matter if you play the game alone or with your friends, the first time you play 3:00am Dead Time it becomes a memorable and exciting horror experience.
This is all we have for now. There will be a last development article right before the end of the year, but for now we only want to thank you all for sticking with us during this year and following the game with such interest. It is your support which keeps driving us forward to overcome all the many obstacles we have found, and fight hard to make this game the best we possibly can. Thank you for all your support and kind words during this 2017, and let's hope 2018 is much much better!
The Irreverent Software team