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Why Do You Need Base Textures?

From Luke Ahearn's new book: 3D Game Art f/x and Design By Luke Ahearn
No matter how detailed or complex your texture set and your world get, you will always go back to basics, so you will need to have a good grasp of quickly creating the basic surfaces in most worlds: wood, stone, metal, and more.

Although your typical commercially released computer game can contain several hundred textures in each level, you will see that only a few base textures cover the common surfaces of any given game world: floors, walls, ceilings, and large redundant surfaces. This is done for various reasons, and the two biggest reasons are as follows:

-- World consistency -- Most worlds have a consistent wall, floor, and ceiling texture. A castle, for instance, may have walls of rough-cut stone, floors of polished stone, and ceilings of wooden planks.

-- System requirements -- Most computer game developers work under an ever-present set of limitations. Using a base texture reduces the number of textures loaded for the game.

So, although a game world may contain hundreds, or even thousands, of textures, they are all composed of base elements and materials such as wood, stone, or metal. That is what we will be looking at in this chapter.

What Are Base Textures?

Base textures are the set of textures that will cover most of your game world. In an exterior scene, this may be the ground and sky, even a base tileable tree bark for the trees. In an interior scene, this is usually the floor, walls, and ceiling. Although as mentioned previously, base textures generally refer to common surfaces such as wood, ground, stone, and so on, they can also be surfaces that are common in your game world, but not in the real world, such as lava, poisonous slime, solid gold bricks, and more. A base texture is the common denominator of surfaces in your world. In general, base textures are plain, tileable, and representative of the games world, story, and other elements.

Determining the Base Textures of a World

As a game artist, you need to be able to look at a scene, whether real world or fantasy, and extract the base texture set needed to cover that world. You must develop the ability to look past the lighting, ornamentation, special effects, and even bullet marks, bloodstains, and dirt to see what base elements the world is created from. In real life, you can think of it this way: If you were to empty your room, you would more easily see the simplicity of the surfaces of the floor, walls, and ceiling. Look at the wall in even lighting after a fresh coat of paint, and that is the base texture for that wall, probably a subtle texture at best. Maybe the floor is composed of wooden boards, tiles, or a carpet. Remove the stains, dents, and other wear and tear from the furniture, and evenly light the room, and that is the base texture for the floor. Figure 2.1 shows a typical realistic scene from a real castle. Notice the walls of stone, the roof, the water, and the sky.

In Figure 2.2, you see the raw images used to create the stone for the walls and other base textures. The stains, seams, foliage, and other distinguishing features of the surfaces have been removed.

If you look closely at Figure 2.3 and compare it to Figure 2.2, you may be able to see the differences between the images. All the images shown in Figure 2.3 are now square and have been cleaned up. Look at the dirt, for example; the same dirt base and final image are used in Figure 1.1 (in the previous chapter) to illustrate good and bad tiling of base images. You can see that this texture set is a completed game-ready set of textures that will be used in the level editor to create this real-world scene in a game engine, and that the textures fall into categories; there are base textures for the walls, the ground, the roof, and even the water in the moat.

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