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Need advice on cave environment

Hello all. First off, just a bit of background on my skill set. I am an expert C++ programmer, an amateur 3D modeler (i have gotten quite comfortable in Maya), but I remain somewhat of a novice in using UE4. I am trying to build out a cave environment for a game demo that I’m working on. As a guide, I took a look at the “Particle Effects” demo which has a cave environment and I was surprised to see that rather than building out large, monolothic pieces of the cave, it was constructed from hundreds of instances of small rocks. I can understand the benefits of this (you can make changes easily in the engine, no need to modify the model each time you want to make changes to your environment, easy collision detection). But I also see some downsides (very wasteful from a performance perspective particularly, hard to create nuanced variation in texturing, limited in what you can create visually). I’m curious what is the approach taken in most commercial games? Is the larger, pre-baked chunks approach more viable, or the smaller pieces? I am happy to elaborate further if this isn’t clear. Thank you.

Shamless bump. Really hoping someone can answer my question here. I’m willing to provide more information if needed.

I would assume they used the smaller rocks due to the fact it is “starter content”, in that it is available already in-engine. For them to construct a cave mesh just for a demo would be time consuming.

I bought a cave pack off the UE4 marketplace to make caves in a game I’ve been working on. It comes with large meshes that hook up together well. By changing their size in x, y, and z I can create different shapes and cave sizes.

Most if not all games today use the modular workflow, if you look at the caves of Skyrim or Witcher 3 for example, they are made with lots of modules rotates all about. And yes it is wasteful, but geometry has became cheap these days, and cave “Rooms” can be designed so that they occlude and hide other “rooms” this allowing your budget for the individual room interiors to be rather quite lax since you don’t render the other “rooms”.
Also thanks to instancing and material draw call optimization I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s cheaper for the engine to render one module copied all over the place than a single huge high polygonal mesh.

Is it “Luos’s Modular Rocks & Caves”? Because I’ve really been considering purchasing this as well. Looks extremely useful and expansive.

Thank you all for your advice. I will give the modular workflow a shot. It seems to have many advantages.