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Frankie V

Making Casa eps 5

posted Sunday, 08 June 2014
June 8,2014

Yeah a bit soon for an update and as far as what has been done up to this point is I worked a bit more on the landscaping to get a bit more texture in to it as well a bit more interesting shape than just a flat surface, mostly, as well add a few more map objects and buildings to help out with the parallax.

The big change though is not what was added to to the map but what Epic added to the release of UE 4.2 , that makes the effort to do yet again another post so soon, and a few key additions to their up data is to have meaningful run time stats that includes an on screen FPS stat so moving forward with my walk about's I'll be including that bit of info.

An interesting bit of info that I ran across, and still need to look into, is apparently EU4 can be performance crippled so testing can be done as a simulation of lower end specs so if that turns out to be the case we can then determine what the minimum specifications will be for the HD release.

What is of interest though is the Mac is finally uping it's game when it comes to gaming with the introduction at WWDC of the Metal API for IOS 8 with rumors that it will be included in the future in UE4.

Kind of makes you think will the Mac become the preferred gaming rig choice of the future?

Also for thous asking about the player animations, as I know that’s somehow become a sticking point in UrT 4.2, I plan on doing a blog as to how things will be set up using visual aids.

Making Casa UE4 eps 4

posted Wednesday, 04 June 2014
June 4,2014

For this update I've add a bit more detail into the geometry, added trimmings and gutters, as well as further iron works and some foliage to get a better sense as to how well the use of space is building up towards the final result. The final result of course will be totally different than what’s being represented as part of the concept stage as the act of changing one thing usually means having to change another as to fit to finish.

Also to move things along a bit further as to lighting and shadows I made some adjustments, added a few entities, towards creating a balanced and linear lighting solution that also requires balancing out materials along the way.

Normally this is a pass best left for last as you can find yourself putting in to much time and effort doing the same requirements over and over again but out of the box UE4 is not really set up to give a quality render even as a working solution.

There are are a lot of features in Lightmass that just does not work with out some entity additions that needs to be added or adjusted as secondary requirements to added light elements. Perhaps the single most important parameter as part of the Lightmass World Setting is Diffused Boost that if left at it's stock setting of 1 none of the advanced setting will be effective if they work to expectations at all.

The nature of natural lights is they just don't hit a surface and go splat but rather bounce off the surface based on it's reflective index and when it does so carries along some of the color information along with it and transfers that color to surrounding surfaces and in the process picks up further color information in the next bounce. What you land up with is a hue of different light pooling that if balanced just right looks at the very least nature even if not realistic.

More or less this is what Diffuse Boost does that allows every thing else to work as expected like Ambient Occlusion that by it's self will look like a painted edge with no form of connectivity between other surfaces with in the same area.

The next secondary need is for some form of reflection capture as all materials should have some level of reflectivity index as lightmass bounces light into a given area. To accomplish this requirement a reflection capture needs to take place with in proximity of connecting surfaces and in some cases overlap as to the desired effect. In other words if it looks good then it's good.

It's interesting how reflection capture is preformed to it's real wold counter part by the use of a reflective object, by sphere or box, that suggests that an accurate lighting solution can not be achieved by the use of a single light entity but by the addition of secondary elements that supports the desired result based on observation.

It should also be noted that surfaces that are highly reflective, like metal for example, will not work at all with out a reflection capture and the result will be a black surface render of a surface that is not with in direct line of the light source.

The last thing of note that goes hand in hand with lighting is shadows and although there as somethings that directly or indirectly effects the overall quality the ideals of density does not apply but is controlled by the overall Environment Color used to balance the fusing of the light solution based on other parameter changes like Diffused Boost.

With out a doubt a lot more complex than one is use to as to map lighting for idtech3 but as part of a process it's best practice to focus first on use of space best suited to the ideals of someone moving through an area as well as to what areas a player can or can not be allowed to enter and leave the eye candy for the polish phase.

Making Casa UE4 eps 3

posted Monday, 26 May 2014
May 26,2014

OK in this update of Making Casa I'm going to cover a few questions popping up.

Looks to blocky.

Yes it does as 99% of the buildings are directly converted from brushes and more or less they are just box meshes that do not take well to advance lighting and rendereing system, like the one in UE4. Most problematic is smoothing groups, light, and shadows as they do not like right angles greater than 45 degrees and the result tends to be a hard knife edge corner.

There is however a simple solution to the problem that by chamfering a right angle edge, even by a small amount, the corner now becomes 45+45 and now Sg's, lights, and shadows will create a much softer transition.

Need tessellation.

The ideal for Casa, as a map that will come with the game, is to keep things as light as possible to maintain a high performance envelope to keep the competitive community happy.

Granted it's all going to look a bit dated but I'm sure third party will come up with the eye candy.

Lighting needs improving.

Good lighting is not a factor of lighting alone but an interaction between, lights, shadows, as well as texture levels that are properly balanced. The best practice is to stick with a working level of lights and as part of the polishing pass balance texture levels to match the environment.

Making Casa UE4 eps 2

posted Sunday, 25 May 2014
Note: This is a series of videos of Casa a, well known map for the game Urban Terror, showing work in progress as it's converted from idtech3 to Unreal Engine 4.

In this milestone video all of the cheats of photo sourced windows and doors have bee replaced with geometry as well as balconies added as map objects. A proper sky dome was also added to help improve over all lighting and shadows.

Some things of interest the facades of the buildings themselves were converted directly from brush to polygon by exporting them from the original .map file and the total face count for all of the buildings is less than 10k. By comparison HD weapons will be between 7-10k with player models between 15-20k, give or take based on the design, so the actual filling of a volume of space is highly efficient as compared to doing the same environment over again using brushes.

Also of interest is how much more efficient UE4 is when it comes to map objects in general and although there is a lot of windows and door casings they are all modified versions of a single window object that has been instanced copied so it's memory foot print is equal to the single object.

In all though if not for the less than ideal resolution of the texture images themselves a 1-1 conversion of a brush based .map map could easily be completed in a weekend and be considered done however the hard part creating a mesh based map is the need to have in place a proper source control as the map grows using progressive design ideals.

Source control for Casa was a “MUST” as what was extracted from the .map file was a massive amount of mesh and texture data that in it's raw state was total unmanageable lacking any kind of logical separation between supporting sub-components. A way to think of it is being lost in the forest when your job is to cut down the tree. What tree?

The first iteration of attempt to create a usable source control chain started during testing in UDK as to design pathways that best fits our needs as well as to have in hand a visual representation as to performance differences switching from idtech3 to UE4.

At the time we switched from UDK to UE4 it could be said that we had the working structure for HD done, with the exception of movement mechanics as we were able to run around in game using Casa with our weapons as well as our player models and it was clear as a bell the a game does not inherent engine characteristics but are added by design choices.

Back to the subject in hand in UDK the base work for source control was achieved to some degree by breaking things down into manageable blocks and each block given an identifier and exported relative to world origin 0 0 0. Doing so is not really ideal as to map objects in general but the result is each block would snap into place like a perfectly fitting Lego block.

Anyways to keep things short this is enough for now, with more to come, with a lot more divide and conquer in the mix as we have yet to disuse the pain of redoing the textures.
comments: Feel free to discuss this on our forums


CDN or not to CDN

posted Tuesday, 20 May 2014
So it's all very well and good this content delivery network stuff. However it's super premium service which costs a bomb to deploy globally. When you run all day every day at near 400 MBit/s the Bandwidth used just racks its self up past the scope of you budget.

The way going forward (i will be replacing our current download providing) is to have enough physical capasity to offer the day to day stuff with CDN ready to go for big deployments and to soak up that "Extra Load". I'm sure I will blog about that soon... for now... back to it!
comments: Feel free to discuss this on our forums

Frankie V

Making Casa UE4 eps 1

posted Monday, 19 May 2014
Been working for a while on a remake of Casa for Urban Terror HD using the Unreal Engine 4 and though you all would be interested in following along.

To start the conversion I broke down the .map file, that uses brushes, and imported into 3ds Max I was able to create the source chain with textures and materials intact. More or less this is what Casa would have looked like if idtect3 had an improved rendering engine and if texture resolution was a bit higher there would be very little need of additional work beyond filling it out a bit more as well as a bit more work in the detail.

At this stage there is a good sampling of old texture work and new physics based material to get a good sense of direction as well as between cheat textures converted to detail geometry.

At the moment I'm building all of Casa inside of a sandbox to also accomplish the development of necessary game assets so although this is not the actual game it's also a good opportunity to show off some of the detailing as to textures, materials, of the HD weapons.


Can i haz more disc io plox!

posted Monday, 19 May 2014
Ahh yes....

For those who like "Infer-structure", here is your top tip of the day. Over buy disc iops. When you dealing with VM environments as ESXi Hosts you will love how well everything works, up until the point you under-estimate disc io.

Normally people think about average and "peak" usage, you can easily forget how heavy backup is on a production system. Thinking about it there is a reason why Backup tends to happen "At night". Saying this, how do you define night when you run a "Global" used website??

People may have noticed auth dieing around 3am GMT ... well that would be some more "Heavy" backup scripts running.

Fear not! We are replacing our horribly heavy backups with super light lovely differential VM backups. Then auth should stop crashing and all is good is the world!
comments: Feel free to discuss this on our forums


Car tire model explained

posted Monday, 12 May 2014
Welcome everybody to my blog. In this blog I will mainly talk about level design, modeling, texture creation and any other creative work I do while working on Urban Terror HD. Why? Because I like to show off work that I'm proud of. :)

When working on a map I usually start with the things that give me the most joy working on and I procrastinate doing the boring work, even if that's what actually should be done first. So in my first blog entry I'll show you screenshots of one of the first models I created for Urt HD and I'll explain a bit how I did it. If you have no experience in level design this might give you a glimpse of how the environments in games are created. If you are a mapper you might learn some new technique. In any case I hope you'll enjoy reading this post.

When creating a game asset I always start with a high poly model that has tons of detail. I use blender as my 3D application of choice but 3ds Max or Maya are just as good (those two are actually the industry standard). You can see the high poly version of a car tire I modeled on the very left on the two images below. The first screenshot shows the models in solid mode, the second one shows the wireframe. As you can see, all of the detail is actually in the model, there is no texture used on the high poly model, just a basic black color. In case you didn't know, game engines break down surfaces into triangles (tris for short) no matter what shape the surface initially has. The more tris your graphics card has to render, the lower your fps (frames per second) will be. 64740 tris is obviously too much to be used in a real time game for such a simple object. In current UrT maps somewhere around 20k - 50k tris are drawn at any given time for the whole map (!). So, since the high poly model is far too complex to be used as is, lower resolution models have to be used and much of the detail has to be faked by textures.

A series of low poly models labeled lod 0 - lod 2 (lod = level of detail) are actually used in the game. The lod 0 model is used when you are very close to the model. The further away you get, the smaller the object will be on your screen and the less detail you will be able to see. That's why the lod 0 model automatically gets replaced by a lower detail lod 1 model at a certain distance. If done correctly you won't even be able to see the switch happening. In theory any number of lods can be used but at some point it's not worth the effort to create them or it's not even possible to reduce the tris anymore. In this case I used three different lod models.

Now let's talk about getting the detail of the high poly model onto the low poly models. That's the job of the textures. Each model uses several different textures which are more or less important. The image below shows the three main textures I use for the tire model. The base color map (also called diffuse map) defines, like the name suggests, the color of the model. I created this texture with the free version of dDo, an awesome photoshop add-on that makes it so easy to create amazing textures for your models. The ambient occlusion map and normal map are generated in blender from the high poly model in a process called "baking". All of the detail of the high poly model is baked to a texture that can be used on a low poly model. The ambient occlusion map fakes the darker, more concealed areas of the model, whereas the normal map shows the direction the surfaces are facing in the world. The latter information is used to make light and shadow behave as if there was all this detail in the model. The textures play such an important role in how realistic an object looks, they almost work like magic :) . Having explained this, take another look at the first image and note how you can hardly see any difference between the high poly model and lod 0. All the lod models use the ambient occlusion map and normal map generated from the high poly model.

You might have wondered what the collision model in the first two images is all about. Determining where a player can walk and where his path is blocked is computationally a very expensive task. Poor collision has an even greater impact on fps as poor modeling. That's why it's important to keep the collision as simple as possible and therefore I created yet another, even simpler version of the car tire that will be invisible in the game and is only used to block the player. Most people do not realize how simple and blocky the environments in games really are. The visuals may be highly detailed and realistic but the movement is limited by flat walls and big cubes.

Putting all this together, the lod models, the collision model and several textures we end up with one simple game asset that can be placed in any map:

Did you like this post? Would you like to see more of these entries focusing on level design? Let me know what you think.

And as always, have a happy day! :)
comments: Feel free to discuss this on our forums


BladeKiller Is UVW Unwrapping

posted Sunday, 11 May 2014
It's been a long time since I blogged or what at the time passed for a blog. I used to have a personal website on when Q3 was new and wonderful artists in the community helped teach me how to skin. Thanks to Kalish for making it possible to write these blogs and share our UE4 Urban Terror progress with you.

One of my favourite pass times is uvw unwrapping a 3ds max model, especially player models, so it can be textured. I'm very fussy about how I like my uv's laid out after having suffered at the hands of other modelers and their horrid uvw unwrapping. Some of the early Q3 models overlapped body parts. This makes me a bit odd since most normal people detest this task but to me it's a fun puzzle to solve. I am currently working on a male player model for UE4 Urban Terror HD.

In this image I have unwrapped his torso, arms and lower body. You may have noticed that the model is basically naked. The gear like holsters, belts, boots will be added as separate models later. Previously, these parts were either part of the main model or simply painted on. This new method allows for flexibility and efficiency.

Stay tuned.


We are back! Scaling

posted Thursday, 08 May 2014
First thanks to Kalish for writing the Blogs parts for us.

I have just finished my works on our "Hosting Platform" for 2014 called "Lazerus". All i must do now is clone our VMs over to our 2nd host. This should make and its services completely redundant.

Some code to go yet on getting the CMS to autoprovision the Routing and to fail over the IPs ... but not long now! :)

If you ever wondered where i do all this from :) there we are :D
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