Hi Matthias, can you introduce yourself and tell us what you've worked on?
I've been creating games for as long as I can remember, and professionally for the last 12 years. I've always been drawn to 3D representations of game worlds, starting with the old Freescape games (Castle Master, Driller etc. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freescape), and in fact the first 3D environments I ever created were made 20 years ago in the 3D Construction Kit. I worked on several FPS franchises (Sin, Unreal, Dead Space), as well as open world flight games (Lair, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron). This is where my interest in World Machine started.
On your last project, what were your needs as far as terrain goes, and why did your team go looking for a 3rd party solution?
We were making flight games, so our inhouse engines always had a strong heightmap support. Consequently, our editor had the industry standard array of terrain tools: basic height editing, ability to draw masks on the terrain for texturing/vegetation etc. But those tools quickly proved inefficient when we switched to the next generation of console hardware (Xbox 360, PS3, and even the Wii), which offered a much increased level of geometry throughput and shader support. Hand-authored terrains simply didn't contain enough visual fidelity to do our new terrain rendering justice. This is where World Machine came in.
Why did you choose World Machine?
I think somebody mentioned World Machine on one the mailing lists of 3D professionals that I subscribe to, and the date coincided with the first version of our next-gen terrain engine coming online. The programmer had used satellite data to test his renderer, but that data was kind of crude (USGS data usually isn't finer than 10x10m, and there was no matching color data). I liked the vibe I was getting from the program - one dedicated programmer who knew what he was doing - and so I decides to try World Machine. I think this was the free version of 1.25 initially. I quickly generated several heightmaps with different complexions and erosion characteristics, which helped us to figure out what the engine was good at, and where the detail got lost in the various LOD algorithms. After those tests proved successful, we bought a couple of licenses for the company, and used the data that was generated in one shipping game, Lair, as well as a few projects that unfortunately didn't see the light of day.
How did it improve your work and workflow?
I'd back up a step, and say that World Machine made things possible that wouldn't have been possible at all. The erosion passes allowed us to create terrain detail that would have been impossible to paint by hand, and the "basic coverage" macros quickly generated masks we could use to generate textures to go along with the heightmap data. I was even able to take data from old games - 8-9 years old - and generate all new normal maps for those terrains, making them look infinitely better than the original result. It's unfortunate that of all the game we used World Machine on, only the very first iteration, Lair, made it to stores. Towards the end, we had fully normal mapped and mega-textured landscapes that looked even more spectacular than what shipped with Lair. We had various macros that would take the basic height data the level designer had generated and would spit out fully eroded and masked out terrains. The terrains could then be modified in the game editor to account for specific play areas, and the masks were used in Photoshop to create the final megatextures for diffuse and normal passes. Some of the terrains took a lot of processing - we're talking 16x16k textures here, but luckily the 64bit Pro edition with tiled terrains helped out with that.
Thanks for your time! Do you have a website for people to learn more about your work?
My portfolio and blog page is at http://www.worch.com