4 Hugues Ross Writes a Devlog: Capstone Update 18: Doors, my greatest weakness!
Hugues Ross

4/17/16

Capstone Update 18: Doors, my greatest weakness!

Recently, I had the misfortune of dealing with a number of issues in Unreal, and all because of doors. One of the last features that the designers wanted me to add to the monster was the ability to slip under doors and gates. "How hard could this possibly be?" I wondered to myself.

As it turns out, it was much harder than it should've been.

First try: The sensible approach

My first attempt was using Unreal's NavLink system. Nav Link Proxies allow you to have your AI take routes that aren't part of a level's navmesh, and have the ability to set up "Smart Links" which can have additional scripting added to them. The idea was to use this system to make the monster play an animation and warp to the other link, but there were some issues with this approach. The primary issue is that you can't remove all of the normal links and use only smart links. My research seems to suggest that this is a long-standing bug in UE4, so there's not much I can do about it. (As an aside, it's times like these that make me regret not trying to convince the team to make our own branch of the 4.9 codebase) If the monster chooses the 'dumb' link, which seemed to happen randomly, it would run into the door/gate and become permanently stuck. Clearly, a new approach was needed.

Second try: The unpleasant approach

After that, my next idea was to add a higher tier of pathfinding for the monster. By generating a set of links, I could create a small pathfinding graph that represented the level. With a basic A* implementation, I could make the monster select movement targets while attempting to reach a certain position or object. This was an incredibly large undertaking, but the result would likely work well. As such, I made all of the necessary preparations for pulling an all-nighter. However, this is not the solution in our build.
I constructed all of the necessary objects, but when I went to actually get them generating links I noticed something odd. specifically, none of them were linking up. I'd written a small function that used a quick pathfinding check to see if one link was reachable from another, but they always failed top make a connection. As it turns out, the returning value was always 'error'. Note that Unreal didn't provide any specifics, nor did I find any way of seeing what precisely this error was. After yet more research, I found out that this is yet another long-standing bug in Unreal. Epic really needs to crack down on some of these. Frustrated, but not yet asleep, I thought up another way.

Third try: The 'Why the hell not' approach

With all of the obvious and reasonable solutions out of the way, it was clearly time for a disgusting hack. After searching some more, I found a way to make Unreal ignore a given solid object when building the navmesh. However, as demonstrated by the first approach, this kills an AI's movement when they walk move an unexpected solid. To prevent this, I put a box trigger around every door and gate. Then, I made a special collision layer for the monster that would make doors/gates ignore all collisions with it. When the monster entered the trigger, it would change and be able to pass through! As an added bonus, the monster would even pass through the floor and fall out of the level, despite the fact that the floor is supposed to collide with it! To prevent that little issue, I had to temporarily disable gravity, while also changing collision layers and animations. Lastly, I needed to adjust the monster's speed. The monster is supposed to be slowed down by these obstacles, after all.

So, that's how I came up with a dumb solution for a dumb problem. I really hate that I had to do this, since it's a much less elegant and flexible solution, but I don't really see any available alternatives. As long as it holds together, I suppose it'll have to do.
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