Hey guys, we're trying to be a little more frequent with news posts than we've been for the last few months as we think it is very important to keep everyone updated on the progress we're making. The time it takes is negligible compared to the enjoyment you guys get out of it!
You've probably noticed the slew of what can only be qualified as "ship pr0n" that we've released in the past few days. I can assure you this just the beginning. Thanks to w0dk4's latest magic trick, normal mapping is now enabled throughout the game. As such, we are in the process of creating normal maps for all existing models, be they ships, bases or (yes) planets. We have great plans for the latter, actually, although it is too early to speak about it very much. Stay tuned.
We therefore have two new models to show off for the time being. The first one is a new masterpiece by experts Sizer (model) and Bouma (texture): the I-7 Howlrunner. An Incom design mainly in use by the Galactic Empire as fighter crafts, they were recognized for their speed and agility. Superior in resilience to the TIE/in starfighter, in large part thanks to its onboard deflector shield generator, the I-7 was mainly used in remote outposts and older fleets due to cold relations between Incom and the Empire. Meticulously recreated and textured, the model possesses its own normal map, making it one of the first few models designed with this in mind.
Then, we have the backbone of the imperial fleet, the bane and symbol of the mod: the Imperial Star Destroyer. The ship's iconic status dispenses it from introduction, and it is far from a new addition to the Freeworlds ship roster. What makes this re-release special is that the model has been vastly improved through the past few weeks. Thanks to a new collision mesh exporter (SURs, as they are called) by Schmackbolzen, the Freeworlds team (Sushi in particular) has been able to dramatically improve game performance, both on the client and the server. This has highlighted a large problem with the ISD: at over 180,000 polygons, it was a beast and a performance killer. Through much sweat and work, Sushi was able to trim down this number to a much more reasonable 40,000. What was lost had to be regained, however! This is where the normal map comes in.
Image 1, Image 2, Image 3
As w0dk4 explained, a normal map allows us to take information from a much more detailed mesh and apply it onto a simplified one, thus giving the illusion of lavish details without any significant impact on performance. Normal mapping is ubiquitous in current games and so it was only logical for us to implement this. In this specific case, however, the high-resolution mesh was unsuitable. Its usage would have been very complex and likely would have ended up giving subpar results. Thus, I have decided to manually create the normal maps (there are 8 normal mapped textures on the model, 10 in total, most 1024x1024) in order to extract as much details and fidelity as possible. The results can be seen above and, I think, speak by themselves. But how will this fare in game, you ask?
Imperial Star Destroyer Normal Map video - Freeworlds: Tides of War Mod for Freelancer - Mod DB
(You can see me turning off and on the normal map to show you the effect it has on the model.)
We hope you have enjoyed these glimpses into the future of Freelancer modding. As you may already be aware, we are planning on releasing all of our graphical improvement technology some time after the mod's official release as a way of saying thanks to the rest of the community. While the value of such modifications might have been unclear in the past, the results now speak for themselves.
Until next time, folks!