Update on all things Lost Echo: Resonance
Dec 02 2017 - Posted by:
So, what have you been doing?
We've been working on Lost Echo: Resonance, of course.
No, really, what have you been doing?
Yeah, I guess that kind of response doesn't cut it, huh. Let me try that again:
We moved from Unity 4 to Unity 5 (well, actually Unity 2017 now)
Why did we do it? Well, we didn't really have too much of a choice. Apart from wanting newer and better things for Lost Echo: Resonance (which means we wanted features that we didn't have in Unity 4), Unity 4 is not supported any more. And we would soon be in a situation where we would want to properly support a newer mobile device and we would be unable to (for example, we were unable to support Apple TV for the longest time, we can do that now!).
But why is it taking us so long? You just uninstall Unity 4, install 5 (or 2017) and you're good to go, right?
During the Unity 5 cycle, Unity underwent an overhaul in subtle and less subtle ways. Which resulted in stuff either not working at all, or were working in different ways than we intended.
That in itself wasn't too bad, but it means we had to revisit a lot of code. And since we were revisiting code, it was time to do some clean up as well.
For example, did you know, 21:9 aspect ratios for mobile phones is becoming a thing? We should support that, right?
So, some background: When we started working on Lost Echo, in order to simplify things for us, we were 100% focused on iOS. A lot of our GUI stuff were specifically tailored for iPhones. Which is a newbie mistake, but at the time I still think it was the correct choice (it kept us moving and simplified our lives a bit, which let us keep some momentum). Then we also added a completely different mode for iPad. But that's not the proper way to do things. As Lost Echo was getting on more platforms, we hacked together more functionality to support more aspect ratios, and it worked pretty decently, but it wasn't robust at all. So now that we were revisiting stuff, maybe it was time to fix this once and for all.
The result is, we now support any aspect ratio (even exotic ones like 21:9) and we also have 3 different GUI sizes that the user can choose in an options menu. We still try to set a good default (so, if it's a phone, we default to the biggest GUI, and as screen sizes go up, we progressively default to smaller GUI sizes), but if you think the chosen GUI is too small or too big, you can change that now. Also the code is cleaner now, and if we wanted to do more changes, it would be much easier.
That was one example, there are multiple more, minor and major, that I won't mention (could be interesting for another blog sometime though), but I just want to note that they were necessary (well, most of them) and deceptively time consuming.
Lost Echo's art style heavily depends on fully baked lighting. It was a decision I made early on for the art style. Since we couldn't have huge amounts of polygons and complicated shaders (since when we started, we were targeting something like an iPhone 4), focusing on having great baked lighting seemed like the right decision. And it was the reason we chose Unity as our game engine. Unity 3, at the time, was using the Illuminate Labs Beast lightmapper, which I thought was pretty great.
Then Unity 5 came around and it no longer included Beast. I don't have any insider info on why this happened, but I'll just mention a couple of things that are public knowledge: at some point Illuminate Labs was bought by Autodesk, Autodesk at some point launched their own game engine, Beast in general has been now completely discontinued. (rip Beast)
Unity 5 replaced Beast with Geomerics Enlighten. (Geomerics was later bought by ARM, and later, development duties for Enlighten passed to Silicon Studio). Enlighten is a cool tech, but it's main focus was realtime (precomputed) GI and the fully baked GI functionality felt like an afterthought. Also, early on in the Unity 5.x lifecycle, the implementation was... well... a mess.
Which introduced a whole lot of headaches for me. Not only was I using a new system I wasn't used to (I knew how to get the results I wanted from Beast pretty easily at that point), the new system, at least for the fully baked lighting we were using, was also objectively worse in both an artistic and a technical viewpoint.
I didn't mind Lost Echo's lighting looking different, but I was really dreading the possibility of having to write release notes for a new version that would say :
"-Redid the lighting for the whole game, now it looks... worse...?!"
To cut the story a bit short, after tons of bug reports and tons of complaining on the Unity forums from me and other users, Unity recently introduced a new lightmapper, which is still kind of incomplete, but at least it's much better. There are still things I don't like about it, but it being better and me getting better at using it, has resulted in finally being able to get lighting that is roughly as good or better than what we had.
So... crisis averted. But that was a lot of months of feeling an immense amount of dread.
We were always aiming for Lost Echo: Resonance to look better than the main game. It made sense, it has been a few years, we're better at what we do now and mobile devices are more powerful, so we should take advantage of that, right? As such we wrote new shaders and created a post effects stack that adds color correction, vignetting, dof, bloom and sharpening to the game. It was kind of necessary too, because the new lightmapping system I mentioned above, tends to create slightly washed out results, so to be able to get the contrast and saturation I wanted, we had to have at least some form of color correction.
But then, we also intended for Lost Echo and Lost Echo: Resonance to feel as one cohesive thing. So that if anyone buys Lost Echo after Lost Echo: Resonance is released, will be able to play it as one whole cohesive thing. Otherwise, you would buy the game, start playing it and somewhere in the middle it starts having a slightly different look, extra effects and improved character models. That would be.... Confusing, right?
So we had to bring the main game up to snuff. Here is an example, it's one of the simplest scenes in the game, so it's not the best or most impressive example, but hopefully it's an indication of what we're doing.
(top one is the old one, bottom is the new, but hopefully you could tell without me telling you :) )
And you may think that we "just turned some effects on". But that's not right. We wrote the effects ourselves, so they're fast enough for mobile. We also had to go through the game and make sure everything still looks reasonable. We also had to make sure the effects scale, so that we can turn on/off certain effects depending on the device. (the plan right now, is to have the game make a "guess" about the best settings, but also have all the options available to the user so people can customize).
It was a lot of work, but hopefully it's for the best.
You didn't talk about Resonance at all!
Yes, but I don't really want to talk about Resonance too much. It's the reason I'm not posting too many screenshots these days. I want some things to be surprises, so showing bits and pieces of everything we're doing seems counter-productive. I also can't really talk about the story or puzzles, for obvious reasons. I just wanted to talk about all the extra stuff we've been doing that are not directly related to Lost Echo: Resonance. But be assured, parallel to doing everything above, we've been also doing Lost Echo: Resonance stuff as well.
Like, since I'm super conscious of the characterizations being sub-par, I'm really focusing on characters for Lost Echo: Resonance. But that goes kind of contrary to the way I used to work. I liked working vertically. After Vagelis sets up a bare bones scene, I like taking a specific scene and getting it as close to done in most aspects (music, dialogue, graphics etc). That let me work out the feel each scene should have. But the problem then was, that we then had a bunch of puzzle pieces that didn't quite fit with each other. I think characterizations and character arcs suffered because of this. I mean, we had a plot outline from the start, but character motivations were hard to evolve with the way I was working. I mean, it was always intended to be a more plot oriented story, but maybe we could have better results at least character-wise with a different workflow.
So now I try to work differently. Trying to focus on characters. But in a super small team where we wear too many hats, focusing on one specific thing for a long time is not really feasible. So we've had to go through another learning curve.
Also, Lost Echo: Resonance, is shaping up to be a full sequel sized. The plan is still to give it away for free for those who own Lost Echo, but we'll most probably raise the price right after it's released. But at this point I think with the amount of content we have, we could have called it Lost Echo 2 and released it as a separate game.
So that's where we're at. I hope that gives some explanations (also read my previous blog post about the delays, the reasons there are still valid) and some peace of mind for those that are looking forward to Lost Echo: Resonance.
We're working on it full time. We don't have a release date yet. It hasn't been cancelled and it was never even remotely close to being cancelled. It's coming. At some point.
As Miyamoto said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad". Take that for what you will ;)