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Mapping as a real-world construction tool


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Hi, some of you may remember me from the HL1 mapping scene from the past 4-5 years, I’ve been a bit of a ghost to the community for awhile so I understand if I have very little credibility as a seemingly new poster. Anyway if its necessary for me to post some old portfolio stuff just let me know.

I’m posting this idea in a general forum because I’m hoping to generate a discussion on the idea, maybe get some useful feedback besides just recruit people for what I hope doesn’t appear to be a conventional project.

The Idea-

I’ve worked in the landscape construction industry, primarily as a carpenter (befitting a mapper) for the past 8 years or so and I believe I have a fairly thorough understanding of the business. For a few years I’ve been building on the idea of using mapping technology, rather than autocad or hand-drafting, as a design tool. This is intended for multi-million dollar high-end jobs, not for little weed-ridden backyards.

This is my reasoning which I see as the market potential.

The average client is completely incapable of conceptualizing a two-dimensional blueprint as an actual structure. When handed a topographical map, few lay people can visualize a rolling green pasture. If you could provide a fully detailed navigable medium in which a client could preview their new property, actually walk around in it, hear the trickle of their new waterfall, and feel the proportions of the space, that would be a very powerful tool indeed. The crux of this idea is that this simple failure of communication leads to hundreds of thousands of wasted dollars in redesigns just in the medium-scale company I currently work for.

Imagine if in communicating with your client, they decide they are unhappy with the position of their new pool, the work gets sent back to the level editor, the pool is dragged over a few feet and resubmitted to the client. It sounds obvious, but believe it or not, in this business, simple change orders like that regularly cost thousands of dollars.

The use of a level editor in the design process firstly is more efficient in the use of time, and provides a more clear representation to the client. To me, the most exciting aspect of this idea is what happens after using such a tool for more than a few jobs, you would begin to have so many assets pre-manufactured that you could do what would take a hand-drafter days of work in just a few hours. While he is carefully illustrating the branches on the rose tree to make the drawing look presentable to the client, you have dragged and dropped the tree in and are moving on. At first, this idea would be rather unwieldy, I’m going to be making hundreds of photo-sourced textures of trees, rocks, different types of wood and masonry, patio stones, etc etc etc… but once those assets are done, they are completely reusable. And gradually the system would get more and more efficient.

Extended scope-

I’ve already anticipated some necessary changes to the level editor, the grid settings must be scaled to a base twelve (imperial) measuring system rather than base 8, with the option of going metric. But there are some very exciting possibilities in this down the road.

As a cost estimation tool – if you cover a breadth of space with a special grass texture, a custom-coded compiler could calculate exactly how much sod is required to cover that area. If you build a fence in the editor using individual wood boards (which is how I intend for this to work) the editor could count exactly how many fence boards, 2x4s etc, and in what lengths, you would need to construct that fence. It could also calculate volume, if a zone is covered on all sides with a special texture, it could tell you how many tons of soil or pea gravel you need to fill up that area.

Practical needs-

I’m a mapper/texture artist, this job would desperately need some basic skills of a programmer to adapt the mapping tools in small ways such as changing the grid-settings. And it would need some very developed modeling skills to reproduce all sorts of different materials from photographs and drawings. No small amount of work would be involved in modeling all this, there are dozens of regularly used varieties of trees alone which would all need to be produced in a couple of variations.

Fortunately for landscape construction, there are only 4 basic elements in every yard.

-terrain (soil, gravel, grass)




Once these elements have a sufficiently ample stock of art assets the work will get more and more easy, and more and more profitable to this endeavor.

Landscape designers get paid very well, if I’m able to undercut their costs in time as well as provide a better end-product, I think this idea has a lot of money potential. Particularly for you starving students out there like me.

What I’m hoping to do is a small mock-up of a property and then first approach the company that I’m working for now, and then possibly other companies in my area, at this point I may be looking for a partner to help me get this off the ground.

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Also dont you need a license to be able to use asource or hl1 engine for business purposes?

Only if you make money off of the material made with source tech.

I did something similar a few months ago. My former employer was going to build a paintball field and needed to sell the idea to a few investors, so I drafted up a source level in hl2 of the paintball field which he then showed to the investors as a "here's how it will all look in the end" kinda thing.

They bought the idea, and I drafted up blueprints for it. The workaround was, I was paid for the drafting of the blueprints, and not the drafting of the source level. I didn't argue that the paycheck for the blueprint drafting was larger than it was supposed to be.

Of course this was a small project and the level only took about two days to build and it was kind of a spurr of the moment thing. On the larger projects, or even a full blown business based on this kinda thing, you might not get away with it.

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autocad is a tool i can use, and its well-suited to generating blueprints but it totally sucks for making anything realistic looking. Autocad has crappy rendering ability not to mention it lacks the bells and whistles of a game engine.

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The practice has been around for a while. There are quite a few companies around who have licensed the Unreal engine 2 Runtime purely to make architectural presentations with.

Autocad isnt great for that. You need to be able to walk trough an area yourself and see it fully litted and textured.

The idea is good tho and surely has a future, along with the future of interactive contents.

Go make a museum in a game engine and allow people to walk trough it themselves, theres a much larger and unexplored market out there for such things than most people think

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Ive worked at an architecture firm here in Gothenburg a few years ago. They used a CAD program called ArchiCAD wich where fully capable of representing the drawings they made in full 3D. You could render images and movies for presentation purposes aswell as "walk around" in the virtual drawings, however the 3D-engine was quite weak.

I was quite young at the time, but as I had experience with WorldCraft, I found the program quite straight forward and easy to learn. It took about two days to to learn the basics and get confortable with the interface.


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Yeah, looks good, and I've heard positive things on the grapevine.

It'll never be as powerful as a fully fledged environment creation tool, which is exactly what a game level editor happens to be, but I guess a compromise has to be made when it comes to efficiency, scalability and compatibility. And let's face it, Worldcraft/Hammer can be serious pains in the arses at the best of times, and it's time consuming stuff.

A game level editor might just be overkill for the task at hand, even if it is a novel approach. Never play an ace if a two will do, as a wise dragon once said.

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I think that there are plenty of tools to take drafts and blueprints from something like auto-cad and slap them into a kick ass renderer and spit out something realistic and nice. The issue is though that there isn't anything that I know of to turn those into a real-time, walk-around actual environment. Thats where game engines would fill the gap.

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