Voxels and meshes

Ever noticed you can’t create horizontal holes into a terrain height map with ground overhanging? That’s the reason why caves often need to be covered with large sculpted rocks or other prims to disguise them, which seldom works very well. At worst, you can’t have caves without an entire island made of sculpted prims. As a solution that relies entirely on circumventing the normal height map terrain model, this is at best a kludge. Height maps are 2D vertical models, which is why if you get too close to a mountain you can see that it’s only a skin. This simply detracts from the realism of the 3D metaverse.

Enter the 3D terrain map. I’m not an expert on meshes, but I wonder how they could be used on the scale required for terrain. On the other hand, I’ve recently seen this post on “voxels”, which is basically a 3D terrain map made of cubes similar to pixels, but naturally 3D. The jagged appearance of the terrain can be visually smoothed out, so essentially it would, if developed, enable overhangs and caves. It remains to be seen how resource intensive this would be. Height maps, while being very old technology, have the major advantage that they are very efficient in using resources. For most terrains that do not have sharp changes in elevation, they are fine – provided you don’t need caves or overhangs. But they don’t do mountainous terrain nearly as well.

My guess is that this will appear in an experimental form for OpenSim long before SL change their ageing terrain model.

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  1. Samantha Fuller: “There is a program[m]er ([…]) who wants to impl[e]ment voxel (3D) terrain in open sim but i dont know how that will play with SL compatab[i]lity or if it can be stuffed into a few modules”

    (quoted from the chat log of a meeting here)

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