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As with everything else in WolfQuest 3, the maps are all new, bigger and better than before. We want these new terrains to be as accurate as we can make them, both in terms of ground cover (what kinds of vegetation appears where) and the appearance of the ground itself. For the first task, we worked with satellite imagery to create a dozen control maps — these are special utility textures that indicate where certain types of vegetation should appear. Using a tool called Terrain Composer, we assign specific textures (green grass, dry grass, dirt, forest floor, etc.) to each control map, with various filters like noise, blur, and angle, and then the tool paints the textures onto the terrain.

The next step is making the ground surface look as realistic as possible. We’ve experimented with several new terrain shaders (they’re called “shaders” because they determine how the textures reflect light) and settled on MicroSplat, created by shader wizard Jason Booth. It offers some amazing features: from basics like normal maps and heightmap blending to new techniques for reducing texture tiling, to exciting new features like wetness and snow. The video shows how MicroSplat transforms the terrain from a simple, flat surface to a highly-detailed and realistic environment.

This whole process can take quite awhile, as it requires a lot of trial and error to figure out what settings and filters best recreate the actual environment. I’ve been working on it since October, and in fact, I’m still tinkering with it today — this morning I swapped in a couple different grass textures, tweaked some colors, and it’s even better than when I recorded the video, so I added a shot of that at the end of the video. There is nothing more satisfying than that moment when it all comes together and really looks like the terrain we hiked in Yellowstone National Park.

And this is just for the terrain itself. We’ve got new grass, bush, and tree models in the works, and I can’t wait to get everything put together and show off the complete terrain. (And then start the whole process over again with Slough Creek….and then, at some point, with Lost River, though we don’t expect to have that done for WQ3’s initial release.)

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