FXAA and Environment Mapping
FXAA is really just magic. No other word for it. Antialiasing as a cheap post-process is pretty much solved thanks to Mr. Lottes. I dropped it into the engine last night and was amazed at the difference! It makes edges look great:
Those asteroids look a lot better without the jaggy edges. Another nice benefit is that FXAA can also handle other types of aliasing, like specular highlights, which is fantastic considering that I just implemented environment mapping. Which leads me to...
Cubemaps / environment mapping in GL turned out a lot less painful than I was expecting. It's the first time I've ever touched cube maps, but everything went well! I've converted the background generator so that it now generates the background nebula directly into a cube map, which makes distortion less apparent. Plugging the background cube map into the deferred lighting pass for environment mapping also turned out to be relatively painless, with the exception of a nasty aliasing problem that I'm still working on. So here I am, flying next to an absurdly shiny behemoth:
It's amazing how much those reflections add to the graphics! I'm super-excited about them 🙂
Another bonus of environment maps is that you can use one of the mipmaps to approximate directional ambient lighting from space. Since the mipmaps are generated using a box blur, they can serve as a (very) rough approximation of the light scattered from a diffuse surface with the given normal. This means that we can use the environment map not only for reflections, but also to add a nice "global" light effect to diffuse surfaces. For example, if one part of the sky is a bright blue nebula, then some of that blue light will be scattered by the sides of asteroids that are facing that direction. Unfortunately, tweaking this to look natural has proved to be much more difficult than getting good reflections.
One final screenshot, this time from some experiments with tweaking the background generator. I came across this system and loved it!
If only there were more to do other than fly around and harass dumb AI...hopefully soon!