Well, just the backgrounds, but it’s still scary. We’ve been making this game for so long — and it’s already so nice — that it’s hard to imagine that we could do better. But we will try, by going into …. [extremely Rod Serling voice] the third dimension.

We have a vision, of a bigger world, one that is grander and more distant. We want to always be reminding you that you’re flying a plane high above it all, for god’s sake!

It is still in progress, but here’s a mid-progress status report. We spent a few weeks making concept art, and we’re a little over a week into implementing it in the game. Check out this early concept which started this whole thing off. It’s heavy on the canyons, which pull you in and add to the feeling of motion. We spent a fair bit of energy figuring out how walls might be plausibly attached to the ground yet also visibly tall enough to reach the planes. This concept proved that it could be done in a way that read even in a still image (knowing that it’ll do even better in motion!). Xavier, our new lead artist, worked hard to make the terrain fit into a mid-range of value, so that bullets and planes always stand out against it.

The camera’s angle has been increased, from the 45 degree isometric view, to a 60 degree perspective view. Switching to a perspective camera is a sea change! One concern was that it would impact gameplay: would it be harder to aim, or see where bullets are approaching you from? There’s a few factors that help. The higher camera angle flattens things out in the plane of combat. We’re also using a low FOV, which compresses in the same way a telephoto lens does. In action, things feel about the same, so we’re confident we can continue without RUINING EVERYTHING. We’re still gonna keep our eye on it because often things feel different after we get used to them.

We’re going with this low-poly style, which (thus far) only uses vertex coloring, with lights and shadows. Very traditional, in many ways! The individual pieces are quite large, very much in keeping with the massive installations they represent. And then we put them on the ground in the distance so they get all wee again. But not that wee, really. The parallax also makes your plane seem to fly faster, even though we didn’t change those numbers at all. Illusions!

And the mist! Though it’s been in the concept since the beginning, we really had a breakthrough in the implementation when we figured out how to get a diffuse height-based mist going, and saw how nicely it smoothed out the contrast and gave a deep sense of depth. Tall things loom out of it impressively.

It’s felt good to dive into these engine features and cackle over how complex our graphics options are gonna get. We’re going to work on one area (a lowlands area) until we feel like it’s complete — a vertical slice — and then make art for every other area in the game, of which there are dozens. We’re using a new tiling algorithm that requires 4 times fewer assets than the old (you can rotate meshes in ways that you can’t rotate a sprite), so even though one mesh takes longer to make than the equivalent sprite, we hope to see similar levels of productivity, and maybe even be faster!

We’ve still got a bunch of work before we’re happy with the vertical slice. Color adjustments, asset placement, asset creation, lighting changes, fog perturbation technology, frustum culling. All good band names, and also things we’re doing in the short term to get this show on the road.

I hope everyone is doing well out there. We’ve missed you.