When Solutions Present Themselves

As we develop our MMORPG we’re continually identifying key problem areas that need resolution to enable us reach our long-term goal of actually publishing our game.  Things like player-driven avatar customization, the need for a solid bug/issue tracking system, an ongoing desire to make the 3D world look fantastic, a conversation manager framework, and, of course, work environment enhancements to keep me sane through all this!

Solutions present themselves at their own pace, even if we’re not entirely ready for them.  Such has been the case lately, as our friends at the Unity Asset Store have put some great packages on sale at ridiculous prices that couldn’t be refused.  So we had to jump on a few things before we’re actively developing them.

To that end, here are the Arcanoria buzzwords for this week:

  • UMA – Unity Multipurpose Avatar is a package that will replace our placeholder pre-customized character avatars.  This is essential for an MMORPG, since character customization is a core gameplay feature.  UMA is free, believe it or not, having been sponsored by Unity Technologies.  UT (and I) believe UMA is the way of the future for character avatar customization.  It’s easily scriptable and very well written and robust.  I’m very excited about UMA.
  • 3D-coat – 3D-coat is a voxel sculpting and 3D texture painting tool.  It’s similar to ZBrush, but about half the price ($379 vs. $799), and probably more actively in development.  It will be a vital tool in our arsenal as we endeavor to customize our assets, especially the new UMA avatars above.
  • FogBugz – I was looking for a bug/issue tracker that’s better than a text file on my Windows desktop, and considered Trac (which I’ve used before).  In the end, I decided it was too clunky, especially since we’re no longer using Subversion for source code control.  After some googling, I came up with a few alternatives including Redmine and JIRA, but in the end decided on FogBugz.  FogBugz maintains my whole project on their servers (which are plenty fast for me), including off-site source code backups via their Kiln service, as well as an integrated hosted Wiki, Forum, and an issue tracker that is linked directly to my Mercurial version control check-ins.  The kicker is that it’s 100% FREE for teams of 1 or 2 people (of which I’m the former!).  I can only begin to say how happy I’ve been so far with this service.  FogBugz is awesome!
  • Skyshop – I’d heard of Skyshop before, but to be honest I really didn’t understand what it did until after I bought the package a few days ago.  I just knew it included some excellent shaders that lots of folks were recommending.  Since it was on sale for $65 (down from $130) I decided to give it a try, just to give the shaders a look.  Wow was I blown away after I installed Skyshop.  Now I understand all the hype about IBL (Image Based Lighting).  In short, Skyshop lets you take an HDR panorama image and convert it into a skybox that further serves as a group of light probes that shed truly natural looking ambient lighting onto your scene objects.  Bottom line – if you’re doing any kind of 3D project in Unity where realistic looking scene lighting is important, go get Skyshop right now.
  • Amplify Color – This is a color grading package that allows you to transfer your scene’s color profile to a running instance of Photoshop and adjust them, then send those colors (including your alterations in Photoshop) back to your scene camera in Unity.  It was on 50% off sale, so this is one of those things I decided to jump on, even though I’m not ready for it yet.  I think it will be important in helping to make our scenes look better.
  • Dialoguer – Dialoguer is “a dialogue creation tool that lets you visually create branched and dynamic dialogue for your game”.  In other words, it’s a visual interface to help you do all the in-editor data input for your scripted conversations, including variables and branching, nodes, and under-the-hood XML serialization.  It seems to be pretty well written, and I’m looking forward to using it in my Arcanoria pipeline to help me write NPC interactions like quests and shops.  If Dialoguer hadn’t come along I’d have had to create my own conversation manager framework, so I’m lucky it did!  One last thing:  apparently there have been some issues with getting it released on the Asset Store so the author is giving Dialoguer away for free for a limited time, but hurry!
  • Bins – Bins is a taskbar organizer for Windows.  If you’re like me, you’ve got lots of things pinned to your Windows 7 taskbar.  Bins allows you to group them into folders, just like you can on your mobile Android or iOS device.  Just drag an application icon on top of another one and a folder is created, taking up less space on your taskbar.  The sanity I will regain by having some room again on my taskbar makes this $4.99 well spent.

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