SMF — Simple Machine Forums — For Newbies

Loads of people use social media and are excellent with computers, but that doesn’t mean that the archaic form of communication known as internet forums means much to them. In many ways, forums have more in common with the BBS days of yore than they do with modern social media or email or word processing, so it’s worth going over how to use forum software even for someone who’s not remotely a tech newbie. Enjoy. 🙂

And yes, this relates tangentially to AI War 2, because this video is mainly for Dune, my dad, since this software is new to him and he’s helping out specifically with some forum conversation steering and moderation.

We also have a number of other kickstarter backers who might be intimidated by forums, I have no idea, so there’s always the chance this is useful to one of them.

Swizzle Lists! A nonintuitive data structure for AI War 2.

It really seems like there ought to be a quicker explanation for this, but to explain the fundamental goals, the pitfalls, and the usage constraints of this data type… well, data types are hard to explain if they’re off the beaten path. This one is really useful, but also pretty strange.

edit: Aaaand Badger figured out the bug, which was not in this code, while I was making the video. Hopefully someone else finds this useful or interesting. 😉

Using Mantis Bugtracker, And What Everything There Means

Primarily for new moderator/admin Dune, but we know a lot of folks find this sort of thing interesting, so here it is for everyone.

If any other indies are using a bugtracker, this isn’t a bad approach to take, incidentally — we’ve handled almost 20,000 reports over the last 7 or so years in this. The first two years were spent with bug reports going through our forums — yuck! Definitely glad not to be doing that anymore.


It’s here! Arcen Games are proud to finally announce the launch of the first Starward Rogue expansion: AuGMENTED. Available now!

This is a bumper content pack for Starward Rogue featuring the following list of goodies:
* A new gold floor with unique challenges and rewards
* 4 new music tracks composed by Pablo Vega and The Overthinkers
* 3 new mechs: The Zephyr, The Paladin, and the Warhog
* 90+ new items
* 30+ new enemies
* 125+ new rooms
* 8 new room obstacles such as the pulse trap and the flamethrower turret
* 10+ challenge rooms (a new room type exclusive to the gold floors)
* 6 new minibosses
* 9 new bosses

We are also introducing Starward Rogue: Gold Edition which is a package deal featuring both the base game and AuGMENTED. Both AuGMENTED and the Gold Edition will also be on 10% discount until January 31.
It’s been a lot of work, but AuGMENTED is something we’re very proud of over at Arcen Games. Thanks, everybody. Hail to the Hydral! 🙂
We also wanted to make a special thanks to Windless Zephyr for inspiring the Zephyr mech, and also for providing us with so many episodes of your long-running Starward Rogue series! 🙂

Starward Rogue v1.750 released: two new mechs!

Hey everybody,

Exciting news! You may have heard of the upcoming paid expansion for Starward Rogue, AuGMENTED. Well, we’ve decided to push the free content part of that a month earlier, as in… today!

Merry Christmas! 🙂

So, in today’s update, as well as containing a bunch of improvements and fixes we are also introducing two new mechs created in collaboration with community modder Logorouge: Penumbra and Alpha.

One is a glass cannon ninja (or Glassassin if you like) and the other is a roulette mech with completely randomized perks. Both mechs provide a vastly different play experience. Playing as the Penumbra (shown above) can be challenging but very rewarding. With high damage output and a variety of special abilities at its disposal, it’s actually possible to feel like a ninja as you use the evasion unit to dash through dangers, and smoke bombs to hide when things get too hectic.

The Alpha (shown below) is the ultimate RNG mech where you could get a level 15 perk at level 1… or vice versa! Both mechs come with completely new weapons such as the Shuriken Shot and the Alpha Slugger.

Other improvements include an extended tutorial, a new condemned boss, extra particle work on weapons (smoke effects, muzzle flashes, bullet death particles), lots of balance work, improvements to perks (plus one entirely new perk), big performance boosts, and more. This build also contains an important fix for certain achievements that was preventing a 100% clear, many apologies for anyone previously frustrated by that problem.

As for AuGMENTED, we’re pleased to announce the launch date for that is January 24th. You can watch the trailer for that over on the store page. If you want to be informed when the expansion is available, you can add it to your wishlist so that once it launches you will receive a notification.

We’d encourage anyone considering purchasing Starward Rogue to hold off until our next discount period later this month (*cough cough*). Thanks for your support, and Merry Christmas from the whole Starward Rogue team. 🙂

Goodbye, Alloy, But Thanks For Teaching Us A Lot

As of our upcoming version 0.610, we’re removing the Alloy Shader framework.

The above is a tutorial for Blue, our artist, though if any modders who are creating custom models are also using substance painter, this shows you how to set up your setup, too. You can also infer pretty easily how to do combinations manually using Photoshop channels to create packed maps, too.

Anyhow, we’re moving away from the Alloy Shader Framework to instead use custom shaders that give us an equivalent look with a vastly reduced workload and with definite compatibility with future unity versions, and this tutorial covers Blue’s side of what needs to change.

The above is a tutorial for Cinth, but this also is useful for any modders who are creating custom graphics for the game.

As noted in this video, this saves us a ton of manual work. A ton.

Also in this video I randomly stumbled across a visual improvement to the custom player ark Rorqual Hegira, so you can see how that evolved a bit thanks to the extra flexibility of this new shader set.


Some screenshots of newly-painted PBR ships.

These ships are painted by Blue using Substance painter — well, overpainted by Blue.  These were ships that she had previously painted in photoshop directly in a cel-shaded fashion, and which now she’s overpainting to give it a mixed realistic look.

It’s worth bearing in mind a couple of things:

  • These are screenshots from Substance Painter, so it will look a bit different in Unity.   See my recent videos on that subject.
  • These have emissive parts on them, but that REALLY doesn’t show up properly in the substance painter view, so you’ll have to imagine that part for now. 😉

Autocannon Minipod


First revisions:

My main note on that was that it didn’t feel beat-up enough, although beyond that I really love it.  And, um… what a difference, right??


Aww yiss, now we’re talking.


Old (although with some improvements that were overdue on the cel-shaded part):


I just love the fighter, with how metal and beat-up it looks now.  It should do particularly well in the in-game lighting and with the lightmaps on. 🙂

Armor Ship



I also really love the metalness here, and the added details.  I’ve asked about adding a variety of scorch marks on that, though.  We could do a variety of smart masks and then make them black with a very high roughness and potentially low metalness and that effect happens easily.




Overall I really like the bomber, although it feels a bit too gleamy-shiny in some ways.  Maybe having it a bit more worn of a metal as a base there is something we’ll do — or just introducing layers of wear.  I love the scratches we have going on.




The eyebot is perfect, I love that glassy look it has and how perfect it seems in a lot of ways.  Really a different form of character to it, which is fantastic. 🙂

That’s all for now!

Just thought I’d share a bit of the progress that is being made.  Now I guess that our main problem is that these ships are drawn so bloody small in the battlefield — relative to the camera — that all that awesome detail is lost…

We’ll figure it out.  Someone on kickstarter was mentioning the same thing.  Maybe the answer is smaller squads of larger ships, or using more verticality to fit larger ships in the same radius, or who knows.  I don’t want to shrink the feeling of scale of the game, but at the same time we want to be able to see more than just the icon-fest, at least when zoomed in.


More AI War 2 art-related videos!

Figured I’d cross-post this new batch:

The above is a tutorial for Cinth on how to get things ready for Blue to do her painting in Substance Painter. It doesn’t handle the old-style of very-high LODs for us yet, but it gets all the rest of it.

The above is a video for Cinth on how we need to update our existing ship definitions to fit with our new “one material only” approach, which relies on mipmaps and GPU instancing for the bulk of its efficiency, rather than on baked vertex colors and dynamic batching.

The above takes a look at the newly-free alloy shader framework, which we’ve used in other projects, and looks at the difference in quality when we’re now integrating it into AI War 2.

Starting at 8:30 in there is a tutorial for Blue, and at about 23:00 in is a tutorial for Cinth.

The above video is about three ships that I’d done with standard shaders previously, including the first backer’s custom Ark, and now they’re converted over to Alloy. Just a video of me working and chatting about it as I do. Why not.

“Rorqual Hegira” Ark Painting Videos

No actual painting takes place in the first video.  Instead we go through mesh simplification, examining the mesh, sizing things up, and generally getting things prepared so that we can just sit down and paint in the next video.

The second video shows the first of the 11 custom Arks that kickstarter backers commissioned for the game. This will be one of the Arks that anyone who plays the game gets to choose between.

This Ark, dubbed the “Rorqual Hegira”, was the vessel for the cetacean flight from Sol. I can’t say any of those words. 😉

Anyway, this goes through the process of actually doing the painting to make the cel-shaded baseline turn into a PBR (Physically Based Rendering) style. Basically what that means is taking something that looks intentionally cartoony and adding on a layer of processing that makes it react to light more like real materials do.

As part of that I also wind up adding various procedural details, naturally, as Substance Painter is really excellent for that sort of thing. All those little scratches and splotches and so forth that humans just aren’t meant to paint by hand with any speed or lack of repetition.

This video took way longer than I expected, mainly because my first idea for how to handle the metal body didn’t work out (I had feared from the start it might not, but it was a fun one to try), and because handling the “glass with something down inside it” is an inherently super-tricky request, and something I wanted to do justice to rather than just slapping an emissive glow on it and calling it good. I’m quite happy with how the result came out, although we’ll see what the backer thinks once he sees this video.


AI War 2 gains IBL (Image Based Lighting)

Recently I showed how the graphics have evolved in the game via switching the materials to be more PBR-based (overpainting our cel-shaded visuals to augment them via Substance Painter).

At any rate, one of the things that was bothering me was the drop in quality between Substance Painter’s view of things and the view of things in Unity.  It still looked great in Unity, but was a notable step down.

So, I thought about that a bit, and made some changes to the lighting in Unity.  More on that in a bit — but first I should note that this isn’t something that is costing any extra performance hit on your GPU.  Yeah, you heard me — these sort of visual improvements can be “free” in terms of performance cost.  It’s all in the techniques, and I’ve been learning a lot on that front as I’ve been working on my “secret side project.”

Anyhow, that’s been paying big dividends for AI War 2 that I wouldn’t have anticipated.

Where We Started

That’s purely a cel-shaded approach modeled in Maya by Blue, and painted in Photoshop.  There’s a lot to love there, particularly in most of the ships in the game, but this was probably the number one ship that bothered me because the asteroid doesn’t look at all like rock.  (Then again — do rocks in any cel-shaded game look like rocks??)

At any rate, her painting and models were being fed into some custom shaders I created, and then tuned to have custom reflection maps and specularity and rim lighting, etc.

One of the big things that I struggled with with my shader was making the ships look really dramatic — but also visible — on their dark sides versus their light sides.

Often this really caused issues with the normal maps (those images that make things look more bumpy than the actual underlying geometry is) either being too harsh or too subtle depending on how close you were to the ship or which side of it you were on.

Next Up: Substance Painter

In a video you can see me painting that mesh using Blue’s cel-shading as a base.  The end result — in Substance Painter — is this:

Now, there are a few things to bear in mind.

First of all, this is using different shaders than Unity has.  Ones that don’t have to render in realtime, and certainly not thousands of objects in realtime — Substance Painter would choke and die on that.  But that tool is equally useful for offline cinematics or feature films as it is for realtime game usage.

That said, it should translate pretty well — shockingly well, to be honest — to Unity.  When you’re using full lightmapping and calculated ambient occlusion and so on, the visuals get very very close between the platforms.

Problem, though: you’re not able to bake lightmapping in unity for dynamic scenes.  At least… mostly not.  There are a variety of complicated techniques, and even some simple ones.  But let’s just say for our purposes here that isn’t feasible in this particular case. 😉

At any rate, the second issue is that this is using IBL, or Image Based Lighting.  And in Unity I was not.

What Is IBL?

Basically that means a 360-degree image cubemap is “shining” on the model from all around it.  Imagine having a painted translucent box and putting the model in it, then shining light evenly through every side of the box at once.  The result is an IBL look.

Actually, you know what?  Just check out this video with someone showing off what Unity can do.  Video is worth a thousand words… squared?

Okay, So What This Looked Like Coming Into Unity

This is a huge improvement over what was in Unity previously, but it’s still… not my favorite.  The lighting is very stark and harsh, and the specular reflections feel wrong, making me have to tone down the smoothness of the metallic shaders.  All that combines with the flatness of the lighting in general to make it feel… like a blander version of what I had before.

Well, heck — I’ve worked with IBL plenty of times before.  Let’s see what I can do.

Upgrade One

Starting with this:

We then move to this:

In order to get that second look, I turned off the main directional light in the scene, and am using just a single IBL light source.  I have to “bake” that in a really broad sense for Realtime GI to work in unity, but my understanding is that it isn’t really using anything other than the original cubemap since there’s no true baked data (no lighting probes, etc) in the scene.

At any rate, this is with the ambient light coming from the (invisible) skybox, which is an HDRI cubemap.  And then no other light sources other than the emissive materials on actual ships.  Oh, and the global reflection cubemap has also been toned down a bit and switched over to use a compressed version of the HDRI skybox rather than the studio lighting look I was using before.

This approach is pretty cool, and certainly more vibrant… but it’s still missing something.  It’s a very flat look to it, and if you circle the asteroid the lighting is even on all sides.  There’s no real shadows happening.

Upgrade Two

Now we’re talking!  This tones down the ambient light a bit, and then adds back in the directional light — but tones that down to about 60% of what it previously was, too.  I also made the directional light warmer rather than a harsh white, so that it would match with the HDRI image I chose.  Incidentally, I went through a variety of HDRI maps before finding one that felt right.

The overall settings used in Unity for this are as follows, if you’re curious:

And That’s Where We Are Now!

In a non-procedural game, there’s all sorts of fancy and highly-performant things that can be done with lightmaps and reflection probes and so on, but this is not that game. 😉

For performance reasons I’m not using parallax mapping/heightmapping/tessellation or baked AO on these models, either.  Those don’t contribute enough to the scene to be worth the added GPU and RAM costs, and we want this game to be able to remain as huge as possible.  All of the changes thus far have been either GPU/RAM-neutral, or come with a performance savings.

I may move back into slightly custom shaders for this, mainly so that I can handle the death effects for ships via parameters on the ship itself “eating the ship away” as it dies.  But in general, beyond that, this is how the game looks now (or will look, once we paint all these models again — blending what came before with what we can do now).

Hopefully this was an informative/interesting read.  🙂 It’s obviously something I’m passionate about, and I think it contributes a lot both to the mood of the game and our ability to sell it to a wider audience.