My name is Chris, but around the office they call me Devo (even though I’m not a fan of the band in any appreciable way). I'm the Art Director for Fallen Earth. In this dev journal, I will open the door on the inner workings of the art department. I'll give a behind-the-scenes look at features we’ve already implemented and also give sneak peeks of graphical improvements that we’ll be adding in the future. We get excited about what we do, and we want to share it.
Let's start things off with something I'm particularly excited about: an overhaul of our terrain textures. This is actually the second time we've upgraded our terrain, the first being not long before the game launched. While that was a massive upgrade that added specular maps, normal maps, and better distance textures, we still felt that we could do better. Terrain is incredibly important for Fallen Earth because our world is based in the Arizona desert, specifically the Grand Canyon area. It’s a distinctive and very well-known environment, so we had to take care to get the “feel” of it right.
We started by evaluating a few key problems and deciding on a visual goal. Our first problem was the canyon walls. Up until this point we had been using a somewhat generic rock texture on our vertical surfaces. It worked well enough, but canyon walls and desert rocks tend to be striated from wind and water erosion, and the old texture did not adequately reflect this. So we painted a new one that added more cracks and layers of color.
Our second and more complicated problem was applying our new cliff textures to vertical surfaces. Here’s some background on why this was a challenge: In our engine (and in a lot of engines), textures are mapped to terrain using a technique called “planar mapping.” Essentially, textures are projected down onto their intended surfaces like a movie projector pointing down onto a screen. This technique looks good on flat surfaces like the ground, but we found that when we applied it to vertical surfaces like cliffs the textures would stretch and warp.
Our solution to this stretching problem was to change the angle of the texture projection to make it match the angle of the cliffs. Our resident artist/engineer/all-around-talented-guy Kevin Coyle took over and started tinkering with both art and code until things began to take shape. The result was a very clean texture without warping. We liked the result so much that we went back and reworked more old textures, including roads, gravel, and sand. The results speak for themselves.
Setting is an important part of any game, and features like this allow us to push the graphics and improve Fallen Earth’s look for better immersion. I'm proud of what we've accomplished in the year since the game launched, and I’m excited about the changes that are coming up. I hope that this and other behind-the-scenes tidbits that I post in the future will add to your enjoyment of the game.