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exporting/model format

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My question is at the end of this post I will start out with a small explanation of what I am doing:

Ok so I made some models in Blender 2.61 and now I am going to write a python script to export these files the way that I want them. For now I am working mainly on terrain. I am considering having two file formats. One for non-animating objects and another for animateable objects like monsters, players and npcs. These will all be exported in a binary format.

Right now I am only worrying about exporting objects that won't animate.

This is the information regarding these models that I think I need to render them:

1) Vertex positions
2) UV texture mapping
3) The actual textures (image files)
4) ...

Now this is where I start to get some questions. Blender allows me to add shaders, do normal mapping and so on inside it. I will use my own shaders and not the ones in Blender. But to do normal mapping I will need to make sure to export the normal maps along with the model as well right? Then in my engine I will need to do the actual normal mapping process?

I'm thinking of creating some header information for my file... like first 30-50 bytes or whatever I don't know at the moment will tell the engine how to process the file. Like whether it uses a normal map and so on. I don't imagine using normal mapping for every single thing.

What is the performace costs of using normal maps? Sure it's better than using a buttload of poly's to gain certain detail (such as on walls etc) but at what point does it level out?

I think this is how it would pretty much go for anything even besides normal mapping.

I am just making all of this up I am not even sure if it's the effective way to go about it. It makes sense to me though.

Any advice, tips and references would be much appreciated :)

Thanks.

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