Monday, December 9, 2013

Version 7: Upgraded!!!

Version 7.0 is, at long last, online!!!!

And the downloadble version is ready too.  Get it HERE.

I am painfully aware that it has taken almost 15 months for this update to finally arrive.  And I'm prepared for some of you to see it and say, "THIS took over a year?"  The reality is that only 1 scene has been updated and that is the outdoors scene.  The short story about why this took so long is:

1.  My professional and personal life got about 150% busier in this past year.  This project was much easier to make progress on when I had little or no life and a job with tons of downtime / boredom.  That is no longer the case (which is good for me).

2.  This update represents a change from Unity Free version 3.x to Unity Pro 4.x.  I was not prepared for what a massive change in how everything works this would be.  Nearly every band-aid or sloppy "new guy" modeling mistake I made in the previous 2 years of work was suddenly exposed in all sorts of horrible ways.  Almost nothing worked right anymore and everything got WAY uglier.  And for every fix I made, at least 2 other things broke.  I had to rebuild a whole lot of things from scratch just to get them back to where they started.

3.  In the past year, this kind of simulation and technology has actually become a part of my real job.  Most of my "R&D" time has been spent doing this on real projects that I can probably show you in about 2 to 5 years.  :-)

The longer story of what has been happening can be found HERE.

So what's new?

- A lot of clean-up, bug fixes, performance upgrades, and do-overs.  Many of these are invisible.

- Lighting!  The lighting and shadows are so much better now.  And there is actual lighting in the lobbies now instead of sunlight just pouring in through the walls.

- Special FX!  New reflective water is probably the most obvious.  I'm continuing to tweak this and the fountain fx so I expect these will get really nice looking as time goes on.

- Occlusion culling.  Look it up if you care, but this should improve performance greatly.

- New textures in many places.  Thanks to the wonders of bump maps, the concrete surfaces look more like concrete now.

- It's been over a year, I can't remember what else.

There are a couple of new bugs in there, so watch out.  The walking part of the ride scene may be turned sideways sometimes and if you try to enter the Image Works before the scene loads, you'll fall into oblivion.  Sorry.  Will fix these shortly.  

Hope it is and continues to be worth the wait.  Thanks for your patience and support!  :-)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's taking so damn long?

For those of you still patiently waiting on me, thank you.  I thought I'd give you a quick run-down of what is happening that is making the next release take so long.  Firstly...

- Work.
- Personal life (for good reasons).

But here are the technical reasons:

- The upgrade from 3.5 to version 4.0 and now 4.2 as well as the switch from Free to Pro has introduced roughly a million new options and changed the way a lot of stuff works.  I'm sifting through these options and fixing things that got weird in the transitions as quick as I can.  I literally did everything as tricks and work-arounds for the Free version that work against me in Pro.  It is a lot of mess to clean up spread across 4 very complicated "scenes".  Work is really happening though.

- Lighting, shadows, lighting, and lighting.  The advent of Pro shadows has dramatically altered the way everything looks and that requires a bit of tweaking.  In the outdoor scene, the sunlight no longer floods the interior spaces, so I am having to add all that missing lighting in the lobby now.

- I've been changing the way the water effects work in the outside scene.  That is mostly done now.  And it looks pretty cool.

- Glass, transparency, and reflections.  Kill me.

- I attempted to switch from the modeled terrain to Unity's internal terrain builder.  That was disastrous so I am back where I started for now.  Will try again in a later version.  Part of that effort was to get access to trees that will respond to wind.

Terrain disaster in progress...
- An aborted attempt to animate the escalators turned into a big mess in the lobby during the conversion.  Cleaning that up is not going smoothly.

- The upgrade of textures and bump maps in conjunction with the new lighting is easy but very time-consuming.  I am literally retexturing entire sections of the model just to make it look like it did before or better.

- Pro has real occlusion culling and some tools designed to help reduce the load on the processor and graphics card.  Now that I can see what I was doing wrong before, I'm trying to fix it, but 2 years of blind work has made this a big mountain to climb.  I have also removed the fake occlusion system that was in there, which is good because it was frustrating to make work right.

- 2 things that I have been experimenting with (eating up time as well) are better scripting methods that I've recently learned and a new engine for the ride system that will hopefully be less buggy.  These will probably not be in the next release.

And that is this week's list of excuses.  Hopefully, that gives you an idea of just how much this upgrade has kind of blown up in my face.  I'll get it straightened out and released as soon as possible.  I just want it to be pretty again (prettier even) before I release it again.

Thanks everyone,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cool Things Are Coming

It's been a while since I've done much work on this.  But, I really have done some work.  I just haven't finished enough to upload it.  Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to share some news that will hopefully affect this project for the better (and more frequently) soon.

For those who don't know, I work as a Technical Designer at a theme park design company called Thinkwell in Burbank, CA.  In the past year, a new program has been started at work where employees are given time and resources to study a topic of interest (to the employee and the company) in an effort to become an expert in that topic.  We call them "Gurus".  The first round of Gurus just finished the program and the 2nd round has begun.  I applied for the 2nd round and was selected.  I'm very excited and happy about this.  By the way, this isn't secret and I did get permission to talk about it.
At Thinkwell with the co-workers.  I'm 2nd from the left.
Anyway, what does this have to do with the JBII project?  My topic of interest is Real Time Attraction Simulation.  In other words, the same thing that I've been trying to do with the JBII simulation all this time will be a part of my job.  I'm going to learn how to make our park and attraction designs into playable simulations so we can see how our designs are working in a virtual environment before we build them for real.  I'm going to explore many different options, but the Unity 3D game engine that I use for JBII is high on the list of those options.  My hope is that as I take classes, go to conventions, and interview other professionals, my skills will sharpen and I'll get much better (and faster) at doing this.  

And though it is not the primary focus of my Guru-ship, I hope that lessons learned will make JBII a better project as well.  In fact, because I already have this fairly large and complicated simulation at my disposal, I can test out new techniques on it as I go.  

This round has already begun and my research starts now.  If any of you have resources, contacts, tips or tricks that might help me out, I definitely want to hear about it.  And of course, feedback is always helpful and welcome.

So, I'm still here and there is more coming soon.