Redoing backdrops and tuning globe shaders

The backdrops of the different nations have always annoyed me since I started to work on a 16:9 (and currently 16:10) widescreen display. When I created them way back for “Phase 1”, I made them with Corel’s Bryce (a pretty old version) and rendered them for 4:3 and 5:4 displays. And I always wanted to redo them since starting to work on “Phase 2”, which has been some time now, but never actually got around this and never had a clue what to do.

And after witnessing how bad they actually look on a  big screen I decided it was time to replace them, and also to get rid of the water plane. Though the water plane was a nice visual gimmick with it’s shaders and reflections, it always felt unnatural to have the globe float above an infinte waterplane. And it also hindered gameplay somehow since it could obstruct the lower regions of the globe.

So along with the old nation backdrops I also removed the water plane and went with a gorgeous space skybox instead (I used this great open source tool to create the skybox). It feels far more natural to watch earth from space (though the nebulae around it is pure imagination and not near relity), with a backdrop that actually rotates with the globe (instead of the old static nation backdrops) and no oddly looking waterplane that the globe could be “dipped” into. Just take a look at the screenshot and you see what I’m talking about :

And if you take a close look at the globe you may notice that it looks a bit better than in the last release. That’s because I worked on the globe’s shaders to make it look more realistic, and also tuning colors and saturation of the different textures. Also note that I restored the old day/night-line that moves over the globe like in the real world again.

And along with tuning the visuals of the globe I also got rid of some fixed-function stuff that’s now done in the shader like the cloud cover. For years this has been an additional sphere that was just layered on top of the globe. I added that functionality to the globe shader (which is now using 6 different textures) giving a slight performance boost.

So what do you think of this new backdrop? I like it much more than the old ones, and it feels more natural. Note that I’ll try to get a video of the updated graphics up in the next few days, as it looks even better in motion.

It’s not completly finished yet (I quickly implemented the changes yesterday and this evening) and I want to add some dynamic objects to the scenery. E.g. a glowing sun in the far background as well as the moon circling above the earth. And yes, I even plan to use that moon as part of a global project ;)