Spy DNA development update 2018-02-23

By Jason Sams, Lead Developer

It’s been a while since my last update. I’ve had my head down in the game code making some fundamental changes. We have made major changes to the AI system, character customization, hit location and damage system, level designer, asset loading, modding support, and a few other things. 

Let’s start with character customization. We put a lot of effort in making the players character fully customizable. Now a few of you gave us a hard time for going overboard here. The reason we put so much effort into this is we unified it with NPC generation. This will let us generate much more unique NPCs for each mission and avoid repeating the same character models over and over.

New game screenshot

New game screenshot

During character creation you will be prompted to choose your commanders frame (skinny, average, or heavy), and condition (pro-fighter, fit, average, nerd). This choice determines which character model you will see in game and will also change your attributes. The condition choice biases your attributes towards physical or mental, while the frame choice is a speed/dexterity vs strength/toughness choice. 

Related to this we implemented our appearance reaction model. Each appearance item is rated on several metrics, such as Serious, Classy, Scary, and the ability to conceal weapons or armor. So while you may want to bring the heavy armor to the dinner party, doing so will make it much harder to get people talking, at least by verbal means. 

Wardrobe screenshot

Wardrobe screenshot

Speaking of armor, we added the armor options to the wardrobe screen. You can now equip your characters with a variety of armor and storage options. I’ll have some updated screenshots of the overhauled equipment screen soon. Armor in spy dna is now working as intended. Armor resists bullets and other weapons, but for it to work, the weapon needs to hit the armor. This makes your aim point really matter. Unless you have the heavy weapons out, you will want to try to avoid hitting the heavily armored points on a target.

Character status screen

Character status screen

We updated the status screen to show where the shots have hit a character. The length of the marker changes depending on the penetration of the incoming round. The diameter represents the damage level of the shot. The hits are colored based on result. 
Green = fully blocked by armor
Yellow = blocked by dermal armor, probably still really hurt though.
Red = call the doctor and make an appointment

Attributes screenshot

Attributes screenshot

We are scanning the shot against the polygon mesh of each piece the characters are wearing. We don’t want near hits/misses being mis-reported by the engine.

We have also been cleaning up the UI. We moved from using pre-drawn icons for the party to using render targets and snapping them in game. This means they will reflect the current state of the character. If you change into a delivery worker outfit to sneak into a building, the portrait will update on the fly.

Skills screenshot

Skills screenshot

And the final bit for the update is the changes to the inventory screen. We have moved a few things around and made room on the left, under the item image, for attachments or modifications. 

Inventory screenshot

Inventory screenshot

We have also put a lot of time and effort into performance work. To give you just one example: The time from a level loading until you can start moving has been reduced from a minute or more it could take in the past, down to about a second. The pathfinding will prepare in the background now, using multiple cpu cores to speed things up if available.

While we basically had Spy DNA up on jackstands with the engine out and all kinds of parts strewn all over the place, it was challenging to really show and explain all the things that we had in-flight. But now that we have put the thing back together, we’ll be sharing updates on a more regular basis.

Stay tuned.

Getting ready for Early Access

It’s been a heads-down month here getting ready for early access. I’ll talk about what we are doing to go from demo to a full game. The transition from demo to full game for us has been about adding progression and content. 

The first big change is the result of a mission now affects your game. You can now also train your team at the base. Wounded characters will need some time to heal at the base before they are available for future missions. We’ve implemented the save game system and made the full character roster available. It’s all pretty obvious stuff, but it still needed to get done. 

While on mission, a character can advance their skills by using them in the field. On the skills page you will now see a count of how many times that skill has been used. Each use will improve the skill. 

The amount of the improvement will depend on several factors. First, each skill has associated attributes which govern how well your character can learn the skill. These are separate, though possibly overlapping, from the attributes which bias the ability to use the skill. For example “mental motivation” is a factor in learning most skills, however, it is used in few skill checks. These determine the character’s learning rate modifier for that skill. 

In addition each skill has a base learn rate to adjust for skills that are used frequently vs rarely. For example we don’t want to penalize hacking and lockpicking progress just because there are fewer chances to use the skill. 

Back at the base, skill training is a passive activity. You can assign each character two skills (primary and secondary) to train. Then as each day passes, any characters at the base that are healthy, will train those skills. So characters that are not taken on missions will still be making progress. A character that is not healthy may still make some progress. For example, a broken leg will prevent training physical skills, but would allow the character to keep working on mental skills. 

Injury recovery is similar to training at the base. A character will survive a mission as long as they are alive at the point when the “end mission” screen is triggered. In theory we can simulate post-mission death due to injury, but that would be an opt-in for extreme difficulty. Because we track each injury a character suffers, we do healing per-injury. Different injuries can heal at different rates. As they recover, they will automatically resume training as their health allows.

In the case of non-fatal injury to the Commander, if one or more other characters are available, you will be able to designate an acting commanding officer to cover the Commander’s duties and lead the squad on missions until recovery. If no one is available, time will fast forward until the Commander recovers. 

For early access we also wanted to make the full character roster available. So in addition to Ivan, Karsten, Nuri, and Zoe from the demo, you will now have Alexey, Marguerite, Ronda, Shinichi, and Rustam. 

Saving and loading has been implemented. The game will now autosave after each mission at the base. For initial early access saving will be limited to while at base. We will implement saving while on mission later.


We also have been hard at work on the UI. We received a lot of feedback about the look and feel of the UI and have responded with some improvements. Functionally the location of the controls is largely unchanged. What we have done is softened the appearance of the buttons, borders, and dialogs, and replaced some of the radio buttons with icon based sliders that make it easier to visualize how the controls work together.

We published a video for those wanting to see more of the new UI.

One final change for realism and game ballance we’ve made, was to implement the penalties for attacking moving targets. Simply put, it’s harder to hit something that is moving than something that is still. The mechanic implements this is two ways. One, there is a penalty to the circular error probable (CEP) for any given aim time. Two, the moving target limits the amount of time that can be spent aiming. The strength of the penalty is based on how fast the target is crossing the character’s field of view and how far away they are.

The first batches of character voices have started to arrive. Each playable character will have an unique voice and persona which they will use to acknowledge your commands and give you status updates.

The last area of getting ready was the implementation of settings screens. We have made a pass over all the sound effects and broke them into channels so each can have its own volume control (music, ambient sounds, combat sound effects, player character voices). We have also started implementing the settings for difficulty and new game options. These will be exposed soon.

With all these changes, the core engine of Spy DNA is pretty much ready for early access. What we are finishing up now is getting enough of the missions ready that the game has some content to go with the engine. 


Spy DNA has been Greenlit on Steam!

We've made it! In under two weeks, actually.

Alex has always considered thirteen (along with other primes) to be a lucky number. And it sure was a lucky number of days for us to get the Greenlight thumbs-up.

Thank you everyone for voting and for being our supporters as we work on getting Spy DNA ready for you.

Next stop: Early Access. We're shooting for Q2 this year. For now, there's a bunch of paperwork and prep work on Steam, and of course a lot of coding. We'll announce the Early Access launch date when we know it ourselves.

Stay tuned!

Demo prep

We are getting ready for the demo. Today we made a new video from the latest build. This is the first time we’ve shown a play-though from character creation to combat. We’ve been focused on playability over the last few weeks, so we’re fixing lots and lots of smaller issues.

The big task was working through issues with load and save of games. Because the demo takes you through character creation before you can start taking sample missions, we wanted players to be able to save a character they generated. We also implemented a loading screen while working on load game. We hope these additions make the demo more enjoyable for players.

Another significant change from our previous videos is an updated camera system. While watching people play, we found players used three camera positions frequently. So we added direct support for the most common camera uses. 

  • A low camera which shows things from the view of the character
  • A high camera which shows the tactical situation
  • A target camera which flies the camera over to the active target
  • And we still have “free” camera so the player can move it around as they desire

For the low and high camera they save the player's view height and angle so if you switch away and come back you won’t have to reset the camera each time.

We also implemented a compass; it shows which way the character is facing. More interestingly, we also added contact ticks to the compass. So you can see which way contacts are relative to your active character. Also you can click them to fly the camera over to any contact.

The map generation has been heavily tested and we have recently implemented a number of performance enhancements. Currently the large maps can strain some mid-range systems so we put some effort into improving performance. There is more to be done, but we got a very nice performance bump for the demo.

For the playable characters we doubled the number of commander appearances available for the demo. There are two male and two female commanders to choose from, each with their three outfits depending on mission. There will be many more for the shipping game.

The demo will also include default genetic enhancements for all the playable characters. You will get to see a small example of the enhancements in action. In the shipping game you will be able to select and choose how your commander is enhanced to mirror your play style.

We implemented new shaders for the trees, firing range, roof of the base, and a few other items. This was done to make them more friendly to the camera so they cut or blur away so you can continue to see the most important parts of the map.

The status screen has been updated to show not only injuries, but also attacks which were stopped by armor or implants. You can mouse over any hit and see the force and type of attack along with how much of it any armor you may have stopped. 

Movement was reviewed. and walk, jog, and sprint speeds were double checked for the demo. We spent a bit of time graphing the various movement speeds vs attributes. These are the base speeds with zero encumbrance.

Walk speed graph

Walk speed graph

Jog speed graph

Jog speed graph

Sprint speed graph

Sprint speed graph

The jog (max sustained movement speed) graph is 3D because it’s based off both quickness and stamina. This was triggered when we picked up a few too many weapons at the firing range and unintentionally tested our encumbrance system.

Barring any unexpected problems we expect to have the demo out this month. Stay tuned!

Realistic weapons in Spy DNA: How deep does this rabbit hole go?

As we’ve been known to say on more than one occasion, we want Spy DNA combat to feel very realistic, and by extension this means that the weapons also need to work like you’d expect them to in real life.

On one hand, weapons need to work realistically, in the sense that they should have a range and damage specifications similar to the ones in real life. Sniper rifles are best used at ranges over 100 meters (and we’ll make sure there are maps big enough for that to matter), and handguns are a good choice for concealed weapons or closed-quarters combat, where you’d have difficulty wielding a long-barreled assault rifle.

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that that’s a given, and a premise of our whole game, really. When we set out to build Spy DNA, we wanted to provide the player with as realistic a combat simulation as possible, while still making it a game.

The main implication is that the realism makes for a slightly different set of perks and challenges than a typical shooter. We want for the player to be able to use the common sense and knowledge of how things work in the real world to navigate the game. Basically, if you think doing something would get you (or the opponent) hurt or killed in the real world, it should be the same in Spy DNA. Case in point, head shots. Best to avoid them. Or land them on your enemies.

Just like the real deal (P25 dart pistol)

Just like the real deal (P25 dart pistol)

But on top of that, the weapons also need to look the part. If we gave our soldiers guns that look like they’d be hard to get through an ordinary doorway, or were too heavy to even lift, the realism and the immersion go out the window. Don’t get me wrong folks, there ain’t a thing in the world wrong with games that do that, but it’s just not where we chose to take Spy DNA.

The little screen on the back shows ammo levels and other useful info to the shooter

The little screen on the back shows ammo levels and other useful info to the shooter

So while designing the weapons, working together, Jason, Denis and I have been periodically taking a step back to check whether the weapon still looks usable, practical, and like something that you could imagine the military of 2075 using. You could overhear us having conversations about making sure that we don’t eject brass into the user’s face or hands, or make the shiny trim reveal the position of our sniper.

We put a lot of thought into the ammo feed position, grips, and how easy would it be to reload or unjam in a firefight, what accessories the owner may want to add and where, and so on. Denis put immense attention to detail into each weapon, and as a result we have game guns in which the sights align when you’re looking at them like you’d be aiming. The fact that it’s a 3rd person game where the player will most likely never see these little details doesn’t mean that we don’t pay attention to them.

Most weapons in our game will have a range of accessories/extensions such as scopes, sights, grips, bipods, and extended ammo clips that the player can choose to equip to add a touch of personalization to their kit.
If our Early Access really takes off, we should have the funds to make more customizable parts for the guns, including rare mods, color schemes, and accessories that can only be gained by completing certain missions.

Stay tuned for the announcement of our Greenlight campaign!

Procedural map generation in Spy DNA

by Jason Sams

It’s been a while since I wrote my last update. I’ve been hard at work on a few things. But as promised in the last update, today we will talk about mission maps.

We have the core of the map generation up and running. We have tested it generating maps from 128 meters square to 2 kilometers.  Map generation times are pretty good; just a few seconds in most cases.  

Procedural map of a wooded rural area with roads and trees

Procedural map of a wooded rural area with roads and trees

The maps are complete with bushes and trees. We are planning to add grass too, but that is a little harder to do without hurting performance, so it may not make our first Early Access release.

The size of the map will have a large effect on the time a mission takes to complete, and the general flow of a mission. For example, on a small 256 or 128 square meter map, there is no reason to bring any sniper weapons with you on a mission. Most of the regular rifles are “good enough” at those ranges while being much more useful up close.

Closer view of a procedural map, showing transition from sandy to grassy terrain

Closer view of a procedural map, showing transition from sandy to grassy terrain

We understand our players will have a variety of play styles. So we will be adding an option to the settings to adjust the map size to larger or smaller to mirror what you enjoy most. This will apply a +1 or -1 to the map size settings. The supported map sizes are 128, 256, 512, 1024, and 2048 meters. At the default settings all missions will be on maps from 256 to 1024 meters. So applying the +1 would change that to 512 to 2048. 

When you start a mission, you will be able to see all of the terrain. We assume that in the future you'll still have satellites and drones to recon the area before you deploy. Hidden or movable items such as enemy patrols will be hidden by the fog of war until a team member manages to spot them. Once spotted, they will be marked on the map. If you lose contact, the marker will remain at the last position a team member saw them.

With the upcoming demo we will be using the procedural maps to allow the player to generate skirmishes. We want everyone to have a chance to try out our unique combat system and get a feel for the game.

Behind the scenes: How are Spy DNA weapons made?

Hey everyone, and welcome to the second part of our introduction to the workflow for creating the assets. If you haven't read the post about who I am, you can check it out first. Today I wanted to talk about my process for creating the assault rifle for Spy DNA.

Conceptualizing the weapon

The first thing that needs to be done before any actual modeling is the concept. This phase of the project is quite important as it will set the dynamic of the work follows.

Another very important thing when creating a model that doesn't exist in real life is to make it appear functional.

Creating the concept for this weapon started with the basic choice of ammunition feed system. For this gun we chose a bullpup design, which means the clip feed is integrated in the stock.

The next thing that was to provide places for the attachments, such as scope, holo-sights, etc. This meant we would be using threaded rails on the gun for the actual attachments.

Modeling the weapon

So now that we have the concept, or the guidelines for our weapon we can proceed to the modeling phase. This is the phase in which we need to be careful on how our concept will come together. Also this is where we need to make our model scale be in line with a realistic model. The reason why this is important is because we want to make sure the weapon animates well in-game, and that the characters using it will look good doing so.

For the actual modeling I used 3ds Max, and basic polygon modeling techniques. The main goal here was to keep the design guidelines in mind and make it into a complete weapon. After a few different versions and going through a few failed designs I ended up with a base model that the team and myself were happy with.

Now that the basic shape was achieved it was time to add in the fine details like little screws, bolts, rivets, threads and the barrel threading. Once all of this is done, we basically have the high polygon count (high-poly) model for our game.

If you are curious as to how all this works, go ahead and check out my YouTube channel.

Getting the model game-ready

Once we have the high-poly model, we need to make a game-ready (low-poly) model. The process of creating a low-poly model of an existing high-poly model is called retopology.

This is one of the more time-consuming parts of the asset creation. Here you basically need to make the 3D model that can be used in the game engine. This means that you will have a polygon budget that will limit how much detail you can put in your model. If you aren't careful of your budget, you can end up putting a strain on the player's computer, and their framerate will drop, and nobody likes that.

This is how the low-poly model of the SR100 looks underneath the textures.

This is how the low-poly model of the SR100 looks underneath the textures.

For this project I did most of my retopology in 3ds Max, but I also used Topogun and 3d Coat. When you're done, you get a low-poly model that has the basic shape, but not the surface details of the high-poly model. Next, we'll need to unwrap it so we can apply textures.

Texturing the model

Once we have an unwrapped model, we can continue to the texturing phase. In this phase first we bake the surface details from the high poly to the game model. This way in the game the weapon will look as if it still had all the little screws, buckles, etc., even though the low-poly model has none of that. 

After this is done we go with the actual application of the materials. I used Substance Painter which is an application for texturing to do the textures for the weapon. With the model done, unwrapped and textured we have the finished model that will be used in the game.

What's next?

If you're still with me, then you were able to get a little taste of what it takes to create a game asset from start to finish.

As we make progress developing Spy DNA, we'll be making more posts like these, so you can look over our shoulders in a way. You will get to hear from the other team members, each talking about their aspects of creating this game.

So for today that would be all from me, and remember to come back and check on our progress often!

-- Denis Keman