Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rome wasn't built in a day

she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat
- Mark Twain : A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Much of my NWN2 modeling for the past few weeks has been for the BouncyRock project and we have a Secret Squirrel agreement in place and so I haven't been able to write about it here. But after reading Elysius' series of blog entries on creature modeling I decided to experiment with a technique of using a high polygon model to project a normal map that is used on a low polygon model. This is a method I had previously read about but never tried before.

Until now, all of my normal maps have been created in Photoshop from grey scale bump maps and converted to normal maps with the nVidia Photoshop plugin. It's proven itself to be a very effective way to make a normal map as can be seen in my shield pack. But while reading Elysius' creature blog I realised I had more or less stagnated in my modeling methods and I was relying on the same set of techniques I had discovered from tutorials when I first started NWN2 modeling. I guess this is one of the dangers of being self taught. If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. So I challenged myself to learn some new techniques and experiment with new ways (for me, at least) of doing things.

Using a high polygon model as the source for a normal map is a relatively straight forward process. Basically, make a high polygon model with all the detail and a replica low polygon model that the game engine can render. Use the high polygon model to render a normal map that is then applied to the low polygon model. Simple.

So I decided to try this out on a Roman helmet model I was making for the AussieNWN Dark Ages NWN2 PW. While it took me a bit of fiddling to get the high poly model the way I wanted it, I think it was worth the time taken to learn the normal map rendering process. The normal map on this model is the combination of high poly normal map rendering blended with a bump map conversion.

The Roman helmets often had a highly tinned finish, so it's too bad the NWN2 engine doesn't do reflections. The best I could manage was to set the specularity to represent shiny metal and add a touch of blue colour to the specularity settings. Thanks to Slimer for the tip about using colour.

The Dark Ages Roman soldier is coming together slowly. We have a couple of Roman short swords, a shield and now the helm.

I'm going to learn how to do character skinning and work on some Roman armour next. It's time I stepped up my modelling from simple items and placeables and moved onto something more challenging.

And on another note; the NWN Aeon PW I helped build with Sporaxis and Relexx has been revived by Sporaxis. I put a lot of effort into the custom tilesets for that world (about six or seven tilesets from memory) so it's great to see that the module is being used again. Sporaxis is converting the world from its original custom setting to Forgotten Realms. I wish I knew then, what I know now about modeling and I would have really given those tilesets a good going over. As tempting as it is to fix up some of the old models (like floating rocks lol) I have my hands full with NWN2.

You can find the details for the Aeon PW on Sporaxis' forums. Long live the Aeon PW!