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Normal maps are powerful tools for the game artists, as they change the perceived lighting of a model to appear as if there's more detail and correct shading. However, there are some limitations to normal maps, which are very important to note. This building is a prime candidate for a normal map, in this slightly recessed detail here on the corner. As we've seen previously, the large opening around the windows is a great place for geometry. In this case I have a simple example showing limitation of a normal map.
On the left side is a window opening or a recess in the wall executed in geometry and we can see how it shades. On the right side trying to do that same thing with a normal map, although it lights somewhat correctly, produces an odd result. And what we need to make sure of is really understand the difference once we've decided model or texture within a normal map what we can and can't do. We can't take a sphere for a head and normal map it. It knows out that this silhouette is not going to look right. We can rely on normal maps really to add a tremendous amount of correctly lighting detail in our models.
Now I am going to pull up a model of a building with a normal map providing extra detail. As we can see in the lower floor here, a normal map is providing recessed and protruding detail on the iron pilasters, on the windows, and on the doors. We can see a normal map failing here on the dentals on this freeze, these squares that pop out, because the shadow-line is not zigzagging correctly. But there will be a lot of extra geometry so I chose to do it as a normal map hoping I could get away with it.
Here's the normal map for the building where we can see the detail on the fleur-de-lis and the panels, and this provides what looks like cast-iron detail, and here are those dentals. Even down to the grooves on the brick in the normal map, so the brick looks recessed and this is the kind of thing a normal map excels at. The limitations of a normal map become very clear when they are breached. However, they are an invaluable tool for the game designer to utilize for adding correctly shading detail to a model.
When you're planning a building, once you've decided geometry and texture, make a note of what is a good candidate for a normal map. So when you do paint the texture that detail can be painted correctly in a normal, so it looks like it lights properly.
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