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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Improving building LOD

Most rendering engines need some form of level of detail management to deal with complexity. In traditional games there is a lot of hand work going into creating multiple views of the same content. A view of a distant tower in a game is likely crafted as an individual asset, it is not a byproduct of the high-detail version used for closeups. There are some very good commercial solutions to produce multiple LOD for assets, even then a lot of massaging is often required.

In our case we want full automation. Our creation tools should be used by people with no understanding of what LOD means. There is no single silver bullet in this case, it is more like a cocktail of copper bullets, but here is one:

If you think about it, distant LODs are necessarily viewed from afar. This is something we can exploit. Most buildings will have rather simple facades compared to their convoluted interiors. If we know the camera cannot be inside a given LOD version of the building, it is safe to remove whatever complexity is not contributing to the exterior. The result is you can cut a lot of information right away without having to lower the fidelity of the facade at all.

You can see the method in this video:

The method cuts from 80% to 90% of the information. It uses raycasting to determine the likelihood of a portion to be seen from outside. To make it quicker, it first discards portions that are trivially known to be outside. For instance all content that projects directly into the bounding box of the object we know is exposed, so there is no need to test for occlusion. Then it removes the portions we found are never exposed. This produces a rather noisy version of the interior. To this we apply some filters to clean it up and produce the lean shapes you see in the video.

The buildings in the video are voxel creations by Landmark players during EverQuest Next's workshop competitions. They are stunning and at the same time were created by someone who has no knowledge of Maya, 3ds max or traditional 3D modeling. For this very same reason we do not want them to think or worry about how their content looks at different LODs. It just has to work.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Another UE4 environment run video

Here is another video of Voxel Farm in UE4. This time we are lost somewhere in space:

This is using an Alien Biome we have available as an example. If curious, you can see how this terrain was built here. The biome and tutorial were created by one of our artists, Bohan Sun.

The biome is meant as an example. For this reason it is intentionally simple, but it holds pretty well for exploration as you can see in the video.

I took some time to create a blueprint for the little drone that lights the way for the character. I really enjoyed the experience. I wonder if we could write blueprints for real things, like asking your Roomba to fetch your slippers. There is some serious intelligence you could create with this system, once you have means to feed nav meshes and other actors into it, but I digress.

I hope you liked the video. More Unreal stuff coming later...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Announcing Unreal Engine 4 support

We got Voxel Farm running in UE4. It s not a plugin yet, but we have included an example project that does all the tricky work. More development is required, but I believe this is at a state where others can benefit from it.

I'm already loving how nicely and quicly the voxel content renders. Here you can see the unreal dude on top of our alien biome:

I was thrilled when it took only a couple of clicks to get a good behaving character. Setting up lighting and atmospherics was also very easy. We are not fully exploiting the shading and many other toys in UE4 so it is bound to get much, mucher better.

Been able to just link to our C++ code makes the collaboration between the two engines a breeze. Thanks to that we can run on ARM platforms like iOS.

I leave you with a rather long run of a character over a Voxel Farm terrain. This is a work-in-pogress biome by a new artist that joined our team, Mr. Bohan Sun. You will also note this is only the bare voxel geometry, it is lacking all instanced meshes like grass, shrubs, smaller stones, etc.

I want to thank Alexander Ostman for donating his Voxel Farm/UE4 integration. This became the base of what we are offering today. Drop me a line if you want to get in contact with him.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Riding voxels into the sunset

For creative sandboxes, one recurrent favorite topic is starships, airships and ships in general. It would be very cool if you could actually fly or sail them and, while you do so, continue to build and destroy them.

The clipmap system currently in Voxel Farm sees the entire world as a single monolithic entity. While fragments may be detached from the voxel world, they are kept as meshes and optionally voxelized back into the world when they stop moving.

We are working on a new system that breaks the scene in not only one clipmap, but as many clipmaps as necessary. Here is a video showing the basics of how this works:

The video uses spheres for simplicity. The key here is that each sphere is an object that lives in a different clipmap.

Just like with a single clipmap, portions closer to the camera will get greater resolution, but very unlike the single clipmap, these entities now can be moved around and placed at any arbitrary position, scale or rotation.

Even if the camera is not moving, a given entity may be moving respective to the camera. If the entity approaches it will get higher resolution representation.

I look forward to building a castle, lifting it with massive zeppelin-like devices and exploring the world while comfortably sitting next to a fireplace. Pretty much like Pixar's Up, but with siege weapons.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Going Meta

We have this new system we are currently testing. We call it Meta Materials. What is a meta material? It is just stuff.

Let's build an abstract snowman:

We could render this using a nice snow material for the snow balls. For traditional rendering this would be a normal map and some other maps describing surface properties, like roughness, specularity, etc.

What happens if the camera get extremely close? In a real snowman you would see that there is no single clear surface. The packed snow is full of holes and imperfections. If we go close enough we may be able to see the ice crystals.

A meta material is information about stuff at multiple scales. It helps a lot when dealing with larger things than a snowman. A mountain for instance:

An artist hand-built this at the grand level. It would be too much work to manually sculpt every rock and little bump in the ground. Instead, the artist has classified what type of material goes in every spot. These are the meta materials. At a distance they may be just rendered using surface properties, however up close they can be quite large geometric features measuring 10 meters or more.

We would like a system that seamlessly covers from mountain to snowflakes, but we are taking smaller steps:

Here you can see a massive feature measuring more than 2 kilometers.

As you approach it, it comes into nice detail. Here is something that looks like a cave entrance. It is on top of the large thing. Note the rocks in the ground, these are coming from the meta-material:

I like this direction, it is a simple and robust way to define procedural objects of any shape and size. We intend to release this as an engine feature soon, I am looking forward to what people can create with a system like this. I will be posting more screenshots and videos about it.

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