Tournament & API Update Leads to Player-Run Tournaments

Below is a recent post about an update to tournament squares. These squares are special spots in the game-world that can be fought over or held as part of large contests or tournaments. Essentially, we now have a graphic for each square (as well as squares in the Broken Lands, the dangerous landmass to the South) and this — along with our combat API keys — will allow players to create and run their own tournaments. From the forums:

“Great news!

We have talked for a while about wanting to give Illyriad’s players more freedom to play how they want. Today we have given another tool to players, one that will hopefully allow them to host their own player-ran tournaments.

Some of you might have already noticed, but the current tournament squares in game now have a graphic. We have also included tournament squares in the Broken Lands.

You can see a list of these squares and terrain types and other information at this link. (You must be logged in to see the graphics.)

These squares are live right now. Keep in mind that on these squares all NAPs and Confeds are suspended; this means that only members of your Alliance can occupy these squares. (Players, if you can, please help us test this out. If you see an issue with any of the squares concerning the suspension of NAPs or Confeds, let us know immediately!)

We are even open to the idea of donating official prizes to players who need them to run a successful tournament! We will flesh these ideas out as we go along, but we would reserve these official prizes to server-wide tournies that would be open to a wide section of players. If you want to discuss details, IGM me in game, so we work on getting the pre-approval needed for any prize donation.

If you have any questions, please let us know! It’s possible that some of the kinks will still need to be ironed out, so be patient with us while we work on them.”

This development has led to Kodabear (the only magical bear in Illy!) to host his own tournament, due to launch soon. For more information, check out his thread.

What does this mean for the future of Illy? We’d like to think that players will learn to create their own content and will continue to leave their stamp on the game-world. We have always thought of Illy as a place for those who want to play how they want. The ability to host a tournament is just one more tool in the player’s belt.

Here’s to many more tournaments!

/me drinks some ale

 

GM Rikoo

GM Cerberus: Behind Illyriad’s Art

Billetmaking

We’ve always loved the artwork inside of Illyriad and now, Age of Ascent, the upcoming MMO shooter we’ve been working on. So, who makes all of those pretty pictures, graphics and icons that you see while playing? It’s GM Cerberus, that’s who. We wanted to let him talk about himself so that you, the player, can get to know this superbly creative individual who pops into chat once in a while.

What got you started in art?

I’ve loved creating art from a very young age, I was fortunate enough to be raised by a family of artists; my mother being a singer/writer and my grandmother being a painter. They helped and encouraged me to cultivate my talents. What really got me into art, though, was video games. I loved drawing Samus from Metroid and Mega Man bosses as a kid, and I would occasionally get in trouble in grade school for doodling when I should have been working on school work.

What is it like making art for the specifics of a video game? How is it different than other projects?

It has been a learning experience from the get-go. There are a lot of technical aspects when creating digital art that you don’t have to account for in physical media. Not everyone who views the work I create is viewing it at the same settings I am, for example, there are different resolutions and browsers to take into account. Heck, some people’s monitors aren’t even correctly color calibrated. One of the biggest things, however, is that i’m creating artwork not just for form but for function. Everything I create has a purpose in some game mechanic, and seeing it all in place and functional in-game brings on a sense of self-satisfaction unrivaled by any other project I’ve ever undertaken.

Do you have an estimate of how many pieces of art you’ve made for Illyriad? How about for Age of Ascent so far?

I’ve done upwards of 250-300 “large” pieces that players can view in the tech tree in Illyriad and hundreds of other miscellaneous graphics and doodads that I can’t even begin to put a number on. It would be difficult to put a number on Age of Ascent as well, but I’d be safe in saying it’s over 100 pieces. These numbers can be misleading however, as I’m including something as small as a scout unit or afterburner icon.

Do you have a preference of working on fantasy or sci-fi stuff?

I’m really torn on this, so much that I feel like two different artists when I’m working on the styles. With my fantasy work I feel more at liberty to have them look hand illustrated where with science fiction I feel the need for precision and almost have the work be Trompe l’oeil. With Illyriad most of my work is done using a form of vector illustration and some freehand with a tablet, and on Age of Ascent it’s a lot of photo-manipulation illustration and a bit of drafting. I can’t claim favorites honestly, I’m fortunate enough to have the freedom to explore so many different styles that I love them all.

What is your process like? Do you sketch? Work on paper or all digital?

My process is very traditional in the sense that I start with a very basic sketch to act as a skeleton for the piece, and work up from there. My vector illustrations, for example: I begin by getting a very basic sketch, sometimes I refer to photos I take and chop up to insure I get my angles and proportions correctly, and then I create the dark contour lines. After the contour is complete I move to coloration and then shading to give the piece depth and light. For work with Illyriad and Age of Ascent I don’t really touch paper, everything can be done digitally and it’s very convenient to not have to scan in sketches or attempt to translate what I created on paper to digital media.

How do you create so many pieces of art while still maintaining your sanity?

Who said anything about me being sane? I very much doubt my sanity and it spirals downward daily. Seriously though, as I said before I am fortunate enough to have the privilege of being able to work on a myriad different styles. If I get burnt out on making logos for corporations in Age of Ascent I can switch over to creating freehand military units, isometric machines, blueprints, or vector illustrations. Variety is what keeps me sane, and I have lots of it.

Thanks to Cerberus for taking the time to talk with the blog. Now, get back to work! Those drawings won’t draw themselves!

Feature Preview: Avatar Customization

It has been a busy time since the July game update that added so many new features to Illyriad. As we continue to work diligently on aspects of that update, I wanted to take a quick break to share with you a little something different.

One of the things that I believe is important in gaming is the ability to put your stamp on the game and world in which you play. Individuality. And while there are a lot of ways to do that in the game world of Illyriad, one area that has been lacking is in the representation of player avatars.

More variety and customizable avatars has been requested by players in the past, and has been a goal of the dev team for some time. We’ve been working with some very talented artists to expand our selection of avatar display choices and have made some significant progress toward finally bringing these options to you in game.

Each race and gender will be able to choose a pose for their avatar as well as choose from a selection of faces, hair styles and colors. You will also be able to purchase  a wide variety of background options for your character that represent different types of environments in the game world, or even choose a favorite color if you prefer a simpler look.

One of our core values with Illyriad is not to add Prestige spend options that give a significant advantage to gameplay. In keeping with those values, vanity items like these new avatars and backgrounds will be available for a small Prestige purchase. We cannot say yet when these will be available in game, but we look forward to hearing your feedback and giving our players more options to customize the appearance of their avatars.

Examples of new avatar options are shown below.

  

  

(Work in progress art may be subject to changes.)

GM Luna

Preview: Commander Screen Re-design

With the introduction of gathering and crafting for troop equipment, armies in Illyriad are going to become much more customizable and can be tailored to suit specific combat situations. You can specialize for terrain, biomes, tactical roles or even day/night combat.

But who says the armies are the only ones who get to have all the fun? Your commanders will be able to use equipment items too.

Just like their armies, commanders will get to choose a piece of armor, a weapon and a mount on which to ride. So, for example, if you had equipped your army division with this specialized horse that gives a bonus to movement speed, you would want to make sure to give one to your commander also, so that he will benefit from the bonus as well. Or you may choose to give your commander the best equipment available, while finding more cost effective versions for the rest of the army.

Commander

The second part of the addition of equipment for commanders is the re-design of the commander screen.

Now, rather than being only a text-based screen, you can see all of the icons for commander abilities that you have researched.

Items in color are those you have researched, with the others in black/white.

The commander is shown as a silhouette with three slots available to add the equipment items.

Health and experience are shown in bars, so you can see how close you are to the next level or how much health your commander has left.

If you have the required experience you can click the button next to each ability to level it up.

The re-design of the commander screen, as well as the ability to equip your commander will be coming with the harvesting and crafting update.

Preview: Illyriad UIv3

This is not another April Fool’s Joke, Illyriad is proud to present our latest user interface refresh. As the game grows and evolves, more features are added and finding the best way to display those features is an important part of the development process. With the new UI, we hope to add some valuable usability improvements as well as give the overall game presentation an updated look.

Some of the updated features and visual changes are as follows.

New sidebar: The sidebar has been condensed to hold more important information and features. It now consists of three tabbed sections. The first is a tabbed box for next events and notifications, in the middle is the friends list and at the bottom is a tabbed box for both global chat and alliance chat. Players can click on the title header to bring the preferred tab to the foreground at any time and the global chat and alliance chat tabs can be undocked for viewing both at once.

Next events: The next events section shows both items you have queued for building and research.

Super search: The top portion of the sidebar contains a search box that you can use to find anything in game including players, towns, alliances and pages.

Friends list: With the friends list feature, you will be able to add fellow players to your friends (through a mutual agreement) and see when that player is online. This feature will become even more important when private chat becomes available in a later game update.

Positioning memory: In the new UI, tab settings and chat window placement will be remembered by browser. If you refresh or log out and back in on the same browser and computer, last size and positioning will be kept.

Navigation: A two-tiered tabbed navigation system is at the top of all pages, with links to pages within that section of the game. Players can choose to use this additional navigation, or use the radial menus at the top of the page, as is currently the style in game.

Herald: The lore portion of the Herald has been split into its own page that looks and functions like a book with turning pages. This creates a fun, interactive way to display the lore of the game as it evolves over time.

Stats page: The release notes and stats sections, previously on the Herald, now have their own page.

Player profiles: Profile pages have sections to display alliance medals and titles.

Visual changes: Stylistic, visual changes have been made throughout the UI to create a cleaner visual presentation and better use of space. Many elements, such as type style and buttons have a similar appearance to the Illyriad website. Interior pages and sidebar edges use a thin, wooden frame, with paper texture interior and golden patterned texture for headers. We believe this creates a cleaner, more cohesive presentation of the game as well as a more flexible framework that we can add to as needed.

We hope you enjoy these changes to the Illyriad UI and find it both easier to use, and more visually appealing. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section or on our forums. These UI changes and more will be available in our next game update.

GM Luna

Click for full size images.

Feature Preview: Alliance Medals

It could be argued that more than anything, Illyriad is a game about Alliances. From tight-knit social groups to well-oiled machines focusing on military excellence, Illy really does have it all. One of the goals of the dev team is to strive to find ways to support and strengthen those bonds. One way that this has been requested from players is to allow individuals to grant their Alliance members titles and awards. This is an excellent idea and one that opens up an opportunity for a whole new level of interaction within Alliances.

The dev team and I are excited to show you a first look at the Illyriad Alliance Medal system. With this new option players will be able to design a medal and award it to a player (or players) within their Alliance. The medal designer allows for hundreds, if not thousands, of unique combinations using several graphical layers for each medal. Designs can range from small and simple to very ornate and detailed. They can then be given a name and a title to be awarded to the player.

The possibilities for how these can be used are really endless. You could give them out to show rank within the Alliance, to commemorate an epic event or battle or as awards for inter-alliance tournaments. I have no doubt our players will come up with some truly unique and clever ways of using the system.

This is also exciting for us on the development side because it represents the first time in-game where players have the opportunity to deeply customize and create a unique visual mark for a character. I know that I, for one, have enjoyed playing around with the tool to see what sorts of crazy concepts I could make. The creative work of our art director GM Cerberus on this project thus far, has really been astounding.

Below are just a few examples of designs possible with our medal designer.

Full details about the Alliance medal system will be coming soon and the designer will be available in a future game update.

GM Luna

Introducing Illyriad UIv3

Illyriad is proud to reveal a first look at the new UI version 3. 

After the successful launch of UIv2 last year, the development team agrees that it is time to take yet another step forward with the Illyriad interface design. Presentation and usability are important to the success of a game, and the new UIv3 should make Illyriad even more appealing and successful to a broader target audience.

We at Illyriad Games Ltd., believe there is an untapped marked for complex, sandbox-style, online military strategy games. This untapped market represents billions of dollars in spending each year on virtual goods and entertainment.  This market is tweens, specifically tween girls. And with UIv3, we are certain to create an environment that appeals and connects to this new target market.

This is an early, work-in-progress concept of the town page. You’ll notice the new, helpful pop-ups that remind you of things that need to be done in game. This will make the game even more accessible for our new target audience and includes a fun, new art style as well.

(Click for a full size view.)

UIv3 will be available for testing and release soon™.

We are proud to be leading the marketplace as the first sandbox MMORTS for tweens and look forward to expanding the Illyriad community in a new direction.

GM Luna

 

****April Fools! This is very much a joke and not an actual design for the Illyriad UI. Thank goodness!****

Illyriad Website Redesign

Illyriad is coming up on its 2 year anniversary since the game first launched in Alpha. In that time the external game website has been through a few versions. For 2012 and as we move into the third year of Illyriad’s existence we are happy to share with the community a new and improved website.

Why a new website?

One of my main goals as community manager at Illyriad is to make sure our players are having the best user experience than can have. In part this means that our players should have easy to access information about the game readily available. The current (now former) website just wasn’t doing that very well.

As most of our players know, Illyriad has a small cross-functional development team. This means, at any time, one of us may be working on a project that seems like it falls outside of our more formal titles. So in true Swiss army knife fashion, I set out to give the website a new coat of paint. My background (aside from community development) is in graphic design. So it’s really not quite as much of a stretch as you’d think.

Goals:

  • Give the website a fresh look
  • Create an easier to use navigation
  • Add a community section
  • More detailed information about the game
  • Add FAQ and support section
  • Better social media integration
  • Have dynamic content and news on the front page

Process:

The first step was identifying the basic layout of the website and what sorts of content would be inside. I did this by creating a series of very rough wire-frames and a pagemap. After looking at a few options the team chose the one below:

From there I went about laying out a mock-up of the homepage in Photoshop. My philosophy with the visuals was to retain the key elements that relate to our brand but still give a clean, updated visual look. Familiar elements like the character art on the backgrounds, the parchment paper texture and red buttons relate to the former website and game while still giving a new look. One of my favorite parts to update was the treatment for the logo. The Illyriad logo has a pretty unique look and the former implementation of plain flat black wasn’t really giving it the attention it deserved. So I experimented with a few treatments and landed on a subtle silver 3D lighted effect. My biggest struggle, however, was with color. The game and former website use a lot (seriously, a lot) of beige and brown tones. I wanted to retain some connection to the game through the use of the parchment texture and beige color, but I felt that the site overall needed some more contrast and depth. I was inspired by the mottled dark blue-grey sky that was used in one of the character portraits. So after much layering and experimentation I came up with the rich blues and dark browns that are used in the new design.

After settling on the overall design and laying out mockups for the rest of the pages, we began the process of making the designs come to life. Through an amazing partnership with Illyriad CTO and technical wizard, Ben Adams (aka GM Thundercat) all of the things I imagined actually turned out to work, often times even better than I thought. The account creation and log-in pages for example are so much more slick and interactive than I thought they could be, due to some amazing HTML5 technical wizardry. The real hard work was coding and I consider myself quite a lucky designer to get to work with someone who when I asked “can we do that?” always said yes.

Overall, I am so pleased with how the website has turned out and I hope the community is as well. At some point soon™ we hope to be giving the forums a dev blog and new look as well to match the new website.

Make sure to hop over to the homepage to check it out for yourself and stop by the forums or leave comments on this post to give your feedback on the new site! I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts.

GM Luna

WebGL Experiments: Texture Compression

Lilli Thompson from Google asked us how we were doing texture decompression in the pixel shaders and what algorithm we were using. We thought we would share our answer…

Texture compression was a bit of journey – as no one at Illyriad had ever implemented anything in 3d before; to us texture compression was mostly a tick box on a graphics card.

It started when we found out our 90MB of jpegs expanded to 2GB of on-board memory and we were worried we’d made a terrible mistake, as this was certainly beyond the possibilities of low-end hardware! Half of it this was due to Three.js keeping a reference to the image and the image also being copied to the GPU process – so essentially the required texture memory doubled.

Dropping the reference Three.js held after the texture was bound to WebGL resolved this. I’m not sure how this will play out with context lost events – as I assume we will have lost the texture at that point – but local caching in the file system and reloading may help with recreating them at speed.

With 1GB of memory remaining we were faced with three choices – either deciding what were were trying to do wasn’t possible; reducing the texture sizes and losing fidelity or trying to implement texture de-compression in the shader. Naturally we opted for the last.

We were originally planning to use 24bit S3TC/DX1; however this proved overly complex in the time we had available as the pixel shaders have no integer masking or bitshifts and everything needs to be worked in floats. The wonders we could unleash with binary operators and type casting (not conversion) – but I digress…

In the end we compromised on 256 colour pallettized textures (using AMD’s The Compressonator to generate P8 .DDS textures). This reduced the texture to one byte per pixel – not as small or high colour as DX1 – but already 4 times smaller than our original uncompressed RGBA textures.

It took a while to divine the file format; which we load via XMLHttpRequest into an arraybuffer. The files have 128 bytes of header which we ignore, followed by the 256×4 byte palette which we load into a lookup table texture RGBA. The rest we load into a Luminance texture. Both textures need to use NearestFilter sampling and not use mipmapping to be interpreted sensibly.

We have created our own compressed texture loaders – the colour texture loader looks a little like this:

[code lang=”javascript”]
Illyriad.TextureCompColorLoader = function (path, width, height, uniforms) {
var texture = new THREE.DataTexture(0, 1, 1, THREE.LuminanceFormat,
(new THREE.UVMapping()), THREE.RepeatWrapping, THREE.RepeatWrapping,
THREE.NearestFilter, THREE.NearestFilter);

var request = new XMLHttpRequest();
request.open("GET", path, true);
request.responseType = "arraybuffer";

// Decode asynchronously
request.onload = function () {
if (request.status == 200) {
var imageDataLength = request.response.byteLength – width * height;
uniforms.tColorLUT.texture = new THREE.DataTexture(
new Uint8Array(request.response, 128, 256 * 4),
256, 1, THREE.RGBAFormat, (new THREE.UVMapping()),
THREE.ClampToEdgeWrapping, THREE.ClampToEdgeWrapping,
THREE.NearestFilter, THREE.NearestFilter);
uniforms.tColorLUT.texture.needsUpdate = true;
texture.image = { data: new Uint8Array(request.response, imageDataLength),
width: width, height: height };
texture.needsUpdate = true;
}
}
request.send();
return texture;
}
[/code]

When we first did the decompression in the pixel shader, it was very blocky as we had turned off filtering to read the correct values from the texture. To get around this we had to add our own bilinearSample function to do the blending for us. In this function it uses the diffuse texture with the colour look up table and using the texture size and texture pixel interval samples the surrounding pixels. The other gotcha is that the lookup texture is in BGRA format so the colours need to be swizzeled. This makes that portion of the shader look like this:

[code]
uniform sampler2D tDiffuse;
uniform sampler2D tColorLUT;

uniform float uTextInterval;
uniform float uTextSize;

vec3 bilinearSample(vec2 uv, sampler2D indexT, sampler2D LUT)
{
vec2 tlLUT = texture2D(indexT, uv ).xx;
vec2 trLUT = texture2D(indexT, uv + vec2(uTextInterval, 0)).xx ;
vec2 blLUT = texture2D(indexT, uv + vec2(0, uTextInterval)).xx;
vec2 brLUT = texture2D(indexT, uv + vec2(uTextInterval , uTextInterval)).xx;

vec2 f = fract( uv.xy * uTextSize );
vec4 tl = texture2D(LUT, tlLUT).zyxw;
vec4 tr = texture2D(LUT, trLUT).zyxw;
vec4 bl = texture2D(LUT, blLUT).zyxw;
vec4 br = texture2D(LUT, brLUT).zyxw;
vec4 tA = mix( tl, tr, f.x );
vec4 tB = mix( bl, br, f.x );
return mix( tA, tB, f.y ).xyz;
}

void main()
{
vec4 colour = vec4(bilinearSample(vUv,tDiffuse,tColorLUT),1.0);

[/code]

This performs fairly well; and certainly better than when your computer feels some virtual memory is required because you are using too much! However, I’m sure on-board graphics card decompression should be swifter and hopefully open up the more complex S3TC/DX1-5 compression formats.

There is a major downside however with decompressing this way in the pixel shader. You have to turn off mipmapping! Not only does turning off mipmapping cause a performance hit as you always have to read the full-size textures – but more importantly it doesn’t look good. In fact in the demo – we had to use full-size textures for the grass so we could apply mipmapping as otherwise in the distance it was a wall of static!

Unfortunately, as far as I’m aware, WebGL while you can create mipmaps with generateMipmap – you can’t supply your own. Again, real compressed textures should help here.

EDIT: Benoit Jacob has pointed out this is possible by passing a non-zero ‘level’ parameter to texImage2D – one to look into.

Some caveats on the demo:

  • Obviously even 90MB of jpeg textures is far too much – the production version will be substantially smaller, as we are being a bit smarter on how we will be using them.
  • This has been a learning process both for us and Quantic Arts (who are used to boxed set games).
  • This was a tester to see the upper limits of what we can do in WebGL, so we haven’t been focusing on optimization yet.
  • We will be reworking the obj models to reduce their download size substantially.
  • The way the game works is that no one player will need all the textures at once (the time between queuing a building and it’s actual appearance in the game allows us to download the models/texture)

So the actual game requirements will be much much lower.