Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spacescape - Now With Billboards

spacescape image with billboard sprites
(click to enlarge)

Just a minor update - I've added billboard sprites to the mix where as before I was just using point sprites. I also added an extra line to the noise shader like this:

noiseSum = pow(noiseSum / powerAmount);

This allows me to control the slope of the noise gradient so it is more steep or more gradual, which is something I needed for masks.

The image above really taxes my system (3-4 fps). It has 12 layers: one ridged noise mask for the brightest stars, then another for the middle level of stars and then two more ridged noise haze layers and the rest are mixes of billboard and point stars.

For kicks I threw the generated skybox into the planet app and it's definitely a bit over the top and low-res/blurry. Still it is "fun"

(click images to enlarge)
planet with generated skybox

planet with generated skybox 2

As usual, I uploaded these images and more to the My First Planet gallery.

I re-implemented writeToFile() in the plugin so I can save to files. I also added a writeToMaterial() function to the plugin so I can preview the skybox in ogre.

One thing I've noticed is that the resolution of skybox really affects the brightness of small stars. When I save a 2048x2048 skybox out the single pixel point stars are crisp, but get lost when imported into a program with a low screen resolution. So you kinda have to take that into account when making the skyboxes. It might look great at the resolution on your monitor, but not at the resolution on someone else's monitor. This is where the writeToMaterial() function will be useful so you can preview the skybox at different resolutions to see if it works OK at low resolutions.

I might mess with the mipmap generation for lower levels so that stars don't loose their brightness as quickly when the high resolution image is scaled down.

Here's a sample generated skybox (click for 1024x1024 version - open in new window):

And here's a funny little screenshot of what a skybox layered sphere looks like from the outside (not the same as the one above):
outside skybox layer sphere

Monday, February 15, 2010

Introducting Spacescape! A Space Skybox Creator.

Spacescape Alpha

Spacescape is a tool that uses Ogre to create / generate space scene skyboxes. The way it works is a camera sits inside a number of user defined layers / shells. Each layer can be a bunch of point sprites ( for stars), or a noise field (for nebulas/haze etc.) You can define how many stars you want and the color based on distance. In the screenshots I'm posting there are 7 layers. 3 of the layers are regular blue/white stars, 1 is a few red stars, 2 layers are ridged fbm noise of different colours and the 3rd layer is regular fbm noise used as a mask to make stars cluster by darkening regions of space.

This has been a really fun tool to make and I still have a lot left to do like the GUI. At present it reads in xml config files or you can use the plugin api to manipulate the skybox via code. Did I mention this will be an Ogre plugin too? I plan on releasing the plugin and tool as soon as I get a GUI and finish refactoring the save to file code.

How it works

Making a bunch of point sprites is easy. I use an Ogre::ManualObject for that with pointSprites enabled on the material.

For making the haze I create an inverted unit sphere and use a glsl shader on it that implements fbm and ridged fbm noise using Perlin's improved noise (not simplex noise). Lintfordpickle at has a good explanation with code samples about how fbm and ridged fbm noise work

To create the skyboxes I just create a camera with FOV set to 90degrees and render to texture the six images of the skybox. I have it set up to render to texture the mipmap levels too, so if a user wants to save a dds file with mipmaps they can, or they can just save out the six individual images. With the Ogre plugin it will also be possible to not save out the file but just tell the plugin to create a skybox with a given config file and use it in your own application.

Here's some more images (click to enlarge - you'll need to in order to see the stars better):

A note about dithering:
I've had a tough time figuring out what to do about gradient banding with dark colors in the space backgrounds. Without some kind of dithering or noise the gradient is very obvious. You can see the banding clearly in all the videos and screenshots I've posted prior to this post. The skybox I was using before was generated with blender and spiced up in photoshop, but there was no dithering on the haze so it's really ugly. To get around this with Spacescape, I provide the option to dither a noise layer by a controllable amount and this seems to make the banding issue go away.

The plan is to use this plugin in MyFirstPlanet to let users design their own space skyboxes easily too.

Hopefully, I'll have a demo and some source code posted in the next week or so.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New YouTube Channel For Planet Dev Videos

I started the petrocket YouTube channel and am posting dev videos there for now. I like Vimeo, but YouTube now allows HD videos and I think it has a larger developer audience.

Here's another quick video I uploaded to test the HD quality. Sorry for the jerky camera movement.