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Update #79: Graphics and Rendering

Graphics Rendering Lighting Programming Adam Brennecke Update 79

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#1
BAdler

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Update by Adam Brennecke, Lead Programmer and Executive Producer

 

Over a year ago, in Update #49, we showed you the first movie of Pillars of Eternity. The movie showcased a beautiful scene in the Dyrwood complete with dynamic lighting, per-pixel occlusion, dynamic water and waterfall, and a day-night cycle. In this update I would like to give you an inside look on how these images are put together and rendered in the game, and I will cover new rendering features that we've added over the past year to address feedback from our backers about how our characters look in the scene. Warning: things might get technical!

 

E3

We are going to be going on update hiatus for the next three weeks as we prepare for E3 in Los Angeles. After E3, the next update will feature the final classes covering The Front Line (fighters and barbarians).

 

pe-update-79-580.jpg

 

At E3, the team will be showing Pillars of Eternity at the Paradox booth behind closed doors. To avoid spoiling what we will be showing, we will be saving these moments until you get to play it. Because we want to include you in the experience, we will be taking photos at the booth, and in a future update we will be sharing more screenshots from the demo. To give you a small taste, here's a sneak peek at a scene that will be shown at E3:

 

pe-encampment-580.jpg

 

Rendering Time

Backgrounds

 

pe-daynight-580.jpg

 

As we mentioned previously, our beautiful backgrounds are rendered out of Maya as a 2D image. They are very large images, sometimes over several gigabytes of raw data, and before the images get into the game we run a program that compresses the data. Maya renders out the backgrounds in four layers or "passes": final, depth, normal, and albedo. These passes are combined together in Unity for per-pixel occlusion of 3D objects, and for real-time dynamic lighting. When we bring the backgrounds into the game, they look like a flat 2D plane, and when viewed in Unity's editor the whole world has an awkward skewed look to it. The illusion comes together only when an orthographic camera is placed at the perfect angle.

 

pe-passes-580.jpg

 

Characters

 

Next we overlay the 3D world on top of the 2D rendered image. The characters are dynamic 3D skinned meshes that are animated and then rendered into the scene with a variety of shaders and materials. Our default material that we use on most characters includes a normal map (adds tiny variations in surface detail), specular map (adds shininess), and an albedo map (adds the base color). The default material also supports a tint map, which allows our designers and you to customize the colors of armor, hair, and skin.

 

We have other shaders that can change the look and feel of characters. For example, we have a metal shader for armor that adds an extra level of shininess and can reflect the environment via an environment map. A Cloth shader removes the shininess, and allows the character artists to make outfits made up of cotton, wool, and satin. We have special materials, like an emissive shader that isn't affected by light, used for the fire-godlike, ghosts, spectres, and the windows seen in the screenshots and video.

 

Because the characters are 3D, they need to be lit differently than the background image. We use a system with two directional lights. The first directional light is the key light and typically matches the sun color and intensity in outdoor scenes, and this light can be modified by the day-night cycle to cast moonlight at night. The second directional light is used as a fill light to make sure the "back side" of a character isn't in total darkness. The two lights are adjusted per scene depending on the pre-rendered light settings to match the sun direction, mood, and desired atmosphere.

 

In addition to the directional lights, we use dynamic deferred lights that can affect the background and characters. For example, if a torch is placed in a scene, the torch can illuminate both the 2D environment and a 3D character standing nearby. In addition, deferred lights are used for spell effects; a fireball explosion emits a burst of light, brightening up a dark dungeon room.

 

Bringing it all together

 

We noticed, and so did many of you, after releasing our first few screenshots, the 3D characters were not matching the 2D rendered scene as much as we would have hoped. So we put our thinking caps on, and we came up with new features since our first batch of screenshots, including dynamic ambient and a shadow control system.

 

To really make sure the characters fit in the scene, we came up with an ambient system that samples color from the 2D background, simulating a quick and dirty global illumination model. Characters pick up subtle color variations depending on where they are standing and what type of environment they are in. If a character is standing in a lush green jungle, it will pick up a subtle green hue from the light reflected off the environment. Game programmers love fast and cheap methods, and the ambient system gives us great results with little impact on rendering performance.

 

Ambient before and after:

 

pe-ambient-off.jpg

pe-ambient-on.jpg

 

Another feature that we've added recently to solve the issue of grounding characters into the scene is a system to shadow 3D characters when traversing into dark shadowy areas in the 2D image. The new system samples a low resolution image map which controls the contribution of the directional sunlight on the character, and to avoid double shadows, the same image controls the value of the dynamic shadow map. Lastly, to better match the 2D and 3D shadows, we color the dynamic shadow to match the 2D rendered shadow color (which often has a blue hue to it).

 

Shadow Blending before and after:

 

pe-shadow-blending-off.jpg

pe-shadow-blending.jpg

 

To tie everything together, we can optionally add post process effects. In this scene, we've added a very subtle bloom effect that effects both the environment and characters.

 

I hope you didn't get lost in all the technical talk! The important thing is that we hope you like the end result. We are satisfied with where we are at, but we always have a few ideas on how to improve the look and quality of the graphics. Improving the look of the game will be an ongoing process until we ship... and beyond. If you have any questions, please ask in our forums! Thanks for reading.


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#2
Labadal

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Great upate.

#3
Sensuki

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Real cheeky inclusion of dynamic cloth at the end, hahaha.

 

Great update

 

I noticed there's no more specular or diffuse map image, why the change from those and the inclusion of albedo (just curious). One obviously is size I guess.


Edited by Sensuki, 28 May 2014 - 09:08 AM.


#4
Adam Brennecke

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Real cheeky inclusion of dynamic cloth at the end, hahaha.

 

Great update

 

I noticed there's no more specular or diffuse map image, why the change from those and the inclusion of albedo (just curious). One obviously is size I guess.

 

We still have a specular contribution in the alpha channel of the albedo map. It's very subtle and difficult to see in the video and screenshots, so I decided not to include it.


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#5
IndiraLightfoot

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Thank you for the "sneak peak", Adam! Perhaps it's a building that's part of a complex like an acropolis, situated on top of a hill or a mountain! ;)

 

That screenshot is absolutely amazing. It's definitely a place worthy of exploration and adventure over and over again! :)


Edited by IndiraLightfoot, 28 May 2014 - 09:18 AM.


#6
Amentep

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I like the way the video looked. Good stuff.

#7
Osvir

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It looks amazing :D

Funny ending to the video as well.

I don't understand too much of the technical talk, well, I get a grasp of it. But it all sounds and looks good *thumbs up*



#8
Pandamaniac

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A wild ALOTH appeared!

Panda used Pok√© Ball!



#9
Sensuki

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That particular shot looks really Baldur's Gate-y.

 

The feels.



#10
ManifestedISO

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I think there is purple mesh under me right now. 



#11
Darth_Gandalf

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Superb update. I can really tell that you guys have been putting in a lot of hard work on this.

By the way, with that surprising ending, does this mean that Aloth is a confirmed companion now?

#12
Nonek

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The Dyrford theme really grows on you, excellent update thank you ladies and gentlemen.


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#13
mstark

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It's looking exceptionally good!



#14
IndiraLightfoot

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I must commend you for that brilliant running animation on that Aloth?-figure with a fluttering cape in the last seconds of the video. I always thought my characters looked akward when they were running in NWN2, but this running animation is simply brilliant - one of the best ones I've seen. Kudos to the animator! :D


Edited by IndiraLightfoot, 28 May 2014 - 09:30 AM.


#15
Stun

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I think there is purple mesh under me right now.

Same!

Lets see if we can walk on it.

Hey, wild stab-in-the-dark question:

Update by Adam Brennecke, Lead Programmer and Executive Producer
 


pe-encampment-580.jpg

Is this one of the entrances to the mega-dungeon?

#16
Sensuki

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The Dyrford theme really grows on you, excellent update thank you ladies and gentlemen.

 

Yeah it works a lot better in game.



#17
Quadrone

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Yes, very nice update. Game just looks fantastic now, moreso then before.

Spiffy winged helmet on that guard there. Btw. indirect confirmation of fire godlike as playable race?

 

 

Only one point of grievance:

Do I understand that right? You'll be at E3 show of footage and talk to the press but all behind closed doors?

Meaning we (the fans) will get nothing out of it, neither directly or indirectly via the media?

Except for some pics of the event several weeks later?


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#18
nikolokolus

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Yes, very nice update. Game just looks fantastic now, moreso then before.
Spiffy winged helmet on that guard there. Btw. indirect confirmation of fire godlike as playable race?


Only one point of grievance:
Do I understand that right? You'll be at E3 show of footage and talk to the press but all behind closed doors?
Meaning we (the fans) will get nothing out of it, neither directly or indirectly via the media?
Except for some pics of the event several weeks later?


You're going to get several stories from gaming sites in the wake of the show ... Just like any other game. What else do need between that and the regular updates we get here?

All we were promised as backers is a game and a chance to get a much deeper look at the development process, no one ever said we would get unlimited access.
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#19
Sensuki

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Only one point of grievance:
Do I understand that right? You'll be at E3 show of footage and talk to the press but all behind closed doors?
Meaning we (the fans) will get nothing out of it, neither directly or indirectly via the media?
Except for some pics of the event several weeks later?


Knew someone would bring this up. The press has already seen a lot of the game that we haven't, in the production spreadsheet there were three press demos planned (none of which we have seen). This is nothing different.

The team decided back in 2012 that they would keep the story under NDA, which the press will be subject to as well. Hopefully we do eventually get a gameplay video though like Shadowrun Returns and Wasteland 2.
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#20
IndiraLightfoot

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I think there is purple mesh under me right now.

Same!

Lets see if we can walk on it.

Hey, wild stab-in-the-dark question:

Update by Adam Brennecke, Lead Programmer and Executive Producer
 


pe-encampment-580.jpg

 

Is this one of the entrances to the mega-dungeon?

 

I don't know, but what I do know, since I'm a bit savvy when it comes to meteorites, that what we see here is in all likelihood a temple built around a huge meteorite! :w00t:  It's a huge meteorite body, mainly composed of metal, and it's characteristically thumbprinted (so most likely, it's having iron as its main component). Any ideas what kind of cult this may be? And what are the implications for the clash between science, magic and superstition? 

 

Compare, for instance, this to the largest meteorite in the world - the Hoba meteorite:

420px-Hoba_Meteorite_sire.jpg


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