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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Level and environment designer Alvaro Becerra is currently working on a snowy environment in Unreal Engine 4. This incredible scene was inspired by a very hardcore game Blade: The Edge of Darkness. In his blogpost he talks about the level production, the choice of tools and assets and the general production process.
About Alvaro Becerra
My name is Alvaro Becerra. I’m from Spain and I love game design and 3D. I started editing maps of Unreal Tournament back in 2004. Since then I have been practicing and learning on my own how to use different game engines like Unreal Rngine, Source, Cryengine and Unity. Because 3d studies and are very expensive in my country I can’t study them (yet I hope someday). For now I keep learning and trying to discover new ways to make awesome 3d levels!
Medieval Environment in UE4
The main idea was to make an environment inspired by the best game of my childhood – Blade: The Edge of Darkness. My aunt was actually a level designer in that game and I used to spend all the day looking the magic she was doing, so in memory of those times I’m trying to make an inspired kind of remake of that game.
The scene is pretty much a work in progress. I didn’t show the exterior yet! I started making the indoor part because I wanted to test the lighting. Everything depends on what effect you want to achieve. It’s better to build indoors that outdoors. I think the advantage of indoor designs is the post process effects, you can edit almost everything with it, also indoor lighting gives you a lot of ways to play.
When I started this scene I wanted to make a dark destroyed castle lit with the frozen winds of winter and the brightness of the Sun. It took a lot of trial and error to get the effect I wanted.
Finding Assets and Building Lights
Because this scene was a test, almost all the meshes came from the elemental assets but a few models and many materials were made by hand, using Blender and 3Ds max and for the textures I used Gimp. The best program in my opinion is 3Ds Max but if you don’t have the money Blender is a nice choice as well.
I used a few ways to make the light look a certain way: ambient light for the dark areas, directional light for the Sun, some point lights to project nice shadows, and a few skylights to get the contrast between dark and light. To achieve the right color I used the color grading tool and some desaturation, also to get nice effects in the materials I used ambient occlusion and custom normal and secular mapping.
To create the materials you can use the Instance Material Tool and combine two different textures and make them look great. The best way to optimize textures is to use TGA format and a good tool for normal maps and speculars (I use Photoshop).
Building Snow and Dust
For the creation of the snow dust and flakes I made them thanks to the Unreal Community video tutorials. To control the particles I made a Blueprint to choose in which direction the snow goes and the speed of its flow. Particle effects always help you to make your map look alive, if you place them in the right place you can achieve amazing results!
The hardest part of level design is the beginning. You have the idea of how you want it to look like! When you are starting to build the level you can only see grey boxes and a few lines. This can be a little discouraging. You have to keep going and follow your dream. Keep working and soon you will see the level you want. The two most important things for me are motivation and imagination. Everyone has an artist inside him/her so let the imagination fly and build your dream! never give up and keep practicing. Practice makes perfect!