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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Nature Manufacture explained how you can create amazing detailed lava materials. You can also purchase this pack here for usage in Unity.
The lava environment
Our earlier project is a system of rivers with the possibility of connecting them to the network for the Unity Engine and we were wondering in some way that our technologies could still be used. We decided that lava would work perfectly well, especially that such solutions and proposals are practically non-existent. Of course, we were sure that the demand for lava is not so great as for other assets but we decided to implement this project and the need and not just fill the gaps in the market. We wanted the user to create a volcano scene at home after seeing how much our package can bring to his game or application. An additional advantage is that it cooperates and is compatible with our solution for rivers as it is based on the same platform. Thus, when the user learns one system, he will also use second quickly and without a problem.
The result of our work was a complete system for lava and volcano environments, here is a video which in a short time will show 3 totally different demo scenes and lava surfaces:
The package contains 4 main aspects that are necessary to perform the whole environment, volcanoes, and scene with lava. We wanted it to be an environment to make the whole area from the beginning to the end – the so-called final solution.
A set of tools for creating a river network – in which we can freely modify its shape, scales, tilling, location, paint it on terrains and models, snap it to the surface and practically everything is per point.
The network of rivers may also affect the terrain shape and generate flow maps automatically with the possibility of subsequent modification – manual painting.
The color of the arrows indicates the speed and the direction indicates the direction of the surface moving at a given point.
The profile system, ie drag, and drop of the previously created river, to accelerate work and global modifications, also allows you to quickly replace the lava with another type and check which fits more closely to the specific situation. This profile contains the density of the mesh and its shape, the material assigned and the speed of the flow map. Full control over the number of triangles and shaders for debugging, displaying flow maps, the color vertex will allow creating a maximum efficient and spectacular lava suited to the environment. The package also includes tools for working on models – vertex color painter that allows you to use all the power and capabilities that the package provides to the user.
Shaders and materials
Everything is on the sliders so the user can create a huge amount of variations on the subject with our textures library. You can cool them down, stop heating points, full freedom.
A lot of shader variants with or without tessellation and mobile devices. By means of shaders to accompanying objects, we mean warming up rocks, throwing them with ashes automatically with the possibility of manual modification, which is particularly useful in cave interiors when you want to paint a burning path in a cave wall, not only points of contact with the lava river. Our system also allows you to paint a frozen lava and blend it with the surroundings using a vertex color tool. In addition, when, for example, we cover it with ash, it fills the nooks and crannies by raising the tessellation grid, which makes the effect as realistic as possible. You can get the effect of old eroded lava.
Textures of land where we find various types of rocks matching different types of volcanoes as well as volcanic sand on the shores of the seas and lakes.
The package also includes a profile system for our CTS terrain shader that will allow you to get amazing effects along with a lava pack. Our terrain textures with CTS acquire spectacular beauty and possibilities such as mixing at heights so that rocks can be exposed from volcanic dust, etc.
To all this, we have included 3 demo scenes showing three different types of volcanoes and the environment. Of course, the package contains much more, but we wanted to show a few examples. We added a demo scene to learn tools and the system, and a set of image effect because the emission materials such as lava acquire the shape of bloom and their intensity depends mainly on the strength of bloom and it is precisely for her to adopt.
them. Everything is described and labeled so that the user knows what he can use. We have also added some creative solutions to problems that are not related to lava, but users have used them, which of course positively surprised us, for example, the edge band of the river or cliffs made of a spline. You will find everything in the film which in 10 minutes will show every aspect of the package and the possibilities of its creative use.
There were several things in shaders that we had to examine and the enormity of problems to be solved. We started by getting acquainted with the types of lava that occurs in nature to understand the final effect that we want to obtain. The type of lava depends on the type of rock from which it was made. Lava sometimes is a quick or lazy flowing rocks cooled from the top of the river – this applies to both the system of rivers and their surrounding models that have to fit them. We wanted to give away the full character of this environment and the type of volcanoes, how lava reacts to the slopes of the area, how they warm up and cooling down. What’s more, the flowmap system has made it difficult many times because it is not a water surface but a tessellated mesh with a certain mesh density texture and a flowing cooled surface on top.
Most treatments are based on a strongly highlighted height blend with perfectly made lava material. All maps had to be matched, including the most important one – emission and also the proper mixing and management of intensity on the altitude and emission map allows for the effect of melting the rock when the river goes to a waterfall. Lava has 3 states – slow (lazy), small waterfall and large.
Of course, we have done everything on the Amplify Shader Editor with which the team and the company have been cooperating for many years. This allows us to quickly add new features needed for current projects or to lobby the team towards our needs – including small adjustments. Either way, the shader is huge but very efficient – it will function even on mobile devices – of course, without tessellation.
From the funny things: when we created the CTS shader – Complete Terrain Shader, Amplify optimized its graph system on our shader. Nobody expected that you can build giants on graphs that are extremely efficient in the renderer and at the same time containing so many additional options – a matter of practice.
Most of the lava was made on 3 textures, i.e. one set: Albedo, Normalmap, Metallic / Ambient Occlusion / Height / Emission. Of course, there is also a more advanced option, i.e. one set for each of the three types of lava – a slow waterfall / small waterfall / large waterfall, but it seems rather unnecessary from our experience.
Always starts with the study of the environment, the environment of the subject taken. We had to learn about geology and types of rocks. Once we know what we want to do, making shaders and materials is a matter of time with current tools like substance designer. The modularity here is mainly based on UV Free shaders which smooth surfaces and connect seamlessly to neighboring models. They are great for building the interior of the cave:
Everything can be customized by vertex paint. The performance on these scenes is very high and depends in 80% only on image effects and the amount of particles.
Lava is emissive, so a large part of the work outside the emission and shader maps makes bloom, but the shader also has a rim light that highlights it at the edges and sharp angles. This allows you to get the effect of warming rocks even when the objects along the river do not have our shaders to warm up. Of course, everything is on the sliders. We also made sure that the emission was dependent on the inclination and was randomly mixed to break any tiling. And here comes the problem of flowmap and emissions over which we sat for a few days with the whole team. Flowmap requires resetting the surface from time to time, and with the emissive materials, it looked at least tragically. We spent a lot of time combining it with the surface of cooled lava and minimizing the jumps, surface flashing during this process. In addition, when scaling or accelerating the surface, this effect behaved completely unpredictably and provided different results. Considering that the user gets a tool to modify flowmap manually and a network of rivers with forks and their own mesh shape, this was a ready recipe for a disaster. We made a lot of iterations to solve this problem and finally managed to subdue the beasts!
We will add lava in the Unreal version, although we are not sure in what form. The construction of such an advanced spline system would take a lot of time. Support would also be difficult. I think that we will solve this problem or we will release the parcel in such a way that it will complement those existing in the Unreal store. So that the user buy ours and several others and could have more elements to submit. In the end, it’s about providing opportunities for the user and not wild competitions with existing assets – at least that’s our policy. We always think that when a user is taking up a topic, he buys several packages in order to build something bigger and not limit himself to the puzzle from 1 person. That is why we often promote, help other publishers by placing their packages in our videos, descriptions or tutorials.
By directly referring to this type of business model, we would like to announce that the HD package is ready for the well-known and popular EasyRoad3d system. We co-operated as we had many times before. Basically, the project contains 25 road materials and over 160 intersections where roads can be combined in any configuration and we do not have to worry about the sandy or asphalt road connecting with the paved – the worst case. In addition, each road can be covered with sand, dirt, or you can set the amount of damage on the slider. I think it’s a topic for the whole extensive separate conversation, and here are some examples:
We have also started another giant project in cooperation with another company from Asset Store, this project still has to be a secret but it is something that will change the way scenes are created in Unity forever!