When creating a game, being able to increase the speed and efficiency at which various tasks are done is essential to a successful production. One of the more time-consuming tasks in asset production is definitely Level of Detail (LOD) generation, taking up hours or sometimes days of work for a single asset, depending on its complexity. While generating LOD’s is extremely important to a game’s performance, the time that it takes to create them sometimes is just too much, considering that there are many other tasks artists need to work on. This is where InstaLOD comes in, and not only does it do the job near-automatically, it does the job on a level of quality that rivals that of handcrafted LOD systems. With easily configurable settings, both in the Unreal Engine and in 3D modeling software (such as Autodesk Maya or 3ds Max), InstaLOD gives artists a toolset that makes them able to save a large amount of time when generating Levels of Detail for assets they create. While most engines and 3D modeling toolkits already have some kind of built-in reduction system in place, most, if not all, of those systems are lackluster in that they either don’t reduce the model’s polygon count in a smart or efficient way or they just simply take too long to compute per model. That being the main reason why we at Aesir Interactive chose InstaLOD to create our LOD systems. This article describes how InstaLOD made our work much faster with both the Unreal Engine 4 integration and the plug-in for Autodesk Maya during the production of Windstorm – The Game.
Unreal Engine 4 Integration
While creating Windstorm – The Game, we quickly found that creating proper LOD systems takes much more time than we could afford to spend, which is why we started using InstaLOD because of its exceedingly fast approach to simplifying both static objects (i.e. crates, trees, buildings) and skeletal meshes (i.e. characters, animals). With it, our 3D artists were able to create LOD’s for their assets right after importing them into the Unreal Engine by clicking on just one button, essentially getting rid of the sub-step of manually creating simplified versions of their models.
Setting the system up so that it only takes one press of a button using LOD groups made this kind of workflow possible and while it is not completely foolproof, often creating LOD’s that were a little off, the abundance of settings for reduction and screen size alleviated this issue by letting our artists make changes to the entire system in just a few seconds. Using this system in conjunction with the merging feature that makes it possible to combine separate assets into one, putting both texture information and model information of all combined models into one, improved our workflow of creating assets and texture atlases in a way that saved a great amount of time, making us able to use that time for other aspects of production.
In addition to the ability to create high quality Levels of Detail inside Unreal Engine 4, InstaLOD features LOD generation possibilities for skeletal meshes (characters, animals, everything that is animated with bones) as well. By hand, this would not only be time consuming, but also quite difficult, considering that simplifying already-skinned meshes would require skinning the simplified mesh, which can take hours to do right. InstaLOD provides our artists with various settings to create LOD’s for skeletal meshes just as easily as with static meshes. The addition of bone removal settings also makes for optimization of meshes that would be both extremely time consuming and difficult to do by hand.
Autodesk Maya Integration
While InstaLOD’s Unreal Engine 4 integration already offers more than enough features for our artists to create production-quality Levels of Detail, it also includes an integration for both Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max, of which we used mainly Maya.
InstaLOD’s Maya plug-in includes all features that are present in the Unreal Engine 4 integration and adds to that a variety of abilities like impostors, which we used to create meshes that are substituted for trees when said trees are a long distance away from the camera in the game. These impostors are barely distinguishable from the actual tree when seen from even just a few feet away.
Another feature that InstaLOD adds to Maya is texture merging, which combines textures from different objects, taking into account the UV layouts of the separate objects and packs them together in a way that little to no texture space is wasted, optimizing texture memory usage even further.
Using those two features, we were able to create a multitude of impostor meshes using just two texture atlases, thus making the impostors extremely cheap memory-wise.
InstaLOD’s many features for LOD generation and mesh simplification allowed our team to create LOD’s for all of our in-game objects in just a few days, requiring little to no maintenance afterward. Had we not used InstaLOD for this task, our team would have spent hours on creating simplified versions of all our assets, which would have taken weeks, if not months, to finish.
Creating Levels of Detail for game assets is an absolutely vital task that takes both time and skill to do right. Using InstaLOD, can be completed in a matter of days for a huge project.