In this blog post I shall sum up some of the ideas and technologies that I have implemented into my project as a result of looking at some of the forefront products in my field.
A good place to start is my recently developed workflow using Unreal Engine 4. This was engine was chosen not only because of its relative widespread use, but it widespread use as a real-time renderer for architectural visualization (or ArchViz) meant that its high quality visuals could be pushed beyond what we commonly see throughout the gaming industry currently. By speaking with other users and looking at techniques developed my notable community members like Koola and architects like Fabrice Bourrelly I managed to successfully manually edit engine settings to push visual quality further than what is possible with the default package.
Moreover my interactions with the ArchViz community led to the implementation of more advanced lighting solution like IES light profiles, which are a common feature in offline renders, but are a new phenomenon to games (most recently Mass Effect Andromeda used such an approach with some of the lighting in its environments) and I was eager to try and add it my project as well.
Another field which I looked into was lighting set-ups and methods in offline renderers like Keyshot and Blender. Looking at community forums and blogs I was inspired to try and recreate some of the high quality visuals or at least make a way of implementing them in Unreal. This led to my solutions for recreating extremely expensive effects in terms of processing power like caustics and colored light textures in Unreal. I the end these methods removed many of the limitations Unreal4 originally had as an engine for the project, which aimed to recreate high quality visuals normally reserved for offline renderers.
Another aspect of my investigation into the forefront of gaming visuals was trying to eliminate some of the common visual limitations that Unreal has (and with my research into alternatives so does the Frostbite Engine).
A major development in this field was improving the reflections in my level as by default the engine relies on screen space reflections which are currently the most widespread in games, but give off horrible artefacts when objects that are meant to be reflected are not in the immediate camera view. My solution to this was to employ a mixture of prebuilt higher quality, planar reflection surfaces as well as customized materials that feed of actors that capture real-time cubemaps from the environment every single frame. The latter solution was not only invaluable as it solved the reflection fade commonly seen in round surfaces that use the default reflection capture method, but also proved an invaluable tool in recreating a shader that was painted as impossible to do in Unreal4, but was commonly seen in other engines both offline and real-time.
This feature was the use of colored specular maps in Unreal4. This shader allows for objects with a set diffuse color to reflect their surroundings in a completely different color. This effect can be used to make surfaces appear oily or add an extra creative layer when depicting metals or plastic surfaces. This was achieved by using a separate actor to capture scene reflection like mentioned before, but this time they were projected with a tint on a material as emissive light. This in the end while not %100 PBR accurate recreated the effect in a manner that was on par with my experiments with Keyshot.
When it comes to the forefront of gaming it is quite clear that many games use customized lens flares to add a specific artistic style or feel to their environments (examples include the Batman Arkham games that use Unreal Engine 3 and all the Mass Effect series which switcher recently from Unreal Engine 3 to Frosbite). However the latest iteration of the Unreal has an extremely accurate, yet rigid solution to lens flares that greatly limits artistic expression. To get around this limitation I used a 3rd part plug-in that allowed me to project 2D textures as UI artifacts that were tied to a point in 3D space on the level. This essentially allowed me to create custom flares from individual lights, which while physically inaccurate made for some great visuals effects.
Another feature that from the forefront of game development that I plan on implementing is a technique that only entered mainstream gaming in 2015 with the latest iteration of the Star Wars Battlefront series (which uses the Frostbite Engine) – photogrammetry. I plan on using photographs to scan a several base models for my project which will then be mixed with 3D elements that were created in Softimage to quickly create high detailed characters with a great degree of visual variation and realistic quality.
Overall I have learned a ton of new methods that allow me to present my work on a real-time environment, making it more interactive and allowing users to better view my models at their leisure. Going into more details I have now learned some basic and advanced techniques when it comes to creating visual effects and materials in Unreal that can be applied to other similar game engines, which come from a wide range of fields not usually associated with gaming such as digital animation films and architectural visualization as such I have managed to pick up skills that are normally associated with the work of technical or lighting artists in games.