As part of an article written by Edge magazine, The Astronauts, the development team behind the mind-bending Lovecraftian The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, revealed a new screenshot of the game, and talked about the process of photogrammetry.
I’ll admit it, before reading this article, I had no idea what this word meant. However, it very clearly explains why The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks so God damn good while having the assets of such a small indie company; They’re using photographs to construct their world.
All you need to make use of this powerful technique is a camera and photogrammetry software (The Astronauts uses Agisoft PhotoScan, which Poznanski describes as “the best one out there”). Recreating an object takes around 40 to 50 photos to cover every angle once the shots are fed into the software and composited. Any camera will do, even an entry-level point-and-shoot, though the quality of your assets will obviously be dictated by the quality of your kit.
“Of course, it’s not quite that simple,” says game designer and The Astronauts co-founder Adrian Chmielarz. “There’s a lot of work before and after, but the gist of it is you photograph it, get it to the software and there you go: you have an extremely photorealistic in-game asset.”
That extreme photorealism pays little heed to memory limits, however. “Realtime graphics love repeating things,” Poznanski says. “Repeating assets, tiling textures along entire walls, with carefully placed geometry at angles wherever you need them and only as many as you need. Photogrammetry doesn’t care about that. It spits out millions of triangles where you only need a few hundred. It will give you one unique huge 4K or 8K texture where you would otherwise use a tileable, versatile texture that’s probably 64 times smaller, maybe with a few additional details.”
This would go under the “Working Smart” category as far as I’m concerned, and very clearly represent a classic “Indie Mindset”. It’s very cool to see obscure and somewhat irregular methods being used to overcome the difficulties associated with being an independent publisher and game developer.
Now, I’m all for doubt and verification. It’s important to make sure that things look as good in practice as they are in the PR shots (…*hrumph* Rambo…) You could make the argument that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (too cool a title to shorten) might look spectacular in still shots, but could fall apart with the real deal.