What one #unity3d private class should be made public? @shawnwhite

Shawn asked on Twitter:

We only get to pick ONE? :).

How do we decide?

There’s two ways to slice this. There’s “private APIs that would hugely benefit us / our projects / everyone’s projects / 3rd party code that I use (e.g. other people’s Asset Store plugins I buy/use)”. We can judge that largely by looking at what private API’s I’ve hacked access to, or decompiled, or rewritten from scratch.

Then there’s “what CAN’T I access / hack / replace?”. That’s a harder question, but leads to the truly massive wins, I suspect.

Stuff I’ve hacked access to

The Project/Hierarchy/Scene/Inspector panels

So, for instance, I made this (free) little editor extension that lets you create new things (scripts, materials, … folders) from the keyboard, instead of having to click tiny buttons every time.

There are no public API’s for this; that’s a tragedy. Most of these Unity panels haven’t been improved for many years, and are a long way behind the standard with Unity’s other improvements. They “work”, but don’t “shine”.

What could I do with this?

Well … a few studios I know have completely rewritten the SceneĀ Hierarchy panel, so that:

  • it does colour-coding of the names of each gameobject
  • clicking a prefab selects both the prefab and any related prefabs, or vice versa, or hilights them
  • added (obvious) new right-click options that are missing from default Unity Editor
  • automated some of the major problems in Unity’s idea of “parenting” (parenting isn’t always safe to do; you can enforce / protect this with a custom scene hierarchy)
  • made it put an “error” icon next to each gameobject that is affected by a current error.
  • …etc

All massively useful stuff that helps hour-to-hour development, reducing dev time and cost.

It’s all “possible” right now by writing lots of horribly ugly and longwinded boilerplae code, and using the antiquated Editor GUI API.

But to make it play nicely with the rest of Unity requires also hacking Unity API’s for the various panels/windows, and detecting popups (and adding your own popup classes, since Unity keeps most of theirs private), and detecting drags that started in one panel but moved to another, detecting context-sensitive stuff that is not exposed by current API’s, … etc.

A better List editor

The built-in sub-editor (like a PropertyDrawer – see below) is very basic – really a “version 0.1” interface.

There is a much nicer one, that does what most Unity developers need – but it’s private and buggy (last time I tried, it corrupted underlying data. That’s presumably why it’s still private?)

Editor co-routines

Co-routines work perfectly in the Editor, and Unity even uses them but they are disabled by default.

Why?

I’ve no idea.

But forcing people to write two copies of every algorithm so they can test in Editor, do level editing, debug and improve runtime features, etc … is silly.

Stuff I CANNOT hack into/around

Serialization

Unity is the only engine I’ve worked with where the core data structures and transformations are opaque, hidden, can’t be extended, can’t be debugged. Tragically: also has many missing features, bugs, and serious performance issues.

There are good reasons for why this remains in such a bad state (It’s hard to fix. Meanwhile … it sort-of works, enough to write games in – you just have to occasionally write a lot of bad code, have to rewrite some ported libraries, have to know a lot of Unity-specific voodoo, etc).

But if it were exposed – we could (I would start on it tomorrow!) fix most of the problems. I’ve done proof-of-concepts with some terrifying hackery that show it’s possible – and a lot of the architecture is well explored, other ways it can be implemented, that could be given to developers as options (some would work better for your game, others might not; but you could pick and choose).

It’s too much to ask for (it intersects so much of the engine, and it would unleash a horror of potential bugs and crashes), but my number 1:

Callbacks for ALL core Unity methods

This sounds small but would have positive impact on a lot of projects.

c.f. my reverse-engineered callback diagram for EditorWindow in Unity:

…but we have the same problems for MonoBehaviour, for GameObject, etc. Not only are lifecycles poorly documented, but they’re inconsistent and – in multiple places (c.f. above diagram “Open Different Scene”) – they’re not even deterministic! It’s random what methods the Editor will call at all, let alone “when”.

Under the hood there must be reliable points for doing these callbacks … somewhere.

Undo

Undo has never worked in Unity. The worst stuff I narrowed down to ultra-simple demos that Unity’s own code was broken, I’ve logged bugs and Unity fixed them – but the current system is a horrible mess, much too hard to use. Many methods only randomly do what they’re supposed to, and there’s no way to debug it, because the internals are hidden.

If Unity exposed the actual, genuine, underlying state-change points, we could correctly implement editor extensions that support Undo 100%. I’d be happy to also use them to write an Asset that implements “easy to use Undo”, based on how other platforms have implemented it (e.g. Apple’s design of NSDocument is pretty clear and sensible, based on lists of Change Events).

Unity could then make “Undo that works” a mandatory requirement on the Asset Store. Currently it’s listed as mandatory, but no Asset has ever been checked for it (so far as I can tell).

Not least because Unity’s own code has had such problems supporting it!

PropertyDrawer: doesn’t quite do what it claims to (yet)

Recall what I said above: most of the Editor GUI/UX itself “hasn’t been improved for many years”. Unity made it user-extensible/replaceable many years ago – so in theory you could update / replace whatever you want. There’s a huge amount we’ve been able to update and customise (although it’s very expensive in coding time, due to a lack of modern GUI API’s, sometimes it’s well worth it).

But you can only replace the Inspector for a particular Component/MonoBehaviour. You cannot say “I want to replace the Inspector for GameObject’s that have Components X Y Z”.

Worse, if you wanted to replace e.g. the part of the Inspector that automatically draws a Vector … you can’t.

Unity had a great idea to solve one of these: Property Drawers. These would let you customise the rendering of sub-parts of an Inspector – the rendering of individual labels for member variables, list items etc.

IN THEORY this would let you write your own list-renderer that would work everywhere, and make lists very easy to use in the Editor – but only write the code once.

IN PRACTICE it was only implemented in a very basic way, and most of the things you want to use it for are blocked / inactive. There is NO WAY to fix this in user code.

(well, actually there is … c.f. . But this is a horrendous amount of work – AI’s author did a Herculean task! – and means you’ll never the benefit of future Unity UX / GUI updates, if there are any).

So: big upvote for exposing more of PropertyDrawer

How to fix: upgrading Apache to 2.4 / PHP 7 breaks WordPress

WordPress had a critical update recently, and I got tonnes of emails (one from each blog I run) demanding I upgrade NOW. So I did, and upgraded Apache to latest while I was at it.

Oh dear. All sites offline. First:

Unable to connect

…then, when I fixed Apache, I got:

“Your PHP installation appears to be missing the MySQL extension which is required by WordPress.”

What happened, and how do I fix it?

Apache 2.4 upgrade is a bit dodgy in Debian

The Powers That Be decided to mess around with core parts of the config files. The right thing to do would have been to add some interactive part in the upgrade script that said: “By the way, I’ve made all your websites broken and inaccessible, because they need to be in a new subfolder. Shall I move them for you?”

Here’s the reason and the quick-fix too

Apache 2.4 brings in PHP 7.0, replacing PHP 5

PHP 5 is old, very old. Historically, PHP has also been managed in a fairly shoddy manner, very cavalier with regards to upgrades, compatibility, safety, security.

So … the standard way to run PHP is to have a separate folder on your server for each “version” of PHP. Everyone does this; PHP is so crappy that you have little alternative.

But this also means that when Debian “upgrades” to PHP7, there is no warning that the new config file – speciic to PHP7 – has been created and ignores the existing config file

This is wrong in all ways, but it’s forced upon linux user by the crapness of PHP. If PHP weren’t so crap, we’d have a single global PHP config file – /etc/php/config.ini – and maybe small override files per version. But nooooooo – can’t do that! PHP is far too crap.

(did I say PHP is crap yet? Decent language, great for what it was meant for – but the (mis)management over the years is truckloads of #facepalm)

So, instead, you need to copy your PHP5 ini over the top of your PHP 7 ini – or at least “diff” them, find the things that are “off by default” in PHP 7 but must be “on” … e.g. MySQL!

Enable them, e.g. change this:

;extension=php_mysqli.dll

to this:

extension=php_mysqli.dll

…and restart Apache. Suddenly WordPress is back online!

/etc/init.d/apache2 restart

WordPress plugin: insert link to latest post (in category) on your menu

Instructions:

  1. Copy/paste this into your functions.php (TODO: convert it to a standalone php file, and make it into a plygin you can activte/deactivate)
  2. Create a new menu item of type “custom URL”
  3. Make your URL “http://#latestpost:category_name”
    • where “category_name” is the name of the category whose latest post you want to link to
  4. Make the name whatver you want to appear on the menu
  5. Profit!

Based on an idea (with some upgrading + bugfixes for latest WordPress in 2016) from http://www.viper007bond.com/2011/09/20/code-snippet-add-a-link-to-latest-post-to-wordpress-nav-menu/

/** Adam: add support for putting 'latest post in category X' to menu: */
// Front end only, don't hack on the settings page
if ( ! is_admin() ) {
    // Hook in early to modify the menu
    // This is before the CSS "selected" classes are calculated
    add_filter( 'wp_get_nav_menu_items', 'replace_placeholder_nav_menu_item_with_latest_post', 10, 3 );
}

// Replaces a custom URL placeholder with the URL to the latest post
function replace_placeholder_nav_menu_item_with_latest_post( $items, $menu, $args ) {

        $key = 'http://#latestpost:';

    // Loop through the menu items looking for placeholder(s)
    foreach ( $items as $item ) {
 
        // Is this the placeholder we're looking for?
        if ( 0 === strpos( $item->url, $key ) )
        {
 
        $catname = substr( $item->url, strlen($key) );
        // Get the latest post
        $latestpost = get_posts( array(
            'posts_per_page' => 1,
                'category_name' => $catname
        ) );

        if ( empty( $latestpost ) )
            continue;

        // Replace the placeholder with the real URL
        $item->url = get_permalink( $latestpost[0]->ID );
        }
    }

    // Return the modified (or maybe unmodified) menu items array
    return $items;
}

Better than Civ6? Bookmarkable links for Civ4 mod: Master Of Mana sources

Master of Mana was a great game – much better than Civ5, and from what we’ve seen of Civ6, Firaxis is still playing catch-up in a few areas :).

The author has disappeared, and his website has been taken over by scammers (not even going to link it), but the community has kept going the SourceForge-hosted copy of the source and continues to update it. The files are ordered confusingly (inherited from previous projects, and Civ4 itself, which was mainly shipped as a commercial game, not as a moddable game!). Here’s a few key links to find interesting / useful game-design gems:

The age-old question of Civ games: Roads and rivers in center of tiles, or edges?

Centers of tiles Edges of tiles
Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.31.21

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 22.31.10

Pros and cons

  • Centers gives you STRAIGHT things (on a hex grid, it’s the only way to get straights!)
    • Roman Roads
    • Canals
    • Large rivers
  • Edges gives you meandering things (on a hex grid, centers only give wiggles at very large scale)
    • River valleys
    • Realistic medieval roads
    • Modern roads in mountains and hills (tend to wiggle crazily)
  • Movement is simplified with centers: If you’re on the tile, you’re on the road/river
  • Inhibition of movement is simplified with edges: Civilization games have traditionally given a move penalty AND a combat penalty to any tile-to-tile move that crosses an edge containing a river

My leanings…

One thing in particular that struck me from looking at the pictures:

Straight roads look so terrible that every single Civilization game since Civ1 has artifically wiggled them when rendering!

In particular, with 3D games (Civ4, Civ5 especially) this actively damages gameplay – it’s much too hard for the player to see at a glance which tiles are connected by roads, and to what extent. So much so that they cry-out for a “disable the wiggling effect on road-rendering” setting.

Also: I’m happpy to solve the “movement” problem by saying that if you’re in a tile that borders a road or a river, you are assumed to be “on” that road/river, with special-case handling under the hood that handles cases where two roads/rivers border the same tile. It increases the connectedness “for free” – but that’s how Civ games tend to do it anyway: encourage the player to put roads everywhere!

Thoughts on a postcard…

#unity3d remove yellow warnings you don’t need #unitytips

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 11.48.08

Warnings are very, very important in any compiled language: they tell you that the computer has checked your code and realised you “probably” created a bug; they even tell you something about what the bug might be.

..but the computer isn’t sure – if it could be sure, it would be a compiler Error (in red). So (in Unity) it’s yellow, and “optional”. But in those cases where it’s not a bug – and you know it! – it’s very annoying. Most IDE’s let you turn them on and off, Unity doesn’t … here’s how to fix it.
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Simple #civ5 clone in Unity: hexes, movement, unit selection

Current features

commit 26eafb7865965fd5ef5ee3ad4863f00acf8d10a2

  • Generates hexes landscapes, with heights (Civ5 bored me by being flat-McFlat-in-flatland)
  • Every hex is selectable, using custom fix for Unity’s broken mouse-click handler (see below)
  • Any object sitting on landscape is selectable (ditto)
  • Selected units move if you click any of the adjacent hexes (shown using f-ugly green arrows on screenshot)

The green “you can move here” arrows look like spider-legs at the moment. #TotalFail. Next build I’m going to delete them (despite having spent ages tweaking the procgen mesh generation for them, sigh) and do something based on wireframe cages, I think.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 22.59.25

Techniques

Hexes

I started with simple prototyping around hexes, but soon found that it’s worth investing the time to implement all the primitives in Amit’s page on Hexagon grids for games: http://www.redblobgames.com/grids/hexagons/

In practice, especially the ability to create a class that lets you do “setHex( HexCoord location, GameObject[] items )” and “getContentsOfHex( HexCoord location )” and things like “getNeighboursOf” … is very rapidly essential.

Mouse clicks in Unity

IMHO: work pretty badly. They require the physics engine, which – by definition – returns the WRONG answer when you ask “what did I click on?” (it randomises the answer every click!). They also fundamentally oppose Unity’s own core design (from the Editor: when you click any element of a prefab, it selects the prefab).

So I wrote my own “better mouse handler” that fixes all that. When you click in scene, it automatically propagates up the tree, finds any listeners, informs them what was clicked, and lets you write good, clean code. Unlike the Unity built-in version.

Procedural meshes for arrows

With hindsight, I should have just modelled these in blender. But I thought: I want a sinusoidal curve arrow; how hard can it be? I may want to animate it later, by destroying/adding points – that would be a lot of work with Unity’s partial animation system (it’s great for humanoids, less great for geometry) – but animating points in a mesh from C# code is super-easy.

In the end, I spent way too long tweaking the look, and on having 2-sided polygons that broke the Unity5 Standard shader by being too thin (on the plus side: I now know what that mistake looks like, and I’ll recognize it in future Unity projets. It has a very peculiar, unexpected, look to it).

I should have just made them in Blender, and – if I got as far as wanting to animate them – re-modelled in source code later (or found a “convert blender file to C vertices array” script, of which I’m sure there are hundreds on the web. Doh!

#lessonLearned.

Office suites (Word, Excel, Apple, Google) in 2016: Power-user experience

Every week, I have to use six different Office Software Suites:

  1. At school: Microsoft Office 2013
  2. At university: Microsoft Office 365
  3. At work: OpenOffice
  4. At home: LibreOffice
  5. Everywhere: Apple Keynote
  6. Everywhere: Google Docs

As an expert computer user (former SysAdmin), I’m often asked for help by people with non-computing backgrounds. When they see how many different suites I’m using, they’re … surprised, to say the least. Here’s a quick snapshot of what and why.
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What makes a great #Unity3d asset? Which do you recommend?

Unity is still the only major game-engine with an effective, established Asset Store. This is an enormous benefit to game developers – but do you feel you’re making full use of it?

I’ve bought and used hundreds of Unity plugins, models, scripts, etc from 3rd parties. I’ve found some amazing things that transformed my development.

TL;DR: please share your recommended assets using this form: http://goo.gl/forms/G3vddOdRL3

Things we want to improve

This is a shortlist; if you’ve got areas you want to improve, please add a comment.
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Which languages need Entity Systems libraries right now?

A few months ago I ran a survey to find out which programming-languages people were using with Entity Systems:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/18JF6uCHI0nZ1-Yel76uZzL1UfFMI21QvDlcnXSGXSHo/viewform

I’m about to publish a Patreon article on Entity Systems (here if you want to support me), but I wanted to put something up on my blog at the same time, so here’s a quick look at the stats.
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LFG: I’m looking for CTO/TechDirector/Head of Mobile/Consulting roles in CA, TX, London, and Asia

TL;DR: experienced CEO/CTO/TechDirector with long background in programming, sales, and business management (Corporate, iPhone/Android, Games, Education) looking for strategic roles in USA, UK, and Asia.

After a year-out to do a post-graduate degree in Education, I’m looking for something new and exciting to do next. My primary goal is to boost a company or team rapidly and show significant outcomes – increased revenue or other KPI’s – either through Consulting or full/part-time senior leadership.
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Improved interactive GUI for Snap-and-Plug (glue/vertex snapping for complex objects in #Unity3d) #screenshotsaturday

Some screenshots from today’s improvements. I’m moving gradually towards releasing version 2. Shortlist of changes/improvements below…

From this mess … to this:
Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 14.59.24 Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 20.43.32
Building some odd machines to test it works:
Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 15.00.21 Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 19.50.44

Features and fixes recently added

  • Use shaded, materialed meshes for in-editor handles, instead of flat ugly rectangles and tris
  • Click/tap a socket’s handle to directly select it in the Scene view
  • Meshes are resized to fit the user-selected “socket size” variable
  • Only handles that are facing you are rendered; HUGE improvement for complex levels/machines/buildings/etc
  • Only handles you can see are clickable/draggable; HUGE improvement for complex scenes (where accidental clicks happened too often!)

Making a night-vision shader for animals in #unity3d

In the FPS roguelike I’ve been working on, a core feature is that each ability modifies how you interact with the world – you see things differently, you move differently, etc.

Night Vision

I’m working on a tiny level demo to show some of my ideas together. I want one character that can see in the dark, something like the “InfraVision” of D&D.

Spec:

  • Character can see independent of the existence of lights in scene
  • Vision is imperfect, significantly weaker than daylight vision, in terms of details, colours, etc
  • Vision enables easy location + identification of other creatures

Screenshots

Here’s my orc (a test avatar I already had) sitting on top of a building:

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 03.23.56

Step 1: cancel the lighting

We use Unity’s “GetComponent.SetReplacementShader( Shader, “” )” to change the shader to a simple “Unlit” shader (Unity provides a built-in one).

	[ContextMenu("Enable dark vision")]
	public Shader shaderDarkVision;

	public void Start()
	{
		if( shaderDarkVision == null )
			shaderDarkVision = Shader.Find("Unlit/Texture");
	}
	public void EnableDarkVision()
	{
		GetComponent<Camera>().SetReplacementShader( shaderDarkVision, "" );
	}

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 03.23.45

Step2: Add a vignette to nerf it

I want the DarkVision to be significantly less perfect than daylight vision, so let’s add a simple vignette (Unity has downloadable examples of this shader in their docs, but I only found it after I’d got mine working!).

This took me a long time to get working, just to get accurate screen-positions of shader pixels – so much of Unity’s semi-proprietary Shader language is still undocumented, after many years. I knew all the maths, and had implemented the effect in OpenGL / GLSL in minutes, but it took an hour or so in Unity. And once it was working, I got sidetracked in tweaking the exact curve of darkness of vignette.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 03.24.22

Step3: Convert to grayscale (infravision should be colourblind)

This was easy – simply average the r/g/b components of your Color, somethign like:

avg = (color.r + color.g + color.b ) / 3f;
color = float4( avg, avg, avg, color.a );

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 03.21.43

Step 4: several hours of experimenting with wild effects

I had some problems with this:

  1. It was too easy to see “everything”
  2. With no lighting-calcs, it was fugly
  3. With no lighting-calcs, it was VERY hard to do depth-perception. In a complex street, you got lost trying to tell which objects were near, far, blocking your way, or not.
  4. WAY too much detail on the textures is showing through: DarkVision should lose most detail, while keeping overall shapes clear

Here’s some of the things I tried and discarded. Note how the screenshots are from many positions – I ran around a lot, testing how effective the different shaders were for hunting a quarry (or fleeing an angry mob of AI’s).

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 02.57.08 Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 01.34.27 Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 02.26.02

Step5: FAILED: use depth-buffer shading

Unity staff: please write clear, correct, up-to-date documentation on depth-buffering as supported (or not) by your proprietary Shader Lab language, and with clear details on how this works in Unity5, not some hand-waving Unity4-maybe-Unity5-not-sure gumph.

I simply couldn’t get it to work. Using the proprietary built-in depth-buffer samplers either failed outright (0.5 across the sampler), or gave bizarre results.

Rumours suggest that we have to write 3 shaders: 2 for your proprietary system, and a third where we re-implement depth-buffer access by hand. This seems to me unlikely – I am sure Unity can handle that for you. This is the kind of feature that Unity’s ShaderLab does well (but no-one documents, and so it goes under-used by devs).

When you find or reverse-engineer instructions, ShaderLab is excellent. It’s such a pity that so often … you can’t.

Step6: Combine object-normals with plain greyscale

Ultimately, I fell back on “Fine, I’ll use the most basic bits of Shaders that even Unity can’t make confusing” – object normals. I faked shading Old Skool: each surface is darkened by dot-producting the forwards vector ( which by definition is (0,0,1) after the MVP multiplication stage) with the normal vector. That gives a float from 0 to 1, showing how much the surface is facing towards/away from the viewer.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 03.26.07

I’m not delighted with this – it’s not quite the effect I was aiming for (I REALLY wanted to wipe more of the diffuse detail, but…). However, it does work quite nicely, and for now it’s more than good enough.

Benefits of final version

Here’s why I like it:

  1. Runs 100% independently of my main lighting – I never have to re-write it when changing lighting.
  2. Provides huge advantages at night time, or in low-light situations. More so the less lighting there is
  3. Provides depth-cues to the player, so that running quickly through streets (or tunnels) is still pretty easy to do
  4. Limits the over-powered nature by cutting down peripheral vision
  5. Runs very fast on GPU, despite crappy hand-written shader code (mostly because it doesn’t use any lighting calculations)

Survey: which language(s) do you use along with an #entitysystem in #gamedev?

A lot of us have been looking at alternative engines recently, and for me the biggest challenge is that the intersection between “game engine I can use easily” and “programming language I am willing to use” is quite small.

That got me thinking: if you started a new commercial ES today, what language does your audience want?

Short Google form

FYI: I picked the top 10 global languages by popularity, and then cherrypicked from the next 50 or so on http://sogrady-media.redmonk.com/sogrady/files/2015/07/lang-rank-615-wm.png – favouring ones where I have met people that I know are using them in gamedev today.

Support me on Patreon for early access to new Entity Systems articles

I love researching and writing about Entity Systems, but it takes me days or weeks to make a single article. I’ve written almost nothing for the past 18 months because on my current salary I can’t afford the time off work.

So … now I’m crowdfunding the long, detailed, in-depth ES articles. This gives me a way to spend the time I need to write each one while still paying rent, food, etc.

You don’t have to sign-up – I know there’s lots of people like myself who are in bad financial situations, and I hope all the articles will be made free eventually. But if you’ve found my ES articles useful, and you want more of them, and you can spare $5 once every couple of months, please do.

You can sign up here: https://www.patreon.com/tmachine

Brief look at obvious #UX mistakes in Civilization 5 (and why you should never buy another Firaxis game)

Civilization was one of the best games ever designed and shipped.

Civ5 is tragic. It’s one thing to launch a AAA title full of nerfed gameplay and obvious, in-your-face bugs, but quite another to leave them unfixed for years after. It’s one thing to officially fix your bugs only in pay-for add-ons – but quite another to keep those add-ons at full price for years after they released.

Here’s a quick view of what’s still broken in Civ5 today, if you buy it direct in the online stores:

  • The game autosaves every 10 or so turns; this has NEVER been correct for Civilization (from memory, the original game used to save every other turn by default (maybe not; running out of disk space was a real concern back then); modern teams at Firaxis seem to be too amateurish to implement this. Civ 4 used to crash so much that putting it on “save every turn” was a requirement).
    • No-one at Firaxis should be “unaware” of the need for every-turn autosaves
    • I struggle to think of a rational explanation; best I can think of so far is some weak game-designer thinking that autosaves are “cheating”, so they decided to deliberately break the concept so it only half worked.
    • I haven’t yet found an easy way to un-break this in civ5. Given how crucial it is to the game, and how it’s been present in every previous version, it should be in the game-options, but it’s not. That’s two bugs for the price of 1!
  • The user-interface for moving units is more broken than in any version of Civ to date. Civ1 had a perfect system (but predated the existence of a mouse on every computer): units moved where you told them by pressing numeric keypad keys. Civ3 and Civ4 had “automatic” pathfinding that was badly broken: it often walked your units into 100% certain death for no reason.
    • Civ5 takes this one further: if a unit is selected and you move across another unit, civ5 moves BOTH units, causing double the catastrophe.
    • This automated action – that IME is almost NEVER what the player wanted to do, and is extremely destructive, frequently causing game-losing events – cannot be undone. This breaks the cardinal law of user-interfaces: if you do an automated, un-asked-for, action (which you generally shouldn’t) … then you MUST provide an Undo.
  • Civ5 also has a strangely bad algorithm for pathfinding: it generally takes 1-4 seconds to run the algorithm during which time the game lies about the game-rules, and claims that your unit is “immovable”.
    • This appears to be a junior programmer discovering “asynchronous” coding for the first time in their life, and not realising the obvious side-effects
    • I have no idea why the algorithm is so insanely slow. It is slowest in a huge game, but even in a tiny game, with nothing happening, and only a tiny game-world, it randomly takes anywhere from no time to 1-2 seconds to “switch on”
  • The buttons for “required” actions are deliberately placed in the worst-possible positions: the far OPPOSING corners of the screen.
    • This breaks the most basic and obvious guidelines in UX design
    • For bonus points, the buttons don’t get larger on large/wide screens. Those buttons are so small and so far away you rarely see them, let alone find it easy to press them
    • It’s as if the Firaxis team were out to beers with the misguided team at Microsoft who decided that Windows 8 would rely upon a single “magic pixel” to activate core functions, and thought: “hey, I know how we can really mess-up our players! That impossible-to-hit pixel idea is great! It’ll make the game so much harder!”
  • The interactive HUDs giving critical information on the global state of politics, that made Civ4 a significant improvement over previous versions – and that were extended massively by the community, increasing gameplay without removing any challenge … have been deleted.
    • The question begs: we know Firaxis has many people who’ve played the previous civs; how on earth did they forget how critical and popular the dashboards were?
    • The game is almost unplayable without dashboards. It’s a waste of time: you have to play solo, or click through a series of menus every single turn simply to find out the current status of your opponents. A massive step backwards in gameplay.
    • Best explanation I can think of: failed game-design strategy to “make it more mass-market friendly”.

That last point leads into the legion of game-design failures in Civ5. As I understand it, most of the game was “Designed” around the idea of dumbing-down: apparently the Youth of Today are so stupid and lazy that they cannot play games that are deep, enjoyable, or interesting. The way to make money is to make games idiot-proof with as few options as possible and no meaningful decisions.

Ironically, this is the exact opposite of what the legions of Civ fans had shown they valued in the Civ franchise, via the overwhelmingly popular mods for civ4. Master of Mana added depth, difference, more depth, more variety, more difference, and yet more depth, across the board. It hacked the tech tree into becoming 5 different tech-trees, all running in parallel (WTF? Oh, yes!) – and players loved it.

One day, I may write a post on the flow of game design, successes and failures, and the #facepalm that civ3 and civ5 were (between the two of them, both abject failures). Strangely enough … the two things in civ5 that I remember the community being most afraid of (hexes and 1-unit-per-tile) … seem to have worked fine. The radical changes were a success; it was all the easy, “you can’t possibly screw this up”, parts that the dev-team screwed up. And that is why I consider civ5 “tragic”: they got the hardest bits right, despite the odds … and tripped over their own shoelaces messing-up the easy bits.

Civ4 had a similar trajectory, with two differences:

  1. It appeared to be a legitimate mistake: they didn’t realise until after shipping how broken their own game was
  2. Within a couple of years, the add-ons were being bundled with the core game for free, or at most five dollars. As they should be: they were mostly re-adding content that had been removed, and fixing launch-bugs, with only a tiny sprinkling of extra content/changes.

For Civ5, someone in charge (publisher? studio director?) appears to have decided: “hey, we shafted the consumers and exploited the franchise well there – but we could do so much better! Let’s do it deliberately this time: save money by deliberately shipping incomplete product, then use online market-controls to force everyone to pay 3 times to get a working game! We’ll be RICH!”.

In their defence, Firaxis did ship one major content update for free, which was wonderful: they added retina support. That’s unnecessary (not a bug, retina’s didn’t exist when it came out) and nice to have – but in no way justifies ignoring the rest.

Simple #unity3d bugs and flaws fixed by Entity Systems – number 1

I periodically write massive long documents detailing all the bugs in Unity that I know, have memorized, and have to workaround on a day-to-day / hour-to-hour basis. But it makes me so angry and frustrated – so much terrible coding, so little technology-leadership at the company – that I end up deleting it. Life is too short to be daily reminded how crappy (and yet easy to fix) our tools are.

Then, every 6 months or so, when people ask me for simple examples of how ECS’s fix Unity, I have to wrack my brains for something simple.

So I’m going to start blogging simple examples as I run into them, with only enough context for me to understand them. Here’s the first…
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