ZmapNavigator is our Unreal game engine based 3D city viewer. The engine is powerful enough to load the whole of our London model and still be able to fly around smoothly even on a laptop.

Screenshot from ZmapNavigator
Screenshot from ZmapNavigator.

A bit of history.

Back in 2007, Zmapping started experimenting in utilising game engines to navigate around our large scale 3D city models. At the time, game engines were still not a medium associated with architectural visualisation. We first started using a basic engine called TurnTool, which was good enough to smoothly fly around three or four square kilometres. TurnTool had limitations and we quickly moved on to the much more popular Unity platform. In 2009, we created a fully interactive model of West Bromwich for Sandwell council and a model of the entire Stratford Olympic park for the Olympic Development Agency; simulating 3000 vehicles navigating in and around the Olympic park. In 2012, we produced another Unity engine based public consultation model for Camden Council. This was called the Euston Area Plan project and was hosted on the Camden Council website for the public to interact. The same model was also made available as an App for iPhone and Android users.

The whole game engine world has moved on since. Game engines are now being used in architectural visualisation as a truly viable alternative to traditional rendering techniques. The big boost came in when Unreal Engine, known for its vastly superior visual qualities, announced that it was making its engine free for developers to use. This prompted many traditional architectural visualizers to start experimenting with Unreal engine since the quality of the visualisation was finally good enough to be used in architectural projects. Zmapping has also adopted Unreal engine as its preferred game engine platform and we call it the ZmapNavigator.

What can ZmapNavigator do?

ZmapNavigator is powerful enough to load more than 100 km2 of our London 3D model and still fly around even on a laptop. Users can navigate using an Xbox controller just like you play a video game. You can fly around freely, walk along the streets, test specific views looking from points far away, interactively change colours of buildings, switch between proposed and existing buildings, add restricted view corridor info (such as the London’s LVMF views), change lens parameters and interactively change date and time to show real-time shadow changes. You can also output large images and record animations.

ZmapNavigator offers an unprecedented level of ease and freedom to walk around and visualise new developments in their city-wide context on a normal computer without the need for any additional software or hardware.

Highly detailed
Fully contoured terrain
Screenshots show how a user can switch between a block of proposed buildings and the existing buildings. Images used are for example only and not from an actual project.
Click to play a video of actual navigation around the same block of buildings.

As a council, how can we expect to use ZmapNavigator?

ZmapNavigator is made with large council-like users in mind. When a council want to visualise new proposed developments in their city-wide context, Navigator offers the best available platform to do so. The interface is easy-to-use and the user simply navigates around using an Xbox game controller.

The council can send us the 3D models of the proposed buildings. If necessary, we will carry out the necessary cleaning up processes necessary to make the model game engine friendly. We would then insert the model into ZmapNavigator and send you the package in a digital format. The user can then open the file on a suitable machine and navigate around the model. You can switch the proposed buildings on and off as you need, generate views from various points around the city and even record some animations.

How good are the visual capabilities of ZmapNavigator?

Since Navigator uses the Unreal engine, the visual quality you get from Navigator is some of the best you can expect from a game engine. Unreal engine is used on some of the biggest budget AAA game titles and ZmapNavigator is built on exactly the same engine. Have a look at some of the images and animations on the gallery below to get a glimpse of what the ZmapNavigator can achieve. The engine and its graphics capabilities will keep improving over time and you can expect to see much better results in the coming future