VisualShader in Godot – Complete Guide

When diving into the realm of game development, one of the essential skills you can acquire is understanding how to create and manipulate shaders. Shaders are powerful tools in a developer’s repertoire, capable of dramatically enhancing the visual appeal and dynamic feel of a game. Today, we’re going to explore the world of visual shaders in the Godot Engine, specifically focusing on the VisualShader class in Godot 4 – an exciting feature that allows developers to craft their shaders using a user-friendly visual editor.

What Is VisualShader?

VisualShader in Godot is a class that represents a custom shader program, which is capable of rendering materials in unique and varied ways. Instead of writing shader code by hand, you use a visual editor supplied by Godot. This editor lets you piece together different nodes that represent mathematical operations or input/output actions to create your custom shaders.

The Purpose of VisualShaders

The primary goal of VisualShader is to provide a more accessible entry point into shader programming. It’s a godsend for those who are less comfortable with traditional code or for artists who are more visually oriented. By visually connecting nodes, you can define complex behavior for how objects appear and react to lighting in your game.

Why Should You Learn VisualShader?

Learning to use VisualShaders can be a transformative skill in game development. Here’s why:
– **Empowers Creativity**: It allows you to experiment with visual effects rapidly, which can lead to innovative results.
– **Saves Time**: You can create shaders by connecting nodes instead of writing code, which can be quicker and more intuitive.
– **Widens Accessibility**: Even if you’re not a seasoned programmer, VisualShaders give you the tools to create advanced visual effects.
– **Enhances Understanding**: By working with shaders visually, you will gain a deeper understanding of how shaders work and interact with 3D environments.

So, whether you’re an experienced coder or just starting out, mastering VisualShaders is a step forward in becoming a more versatile developer. Let’s dive in and see how VisualShaders can unleash your creativity and elevate your games to the next level!

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Creating a Simple Color Shader

When beginning with VisualShaders in Godot 4, one of the simplest shaders you can create is one that changes the color of an object. The following examples will guide you through creating a basic color shader step by step.

var shader = VisualShader.new()
shader.shader_type = VisualShader.TYPE_CANVAS_ITEM

This code creates a new VisualShader instance and sets its type to `VisualShader.TYPE_CANVAS_ITEM`, which is suitable for 2D objects.

Next, we need to create a color constant to feed into the shader.

var color_const = VisualShaderNodeColorConstant.new()
color_const.constant = Color(1.0, 0.0, 0.0)  // Red color
shader.add_node(color_const, Vector2(0, 0))

Here we create a new `VisualShaderNodeColorConstant` and set its color to red. The `add_node` method places the new node at the position `(0, 0)` in the visual shader graph.

Now, let’s connect our color constant to the shader output.

var output = VisualShaderNodeOutput.new()
shader.add_node(output, Vector2(300, 0))

shader.node_connect(color_const.get_position(), color_const.output_port_for_preview, output.get_position(), output.input_port_for_preview)

We create an `VisualShaderNodeOutput` node and place it in the graph. The `node_connect` method links the color output of our constant to the shader output.

Manipulating UV Coordinates

UV coordinates represent how textures are mapped onto a surface. In VisualShaders, we can manipulate these coordinates for various effects like tiling or distortion.

For example, let’s tile a texture using VisualShader.

var uv_input = VisualShaderNodeInput.new()
uv_input.input_name = VisualShaderNodeInput.INPUT_UV
shader.add_node(uv_input, Vector2(0, 0))

var vec_mult = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.new()
vec_mult.operation = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.OP_VEC_MUL
shader.add_node(vec_mult, Vector2(150, 0))

var uv_scalar = VisualShaderNodeScalarConstant.new()
uv_scalar.constant = 4.0  // Tiling factor
shader.add_node(uv_scalar, Vector2(150, 150))

shader.node_connect(uv_input.get_position(), 0, vec_mult.get_position(), 0)
shader.node_connect(uv_scalar.get_position(), 0, vec_mult.get_position(), 2)

In the code above, we create a node to get the UV input and multiply it by a scalar to increase the tiling. The operation is `OP_VEC_MUL`, used to scale the UVs by a factor of 4, causing the texture to repeat more frequently across the surface.

Next, we need to link this output to our fragment shader.

var texture_input = VisualShaderNodeTexture.new()
shader.add_node(texture_input, Vector2(300, 0))

shader.node_connect(vec_mult.get_position(), 0, texture_input.get_position(), 0)

// Assuming you have a texture you want to tile
var texture = preload("res://path_to_your_texture.png")
texture_input.texture = texture

var texture_output = VisualShaderNodeOutput.new()
shader.add_node(texture_output, Vector2(450, 0))

shader.node_connect(texture_input.get_position(), 0, texture_output.get_position(), 0)

Here we connect the manipulated UV coordinates to our texture input and link that to our shader’s output. The texture will now tile across the object according to the scaling factor we provided.

Adding a Time-Based Effect

Animations and time-based effects in shaders can add a lot of dynamism to your game visuals. Let’s create a simple animation that changes the object’s color over time.

First, create a time node.

var time_input = VisualShaderNodeInput.new()
time_input.input_name = VisualShaderNodeInput.INPUT_TIME
shader.add_node(time_input, Vector2(0, 0))

The `INPUT_TIME` node provides access to the shader time, which continuously increases as your game runs.

Now, let’s use a sine function to create an oscillating effect with our color.

var sine_node = VisualShaderNodeScalarFunc.new()
sine_node.function = VisualShaderNodeScalarFunc.FUNC_SIN
shader.add_node(sine_node, Vector2(150, 0))

shader.node_connect(time_input.get_position(), 0, sine_node.get_position(), 0)

By connecting the time node to the sine function, we create a value that oscillates between -1 and 1.

Let’s apply this oscillating value to affect the color of our object dynamically.

var color_output = VisualShaderNodeOutput.new()
color_output.output_name = VisualShaderNodeOutput.OUTPUT_COLOR
shader.add_node(color_output, Vector2(300, 0))

var vec_construct = VisualShaderNodeVectorCompose.new()
shader.add_node(vec_construct, Vector2(150, 150))

shader.node_connect(sine_node.get_position(), 0, vec_construct.get_position(), 0) // Red channel
shader.node_connect(sine_node.get_position(), 0, vec_construct.get_position(), 1) // Green channel
shader.node_connect(sine_node.get_position(), 0, vec_construct.get_position(), 2) // Blue channel

shader.node_connect(vec_construct.get_position(), 0, color_output.get_position(), 0)

We compose a vector from the oscillating sine values and connect that to our color output. Consequently, as the game runs, the color of the object will cycle through different hues based on the sine of the time value.

These examples should provide you with a good starting point for creating basic shaders using the VisualShader class in Godot 4. Experiment with different nodes and connections to discover the wide array of visuals you can produce!Great! Since we’ve already discussed some fundamental operations, let’s delve further into creating more sophisticated effects with VisualShader. We’ll explore how to manipulate lighting, create gradients, and more complex animations.

Integrating Lighting Effects

To make an object interact with lights in your scene, we’ll need to modify the shader to take light information into account.

var light_node = VisualShaderNodeLight.new()
shader.add_node(light_node, Vector2(0, 0))

var vec_add = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.new()
vec_add.operation = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.OP_VEC_ADD
shader.add_node(vec_add, Vector2(150, 0))

Here, we’ve added a node to receive lighting information and a vector addition operation. Following, we connect these to combine the lighting information with our base color.

shader.node_connect(light_node.get_position(), 0, vec_add.get_position(), 0)
shader.node_connect(color_const.get_position(), 0, vec_add.get_position(), 1)

var fragment_output = VisualShaderNodeOutput.new()
fragment_output.output_name = VisualShaderNodeOutput.OUTPUT_COLOR
shader.add_node(fragment_output, Vector2(300, 0))

shader.node_connect(vec_add.get_position(), 0, fragment_output.get_position(), 0)

With these nodes connected, our shader now adds direct lighting calculations to our object’s color, allowing for dynamic shading as the environment lighting changes.

Creating a Gradient Effect

Gradients can be used to create interesting backgrounds, skyboxes or to give objects a more intricate look.

var uv_input = VisualShaderNodeInput.new()
uv_input.input_name = VisualShaderNodeInput.INPUT_UV
shader.add_node(uv_input, Vector2(0, 0))

var scalar_interpolate = VisualShaderNodeScalarInterp.new()
shader.add_node(scalar_interpolate, Vector2(150, 0))

var color_interp = VisualShaderNodeVectorInterp.new()
shader.add_node(color_interp, Vector2(300, 0))

// Define two colors to interpolate between
var color_a_const = VisualShaderNodeColorConstant.new()
color_a_const.constant = Color(0.0, 1.0, 0.0)  // Green
shader.add_node(color_a_const, Vector2(0, 100))

var color_b_const = VisualShaderNodeColorConstant.new()
color_b_const.constant = Color(0.0, 0.0, 1.0)  // Blue
shader.add_node(color_b_const, Vector2(0, 200))

// Connect the interpolated value and colors to the interpolation node
shader.node_connect(uv_input.get_position(), 0, scalar_interpolate.get_position(), 0)
shader.node_connect(color_a_const.get_position(), 0, color_interp.get_position(), 1)
shader.node_connect(color_b_const.get_position(), 0, color_interp.get_position(), 2)
shader.node_connect(scalar_interpolate.get_position(), 0, color_interp.get_position(), 0)

The `VisualShaderNodeScalarInterp` and `VisualShaderNodeVectorInterp` nodes are used to create the gradient effect by interpolating between two colors along the UV coordinates.

shader.node_connect(color_interp.get_position(), 0, fragment_output.get_position(), 0)

Now, our object will display a vertical gradient transitioning from green to blue based on its UV map.

Animating Textures with Noise

Applying a noise texture can add complexity to simple textures, making them appear more realistic or adding movement to them (such as water or clouds).

var noise_tex = VisualShaderNodeTexture.new()
noise_tex.texture = preload("res://noise_texture.png")  // Ensure you have a noise texture
shader.add_node(noise_tex, Vector2(150, 150))

var tex_blend = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.new()
tex_blend.operation = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.OP_VEC_ADD
shader.add_node(tex_blend, Vector2(300, 150))

// Combine the original texture with the noise
shader.node_connect(texture_input.get_position(), 0, tex_blend.get_position(), 0)
shader.node_connect(noise_tex.get_position(), 0, tex_blend.get_position(), 1)

Now our original texture will blend with the noise texture, but it’s static. To animate it, we’ll shift the UV coordinates over time.

var uv_anim = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.new()
uv_anim.operation = VisualShaderNodeVectorOp.OP_VEC_ADD
shader.add_node(uv_anim, Vector2(0, 300))

var time_input = VisualShaderNodeInput.new()
time_input.input_name = VisualShaderNodeInput.INPUT_TIME
shader.add_node(time_input, Vector2(150, 300))

// We are using a VectorCompose to create a constant Y offset because we want to animate it in one direction
var vec_const = VisualShaderNodeVectorCompose.new()
shader.add_node(vec_const, Vector2(300, 300))

shader.node_connect(uv_input.get_position(), 0, uv_anim.get_position(), 0)
shader.node_connect(time_input.get_position(), 0, vec_const.get_position(), 0)

shader.node_connect(vec_const.get_position(), 0, uv_anim.get_position(), 1)
shader.node_connect(uv_anim.get_position(), 0, texture_input.get_position(), 1)

In the above code, we animated the Y offset of the texture’s UVs using the time input, creating the effect that the noise texture is continuously moving vertically across the original texture.

With these examples, you now have a broader understanding of what’s possible with VisualShader in Godot 4. Try experimenting with different node combinations and operations to uncover a vast array of visual effects that can enrich your game’s experience. Remember, the limit is your imagination, and VisualShader provides a visual canvas to bring those imaginations to life.Understanding shader techniques is vital for any game developer, as shaders contribute heavily to the visual fidelity and unique aesthetic of a game. Let’s continue enhancing our knowledge of VisualShaders in Godot 4 by exploring some advanced functionalities.

Adding Reflections

The capability to simulate reflections can give a surface a sense of depth and reality. Here is how you might create a reflection effect with a VisualShader.

var reflection_input = VisualShaderNodeInput.new()
reflection_input.input_name = VisualShaderNodeInput.INPUT_UV2
shader.add_node(reflection_input, Vector2(0, 0))

var reflection_tex = VisualShaderNodeTexture.new()
reflection_tex.texture = preload("res://reflection_texture.png")
shader.add_node(reflection_tex, Vector2(150, 0))

shader.node_connect(reflection_input.get_position(), 0, reflection_tex.get_position(), 0)

var reflection_output = VisualShaderNodeOutput.new()
reflection_output.output_name = VisualShaderNodeOutput.OUTPUT_COLOR
shader.add_node(reflection_output, Vector2(300, 0))

shader.node_connect(reflection_tex.get_position(), 0, reflection_output.get_position(), 0)

This basic example uses a secondary UV map (`UV2`) to apply a reflection texture, giving the illusion of a reflective surface.

Working with SubShaders

Sometimes you may want to combine effects from different shaders or create variants of a shader for different types of objects. This can be done through the concept of subshaders. Unfortunately, Godot’s VisualShader does not support subshaders in the same manner as raw shaders; however, you can simulate similar functionality by using groups of nodes to create modularity within your shader graph. You can encapsulate these groups in `VisualShaderNodeExpression` or `VisualShaderNodeCustom` nodes for reusability.

Crossfading Between Textures

Crossfading textures can be used to simulate changes over time, such as seasons or weather changes on terrain.

var crossfade = VisualShaderNodeMix.new()
shader.add_node(crossfade, Vector2(300, 0))

var tex1 = VisualShaderNodeTexture.new()
var tex2 = VisualShaderNodeTexture.new()
tex1.texture = preload("res://texture1.png")
tex2.texture = preload("res://texture2.png")

shader.add_node(tex1, Vector2(0, 100))
shader.add_node(tex2, Vector2(0, 200))

// Connect textures to the crossfade (mix) node
shader.node_connect(tex1.get_position(), 0, crossfade.get_position(), 1)
shader.node_connect(tex2.get_position(), 0, crossfade.get_position(), 2)

// Add time to the factor port of mix node to control crossfade
shader.node_connect(time_input.get_position(), 0, crossfade.get_position(), 0)

Crossfading is achieved here by mixing two textures based on a factor that changes over time.

Using Fresnel Effect for Realistic Edges

The Fresnel effect is used to simulate the way light reflects off surfaces at glancing angles, often used to create a more realistic look on edges.

var fresnel = VisualShaderNodeFresnel.new()
shader.add_node(fresnel, Vector2(150, 0))

var base_color = VisualShaderNodeColorConstant.new()
base_color.constant = Color(0.5, 0.5, 0.5)
shader.add_node(base_color, Vector2(0, 100))

var fresnel_color = VisualShaderNodeVectorInterp.new()
shader.add_node(fresnel_color, Vector2(300, 100))

// Connect fresnel node to the interpolation, with base color and a highlighted color
shader.node_connect(fresnel.get_position(), 0, fresnel_color.get_position(), 0)
shader.node_connect(base_color.get_position(), 0, fresnel_color.get_position(), 1)

var highlight_color = VisualShaderNodeColorConstant.new()
highlight_color.constant = Color(1, 1, 1)
shader.add_node(highlight_color, Vector2(300, 0))

shader.node_connect(highlight_color.get_position(), 0, fresnel_color.get_position(), 2)

// Finally, we connect the fresnel color to the shader output
shader.node_connect(fresnel_color.get_position(), 0, fragment_output.get_position(), 0)

Here, the VisualShaderNodeFresnel is used to create a highlight effect that depends on the viewing angle, making object edges stand out.

By incorporating these advanced techniques, you can begin to realize the depth of control and creativity VisualShaders offer in Godot 4. Whether it’s simulating realistic materials, animating environments, or transitioning between states, the VisualShader class provides a powerful yet accessible framework for your visual programming needs. Keep practicing with these tools to build your confidence and expand your game development skills with Zenva, where learning and growing as a developer is always our top priority.

Continuing Your Journey in Game Development

Your adventure with VisualShaders in Godot 4 is just the beginning. There’s a whole universe of game development concepts waiting for you to explore, and we’re here to guide you every step of the way. As you delve deeper into Godot Engine’s expansive features, we encourage you to check out our Godot Game Development Mini-Degree. It’s crafted to offer you an in-depth learning experience, covering a wide array of game development skills—from using 2D and 3D assets to mastering the GDScript programming language.

By joining our Mini-Degree, you won’t just learn these concepts in theory; you’ll apply them in projects that culminate in a portfolio to showcase your achievements. Godot 4’s robust, open-source framework combined with Zenva’s flexible, project-based curriculum is the perfect launchpad for both beginners and seasoned developers. Plus, with new skills and a professional portfolio in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to seize opportunities in the thriving game development industry.

For those eager to expand their knowledge across a broader range of topics within Godot, our comprehensive collection of Godot courses is designed to elevate your skills, whether you’re just starting out or looking to polish your expertise. At Zenva, we’re committed to empowering you with practical knowledge and hands-on experience to transform your passion for game development into a tangible career.

Conclusion

Embarking on the path through VisualShaders with Godot 4 opens up a thrilling landscape of visual possibilities for your games. By grasping the concepts and techniques shared here, you set the foundation for creating stunning visual effects that captivate players and set your games apart. The journey does not end here; it is an ongoing process of learning, experimenting, and crafting. Dive further into game development with our Godot Game Development Mini-Degree, where each lesson propels you closer to turning your creative vision into reality.

At Zenva, we’re here to support and guide you through every challenge and triumph as you hone your craft. Continue to build, create, and innovate; let every line of VisualShader code or node that you connect be a stepping stone towards your mastery in game creation. Your future as a game developer is bright, and with Zenva’s resources at your fingertips, you have all you need to illuminate the path forward.

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