Multiple sprite sheets, Sprite Lamp, and Unity

So I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been working on a small tech demo in Unity, to help make sure I notice all the difficulties that can come up with Sprite Lamp, and the first one that has presented itself is the issue of animating with multiple (sets of) sprite sheets. A few people asked me about this already but I didn’t quite have my head in the game enough to give good answers. Hopefully now that I’ve played with it a bit more directly, I can do better.

Here’s the script referenced in this post.

Oh and before I go on, a quick annoying reminder that Sprite Lamp is at 30% off on Steam as I write this!

Animations with a single sprite sheet

The simple situation for frame animation in Unity is one big sprite sheet. This is, I suspect, reasonably common – especially with people working with pixel art, and textures going up to 4096×4096. Someone in this situation who wants to use Sprite Lamp is in a pretty easy situation in terms of programming – essentially, everything just works easily. You’ll want to make a sprite sheet of the diffuse channel, cut it up with Unity’s sprite editor, create animations, and apply them to a game object with an animation controller. So far, everything is normal. Then, you’ll want to create a corresponding normal map sprite sheet with Sprite Lamp (either using whatever texture packer tool you want, though be wary of rotating normal maps, or by drawing the lighting profiles in sprite sheet positions then processing them all at once). You don’t need to cut this up into sprites in Unity after you’ve imported it. Then, apply a Sprite Lamp (or other) material to your game object, drag the normal map sprite sheet into the NormalDepth slot, and everything should be fine.

The reason this works smoothly is because if you have one big sprite sheet, all the animation system is changing is the UVs on the sprite, and because the Sprite Lamp shader doesn’t do anything fancy with UVs, it’ll just look up into each sheet in the same spot.

Multiple sprite sheets

This is where things get tricky. The issue is that Unity’s animation controller automatically switches textures as necessary, but it only provides for switching the main texture, because usually you only have one texture when you’re doing this kind of animation. By way of example, say you have a character who can walk or run. If you’re making a normal 2D game without lighting, you might have two textures: WalkSheet, and RunSheet. Ordinarily, when your character is walking around, Unity will be switching between sprites in one sheet, and thus changing the UVs – but when your character switches to running, Unity has to switch to the RunSheet texture, which it does automatically.

Suppose instead though, you are using Sprite Lamp, so you have six textures. WalkSheet, WalkSheet_Normal, WalkSheet_Emissive, RunSheet, RunSheet_Normal, and RunSheet_Emissive. Your character starts walking around fine, with WalkSheet, WalkSheet_Normal, and WalkSheet_Emissive applied – all is well. Then they break into a run though, and we’re screwed. The animation system switches the diffuse texture to RunSheet, but the normal and emissive channels keep the Walk versions. This will look somewhere between pretty broken and horribly broken, depending on whether or not the walk and run sheets have similar layouts.

How to get around this? Well, essentially, I’ve written this script. It’s still not tested all that much, so I haven’t added it to the official Unity pack yet, but it has worked in my use case and will hopefully work in yours (if not, let me know). The script works by creating a dictionary at load time, which uses a texture as its key, to look up the corresponding textures. Then in the update, it will check the object it’s attached to to see if the texture it’s using has changed – if it has, it automatically sets all the other textures.

To use it, the first thing to do is attach it to your character (or whatever). Second, you have to populate some lists – this is currently done manually, but I’m looking into nicer ways to handle this.  The lists are ‘primaryTextures’ and ‘otherTextures’. Into ‘primaryTextures’, drag all the sprite sheets that your AnimationController knows about – so in our above example, that would be WalkSheet and RunSheet. In the ‘otherTextures’ list, you’ll want to drag all the auxiliary stuff Sprite Lamp uses – here, that would be ‘WalkSheet_Normal’, ‘WalkSheet_Emissive’, ‘RunSheet_Normal’, and ‘RunSheet_Emissive’. For each element of ‘primaryTextures’, the script will search for any textures in ‘otherTextures’ that are suitably named, and associate them so that they get set at runtime.

That should be just about it! As always with Unity things, if I’ve missed some obvious smarter way to do this, please let me know. Also, I’ll be along soon with a more concrete example of this method that you can download, in case my description here doesn’t make things clear.

Coming up next…

The other problem I rapidly ran into here is the problem of ‘light sources’ that exist in the emissive texture map. They tend to move around within the sprite, and you’ll likely want an actual light source to move with it, but the engine doesn’t know how to move it appropriately. I’m working on a script that will automatically parse an emissive map and approximate clusters of bright pixels by creating a light of the appropriate intensity/colour/position. It’s at proof-of-concept-ish stage now and isn’t ready to distribute just yet, but so far it looks pretty cool, particularly by matching the light’s movement to the animation’s framerate.

Sprite Lamp sale, and the eating of dogfood

Hi folks!

First thing’s first, Sprite Lamp is on sale on Steam this week, for thirty percent off.  A couple of people asked me when that was going to happen, so here we go. I turned thirty a couple of days ago so I thought that was as good an excuse as any. I’ll note that this sale includes the upgrade from the hobbyist version to the pro version. So yeah, here are the links to the Steam pages if you want to get in on that.


Mac holdup

I’m not enjoying giving bad news for the mac port, but unfortunately there has been a hold up – we’ve recently been having a pretty major show-stopping bug with some not-yet-understood combination of mono, graphics drivers, and OSX versions. Rob has more resources than I do for this, and he’s currently messing about rolling things back to get it to the point it’s usable. Once we get it to some working state, the plan is to release an alpha to kickstarter backers, to get a feel for reliability, and hopefully that will give us the data we need to move on to a proper release.

Linux alpha incoming

Progress is much more forthcoming on the Linux build, fortunately, and I’m hoping to get an alpha to backers soon. I’m still struggling with the Steam libraries on Linux, but other than that things seem to be coming together pretty okay.

Eating our own dogfood

Developers might recognise this rather gross-sounding phrase. ‘Eating your own dogfood‘ refers to the practice of using your own products internally. Technically, I think this would mean Snake Hill Games was making a new game, and it was using Sprite Lamp, but this isn’t the case (yet). Rather, I’ve noticed that too often, I don’t have a great answer to questions people ask about using Sprite Lamp with Unity, because while I have developed the shaders and put them in a toy environment, I haven’t actually used them for real. Unity is big and complex, and try as I might, I frequently overlook application details that are tripping people up. In an attempt to head that off at the pass, Halley and I have decided to make a small tech demo using Sprite Lamp and Unity. Hopefully the following things will result:

  • I’ll encounter problems with using Sprite Lamp and Unity, and fix them.
  • I’ll encounter workflow issues with Sprite Lamp now that we’re using it for real, and fix them.
  • Halley will create a bunch of art, and write some blog posts on workflow and artistic best practices, that will perhaps be of some use to people.
  • We’ll perhaps end up with some generic assets that people might find use of in their games.
  • We’ll be able to give more concrete answers to questions like “How long will it take to make assets for use with Sprite Lamp?”, as well as point people to a live example of what games that use Sprite Lamp can look like.

This won’t take a great deal of my time (it will be more artwork than codework) but it has already borne some fruit. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting an update about using multiple sprite sheets with Unity’s animation system, and adding a script to the official Unity integration package that automates the process of switching out different sprite sheets.

Anyway, I’m not going to say much about this little tech demo just yet – it’s in very early stages, and there’s nothing really worth showing off yet – but I’ll post a bit more about it soon.

Scattershot update

Quite a few things to put out there today.

Mac and Linux progress

This has been my main focus recently, and though I’m aware that this part of the project is well overdue (more on that in the ‘lessons learned’ section later on), we’re down to the last handful of bugs before the alpha releases on MacOS. Rob reports that he’s been having more trouble than expected with various parts of the project – it was a bit of an unknown working with C# and MacOS in the first place, but there have been more unknown unknowns than either of us saw coming. At this point it’s essentially all UI fixes, but unfortunately they’re not the kind of thing that can be handwaved, even for an alpha. It’s been frustrating at our end, since Halley is a Mac user and has been keen on getting this version sorted for a long time, but the end is very much in sight. I apologise for how long this is taking, though – I don’t mean to gloss over the fact that it’s much longer than expected.

As for Linux, because the MacOS version is mostly in Rob’s hands now, I’ve been looking at the Linux build. This isn’t as big a deal as the Mac version (in terms of work, I mean) because it doesn’t involve an entire UI rewrite, but there are lots of problems that have previously been in the too-hard basket because previous releases haven’t been in any way final, which I’m now having to face head on. A big part of all this is packaging and general unfamiliarity with deployment conventions at this point.

A few engine things

Unreal 4

This is an odd one. Lots of people have been asking me about integration between Sprite Lamp and Unreal 4. I feel a little bit like the winds of change are blowing in the indie gaming word – it seems like everywhere I turn, people are talking about their new project using Unreal 4, or the various advantages the engine offers. I don’t know whether Unreal 4 is going to replace Unity in the near future, but it was enough to convince me that it’d be irresponsible to not look into Sprite Lamp and Unreal 4 playing together.

I’ve spent some time recently learning the engine a bit, and… well, beyond normal maps, it’s not clear there’s much I can do with Unreal 4. As usual, it’s a modern engine and can therefore handle dynamic lighting and normal maps just fine. However, because it uses deferred rendering in a very fundamental way, it’s no longer possible to just write your own custom lighting model with Unreal 4 as far as I can see (and the fancier features of Sprite Lamp’s shaders fall into that category). I’ll add two caveats to that – first is, obviously people are capable of achieving amazing things with Unreal 4’s lighting, and that includes nonphotorealistic results, so very likely things like cel shading are still possible. It just means that I won’t be writing the exact shader from the preview window of Sprite Lamp into Unreal 4, because that appears to not be possible. The other thing is that since Unreal 4 has its full source code available, technically it’s not really true to say that anything can’t be done – almost anything is possible. However, I think that trying to maintain a source-modified version of the engine (that would survive integration when Epic updates and so on) is probably more trouble than it’s worth for everyone involved.

Godot

Another engine that seems to be picking up steam a bit is Godot. Since it’s completely free and open source, Godot’s appeal isn’t hard to understand. I don’t know a great deal about it yet, but I’ve been following along and it seems that 2D lighting is a priority for them in the near future, which is obviously very relevant to my interests, and perhaps yours. That said, unlike Unreal, I haven’t particularly gotten the impression that lots of people using Godot are also using Sprite Lamp – if you’re a Godot fan and would like me to look closer at its use with Sprite Lamp, let me know.

Real life issues

As you’re probably aware, Sprite Lamp has been out on Steam and Humble for a couple of months now, and though it’s doing okay for itself, taken in combination with the above issues about the Mac port taking way longer than expected, it would be financially risky for me to just assume that I can live indefinitely on Sprite Lamp. This has necessitating me getting myself a ‘real job’. It’s a job that doesn’t consume all my time, and don’t plan on completely returning to the normal full time employment world for a little while yet (not while Sprite Lamp is ongoing, certainly).

Lessons learned

One day, I’ll do a proper Sprite Lamp post-mortem, but there are two important things I’d like to put out there in case anyone might learn from them.

First off, it’s clear to me now that the biggest technical misjudgement on my part for this project was underestimating the difficulty of working with unfamiliar platforms. I’ve only ever been a Windows developer, so (I thought) I had a suitably healthy fear for working with other platforms – that’s why I went and made proof-of-concept stuff for MacOS and Linux before promising those versions on the Kickstarter campaign. Still, I was unprepared for how much work gets bogged down (for me, at least) by not knowing the operating system. As a simple example, I recently spent an embarrassingly long time tracking down some issue with apt-get on my Linux install that was stopping me from progressing, which ultimately culminated in having to install a newer version of Linux (which, to its credit, went very smoothly). That stuff adds up, and it’s not psychologically great when it feels like you spend as much time fighting with problems of unfamiliarity as you do writing code. I’m hoping future projects of mine can be cross platform, but I’m definitely going to be less gung-ho in my assumptions. Certainly I cringe internally to recall my intention to do a simultaneous cross-platform release.

Second off, and a little personally, I didn’t foresee how much being a (very very mildly) public figure would be a source of stress, and how crap I would be at maintaining stuff like this blog, a social media presence, etc. I’m actually not a terribly shy person in real life (although admittedly with game development to some extent you’re grading against a curve there), but apparently I am in the internet world, which seems to be the reverse of how most people feel. This mostly makes me respect community managers a lot more, but also gives me some reason to pause in the goal of being an indie developer, since it kind of comes with the territory. Not sure how I’ll feel about that going forward, but if anyone has actually read this far and has any advice on the same kind of thing, please let me know.

 

Anyway, that’s it for now, and I’m back to figuring out Linuxy things. To anyone who read this far, I hope you celebrated whatever they’re inclined to to the best of their ability, and that 2015 is as good or better than 2014.

Sprite Lamp and Unity

So, finally proper update today, and a new release of the Sprite Lamp Unity shaders to try out. Apologies to all for the time this took (and to anyone wondering, Snake Hill is just about ready for the fire season).  You can get the new shaders at the Sprite Lamp engine page as usual. Here I’m going to write a few things about Sprite Lamp and Unity that might be relevant to you. I’m going to make a quick disclaimer here now though: I’ve been tinkering with Unity for a little while, but I’m not expert – if you read something here and think you know better, you may well be right, and please let me know!

Normal maps in Unity without special shaders

I think with all my talk of Sprite Lamp/Unity shaders, some non-technical (or just non-graphics-savvy) readers might have gotten the impression that you have to use my official Sprite Lamp shaders to use Sprite Lamp with Unity. This is not the case! Sorry if I communicated that poorly. Sprite Lamp creates normal maps, and pretty much any modern 3D game engine that supports dynamic lighting, including Unity, can work with normal maps. As far as the engine doing the rendering is concerned, applying a normal/bump shader to a sprite is no different to applying a normal/bump shader to a mesh. The key thing with Sprite Lamp is allowing normal maps to be created without 3D modelling, and in a fashion that maximally preserves the artist’s style – but at the end of the day, they’re still normal maps and can be used like normal maps! There are some special fancy shader effects that work well in conjunction with this technique – stuff like self-shadowing based on a height map – and I’m writing my official Unity Sprite Lamp shaders to support those effects. But, I’d say most people working with Sprite Lamp would get most of what they want with Unity’s built in shaders.

That all being said, this is simple enough to do. First thing you’ll need is a diffuse map and a normal map (which I’ll presume is made in Sprite Lamp, but need not be). Import both these images into Unity in the usual way, with the diffuse map set as the Sprite type, and the normal map set as the Normal type. It’s important at this point to uncheck the ‘Create from Grayscale’ checkbox on the normal map’s import settings, or else it will look (and be) incorrect.

From there, make a new material and set the shader as one of Unity’s built in shaders with ‘bump’ in the name, such as ‘Bumped Diffuse’. You can now drag your textures into the appropriate slots, and drag the material onto your game object. This can be a sprite you created, or a quad (or a mesh of some other shape).

The advantages of using Unity’s built in shaders are mostly that, now and in the foreseeable future, the people that built Unity understand Unity better than I do. :) They’re likely to have more complete support across all of Unity’s different iterations, different platforms, rendering backends, etc. and, if nothing else, can hopefully provide a fallback if my shaders aren’t perfect. The good people at Unity are likely better optimisers than me, too, especially for mobile platforms where it counts.

The official Sprite Lamp Unity shaders

There’s a detailed writeup of how to make use of the official shaders over at the engine integration page so I’m not going to reproduce that all here. What I will do, is describe what’s changed in this new update – in dot point form.

  • Spine – My first attempt at a Spine shader is now included.
  • Attenuation that works properly – To my mind, this was the biggest problem with the old shaders – they weren’t terribly usable when you couldn’t reliably avoid nasty hard edges from the lights going out of range. It should be sorted now. You still have some ability to tweak attenuation of lights on a per-material basis (which I still wish I could make a property of lights).
  • Spotlight circles need no longer be hard-edged (how soft they are is also adjustable in the material properties).
  • Optimisations – I’ve revamped how a few things work, and that should make things faster (fewer branches due to multicompile between different light types is the main thing).
  • There are a few platforms that this didn’t compile on before that it now compiles on. If it still doesn’t compile for you, let me know (these things can be hard to track down).

I’ll also add that I’ve decided to keep the ‘several shaders with different features turned on and off’ approach, rather than attempting multicompile stuff, because as far as I can tell this would cause a mild combinatorial nightmare because it is also compiled five times for the different light sources.

Somewhat experimental Spine stuff

I’ve gotten some lit Spine stuff working at my end. I’m not sure that this is the best way to go about things, because I’m even less experienced with Spine and Unity together than I am with Unity on its own, but hopefully it will be of use to some people. It makes use of a fragment shader that calculates the normal/binormal/tangent matrix on the fly, so it can deal with deforming meshes without requiring a bunch of extra code on the CPU side to calculate tangents dynamically as they deform – not sure if that’s the best tradeoff (my guess is that it depends on the platform).

For this reason, it should be reasonably simple to set up, with one exception that I’ll get to in a minute.  Start by setting up a Spine character (or whatever) in Unity the way you usually would – I won’t go over this here because there are better tutorials to be had by googling. When things are working as they should be (but without lighting), there’s one tricky thing to do (and thanks to ashwin911 from the forums here for putting me on the right track with this), which is setting your Spine object to have some Z spacing.  This is because multipass lighting in Unity  depends on the depth buffer, so we’ve got to give it different depth values. There’s a value called zSpacing that you need to set to some small negative value (ashwin911 suggested -0.001, which is what I’ve gone with in my example). The trick is, this value is hidden for some reason, so you need access to hidden variables. You can do this by going up to the “inspector” tab, right clicking, and selecting “debug”. Under the “Skeleton Animation” component, there should be the ‘ZSpacing’ value available to change.

Once you’ve set that to -0.001, you can create a material using the Sprite Lamp Spine shader, and assign your textures to it as usual. From here, assigning your material to your Spine character should be all that’s left!

The new attenuation stuff

I’ll just mention very quickly how I’ve set up attenuation. Basically, it works by calculating a linear drop off in intensity, that goes from one at the origin of the light, to zero at the max range of the light. It then raises this value to a power – you have control over that power, in the ‘attenuation exponent’ shader variable. If you increase this variable, the dropoff will happen suddenly, quite close to the light, then go to zero very gradually. If you lower it, it will drop off gradually at first then suddenly near the end. Lowering it all the way to zero will give you a bright sphere that drops to zero immediately at the maximum range.

Similarly, there’s a variable called ‘spotlight hardness’, that affects how hard-edged the circle of a spotlight will be. This is pretty self-explanatory – setting it to maximum will make the spotlight a hard-edged circle like it was in the older shader, and setting it lower will make it very soft-edged. Unfortunately, both these variables are attached to the material, not the light source (I’m not sure if it’s possible in Unity to attach variables to the light source).

Recent issues

This is a pretty boring post, but I didn’t want to go silent for too long. I just wanted to let people know that work continues on Unity shaders and the Mac port. Things have been slow lately, partly because there is a rather full on week of conferences for game developers in Melbourne (GCAP and PAX Aus happen within two days of each other), and partly because of random personal stuff (mum’s recovering from knee surgery and we’re approaching fire season so there’s been a bunch of stuff that needs doing), and then to put a final annoying conclusion on the whole thing, my computer crapped out yesterday and (seemingly) has to be replaced. Stuff is backed up so no worries on that front, it’s all just inconveniences. Sorry for the somewhat whiny and very unexciting post, but as I say, I figured I should say something so people don’t think I’ve died or abandoned Sprite Lamp. I realise there are folks out there hanging out for updates, particularly Unity-related stuff, and I’m sorry for the time it’s taking getting things done. At least the next couple of weeks will probably be an improvement.

Unity shader update/info (minor)

This isn’t quite the update I wanted to make, but it’s something. I’ve just uploaded a new example project and Unity package stuff to the engine integration page.

Working with Unity’s shader system has been a big learning experience, and I’m slowly coming to understand how it all works (and how my initial attempts have failed to do things The Unity Way, as it were). I’m in the process of reworking the shaders to make use of the (startlingly deep) Unity shader macros, and when that’s done I’ll post another update, and it will cause attenuation and light cookies to all work in the nice simple way you’d expect Unity stuff to work. In the meantime, this smaller release fixes the problem a few people have reported involving weird specular lighting appearing where the alpha channel is set to zero and should thus not be visible (this turned out to be a schrödinbug relating to multipass lighting and blend modes), and adds the experimental new implementation of per texel lighting (both the palette and regular shaders have new versions with this feature).

I should also mention something that came up on the forums, which is an unfortunate development regarding performance of Unity on mobile platforms. It seems that Unity2D relies heavily on dynamic batching to keep its performance up to acceptable levels on mobile. However, dynamic batching gets broken by multipass lighting, which is how Unity handles all per-pixel lighting as far as I can see, and so this is causing some performance issues. I currently don’t have a good solution to this – for a while it looked like this would be solvable with a hackish application of Unity’s per-vertex lights, and making use of them in a special fragment shader, but I’m not really comfortable claiming an official solution to a problem that involves such unofficial methods (and I definitely shouldn’t promise they’re going to work on all present and future platforms Unity supports!). One possible solution is static batching, but that’s a Unity Pro feature. Another possible solution is a script that automatically groups tiles together into bigger tiles, which is essentially a custom static batching solution – I’d happily write such a script and distribute it if it would help people out. I’ll keep looking for solutions. In the meantime, you need not buy Sprite Lamp to test such performance issues on your game/hardware – any normal map will do the job.

Steam release, new website, and forums

So! The big news, I suppose, is that Sprite Lamp is out there! In the wild. What’s unusual is how late I am to post about this, but main point is, Sprite Lamp for Windows is on Steam right at this very moment.

The reason I haven’t posted about this yet, despite the Steam release being last Thursday, is that I was hoping to get Sprite Lamp out in its DRM-free form at the same time. I’ll be doing this via the Humble Widget, and I suspect rather strongly that a lot of people would rather own a tool like Sprite Lamp in a more traditional way, rather than having to boot up Steam in order to use it. For that reason, I’ve been holding off on talking much about the release. In other words, I don’t consider it really released until the DRM-free version is out there. The issue is that because I want it to be possible to upgrade from the Hobbyist to the Pro versions of Sprite Lamp, the good people at Humble tell me it takes a bit longer to set up the widget, and that I’ll have it early this week. Big announcement when that happens, of course.

Regarding the new website, this is for a couple of reasons. The old website made use of wordpress.com, largely because I set it up way back before I knew where Snake Hill Games was going, and wanted something easy to deal with. Gradually, there have been more and more things that I wanted to be able to do that I couldn’t via wordpress.com, but it has come to a head by learning that I couldn’t use iframes and thus couldn’t embed the Humble Widget. This isn’t the first thing I’ve been wanting but unable to do with the website, but it’s the first that is an unambiguous show-stopper, so the switch had to be made.

This has a few benefits. For instance, Snake Hill Games now has a forum! This has been a long time coming (shout out to my friends at Graphite Lab who helped me out with some initial forum attempts earlier – it was only because of my foot-dragging that that didn’t happen), but you can now come to the forums (link near the top of the sidebar on the left) and say hello. I’m not overly familiar with the running of forums, and I’m not expecting them to explode into a huge bustling community or anything, but if you have problems or suggestions or want to show off your artwork, head on over – I apologise in advance if I screw up the administrative side of things.

Obscure Unity/Surface Pro 2 problem solved

Okay so this is a post that has little to do with Sprite Lamp. In fact, it’s probably not interesting to most people who have subscribed – sorry about that. It’s about an obscure problem I had today that I seem to have fixed, but couldn’t really find anything about it online. So I post it here, on the off chance that someone else has the problem and maybe googles their way to this page, and maybe can waste slightly less time on it than I did.

I’m using a Surface Pro 2 (the 256GB model, though I doubt that matters), and was going to do some work in Unity3D. I hadn’t run Unity for a little while, and when I fired it up today, it had some problems. Specifically, lots of messed up visual stuff. Unfortunately I didn’t get a screenshot, but to my eye it looked like some fairly low level VRAM corruption of some kind… within the Unity Editor, various things were messed up, including button and other UI graphics being busted, text was garbled and screwy, and various texture previews were busted. Interestingly, it seemed to also screw up some of the actual game assets when rendering in the viewport.

Anyway, I tried the usual raindances, restarted Unity, restarted Windows, etc. to no avail. My graphics drivers were up to date, so that seemed all good. However! Long story short, a couple of people have reported that using Intel’s generic drivers rather than the ones Microsoft provides with Windows Update can help with some gaming applications (plus it gives you a control panel to mess with certain options), and I had actually done this on my Surface some time ago – but, I had since reinstalled the OS and obliterated the changes. Also, Unity never used to have this problem… curious. So, I got myself over to Intel’s driver page, navigated to the HD4400 area, and got the drivers from there. And that seems to have fixed it! Happy Unity shader editing since then, and all is well in the world. So if, by chance, I’m not the only person to have ever had this issue, and one of the other poor souls happen to wander here in their confusion, there you go. It’s what worked for me, anyway.

Sprite Lamp for Windows launching really soon

Hi folks!

So I guess I’ve kind of given away the main bit of this in the title. There’s a bit of a story behind it, but the TL;DR is that Sprite Lamp for Windows will be launching on Steam on the 25th of this month! Yes, that’s in a few days – this Thursday in fact. I’ve got an application pending for a Humble Widget too, so while I can’t 100% confirm it, I’m hoping that it will be available via Humble Widget (at www.spritelamp.com) on the same day, or at least soon after.

There’s a bit of a story leading up to this which I’m going to tell now – not because it’s particularly interesting, but just for the benefit of people who like to stay informed about adventures in development.

Recent events

My initial plan was to launch a bit earlier, on the sixteenth. I just had a couple of things to do, and one of them was to ask the fine folks at Valve how to tag it as ‘early access’. This would have been on something like the ninth of this month. What I learned when they replied is that Steam’s Early Access feature is for games, not software in general, and as such Sprite Lamp can’t make use of it. Sprite Lamp is in a pretty good state now I think, but there were definitely some bugs still there and I was also hoping for some wider feedback on the UI and general usability issues, so this was bit of a rude shock (NB This was my fault, not Valve’s). I briefly considered delaying, but on further reflection I concluded that:

  1. The serious bugs that remained were probably fixable in a week or so of furious coding.
  2. Though the software will continue to improve in the future, it’s at a point now that people will find it useful for their development, and by delaying it I’d just be keeping it out of people’s hands unnecessarily.
  3. I’m inclined to be pretty nervous about launching products and that’s probably making me cringe away from this situation a bit, but I should correct for that personal bias of mine and just get on with it.

So, steeling myself to a week of reasonably full-on bug fixing and polishing, I got into it! At least, I wish that’s what had happened. What actually happened was that my computer died. Totally random, by all appearances, but not ideal timing. No data loss, but certain set things back a bit. I was back up and running in a few days, delayed the launch by a small amount, and got to work. Fortunately, I was right about being able to get through the bugs on my list in a few days, and that brings us to where we are now. Despite a slightly hair-raising last couple of weeks, Sprite Lamp on Windows/Steam is ready to go!

MacOS and Linux versions

So, I mentioned in my last post that I was going to stagger the launch, because it’s a small team and I’m not familiar enough with MacOS and Linux development, and in general, it’s scary enough launching a product on Steam without throwing in multiple OSes at the same time. However, I’m pleased to announce that the MacOS build is making really good progress. I’ve had my head in Steam stuff for a little while now, but the MacOS port has made enough progress in my absence that it’s time for me to get back into that side of things (that is, it’s reached a point where my knowledge of Sprite Lamp’s codebase will speed things up greatly). Though I’m reluctant to make solid announcements, I’m pretty confident that we’ll have at least something beta-ish in a few weeks, and I’m hoping for the proper launch within a month of the Windows launch.

The Linux build of Sprite Lamp has historically been way ahead of the MacOS build, but I’m afraid that will change at this point. However, it’s definitely going to be following the MacOS build pretty shortly.