It has only recently come to my mind how important project planning is in anything of consequence. Granted, I acknowledged its effectiveness but a good, well-thought workflow can make all the difference. For the talented independent professional, there is often a problem in that they’re rarely used to managing people and have a way of working which suits their particular set of talents. The other disadvantage is that we rarely place ourselves under truly objective scrutiny as it’s a perspective we just can’t access without other people around to comment on our modus operandi.
With that said, let’s look at a new way of doing something very difficult for any 3D artist, recreating a believable natural environment, one that is optimized to the point of being feasible for use in a real-time 3D engine.
If any of you have had the pleasure of being able to play the ‘Vanishing of Ethan Carter’, it will be apparent to you just how much detail has gone into the environment. Very rarely will you see a texture repeating itself and never will the terrain be cloned in areas. The game’s mechanics are entirely exploration-based and you play from a first person perspective, placing all of the art assets under scrutiny as you get up close and personal to investigate the multitude of different areas.
Before we continue, rather than have me try to sell it to you, have a look for yourself at its visual fidelity. Anything graphical cannot be done justice through a text-based medium.
The process of creating anything so beautiful would be something you’d think ought to be kept secret by the teams involved but the ‘Astronauts’ have published their entire workflow from start to finish at this link.
The team were on scene in Poland, more specifically the Karkonosze mountains where a lot of their time was spent recording footage to be used as reference for their source materials. As far as scene rendering goes, the article also acknowledges the difficulty in balancing performance with aesthetic quality when foliage meshes are involved. From having spent a lot of time developing inside Second Life, I’m familiar with some of the ideas described wherein particle effects are used to create dynamic grass and leaves though it rarely made for a good looking alternative to the real thing and, because of how SL worked, was used as an improvised solution – it was an alternative to using real meshes. Though it’s not fully disclosed, the article hints at a mixture of techniques including terrain painting and the aforementioned approach of using particle systems. In addition to this, some of the shaders programatically alter their appearance, more to do with their colour, as the player gets closer!
Needless to say, that’s a lot of work. I leave you with something I created during my masters, some time ago. It’s a 3D scene you can explore from your browser, there’s little else to do inside it but you can see some of the ideas I was experimenting with at the time.
The link to the explorable scene is here, a video of it is below.
You can see, just by looking at the previews of the videos, the difference that a little bit of variation in colour makes : ]