Wavesets: Tips and Help

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Linking in to certain places like Bevin, Gahreesen, Noloben, I go there sometimes just to look at the water.

Bevin's (or any Hood's) water is quite striking in how it reflects the lights and it's clarity.

Gahreesen's water that we see from up high is very beautiful, the way it reflects.

Noloben, while a Myst V Age, it's sea looks beautiful whether you're playing Myst V or have converted the Age to run in Uru, the way the shore foam washes up and down, but also how the distant storm clouds reflect on the water.

Water in Uru can be tricky. When I first made Zephyr Cove for the very first RAD contest, we didn't have a way to make Wavesets at that point. So I had to use a plane with a static texture on it. Later, the GoW plugin was able to let us create waveset, and I was over joyed!

I jumped on on Zephyr Cove and turned the static looking plane, into a real looking sea. I had a few false starts, but suddenly I had a great looking Age.

Suddenly a lot of people decided I was the "Expert" when it came to wavesets. Nothing could be further from the truth! I had been working on other projects, trying to make my wavesets look just as good as Zephyr Cove, but I spent a LOT of time pulling my hair out. It took me a long time to figure out how to make decent looking wavesets.

Many people have asked me to spill "my secret", but the truth is: there really is no secret to it. What there is, is a LOT of hard work, research, and exporting. You'll spend whole days working on your Waveset numbers, export, link in and look. Over and over until you get what you want.

What I CAN do for you here, is help you keep certain things in mind when building your wavesets, and show you how different types of scenes will change how you make your water.....

The Shape Of Things.....

For a long time, there was thought that the mesh of a waveset did not really play that important part of how it would work. General practice was to copy the faces of where the bottom of your pond bed, lake bed, etc would be and use that as your mesh. Still others tried to just use a simple plane as their waveset mesh.

Leave no doubt: if you try to use a simple plane that has nothing more than 4 verticies, 4 sides, and 1 face, you're going to be very sad at the results, mainly because you won't see anything!

Basically, the more verticies and faces you give your mesh, the more detail and better looking ripples you will have.

You don't have to take my world for it. Import any of Cyan's Age that have great looking wavesets and look at those meshes. You see a common theme: parts of the mesh that are close enough for the player to see will have many faces. Those parts that are much further from where the player can normally get to will have fewer faces and vertices.

Teledahn, Ahnonay Sphere 1, Noloben, and Myst V's Myst Island. These are GREAT examples of what I just stated above.

So what do you do if your player is going to be right above the waveset? Well, you can do what I did......

Take a look at Neolbah's cave:


Looks like plenty of faces. I could just copy the mesh, then flatten it, move the center to where I want the water's surface to be, and it should turn out okay, right?


First off, those faces on the very bottom are quite big. Larger than the avatar (which your avie is 2 x 2 x 6 feet roughly). Put that in proportion of where my walkway is, and you'll have a large faced waveset, close to where the avatar will be looking.

That goes against what you see with many of Cyan's waveset meshes (not all, there are exceptions, but this isn't one of them).

But don't take my word for it. Here is what it will look like. Watch the following video:

Wave Video

As you saw, the waveset didn't have a lot of ripples or details, and in fact, it had a lot of flickering going on.

So what do we do? We make a "Grid" with a lot of faces. Specifically, I created a flat plane even with the bottom of my cave, and I gave it 100 x 100 segments. That's 20,000 faces (or 10,000 polygons). That's a LOT. As a matter of fact, Cyan's plugin will not let you export anything that has over 15,000 faces (GoW plugin limits you even further. You have to have less than 10,000 with their plugin). But don't worry, it's going to be okay, because we are going to select and delete as many faces that are outside of the cave that we can (don't need them anyway since the player can't see outside the cave). That gave me this result:


My finished product has just over 9,000 faces and will export just fine. Just remember to move the objects center or pivot point up to where the actual surface of your water is suppose to be.


Now we need to work with the waveset's properties.....

It's All About The Numbers.....

Well, I've proven time and time again that you need to have a lot of faces on your mesh for your waveset. So that's a big number. But no matter how many faces you give it, you have to have your numbers set right. Let's take a look at my Waveset's roll out box:


I think one of the most frustrating parts of learning something, is being told to "play" with the numbers until you get what you want. Oh gee. Thanks a LOT for that help! How many different variables do we have here?

That was really frustrating for me. No one could give me an answer as to what numbers I should be using. Of course at the time, no one really knew. But here we are 3 years later, and we have a lot more tools that we can use, and I've "played" with those numbers a lot.

One thing you can do is use PrpShop and open up one of Cyan's Ages. Ideally you want to open up one that has a waveset like what you want to use. You can open up the prp file, and take a look at the waveset numbers that they used.

That will get you in the ball park, but it won't automatically make your waveset look as good as theirs as there are other things involved (like the mesh that we just talked about).

Let's look at my numbers again, only with where I circled:


As you can see, I've circled "Geometric Waves", "Texture Waves", and "Ripple Falloff".

Geometric Waves controls the wavyness of the whole mesh. If you set these right, you can see your whole waveset wiggle up and down like a wave. The numbers I have punched in the picture above, work really well for me on "small" wavesets. Such as my cavern tunnel here, or a small pond, or lake.

Texture Waves controls the ripples we see in the wave set. The numbers that I have circled will dramatically affect how your waveset works. Again, the numbers I'm using here work well for small wavesets.

Ripple Falloff. These numbers will greatly impact how your waveset ripples look. As a rule, I normally set the Max number to the narrow width of my waveset. In this case about 70 feet. I then set the Min number to be about 1/4 of my Max number (you'll see this again in Zephyr Cove).

So should you just ignore the other numbers? Of course not! But big changes here won't affect your waveset as much as those that I circled.

The Color Of Water......

While you do set your Reflective Tint in the Waveset roll out, it's your Material that you give your Waveset that will have a LARGE impact on how you waveset looks as far as it's color.

Color is important. If you make your waveset's color too bright, you won't see the reflections in it very well. And it's the reflections that make the whole thing! With out good, reflecting ripples, you might as well not even have a waveset.

Keep in mind that any color you pick for your material will be very translucent when you link in and look. Let's take a look at the Material I assigned my wave set here in the Neolbah cave:


Notice too how I made sure the base texture has Alpha set to it.

So what about a texture?

Well, that answer comes with a "Depends" on it. Look at the water in Bevin. Nice and clear, right? Look at the water in Gahreesen, also nice and clear. But now let's go to Er'cana and look at some of the water there. In some places in the Pellet Plant, we have nice clear water. In other places, the water looks very scummy!

I did the same thing in Neolbah. Down in the basement, where the mysterious journal popped up, I used a texture with that water, and I have scummy looking water there. But I wanted the water up in the cave to be very clear looking, so I didn't use a texture. Instead I did this:


I set the layer to "Environ" for "Environment" and set the drop down box to "Screen". I also removed the checkmark from "Use Texture" (if you don't, Cyan's plugin will get upset with you).

The result is: a darkish looking water, that reflects well!

It's In The Details.....

Okay, so you are following along here and are realizing something:

Right Kind Of Mesh + Right Numbers + Right Material = Good Looking Waveset.

It's sort of like the Fire Triangle. Fire needs: Air, Heat and Fuel. Remove or mess up any one of those, and you don't have fire anymore.

But, there is one big thing you need to realize with wavesets in the end: Details.

What makes a waveset look good is not just those things above, but you MUST have something for it to reflect! If I have a big lake outside, on very flat land, and a crystal blue CLEAR sky, my waveset is NOT going to look very good! That's because all it sees to reflect from is my sky, and if it's just a plain blue sky, that's all it will reflect.

If your sky has clouds, that helps. Planets, stars, etc, all those will be reflected and will make your waveset look good. Clouds on the horizon (Noloben), hills, mountains, canyon cliff faces near or around your waveset (Gahreesen, Eder Gira, Teledahn, etc). Walls, cave walls, cave ceilings and lights or lit up objects (Bevin, Kirel, Ae'gura).

Keep that in mind: A waveset reflecting nothing......sucks.

So take a look at the video below for Neolbah's new waveset:

2nd Wave Video

Zephyr Cove....

So how do you do a HUGE body of water, like Noloben? Myst Island? Zephyr Cove?

Ah! Everything that I discussed above all still applies, but there are a few things that are different:

The Mesh: I wouldn't recommend making a flat plane with a lot of faces like I did for my cave water. You'll end up with way too many faces to export, and no way to reduce it down.

You DO need to have a lot of fine faces near the shore. But as you move out away, you can make those faces bigger and bigger. Take a look at Zephyr Cove's mesh. It's based upon how Cyan did their meshes for like Myst Island and Noloben:


How big is this you may ask? Well in the pic above, that red arrow I drew, is about 414 feet long.........

The other thing is the numbers. Take a look at Zephyr's roll out on it's waveset:


Take a look at the first box, the Geostate. In Neolbah, the Amp/Len % (Amplitude / Length) was 1.0 percent. For Zephyr it's 0.1 percent.

Also the Texture Waves. In Neolbah, the Amp/Len was set to 30 percent. However in Zephyr it's only 1.0 percent.

Notice however, the Ripple Falloff. In Neolbah it was Max 70 and Min 20. But here it's Max 1,000 and Min 250. That's because the waveset is HUGE compared to Neolbah. And even so, notice how my Min number is 1/4 of the Max.....just like Neolbah's.

Here's a video of Zephyr Cove's water:

Zephyr Video

As always, if you still just can't seem to "get it" or your water just doesn't seem to look right no matter what you do, you can always contact me and I'll see if I can't help you figure out what is wrong.

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Copyright (C) 2011 Andy Legate.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".