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  • Article The Environment Art of Halo 4

    November 20, 2012 by adam



    Forerunner – The third level in Halo 4– takes place at the center Haven, an artificially constructed planet. On a big scale, the most important part of the visual identity of this level was the feel of being in an “inverted” world. A world without a sky where everywhere the player looks he sees evidence of the Forerunner’s technological prowess. On a smaller scale, we were going for a mix of subterranean and Forerunner high tech or a “high tech cave”.

    Wade Mulhern, Lead Mission Artist



    Beyond the Forerunner elements, the vast majority of visual elements in the third level, Forerunner, consisted of rocks.  We therefore created a large number of rock meshes, with varying shapes and sizes, in order to maximize flexibility in creating the landscape.  In addition to developing variance in shapes, the metallic elements worked out in the materials introduced more diversity in the surface quality of the rocks.

    Maintaining a consistent level of visual fidelity across all surfaces in the environment was one of the highest priorities we set for ourselves.  In order to capture the large shapes Kenneth was looking for while being able to maintain sharp details on close inspection, we worked with one of our technical directors, Howard Coulby, to create new shaders for the level.  In effect, his shaders allowed us to make materials that utilized a macro normal, accented by an edge/AO map, for the overall large form of the rocks, while tiling surface textures over the entire surface to maintain texel density

    Ryan Peterson, Senior Environment Artist



    For the Requiem, Reclaimer, and Ragnarok levels we went in knowing we’d have a very tight budget for environment art because of all the vehicles and characters. We had the Mammoth vehicle actually count as part of our landscape numbers in Reclaimer because it was just so massive. We had to plan accordingly and eke out a methodology that would allow these particular levels to stay on par visually with the others. We decided to rely heavily on a smallish set of elements (such as rocks and boulders), and prototyped this set with reusability and repetition in mind, knowing we’d be building up all these elements into larger shapes and silhouettes. The pieces themselves had to be ambiguous enough to allow for less-noticeable repetition, and that was a challenge. The other main challenge was the terrain and how vast and expansive it was going to need to be for these levels, especially when the Mammoth came in. The challenge here was similar- how do we make high-res terrain without blowing our budgets? Because of the multiple high vantage points the player would be viewing things (either on foot, from the third-person view of the Warthog and Ghost, from jetpacking, or riding on top of the Mammoth) we needed to have more visible detail and fidelity. The solution we chose involved using macro-normal maps which we sculpted manually from Mudbox, or procedurally from World Machine.

    Vic DeLeon, Lead Mission Artist


    The fourth mission of the game held the challenge of creating four different themes (Jungle, Caves, Wreckage, Infinity) within the budget and time constraints of a single campaign while maintaining the game’s high level of fidelity. We also did this with one of the smallest teams on Halo 4.

    For the jungle portion we wanted as many unique elements as possible. This was achieved with a sculpted tiling normal map for the tree roots that was wrapped over the various low poly models created in Zbrush and wrapped around the terrain and set pieces. For better or worse, very little of the root system within the Jungle was instanced. This allowed us to give the area a truly hand crafted and unique feel. Most of our plants were contained on one texture sheet with several leaves that were paired together to create new plants quickly and efficiently.

    Donnie Taylor, Senior Environment Artist


    Requiem, the second mission in Halo 4, is a kind of love letter to fans of previous Halo games giving them something familiar but at the same time exposing them to 343’s intense artistic focus that immerses like never before. Chief awakens amongst charred wreckage and is encouraged to explore this new world. Particular effort went into the Forerunner towers that Chief encounters early in the mission. It was vital to not only awe the player, but to also hint at the world’s still living nature with animated towers, light, and flowing water.

    Adam Peterson, Lead Mission Artist


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    1. dtschultz on November 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      "The majority of the game was lit statically using a baked-in lightmap method. This static lighting solution allowed us to achieve very realistic lighting results with full global illumination and ambient occlusion. A specular term extracted from baked spherical harmonics helped bring out the forms in the modeling work and added a great deal of depth of the lighting. A final color grading pass allowed the art director great control in determining the final look and feel of the game."

      This a great article. This game is truly stunning. I am curious about this "specular term extracted from baked spherical harmonics." I looked up spherical harmonics, and I am not a math wiz (to put it kindly), so I am curious what this means? Are you saying you used spherical harmonics to bake out a geo based specular? I'd just like to know more about it. Thanks!

    2. Thousand on November 30, 2012 at 7:34 am

      343 did a perfect job – first game that i replay, just because i want to get another look on that stunning environment

    3. vargatom on December 3, 2012 at 8:06 am

      I can has character art dump? :)

    4. FuzzYspo0N on January 20, 2013 at 10:38 am

      While the models are stunning, I can't help but feel they wash out the scenes with so much glare and white that you can't see any of it.

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