Visibility ranges (HLOD)¶
On this page, you'll learn:
What visibility ranges can do and which scenarios they are useful in.
How to set up visibility ranges (manual LOD) in Godot.
How to tune visibility ranges for best performance and quality.
If you only need meshes to become less detailed over distance but don't have manually authored LOD meshes, consider relying on automatic Mesh level of detail (LOD) instead.
Note that automatic mesh LOD and visibility ranges can be used at the same time, even on the same mesh.
How it works¶
Visibility ranges can be used with any node that inherits from GeometryInstance3D. This means they can be used not only with MeshInstance3D and MultiMeshInstance3D for artist-controlled HLOD, but also GPUParticles3D, CPUParticles3D, Label3D, Sprite3D, AnimatedSprite3D and CSGShape3D.
Since visibility ranges are configured on a per-node basis, this makes it possible to use different node types as part of a LOD system. For example, you could display a MeshInstance3D representing a tree when up close, and replace it with a Sprite3D impostor in the distance to improve performance.
The benefit of HLOD over a traditional LOD system is its hierarchical nature. A single larger mesh can replace several smaller meshes, so that the number of draw calls can be reduced at a distance, but culling opportunities can be preserved when up close. For example, you can have a group of houses that uses individual MeshInstance3D nodes (one for each house) when up close, but turns into a single MeshInstance3D that represents a less detailed group of houses (or use a MultiMeshInstance3D).
Lastly, visibility ranges can also be used to fade certain objects entirely when the camera gets too close or too far. This can be used for gameplay purposes, but also to reduce visual clutter. For example, Label3D nodes can be faded using visibility ranges when they're too far away to be readable or relevant to the player.
Setting up visibility range¶
This is a quick-start guide for configuring a basic LOD system. After following this guide, this LOD system will display a SphereMesh when up close and a BoxMesh when the camera is far away enough. A small hysteresis margin is also configured via the Begin Margin and End Margin properties. This prevents LODs from popping back and forth too quickly when the camera is moving at the "edge" of the LOD transition.
The visibility range properties can be found in the Visibility Range section of the GeometryInstance3D inspector after selecting the MeshInstance3D Node.
Add a Node3D node that will be used to group the two MeshInstance3D nodes together.
Add a first MeshInstance3D node as a child of the Node3D. Assign a new SphereMesh to its Mesh property.
Set the first MeshInstance3D's visibility range End to
10.0and End Margin to
Add a second MeshInstance3D node as a child of the Node3D. Assign a new BoxMesh to its Mesh property.
Set the second MeshInstance3D's visibility range Begin to
10.0and Begin Margin to
Move the camera away and back towards the object. Notice how the object will transition from a sphere to a box as the camera moves away.
Visibility range properties¶
In the inspector of any node that inherits from GeometryInstance3D, you can adjust the following properties in the GeometryInstance3D's Visibility Range section:
Begin: The instance will be hidden when the camera is closer to the instance's origin than this value (in 3D units).
Begin Margin: The hysteresis or alpha fade transition distance to use for the close-up transition (in 3D units). The behavior of this property depends on Fade Mode.
End: The instance will be hidden when the camera is further away from the instance's origin than this value (in 3D units).
End Margin: The hysteresis or alpha fade transition distance to use for the far-away transition (in 3D units). The behavior of this property depends on Fade Mode.
Fade Mode: Controls how the transition between LOD levels should be performed. See below for details.
The fade mode chosen only has a visible impact if either
Visibility Range > Begin Margin or Visibility Range > End Margin is
In the inspector's Visibility Range section, there are 3 fade modes to choose from:
Disabled: Uses hysteresis to switch between LOD levels instantly. This prevents situations where LOD levels are switched back and forth quickly when the player moves forward and then backward at the LOD transition point. The hystereis distance is determined by Visibility Range > Begin Margin and Visibility Range > End Margin. This mode provides the best performance as it doesn't force rendering to become transparent during the fade transition.
Self: Uses alpha blending to smoothly fade between LOD levels. The fade transition distance is determined by Visibility Range > Begin Margin and Visibility Range > End Margin. This mode forces transparent rendering on the object during its fade transition, so it has a performance impact.
Dependencies: This is intended for hierarchical LOD systems, and acts the same as Self if visibility ranges are used to perform non-hierarchical LOD.
Use simpler materials at a distance to improve performance¶
One way to further improve performance is to use simpler materials for distant LOD meshes. While using LOD meshes will reduce the number of vertices that need to be rendered, the per-pixel shading load for materials remains identical. However, per-pixel shading load is regularly a bottleneck on the GPU in complex 3D scenes. One way to reduce this shading load on the GPU is to use simpler materials when they don't make much of a visual difference.
Performance gains when doing so should be carefully measured, as increasing the number of unique materials in a scene has a performance cost on its own. Still, using simpler materials for distant LOD meshes can still result in a net performance gain as a result of the fewer per-pixel calculations required.
For example, on the materials used by distant LOD meshes, you can disable expensive material features such as:
Normal Map (especially on mobile platforms)
Use dithering for LOD transitions¶
Godot currently only supports alpha-based fading for visibility ranges. You can however use dithering instead by using several different materials for different LOD levels.
There are two advantages to using dithering over alpha blending for LOD transitions:
Higher performance, as dithering transparency is faster to render compared to alpha blending.
No visual glitches due to transparency sorting issues during LOD transitions.
The downside of dithering is that a "noisy" pattern is visible during LOD fade transitions. This may not be as noticeable at higher viewport resolutions or when temporal antialiasing is enabled.
Also, as distance fade in BaseMaterial3D only supports fading up close or fading when far away, this setup is best used with only two LODs as part of the setup.
Ensure Begin Margin and End Margin is set to
0.0on both MeshInstance3D nodes, as hysteresis or alpha fade are not desired here.
On both MeshInstance3D nodes, decrease Begin by the desired fade transition distance and increase End by the same distance. This is required for the dithering transition to actually be visible.
On the MeshInstance3D that is displayed up close, edit its material in the inspector. Set its Distance Fade mode to Object Dither. Set Min Distance to the same value as the visibility range End. Set Max Distance to the same value minus the fade transition distance.
On the MeshInstance3D that is displayed far away, edit its material in the inspector. Set its Distance Fade mode to Object Dither. Set Min Distance to the same value as the visibility range Begin. Set Max Distance to the same value plus the fade transition distance.