The Astronauts, developer behind Weird Tales-inspired pulpy adventure game, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, boast that “you’ll see some of the most realistic environment pieces ever created for a video game” when you slap your eyes on it.
The studio is going for photorealism. Erosion on stone, dust lying in the right place, chips in walls, staining - it all adds to a feeling that you’re not seeing a 3D model, but a real, tangible object, building or place.
It’s all down to the awkwardly named process of photogrammetry. “With photogrammetry, we no longer create worlds while isolated from the world, surrounded by walls and screens,” says The Astronauts co-founder Andrzej Poznansk.
“We get up, go out there and shot photos, lots of photos,” he continues. “And then some. Afterwards, a specialized software — we are using Photoscan from Agisoft — looks at these photos, and stares at them until it can finally match every discernible detail from one photo to same exact feature in other photos taken from different angles. This results in a cloud of points in 3d space, representing real world object. From there, the software connects the dots to create a 3d model, and projects pixels from photographs to create a texture.”
There are a few steps involved, but essentially an exact 3D replica of the object gets created from the photographs. Down to the tiniest detail. “So much detail, so many intricacies, but most importantly, all of them just make deep sense,” says Poznansk. “Cracks, stains, erosion – Mother Nature has worked a billion years on some of these assets, it’s almost unfair to expect comparable quality from artists who spend no more than few days on similar assets.”
To get an idea of the detail, The Astronauts have put together some screenshots that, when clicked on, become 3D models that you can pan around and look closer at. They are pretty impressive, and some of them actually lower res than what you’d see in-game.