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Smugglers of Cygnus: Tools


We've reached the end of the introduction. In the first entry, I wrote about the team bringing you Smugglers of Cygnus. The second entry covered some of the design decisions and what we learned from them. This entry will cover the technology and tools we are using to develop the game.

I've mentioned a few times that Smugglers of Cygnus is based on Unreal Engine 4.25 (as of this writing), and that we are focusing on a higher-end experience. In order to deliver players the best experience, we wanted to make sure our people have the tools they are the most comfortable and productive with. For our talented cinematographer, this is Blender 2.8 and Substance Painter. For Hexenkraft, this is Cubase. Our writers are most comfortable using LibreOffice. As the developer pulling this all together, I do most of my development in MS Visual Studio, integrate the music and sound effects in Audacity, and I encourage our team's intense world-wide collaboration via Office365 and Teams. Any given day I might be working with a model in Blender, adjusting a sound in Live, building a trailer in OpenShot and working on pieces of UI in Photoshop, then produce regular writeups like this in Gedit. I'll briefly touch on these tools below.

Blender is a Free/Opensource (F/OSS) application for 3D modeling, painting, and animating. The high-definition master models are made here first; then higher performing, lower polygon models are derived for game use. It doesn't integrate entirely painlessly with UE4 at this point, even though Epic Games is currently working to improve that process. It's a very good tool, and we all contribute personally to the Blender Fund. If the game sells well, I'm planning to make Longplay Games a corporate contributor as well.

Substance Painter (currently owned by Adobe) is a program for painting 3D models. It integrates somewhat with UE4 via plugin—and with Blender not at all. The materials and textures applied by Substance are exported to PNG format and assembled into materials in UE4, sometimes after being fine-tuned in Photoshop. Our materials are produced in 4k and downsampled appropriately.

The soundtrack is mixed and mastered with the F/OSS application I use to reduce noise on voice clips, mix and record sound effects, and produce the clips that UE4 mixes and matches to make dynamic music. It's a very nice tool, though very simple and easy to use.

Hexenkraft has a strong preference for Cubase. He enjoys how the trackspace is organized. He works in a linear sequence rather than loop-based grids like FL Studio or other alternatives, and the tools within Cubase are very good for helping him visualize and keep track of the entire arrangement; which for him is very important for his ability to compose and produce effectively.

OpenShot is a F/OSS application for video production. It is a non-linear editor that I use to combine soundtracks, voiceovers, stills, overlays, videos, and animations into a single package in a video format. Typically I produce MP4 videos, and then use ffmpeg to produce webm, animated gif, or any other modification needed. The final version is then uploaded to a video platform or used for scenes in games.

LibreOffice is probably the gold standard in F/OSS office suites. Wordprocessing, spreadsheets, presentations, the whole works. Our whole team uses LibreOffice, but nobody uses it as much as science fiction writer Jessica Alter, who has written well over a dozen novels with it.

Gedit is one of the first Gnome apps I ever went to the trouble of finding on other platforms. It is a very high-functioning text editor with plugins for just about everything, and it allows me to write nearly any language or type of document with syntax highlighting, snippets, auto-matching brackets, the works. I write everything that doesn't require a compiler or pictures in Gedit. This site was written entirely in Gedit, as was the design spec for Smugglers of Cygnus.

I am not picky about development IDEs. To me, they are all very similar. Visual Studio is the one that UE4 has the best support for, so therefore it's the one I'm using. I've used everything from edit on OpenVMS to Xcode on OSX. Visual Studio has a decent dark mode theme with syntax highlighting, and can be configured to stay mostly out of the way with a bit of adjustment. I use it for the C++ development portion.

Unreal is a big and complex engine used by a multitude of studios to produce games for a range of platforms. The entire C++ code base is available to developers for free. As of this writing, the first million dollars made with a game are available with no fee, then Epic Games asks for a 5% license fee after that. In my experience with several different engines (as well as making my own engines for over a decade), UE4 is an extremely powerful and useful tool, especially when it comes to porting a game between platforms. There are comprehensive free training videos, forums, a discord, and substantial documentation of which much is accurate. Smugglers of Cygnus is made with a combination of C++ and Blueprint.

See you next time!