yellow ball on white and gray blocks

Building an Environment…or anything really.

As humans, it’s in our nature to try to avoid pain. When doing tasks we usually try to find the shortest way to accomplish our goal and usually try to get to the fun part as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, getting ahead of ourselves often has the opposite result. Sure we get to the fun part faster, but shortly thereafter we find ourselves going back to fix mistakes that we wouldn’t have made had we taken the time initially. 

Building worlds for our games is no different. We want to get in the editor and start building something with cool models, high resolution PBR materials, cool lighting and special effects within about 30 seconds of sparking an idea in our heads. Unfortunately, many times this doesn’t work out. Maybe the environment doesn’t play right in-game, or maybe you build one really detailed room but then struggle to figure out what else to do in the level, then give up and start on another idea that will likely end the same way. 

So, how do we solve this problem without wasting too much time or effort? Well, we handle it the same way we would any other problem, start with the basics, then tackle the details. So your workflow might look something like this:

  • Idea/Concept: Write out your idea with as much detail as you think you need, maybe draw some pictures of what you might want it to look like, or search for some reference images online
  • Layout: Draw an overhead view of the level, nothing fancy, just basic shapes, use numbers to define elevations.
  • Block out: Build the layout in the editor, using only basic primitives like cubes, cylinders, etc.
  • Rough Pass: Start replacing the main portions of your blockout with actually meshes to build the skeleton of your final game level
  • Detail Pass: Start replacing secondary assets, the things that aren’t necessary to play the level but add decor and mood
  • Polish: this is where you add the finishing touches and make sure the level is optimized for real-time play. 

So, the above workflow ignores a couple of steps, such as a lighting pass and adding pickups and things of the sort, but for simplicity’s sake, this is a pretty solid workflow. The missing steps tend to be fluid and can be in a different order within the above steps depending on the preference of the studio. Some like to get the lighting and pickups in earlier on so that they can tweak as they go, while others save those steps until closer to the end so the level is near finalized and they can see the finished result.

In the following parts to this article series, we will begin breaking down the steps above. We’ll explore what you’re going to do during each step, How you’re going to do it, as well as why you’re going to do it. By the end of this series you’ll have a solid understanding of how to implement a workflow that will maximize efficiency and allow you to create better environments and actually finish them.

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