Unity Game Project – some thoughts

A few months ago I revisited my Unity Game project, and re-examined the feasibility of having the ability for a dungeon master to modify a level in real time while players were running around.  The idea was for it to be quite minimal, in terms of the fact that there would be no combat mechanics, unnecessary animations, or fancy character progression / skill development / special moves etc.  Just a world in which people could wander around, with static NPCs / monsters and objects like houses and trees.

Denis Lapiner’s multiplatform level editor looked promising to me a while ago, so I looked into the mechanics of it at the aforesaid juncture.  The way it actually works, it turns out, is to create a terrain object, serialise it, then save it as a blob to local memory, which is then reloaded as a second scene.  Hence my immediate hopes of doing everything in one scene were readily dashed.

However I’ve thought a bit more about this problem more recently, and I have renewed hope that something interesting might still be possible.  I think, with some skill and cunning, it might be possible to modify the level editor scene so that two or three times a minute, a snapshot of the terrain is taken, and then the diff is applied to regenerate a preview scene – wherein also the players and everything else is pushed (as appropriate network objects) – also viewable by the dungeon master.  So, in essence, the DM would see two copies of the level (two subscreens on their screen) – one, being the level they are editing, and the second, being a non-interactive snapshot of the scene (an ‘autosaved’ version, if you will), where they can camera pan around, or even avatar into, but not interact with via the level editor.  The second screen would be updated several times a minute (or, if one had a truly powerful device – maybe not now, but at some point in the future – several times a second, so one could have a refresh framerate).  One could also imagine the DM being able to ‘minimise’ the editor portion so that they could focus on DM’ing in the ‘player’ or ‘viewer’ subscreen.

The viewer subscreen need not be totally toothless, however, as prefabs might be instantiationable within the level using the standard unity mechanics.

The players themselves would see a separate scene that just shows the current snapshot of the DM level, like the ‘viewer’ subscreen for the DM, but this would be their entire world.  They might also be able to instantiate prefabs as well, but they would not be able to sculpt or modify terrain like the DM.

In terms of the desired experience for a player, they should, one every 10 to 20 seconds or so, see the level shift around them to reflect the latest changes that the dungeon master has made.  Something that would need to be caught, however, would be the idea of where the ground is.  The player z coordinate, therefore, would need to be constantly remapped as relative to the difference in their height above the terrain at the (x, y) position they are located at.  Players would also need to be able to reposition their avatar via a third person perspective if they get stuck in a wall or an object that has suddenly appeared, too.

The interface that I plan to use to manage the networking will still be Photon Bolt, with Zeus as a server running somewhere on amazon ec2.

So that actually starts to seem like it would be vaguely doable.  And maybe, at some point in the future, with breakthroughs in personal computing, one might be able to ramp up the frame refresh rate, as well as maybe enable the experience for VR.  Possibly game engine improvements might also enable one to increase the scene refresh rate as well.

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