Welcome back to next episode of the UtH series. First of all, we'd like to thank you for all of the good feedback you've given us under previous articles dedicated to the deeper description of how things are made at SCS Software. The last article became quite a wall of text, so I'll try to grow something shorter and smaller this time.
Yes, the word grow is used as intended there, because today we're going to take a look at assets of vegetation in our games! So grab your gloves, shovels, clippers, fertilizer etc. and let's go gardening!
As you probably know, our company is located in Prague, Czech Republic. That means we're located in Central Europe. So when we create a new state or zone for ETS 2, it's much easier to get good material by our own doing than for new areas in ATS. Yes, vegetation is different in each European country too, but it's still quite similar, well known for us or at least not so far away. If you're asking that it means we sometimes simply take a camera and go into the woods then the answer is yes. For example, in the team of asset designers, it's quite normal that one of the artists dedicated to vegetation systems says something like he's not going to be available in the office tomorrow if the weather will be good for shooting. Maybe we can publicly admit, that some of the deciduous forests in France had their foundation in material captured in the nature of the Kunratice valley, a small part of Prague. Does it sound like our colleague got it too easy? Unfortunately, he didn't. Because when he was there, the weather suddenly changed from partly cloudy to quite a big storm and he came back wet and cold as an abandoned dog. But as it's said, there's no greenery without water.
Seeds, ground, and patient care, right? Or not?
But how are the vegetation assets made? When we have all the good data and material we need, the phase of creation begins. It starts with a texture and mask. You need to capture and recreate the look, colors, pattern of foliage, bark, translucence, shine, shadows and so on. Then it's time to create the whole model. To make the width, height, shapes, roots or treetops. To decide how big the vegetation asset will be, how small, how it will look dry, fresh, healthy or withered. As we've been gaining experience with every new zone we made for our games, we started to create more looks and versions of every single vegetation asset we create. The reason is probably really obvious - to have more options, to be able to create the whole forest composed of different trees and plants of the same or similar species. No one wants to make a greenery zone full of exactly the same models of vegetation.
When the models are done and the textures are put on them, the whole compositions are recreated a few times again but with different 'Level Of Detail' (as you can see on the picture below). The purpose for that is to bring even more options for map designers as they need to distinguish highly detailed assets which are placed near the roads where players are able to drive or lower detail assets which are placed on the horizon far away from the player's close range. The whole set of new vegetation is further assigned to the map designers along with new textures for ground, terrain, 2D 'walls of textured horizon' which serve as coulisses at the maximum viewed distance. And also the information and suggestions of its use and placement.
Gloves + shovel or keyboard + mouse?
Definitely keyboard and mouse. Like the other assets and models in our games, which are made in graphic applications and software, vegetation is no different. Two colleagues out of our team of asset designers are currently dedicated for vegetation systems, and they use the same or quite similar tools. It doesn't matter if they're going to make new buildings, traffic signs, or trees and plants. So if you're interested in which software they use, we can give you some tips such as Adobe Photoshop or our own SCS plugin for Blender and Maya. This plugin also includes specialized Vegetation tool.
As you can see in the gif below, one of our colleagues found passion and love in vegetation asset development since one classified space program ended. Do you recognize him?
The whole process of new vegetation asset creation is really complex, comprehensive and quite difficult. As you can probably imagine, every single tree or plant, ground or terrain texture needs a different approach if you want to make it well. And even when you have enough time, material and skill, you can't capture nature's diversity exactly as it is in reality. Moreover, there are many other things which we need to keep in mind but nature doesn't. For example the impact on players' hardware, polygons, scale or texel (pixels in a meter) detail limitations, a transition between models' LODs (level of details), vegetation translucence, wind animations (set manually for each single branch) of the whole trees or in the leaves, and much more. There are so many things you mustn't forget. And our games are not located right in the middle of nature but on the roads. We can imagine how hard it must be for studios which make for example RPGs or FPS shooter games. But on the other hand, they often don't need to do everything according to reality, right?
Don't forget to water the plants
Well, it looks like I failed with my initial intention to write a shorter article than the previous one. Hope you don't mind and that you've enjoyed reading it, that it has brought new information about how another part of our games is made.
As always, thank you for your time and I'm looking forward to reading your comments, criticism, feedback, and suggestions on which topic you'd like to see covered in the next article from the Under the Hood series. Until we meet again, have a great time and don't forget to water the plants. At least those you have at your flat or house. And we'll keep an eye on those which are in our games. Do we have a deal?
Under the Hood: #1 Research , #2 Assets