Better Models and Z-Fighting

I’ve added some better models now from TurboSquid (they do a nice range of <£5.00 medieval buildings) and added them to the landscape. Still not convincing but much better on the eye than the previous ones from the Sketchup store.


One consequence of using professionally constructed models was immediate and extensive Z-fighting. This is the well known problem that co-planar textures interfere with each other, flipping backwards and forwards between frames, because there is not enough world distance between them.

The problem is that model developers will tend to overlay textured quads on top of the basic model shape to create things like windows and doors, and roof textures. It takes less vertexes to add a simple slim box on the side of a building and paste the window texture on it, than to insert a window frame into the house mesh. Unfortunately the underlying house box model still exists beneath the window box. The diagram shows how a thin Window has been added to the house box (seen from the side)BetterModels2.jpg

This looks great in a modelling application but using a real-world rendering system there just isnt enough differentiation between the plane of the window and the plane of the house. The consequence is that the window keeps flicking between window and wall. This happens because the depth buffer, which keeps track of how far away from the camera a paricular pixel is, is stored as a 24bit number and that number represents the proportional distance between the near clipping plane and the far clipping plane that the pixel lies on. In a modelling application the near and far planes are going to encompass a very short distance; on a real-world application it could be up to 20,000 meters.

This proportional distance is stored as a logarithmic value, on the reasonable basis that the further something is from the camera, the less likely any depth differences are going to be visible to the end user. There is a huge amount of literature explaining Z-fighting on the web. The fixes for it are either;

  1. Avoiding using the hardware depth buffer entirely and write out your own calculation for depth into a texture buffer, and recycle that texture buffer back out on each render so the pixel shader can check the current pixel depth by sampling it.
  2. Do something else.

(1) is not recommended because hardware depth buffering is extremely fast and often takes place before your pixel shader is run, eliminating whole triangles where all three of their vertexes are further away than the recorded pixel depth.

So that leaves (2).

The simplest way I found to achieve a massive reduction in Z-fighting was the technique of reversing the depth buffer. There are three stages to this;

  1. When calculating the projection matrix, simply pass in the Far and Near clip values in reverse order;
  2. When clearing the depth buffer, clear it to 1,0 not 0,1
  3. When setting the depth comparison function, use GREATER_THAN not LESS_THAN

Step 1

float nearClip = ReverseDepthBuffer ? this.FarClippingDistance : this.NearClippingDistance;

float farClip = ReverseDepthBuffer ? this.NearClippingDistance : this.FarClippingDistance;

if (this.CameraType == enumCameraType.Perspective)


return Matrix.PerspectiveFovLH(







Step 2

if (reverseDepthBuffer)


this.Context.ClearDepthStencilView(dsv, SharpDX.Direct3D11.DepthStencilClearFlags.Depth, 0, 1);




this.Context.ClearDepthStencilView(dsv, SharpDX.Direct3D11.DepthStencilClearFlags.Depth, 1, 0);


I found this entirely eliminated my Z-fighting by more smoothly distributing the available depths over the field of view. This is very nicely illustrated in this NVIDIA article.



Settlement Toplogy with Grass and Trees

I’ve now combined the settlement generation with the grass generation I outlined way back. Although the buildings are still cartoonish, and the grass too uniform, the general outline is OK. A problem persists with the blending of the four different densities of grass (I use the Outerra method of doubling the grass blade width whilst halving the number of blades) – its easy to see in the YouTube video. By adjusting the terrain base texture with the same mottling interval as the grass planting distant grass sections dont need to be painted – they just (almost) seamlessly grow of the ground of the same colour as the grass blades.

One thing to work on is shadowing in grass – there are too many polygons being generated to depth test every one of them – so I think I need to add a ‘shadow pass’ to generate a shadow map of the current scene, not just a depth map. It shows where a tree’s shadow doesnt affect the underlying grass, but does affect the underlying landscape.