Thursday, 27 February 2014

And now to actually plan my modulars

Finally got my roof pieces done, so this blog is pretty much all about them and what I plan to do next. Still not best of friends with Zbrush, but I can sculpt just enough detail to get by. For example, the above model is my finished sculpt for the ornaments on one of my rooftop pieces. It may look very unfinished, but considering the distance you'll see the ornaments from, I felt it was adequate and didn't need to get carried away with it. Below is some more sculpts - again I just wanted to get in the main details that'll come through on a 512x512 normal map. I read some articles on Zbrush in the Vertex online mag (a great free Game Artist magazine you can download here), and learnt that the Trim Dynamic and Dam Standard brush are great for sculpting stuff like cracks and dents in things.

On Tuesday we had the great Mike Pickton come in to give some talks and give us feedback on our FMPs. It was great to hear that he really likes the idea of my project and could tell just from the whitebox the style i was going for, without having to show him my inspirations folder. It was also reassuring to know that he agreed with my method of building the level, with interchangeable textures and stuff, saying that I've really thought out how to use texture and engine techniques to keep my drawcalls to a minimum.
He also pointed out stuff to be wary of in-engine, stuff I was planning to do, like vertex painting, and also things I didn't, like how shadow banding issues are caused on walls that are almost parallel to the direction the sun is projecting light. Because the shadow maps work on pixel/vertex depth from one another (or something like that), the angle the pixel/vertices are from one another jumps greatly due to the angle, causing the shadow map to become quite ugly and stripey. He said I can fix this simply by altering the direction the offending mesh faces, or by upping the shadow map resolution.

I also remembered during texturing that the drop shadow layer style is absolutely fantastic for creating cracks and chips, which was really useful for making my roof tiles look old and well-worn.

For the gold on my rooftop pieces I read that to do gold well in 3DS Max, the diffuse should be completely black and the spec should do most of the work (like below, and I had a gloss map too which I made completely white as gold is obviously very reflective), so I tried this method and exported it to CryEngine. Unfortunately it looked really ugly so I've left that for now while I work on other things, and I'll have to ask Max about it, as I know he made some nice gold material for his FMP in CryEngine last year.

Finally, some shots of my roof pieces in-engine. I started to place them on my existing building, but this took ages and still didn't line up correctly. I don't want to have to do this sort of manual tweaking with every single building I place, so tomorrow I'm going to sit down and properly plan out how to best build lots of varied, but quick and efficient buildings. It's not so bad on ground level as as long as the unwrap is good, things can be whatever size I want them to, but it's when it comes to placing the tiles and possibly windows that it gets messy. I've made the roof pieces to be exactly 1m long, so hopefully it will just be a case of ensuring that the roof of each building conforms to a X-meter by X-meter ratio.

Monday, 24 February 2014


Over the weekend I got my corrugated roofs done, and can easily make more variations if I need to, so I'm pleased with those. After speaking with Dan and Luc, and reading the whole material editor section in the CryEngine manual, I realized the speculars weren't even on in my level. It was very reassuring to see my level come to life just that little bit more when I turned them and the gloss maps all on. It also pointed out a lot of stuff I needed to tweak (the windows and metal looked absolutely awful). Overall it was very reassuring, as beforehand I thought my texture work was a lot more lacking than usual. Some stuff like my painted brick texture came to life a lot more as well, which was nice (the screen below is an extreme example, this was when I was just going slider crazy).

Above is my (currently) finished window tweaking. I had to redo a lot of the gloss and specular maps to better reflect the grungy finish and also up-res the texture to a 1024, but it's definitely worth the extra memory. Below is a shot of the material editor. I added a slight glow to the windows for now, which I may need to remove once I get more in the scene and add things like cube maps, but for now it's beneficial.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Optimizations and Various Bits

As I've mentioned before, I'm really trying to push the efficiency of my level as much as possible, to prove my knowledge of various modelling/texturing and engine techniques. A nice looking level is sufficient enough for me, but a nice looking level with extremely good use of texture budgeting and modelling is even better. Above is two shots of me testing out my painted brick texture (with the normals the wrong way round, fixed now). CryEngine's shader allows me to alter the colour of the diffuse to create many different variations of the single texture to use around my level. Each new colour will have to cost a new material use, but this takes less drawcalls than if it were an entirely new texture with just a different hue (if I've been researching correctly).

I also re-exported all my textures with the specular in the diffuse alpha slot (provided it didn't have a gloss map). I did originally say that everything would have a gloss; but I've come to realise that gloss maps are only worth the texture use if they really affect the specular, and this is only the case typically on metal or glass-like objects (with some exceptions, like my painted brick texture; giving it a bit of gloss helps establish it's a think coat of paint and not the colour of the brick itself). So yeah, I reduced my current texture amount by about 8mb just by saving out my specular maps in the diffuse alpha and not as their own sheet, if the texture itself didn't need a gloss map. 

I also finally started to put some of my modular assets in-engine. Building the actual buildings will probably take a bit longer than I expected, and will most likely carry over into March, but I will have all the modulars ready and finished to place on them in time. It will just be a case of modelling and exporting various buildings while I work on March's asset list. I'm using 3DS Max to build rough block-outs of the buildigns shape, as seen below, before exporting it and placing the appropriate pieces on top in CryEngine. The trouble with having a level that is seen from all angles is that I can't really get away with the Wild-West-cut-out style buildings, and actually have to model the top and rear as well.

As I said earlier, I'm doing a lot of reading up on CryEngine, which is definitely coming in handy, though a lot of it I doubt I'll need (like the entire character section).

I feel today has been extremely productive, in addition to finally starting the high poly of my rooftop pieces (see below), I've also started my corrugated roof pieces. Initially I though these would look ugly and make the level appear too run down, but used effectively these actually seem to add a lot of character to the place they're in rather than just make it look instantly degraded.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


Apart from the Titanfall Beta taking up a fair bit of my time, my week has been fairly productive. It didn't start off that way, I had to kick myself into gear for once, because I know if I laze about now the whole project will fall apart. Modulars may be the most tedious and boring part, but they're also the most critical, so I can't skimp on them! Above is a screen of when I was creating my painted brick texture. Considering these are all interchangeable textures, I had to make sure it was the same scale as my previous brick texture, so I placed that behind the photo I took and adjusted and clone stamped accordingly. This'll also be great when it comes to vertex painting, as I can then blend between a painted brick and degraded brick texture to break up the texture even more.

Crazybump's specular creator is usually pretty bad, but it came in handy for certain parts of certain things. Here it helped me create some more depth on the normal map, which the displacement tool wasn't doing as well for some reason.

And hurrah, I finally finished the models and unwraps for my modular roof pieces! I'm gonna get these textured by the end of the week, it's just finding the patience with Zbrush again to help sculpt the details. 

Something I also quickly dabbled with today was the lighting in my level. I had originally planned to have it at midday, as this was bright and vivid, reflecting my level's mood. The problem with this though is that the shadows were almost flat across the whole level. I changed the time to 3:15pm as this still retained the brightness, added some nice shadows in appropriate places (I also tweaked the Sun's placement in the sky to position where the shadows were cast) and also added a subtle orange hue to the level. The great thing about CryEngine is its day and night cycle though, meaning when my level is more developed I can experiment with timed lights and glow maps and perhaps introduce a cycle to the level.

Something I've been reading up on as well is a little bit of colour theory. Colour Proportions is something Michael Freeman mentions in his book 'The Photographer's Eye'. In addition to having complementary colours, they also have relative proportions - i.e. you should use more blue in your image pallet than orange as orange is a more vivid colour. I'm going to try to apply this as best as possible where I can in my level, and I already have in some places with things like the rooftops being both dark-ish shades of red and green. For composition, I tried to use what I learned from the whitebox playtests to help improve the flow of the scene. In earlier tests, people were drawn more to the right alley so that's where I took the path, while still keeping the left one open. In order to help show the player that the left alley is still in an option, I have made it so the shadow from the tram rail crosses over the building and sort of points at the left area. Hopefully this will mean players will look at the right alley first, then be drawn to the left via the shadow (or vice versa).

Saturday, 15 February 2014

FMP Update - I hate roofs edition

Well that week went fast. I'm still feeling positive about getting all this stuff done and in-engine before February is up, but I also keep putting stuff off that I get stuck on and making other things instead. Case in point: the modular roof pieces. These were just generally giving me hassle with every bit about them, and considering they're a pretty important part of my level I wanted to ensure I didn't have to redo them over and over in the future. I originally unwrapped a single tile then duplicated that for the rest of the modular piece (screenshot #1) which allowed me to keep it all on one texture sheet. After doing this I realised that when it came to making the low-poly, if I wanted to use mip-mapping and not have to bake down an entirely new texture sheet I had to unwrap it all as one object, and split the texture up into two; one for the tiles and one for the specific details (screenshot #2).
So now I've unwrapped both the roof sets properly and am in the process of creating the pieces to cap them off, alongside sculpting the normals (which is also giving me hassle, so I've been reading up on some Zbrush tips and tricks).

 So that I didn't go completely mad with the roofs and general 3D, I decided to start doing some of the graffiti/street art for the level, also giving me an excuse to practice digitally painting people again. Using a photo of model Charlotte Free as reference and inspiration from some collaborative street art between Fin Dac and Angelina Christina I did the above painting that I can use around my level, along with a handful more that I'll be doing whenever I feel like I need a break from 3D. I'm pleased with how this turned out, as I'd been in a 'I can't draw people digitally' rut for absolutely ages.

Finally to round up this blog post, some of the stuff I did instead of fixing my roofs (which are now my top priority as well as finishing my tiling textures). Most of this was designed to be as texture efficient as possible, all being on the same texture sheet. The idea here is the same as my building textures, I'm hoping to tweak the colour of a lot of individual assets within the material editor, making the level be more engine dependent rather than having to use far more textures with different colour palettes, as this is far more cost efficient. I did have to change the window wood to be on a different U-tiling wood texture though as they were far too low quality when they had that little space on the unwrap.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Weekly Progress, I guess

Thought I'd start this post with what is apparently the street that was used as a source of inspiration for Spirited Away. It has that perfect sense of tightness and clutter, but doesn't come across as claustrophobic or gritty at all. Moving on, I started this week off pretty well, started a load of my main assets, but haven't finished any yet as I tend to move on to another when I start to get bored, then go back to it when I get bored of that and so on. This is just so I don't get sick of working on any one thing and ensure I remain excited working on them, as this yields a better result.
I did start to make my proper buildings over the white-box with the textures I had, but I quickly realized this would be a lot easier once I had the other modular pieces to work with. At the moment I'm just making more and more boxes over the white-box, it's quite hard to do anything interesting with it at the moment. I think this is due to my irregular modular approach, so I'm hoping that once all my actual pieces are done, I can use these to start properly building around to create the necessary buildings for my city.

I've mostly finished the Air Conditioners, I want to add a little more colour and diffuse information as they're very bland at the moment. I also need to put the grills and blades onto an alpha texture so I can animate them in CryEngine when the time comes. Below are my work in progresses for the roof pieces. I spent ages trying to get them to properly tile with the snap function in Max, before realizing that the snap and grid functions are rubbish, and resorted to just ensuring the pieces area all the exact correct lengths with the measure tool.

So yeah, things slowed down quite a bit towards the end of the week, and this weekend I've done no work at all, other than reading through my 3DS Max book for some more tips I may not have known about. I've just put it down to one of those days (or weekends in this case) where you just need to take a break from everything and do something else, and it's always refreshing when you get all your laundry done and tidy your room and just unwind for a bit, so that you can return to work the next day fresh-faced (I think that's a saying). By the end of next week I want the roofs, air conditioners, windows, railings and fire escape completely finished (I've already modeled and mostly unwrapped the windows and fire escape), and as usual just read up some more on CryEngine and hopefully tweaking a few things in the level like the lighting (I do like it now at around noon, but I may alter it to 3/4pm as it just creates a little more light and shadow work compared to noon, which has fairly boring shadows. 

Monday, 3 February 2014


Presentations today went alright, think I'm finally starting to get more confident with my presentation skills (though this may be because I purposely decided to wing it as it made it seem less of a deal to me) although my mouth still gets dry really fast. Anyhow feedback was pretty positive, as I'd been getting constant feedback up to this point anyway, nothing of note needed changing with what I have so far, it's just that everyone is worried that the level is just too big to fully realize within the time span. Hopefully this week I can finish my main tiling textures and begin to populate the level with the building bases to see how much I can accomplish.

I also managed to model one of my air conditioning units today, simply to satisfy my odd urge to make one as soon as felt necessary. Above is the high poly. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to actually model the fans or just have them on an alpha, so for now I'm just gonna leave it as is while I work on other stuff. Below is one of the main tileable textures I've hopefully finished; unfortunately my CryEngine RC Compiler has broken again so I can't import textures at the moment, so I'll have to properly test it in-engine tomorrow. The texture below that is a W.I.P of one of the other main tileables. This one is proving a lot more tricky to tile naturally, and just generally needs a lot more work before I think it is presentable.