So how do I spend the first day of my short break away from Dwarves & Holes? By implementing the largest and most comprehensive graphics overhaul yet! Even if at the moment of writing this Snapshot 5 is still not approved on IndieDB. I submitted it yesterday.
The first step in this overhaul was replacing the textures. I did another run optimizing the texture atlas system and then used some textures from two distinct landscapes from Ryzom. The assets can be downloaded from here and are available under Creative Commons License Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. They do a fine job of being test textures so I can figure out more precisely what I need. Now I know better and once I find an artist I can tell him what I want. The textures are not quite perfect, especially since some of the ones I have picked don't tile perfectly, but still the result is instantly noticeable and a big step forward. Some minor mip mapping issues are present, but they are hardly noticeable.
Still, even though the textures now look great, the game still did not look any better. While you were staring straight at a texture it was great, but as a whole it did not seem to improve that much.
So I implemented smooth transitions between blocks! This sure did the trick! I think it has a greater impact than any texture I could use. And smooth transitions plus good textures made a huuuuuuuuuuge impact. The game no longer looks like from 1999! I had some problems where different texture kinds met with the smoothing, partially because not all textures tile but mostly because of different color schemes, so I ended up gray-scaling all textures and normalizing them.
There was one last piece to the puzzle: the borders. Borders were blurry, had huge mip mapping issues and often when two borders met at an angle of 90 degrees the corner was missing. I set of to fix these issues. Borders are represented by masking patterns, so I needed a ton of such "tiles" in an atlas to represent all possible combinations. Also, to properly render borders 1024 precise floating point coordinates must be used. I did not do this by hand: I created a 92 line little program that created the masks and calculated the coordinates.
The new borders cover all the cases and while there is some variation across GPUs, they are generally clear and crisp, without mip mapping issues and as black as the night! Almost as black as that weird super black poo you find sometimes in the middle of the field!
So many changes and not a single picture? I'm such a tease!
I only applied transitions to top sides. The rest are barely visible in top down mode so you wouldn't notice the transitions. I'll figure out something for first person mode. Even so, these effect caused a dip in performance. I also temporarily removed another optimization I had for ages. It is a great optimization but makes modifying the code very cumbersome. I'll reenable it before a major release.
Together these changes have dropped my maximum FPS by 40, from 250 to 210. Average FPS seems to take a drop of about 20, but still around 150-170. Needless to say: all these new features were not optimized at all so in the future performance might increase.
I also added a bunch of semi-useless options to the launcher:
Modern GPUs are great at all of these so no real use disabling them. If your GPU can't handle trilinear filtering you have no chance of running this game. Still, it is a PC game so extra options can't hurt.
Snapshot 5 is not approved yet but I already found and fixed a bug. The fix will be in Snapshot 6. Also did that major code cleanup I was talking about last time.
So it is feedback time! Watch the video at 720p if possible and give me your honest opinion. All of you! It is not too late to go back to the drawing board.