The Awakening

Welcome to my Starflight blog!

Allow me to start off by giving you a little background about me. I used to be a game programmer. Starting in 1996 and ending in 2010, I was a game programmer for much of that time frame. The first company I worked for was Bethesda Softworks. While I was there, I worked on several games, including Battlespire, Redguard, PBA Bowling 2, X-Car: Experimental Racing, and Burnout: Championship Drag Racing. The last game company I worked for was Rainbow Studios, which was a division of THQ. At Rainbow, I worked on Cars: The Video Game, Cars: Mater-National, Deadly Creatures, Dood’s Big Adventure, and several other unreleased games.

So now you know I am a bona fide game developer with many published games under my belt. My specialty is the game engine which includes graphics, artificial intelligence, physics, sound, music, networking, and so on.

It’s been 7 years since I have done any real game programming. Recently, I discovered that Unity Technologies have made their game engine available to hobbyists for free. I decided that it might be fun to get back into game programming by learning Unity. What better way to learn Unity than to remake one of my favorite childhood PC game: Starflight.

Starflight Box ArtStarflight came out in 1986. I was just entering high school. I was quickly amazed and enthralled by the planet generator that this game uses, and it was the source of much fantasizing and inspiration for me. This game is deceptively simple – after all, it shipped on only two 5 1/4″ floppy disks. I spent many man-weeks exploring the Starflight universe and wondering at the technical aspects of it. I never did beat the game.

So, now that brings us to today and this website. I intend to chronicle my journey remaking Starflight with Unity, and sharing my experiences here. Hopefully, someone will get a kick out of this.

I fully intend to give credit where credit is due for all the things that I find on the Internet that I can use either in the game or on this website. For example, I found the box art image, that is displayed here in this post, at http://otherelectricities.com/neckdeep/starflight.html – an interesting web page. This is the exact box art for the version of Starflight that I have sitting on my desk, which I have had in my possession for 30 years.

By the way, this post has been made sticky so it will always appear first on the home page. All of the posts following this one appear in reverse chronological order, so that my frequent visitors are able to easily keep up. If you would like to start reading my posts from the beginning in the correct order, go directly to my next post which is over here.

If you would like to contact me, send me email at marvin dot herbold at gmail dot com.

By |2019-01-11T18:31:22+00:00June 9th, 2017|Starflight|2 Comments

More on Planet Atmospheres

Over the past couple of days, I continued some work on the planetary atmospheres.  First, I created a special version of the skybox that can be tinted to the color of a planet’s atmosphere.  Then, I updated the planet and cloud shaders so that they can be “fogged”, which means basically transitioning to a solid color to simulate haze.  The color of the atmosphere is also modulated by the atmosphere thickness of the planet; it will tend towards black the thinner the atmosphere is.  The atmosphere also transitions smoothly out to space and back for the launching and landing animations.

The three images below is an example of a very thin atmosphere, a moderate atmosphere, and a very thick atmosphere viewed from the same spot on the same planet, to illustrate the effect.

Very Thin Atmosphere Moderate Atmosphere Very Thick Atmosphere

I think I am happy with how planetary atmospheres are working.  Coming up next will be some more work done on the landing and launching animations.

Here is some eye candy!

By |2019-01-20T11:17:50+00:00January 20th, 2019|Starflight|2 Comments

New Docking Bay!

This is the third and final update for today.

I was working on planet landing and launching when I had to redo how some of the player camera cinematics worked in the game.  That affected the docking bay launch sequence as well.  And you know how rabbit holes go…

I was looking at the docking bay and wondered to myself why I did it using 2D sprites when the rest of the game is in 3D.  So… mistake corrected.  It’s now in 3D, and not only that… I threw in some fancy lighting effects as well.  I hope you all like it!

Note: The video does not show the effect of the air rushing out when the docking bay decompresses… for some reason that effect is working inconsistently.  Grrr, Unity… but it is there and when it works it looks really nice (the particles are now lit by the lights as they rush out).

Here’s the video!

By |2019-01-17T17:06:31+00:00January 17th, 2019|Starflight|1 Comment

Planet Landings

Yes, you read that right.

You can now land on planets in this Starflight remake!  You can’t disembark yet, but at least you can see the planets close up now!

Getting to this point was about a week’s worth of work, and it was a lot of fun.  It is still quite incomplete – here’s a list of things that I still need to do:

  • Landing sounds (retro rockets firing, atmosphere rush, screams of “we’re gonna die!”, etc.)
  • Heat shield glow and aurora effects
  • Initialize close up clouds correctly (currently, it is using the default density and color instead of actual planet’s)
  • Fade in close up cloud transition instead of popping them on
  • Skybox transitions
  • Fade out the clouds at edges of the map
  • Make the camera field of view go wider when landing

The landing animation itself is pretty close to final.  The launch animation needs a lot of love.

In the video, I land at several places on several different planets.  I never get tired of it – it is so pretty.  Watching the cloud shadows roll across the terrain is nice and relaxing.  Just wait until I put in weather effects.  🙂

You might be wondering why I make the camera swing away from the planet.  I do this on purpose – I needed some point during the animation to pull a switcheroo on the player – the planet sphere is actually taken away and replaced with a terrain grid.  I can’t do that while the player is staring at the planet – it’d be very noticeable and look horribly wrong.  I think once I add in the heat shield glow and the audio effects, it’ll all look and sound just right.

Here are some random pictures I took while working on the planet landings.  The weird grid you see is the terrain grid, and the idea is that the resolution decreases the further out you are from the center of the terrain grid.  And of course, there is the video as well.

By |2019-01-17T16:32:59+00:00January 17th, 2019|Starflight|1 Comment