Thursday, August 16, 2012

Maps and Bumps and Why They're Important

The folks who bring you the Exodus SL client have undertaken to add normal maps (aka "bump maps") and specular maps to Second Life, and some other stuff as well. Here's a video showing what we're talking about:

Normal maps let you create objects with more detail without having to proliferate polygons. (The map is created from the high-detail object and applied to a lower polygon version--the high-polygon version will never actually appear in Second Life.) Specular maps let different parts of an object have different reflectivity.

Two things of note:
  • This is open source. I hope this means that it will make it into TPVs.
  • These features will make it possible to create very good-looking objects that don't put nearly as much burden on graphics hardware as would otherwise be necessary to look that good; games (I mean game games) have used these techniques for quite a while. BUT: things will have to be created to use these maps. Old objects without them won't suddenly look better.
So as time goes on, new builds can look far better--perhaps even living up to the expectations of gamers--and, I hope, old items can be recreated using the new capabilities. 

Many, many thanks to the Exodus developers, and thanks to Hamlet Au, who wrote about this in NWN.

UPDATE: Blender Cookie, a source for Blender tutorials, has a tutorial on making normal, specular, and diffuse maps. (Thank you to Laverne Unit in the SL Universe fora for posting the link.)

P.S. ObBreasts: Two words: Montgomery tubercles (two more: link NSFW!). (i.e. that's the sort of small detail that can add verisimilitude but would, without normal maps, involve adding to polygon counts more than they're worth)

No comments: