Adding depth to your Ages

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This is a tutorial page.Versions available: PyPRP; 3ds Max; Korman.

The purpose of this tutorial is to demonstrate some simple tweaks one can add to ones Ages and areas to give them a bit more depth aesthetically.

When looking at the content Cyan themselves have built their environments look very atmospheric which is obtained by using several methods which I will talk through in sections. For the purpose of this tutorial I have built a very quick test Age, which you can see here. This Age has basic UVMapping and a single Sun to light the Age.

[image here]

Doesn't look to bad right? This is a point that a fair few Age builders reach but sadly stop there. There are some wonderful Ages out there which could be pushed further to be something spectacular by their authors.

Light Sources

I will cover two forms of light sources in this tutorial. Light source as in an object like a lamp, spot or sun that can be added in Blender and light source as a more artistic concept.

Lighting is a component that many don't give a huge amount of thought to, it often seems to be the case of “I need a Sun in my Age so here we go” and they add a sun but leave it at that. Lighting is a core component for what kind of “vibe” you want your Age to have, the colours of the lamps will add or take away from the colour pallet you have chosen for your locations.

Lighting guides the player through the world, it guides the eyes to elements you want people to look at. They also help break up other colours. For example if you have an environment that uses a lot of orange (for example a D'ni location) then using a complimentary colour like blue or even green help break up the orange and balance things out. Where as using a colour like red would amplify the red already existing in the orange tones and compound the issue. If you're unsure about what colours play well with each other I recommend looking up Colour Theory, there are also online tools for web developers that allow for colour picking and then will pair it with colours that match nicely with it.

When picking a sun for your Age try to shy away from the default settings for that light source. Instead take the time to adjust the settings, the energy of the source and the colour. Light is effected by atmosphere it's worth keeping that in mind when choosing your settings.

In establishing the light source for this test Age I used two Suns. One with a yellowish cream colour with a reduced output as to not over saturate the Age. Then I established a secondary sun on the opposite side and closer to the level of the avatar's feet. Again for this second sun I used a reduced output and changed the colour to a darkish grey-blue. In real life shadows aren't black, they are a cold colour usually with hints of blue or purples in them. This secondary sun mimics this effect giving the avatar a blueish shadow when facing away from the “prime” sun.

[image here]

Already we can see some difference to the Age. But we can take this lighting further to really enforce the colours we want to have upon this Age.

Additional note: I personally don't tend to use the sun option on the lighting sources for my Ages. I generally don't like how they play with my objects as such I use spot-lamps and ramp the size up for them to cover the entire area.

Vertex Painting

I love vertex painting, I'm not going to lie. I love how much you can really make things pop with it. Sadly I didn't really discover it until after I had built the first version of Fehnir's House but I used it heavily in everything after and it really does make things look better. Cyan also employs heavy use of vertex painting in their content, it helps to give the illusion of lighting without light sources (blender objects) actually being used. Not only this but it allows you to have textures use multiple colours that break up some of the uniformity giving more variance to your worlds.

Now light sources (blender objects) do influence vertex painted objects to be warned. I have found multiple times that lamps set as suns will sometimes completely wash out the vertex painted areas (which is one of the reasons I stopped using sun lamps). So you may have to play around with settings slightly to get the look you want.

This is my test Age with vertex painting applied to it.

[image here]

You can see the colours making an impact now. I used only two colours for this Age the same colours as the two suns I have. With this Age I set the view to wireframe, and then started vertex painting. Whilst in vertex painting mode pressing F will highlight all the individual faces, pressing it again will mean you can paint the entire object in one go.

[images here]

For this I opted to paint the entire object in one go. I first completely covered the mesh in the darker colour (the grey-blue). I then panned the view so that I was viewing the object from the 'point of view' of the yellow sun

[image here]

I then put down a quick highlight of the yellow tone, adding extra to parts that stood out.

[image here]

Generally when I'm doing this on my own content I actually use three colours. The prime sun colour (yellow) the 'shadow sun' colour (dark grey-blue) and then a third darker colour (a darker blue). I use this third colour to pick out details in areas that are cast in shadow.

[sul image here]

This is Sul, an Age I am currently working on. In this Age I used the third dark colour to highlight the twists in the rock structure.

The more you play around with it the easier it gets, the colour picker tool helps with matching colours or finding a nice blend between colours you have already put together. Whilst I generally stick to three colours when doing the main pass over my content sometimes other colours come into play when you factor in other light sources. For example if you had a green firemarble lamp on the wall then I would highlight the surrounding area in a similar green to give the illusion of light but I would also mix a bit of green into the blues I have been using for the shadows.

When building meshes keep in mind how vertex painting works, you will in some cases need to build the mesh in a certain way to allow for vertex painting to work well.

For example,

[wall example image]


Texturing will make or break an Age. I have seen a few Ages over the years where I have thought “man if they had used better textures that place would be sweet” I have also seen Ages that have been really basic but the texture work has been on point that it looks great despite being simple.

I understand not everyone is a pro with Photoshop (or GIMP) but using textures sourced from photos is definitely better than the alternative.

Try and stay away from what I call 'Bryce textures'. If anyone has seen the Bryce renders people did in early 2000's you'll know what I mean, for those who don't these examples might help to give you an idea.

[bryce image here]

These textures always look dated, flat and fake. I've yet to see them used in Uru and look the part.

There are great resources online for sourcing photo textures for use either as they are or for editing into new textures. If you do have the Photoshop skills then stock photos are also another good source for texture elements.

So you have your object textured, but there are in some cases more you can do with it. In the case of the test Age we have our grass floor, but the edges just stop. Vertex painting to the rescue! Another feature of vertex painting is the “Alpha” value. This doesn't replace pre-established vertex painting but adds to it.

To implement this you'll want to put your mesh in edit mode. Then in the mesh box there is a button next to 'vertex paint' that says new. Click this and it will add a new vertex painting option. Change this new option name to Alpha and make sure the boxes next to it are selected.

[image here]

Now, this vertex painting option works with two values, black and white. White means the section is normal, black means it is see through. So current our grass plain is all white, if I painted it all black then it would be invisible in game. If we painted it grey you would be able to see it slightly and the rock texture underneath.

So selecting black, we paint the edges of the grass mesh. In game this means the grass will start to fade into the surrounding texture giving the appearance of grass fall off instead of a sharp edge


This is also helpful when you stack textures. If we were to duplicate the grass mesh, then put a different grass texture on it. We could use whites, greys and blacks to blend them in with the grass below.

[Kehrahn image]

Here you can see the green grass and purple grass blending and merging with each other. The purple grass sits on top but Alpha vertex painting allows for it to pop up here and there breaking up the green grass texture and stopping from to much texture repeat from showing up.

This can also be used for other elements. The basin wall in the test Age had a secondary mesh over it with a crack texture (already an alpha texture), which then had Alpha vertex painting applied to it as well to allow the cracks to show more in some areas and less in others further breaking up the repetitiveness of the base rock texture

[basin image]

The key with texturing in Uru is to not have the textures be obviously repeating, to try and not have texture seams and make it look natural. UVMapping in Blender has several options that allow for different texturing methods (like project from view).

Adding Additional Elements

So already the test Age is looking a lot better than it did at the start of the tutorial. But there is another thing we can do to add depth. I tend to refer to these as “ground clutter”. These are things like small rocks, boulders, bushes or patches of grass blades. They help to break up textures (and the repetitive nature of them) but also to make flat plains look less flat. If you have a large forest and the only objects breaking out of the ground is trees and the ground is flat with a grass texture it looks weird. Breaking it up with ground clutter helps. You don't have to have a sea of grass blades like the top of Noloben but some here and there help.

[image here]

All I have added here is multiple copies of the same bush. In some cases I've increased the scale along the Z axis to create tall bushes, in others I reduced it greatly along the Z axis and left it embedded in the ground to give the impression of grass growth. Scattered around it gives a bit more life to the location. It's hard balancing details to make the world feel alive but going overboard and bloating the file size of the Age.

Back when Uru came out people were still on dial-up and computers weren't as good as they are now, so content for Uru had to be a bit more conservative. These days we're not limited to that so we can up things a bit more (higher res textures for example) to make content look even better.

So there we have it, some simple things that can give more depth to content. [ before after image here]