The Lord of the Rings:
The Battle for Middle-Earth II
The Rise of the Witch-King
Ashes of War
Ashes of War is a new mod for The Rise of the Witch-King, it was announced just about 50 days ago. Development had not been stopped for any of all these days. It was not a typical development of mod, as you could think. I haven't created a lot of new models or textures, because my first task was to find a way to significantly improve BFME graphics. Aaand I've found it!
What am I talking about? I am talking about a couple of great thing, which have been discovered by me in the depths of BFME2. These things are deep color correction through lookup tables and... specular maps for units!
Working with color
As you know, our old lady BFME2 can't boast of wide support of posteffects. But it natively supports one important overlay-effect: color correction, which can be applied to each map separately, through lookup table instrument. What does this mean for us? Yes! Every map now can get unique shading colors, and it's really great.
There is no need in SweetFX or any similar stuff, which causes a lot of problem and which have a lot of disadvantages and limitations. For example, SweetFX affects on the whole frame of game, including interface and even main menu. It can apply only one effect for whole game (without any presets for each map), and finally it's just unstable and a lot of people have problem with running SweetFX on their computers.
Native color correction of BFME2 is deprived of these deficiencies. You can choose any colors for each map, regulate opacity of overlay and, of course, this overlay will affect only the 3d-space (battle field). Also, as you understand, this method doesn't cause any compatibility problems.
Well, there is time to look on something great: video, where you can see four different locations from the standard BFME2 with improved color correction:
Each of these maps get their own shades and features, and below you can read about it in detail (it's better to look both the video and screenshots, because some described elements are better seen on the video, others - on screenshots).
Fords of Isen
As you can remember, the most popular map for 1vs1 online matches from the default BFME2 was not unique. By colors it had standard BFME set: green grass with yellow dirt. Nothing special compared to a lot of other BFME2 maps.
I decided to make Fords as rainy map with overcast sky. Respectively, the map now has more cold colors and muted sunlight and faded inexpressive shadows.
In Dwimordene, in Lórien
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever, long and bright.
In accordance with this passage from Gandalf's Song, I wanted to make Lorien a fairytale place, glorified in legends. The abode of the immortal elves now has dominant gold shades, contrasting to saturated and deep shadows. Also pay attention to leaves falling (it's better to look on it in the video), another well-fitting element of the reworked map.
Ithilien became a night map. As you know, this territory is located on the frontier of men's Gondor and Sauron's Mordor. So, I decided to emphasize this feature. Ithilien now has purple and dark green colors with orange-red shades. I think, these palette is great for this map.
I think, there is no need to represent this land, which played the role of grandiose forge for Dark Lord. Of course, Mount Doom has bright red colors contrasting to grayish black. Don't forget to pay attention to falling ash ;]
It's not a secret, that developers of BFME series brought some great stuff as shader model 2.0 to BFME2, which means a much graphic improving compared to BFME1. What did it give to us? Support of new shaders, improved lighting and some great texturing techniques. The developers used normal maps for creating pseudo-relief for buildings and some terrains, but specular maps were not used by them at all. But there is active functional for applying specular in standard BFME Mod SDK! I found it almost by accident, and it was a good luck.
Why am I so happy? Look on sсreenshots below (and above too) and you understand me :]
Models with normal map on the left, models with specular map on the right
Yeah, specular map allows to show reflectivity of different materials. So, thereby I got more opportunities to emphasize visual image of every unit.
For example, armored gondorians now have great reflection on their armor, so we clearly see that these units have metal as the main material:
Another good example of applying specular map is fellbeast, air-horse for nazguls, you can see some reflection on the model. And it also makes sense, because fellbeast's skin is slippery and it should have reflection:
Also, applying specular map improves lightings. On the screenshot you can see great shading from the trees on the shining armor of gondorians:
Ashes of War takes idea of condition textures from The Last Hope of the Third Age. If you've played in TLHotTA, you can remember, that damaged units have blood on their textures; fired units gain burnt texture, and on snow maps your army has snowed textures.
These textures is simple enough thing, but they also are very important to create a good impression playing the mod.