Mini Update #2: Underwater Sensation Pt. 1

Hey guys, Nick here, and welcome to today’s Mini Update.

This time we’re going to be talking about blur, and more specifically how making what you’re looking at harder to see will make it look nicer. Hopefully this isn’t saying anything about our artistic ability.

Jokes aside, we’re going to be talking today about how to visually create the underwater atmosphere in the game, of which blur is one element. At the moment, the game doesn’t truly make the player feel immersed deep underwater, as we’ve shown below. We have detailed but flat and two dimensional backgrounds, that even though they move in parallax (which is an improvement from before) still give a weird visual impression. It’s almost the same issue as old 2D animated movies by Disney where you can clearly see multiple still backgrounds. This is an issue we’ve discussed before here.

Flow and Spore are two great examples of games that capture this sensation of being underwater very well, as well as this little thing called real-life.

 

You can see in both games that blur is used to great effect to create the sense of depth. 3D movements of bubbles and other particles also add to this, as well as ripple effects and shifting distant images from refractions in the water.

In this picture we can see the same pattern of blur and particles creating the sense of depth.

Looking at those samples, what can we learn that could be applied to Thrive?

Blur

The first idea we had was that the backgrounds actually need to have less detailed designs, instead being large streaks of colour that blur into each other. This is a lot more in line with what underwater environments look like. Additionally, in real underwater environments water blurs your vision the farther you look, and this is something we need to emulate as well. In the Blurred Backgrounds mod that I made to test this feature, I tried simply blurring all the backgrounds, as well as saturating some of the colours. I think it hugely improves the visuals just with those small changes. If you want to try it for yourself, download it here.

The original ocean biome with the blurred backgrounds mod.

We’ve also experimented with having radial blur around the cell, as well as a focus shift upon taking damage, which you can see demonstrated in a demo video made by Naggorath (using the Blurred Backgrounds mod).

Clearly there’s some good potential to improve the visuals with some added blur effects, and we’re going to keep working with these before finding what works best to add in an upcoming update.

Three Dimensionality and Movement

Part of the problem of the immersion is that the background feels very 2D. Part of this is because it is too clear and not blurred, as addressed above. However, another reason for this is because the background contains bubbles and features that clearly stay in place as the players move, and are clearly flat. One change we could make to fix this would be to remove the bubbles from being part of the background and make them into actual moving sprites or models in the background. We could even allow them to collide with each other and burst.

Light Effects

Another issue that may not be immediately noticeable is that the environment lacks any proper lighting effects, which you can see in the image at the beginning of this article.

Everything is uniformly illuminated. Simply adding some gradients of light and shadow to the environment could really help add to the sensation that the player is deep underwater and only shafts of light are making it through. This also has the added benefit of allowing us to make the efficiency of chloroplasts tied to the amount of light you are sitting in.

Thanks to work by Naggorath, we also have a concept video for the kind of improvement lighting could make to the environment (using the mod).

That’s all for this mini-update. Stay tuned for next time where we will discuss the other points that add to the underwater sensation, as well as dive a bit into fluid dynamics. You can discuss the update on reddit or the community forum. Stay tuned for our next update.


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