Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Once isn't enough

Having come back from my break, I've started modding again for The Shattered War. I decided to get back into the enjoyable task of level design, working on one of the wilderness areas high in the Frostback Mountains. I thought I'd done a moderate amount of work and there'd be some basic sculpting and then it'd be the lengthy process of decoration with props and vegetation.

Taking a break from something and then coming back to it later is a great way to spot the faults in a level. I hadn't realised just how much work that the level needed in terms of additional sculpting to bring it up to an acceptable level. On reflection the level had been done quite some time ago as a basic draft to get the shape of the level and see if the basic concept worked, but somehow along the way I'd decided that it might not have needed too much work. A quick look told me this was most certainly not the case.

It's a bit jagged there

Now, I hadn't touched this level in quite some time, and the draft was done up in a matter of maybe 4-6 hours. However, while the rough shape was done, after some closer examination I realised that the terrain needed to be tesselated to a far greater degree in order to give a proper organic look that I would expect. Now, while there's some degree of sharp and jagged edges that you can "cover up" using props and vegetation, I realised that wasn't an option in this case. If I'm to give a sense of perspective, the narrowest section is about two-to-three people wide, and the low-outcropping is slightly higher than the height of a human. As such, those very angular edges would be extremely up close and personal to anyone walking through that section of the level.

So I undertook a fairly serious resculpting of the level, fixed jagged edges, abrupt angles and anything else that simply looked abnormal. Even now I could probably increase the tesselation another level in large patches of the level, but issues with the lightmapper in the DAO toolset mean that this is likely to cause insightly black spots due to some errors in the way it precalculates lighting effects. There's always a trade-off between effort and aesthetics, so I felt I was able to strike a reasonable middle ground with the reworks I've made thus far. I even managed to get some of the vegetation in for the level, though I've kept it clear from this picture to give a clearer difference shot between before and after.

A less jagged look

It's still not a perfect look by any means, and there's still some softening and adjustment I'd like to do, but overall there's a lot more rounded terrain and less obvious triangles sticking out from the edges of the landscape. A little more effort is still needed here to give more character and variance, even though most players probably won't pay that much attention to this small part of the level. As a side area, this level was unlikely to ever give the player a "wow" moment that would make them gawk at the gorgeous landscape. However, I could not let it pass without still giving the player a sense of the brutal but beautiful landscape of the Frostback Mountains.

Sharp triangles are hard to soften with vegetation, but that area (and the entire level) is now a lot easier to make look like authentic terrain by using a health dose of grass, shrubs and trees. The more interest you can create with the base mesh of a level, the better the level will look once it is fully decorated and populated with everything else that ultimately brings it to life in the game.

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