Thursday, May 18, 2017

Domain Warping Noise

I recently watched this YouTube video and decided to make another pass at landscape height generation for tiled terrain mode in 3DWorld. The existing system allowed for several user-selectable noise variants, starting with my custom sine wave tables and including my recent implementation of GPU ridged simplex noise, which is a more efficient version of ridged Perlin noise. Two interesting variants of noise that I hadn't yet used for terrain height were noise derivatives and domain warping. Since domain warping seemed to be easier to implement in 3DWorld, I decided to start with that. The reference article (with source code) can be found on the Inigo Quilez website here.

Domain warping adds a swirly effect to regular noise that can be shown in the following overhead map view screenshot from 3DWorld.

Overhead map view of the central area of my island using domain warping noise is pseudocolor.

The features in this scene look very realistic, similar to eroded terrain with river valleys and steep peaks. Take a look at this image of North America for reference. It's much rougher than my smooth rolling hills seen in previous screenshots. If I use dirt and rock to replace grass and snow on steep slopes, the complexity of the terrain really stands out. Here is a slice of terrain from ground mode with grass, trees, flowers, and plants. Note that the grass blades are now curved, rather than being single triangles.

Ground mode closeup of terrain using domain warping, with grass, trees, flowers, and plants.

I can get some stunning views in tiled terrain mode, especially with the height scale turned up and lots of water in the scene. Here is a shot of steep cliffs near the edge of the ocean. The front side of the cliffs look like they have grass stairs cut into them. Notice the shadow of the mountain on the water to the right.

Steep cliffs above the ocean cast shadows to the right.

Keep in mind that 3DWorld creates an endless terrain that can be explored. There are no real limits to procedural generation (other than the wraparound every 2^32 = 4 billion tiles). The player can walk for hours in the same direction and never see the same landscape features. This is the main advantage of procedural generation compared to hand drawn maps. The downside, of course, is that generated terrain often lacks variety compared to what a human can create. This is the part I'm currently trying to improve.

Here is an image taken of the beaches and ocean near sunset, with fog in the background. It looks almost like a photograph. The black dots in the sky are birds.

Sun setting on the mountains near the ocean, with waves, distant pine trees, clouds, and fog.

I've applied a detail normal map to the textures of the sand, dirt, rock, and snow layers. This improves the look of the surface by adding high frequency detail. The distant peaks use per-tile normal maps to produce high frequency lighting details, even though the mesh vertices themselves are drawn at a lower level of detail to improve frame rate. Fog helps to reduce level of detail transitions in the distance.

Here is another view showing deep ravines and high peaks with water and grassy terraced fields below. I've disabled the trees so that the terrain stands out more.

View of an island with snowy peaks and sharp ridgelines. Trees have been disabled so that the underlying terrain can be seen more easily.

3DWorld does have some limited modeling of biomes. Some beaches are sandy and others are dirty/rocky. A low frequency procedural vegetation map is used to make some areas desert where no plants grow. This screenshot shows a strip of sandy desert between a snow peaked mountain range, with grassy areas behind it, and forest in the distance. No plants grow in the desert, and few plants are found on the rocks.

A strip of desert is caught between the lush green fields and the snow covered peaks.

This image shows a wall of mountains with a deep valley cut into the middle of it. I'll bet this area would be interesting to explore in a game. Domain warping can cause a large section of heightmap noise to be picked up and moved somewhere else in the scene. This effect can create high frequency content that isn't present in most other heightmap generation functions.

Grass fields leading toward a narrow mountain pass.

Finally, here is a screenshot showing a narrow land bridge connecting two islands. This feature was naturally created by my noise function. None of these scenes have been manually edited.

A natural land bridge connects these two islands.

I've also seen the inverse of this effect where rivers are cut into the land. It's not too common, and I forgot to take a screenshot. That's it for now. If I manage to get noise derivatives to work well, I'll post some screenshots for comparison.

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