What we are working on
Everyday our talented artists work very hard to achieve stunning and immersive environments for Hexkraft Haus. From dynamic sound scapes to beautiful lighting and breath taking views we want to create an environment that feels believable and alive.
One of the tools helping us in our task to create a set of unique landscapes is Substance Designer. With Substance Designer we create high quality Materials for all of our 3D assets inside and outside of Haus.
By incorporating a set of different Substance mask generators and World Machine maps to simulate several environmental effects like corrosion and sand flow we try to get as close to a natural feeling as possible.
In the images below you can see the different layers of material effects we had to combine to create our beautiful desert mountain range.
We started with a base color and added the bottom desert ground layer and some sand stone for the mountains.
Then we generated corrosion, iron ore, mountain top and geo formation layers and stacked them on top of each other.
The last image shows the final 4K base color texture.
The same process can be used in creating materials for any other terrain element like sand dunes or props like rocks, furniture and buildings. Substance's ability to open up material parameters for further tweaking inside of Unreal Engine without going back to Substance makes this work flow even faster.
We are very happy to be living in a time of such creative and game changing tools which help us bring our vision to life!
We hope you enjoyed this peek into our material creation process and we are looking forward to sharing more development updates with you next week.
CEO - Hexkraft GmbH
Hearing is believing
With Haus we are striving to create a truly believable environment. When ultra-realism meets futuristic innovations we need the audio and visual side to deliver every detail we want you to see and hear.
VR technology has revived binaural audio, which by itself goes back to the year 1881, and taken it to a new level of interactivity with realtime rendering of HRTF.
Many new formats, algorithms and implementations have been developed and just recently Facebook and thus Oculus have announced teaming up with Two Big Ears and acquiring their 3Dception technology to become a part of the Oculus audio sdk (similarly to the announcement regarding RealSpace3D some time earlier).
While all these technologies are indeed good and interesting "on their own" in what they allow us to do, we are not only relying on the physics, acoustics and sound manipulation these tools provide.
Just as different stages of CGI have been called "photo-realstic" for over decades (and still managed to become better and better and closer and closer to reality), these tools are not yet able to take any sound you throw at them and make it feel 100% real and believable.
The audio assets, their interaction with room acoustics, the environment and the perception of depth, size and space need - at least to our ears - further tweaking and optimization which we are currently implementing via the middleware FMOD.
This allows me to take approaches and concepts from my background in sound design and mixing for film and apply these to the VR world, with full control over sonic characteristics, balancing of elements and interactions before having them implemented into the engine exactly that way.
We are working against issues we have found with the current state of technology, like obvious colouration of sound during head movement, unnatural balancing between front and lateral sounds and the way that most algorithms generate room reflections (mostly drawing too much attention to them).
These findings are of course always based on personal taste, listening habits and experience, as well as how well the HRTF measurements used match one's own ears.
Generally speaking we are striving to get the best audible experience and are therefore very keen on hearing what the next technological advancements bring to all our ears.
Audio Engineer - Hexkraft GmbH
Life in the Desert
While the whole team is busy adding nice architectural features and interior designs, a lot of creative work concentrates on bringing the landscapes around Hexkraft Haus to life. Needless to say, our main goal is to achieve a perfectly realistic approach for every single model in order to provide an authentic VR-experience.
Utilizing detailed reference from my trip through Morocco, we began developing the first drafts for a likely easy environment to start off with: a vastly deserted area, surrounded by major rock formations and distant dunes. Dust devils above dry torrents are punctuated by shining light and vivid foreground colors, giving you a feeling of comfort in this barren but beautiful region.
The above image is a small taste of some of the landscape elements we have been working on within the last few weeks. With the huge size of the space, our most complex task is to achieve a balance between high quality looking terrain and fluent overall performance for any given user.
Thanks to World Machine, 3ds Max, the Unreal Engine and so many others we are able to experiment with different workflows and take advantage of the core features of every software package. Finding a highly customizable technique for upcoming sceneries while adding stunning hero objects is an intense aim but we are really happy with the progress. We will share more challenges and solutions of this process with you in the coming weeks and hope this will make the experience even better!
3D Artist - Hexkraft GmbH
Improvements in the visual quality of screenlet system.
We are happy to share with you two major improvements in the visual quality of our Hexkraft Haus screenlet system.
Until recently, the content of our screenlets was heavily aliased and flickered resulting in bad readability of texts and detailed screen content. This happened because our GPU texture - the GPU memory which contains the window content as an image - did not use a mipmap chain. (Here is an explanation of what a mipmap is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mipmap). In case of regular GPU textures, generating a mipmap chain is trivial, but in our case, our texture can change at any time, because our screenlet content can change any time. This means that after any such change, all mipmaps have to be recreated as well.
Now, after some digging inside of the Unreal Engine source code, we managed to implement dynamic mipmaps by using the UTextureRenderTarget2D class.
This solution provides a huge step towards better readability and an overall better visual quality for Haus’ screenlets.
Here you can see a visual comparison before and after the implementation:
As a result of our source code digging we also managed to greatly increase the performance of our window capturing mechanism by executing all of our bit-block transfers completely on the GPU.
We are now able to render multiple 4K screens at full frame rate. This paves the way for high quality video and gaming experiences inside of Hexkraft Haus.
Please stay tuned for more updates coming soon.
CTO - Hexkraft GmbH
To hear the steps from behind
Audio plays a key role in creating a sense of immersion and being present in an actual, physical environment. Spatialized binaural audio allows users to localize sound emitting objects and events in 3D space, thus recreating a natural and familiar environment.
Hexkraft has been setting a big focus on 3D audio right from the beginning, enabling a list of very interesting and fascinating features for an enhanced personal and social place to spend time in. Using binaural sound technology optimized for the Rift-included headphones allows us to let users precisely localize emitted sound in Hexkraft Haus without any additional hardware.
We can help users guide their focus on events happening all around them with subtle sound cues emitted from the event position. Imagine having your opened applications placed all around you and as soon as you receive a notification a subtle sound cue will play at the exact spatial position of that program's window, letting you know not only that something happened on a screen outside of your view but also guiding you to it's location. This spatial audio guidance will help users respond to events without delay while still making use of the full desktop space Hexkraft Haus will provide.
Especially when combined with social experiences it helps create a very realistic social environment. Being able to know exactly who is talking at any giving moment by simply localizing his voice in 3D space allows for very realistic business meetings and social hang outs.
Additionally, satisfying and precise audio cues enable subtle and dynamic feedback for the user interface which is key to a pleasent experience. We at Hexkraft try to create an exciting environment that is inspiring, full of life, and feels natural to the user. A well designed soundscape adds an important key factor to being deeply immersed in Hexkraft Haus. Taking into account occlusion, materials, landscape and seasons, the ambient sound design will generate a realistic environment for you to enjoy.