Greg Seegert on Graphics

Interviewed by Rise & Fall Heaven. Greg Seegert is the Lead Graphics Programmer for Rise & Fall.

RaFH: What kind of next-generation graphic features can we expect in Rise & Fall?

Seegert: We're really trying to raise the bar for what RTS games can offer graphically and blur the distinction between the RTS and FPS genres. Our graphics take full advantage of all of the features that you see in next-generation graphics hardware. We have image-based High Dynamic Range lighting, which allows you to have lights brighter than white, lighting bloom, which is a glow effect, soft dynamic shadows, and screen distortion. We also use normal mapping, per-pixel specular, and rim lighting on the terrain, water, and units.

In an RTS game, 90% of what you see is the ground, the water, the sky--the environment. So we wanted to do a lot to make the environment as realistic as possible, which is why we created an all-new terrain engine for Rise & Fall. Our new water engine renders large animated waves, including specular lighting, Fresnel effects, dynamic reflections, and bump mapping. One of the cool things about the dynamic shadows and reflections is that they actually get perturbed by the waves and the water surface, so it looks extremely realistic. This was especially important to us because of the emphasis that we're placing on creating the best naval combat experience ever in an RTS.

In addition to the cool water effects, we're using SpeedTree for all our trees, which makes all our trees look a lot more realistic and lifelike. We have a dynamic flora system as well, so in the scenario editor users can actually paint the grass on the map, and when you enter the game it'll sway with the wind. As the hero walks through it, the grass and other flora actually parts to the left and right of the hero. It looks like something out of a movie.

RaFH: How hard is it to create graphics that can render both the cool RTS stuff and the cool FPS stuff?

Seegert: That was a challenge, because in any genre you can tailor the graphics to the specifics of that genre. In an RTS game, you can assume that the camera is at a certain angle. With an FPS game, you can always assume that the camera is tied to a certain position behind the player as they're moving through the world. We spent a lot of time creating true next-generation graphics that deliver awesome visuals no matter where you are in the game.

So if you're down on the battlefield in Hero Command leading a charge against an enemy fortification and slaughtering hundreds of Persian soldiers, Rise & Fall truly looks stunning. And it looks just as stunning when you're in the traditional RTS view. Our graphics had to deliver on both counts, and they do.

RaFH: Are the graphics in RTS games finally reaching a point where they can rival what we see in FPS games?

Seegert: Yeah, I really think so. That's been one of our goals from the beginning. We're tired of the RTS genre being the red-headed stepchild when it comes to graphics . We want the best graphics possible, period.

That definitely creates a lot more work on the programming side, but since our goal is to create RTS graphics that rival FPS graphics, it was well worth all the effort. And we have to achieve that level of quality because we have all of these incredible FPS elements in our game. When you assume control of your hero and step onto the field of battle and start kicking ass, everything has to look as good as it would in a traditional shooter. And our graphics deliver.

RaFH: How moddable is Rise & Fall going to be? Will you be releasing mod tools when the game ships?

Seegert: Our scenario editor lets mod makers and users create about 99% of what that community wants to do, and it will definitely ship with the game. Players will be able to make custom maps and custom scenarios. People did some really crazy things and fun things with Empire Earth and Empires, and I expect to see a lot of high quality user-created content for Rise & Fall.

The mod community is extremely important to us, so we're going to support them as much as we can. We're still discussing whether or not we're going to release our full suite of development tools.