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Beaker's Bent:
Making the Outdoors - Part 1

By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff
Vol. 2, Issue 7 
December 22, 1999 


In the real world, even man-made objects usually have much different details on their sides than on their bottoms instead of a single texture wrapped around all sides. Of course, transitions and details are generally non-tileable, which means that if your entire cliff (or building wall) is one very tall face, you will either be limited in the amount of texture detail you can use (because you won't be able to tile it up the cliff or wall), or you'll have to forget about the transition altogether. Depending on the engine, the best solution to this is to build special geometry to accommodate non-tileable transition textures, or to use a decal/texture-layering system if one is available.

Finally, even in large areas without transitions, such as a field of grass or a large rock face, it is very important to have specific and non-repeating details. Again, it is important that the entire area not be one single face from a texturing standpoint, or else it will be impossible to put these details down. The erroneous solution in games of old to avoiding the repetitious look across large tiled faces has been to try to paint more interesting detail into the tiled texture. Unfortunately, our eyes are incredibly sensitive to patterns, and as soon as a texture which looks very natural and interesting on its own is textured across a large area, it will form into a big repeating pattern. This is very evident with many of the rock textures in Unreal - they were evidently ripped from photographs, always a dangerous way to start an outdoor texture because of the non-repeating nature of the real world. These photo-manipulated rock textures mostly include a couple very distinctive dark shadows, and they look like very nice pieces of rock in the texture browser, but become a series of dark swirls in the world.

A better approach to realistic textures is to start with a very plain base which tiles with little visible repetition, and then to create "highlight" pieces. These highlight pieces can be little more than the same base texture with a single detail added, such as a cluster of rocks in a field of grass. The important thing is not to tile this detail endlessly - instead, it should be placed on a face where the texture doesn't tile much, if at all. As the player runs by, what they should see is a large field of grass broken up by a single clump of rocks, rather than a large field of plain grass, then a large field of grass with a clump of rocks repeating every few feet, then maybe a large field of grass with the same pattern of little flowers. In any engine which allows decals or layering, the details can be placed without regard to the base texture - so long, of course, as they are placed where it makes sense. Positioning that clump of rocks detail so that it wraps halfway up a steep cliff should be an obvious no-no, but it happens more than I would expect.

This is a good place to end this column - lighting and texture variation is a large subject, and it can be practiced no matter what the underlying geometry of the level is. What I thought was going to be a simple discussion of some ideas about building levels gained from my now-cancelled project is actually shaping up to be a fairly major dissertation, so next time I'll continue and talk about realistic outdoor geometry. It is also necessary to address the vagaries of game design in outdoor areas, but that may not even be possible in the next column. Until then, keep the initial point in mind - making pleasing outdoor areas requires far more effort than a simple set of gray corridors, but it is becoming more necessary every day, unless you want to be stuck playing in and making corridors for the rest of your life.

- Richard “Beaker” Wyckoff is a game designer, not a level designer, damnit


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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Beaker's Bent is © 1999 Rich Wyckoff. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so don't do it or we'll sick our lawyers on you. Muhahahahahahahah. ph3ar our [email protected] l3gal sk1lz y0.