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Old Dog Needs New Tricks - Game Asset Advice please?

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LeeRay triangle
Where to begin?
I've been in the industry on and off since the mid-nineties but since freelancing in 2009 have found myself drifting away from the AAA scene and more into Indie game dev. This suited me fine for the last 10 years, allowing me to spend more time with my family, but I'm now in the situation that they're off to uni, and I'm here looking at my folio and realizing there's not a lot of current techniques in there that would improve my chances of a full time studio gig.
Hopefully that's where you guys and gals come in?

I've done a few projects in Unity and Ogre for small companies in the past but looking at the industry at present and the chances of transferring skills over into the entertainment sector in general I've chosen to learn Unreal as my main engine. To this end, I've waded through a lot of YouTube channels which have been fantastic for picking up tips and tricks, but I always find myself in the situation of having specific questions I can't seem to find the answers to.

I've made  a basic Sci-Fi / Industrial hanger  environment (see above)  that's been built out of modules as I  imagine it would be for games. I'm using this as my test room and currently populating it with props to create a fuller scene to walk around, but I'm not sure on budgets, polygonal, or textures.

I could really use some pointers from any environment / prop artists on here who have experience with current consoles and the next gen as to what the ballpark counts and texture sizes are so my stuff doesn't look like leftovers from the PS3/XBOX 360 era  or worse, so heavy it would bring the frame rate to a halt.

I'm asking a lot and I will appreciate any feedback and/or guidance in the following specific areas.

1. Polygons
Do we still refer to Triangles as Polygons rather than Quads? This was starting to get a bit blurry last time I was in a studio. More recently, I've seen meshes referred to more by their vertex counts. Is this the new standard, or does it vary?

2. Poly Counts
What would you suggest is a common poly/texture budget for a hero prop like the crate design below?  I understand that a hero prop featured more prominently will have more polys and probably a bigger texture size than something that's background dressing, and I've probably erred well on the side of caution with the poly count here. A lot of the detail I pushed into the normal map that could be modelled into the actual crate itself?

Cryo-Crate - Wireframe (work in progress)

3. Topology
  Is it still the case that a mesh has to be airtight, with no geo embedded or resting on the surface of another piece? There was a time when it all had to be merged into one continuous mesh with no T-junctions, or a vertex sitting on an edge and not connecting to another vertex. Is this no longer the case, or is it a situation based decision? Doing it the embedded way saves on polys but can cause issues with wasted UV space and polys don't appear to be the issue they once were but texture sizes still are?

4 Textures
Like most artists trying to get up to speed, I've been looking around at what's considered cutting edge as a good benchmark to try and emulate. Consensus seems to be Star Citizen for the kind of stuff I enjoy designing and building. I realize its PC only, and you probably need a mortgage to get a rig that does it any justice, but are these texturing techniques filtering through into current console and indie games? I know it was used in Alien Isolation a few years back, but how many studios use it as standard today?

I'm confident in UV unwrapping and using  Substance Painter for such bespoke unwraps but is this now an out of date approach and being replaced by POM and decal mapping on assets for the next gen consoles?

5. POM and Bump Offset.
Trying my hand at the Star Citizen workflow (be gentle, I'm a noob) I can definitely see its worth in preserving that pin sharp clarity of the decals but also notice you have the drawback of the tiling textures repeating. Any distinct wear and tear on the texture noticeably repeats. 
Am I correct in thinking a lot of UV sets per asset are needed to blend a range of materials and weathering  over the top to break up this tiling? If so, how many usually?
In an attempt to add more surface centric wear to my crate, I've created another UV set that has the more traditional full unwrap, so there are unique pixels for each part of the model. Allowing me to bake some edge wear onto a separate texture  and then blend it in Unreal with the base material shader. This still suffers from the old problem of the textures blurring the edge wear if the player camera gets too close. Crouching in first person and using the crate for cover would be the scenario I'm concerned about.

Cryo-Crate - POM and material tests (work in progress)

Does anyone have a method I'm unaware of to keep it all at the same sharpness, or am I completely barking up the wrong tree here?

Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated

Thanks for reading.


  • LeeRay
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    LeeRay triangle
    Many, many thanks to Kanni3d for that fantastic reply above. Working in isolation is a nightmare when you need solid info to learn from, and the above has been really useful in confirming what I thought I knew and informing me in areas I was ignorant.
    With this new guidance, I've gone back to the Cryo-Crate  mesh that was way under the  triangle budget and brought it closer in line with the 12K suggestion.
    Primarily, I've transferred the major details I had put into the normal map and found I could add as geo to the mesh.
    Also bearing in mind that the POM workflow is not as dominantly used as I suspected I've unwrapped this 12K version and treated it like a standard prop with mostly unique texture space but wanting to preserve a 512 x 512 pixel = 1 metre squared texel density on a 2K texture there has to be  a few areas where UV space has been shared which shouldn't be too noticeable if I've done it correctly.

    I've still a few polys left that I will use for decals and some smaller geo details in certain areas once I've got further into the materials and texture baking.

    My questions in this post relate to UV unwrapping, such as pipes or tubes.
    I've seen a few tutes where artists have forced an unwrap to be a regular grid of uniform squares even though if you relaxed it, it would take a more organic irregular shape, as they have done in my UV layout. I can see the advantage would be more efficient use of the UV space, but doesn't this also generate uneven texel density with compressing and stretching in bends on inner and outer edges if the quads have equal UV coverage?

    What am I missing here?

    I'm also a bit unsure of the best practise when it comes to the rounded, angled insets on the panelling. If I detach them and release the shells "tension" by cutting its continuous looped flow and unfold them, the shell edges will straighten on the parts they were connected to (the actual side panels of the carte for instance) but the layout will be less efficiently packed as a result.

    Does it matter in this case as there's nothing noticeably distorting such as labels or text I'm baking into the base texture, and are small distortions like this an acceptable trade off for efficient UV packing?

  • LeeRay
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    LeeRay triangle

    Based on what I've read regarding texture budgets, I've taken this as far as I can.
    I used Substance painter and Photoshop to produce PBR textures - 2K for the crate itself, using 512 X 512 PX = I metre squared as my level density. A 1K Colour Decal sheet also with an emissive channel for the lit displays and lock screens and a 1K trim sheet of sorts for the finer normal details such as the screws, panel lines and more greebly parts on the crate ends.

    Turntable rendered in Marmoset Toolbag.

    Am I missing anything?

    Feedback always welcome
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