Making mockups and prototypes to minimize problems

I’m not inventing anything new here, I just want to share how making mockups and prototypes helped me to clarify and minimize some problems and in some cases even solve them with almost no cost.

For prototypes and mockups I'm using the Superpower Assets Pack of Sparklin Labs which provided me a great way of start visualizing a possible game. Thank you for that guys.

I will start talking about how I used visual mockups to quickly iterate multiple times over the layout of the user interface of my game to remove or reduce a lot of unknowns and possible problems.

After that, I will talk about making quick small prototypes to validate ideas. One of them is about performing player actions with a small delay (to simulate networking latency) and the other one is about how to solve each player having different views of the same game world.

UI mockups

For the game I’m making the player's actions were basically clear but I didn't know exactly how the UI was going to be and considering I have small experience making UIs, having a good UI solution is a big challenge.

In the current game prototype iteration, the players only have four actions, build unit, build barracks, build houses and send all units to attack the other player. At the same time, to perform those actions, they need to know how much money they have, available unit slots and how much each action cost.

To start solving this problem, I quickly iterate through several mockups, made directly in a Unity scene and using a game scene as background to test each possible UI problem case. For each iteration I compiled it to the phone and "test it" by early detecting problems like "the buttons are too small" or "can't see the money because I am covering it with my fingers", etc.

Why did I use Unity while I can do it with any image editing application and just upload the image to the phone? Well, that's is a good question, one of the answers is because I am more used to do all these stuff in Unity and I already have the template scenes. The other answer is because I was testing, at the same time, if the Unity UI solution supported what I was looking for and I could even start testing interaction feedback, like how the button will react when touched, if the money will turn to red when not having anymore, etc, something I could not test with only images.

The following gallery shows screenshots of different iterations where I tested button positions, sizes, information and support for possible future player actions. I will not go in detail here because I don't remember exactly the order nor the test but you could get an idea by looking at the images.

It took me like less than 2hs to go through more than 10 iterations, testing even visual feedback by discovering when testing that the player should quickly know when some action is disabled because of money restriction or not having unit slots available, etc. I even have to consider changing the scale of the game world to give more empty space reserved for the UI.

Player actions through delayed network

When playing network games, one thing that was a possible issue in my mind is that the player should receive feedback instantly even though the real action could be delayed a bit to be processed in the server. In the case of a move unit action in a RTS, the feedback could be just an animation showing the move destination and process the action later, but when the action considers a consuming a resource, that could be a little tricky, or at least I wasn’t sure so I decided to make a quick test for that.

Similar to the other, I created a Unity scene, in a separated project, I wanted to iterate really fast on this one. The idea to test was to have a way of processing part of the action in the client side to validate the preconditions (enough money) and to give the player instant feedback, and then process the action when it should.

After analyzing it a bit, my main concern was the player experience on executing an action and receiving instant feedback but watching the action was processed later, so I didn’t need any networking related code, I could test everything locally.

The test consisted in building white boxes with the right mouse button, each box costs $20 and you start with $100. So, the idea is that in the moment the button is pressed, a white box with half opacity appears giving the idea the action was processed and $20 are consumed, so you can’t do another action that needs more than that money. After a while, the white box is built and the preview disappear.

Here is a video showing it in action:

In the case of a server validating the action, it will work similar, the only difference is that the server could fail to validate the action (for example, the other player stole money before), in that case the player has to cancel it. So the next test was to try to process that case (visually) to see how it looks like and how it feels. The idea was similar to the previous case but after a while the game returns the money and the box preview disappears.

Here is a video showing this case in action:

It shouldn't be a common case but this is one idea on how it could be solved and I don’t think it is a bad solution.

Different views of the same game world

The problem I want to solve here is how each player will see the world. Since I can't have different worlds for each player the idea is to have different views of the same world. In the case of 3d games, having different cameras should do the trick (I suppose) but I wasn't  sure if that worked the same way for a 2d game, so I have to be sure by making a prototype.

One thing to consider is that, in the case of the UI, each player should see their own actions in the same position.

For this prototype, I used the same scene background used for the mockups, but in this case I created two cameras, one was rotated 180 degrees to show the opposite:

player0(player 1 view)

player1(player 2 view)

Since UI should be unique for each player I configured each canvas for each camera and used the culling mask to show one or another canvas.

Again, this test was really simple and quick, I believe I spent like 30 mins on it, the important thing is that I know this is a possible (and probably the) solution for this problem, which before the test I wasn't sure if it was a hard problem or not.

Conclusions

One good thing about making prototypes is that you could do a lot of shortcuts or assume stuff since the code and assets are not going to be in the game, that gives you a real fast iteration time as well as focus on one problem at a time. For example, by testing the mockups I added all assets in one folder and used Unity sprite packer without spending time on which texture format should I use for each mobile platform or if all assets can be in one texture or not, or stuff like that.

Making quick prototypes of things that you don't know how to solve, early, gives you a better vision of the scope of problems and it is better to know that as soon as possible. Sometimes you could have a lead on how to solve them and how expensive the solution could be and that gives you a good idea on when you have to attack that problem or if you want it or not (for example, forget about a specific feature). If you can't figure it out possible solutions even after making prototypes, then that feature is even harder than you thought.

Prototyping is cheap and it is fun because it provides a creative platform where the focus is on solving one problem without a lot of restrictions, that allows developing multiple solutions, and since it is a creative process, everyone in game development (game designers, programmers, artists, etc) could participate.

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Delegating responsibilities from the engine to the game

When building a platform for a game I tend to spend too much time thinking solutions for every possible problem, in part because it is fun and also a good exercise and in part because I am not sure which of those problems could affect the game. The idea of this post is to share why sometimes I believe it is better to delegate problems and solutions to the game instead of solving them in the engine.

In the case of the game state, I was trying to create an API on the platform side to be used by the game to easily represent it. I started by having a way to collaborate with the game state by storing values in it, like this:

public interface GameState {
    void storeInt(string name, int number);
    void storeFloat(string name, float number);
}

In order to use it, a class on the game side has to implement an interface which allows it to collaborate in part of the game state data:

public class MyCustomObject : GameStateCollaborator
{
    public void Collaborate(GameState gameState){
        gameState.storeFloat("myHealth", 100.0f);
        gameState.storeInt("mySpeed", 5);
    }
}

It wasn't bad with the first tests but when I tried to use in a more complex situation the experience was a bit cumbersome since I had more data to store. I even felt like I was trying to recreate a serialization system and that wasn’t the idea of this API.

Since I have no idea what the game wants to save or even how it wants to save it, I changed a bit the paradigm. The GameState is now more like a concept without implementation, that part is going to be decided on the game side.

public interface GameState {
     
}

So after that change, the game has to implement the GameState and each game state collaborator will have to depend on that custom implementation, like this:

public class MyCustomGameState : GameState  
{
    public int superImportantValueForTheGame;
    public float anotherImportantValueForTheGame;
}

public class MyCustomObject : GameStateCollaborator
{
    public void Collaborate(GameState gameState)
    {
        var myCustomGameState = gameState as MyCustomGameState;
        myCustomGameState.anotherImportantValueForTheGame = 100.0f;
        myCustomGameState.superImportantValueForTheGame = 5;
    }
}

In this way, I don’t know or care how the game wants to store its game state, what I know is there is a concept of GameState that is responsible of providing the information the platform needs to make features, like a replay or savegame, work. For example, at some point I could have something like:

public interface GameStateSave 
{
    void Save(GameState gameState);
}

And let the game decide how to save its own game state even though the engine is responsible of how and when that interface is used to perform some task.

In the end, the platform/engine ends up being more like a framework, providing tools or life cycles to the user (the game) to easily do some work in a common way.

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The story of the non deterministic Replay

This is the story of how I discovered my simplified replay system wasn’t so deterministic as I believed because I had an ugly bug, but read the post if you want to know where exactly.

While integrating the lockstep engine on the game I am working on, I decided to do something to save and load replays to be able to easily reproduce some bugs I was experimenting. After I had that done and working, it was pretty awesome to see I can replay the same game multiple times (food for another blog post by the way), however, I thought it could be fun and easy to play them faster, why not.

Since I have a fixed time step logic, it should should be pretty straightforward, simply use a multiplied time and then the fixed timestep logic would do all the work and the game logic shouldn't notice the change. I decided to give it a try and it worked…. almost, when playing the replays at higher speeds I noticed some visual differences but I wasn’t totally sure (it could be interpolation code).

To verify, I went back to the test project, where I had the moving box, and test it there, but I needed some way to be sure. Since I have already a way to calculate checksums of the game state, I used that to verify the game states when playing replays at different speeds (from 2x to 16x).

It failed, even though it only failed to validate some frames, following frames were not necessarily invalid (this is something important to consider).

invalid-state Image 1: It shows one of the best tools in the world to check game states when replaying a game.

So, I was right, I saw some differences, I could be sure that something was happening. The thing was, with only the checksums I couldn't know what the real difference was. Next step, making something to detect it.

In order to do that, I had to change to start saving (at least for debug) the game state, not only the checksum, and to check differences between stored game states in the replay and the current game state (when replaying the game) when checksum validation fails. It worked too, now I have the exact place where the differences are.

invalidstate_realdiff

Image 2: It shows why serializing all the game state in one string is the best thing to do in your life.

After testing it a bit, I noticed another curious thing, the game validation wasn’t always failing given the same replay and the same speed. That gave me a hint that the problem was probably not related with the game code itself (the moving box).

So, if I played the replay at 1x, it was validated properly. If I played the replay at 8x, it failed, most of the time, but not always. So, it seems there is something related with speed I don’t understand yet.

I decided to test the same replay but with Unity timescale modified, my first test was using 1x for replay but 5x for the timescale, validation failed, then the opposite, 10x for replay but 0.1x for timescale, and it worked well. So the problem seems to be related with my accumulator logic inside the fixed timestep logic?

Some test cycles later, it turns out that, it was indeed a bug in one of the core classes of the engine!

The problem was on my class LockstepFixedUpdate, the first version was overriding the Update() method and performing lockstep logic, it worked ok if only at most one fixed update is processed, but in the case a big delta time arrives, it only process lockstep logic once for the first fixed update and never again.

That means that, in case replay commands were to be processed in frame 3, we are in frame 1 and a big dt of 10 frames arrives, then lockstep logic checks only in frame one and never again until all 10 frames were processed. This bug even bypass the lockstep!

Since I made a test to replicate the bug, it was really easy to fix it, I changed to process the lockstep logic with each fixed step updates and it works fine now, I have high speed replays!! YEAH!!

Conclusion

In the process of finding this bug I started to expand the engine support and create better tools, this is really important if I want to build something solid over it.

The only way to detect issues as soon as possible is to iterate over the engine as soon as possible and to do that, use cases are needed and games provide the best use cases. In my case, I am using not only the game I am trying to make but also other similar games as references when deciding what I want and how I want to test it, for example, having replays, being able to play the replay at different speeds, being able to save the replays, etc. Also, being able to replicate a bug in a small test case where you can iterate quickly to fix it is super useful.

Detecting (and having) problems like this in a small and simple game gives the idea of the complexity of a medium to big game, all the variables and the difficulties, it is not something to underestimate, so when developers say they couldn't add multiplayer features to their game because it was really hard to do it, it is not a lie.

I love all of this stuff, even though I understand it is not an easy path.

To complete this post, here is a video showing a prototype of how I load and play a replay which was created by playing with two players in LAN, one was my computer and the other was my phone:

The quote of the day is 'Fail as much as possible, as soon as possible to avoid failing when it is too late'.

Hope you enjoyed the journey.

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Lockstep multiplayer first steps

In this Gamasutra article, Tundra developers explain their approach to minimize problems when developing a lockstep multiplayer platform used for their game Rapture - World Conquest. Based on that, my first approach was to create and understand a deterministic lockstep logic without even considering networking yet, to focus on one problem at a time.

My objective is to have a reproducible game that given the start state and all the players actions during time, the game can be played again and the final state will be the same.

Lockstep logic

The first step was start by creating a logic to encapsulate the fixed game state for physics and game logic, and a lockstep to perform player actions. As I started without considering networking yet, all the player actions are directly enqueued locally by the user input or by a saved replay.

A lockstep logic means that there are some conditions that, if not met, the game should pause the simulation and wait for them. In the case of multiplayer games this is when the game have to wait for other players actions that didn't arrive in time (and where the waiting for other players dialog is shown in some games).

My code looks something like this pseudo code:

update(dt) {
    if (lockstepLogic.IsLockstepTurn()) {
        if (!lockstepLogic.IsReady())
            return;
        lockstepLogic.Process();
    }
    // normal accumulator logic for the fixed gamestep
}

Since I create all player actions locally, the lockstep never happens right now but it is a good practice to simulate and test it anyways.

Testing it

My first prototype using this logic is a box that moves over the screen. When the right mouse button is pressed, the game enqueues a player action to move the box to the specified position, then when the lockstep logic is processed the box receives the command and start moving to that position.

Interpolation

The moving logic was pretty simple, based on start and destination positions and a speed, the box moves itself to the destination in a straight line. Since that logic is performed in each fixed gamestep, the player see the box jumping between positions, it works but it doesn't look so good. To improve that and make the movement smoother I created a simple interpolation code.

Interpolation depends a lot on what you are trying to interpolate, in some cases could be a simple as the code I used there but there are other cases like the bouncing ball which need more data to create a better interpolation.

Note: adding interpolation means we have now a delay of one fixed gamestep between the box position being rendered and the real position in the game since we are using previous and current positions info for the interpolation.

My first replays

By recording all the player actions with the fixed gamestep frame they were executed, I created a basic way to replay the "game" by just reseting the game state to the initial state and start enqueing all the recorded actions in each corresponding frame.

Here is a video of the progress so far:

Yeah, I know, it's not a great thing, but at least I am starting to understand some of the challenges of making multiplayer games.

Validating simulation

To validate the game is always performing the same simulation given the same input, I added a checksum calculation based on the game state (for now just the moving box state) which is saved from time to time to use later as validation when simulating the game again. The idea was to start defining an API to get the important game state to consider when validating the simulation, and also to start testing game state validation. The code looks like this:

update(frame) {
    if (IsChecksumFrame(frame)) {
        if (recording) {
            checksumRecorder.RecordState(frame, CalculateChecksum());
        } else {
            if (!checksumValidator.IsValid(frame, 
                   checksumRecorder.SavedChecksums, CalculateChecksum())) {
               throw Exception("current game state is not valid!");
            }
        }
    }
}

In my first tests I wasn't reseting the game to the initial state properly so my game was producing different checksums when reproducing the saved player actions, checksums validation started to work after that was fixed.

How am I calculating the Checksum? Right now I am not sure exactly what algorithm to use nor which game state should I consider for the checksum, so what I did was to encapsulate that in some interfaces and implemented a basic way to get both. For the checksum I am using a simple MD5 over a string, and for the game state, well..., a string with all important values concatenated (the moving box position, destination, if it is moving or not, etc).

string CalculateChecksum() {
    string gameStateValue = game.GetGameState();
    return MD5.CalculateHash(gameStateValue);
}

string GetGameState() {
    string gameState = "";
    foreach (object in gameObjects)
        gameState += object.GetGameState();
    return gameState;
}

For a future implementation what I know is that the game state should be composed with important values that can affect the simulation, so I shouldn't care about about audiovisual stuff like particles, effects and sounds.

Also, the game state concept could be used to reset to the initial game state or even for saved game states (to easily replicate some bug for example), and finally, it could be used to synchronize and validate state if for some reason I end up using a client/server architecture.

Next frontier: Determinism?

For now I didn't explore determinism realm because the solution really depends on the game logic but at the same time I must have it clear before starting the game code. One of the next steps is probably start testing with fixed point math, not sure yet, the idea is try to follow an approach similar to the gamasutra article's of reducing non determinism problem to the minimum before going multiplayer.

If you want to take a look all the code used for this blog post, here is the link.

Other links

Example of a dynamic lockstep implementation for Unity

Lockstep Framework for Unity

Reddit post about that Lockstep Framework

Another framework named lockstep.io

 

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Our solution to handle multiple screen sizes in Android – Part three

In the previous posts of this series we talked about our solution to handle multiple screen sizes for game menus, in particular we showed the main menu of the game Clash of the Olympians. In this post we are going to talk about what we did inside the game itself. As a side note, the solution we used here is simple and specific for this game, hope it could help as example but don't expect a silver bullet.

Scaling to match the physics world

As we use Box2D in Clash of the Olympians, the first step was to use a proper scale between Box2D bodies and our assets. The basic approach was to consider that 1m (meter in MKS system) was 32px, so in our target resolution of 800x480 could show 25m x 15m. We picked that scale because it gives pretty numbers both in terms of the game area and in terms of our assets, for example, a character of 64px of height is 2m tall. In particular, Achilles has a height of approx 60px which is equivalent to 1.875m using our scale, that sounds pretty reasonable for that character.

clashoftheolympians-800x480
The image shows the relation between screen size in pixels (800x480 in this case) and the game world in meters.

Defining a virtual area to show

We previously said that we could show 25m x 15m, in fact, the height is not so important in Clash of the Olympians since the game mainly depends in the horizontal distance. So, if we had an imaginary with a resolution of 800x400 (really wide, an aspect ratio of 2) we would show in that case 12.5m of height, we could assume that if we show at least that height the game balance would be not affected at all (enemies are never spawned too high). However, in terms of horizontal distance we want to show always the same area across all devices to avoid changing the game balance (for example, if you could see less area you couldn't react in the proper time to some waves), that is why we decided to show always 25m in terms of width.

clashoftheolympians-800x600

The image shows how we still show the same game world width of 25m on a 800x600 device.

Scaling the world back to match the screen size

Finally, in order to show this virtual area of 25m x H (with H >= 12.5m), we have to calculate the proper scale to set our game camera in each device. For example, in the case of having a Nexus 7 (1280x720 resolution device) the scale to show 25m of horizontal size is 51.2x since we know that 1280 / scale = 25, then 1280 / 25 = 51.2. In the case of a Samsung Galaxy Y (480x320 resolution device) the scale would be 19.2x since 480 / 25 = 19.2. Translating this inside the game would be something as easy as:

camera.scale = screen.width / 25

Final thoughts

This is not a general solution, it depends a lot in the game we were making and the things we could assume like the game height doesn't matter.

Even though the solution is specific and not so cool as the previous posts, we hope it could be of help when making your own game.

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Our resources manager and how it helped in localizing Clash of the Olympians

In this post we want to share how our resources manager implementation helped us when we had to localize Clash of the Olympians.

Our resources manager

Some time ago we started a small java project named jresourcesmanager (yeah, the most creative name in the world) which provides a simple abstraction of what a resource is and how it is loaded. It consists in some basic concepts named Resource, DataLoader and ResourceManager.

Resource

Is the concept of an application resource/asset, and provides an API to know if the resource is loaded or not and to load and unload it. Here is the code:

public class Resource<T> {

	T data = null;

	DataLoader<T> dataLoader;

	protected Resource(DataLoader<T> dataLoader) {
		this(dataLoader, true);
	}

	protected Resource(DataLoader<T> dataLoader, boolean deferred) {
		this.dataLoader = dataLoader;
		if (!deferred)
			reload();
	}

	/**
	 * Returns the data stored by the Resource.
	 */
	public T get() {
		if (!isLoaded())
			load();
		return data;
	}
	
	public void set(T data) {
		this.data = data;
	}

	public DataLoader<T> getDataLoader() {
		return dataLoader;
	}
	
	public void setDataLoader(DataLoader<T> dataLoader) {
		unload();
		this.dataLoader = dataLoader;
	}

	/**
	 * Reloads the internal data by calling unload and load().
	 */
	public void reload() {
		unload();
		load();
	}

	/**
	 * Loads the data if it wasn't loaded yet, it does nothing otherwise.
	 */
	public void load() {
		if (!isLoaded())
			data = dataLoader.load();
	}

	/**
	 * Unloads the data by calling the DataLoader.unload(t) method.
	 */
	public void unload() {
		if (isLoaded()) {
			dataLoader.unload(data);
			data = null;
		}
	}

	/**
	 * Returns true if the data is loaded, false otherwise.
	 */
	public boolean isLoaded() {
		return data != null;
	}

	public Resource<T> clone() {
		return new Resource<T>(dataLoader);
	}

}

DataLoader

Provides an API to define a way to load and unload a Resource, here is the code:

public abstract class DataLoader<T> {

	/**
	 * Implements how to load the data.
	 */
	public abstract T load();

	/**
	 * Implements how to unload the data, if it is nod automatic and you need to unload stuff by hand.
	 */
	public void unload(T t) {

	}

	/**
	 * Provides a way to return custom information about the data loader.
	 * 
	 * @return An object with the custom information.
	 */
	public Object getMetaData() {
		return null;
	}

}

ResourceManager

It is just a map with all the resources identified by a key, which can be a String for example, and an API to store and get resources to and from, respectively.

That is our resources management code, it is really simple and fulfilled our needs in assets loading/unloading for Vampire Runner and Clash of the Olympians.

The interesting part of this library is that it allows you to store whatever you want to consider as a resource/asset, and that feature is what we used in order to solve the localization issue.

Declaring resources

Another important pillar is how we declare resources in an easy way through the code, and that is by using some builders that simplified the resource declaration. As we were using LibGDX library, we created a resource builder for LibGDX assets and more. This resource builder allowed us to do stuff like this:

splitLoadingTextureAtlas("MainTextureAtlas", "data/images/screens/mainmenu/pack");
resource("MainBackgroundTop", sprite2().textureAtlas("MainTextureAtlas", "mainmenu-bg", 1).center(0.5f, 0.5f).trySpriteAtlas());

That declares a texture atlas with the name of MainTextureAtlas and then a resource which is a sprite with the name of MainBackgroundTop from a texture atlas resource identified by the previous name. Also, allow us to do stuff like declare that the sprite is centered in the middle (the anchor point) and more.

This code is not important, just an example of some of our builders.

Declaring localized resources

As we have the power to create complex resource builders and we needed a simple way to switch between assets given the language selected, we created a resource builder which allowed us to declare different resources, depending the current locale, using the same identifier. So, for example, we can do something like this:

resource("CreditsButton", new MultilanguageResourceBuilder<Sprite>() //
	.defaultLocale(new Locale("en")) //
	.resource(new Locale("en"), sprite2().textureAtlas(TextureAtlases.MeinMenu, "mainmenu-but-credits-en", 1).trySpriteAtlas()) //
	.resource(new Locale("es"), sprite2().textureAtlas(TextureAtlases.MeinMenu, "mainmenu-but-credits-es", 1).trySpriteAtlas()) //
			);

That declares a resource named CreditsButton which returns a sprite with index 1 and name “mainmenu-but-credits-en” from a texture atlas in case the locale is English and a sprite with index 1 and name “mainmenu-but-credits-es” in case the locale is Spanish. It also declares that the default locale (in case a resource for the current locale wasn’t found) is English.

This resource builder was very handy because it allowed us to declare any type of resource for different locales, and from the application side it was transparent, we just ask for the resource CreditsButton.

In case you are interested, the code of the MultilanguageResoruceBuilder is:

public class MultilanguageResourceBuilder<T> implements ResourceBuilder<T> {

	private Map<Locale, ResourceBuilder<T>> resourceBuilders = new HashMap<Locale, ResourceBuilder<T>>();
	private Locale defaultLocale;

	@Override
	public boolean isVolatile() {
		if (defaultLocale == null)
			throw new IllegalStateException("Multilanguage resource builder needs a default locale");
		ResourceBuilder<T> resourceBuilder = resourceBuilders.get(defaultLocale);
		if (resourceBuilder == null)
			throw new IllegalStateException("Multilanguage resource builder needs a default resource builder");
		return resourceBuilder.isVolatile();
	}

	public MultilanguageResourceBuilder<T> defaultLocale(Locale locale) {
		this.defaultLocale = locale;
		return this;
	}

	public MultilanguageResourceBuilder<T> resource(Locale locale, ResourceBuilder<T> resourceBuilder) {
		resourceBuilders.put(locale, resourceBuilder);
		return this;
	}

	@Override
	public T build() {
		Locale locale = Locale.getDefault();

		if (defaultLocale == null)
			throw new IllegalStateException("Multilanguage resource builder needs a default locale");

		if (!resourceBuilders.containsKey(locale))
			locale = defaultLocale;

		ResourceBuilder<T> resourceBuilder = resourceBuilders.get(locale);

		if (resourceBuilder == null)
			throw new IllegalStateException("Multilanguage resource builder needs a default resource builder");

		return resourceBuilder.build();
	}

}

Conclusion

That was the way we used to support multiple languages in a transparent way for the application, we just need to change the current locale and reload the assets.

Hope this blog post idea helps you in case you are about to support multiple languages in your game, and see you next time.

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Our solution to handle multiple screen sizes in Android – Part two

Continuing with the previous blog post, in this post we are going to talk about the code behind the theory. It consists in three concepts, the VirtualViewport, the OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport and the MultipleVirtualViewportBuilder.

VirtualViewport

It defines a virtual area where the game stuff is contained and provides a way to get the real width and height to use with a camera in order to always show the virtual area. Here is the code of this class:

public class VirtualViewport {

	float virtualWidth;
	float virtualHeight;

	public float getVirtualWidth() {
		return virtualWidth;
	}

	public float getVirtualHeight() {
		return virtualHeight;
	}

	public VirtualViewport(float virtualWidth, float virtualHeight) {
		this(virtualWidth, virtualHeight, false);
	}

	public VirtualViewport(float virtualWidth, float virtualHeight, boolean shrink) {
		this.virtualWidth = virtualWidth;
		this.virtualHeight = virtualHeight;
	}

	public float getWidth() {
		return getWidth(Gdx.graphics.getWidth(), Gdx.graphics.getHeight());
	}

	public float getHeight() {
		return getHeight(Gdx.graphics.getWidth(), Gdx.graphics.getHeight());
	}

	/**
	 * Returns the view port width to let all the virtual view port to be shown on the screen.
	 * 
	 * @param screenWidth
	 *            The screen width.
	 * @param screenHeight
	 *            The screen Height.
	 */
	public float getWidth(float screenWidth, float screenHeight) {
		float virtualAspect = virtualWidth / virtualHeight;
		float aspect = screenWidth / screenHeight;
		if (aspect > virtualAspect || (Math.abs(aspect - virtualAspect) < 0.01f)) {
			return virtualHeight * aspect;
		} else {
			return virtualWidth;
		}
	}

	/**
	 * Returns the view port height to let all the virtual view port to be shown on the screen.
	 * 
	 * @param screenWidth
	 *            The screen width.
	 * @param screenHeight
	 *            The screen Height.
	 */
	public float getHeight(float screenWidth, float screenHeight) {
		float virtualAspect = virtualWidth / virtualHeight;
		float aspect = screenWidth / screenHeight;
		if (aspect > virtualAspect || (Math.abs(aspect - virtualAspect) < 0.01f)) {
			return virtualHeight;
		} else {
			return virtualWidth / aspect;
		}
	}

}

So, if we have a virtual area of 640x480 and want to show it on a screen of 800x480 we can do the next steps in order to get the proper values that we have to use as the camera viewport for that screen:

VirtualViewport virtualViewport = new VirtualViewport(640, 480);
float realViewportWidth = virtualViewport.getWidth(800, 480);
float realViewportHeight = virtualViewport.getHeight(800, 480);
// now set the camera viewport values
camera.setViewportFor(realViewportWidth, realViewportHeight);

OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport

In order to simplify the work when using LibGDX library, we created a subclass of LibGDX's OrthographicCamera with specific behavior to update the camera viewport using the VirtualViewport values. Here is its code:

public class OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport extends OrthographicCamera {

	Vector3 tmp = new Vector3();
	Vector2 origin = new Vector2();
	VirtualViewport virtualViewport;
	
	public void setVirtualViewport(VirtualViewport virtualViewport) {
		this.virtualViewport = virtualViewport;
	}

	public OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport(VirtualViewport virtualViewport) {
		this(virtualViewport, 0f, 0f);
	}

	public OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport(VirtualViewport virtualViewport, float cx, float cy) {
		this.virtualViewport = virtualViewport;
		this.origin.set(cx, cy);
	}

	public void setPosition(float x, float y) {
		position.set(x - viewportWidth * origin.x, y - viewportHeight * origin.y, 0f);
	}

	@Override
	public void update() {
		float left = zoom * -viewportWidth / 2 + virtualViewport.getVirtualWidth() * origin.x;
		float right = zoom * viewportWidth / 2 + virtualViewport.getVirtualWidth() * origin.x;
		float top = zoom * viewportHeight / 2 + virtualViewport.getVirtualHeight() * origin.y;
		float bottom = zoom * -viewportHeight / 2 + virtualViewport.getVirtualHeight() * origin.y;

		projection.setToOrtho(left, right, bottom, top, Math.abs(near), Math.abs(far));
		view.setToLookAt(position, tmp.set(position).add(direction), up);
		combined.set(projection);
		Matrix4.mul(combined.val, view.val);
		invProjectionView.set(combined);
		Matrix4.inv(invProjectionView.val);
		frustum.update(invProjectionView);
	}

	/**
	 * This must be called in ApplicationListener.resize() in order to correctly update the camera viewport. 
	 */
	public void updateViewport() {
		setToOrtho(false, virtualViewport.getWidth(), virtualViewport.getHeight());
	}
}

MultipleVirtualViewportBuilder

This class allows us to build a better VirtualViewport given the minimum and maximum areas we want to support performing the logic we explained in the previous post. For example, if we have a minimum area of 800x480 and a maximum area of 854x600, then, given a device of 480x320 (3:2) it will return a VirtualViewport of 854x570 which is a good match of a resolution which contains the minimum area and is smaller than the maximum area and has the same aspect ratio of 480x320.

public class MultipleVirtualViewportBuilder {

	private final float minWidth;
	private final float minHeight;
	private final float maxWidth;
	private final float maxHeight;

	public MultipleVirtualViewportBuilder(float minWidth, float minHeight, float maxWidth, float maxHeight) {
		this.minWidth = minWidth;
		this.minHeight = minHeight;
		this.maxWidth = maxWidth;
		this.maxHeight = maxHeight;
	}

	public VirtualViewport getVirtualViewport(float width, float height) {
		if (width >= minWidth && width <= maxWidth && height >= minHeight && height <= maxHeight)
			return new VirtualViewport(width, height, true);

		float aspect = width / height;

		float scaleForMinSize = minWidth / width;
		float scaleForMaxSize = maxWidth / width;

		float virtualViewportWidth = width * scaleForMaxSize;
		float virtualViewportHeight = virtualViewportWidth / aspect;

		if (insideBounds(virtualViewportWidth, virtualViewportHeight))
			return new VirtualViewport(virtualViewportWidth, virtualViewportHeight, false);

		virtualViewportWidth = width * scaleForMinSize;
		virtualViewportHeight = virtualViewportWidth / aspect;

		if (insideBounds(virtualViewportWidth, virtualViewportHeight))
			return new VirtualViewport(virtualViewportWidth, virtualViewportHeight, false);
		
		return new VirtualViewport(minWidth, minHeight, true);
	}
	
	private boolean insideBounds(float width, float height) {
		if (width < minWidth || width > maxWidth)
			return false;
		if (height < minHeight || height > maxHeight)
			return false;
		return true;
	}

}

In case the aspect ratio is not supported, it will return the minimum area.

Floating elements

As we explained in the previous post, there are some cases where we need stuff that should be always at fixed positions in the screen, for example, the audio and music buttons in Clash of the Olympians. In order to do that we need to make the position of those buttons depend on the VirtualViewport. In the next section where we explain how to use all together we show an example of how to do a floating element.

Using the code together

Finally, here is an example showing how to use these concepts in a LibGDX application:

public class VirtualViewportExampleMain extends com.badlogic.gdx.Game {

	private OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport camera;
	
	// extra stuff for the example
	private SpriteBatch spriteBatch;
	private Sprite minimumAreaSprite;
	private Sprite maximumAreaSprite;
	private Sprite floatingButtonSprite;
	private BitmapFont font;

	private MultipleVirtualViewportBuilder multipleVirtualViewportBuilder;

	@Override
	public void create() {
		multipleVirtualViewportBuilder = new MultipleVirtualViewportBuilder(800, 480, 854, 600);
		VirtualViewport virtualViewport = multipleVirtualViewportBuilder.getVirtualViewport(Gdx.graphics.getWidth(), Gdx.graphics.getHeight());
		
		camera = new OrthographicCameraWithVirtualViewport(virtualViewport);
		// centers the camera at 0, 0 (the center of the virtual viewport)
		camera.position.set(0f, 0f, 0f);
		
		// extra code
		spriteBatch = new SpriteBatch();
		
		Pixmap pixmap = new Pixmap(64, 64, Format.RGBA8888);
		pixmap.setColor(Color.WHITE);
		pixmap.fillRectangle(0, 0, 64, 64);
		
		minimumAreaSprite = new Sprite(new Texture(pixmap));
		minimumAreaSprite.setPosition(-400, -240);
		minimumAreaSprite.setSize(800, 480);
		minimumAreaSprite.setColor(0f, 1f, 0f, 1f);
		
		maximumAreaSprite = new Sprite(new Texture(pixmap));
		maximumAreaSprite.setPosition(-427, -300);
		maximumAreaSprite.setSize(854, 600);
		maximumAreaSprite.setColor(1f, 1f, 0f, 1f);
		
		floatingButtonSprite = new Sprite(new Texture(pixmap));
		floatingButtonSprite.setPosition(virtualViewport.getVirtualWidth() * 0.5f - 80, virtualViewport.getVirtualHeight() * 0.5f - 80);
		floatingButtonSprite.setSize(64, 64);
		floatingButtonSprite.setColor(1f, 1f, 1f, 1f);
		
		font = new BitmapFont();
		font.setColor(Color.BLACK);
	}
	
	@Override
	public void resize(int width, int height) {
		super.resize(width, height);
		
		VirtualViewport virtualViewport = multipleVirtualViewportBuilder.getVirtualViewport(Gdx.graphics.getWidth(), Gdx.graphics.getHeight());
		camera.setVirtualViewport(virtualViewport);
		
		camera.updateViewport();
		// centers the camera at 0, 0 (the center of the virtual viewport)
		camera.position.set(0f, 0f, 0f);
		
		// relocate floating stuff
		floatingButtonSprite.setPosition(virtualViewport.getVirtualWidth() * 0.5f - 80, virtualViewport.getVirtualHeight() * 0.5f - 80);
	}
	
	@Override
	public void render() {
		super.render();
		Gdx.gl.glClearColor(1f, 0f, 0f, 1f);
		Gdx.gl.glClear(GL10.GL_COLOR_BUFFER_BIT);
		camera.update();
		
		// render stuff...
		spriteBatch.setProjectionMatrix(camera.combined);
		spriteBatch.begin();
		maximumAreaSprite.draw(spriteBatch);
		minimumAreaSprite.draw(spriteBatch);
		floatingButtonSprite.draw(spriteBatch);
		font.draw(spriteBatch, String.format("%1$sx%2$s", Gdx.graphics.getWidth(), Gdx.graphics.getHeight()), -20, 0);
		spriteBatch.end();
	}

	public static void main(String[] args) {
		LwjglApplicationConfiguration config = new LwjglApplicationConfiguration();

		config.title = VirtualViewportExampleMain.class.getName();
		config.width = 800;
		config.height = 480;
		config.fullscreen = false;
		config.useGL20 = true;
		config.useCPUSynch = true;
		config.forceExit = true;
		config.vSyncEnabled = true;

		new LwjglApplication(new VirtualViewportExampleMain(), config);
	}

}

In the example there are three colors, green represents the minimum supported area, yellow the maximum supported area and red represents the area outside. If we see red it means that aspect ratio is not supported. There is a floating element colored white, which is always relocated in the top right corner of the screen, unless we are on an unsupported aspect ratio, in that case it is just located in the top right corner of the green area.

The next video shows the example in action:

UPDATE: you can download the source code to run on Eclipse from here.

Conclusion

In these two blog posts we explained in a simplified way how we managed to support different aspect ratios and resolutions for Clash of the Olympians, a technique that could be used as an acceptable way of handling different screen sizes for a wide range of games, and it is not hard to use.

As always, we hope you liked it and that it could be useful for you when developing your games. Opinions and suggestions are always welcome if you want to comment :) and also share it if you liked it and think other people could benefit from this code.

Thanks for reading.

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Our solution to handle multiple screen sizes in Android - Part one

Developing games for multiple devices is not an easy task. Given the variety of devices, one of the most common problem is having to handle multiple screen sizes, which means different resolutions and aspect ratios.

In this blog post we want to share what we did to minimize this problem when making Ironhide's Clash of the Olympians for Android.

In the next sections we are going to show some common ways of handling the multiple screens problem and then our way.

Stretching the content

One common approach when developing a game is making the game for a fixed resolution, for example, making the game for 800x480.

Based on that, you can have the next layout in one of your game's screens:


Main screen of Clash of the Olympians in a 800x480 device.

Then, to support other screen sizes the idea is to stretch the content to the other device screen:


Main screen on a 800x600 device, stretched from 800x480.

The main problem is that the aspect ratio is affected and that is visually unacceptable.

Stretching + keeping aspect ratio

To solve part of the previous problem, one common technique is stretching but keeping the correct aspect ratio by adding dead space to the borders of the screen so the real game area aspect ratio is the same on different devices. For example:


Main screen in a 800x600 device with borders.


Main screen in a 854x480 device with borders.

This is an easy way to attack this multiple screen size problem, you can even create some nice borders instead of the black borders shown in the previous image to improve how it looks.

However, in some cases this is not acceptable either since it doesn't look so good or it feels like the game wasn't made for that device.

Our solution: Using a Virtual Viewport

Our approach consists in adapting what is shown in the game screen area to the device screen size.

First, we define a range of aspect ratios we want to support, for example, in the case of clash we defined 4:3 (800x600) and 16:9 (854x480) as our border case aspect ratios, so all aspect ratios in the middle of those two should be supported.

Given those two aspect ratios, we defined our maximum area as 854x600 and our minimum area as 800x480 (the union and intersection between 800x600 and 854x480, respecively). The idea is to cover the maximum area with stuff, but the important stuff (buttons, information, etc) should be always included in the minimum area.


The red rectangle shows the minimum area while the blue rectangle shows the maximum area.

Then, given a device resolution we calculate an area that matches the device aspect ratio and is included in the virtual area. For example, given a device with a resolution of 816x544 (4:3), this is what is shown:


The green rectangle shows the matching area for 816x544.


This is how the main screen is shown in a 816x544 device.

In case we are on a bigger or lower resolution than the maximum or minimum area we defined, respectively, for example a screen of 480x320 (3:2), what we do is calculate the aspect ratio and find a corresponding match for that aspect ratio in the area we defined. In the case of the example, one match could be 800x534 since it is 3:2 aspect ratio and it is inside our virtual area. Then we scale down to fit the screen.


The green rectangle shows the calculated area for a resolution of 800x534 (matching the aspect of the 480x320 device).


This is what is shown of the main screen in a 480x320 device (click to enlarge the image).

Floating elements

For some elements of the game, such as buttons, maintaining their fixed world position for different screen sizes doesn't look good, so what we do is making them floating elements. That means they are always at the same screen position, the next images shows an example with the main screen buttons:


Main screen's buttons distribution for a 854x480 device.


Main screen's buttons distribution for a 800x600 device. As you can see, buttons are relocated to match the screen size.

Finally, we want to show a video of this multiple screen sizes auto adjustment in real time:


Adjusting the game to the screen size in real time.

Some limitations

As we are scaling up/down in some cases to match the corresponding screen, some devices could perceive some blur since we are using linear filtering and the final position of the elements after the camera transformations could be not integer positions. This problem is minimized with better density devices and assets.

Layouts could change between different devices, for example, the layout for a phone could be different to the layout of a tablet device.

Text is a special case, when rendering text just downscaling it is not a correct solution since it could be not readable. You may have to re-layout text for lower resolution devices to show it bigger and readable.

Conclusion

If you design your game screens follow this approach, it is not so hard to support multiple screen sizes in an acceptable way. However there is still a lot of detail to take care of, like the problems we talked in the previous section.

In the next part of this blog post we will show some code based on LibGDX for those interested in how we implemented all this.

Thanks for reading and hope you liked it.

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Decoupling game logic from input handling logic

In this post we want to share how we are decoupling our game logic from the input handling as we explained briefly in a previous post about different controls we tested for Super Flying Thing.

Introduction

There are different ways to handle the input in a game. Basically, you could have a framework that provides a way to define event handlers for each input event, or to poll input values from the API. LibGDX provides both worlds so it is up to you what you consider best for your game. We prefer to poll for input values for the game logic itself.

When starting to make games, you probably feel tempted to add the input handling logic in one or more base concepts of your game, for example, if you were making Angry Birds you probably would add it to the Slingshot class to detect when to fire a bird or not. That is not totally bad if you are making a quick prototype but it is not recommended for long term because it would be harder to add or change between different control implementations.

Abstracting the input

To improve a bit this scenario in our games, we are using an intermediary class named Controller. That class provides values more friendly and related with the game concepts. A possible Controller class for our example could be:

class SlingshotController {
	boolean charging;
	Vector2 direction;
}

Now, we could process the input handling in one part of the code and update a common Controller instance shared between it and the game logic. Something like this:

class SlingshotMouseControllerLogic extends InputListener {

	Slingshot slingshot;
	SlingshotController controller;

	public boolean touchDown (InputEvent event, float x, float y, int pointer, int button) {
		slingshotPosition = slingshot.getPosition();
		controller.charging = slingshotPosition.isNear(x,y);
		return controller.charging;
	}

	public void touchUp (InputEvent event, float x, float y, int pointer, int button) {
		if (!controller.charging) 
			return;
		controller.charging = false;
	}

	public void touchDragged (InputEvent event, float x, float y, int pointer) {
		if (!controller.charging) 
			return;
		slingshotPosition = slingshot.getPosition();
		controller.direction.set(slingshotPosition);
		controller.direction.sub(x,y);
	}	
}

Or if you are polling the input:

class SlingshotMouseControllerLogic implements Updateable {

	Slingshot slingshot;
	SlingshotController controller;

	boolean touchWasPressed = false;

	public void update(float delta) {
		boolean currentTouchPressed = Gdx.input.isPressed();

		slingshotPosition = slingshot.getPosition();
		x = Gdx.input.getX();
		y = Gdx.input.getY();

		if (!touchWasPressed && currentTouchPressed) {
			controller.charging = slingshotPosition.isNear(x,y);
			touchWasPressed = true;
		} 

		if(touchWasPressed && !currentTouchPressed) {
			controller.charging = false;
			touchWasPressed = false
		}

		if (!controller.charging)
			return;

		controller.direction.set(slingshotPosition);
		controller.direction.sub(x,y);	
	}
	
}

Now, the Slingshot implementation will look something like this:

class Slingshot { 

	// multiple fields
	// render logic 

	Controller controller;
	boolean wasCharging = false;

	update() {
		if (controller.charging && !wasCharging) {
			// starts to draw stuff based on the state we are now charging...
			
			// charges a bird in the slingshot.

			wasCharging = true;
		} else if (!controller.charging && wasCharging) {
			// stops drawing the slingshot as charging

			// fires the bird!!
	
			wasCharging = false;
		}
		// more stuff...
	}
}

As you can see, the game concept Slingshot doesn't know anything about input anymore and we could switch to use the keyboard, Xbox 360 Controller, etc, and the game logic will not notice the change.

Conclusion

Decoupling your game logic from the input by abstracting it in a class is a good way to keep your game logic depending mainly on game concepts making it easier to understand and improving its design. Also, it is a good way to create several controls for the game (input, AI, network, recorded input, etc), while the game logic don't even notice the change.

This post provides a really simple concept, the concept of abstraction, it is nothing new and probably most of the game developers are already doing this, even though we wanted to share it, maybe it is helpful for someone.

We tried to use simple and direct code in this post to increase understandability, however in our games, as we use an entity system framework, we do it a bit different using components, scripts and systems instead of direct classes for concepts like the class Slingshot we presented in this post, but that's food for another blog post.

Finally, we use another abstraction layer over the framework input handling which provides us a better and simplified API to poll info from, that's why we prefer to poll values, food for another post as well.

Hope you like it, as always.

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Modifying textures using libGDX Pixmap in runtime - Explained

We have previously shown a bit how we were using LibGDX Pixmap to modify textures in runtime here and here for a game prototype we were doing. In this post I want to share more detail of how we do that. The objective was to make destructible terrain like in Worms 2.

Introduction

When you work with OpenGL textures, you can't directly modify their pixels whenever you want since they are on OpenGL context. To modify them you have to upload an array of bytes using glTexImage2D or glTexSubImage2D. The problem is you have to maintain on the application side an array of bytes representing the modifications you want to do.

To simplify working with byte arrays representing images, LibGDX provides a useful class named Pixmap which is a map of pixels kept in local memory with some methods to interact with a native library to perform all modifications with better performance.

Moving data from Pixmap to OpenGL Texture

In our prototypes, we wanted to remove part of the terrain whenever a missile touches it, like a Worms 2 explosion. That means we need some way to detect the collisions between the missile and the terrain and then a way to remove pixels from a texture.

We simplified the first problem by getting the color of the pixel only for the missile's position and checking if it was transparent or not. A more correct solution could be using a bitmap mask to check collisions between pixels but we wanted to simplify the work for now.

For the second problem, given a radius of explosion of the missile, we used the pixmap fillCircle method by previously setting the color to (0,0,0,0) (fully transparent) and disabled Pixmap blending to override those pixels.

But that only modified the pixmap data, now we needed to modify the OpenGL texture. To do that, we called OpenGL glTexImage2D using the bytes of the pixmap as the new texture data and that worked correctly.

Transforming from world coordinates to Pixmap coordinates

One problem when working with pixmaps is we have to map world coordinates (the position of the missile for example) to coordinates inside the Pixmap.


This image shows the coordinate system of the Pixmap, it goes from 0 to width in x and 0 to height in y.


This image shows how we normally need to move, rotate and resize the Pixmap in a game.

To solve this, we are using a LibGDX Sprite to maintain the Pixmap transformation, so we can easily move, rotate and scale it. Then, we can use that information to project a world coordinate to Pixmap coordinate by applying the inverse transform, here is the code:

	public void project(Vector2 position, float x, float y) {
		position.set(x, y);

		float centerX = sprite.getX() + sprite.getOriginX();
		float centerY = sprite.getY() + sprite.getOriginY();

		position.add(-centerX, -centerY);

		position.rotate(-sprite.getRotation());

		float scaleX = pixmap.getWidth() / sprite.getWidth();
		float scaleY = pixmap.getHeight() / sprite.getHeight();

		position.x *= scaleX;
		position.y *= scaleY;

		position.add( //
				pixmap.getWidth() * 0.5f, //
				-pixmap.getHeight() * 0.5f //
		);

		position.y *= -1f;
	}

(note: it is the first version at least, it could have bugs and could be improved also)

To simplify our work with all this stuff, we created a class named PixmapHelper which manage a Pixmap, a Texture and a Sprite, so we could move the Sprite wherever we wanted to and if we modify the pixmap through the PixmapHelper then the Texture was automatically updated and hence the Sprite (since it uses internally the Texture).

The next video shows how we tested the previous work in a prototype were we simulated cluster bombs (similar to Worms 2):

Some adjustments to improve performance

Instead of always working with a full size Pixmap by modifying it and then moved to the OpenGL texture, we created smaller Pixmaps of fixed sizes: 32x32, 64x64, etc. Then, each time we needed to make an explosion, we used the best Pixmap for that explosion and then we called glTexSubImage2D instead glTexImage2D to avoid updating untouched pixels. One limitation of this modification is we have to create and maintain several fixed size pixmaps depending on the modification size. Our current greater quad is 256x256 (almost never used).

Then, we changed to store each modification instead performing them in the moment the PixmapHelper erase method was called, and we added an update method which performs all modifications together. This improvement allow us to call Pixmap update method when we wanted, maybe one in three game updates or things like that.

Conclusion

Despite using LibGDX Pixmap for better performance, moving data to and from OpenGL context is not a cheap operation, on Android devices this could means some pauses when refreshing the modified textures with the new data. However, there is a lot of space for performance improvement, some ideas are to work only with pixmap of less bits instead RGBA8888 and use that one as the collisions context and as the mask of the real image (even using shaders), between other ideas.

Finally, the technique looks really nice and we believe that it could be used without problems for a simple game but it is not ready yet to manage a greater game like Worms 2.

Hope you like the technique and if you use it, maybe even also share your findings.

P.S.: In case you were wondering: yes, I love Worms 2.

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