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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
Technical environment director Yannick Signahode shared the way a small team at Ubisoft Paris created the procedural environment world building pipeline for Ghost Recon Wildlands. This is the forth article in our series of publications, describing the amazing technology behind the production of the open world game. You can find the previous publications by on our website
My name is Yannick SIGNAHODE, I’m from France and I am 34 years old. I’ve been actively working in the game industry for almost 14 years and I started working at Ubisoft Paris 11 years ago. I worked on several games since the PS2 (Test drive, GRAW2, Redsteel2, GRFS…) different positions (Vehicles Modeler, Character, Environment, Shader and Texture artist). At the end, I had the chance to work and be part of the amazing core team of Ghost Recon Wildlands as a Technical Environment Director in the last 5 years.
I was in charge of defining guidelines and pipelines for Environment and World building production, by doing quality benchmarks and training. I also worked and conceived our terrain tool editor for the Art Team with an engineer. Another part of my job was to work on Shaders, Terrain 3D Textures, Generic Textures and Environment Kit (Rocks, Houses, LD ingredient).
Materials for Landscapes
BOLIVIA, A COLORFUL COUNTRY WITH MARVELOUS LANDSCAPE & DIFFERENT ECOSYSTEMS
One of our first approaches on terrain was to understand the Bolivian Ecosystem, its topography and naturals rules. A part of the Team has gone to Bolivia and took a lot of references (Photos, Videos, Sounds …). After the trip, we studied heat, drought, wetness, erosion, rocks, vegetation, colors… We extracted several Biomes and set 11 different ecosystems. Each one has its specificities.
A HUGE TERRAIN, WITH A LOT OF DETAILS AND COLORS
So, after a long study, we started to create texture and material for terrain on each ecosystem. We knew we would not be able to paint manually all materials on the entire world so we also created simultaneously an incredible Terrain Editor, to model and texture this huge terrain as close as we needed from realistic rules. That implied procedural Material. We call them TPS (Terrain Procedural Set). We have several parameters to set material on terrain: by slope, height, flow map, density map, deposition map, curvature … And each TPS has a TPM (Terrain Procedural Material) on different stacked layers, including textures near ground and vista texture on foreground.
Of course, not the entire world was painted procedurally. We also wanted to keep a manual painting capacity for micro or specific setting. So we were able to paint TPS manually by using different brushes (mask, flow, dry, slope, height …):
At the end, with all the Terrain Procedural Material (TPM) combined in a TPS (Terrain Procedural Set), we have In the Engine on vista mode a close look of the actual Laguna Colorada setting in real life.
We knew long range Vista would be very important but near ground is as important. Early in production we designed our terrain to handle foreground tessellation and displacement. Doing so, we made sure that foreground was matching the background vista. All terrains textures were manually sculpted and textured in Zbrush. We also used Substance Designer for tilling, curvature, micro AO, correct wrong Height Map etc.
We also have a puddle system for raining with our dynamic weather. We flatten the normal map and add matching terrain color to override the albedo inside the puddle mask:
Here a close look on some of our Terrain Texture Materials with Puddles On/Off:
Having several textures on Foreground blending together was not enough to reach the quality we wanted. So we developed a virtual texture system including decals (albedo, normal map, height map … same as terrain) to add all the needed little details and variety. Of course all decals have puddle masks to feat with our weather system:
We spread all those decals with procedural tools made on Houdini by tech artists for the team. But it also was possible to add them manually:
It was possible to add decal in the virtual texture for the terrain, but also on top of props objects for a better integration:
A HUGE TERRAIN, WITH A LOT OF ROCKS AND DIVERSITIES
We spread a lot of rocks on the terrain, and all ecosystems needed their own specific rocks look.
All rocks are created in a high poly version in Zbrush 4R7, integrated in the engine with a low poly version and normal map baked for the global shape.
We used Substance Designer to generate a curvature map, AO map and blend mask for the map integration of details:
We combined detail map with normal map. And for each setting, we used masks for better sharp blending and several albedo color variations:
We combined all those models and textures In Engine with shaders and several parameters exposed in materials (AO, curvature, Tilling details, Normal map intensity, Surface and edge aberration, Z materials for dirt, snow, moss, blend mask details factor, etc.)
For example, we were able to tweak the details blend level by mask with sharp parameters, or change color, tweak the curvature, AO, etc.:
So, we spread a lot of rocks on the terrain and we used some Houdini procedural tools. We used terrain information to define scattering rules, as we did for the decal tools (materials, curvature, align on slope, cliff, road detections, etc.). We have 11 different ecosystems, so we needed different rules to put those rocks in the terrain for each part of the world. We also spread rocks manually on terrain when needed (for specific level design, etc…).
Terrain, Rocks and Vegetation were a huge part of collaboration work and iteration, and today we are very proud of the landscapes we’ve created for Ghost recon Wildlands.
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