January was one of those times where things were just out of whack! I wasted a lot of time but I did learn some things so I guess it wasn’t a total waste…
When I started working on Laughlin Lake (yes, we’re revisiting it!) I thought that the best way would be to construct the entire terrain in an external program (it totally wasn’t) I used a landscape generator to make some random terrain, sculpted the larger details and cut it into large quadrants. I would then work on one quadrant at a time and sculpt in any fine details I needed. I was even able to create roads that conformed to the terrain itself. I used these techniques on the Outskirts map.
The problem was that this terrain (for the Lake) was about 8 times larger than the one in the Outskirts and had more variances in it. I stuck with this for a couple of weeks but eventually gave up as it became so tedious and ate up a huge chunk of time having to alter it, reimport it, make sure everything was aligned etc. and then go back and do it all over again. UE4 already has its own Landscape tool with almost everything that I could need and yet here I was trying to reinvent the damn wheel!
So after abandoning that idea I started using UE4’s built-in tools to create my terrain. I’ll admit that the last time I used the UE Landscape tool was when it was in the UDK and I didn’t have a good time with it. It had some limitations and I experienced frequent crashes while using it.
I’m happy to say that this time around it has been painless. It was a bit of a set up but proved worth it in the end. I could sculpt, paint, scatter foliage all in real time and make changes as needed. There is even a tool to create roads and have the Landscape align itself to it! Awesome.
If during testing I got stuck somewhere on the terrain, I just fixed it up in realtime instead of having to go all the way back into the external modelling program, fix the issue, re-import it in again and hoped that it all worked out. Huge time saver there.
Then I needed to bring in some Spruce trees I created some time back! I had generated them a year ago in Speedtree but never imported them into UE4 because I didn’t need them yet. But wait a minute…something is off. The textures aren’t aligning with the models! I take a closer look and all the tree models (all 88 of them, YIKES) have issues that I somehow missed the first time through. So I renew my Speedtree subscription so I could use the tools and get to repairing them all. In the end, I ended up rebuilding all of my base trees with further optimizations and just randomly generated the rest from those base trees.
After that was done, I needed some rock and cliff formations. Now, in my opinion, I think that natural-looking rocks and trees are the hardest things to model. That’s just me though, because I’ve seen plenty of other Artists do some mind-blowing work. Anyway, I found and purchased a Rock Generating program (it was super cheap) and though I initially thought that the rocks looked pretty good, I eventually decided it wasn’t what I was looking for. I needed something more realistic.
Then I remembered about Photogrammetry! Yes! I went through a couple of tutorials and it all seemed pretty simple! I decided to get a rock from outside and started to take pictures of it. The very first attempt was a huge success! Out of 125 pictures I took with just my phone, Meshroom was able to use 123 of them. I did this by slowly rotating the rock and taking pictures from the same angle (it sort of reminded me of Highscool when I dabbled in a bunch of stop-motion animation projects. Good times)
It took about an hour and a half to process and the results were fantastic! I gathered about 10 more interesting-looking rocks and took hundreds of pictures and fed them into Meshroom. Unfortunately, after an entire week, the only success I had with Photogrammetry was the very first rock. The pictures I took kept getting rejected by the program for some reason! Similar setup and lighting, I tried anywhere from 30 pictures up to 200, I tried setting up markers, I tried circling the object. None of it was working and I kept on getting partial, messy models. Each attempt took anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to process. It was just eating away too much time again.
I gave up on that idea and just bought a bunch of photoscanned rocks online, made some alterations and now they’re in-game. I should have just done that in the beginning! I did make a few rocks of my own but I mainly used the photoscanned assets to help flesh out the rock cliffs I had made.
Now onto the Lake water itself! I used the material for the Blood River in one of the Hell levels and altered it to look like water. But wait a second…now what?! It turns out translucent materials can’t accept shadows! I didn’t notice it before because of the lack of directional lighting in the Hell level! So while the water effects looked fine, the shadows from the surrounding environment weren’t showing up on the water! I decided to make the material opaque so that it could recieve shadows and I also dithered the edge of the water to give the illusion of translucency…except now, the water doesn’t have any caustics! Opaque materials aren’t capable of refraction! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS CRISPY!
After spending a bunch more time on that I finally figured out a method that looks alright. I now have the water recieving shadows, there’s depth to it and the geometry underneath the water distorts properly.
Alright, so it’s back to work! The map is nowhere near finished but this should give you an idea of what Laughlin Lake will look like this time around!