Game world created with photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a technique whereby two-dimensional images are automatically converted into three-dimensional models. Indie developer Skull Theater is using this method exclusively to develop Rustclad, its forthcoming computer game.

The basic idea is that we build or find the objects that we want in our world, take a set of photographs for each object, and run them through a tool that creates a 3D model for us. We went this way because it lets us create beautiful art without having to do any digital authoring, and we get to work in a medium where realism is a natural byproduct rather than a conscious effort. Plus, it's a lot of fun to build a video game by hand.

Video link [Youtube]


  1. I have been waiting for the day when it would be possible to take maybe a special camera into an area and build and actual game level out of it.  It’s a natural response to the increasingly expensive model of developing levels by hand from the ground up.  I’ve seen demos of people making rooms this way, but integrating it with game authoring tools is taking longer than I expected. 

    Video games could be made like movies, with location scouts and physical design.  Maybe with some scenes made the old way when a particularly fantastical element is needed.  

    1. The tech (LIDAR + HDRI scanning) exists for Hollywood budgets, so it’ll trickle down to a price/ease of use a construction company or real estate office would think is OK eventually.

      I’m not sure what you’re proposing would save a game studio any money, though.

      1. IMHO, if it doesn’t save the studio any money then the tool is incomplete or just plain wrong. 

        Theoretically it should be possible to have someone basically walk through an area collecting the data and have the area then recreated in the gamespace automatically, with the caveat that complex shapes may not be rendered particularly well.  Simple polygons and curves should be easy enough to do automatically though.

        The big downside is textures, and particularly texture memory.  This setup would create unique textures for every single wall in a house for instance, which is inefficient and won’t work with today’s graphics cards.

        That said, there are duplicate recognition algorithms available (people use them to cull duplicates from large collections of images, even with the duplicate is in a different resolution and quality) that should be able to handle this problem somewhat. 

        It would be an incredibly complex tool, but if done right it could save companies millions of dollars in development costs, especially for spunkgargleweewee games that are focused on realism in realistic settings. 

        1. Their dev blog talks about how they scanned in foliage by just picking plants in their neighbourhood. Not everything has to be DIY’d from scratch.

        2. The landscape looks mesh-based and procedurally textured. I imagine that everything else will (like all modern 3D games) have separate textures for each base object type, but each instance of that object will use the same base texture resource.

  2.  Photogrammetry is a great tool – I use it in production every once in a while, and I’m amazed at the price/speed/ease-of-use balance.  But it’s no magic bullet, and I think these guys may be overstating things a bit with the line about doing “no digital authoring”.  These guys are still doing a lot of disciplined work – it’s just that they get to shift the focus more towards building rad shit in the real world.  I think it’s pretty cool (though I think a little better lighting could go a long way in that video).

    If you want to explore similar tools for free or cheap, check out things like Autodesk’s 123D Catch, or Agisoft PhotoScan – hell, even Microsoft’s Photosynth uses the same back-end math.

    1. Agree – this will create the basic model, and so take a *vast* amount of the necessary 3D-wizardry out, and put it into the hands of anyone who can build a model. There’s overlap with mocap, so I can see even bones, weighting, and animation happening eventually.

      But for the moment, I’m guessing there must be a considerable amount of post-processing, touch-up on the textures, and so on. As well as animation, I imagine it won’t do any of that fancy lighting they show, for example.

    1. From the shots they showed in that video, I don’t think it’s going to be an FPS. It might be first-person something, but it’d be a very weird shooter if it’s taking that path.
      Edit: The developers’ site says it’s going to be a 3D adventure game.

      I came in here to say that I want this game. In my mouf. Right here. :U ←

      I just hope that the gameplay and other materials are decent enough as well, because innovative asset-creation techniques aren’t enough to make a game great. But if they make a good game underneath the lovely graphics, I’m in. I’ll buy copies for friends.

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