[Nodraw] Density of Detailing

Discussion in 'Tutorials & Resources' started by Nineaxis, Aug 14, 2010.

  1. Nineaxis

    aa Nineaxis Quack Doctor

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    Original post at http://www.nodraw.net/2010/08/tf2-density-of-detailing/

    When it comes time to detail a Team Fortress 2 level, the path most mappers take is one of trying to make everything look visually stunning, no matter how important or unimportant the area in question is. Even if detail is planned out beforehand, the initial reaction seems to be to make sure everything is a point of visual interest. Unfortunately, this is not the proper way to handle detailing: in TF2, gameplay and visual elements are closely tied together, and their relationship must be considered when detailing, because your points of visual interest are what the player should interpret as points of interest to the level’s gameplay.

    This is why the TF2 world is static, with the exception of dynamic gameplay elements. There are only a couple animated props in the game used for detailing, and are not large or upfront in their presence. Smoke trail particle effects do not stand out, but silently add to the environment. Environment objects which do move or change are either direct gameplay elements (capture points, intelligence briefcases, payload carts, dynamic signs) or are environment hazards which affect gameplay (trains, saws) and have loud, clear sound effects to announce their presence. Any other dynamic elements are players, engineer buildings, or projectiles: things pertinent to playing the game.

    However, detailing for TF2 does not just end at “keep the world static”. Detail is carefully distributed and allocated in the world for certain reasons, scaling the amount of it to where it is located. I’m going to call this the density of detail. This concept of density of detail can be found in any of Valve’s maps, but to demonstrate, I’m going to use a particular scene from Dustbowl that I think truly embodies it.

    [​IMG]

    I’ll break it down into multiple parts. First is the obvious density of detail. What you should notice immediately is that your view is frame by two big, blank walls, with a relatively bland ground, and a blank sky. Already, you can see how detail is centering your view on the capture point, and that is what is key when detailing: drawing the player’s focus to what is important. The big metal wall on the right is not important. Community mappers have the tendency of seeing a big, blank wall like that in their map, and despite it being irrelevant to the player, adding as much detail as possible, using window models, overlays, conduits, and whatever else comes to mind in an effort to make that big blank wall not be a big blank wall, when it actually should be.

    The walls have a low density of detail, and then we move on to the capture point area, which has a high density of detail. There’s obviously much more detail on the capture point than on the less important wall. There are doors, props, bright orange cones, and a bright red sign in addition to the capture point hologram, all which bring your attention to the area, which is where you want players to be looking (not distracted by unnecessary detail on the big wall to their right), as well as where you want players to go. The capture point here is not in the middle of the path players take, so they are not forced to walk onto it. But using smart detailing, you can bring players’ attention to it, since it is a high detail area in a low detail environment.

    A second point to make here is how density of detail can build story for a map. An area with a high density of detail will look more important than something with less detail, which is in part what leads to attracting player attention. For a capture point, this can answer the question of why a team wants to capture it. If the entire map has a high density of detail, the question which arises is what is so important about the capture point at hand. Using the image from Dustbowl, if the walls on the right and left were as heavily detailed as the building by the capture point, it would make the smaller capture point building look unimportant, deconstructing the story behind it. However, Valve detailed the map wisely, making the capture point building more important than its surroundings. It is loading dock with a garage, with various supplies and boxes scattered around and inside it, with a tall, important looking structure built on top of it. It fills in the reason why the BLU team would want to capture it for itself: it’s an obviously important or strategic building to have. A loading dock with a garage full of supplies is far more important to capture than that big, blank, generic looking industrial building to the right! In addition, there’s a gate to the left of it, so controlling it means controlling traffic into the compound. A large story for the gameplay is built into the map through detail, and it’s all subtle, nothing is forced onto the player. You just need to look at the scene (and have your attention focused by the properly allocated detailing) to understand what is going on.

    Now that we’ve covered the higher end of the density of detailing, I want to take a look at the lower end up the scale.

    [​IMG]

    This screenshot (again of Dustbowl) is taken of a building high on a cliff face, far away from the player. What you should recognize is two things: first, it’s a very simple building can be made of 4 brushes, and second, proper use of textures that simulate depth on a flat surface. The two go together, you can create very simple structures in areas far from the player’s view, and then use textures like the ones shown to give it the appearance of being more complex than it truly is. Often the wood textures with holes are abused by community mappers by being used on surfaces close to the player’s eye, where the fact that they are faking holes is apparent. The wood texture with holes and the vent overlay shown are best used on structures far enough away to not attract the player’s attention, where their looks are not going to be studied and their attempt to look like they have additional depth is debunked. For buildings close to the player’s eye, a wood texture without holes and a vent model would be used instead. Additional detail, such as signs and ground-level props can be used to add more interest to the building, or, actual holes in the building can be made.

    [​IMG]

    Summary:
    Place detail where you want players to look
    Do not feel required to make every surface a point of interest
    Detail, if used properly, can bring story to a map
    Only use textures to fake effects far enough away from the player
     
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  2. Gerbil

    aa Gerbil

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    This is a very helpful article. It's also timed well since the whole art pass thing is still going on.
     
  3. Friske

    Friske L1: Registered

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    This is an excellently written guide. A few contest entries need to take a look at this.
     
  4. MangyCarface

    aa MangyCarface Mapper

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    I would rank this as #1 in terms of tips for the detailing contest
     
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  5. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

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    Exactly this.

    I see that many of the maps that have thus far garnered much of the attention have generally had a mess of inconsistent detail thrown at the blank canvas that is the layout and it makes my eyes weep at such shere bravado.

    more detail does not = better detail.

    It shouldn't be the case but i find myself not wandering through contest submissions because every time i do i grit my teeth. Detail work that gets in the way of players, detail work that distracts players from objectives or interferes with player recognition. It's unbarable.

    I've already had several arguements with people about this and each time i am deflected by "it's a detail contest, so here is detail". It makes my blood boil.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 14, 2010
  6. Grim Tuesday

    aa Grim Tuesday

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    Lots of people in the artpass contest need to realize that more =/= better. Im sure that this article is written at a couple particular people :p

    It should also be noted, that in maps such as Egypt, less does NOT equal more. Its kinda a cop out to go with only one texture for the whole map...
     
  7. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

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    The lack of colour contrast bothers me much less than the gameplay flaws, Egypt's lack of contrast is no where near as important as the immense height differences the break the map in half.

    People need to understand that detailing is not a means to an end, it's a delicate touch that subtly hints and allows players to draw logical conclusions from their environment. Like the author of a book tries to convey a scene the reader can successfully imagine, readers reference personal experiences to produce these far fetched fantasies much in the same way we fantasise about the greater function of a map beyond the current need to kill the other players in it.

    People believe that gameplay and aesthetics are not related which is simply just not the case. A significant portion of development work for TF2 involved visual phsycology. As has been the case with many of Valve's video game releases. That and the constant need to balance visuals with performance.

    Because of this we need to prioritise detail. Look at this screenshot. This is my favourite place to demonstrate this point.

    [​IMG]

    Most people would cry out out of habit "throw some windows here, ugly tiling texture, etc etc". But it's not needed because the players chances of seeing/time spent observing here compared to other areas of interest (ingame threat) is insignificant. Detail occurs at places like door ways, open windows or choke points, particularly objectives (where the aesthetics push the theme) and the horizon is important as well.

    If you don't detail where players observe the most, or areas that require attention to be drawn to them, such as objectives, your maps aesthetics become convoluted and start to have a negative impact.

    Think of it like pouring salt on your chips, not enough and the chips are bland, too much and you may wind up throwing up.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 15, 2010
  8. StickZer0

    aa StickZer0 💙💙💃💙💙

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    Jesus christ grazr is that 2fort?

    that's a real slap in the face, considering 2fort is my favouritely detailed map. Very good find!

    Nine, excellent guide as always :)
     
  9. grazr

    aa grazr Old Man Mutant Ninja Turtle

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    Thank you for demonstrating my point. You never even noticed it until i brought it to your attention. As Nine has pointed out, people will just go mental and throw tens of props onto a blank brush face like that out of a necessity to detail. But detailing is much more than making something look pretty.

    I kinda proded at this concept in my Immersion and Objective articles:

    But this article hits the topic sqaure on the head.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 15, 2010
  10. Nitram

    Nitram L2: Junior Member

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    Very good read :)
     
  11. about 20 ninjas

    about 20 ninjas L1: Registered

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    Been trying to scrounge up some detailing tutorials and tips, and this is full of damn good points. Damn good job, thanks!
     
  12. Bakscratch

    aa Bakscratch Finisher of Maps

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    did you just bump this to reply to that message from 2010?
     
  13. The Letter Before A

    The Letter Before A Cool Idiot

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    yes, i was bored
     
  14. Idolon

    aa Idolon the worst admin

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    Last time you justified a mistake with "I was bored," it got you a short ban from chat. Please try to restrain yourself more.
     
  15. The Letter Before A

    The Letter Before A Cool Idiot

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    That was me spamming chat with the nutshack theme.
    I just bumped an old post to make a mediocre minion joke.
    Whilst the harm done with chat spamming is un justified and not particularly funny, bumping an old post does no real harm.
    But if it annoys you i will refrain from it in the future.
     
  16. ibex

    aa ibex

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    You can necro old threads for good reasons, like the original post is actually worth reading. But you bumped this to make a shit joke. About a user's picture. Don't bother.
     
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