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Wing Commander: Hostile Frontier - Developer Diaries

Entry 7 - Mission Design

Hello there, readers. It's been a long time, and there hasn't been a new entry.

Well, we are making good progress on some of the missions, but there is still much more work to do. Designing good-quality missions from the ground up is a long, involved process. The first step involves writing the mission script, which outlines what happens in the mission, what characters and ships appear, dialogue sequences, briefings and debriefings, objectives, etc. The mission script is NOT the one-and-only basis for the actual mission, although the mission events that the script outlines remain largely unchanged in the finished version of the mission.

The second step involves taking the mission script and making it into an actual mission. That means placing/swapping ships in templates, coding events, writing ingame comm messages, balancing the gameplay, writing briefings and debriefings, and generally following the script to make the mission.

The third step involves tweaking, balancing, finalizing, polishing, writing, and rewriting. I play through the mission several times, making note of all the little bugs, errors, or inconsistencies which need to be changed, tweaked, or fixed, and then I go and tweak the mission accordingly. Of course, I often don't catch them all in one run, so I play the mission again, and tweak it until I'm satisfied.

The dialogue/event sequence for the third nav point of the first mission of WCHF, which has undergone many revisions

The first mission of the WC: Hostile Frontier demo is nearing completion, and all that needs to be done (I think) is tweaking the dialogue at the "start" Nav point and the "end" Nav point.

And at the end, it is indeed amazing to see how far the mission has come since it was started. I still have a few videos showing early versions of the WCHF missions, and after watching them through, I'm proud of my accomplishments so far, and I'm still improving my missions to perfection.

Also, don't forget that we're still looking for people to help make the missions. If you're interested in joining the team, please contact me on the WCHF forum on HLP or by e-mail.

Entry 6 - Collaborative Work

When I'm not working on WCHF, I'm sometimes doing collaborative work for other projects. One of them is Woolie Wool's Wing Commander: Advance Guard mod. I'm the person who does a lot of the POF conversion and re-texturing work. Since the Standoff team doesn't want anyone else's mod project to look like their own, every model from Standoff that other mods use needs to be retextured. I create the new textures for the Standoff ships, convert the models, and give them to Woolie Wool for tabling when I'm done. On some occasions, I create new models for use in WCHF or other projects. Here's a few examples of retexturing work that I did for Wing Commander: Advance Guard.


I also made this nice high-detail Dorkir model for WC: Advance Guard. It's based on the WC1 ship bitmaps.


I'm also retexturing and importing models for Deathsnake's WC2 Remake project. You can see some of the models I gave to him in some of the pictures he has posted.

I converted and created new textures for the Dorkathi and Kamekh seen in this screenshot
I also converted and created new textures for the Ferret, Rapier II, and Epee in this screenshot.

Speaking of which, I'm planning on writing up a tutorial soon on how to make textures like the ones I made for the fighters in WCHF.

Entry 5 - New Bhantkara

After so much hard work in Blender and GIMP, the new WCHF Bhantkara-class Supercarrier is now ingame! This ship represents the supercarrier KIS Karga which attacked the Landreich after the (formal) end of the Terran-Kilrathi war, and was then driven off by Landreich and Confederation forces.

The model itself is not really anything new; it's an old model by the WCSaga team. The model came in a big archive of old WCS models. The original old model used a lot of textures, so I had to redo the UV mapping for the entire model to make it use less textures. Reducing the number of textures a model uses, as well as using the same textures between different models will make the game run faster. The old model was also literally in pieces, so I joined all of the pieces to the main mesh and got rid of some of the pieces that I didn't need, such as extra turret mounts.

I also put some fighters in the hangarbay. There's a row of darkets and dralthis on the main runway, based on what is seen in WC3, as well as some Paktahns and Vaktoths sitting in the sub-bays. They can't take off at any time (although that would be possible if I used dockpoints and docked fighters instead of subobjects.) so they're just there for the eyecandy, although you can fly into the hangarbay and blow them up.

Here are some in-game screenshots of the Bhantkara and the background I will be using for the Vaku system.
In this first screenshot, you can see the beautiful nebula background of the Vaku System, courtesy of Woolie Wool and Singh.

Approaching the front of the hangarbay.

Inside of the hangarbay. Note the fighters on the main runway as well as on the sides.

2 Paktahns and a Vaktoth in one of the side bays.

Blowing them up.

Entry 4 - Model and texture upgrades

Progress seems to have slowed down, due to things going on in real life.

1. Model/texture updates
Here's some pictures to show off the latest model and texture updates to the WCHF fighters. I've added details to the Rapier II, and I've also made a new base texture for the Scimitar, Rapier II, and Raptor.
These pictures will appear on the "Ships Database" page once I finally make a website for Wing Commander: Hostile Frontier.

2. Release plans
The Wing Commander: Hostile Frontier demo will first be released in English. Shortly after that, a German version of the demo will be released. The English and German demos won't have voice acting, however, since some of the missions may need to get redone. If anyone is interested, I will be accepting voice auditions at any time.

Once WCS The Darkest Dawn is out, the WCHF demo will be rereleased as a director's cut version that is compatible with WCS:TDD. Once the voice acting is complete, a "Speech pack"* for WCHF Director's Cut will be released.

*I'm calling it a speech pack as an homage to Origin Systems, since they released voice acting addons to their games as "Speech packs"

Entry 3 - New features, new ships, explosions, and a history lesson

If I had to rate the progress of the WCHF demo from 0-100%, I'd say the demo is at 70%. When I was on IRC before the WCPedia planning party, I gave a short progress update. Here's the full story.

1. Kilrathi ships update
Thanks to JasonRocZ, I now have a Ralaxath model! The geometry was cleaned up, details were added, and the whole model was remapped from scratch. The Ralaxath was the last Kilrathi ship I was waiting on for the demo.

2. Landreich ships update
All of the Landreich fighters and capships that will be used in the demo are now in place. The fighters may need to get recoloured to be accurate to the Landreich colours in FA, and the Scimitar texture will need to be redone at some point. The Wake and Exeter will need to get returreted, recoloured, and rebalanced. But other than that, the fighters are balanced and usable.

3. Cockpit update
The cockpit rendering bugs are fixed in Antipodes 6 (Antipodes is a nickname for experimental builds of FSO.) I have a few new screenshots of the Rapier cockpit, showing the Indy (my nickname for FRLS Independence) getting destroyed by a spread of CSMs and dogfighting Landreich Raptors in a test mission. The blinding effect seen in the third screenshot is caused by the CSMs destroying the Indy.

4. Mission update
I've gotten a fair way with the WCHF demo missions script, and I'm pleased to say that the missions are just starting to be made, after at least 3 failed attempts to try and begin progress in this area. Wish me

5. AI update
Just recently, I added a more challenging AI to the mod, which gives AI pilots the ability to fly more like humans. There is a new AI profile and 4 new AI classes, for Rookie, Veteran, and Ace pilots, and capital ships (the AI class of the capship determines the turret firing rate).

6. Graphics update
Since the 3.6.12 mediavps are now out, I've integrated the new explosions, and the flashy deaths/flaming debris effects scripts into WCHF. I've also started to make debris pieces for the fighters.

7. A history of WCHF
WCHF started in 2007 as a "Landreich Campaign" mod for WCSaga Prologue when I was on the Saga team, but shortly after, I left the Saga team due to "creative differences". It went very slowly in 2007 and 2008, and I needed help with the textures if I was going to move on. I was going to get JasonRocZ to do some texture work, but he wasn't always available, and the project was in hibernation for a while due to my lack of knowledge on how to make good textures.

A month or so later, I finally got an idea on how to make half-decent textures. I sometimes refer to the time before this texture idea as the "Old Hostile Frontier" because, when I put that texturing idea into action, it almost seemed like the project had taken a completely different direction. Then, I did a lot of retexturing, converting, and coding the Standoff models into the game, and progress on the project's assets went much quicker. I also made some of my own models, like the Andrew Carnegie and the Rapier II, and converted them to work in game.

After that, I got involved with another (as of yet unannounced) WC project, and I was able to improve my texturing style greatly.

Unfortunately due to my unwillingness to read (or re-read) the WC novels, I made 3 unsuccessful attempts to begin progress on the missions, which is one big reason why it's taking so long to get this project released.

Now that I have a stable base to build my missions on, release time will depend on my commitment to the project, the time I have to work on the project, whether the script is complete for the mission I'm working on, and if I have the skills to make the mission.

Entry 2 - Backgrounds, capships, cockpits, and storyline updates

This time I'll be focusing on progress in the other areas of the project, as well as showing off some more eyecandy and giving away some of the plot. Enjoy...

1. Releases
Hostile Frontier will be released in two parts: The demo chapter, and then the main campaign. The demo will be released on the WCSaga Prologue, and the full version will be released on the WCSaga full version.

Since Saga is on a code fork right now, I'll have to get things up to speed once Saga releases. Therefore, I'll be providing a patch which will ensure compatibility with WCSaga once it is released, that is, if I release before Saga does.

2. Backgrounds
One of the other things that I've been doing is designing the system backgrounds. The green background in the screenshots from my previous entry were from the Ilios system. Here are some more shots of Ilios as well as some of the other backgrounds I've been working on.


Landreich (WIP, needs an earth-like planet):


3. Capships
I recently finished converting the Wake-class and the Exeter-class. I also tried to do some high-polyization to the Wake-class model, e.g. recesses for the windows and bulkheads at the back, cylinders for the engines, and modelled bumps on the "bumpy thing" on the top. The modified model also has a changeable nameplate, so it can have "FRLS Independence" or "FRLS Magna Carta" written on it without having to create a new model. Thanks again to the Standoff team for the Wake-class and Exeter-class models.


4. Main Character/Plot
Jonathan "Rider" Darrel was born in the Dardania district of the Ilios system.

Jonathan's mother was a freelance merchant, trying to make her fair share of money. Working under notorious entrepreneur Jason E. Barrow, she did several important cargo runs for Barrow's company, and some of these runs made enough money to pay for a brand new fighter. These runs were fully legal, but they were highly profitable, since the cargo was taken where it was desperately needed. Later on, Barrow found out that her husband had been her personal escort. This made Barrow lose trust in Jonathan's mother, and her profits were slowly draining ever since. She then accepted a high-paying run of Brilliance, and at that time, Johnathan's father and mother had divorced. Jonathan's mother had completed her run, but she was arrested for smuggling, fined 800,000 credits, and sentenced to four years in a prison cell.

Jonathan's father was in the Landreich navy and fought in the Second Battle of Hell Hole, taking down numerous Kilrathi bombers and miraculously surviving an ejection when the dogfighting was two minutes to it's conclusion. One of his academy friends, who was piloting a smuggler ship, tractored him in and brought him back to Landreich. After that incident, he decided to step down from the Navy and join the Landreich Militia, being a personal escort for Johnathan's mother on several lucrative runs. Jonathan's mother and father divorced because his mother accepted a run of Brilliance from one of the businessmen of Zachary Banfeld's "Guild" and his father detested of that organization because of its supposed pirate activities.

Jonathan decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and entered Flight School at the beginning of the Battle of Earth, and graduated after Kilrah had been destroyed by the Temblor Bomb. During his training, he earned the callsign of "Rider" because he always uses the tactic of "Riding the enemy's tail 'till he's dead."

At the time Rider gets assigned to the FRLS Independence, his father will be teaching at the Saarbrücken Flight Academy in Newburg, and his mother will be released from prison in two months. Rider is an eager rookie who can't wait for some action, but he is only just about to experience the true horrors of war.

5. Lighting Settings
These are the lighting settings that I use with WCSaga/WCHF. I'm trying to approximate the look of the pre-rendered lighting in WC3, as well as make it shiny. It shouldn't be too dark.

-fov 0.65 -ogl_spec 80 -spec_tube 8.0 -spec_point 9.0 -spec_static 2.8 -ambient_factor 130

To use these settings, copy them, open the launcher, and paste them into the "Custom Flags" box under the "Features" tab.

6. Cockpits
I've added a few cockpits to WCHF, and I'm really pleased with the results so far. The cockpits greatly increase the immersion and enjoyment of the game, however, they can be problematic if they obstruct too much of your view. For gameplay balance, I'm placing the cockpit camera viewpoint so that the cockpits are visible and so that they don't obstruct your view.

Here is the Hornet cockpit. I used black on the screens because I'm not a very good artist, and some of the default HUD gauges fit into the black areas. In the future, I'll replace some of the black areas with HUD screen textures. Thanks again to the Standoff team for this great model.

Here is the (WIP) Scimitar cockpit. I had to model this one myself, and it was very challenging because I have to consider the side and back views as well as the front view. It still needs to be textured, but it's a start.
NOTE: In the second screenshot, I was very close to an exploding fighter, and I wanted to seize the moment.

7. Other changes
Since the previous dev diary update, I've teamed up with another modder to work on two of his mods, one of them is a FreeSpace mod/campaign called Twist of Fate, and the other is an unnamed mod for WCSaga which involves an alternate WC storyline beginning after the destruction of K'Tithrak Mang.

Among these things, I've been working on tweaking the shield/hull hitpoints of the fighters to better match the gameplay of WC1. For hull hitpoints, I am adding up the armor and multiplying by 16, and for the shield hitpoints, I am adding up the fore/aft shields and multiplying by 32.

With those stats, the Hornet can take about two or three hits from a Dralthi VII before its shields are gone.

Gun and shield energy also drains/recharges quicker, just like in the old WC games.

8. What needs to be done/We're hiring!
Missions need to be scripted and completed, and cockpit models need to be textured and imported into the game. If you would like to join the team (It's just me right now) then please post in this thread or send me a PM. Different conditions apply to different positions. Also, I'm not really looking for professionals, but I'm looking for people with considerable modding experience.

Entry 1 - Rapier II, Raptor, and afterburners

In these "Dev diary" updates, I'll be showing off new content as well as talking a little bit about the techniques I used to create the stuff. Enjoy...

Here's some of the new stuff that I've been working on for the past few months. I've been experimenting with GIMP to make textures for the ships. Here's what I came up with for a Landreich Raptor. Thanks to the Standoff team for the Raptor model.
The base texture is made of three layers: a plain white layer, a layer with Perlin noise, and a pixellated noise layer. On top of the base texture, I have a multiplicative layer for the coloured parts of the ship and a layer for stuff like the cockpit glass and the intakes. I also have two invisible layers for the bumpmap and the UVs.

I've tried to improve my modelling skills by attempting to model the Rapier II from WC1.
I spend long periods of time looking at reference pics like Jetlag's ship sprite compilation and LOAF's desktop as seen here and try to recreate those details in my model. My model is mostly based on the WC1 sprites, but I also took design hints from LOAF's desktop background (especially on the front part.)

I've changed the colour of the afterburners to look more realistic.

Lastly, I've been experimenting with the game engine to try and reproduce the good old inertia/newtonian physics of WC1/2/Prophecy/Secret Ops. The results aren't quite satisfactory, but it does work to a certain extent; it's good for combat, but not so good for carrier takeoffs and landings.

I'll release this physics mod as a separate download from the main WCHF package to give players a choice and a bit of a deviation.

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