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Normal Map Wonders

Of course, gaming engines can't handle the high poly count that traditional rendering can.  Therefore, I was challenged with the walls of the Transporter Room.  I could have built the wall panels as a high-poly static mesh, but I wasn't sure how much frame-rate would suffer.  Also, making a nice and neat lightmap so that it would light correctly would've been a nightmare.  So I finally gave baking normal maps a shot.

I built the high-poly mesh in 3ds Max, and then baked the mesh over a few flat wall surfaces, each composed of only two triangles.  I then imported the static meshes into UDK, worked some magic with the material's specular and normal channels, and voila!  I'm rather pleased with the results.  The only down-side to this, of course, is that at extreme angles, the illusion of depth is destroyed.  But I figure that's a nice trade-off for low framerate and hours making neat lightmaps.

This is why I love UDK.  I know normal maps have been in use in the gaming industry for quite some time, but doing such a thing in Quake III was impossible.

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