When it comes to a video game, particularly in genres such as an MMO or MOBA, the character you control plays a huge role. We pay a lot of attention to our avatar whether they are performing an acrobatic move leaping across a lava pit, fending off hordes of enemies, or simply interacting with another NPC in a village. We stare at our character most of the time during the game and therefore, it is natural for developers to put a lot of emphasis on the character creation process during game production.
With that being said, we believe that the environment is also equally as important, if not more important. A well-crafted background will help immerse the player into the world. One of the key elements when we look at environment creation, is the ground or the path in which the player stands on. The ground, especially the alpha path, is one of the crucial elements which will add a lot to the game when executed properly. When done well, it adds a level of richness to the overall visual. However, if it is not done well, it will become a distraction and detract from the player experience.
A common issue when authoring the ground is that it can tend to look repetitive especially when the texture is tiled across a large surface. To help minimize the look of repetition, techniques such as adding light-maps, applying detail shaders, or adding overlay geometry can often be used to help break up the "tiled" look. Most of these methods are fine but they all come at a cost in the form of extra textures, extra draw calls, and costly fill rate.
In our experience, we have found it helpful to spend a little bit of time upfront designing the pattern. The image below is the exploratory sculpt we did for the Chronoblade ground texture in the opening level.
Once the look and feel was nailed, we then come up with a set of modular ground pieces.The designer can then use that tile set to fill out the rest of grey box level.
Two shots of the ground textures in game. In this case, only light map was being used in conjunction with the tile set.
In the end, if you use the right Texel density combined with a few nicely laid out patterns for mixing and matching, we can minimize or completely avoid using some of the more expensive methods altogether.