Virtual Reality seems to be all the hype, it’s the prophesied next iteration of human – machine interaction. The craze around the technology is giving me a strong case of d?j? vu, if I recall correctly, we’ve already been down this road, on the Amiga, withal a few extra polygons.
The home Amiga market in the 90’s was also abuzz with the promise of “new worlds”. This software came in the form of 3d applications and in this how-to, I’ll be covering the grand daddy of VR, Vista Pro 3.0 from Virtual Reality Labs Inc.
My intention is not to replace the manual but to give a “kickstart” (excuse the pun) guide to quickly setting up an environment and rendering a landscape. The audience I have in mind is a 14 year old self, who was struggling, trying to get a suitable scene for his GCSE art course work on an A500+.
Initializing a World and Rendering Settings
Starting out, it’s a good idea to define your world size under the Projects menu, this option will likely be dependent on your system i.e. the Huge world requires 8mb fast RAM and the Large requires 4mb RAM. Setting this now is important, changing the world size mid way through your project will erase your progress.
Rendering settings can be updated at any point during your project but a word of caution, Vista Pro isn’t very forgiving if you choose incompatible settings. Under GrSettings, you can access the graphics dialogue. HAM and EHB (extra half bright mode – basically it gives 32 more colors at half the hue of your primary colors) can only be enabled in low res. mode, trying to enable them in high res. or greater will crash Vista Pro. Also if you have the 3.0 or greater ROMS installed, VP will misguidedly present the option for HAM-8 or 256 color modes on OCS/ECS systems, obviously, this will also crash the application.
One extra notable point I discovered, images created in EHB or HAM mode will translate the extra colors to black when the image is imported into Photoshop.
Generating Your First Terrain
The main control panel is split into 3 vertical sections:
Camera and targeting fields and options.
Scene and landscape properties e.g. Trees, Sea level etc.
Rendering and environment settings.
The easiest way to get a 3d world started is to generate a random terrain. Let’s start in the bottom toolbox and switch over to the Frac panel. The most import call outs are:
FrDim – The lower the number the smoother the landscape, the higher, the more rough and taller your peaks, numbers range from 0 – 255
Next to the integer input field there 4 buttons labelled 1, 2, 4 & 8. These buttons add additional refinement to the FrDim settings. Basically they act as divisors, the lower the number, example “1”, the higher the fractal points will be calculated.
Finally, hit random to generate a 1 in 4,000,000 landscape.
Placing the Camera and Camera Target
Going back up to the top of the control panel, we find the options to set the target the direction the camera will face. Select the Target button and choose a point on the map. Next select Camera and again place the camera on the map. To get a rough idea of the camera’s view, select P to get a wire frame view of the landscape.
One handy feature when you’re placing the camera is the axis lock buttons. For example, if you’re happy with altitude of the camera but you want shift around a peak, click the Z button, this will lock the altitude of the camera while you click around on the x and y axis.
Adding Detail to Your Landscape
In the middle panel you’ll find a plethora of options to refine and add detail to your landscape but I’m going to keep this tutorial concise and focus on the few that I feel have the most impact.
SeaLvl – By selecting Sea Level and then choosing a point on the map, you can flood that altitude and below with an ocean, by the way, the darker green on the map, the lower the altitude, just incase you haven’t figured that out yet.
Tree – This powerful tool will let you define the tree types that are used in the scene, not only that but it will allow to dictate which trees appear at what elevation. Elevations are ranged from 1 – 4 with 4 being the highest, at the defined tree line. So for example, you could have oaks at levels 1 and 2 and pines up at 3 and 4.
Clouds – To enable clouds and add some texture to the sky, select Enable Clouds button in the clouds control panel. One confusing aspect to the user interface is the use of the divisor buttons, the thicker the clouds the lower the divisor number.
Setting Light and Camera Lens
Finally before we set our rendering options, you can adjust the lighting and camera lens through the Lens and Light panels in the bottom section of the control panel.
Set the N, E, S and W direction of the sun.
Also the angle the sun is in the sky, this can be achieved in the Declin field, the lower the angle, the lower the sun is to the horizon.
The impactful option here is the lens angle, just like in a real SLR camera the lower the number, the wider the field of view is.
Second to last, we will want to get a draft of how the scene looks and if necessary go back to a previous step and make some adjustments. And finally we’ll set the desired settings for our masterpiece. In the bottom control panel section under main, you can find Vista Pro’s rendering settings.
Running a Draft
To get a sense how everything looks, we’ll do a quick render at the lowest settings.
Poly – Here we again see the divisors, the lower the number, the less the polygons are divided, you get the idea!
Textur – Let’s set this to O for off
PixDth – This sets the dithering and gives the impression of more colors being used. We’ll set this to 0 too.
Blend and GShade – Both of these options give an additional sense of more colors being used by blending and mixing colors together, let’s leave them off.
Depending on your processor, a draft render should take anywhere between 5sec to 5 minutes (sorry stock A500’s!).
The Final Image
As you would expect for the final HQ image, you would simply reverse the settings you did for a draft. Here is where having a slight faster machine will come in handy. On my A2000 with an ‘030, render times times at full quality can take up to 15 minutes. I vaguely recall back to 1994 on my A500, starting a process before I went to school in the morning and coming home to find it still going in the afternoon!
I hope you’ve this tutorial interesting and somewhat useful. I suppose if you really want to start churning out scenes, WinUAE might be the way to go, unless of course you’re a lucky bugger and own a Vampire II card 😉