Saturday, November 11, 2006

Here's the Procedure

If you haven't read
up on procedural textures, you owe it to yourself to become familiar with them. They will be very important to games in a future not far away at all. There are many reasons for this, a few of which are:

1. They can yield a 90% reduction in texture filesize. The example given in the article was 480MB reduced to 3MB. That is completely insane. And since most games nowadays will copy over 1-4GB of data when installing, cutting those numbers down pleases those of us who prefer to save their hard drive space for legitimately obtained pornography and cartoon sitcoms.

2. Because of number 1, digital downloading will get a big boost. Not everyone has a great internet connection and people definitely don't like to wait to play a new game (at least, I don't).

3. Save on development time. It's more about defining parameters than using photoshop or some other art program. That means you can make a lot of similar textures in very little time versus hand tweaking.

4. With sufficient advances (or maybe now?), the system could be made to generate hi-res textures for different zoom levels, avoiding the pixelation that still occurs in games today when you get close to a surface.

5. The effects of time can be shown easily.

I'm most excited about number five. There are many exciting possibilities inherent in being able to completely redefine a texture's parameters over time. It allows for great weathering effects, showing wear and tear. You could have wood take on a saturated look in the rain and dry out slowly in the sun.

It also makes things like seasons easier to model. Imagine how much grass changes during the year. Lush and green in the spring, sparkling with rain. Thicker in the summer. Thinning out and drying as it pushes through Fall. Then dying patches as Winter does its work. Try to do that the traditional way and you need textures for each season, in addition to transitional textures. Enough transitions to make it look smooth, which could turn out to be a lot.

With procedural textures you describe the general changes that should occur in reaction to what input. Which means seamless transitions. Just check out the article, go to the third page or so and watch the .mov file of a bathroom that falls into disrepair. Tiles drop from the walls, the mirror shatters and the backing honeycombs, the radiator rusts and the floor is covered with grime and mold.

Now, I don't think procedural textures are the best solution for every game, or that a game should only use them. But they're worth checking out. Personally, mixing traditional texture art, procedural textures and Carmack's megatextures could make quite an impact.

I guarantee Molyneux and Will Wright are studying this technology in great detail and thinking of some amazing applications.

Now all of you do the same.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Notice the engine, ProFX, is targeting PC, Xbox and PS3, but not Wii. Maybe Hollywood is powerful enough to do procedural textures in real-time. I'd like to see this applied in a more iconic way, imagine a procedural rotoscoping shader, or something impessionistic that plays off lighting (aka SotC) or something totally surreal that warps the textures in intereting ways.