Christopher "shaithis" Buecheler
lipping through my latest issue of Game Developer Magazine, and I noticed something startling...something so horrifying, it boggled the mind. I am not particularly original!
Yes, that's right...I, the Pablo Picasso of digital art, the John Lennon of pixels, the William Yeats of textures, am an unoriginal bastard. I, the one who all the world looks to when they need advice on their digital artwork, have by complete accident stolen a title. I, hero to the people, favored artist of the gods, near-divine creature who's magical copy of photoshop strikes fear into the hearts of...
Uh, oh...wait.. Sorry. Got a bit carried away there. Allow me to put my delusions of grandeur aside for a moment and speak as who I really am. Specifically: "that guy, draws the textures? You know the one I mean. Whasshisface." :)
Anyway, it turns out that I managed to rip off the title "Graphic Content", without knowing I'd done it. Under the assumption that the guys at Game Developer were using it first, I've changed the name of this column to "Painting on Polygons" which is, in a way, more accurate. So without further ado, let's talk textures and their bases
Texture bases, eh? EH? We don't NEED no stinkin bases! We need lights, and embossments, and complicated interweaving Celtic ribbon designs! Who needs bases?
When you take two mappers of equal skill, and give them both the same "assignment", but with different textures, you're bound to notice two things immediately. The first: It's amazing how different the two will be. The second: Whoever's got the better textures will probably produce a better map.
I don't want to steal the level designer's thunder here, or anything. Anyone who can produce the kind of gorgeous architecture found in the better 3D games has my infinite respect. All I've managed so far are box-hall-box-hall style levels. But...when it comes down to it, textures can make or break a level just as much as architecture can.
And that's where base textures come in.
The human eye can only handle so much detail before it begins to become confused and disoriented. If this is the effect you're trying to create with your level (Iikka "Fingers" Keranen recently pointed out to me an area in one of his maps for Anachronox that uses this idea), then you should be using as many strange, hyper-detailed textures as possible.
But...say you're going for the smooth flow of a DM map, or the classy appearance of some of Quake 2's levels? Say you're trying to replicate Half-Life's realistic missile-silo feel? Too much detail, too much chaos, and you've lost it. Base textures (and their cousins, low-level detail textures) are what make or break a map, here.
Take a look at those three textures (mine, from a recent texture pack). Right in a row you have a high-level detail tex, a low-level detail tex, and the base texture used to make the other two. It is _always_ a benefit to have these low-level and base textures available, because it allows a level designer to give a map some variation, without giving it an overdose of detail. I wouldn't recommend using all three of these in one room (too little color variation), but if you start to mix and match the 3 types of textures from say, five different sets, you start to get a nice balance between variation and consistency of theme.
Now take a look at this image from "Enraged", a Half-Life deathmatch map by Scary-One (thanks to Radium for the screenshot). Then look at the same shot, with the color hilighting I've applied to it
Purple Areas are areas of high-level detail. Red represents low-level detail, and turquoise represents bases. This is not exact, and there's definitely some overlapping in terms of what textures fit into what categories, but it gets the general idea across. Part of the reason this map looks so classy is because Scary-One has the ability to spread out his base, low-level, and high-level details around, rather than clumping them. He also keeps the quantities of high-level details down, using them for highlights rather than as the main texturing component (which are, and should be, the low-level details).
The bases are used well, filling up areas that need texturing, but don't really require any great level of detail. This also helps break up the low-level detail areas a bit, so they don't become monotonous.
So... Base, Low-level detail, and High-level detail. Those are the three main types of textures. We're leaving one out, though, which is actually a relative of the base texture. The "Glue" texture is a thin strip of base texture use for covering small areas that are predominantly inconspicuous. This includes things like seams between floors, edges of stairs, strips separating two wall panels...that type of thing. Glue textures are usually extremely low detail, and very small in size (typically 64x32 or smaller). Why not just use a full base texture and crush it down? Memory concerns, predominantly. If you haven't already loaded the glue texture's base for some other reason... why load it now? The more textures you have in a room, and the bigger the size of each, the less your framerate.
And the moral of this little story? Whenever you're working on textures, always make sure that you've start with a low-detail base texture. Your level designers will thank you for it, and in the end everyone's work will look better because of it.
Until next time
- Christopher Buecheler is a freelance 2D artist.
Credits: Painting on Polygons is © 1999 Christopher Buecheler. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it, or we'll paint you white against a white background.