One of the great pleasures of working on WolfQuest 3 and Tower Fall is how far the game authoring tools have advanced since we developed the original game in 2006-2010. Not only has Unity itself has grown tremendously in its capabilities, but a whole ecosystem of supporting tools have grown around it (as I described in my Power Tools post a few weeks ago).
For example: snow!
While we did add rain and snow effects in WolfQuest 2.5, they were pretty basic. Now, however, we can make it snow — and that snow can accumulate on the ground! And it can accumulate in realistic ways (faster on flat areas than on slopes, faster at higher elevations than lower). And then…it can melt! So exciting. I must give a shout out to Jason Booth and his MicroSplat terrain shader, which enables all these features with very little impact on game performance. It’s lots of fun to experiment with his tools to get just the effects we want.
These won’t just be aesthetic effects, either. The first level of the game, Amethyst Mountain, begins in October. And until now, it stays in October, no matter how much time you spend there. But in reality, wolves often don’t find a mate until December or January, so with both days and seasons progressing automatically in WQ 3, we can create more realistic simulation of a wolf’s life. In Amethyst Mountain, you’ll likely see an October snowstorm, which will probably melt quickly — but then, going into November, snow will accumulate and stay on the ground. And then in Slough Creek, as winter fades, the snow will gradually melt (though it’s likely to return briefly in an early spring blizzard — perhaps providing some extra excitement for the pups!).
Of course, as is always the case, once we add a nice, small new feature, we realize that it’s not so small. If snow accumulates on the ground, then it really should accumulate on tree branches as well. And then wouldn’t it be cool if snow also accumulated on the backs of wolves and other animals? (Until they shake it off, naturally.) These open up new and technically tricky challenges, since terrain, trees, and furry animals all use very different rendering techniques. Even trickier will be making tracks in deep snow (though we may not tackle that until Episode 4). We’ll see what we can do about those in the coming months — but for now, let it snow!
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