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Revision as of 09:05, 6 May 2011 by Phreque (talk | contribs) (Conclusion: An ounce of prevention)
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What is a leak?

Levels created with the Source Engine must be completely internally sealed. No part of the interior of the level, the "world", must connect with the outside, the "Void". Even the sky must be sealed off with a brush using the tools/toolsskybox texture. When there is any kind of gap to the void, a leak is generated when the map is compiled by vbsp. When a leak occurs, the tools cannot know which part of the level is inside, and what part is outside, and vvis cannot be run. If vvis is not run several effects may not work or look right including water and some surface properties like dust puffs.

This example shows a map with an obvious gap in the geometry, leading to the void. This will generate a leak error message when it is compiled:

A gap in geometry that leads to the void will cause leaks.

When a map like this is compiled, with a gap to the void, vbsp generates an error similar to this in the compile log:

ProcessBlock_Thread: 0...1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10 (0)
**** leaked ****
Entity light (-1607.69 -1094.12 -183.00) leaked!

With this error message, vbsp is telling you that there has been a leak in the level, and the first entity it found when attempting to get into the level from the void (in this case, a light entity). It also gives you the location of that entity, expressed in X, Y, and Z world unit coordinates.

Note.png Note: Often the mentioned entity is not the cause of the leak - it's the one that the leak trace originated from. Deleting it will simply make the report mention another entity, it won't solve the problem! There is one situation when deleting an entity does solve the leak: when it's placed outside the playable area. This is covered later in this article.
Note.png Note: If you have no point entities in your map when you compile it, vbsp may report a leak, because it has no way of deciding whether the interior or exterior of the map is the playable area..

Effects of leaks

A leak in a level has a number of bad effects. First, the vbsp process will report the leak, and it will not produce a portal file (mapname.prt). The portal file is used by the vvis process to perform its visibility calculations. Since there is no portal file, vvis will not run at all. When vvis doesn't run, it doesn't produce the files necessary for the vrad process to calculate its light bounces. Due to this, the vrad process will only perform direct lighting - no light bounces.

The most serious effect by far is that the vvis process will not run when a leak is present. When the level is run in the game, the rendering engine will not have any visibility info available with which to limit itself, so it will attempt to draw the entire level. This will most certainly lead to high polygon counts and may lead to sections of the map to render incorrectly or not at all.

Checking for leaks the fast way

The BSP part of your compile will always report any leaks it finds, but spending hours of full compile time and game execution just to find out that your map is broken after compilation, simply isn't efficient. If you have the slightest suspicion that your map might have a leak - normally when you've expanded the brushwork borders of the map - you can run a fast compile to check for BSP errors by opening the Run Map dialog, turning off VIS and RAD compile tools, and checking the Don't run game after compiling flag. The process of checking your entire map for leaks will only take about 8 seconds with this method.

Finding leaks

Sometimes these gaps aren't quite as obvious as the above example. They can be as little as one unit wide and still cause a leak. The compile tools provide you with a pointfile to help you locate the leak. A pointfile is a file generated by vbsp that draws a line between the void of the map to the entity it found during the leak check. After receiving a leak error in vbsp, a mapname.lin file will be created in the same directory as your .vmf map file.

Loading a Pointfile

The pointfile can be loaded into the Hammer Editor to show you precisely where the leak is inside the level. To load a pointfile for the level, use the Load Pointfile command in the Map menu.

The Load Pointfile command shows the path to the leak in the Hammer viewports.

This image shows the pointfile loaded into the previous example. Notice that the red line appears in both the 3D and 2D views, and is traced back from the entity through the gap.

Using this visual aid, you can find the source of the leak by following the red line to the outside of the level. It's best to start at the entity specified in the vbsp error message, and then follow the line until you find the gap in the geometry. Close the gap and recompile the level to see if you have fixed the leak.

Finding the endpoint

If you're having trouble locating the start entity, you can use the Go to Coordinates command on the View menu to find the entity and the start of the pointfile line. Simply enter the coordinates given by vbsp for the entity location, and the 2D and 3D views will be centered on that location. Follow the line to find your leak.

Another method to find the source of the leak is to zoom out in one or more of the 2D views. After loading the pointfile, zoom out until you see the red line. Follow the line until you reach the entity at the one of the endpoints. Then select the entity, and choose Center 3D Views on Selection from the View menu. Now you can follow the pointfile line to find the leak.

Other causes of leaks

Besides gaps in outside geometry, there are other map errors that can cause vbsp to generate a leak error.

Entities outside the level

Placing any entity in the Void will cause a leak.

One common mistake is the accidental placement of an entity outside the interior level space. This can happen if you place an entity outside in the void area while you're working on it, then forget to delete it when you're finished. This can also occur if you attempt to seal the map with an brush entity, such as a func_door. Since brush entities do not block visibility, this will create the same condition as if there were a gap in their place. All entities must be inside valid level space, or the map will generate a leak. This is because vbsp determines the inside of the level depending on where it finds entities.

Improperly constructed areaportals

Areaportals that do not seal areas will cause leaks.

Leak error messages can also be generated when an areaportal does not properly seal the two areas it connects. Find leaks with areaportals using the same methods as geometry gap leaks.

See areaportal for more information on the uses of areaportals.

Non-solid geometry does not seal the world

Seal areas behind non-solid geometry to prevent leaks.

One more cause of leaks is if you try to seal a map using other types of non-solid geometry, such as displacements (terrain), water, or func_detail brushes. None of these non-solid brush types will block visibility and seal the world. Attempting to use them in this way will generate a leak. You can fix this type of leak by adding a solid brush behind them to seal the map. Using a brush with the tools/toolsnodraw material will seal the map, but not add any additional rendering cost, so it's a great way to seal the map behind non-solid geometry.

Mismatched entity origins

An origin helper separated from its parent entity and moved outside the level will cause a leak.

A more subtle cause of leaks can be with any entities that have origin helpers, such as func_door_rotating or func_rot_button. While the entity itself may be inside the world, if the origin helper is outside the map, the entity will cause a leak. If you find a pointfile heading to a empty spot outside of the map, and there is no entity there, an origin helper is a good thing to look for.

One way to quickly tell if an entity origin is causing the leak is to:

  1. Load the pointfile.
  2. Find the endpoint(s) of the pointfile.
  3. Choose Select All from the Edit Menu.
  4. Make sure Show Helpers is checked on the View Menu.
  5. If you see an origin helper appear at the pointfile, you know that's the problem.

If you have an origin helper causing a leak, you can select the object and manually move the origin back into the world, use the Center Origins command from the Tools Menu, or simply right-click on the origin helper and select Center on entity.

Mismatched entity origins usually occur when a brush entity with one of these helpers is moved while in Solids mode. Moving a brush entity in solids mode does not move the entity's origin helper.

Translucent geometry

There is a particular case where your geometry could be entirely sealed and yet a leak would constantly appear, even if you have absolutely no entity around the leak. If loading the pointfile doesn't help you at all, then you might be facing this particular situation. In this case, the red line would be passing through solid geometry. The cause is pretty simple - it is most likely that you have at least one of the brush sides textured with a translucent material. When this situation appear, the brush isn't able to seal anything anymore. In most cases, this will cause problems with areaportals that wouldn't be able to seal rooms. Remember that the sides in question could be located anywhere, even between other brushes.

Conclusion: An ounce of prevention

Using the pointfile tools makes finding leaks relatively painless, but one of the most important ways to fix leaks is by preventing them in the first place. Taking your time when building, and making sure brushes are snapped properly to the grid can go a long way towards eliminating leaks before they occur. The cleaner and more organized your geometry, the more likely you are to be able to spot leaks when they occur, or even prevent them from happening in the first place. You can also help prevent lots of extra work by compiling your level as you go along, instead of building your whole level before trying to compile it. Finding one leak at a time while the map is only partially complete is a lot easier and faster than finding a leaks in a complete map that is full of geometry.