Alternate Crew Mesh and Anims
Hey Folks! Decided to try something a bit different today: crew graphics.
After posting a few videos, I've noticed a lot of folks get distracted by the crew graphics. I always figured I'd go back and refine them at some point, but sooner might be better than later if it's going to stick out like a sore thumb.
So I spent a little overtime last night, plus the better part of today, to try an improved rig, mesh, and animation setup. I replaced the "sprite sandwich" mesh with a low-poly human mesh.
The sprite sandwich had the advantage of just being a series of overlapping textures not much different than the item sprites already in the game. So this new mesh aimed to keep things simple. The texture it uses for a material looks a bit like a minecraft person, so is pretty easy for modders to adjust.
The new mesh also has the advantage of depth when viewed from every angle. The sprite sandwich illusion failed as soon as a body part turned edge-on to the camera, while this mesh maintains volume regardless of orientation. And it's seriously low-poly, like Quake II era. It should be comparable in performance (I'm hoping).
And here's where things get interesting: this 3D mesh approach, combined with an industry standard skeleton, means I can download and plug-in animations from a wide range of sources. Between free and paid assets, there are probably thousands to choose from.
Today's image shows the mesh doing a walk cycle from Adobe's Mixamo service. The left side has a suit and helmet on, the right side shows the body inside that suit.
I had to tweak a bunch of stuff on the map to work with this new model, like raising the Z-height of walls. I also needed to enable ZWrite on the shaders so the feet wouldn't appear over the body. I think we're going to need to take care with transparency sorting, too, though thankfully no issues showing yet.
It's pretty impressive. The movement is way more expressive, and that might mean I have a new dimension available to me for making the AI express themselves better. I can download animations for angry exchanges, crying, laughing...you name it. The visual vocabulary of the AIs stands to increase quite a bit.
Of course, there's more to do. The normal map is blank, so we don't get bumps yet. The shape could be smoother. I still need to figure out part-swapping for different clothes and races. And the texture map/UV unwrap is a hack job I threw together as quickly as possible.
The big thing is that part-swapping. If I can get that to work, I can safely replace the old crew with this. The rest is just polish.