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Monday, March 21, 2016

Displacement and Beyond

In a previous post I introduced a couple of new systems we are working on. We call them Meta Meshes and Meta Materials. Here is another quick bit of info on how they work. This time we will look at the very basics.

We will start with a very low resolution sphere mesh like this one:
This new system allows me to think of this not just as a mesh, but as a "meta mesh". This is not just a sphere, but the basis of something else that kind-of looks like sphere: a planet, a pebble or maybe your second-grade teacher.

To a meta-object like this one we can apply a meta-material. For the sake of simplicity, in this post I will cover only two aspects of meta-materials. The first is they can use a displacement map to add detail to the surface.

Once you tie a meta-material to a meta-object, you get something tangible, something you can generate and render. Here is how the meta-sphere looks when the displacement equals zero:
This is a reproduction of the original mesh. It still looks very rough and faceted, making you wonder why would you need to go meta in the first place. But here is what you get when you increase the displacement amplitude:

While the shape follows the supplied concept, the detail is procedural. The seed information is the very low resolution sphere and the displacement map, which is applied to the surface using something similar to triplanar mapping. Unlike shader-only techniques, this is real geometry. It will be seen by the collision system, the AI pathfinding and other systems you may lay on top. It is made of voxels, so this is detail you can carve and destroy.

This displacement is applied along the normal of the original meta-object. This would produce beautiful features in vertical cliffs, overhangs and cave ceilings. But often displacement alone is not enough. You may want more complex volumetric protuberances. Luckily meta-materials can also be extended with voxel instances:

This is a real-time generation system, so there are practical limits on what can be done. I would like to go full fractal on this one, having an infinitude of nested meta materials. It is not really like that in this current iteration of the system. But at this stage the system can be used to produce very impressive content, in particular landscapes. I will be covering that in a soon-to-come post.