The Philosophy of Gaea

The first Gaea terrain rendered in 3dsmax + Corona.

A little over 10 years ago, we saw dramatic changes in how terrains were created. This sparked a whole new generation of environment art — whether in hobby projects or AAA productions. Since then, the pace of innovation in terrain design progressively slowed, with features becoming more iterative than groundbreaking.

Gaea represents the new paradigm in terrain design —marrying the best of the status quo with new and inventive methodologies and tech. This next generation will help drive the industry for 10 years and beyond.

The future needs to be artist-centric, not engineer-centric.

Rebooting Terrain Design

DOOM used QuadSpinner technology to create their marvelous skyboxes. © Bethesda/Zenimax Media Inc.
Doom rewarded action and encouraged you to take risks while making sure you were equipped to tackle those risks.
Our philosophy is exactly the same.

In the early days of PC gaming everyone wrote their own engine. Back then, a single person could write amazing engines. Today, studios employ entire platoons of engineers to create and maintain their engines.

Terrain design a decade ago was based on a shader-esque approach where you wrangle procedural noises and then erode them until they look natural. It is kit-based design. Crossing the streams between procedural and hand-drawn did not produce the best results. In the end, you could start with something handmade but then have to give it to the procedural gods to do as they saw fit.

The reboot of Doom (which incidentally used our tech) won over players because it made you feel powerful from the get-go. It rewarded action and encouraged you to take risks while making sure you were equipped to tackle those risks.

Our philosophy is exactly the same.

Empowering the artist

Perhaps the most significant new feature we introduce in Gaea is Directed Erosion — essentially, the ability to sculpt erosion. The user stays in control, but the algorithm does the heavy lifting.

One of the early prototypes showing sculpted erosion.

We coupled this with the ability to do it in realtime at 1:1 scale, even when your world is not built at full resolution. This opens up a brand new dimension for terrain design, because you can go in to sculpt erosive detail — like sand deposits, deep talus, crisp flow lines — or even throw some debris around, and throughout, the process stays procedural and fits snugly with the rest of the node-based workflow.

Automatic rivers carved using Fluvial Erosion.

The second most important feature we implemented is a variety of cool new erosion methods. We even componentized hydraulic erosion itself. Each terrain software is plagued by its “iconic” erosive look. But by separating the distinct erosion components in Gaea, your options increase exponentially and your desired look is controllable.

These are just two examples. Others include geological noises, primitives, biomes, decoupling data maps from erosion, photo-based color production, and many more.

Over the next several weeks, we will cover these and other features in detail on this blog.