Building a World: Part 1 - Aquanox Deep Descent


Building a World: Part 1

Light Everyone!

We’re very excited about how the game progresses on all fronts and we are looking forward to showing you some first impressions of gameplay soon. The team is currently going forward with defining the physical stats of our ships, tweaking the controls and generally the feel and flow of our ship movements. Now that the movement feels great, we are refining our environmental terrain and cliff pipeline, to make sure we can create a lot of variations in the environment quickly and with maximum creative freedom.

When we initially started developing our first environments for the game, we quickly realized that the traditional method to create terrain for games cannot really be used for underwater terrain because it doesn’t allow to create complex caves and rock formations – branching cave systems for exploration and big cliff landmarks for better orientation underwater.

Heightmap_renderedExample of heightmap based 3D terrain

Heightmap terrain is created using one continuous, large 3D geometry. This method allows the artist to create details that are going only upwards – which is often enough for most games, but unfortunately not enough for us. Some games use a combination of this technique with some others, but we went a whole different route. What we do instead is break it down into large, medium and smaller scale chunks, which act like various modular pieces. We can combine them to create rock and terrain formations using this technique, and the artists and level designers are not limited in the direction they can build terrain and add environmental details.

Example of our terrain in action (work in progress screenshot)

For even more creativity we got our hands on some clay to mock up various terrain segments. This allowed us to first hand explore interesting underwater rock shapes, as well as to plan better terrain elements for more interesting environments in the game. Using this process has proven to be very effective, as it gave our artists more insight into creating modular terrain pieces.

Clay is now officially part of our art development pipeline and will take a significant role not just in designing terrain pieces, but also cliffs, strange underwater plants, characters, many kinds of creatures and even ships. Although for ships, we will probably use a lot of other things as well.

Next step is creating the 3D models of our terrain pieces based upon the clay experimentation and drawings done by concept artists. After a 3D elements are modeled, our texturing and shading steps follow up. The usual methods of texturing cannot be applied for these cliffs as we are talking about enormous 3D meshes, some as big as 250 meters in width, and 150 meters in height. It would be impossible to use a single texture, as it would be so low resolution that the pixels could be counted.

To be able to create high-resolution surface details, we use a variety of methods to blend together various high resolution textures – borrowing the standard philosophy of usual terrain painting, but this time much more flexible. It allows us to blend together a high variety of different rock, sand, algae/barnacle, and other textures, and blend them together with a method to make them look more interesting. All of the different texture surfaces can affect and change the geometry also!

To keep things optimized, we apply geometry subdivison (DirectX 11 tessellation) only when the player goes close to the object, and it blends back to a more optimized version of the object, when the player goes further from it. All these together gives us an opportunity to create interesting, large scale environments in a flexible way.

Thanks again for reading, from the ever-expanding Aquanox Team!

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