Monday, October 8, 2012

Humble beginnings of the HPL Engine

I recently stumbled upon some really old videos with gameplay tests in the HPL engine and decided they would be fun to show off. This was not our first foray into 3D first person horror (Unbirth was), but it was the first time the the HPL engine was used. All of these are gameplay videos are from a student project then know as "The Hatch" and later became the "Penumbra Tech Demo".

6th of December 2005 - First Gameplay Test
I had now been working on the engine from scratch since late July, so a little more than 5 months. It is fun to see that most of the important interaction features are in at this point. The sound system for the physics is actually pretty much the same we have used until Amnesia. Jens is the one who recorded this.

7th of February 2006 - Improved Gameplay Test
The engine is now a little bit more refined, mainly with interaction and speed I think. I think that the portal visibility system got added during this time (I actually remember that I came up with a solution in the parking lot when buying groceries for Christmas). Recorded by Jens as well.

23rd of March 2006 - AI Test
The first proper AI test. It now has all the basic systems in, pathfinding, hearing and so on. Most of these features actually survived until Amnesia as well (and still use some variants). It is great to see how the AI works with the physics and shoves the door open as you try to close it. Interestingly, this creature has the most complex pathfinding we have used so far since it had two separate ways of moving about. I recorded this myself and the resolution is so crappy because my computer was unable record and play the game at the same time otherwise.

4th of April 2006 - Kind of Proper Gameplay
Pretty much all features needed to power the gameplay in the tech demo is in now. I think I recorded it.

The final version of the tech demo can be found here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

First There Was Apple's MapGate, Now Welcome ParentGate

[This post was originally published at on 3rd October 2012]

One of the virtues of a Mac that I have always heralded to anyone who might ask was their parental controls. Unlike PCs, these were built right into the operating 
Merle & my macbook
system. And in a typical Apple way they have always been very easy to use. You can set it up to allow your children to open certain apps, you can set the time limits on use sensibly (including time of day as well as total time per day) and you could manage the websites they visited. What is more, if there was an issue, you could simply create an exception with a username and password. What is more, it would keep logs of precisely what it was your child was doing.

Put simply, it struck the right balance between control but also annoyance. So many other gatekeeper programs I had experienced would lead to continual restrictions. They basically handcuffed children so that you might as well be sitting there with them. Apple's solution allow the children to roam relatively free. In other words, they were a hands off approach to being hands on. And when I would explain this to other parents, it was often the key factor that caused them to switch to Macs.

But Apple recently updated its Mountain Lion operating system and completely broke parental controls. My 8 year old, started to complain that she wasn't able to access websites. This included the school sanctioned, IXL program. A message would pop up saying "Parental controls restricts access to secure websites." I then could supposedly sign in and give parental permission to add the 'secure' website to the list of permitted ones. The first time this happened I duly entered that permission thinking it was just something new. But then, each and every time the website reloaded or who knows what, it would ask again. For the very same website! I shouted at the computer but to no avail. No Siri to complain to here. I entered it again and again. I tried other websites. It was a continual problem.

So I did what most people would do. I rebooted. Nope. I reset the parental conditions to allow her to visit all websites. In fact, that didn't work either. I then searched Apple's forums to see if the issue was widespread. I found this one but alas I was logged on to my daughter's account and wasn't able to give myself permission to view it. Apple were blocking their own darn help site!

Anyhow once I logged on as myself, a verified adult, I could access the site. I was joined by one hundred or so other grieving parents. It was there that I discovered the term 'parentgate' or something to its effect. This had been going on since September 21.

The evolution of that forum is interesting. First, there was denial. "I think it must be me, but is anyone else having this problem." Then there was anger. "I can't believe that Apple have let this happen." That was my current stage. Then I read on to bargaining. "Is there anyone out there who has come up with a solution to this?" or another "[m]akes the mac almost unusable for them.  FIX THIS PLEASE SOON APPLE." And there were some solutions some of which required the use of the terminal program which, of course, led to depression. "It has been three weeks, I can't understand why they have abandoned us to run code."  And finally there was acceptance.

I jumped right to that. Like many others on the forum I decided that parental control was gone and I would just have to let go. I opened up system preferences, selected my daughter's name and switched parental controls to off. She was completely free. (Well, as free as you get with out the coveted administrator control). Apple had forced my daughter to grow up too quickly. How could they. Oops moving back to anger, need to look to the future. It will be OK. How bad could it be?

Chances are I won't find out how bad it can be until she hits puberty but by the then her web surfing will probably be the least of my worries.

Following the Apple parent group's acceptance of the situation and its confirmation that someone in Apple had acknowledged the issue, their focus turned to "how?" It is pretty clear that they didn't test the new operating system upgrade properly. Let's face it, that is kept to employees and some developers and likely not to anyone with children to control. Quality control failed because Apple has so much secrecy that it cannot deal with kids.

For the moment, Apple have shipped a faulty product. I am an Apple fan and so this distresses me. I can't sell this feature on their behalf anymore as it is turned into a bug. But I did note that with all the MapGate controversy there has been no attention on tech blogs to ParentGate. Hopefully this post will fix it and spur Apple to action soon.

[Update: Well, less than 24 hours after I first posted on this Apple has released a 'supplemental' update to OSX that is reported to fix this issue.]

[Update 2: I have tested the update. It works but what has happened is that Apple have changed the way websites are approved. Previously, this was done in the background with the occasional problem. Now it seems that you have to approve every site for your child. Suffice it to say, if your child is experienced this is a big fat pain. I ended up opting for unrestricted website usage and decided to use Chrome as the browser rather than Safari. That way I could use Google's safe search to at least prevent unwelcome sites randomly popping up.]

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hiring: Level Designer Wanted

Frictional Games, the creators of Amnesia and Penumbra series, seeks a Level Designer for a new game project. Taking what we learned from our previous games we aim to take horror and interactive story-telling to the next level. We are looking for a talented individual to help us design and implement this vision.

Main Responsibilities:
  • To take creative decisions on how puzzles, events, layout are to be designed.
  • Through scripting implement gameplay in a level.
  • To place sounds, tweak lighting and similar things to create atmosphere.
  • Communicate with writers and artists on how to achieve the goals of a level.
  • Provide feedback on design suggestions and implemented gameplay.

Work conditions:
The job will be carried out on a distance so you need to be able to work from home. This means you must have a fast internet connection, strong work moral and live in a timezone near the Swedish one (which is GMT+1). If you are not living in Sweden, you must also be able to invoice (or at least be willing to set this up). The work environment at Frictional Games is quite open and you need to be able to schedule your own time and take initiative when required.

Required qualifications:
  • Having designed and implement gameplay for a commercial game or a released mod/indie project.
  • Progressive view on video games and a will to evolve the medium.
  • Excellent understanding of game design for adventure games and immersive simulations.
  • Good enough coding skills to implement your ideas.
  • Experience in working with 3D level editing software.
  • Good understanding of lighting and architecture in 3D scenes.
  • In-depth knowledge on how to create an interactive narrative.
  • Not be shy of learning new things and work in areas out of your comfort zone.

Further Qualifications:
  • Experience in writing fiction.
  • Skills in 3D modeling.
  • Experience in the horror-genre.
  • Interest in science and science-fiction.
  • Experience with Fmod and/or sound-editing.
Send your application to Attach your CV to the mail, but provide links for other files or images.