How a new wave of developers uses voxels to create an amazing world

When you think of voxel games, you probably think of a wave of craft-oriented titles that arrived after that. Mine CraftSuccess. These awkward-looking, block-shaped games aren’t necessarily meant to captivate players with stunning graphics, but act as colorful sandboxes for whimsical dismantling and rebuilding. But lately, there are many interesting projects that take advantage of voxel potential to create a dazzling, astonishing, rich and detailed world.

These include Team Fugl’s vast mountains, valleys and oceans Fugl, Shin’en Multimedia’s adventure puzzle game exotic locale Tourist, And the ruins where the atmospheric fog of Sebilit was blown The sky of the past..

To achieve this unique look, these developers used many techniques, many related to voxel manipulation, such as how to model a more impressive environment and the difficulty of rendering textures. Had to overcome the problem of.

But first they had to decide why they wanted to go with voxel-like aesthetics. For Team Fugl, it was all about creating a sense of scale in the environment.

“Originally, I wanted to create a BASE jumping game that would make you jump off a tall mountain,” he said. Johan Gjestland, Principal developer Fugl.. “The reason for the voxels in the first case is that we discovered that we needed the right scale to get the right sense of speed. We also needed a completely three-dimensional terrain that only voxels could provide. This terrain has caves and overhangs, and you can see more interesting terrain than the height map. “


The idea of ​​creating a large, open environment for exploration also influenced. Sebastian Shorts, Developer The sky of the past, A minimalist adventure game featuring a little wanderer traveling through the ruins of an ancient cliff. Some of the key inspirations for this project were Studio Ghibli, the work of Team ICO, and the painting of artist Caspar David Friedrich.

Schortz explains: “I wanted 3D, so 2D pixel art and many drawing / graphics / patterned styles wouldn’t fit or would be difficult to create myself. Voxels were easy to create and seemed to have room for exploring different styles. Voxels can also add diorama effects, and I like it [it makes] My character feels small. “

In the case of Shinen TouristThe decision was not about scale, but about tackling retro aesthetics. They wanted to guess what a modern retro game would look like without a “pixel-to-triangle” jump.

“We wanted to make an adventure game,” said Manfred Linzner of Shin’en Multimedia. “We have developed several prototypes to find something special, and one of them was on a lush island. We take a vacation on that island instead of sitting in the office. I joked how great it was to spend. At that moment we wanted to make a game about it-going on vacation! “

All the above teams used Magica Voxel. Eftacy, With some capacity. This is a free art editor that allows you to create a base for building your model.

Scholz created most of the assets within MagicaVoxel.But to achieve his unique aesthetic, he set some rules for coloring, texturing, and shading as he worked. The sky of the past.. For example, he uses rectangles of a particular order and size to pattern different grass colors, darkening the dark areas of the ruins by one shade to create the impression of shadows. This is in addition to avoiding diagonals when building the environment and using the Unity post-processing stack extensively to add “more film-like aesthetics”.

“Cloud visuals [and] Fog is also important for distance and mood, “says Scholz. According to him, fog is a Unity particle system with animated signs consisting of 2D sprites that always face the player.

The sky of the past

“They combine well with the contours of distant horizon, mountains, towers, and forests. Then another style option is to combine voxel models in free 3D space, so with slightly different axes. You can combine the islands and trees above. It’s a pretty scattered world, so I thought it would be okay. It might be another way of looking at building a voxel world. “

Shin’en Multimedia, on the other hand, brings assets and the environment Tourist Created with MagicaVoxel, I used Maya to improve them and then converted them to a file format compatible with the custom engine. In their own words, this was to find an appearance that “bridged the world of polygons and voxels” for the environment of their island.

“With Magica Voxel, we get basic voxel output,” explains Linzner. “This didn’t look interesting enough to us for many objects, so we used these voxel models as a starting point, converted them into polygons, cut, bent, or twisted them into a more natural shape. Did this had to be done very carefully, otherwise the model [started to look] Like a typical 3D model. There were no actual rules in doing this. It was like finding the right visual language for your game. “

Environment Tourist Every detail is packed from the blisters that appear from the player when submerged in the water to the sand and footprints left on the wildlife as the player approaches.

TeamFugl chooses MagicaVoxel to model and animate many of the in-game objects. Fugl, Animals that you can meet in the world. However, for player characters, the approach is slightly different. As players fly around the world in the game, characters transform among different creatures.

“It’s like a procedural mesh that I coded from scratch based on something like a paper note or triangle I made,” Gjestland said. “In the end, it was so much that the engine ended up creating this tool to manipulate all these variables and start creating different avatars. This is basically me. Is a handmade 200 polygon low polygon mesh that is voxelized on the grid. Basically I came up with the simplest solution, but I thought it looked a bit cool. “

Some common issues that appear when creating voxel-based games are performance and rendering issues. However, these developers were able to overcome some of these technical concerns by designing the environment with culling in mind and not rendering the textures.

Jestland said, “[Voxels are] Very difficult to render. There are a lot of people playing games on very bad computers or very old computers and I hope things get done. They’ve played 2D platformers, so I’m hoping that 3D games will run as well … Without rendering textures, rendering will be much faster and less data can be stored. I found out. [mobile] Devices always have bandwidth issues. That is, it transfers data from the CPU to the GPU for rendering. “

To Fugl, The terrain is rendered using rasterization and water reflections are achieved by ray marching. Also, the world is rendered with 32 ^ 3 voxel chunks. This helps stabilize performance even on less powerful devices.

For Scholz, he chose the approach of building an environment from repeatable chunks. “Often the advantage is a small number of polygons,” says Scholz. “For very large structures, it’s better to build from small object parts. For example, a mountain island with a forest is made up of individual shelves and leaves, so I have such a large voxel object. I don’t have it, so I can use culling better. ”


Before starting development TouristThe Shin’en Multimedia team has set up an ambitious task of not displaying loading screens or keeping players waiting. According to Linzner, this was possible because the game uses procedural generation.

“The whole game was designed around that,” says Linzner. “Usually, we can’t optimize this when all the artwork is complete, so it’s important to make this kind of decision early. In the end, I think we’ve achieved our goal. If you move away to another island, it will take about 1 second to load. It also multithreads many important aspects of the game engine, allowing you to take full advantage of the potential of all CPU cores. ”

The three developers provided advice to developers who want to create games in a similar style.

“It was also important for us not to raise everything to’11’,” Linzner said. “”Having high detail everywhere is like having no detail at all. In many cases, it was because there was nothing special about the place.

“I’m not an expert and it’s almost incomplete,” Schortz said. “But I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that it’s okay to redo the parts over and over until you’re happy. For example, I don’t know how many times I’ve repeated the color scheme or the camera. You can actually see the difference from the early Twitter posts, but I think it’s really motivating to see other projects start with something very basic! ”

One of the things Gjestland warned about was feature creep. He said. “I think it’s very important to keep the scope small. FuglI just had the feeling of going through this very small space. So we focused on one very small side or flight general. So don’t add many other things … try to keep it as simple as possible. And make it even simpler. “

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