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Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous Kickstarter Update #23: Graphics Engine Improvements
Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Mon 24 February 2020, 23:53:10Tags: Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Owlcat have taken a break from introducing companions to talk about the improvements they've made to their graphical tech for Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. It's a highly technical update, but the bottom line is that not only will the game look better than Kingmaker but it will also be easier for Owlcat to create new content. Here's an excerpt:
In video games, rendering terrains is normally achieved using splat map technology and various modified techniques for building terrain meshes that support level of detail (LOD). LOD is crucial in games with a free-roaming camera, because it significantly improves performance. This isn’t relevant to our game, as our game is set at a fixed angle and we are always seeing the same LOD. Splat mapping makes it possible to blend several textures in layers: the splat map stores the weights of the various textures, while the terrain shader blends specific textures (e.g., dirt, sand, grass) based on these weights.
In Kingmaker, our terrain was atypical from a game dev perspective. This was because we wanted the world to look hand-painted. To achieve this, our artists added hand-painted details on top of the splat map terrains. The ground in open locations and the flooring in dungeons were the standard models created by our artists in Maya. The process of importing them into our engine was a real experiment on our part. We had to cut them up into small sections in order to optimize culling. We developed a special tool to do this, which took over 180 hours of work, and then another few weeks for tweaking and debugging.
Besides this, the textures for these terrains had to be large in order to preserve as much detail as possible from our artists’ work. They were sent to the engine in their final form, as we couldn’t slice them into the layers that they really should have been composed of.
In Wrath of the Righteous, we switched to a new terrain pipeline. Our artists now create terrain meshes inside the game engine. Instead of huge baked textures, we now use splat maps and a set of small layered textures. And whenever we need to add extra detail, we use decals (we’ll get on to those later). This saves our artists time when working on terrains and textures in Maya, and also eliminates the need to slice up meshes and textures during import.
Another area that we’re continuing to improve and develop is our FX system.
For Kingmaker, we developed a technology called ParticleSnap, which allowed us to stick particles to the bones of characters. Because ParticleSnap was designed as a universal tool, our artists were able to stick particles not just to characters, but to other objects or areas. This is how we created our new-style AoE effects. In these effects, ParticleSnap doesn’t work on creatures, but on space, with particles sticking to specific points. This also allows us to create an AoE that follows dips and curves in the terrain. All this is underpinned by the same particle system, so rendering relatively complex effects still doesn’t cost much in terms of performance.
One of the unresolved issues in Kingmaker was distortion for effects. We were able to refract an image, but we couldn’t create several layers of that refraction. To make things worse, our refraction effects wiped out all other effects. To give an example, we weren’t able to create a hot air effect, because all the effects behind it would have simply disappeared. This meant that our artists were extremely constrained in how they could use distortion in effects. Our new renderer based on the SRP allowed us to customize our frame pipeline so that we could mix a variety of refracting layers together and lift these restrictions on our artists:
Another new development was been created by our Lead FX Artist Victor Demishev. He created a fire constructor that enables us to “set fire” to an entire location in a couple of hours, without having to produce new FX content.
We’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us! But we can already see how much simpler our content creation pipeline has become. You can really sense the change within our team, too. We don’t have to spend days redoing a location if we decide to move a single tree. We don’t have to wrack our brains trying to place effects so that distortion doesn’t intersect on screen. We don’t have to check every terrain to make sure it was sliced correctly during import. We now have a new graphics debug system, which makes it much easier to understand what’s going on in a specific pixel. And we have also integrated a new system for shadows, post-processing, HBAO, SMAA—and a whole load of other acronyms—into our new renderer. Let us know in the comments if you want to see more news and details from the technical side of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous.