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Wow, the YouTube video was released in November. How have I never seen it before? I've probably watched it three times in the past hour. It's an absolutely amazing production. What was the budget for this?
Javier Perez is young talented environment artist. He has worked in a number a very big companies, including Sony Online Entertainment (Planetside 2), Konami (Metal Gear Online) and Infinity Ward. In our exclusive interview we’ve discussed the way he builds awesome levels, creates stories within environments and produces incredible assets for single and online games.
My Name is Javier Perez, I’m 23 and have been working in the game industry professionally for about 4 years. I was born in Riverside, CA and raised in San Diego, CA, and currently residing in Los Angeles, CA.
I had always been into art since I was a kid. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up, and took art classes all throughout my education. I was never really good at fine art, I just liked drawing cartoons. In high school I randomly took a computer applications class, I figured I needed to brush up my skills in excel. 10 min into the class, the teacher told everyone that she would actually be teaching a web design class. Fast forward, I learned Dreamweaver, illustrator, Photoshop, and flash (essentially the entire adobe suite). At the same time I was playing an unhealthy amount of Gears of War after school, it was the first game that made me stop and acknowledge the artistry within a videogame. I managed to glitch my way out of a level, and was mesmerized walking around the empty BSP and seeing all the vista buildings randomly placed. That’s when I realized I wanted to pursue a career in game design. I signed up for classes at The Art Institute of California – San Diego, and the rest is history.
A Well Designer Level
I think there are a lot of aspects that go into a well designed level. To me game flow is a big one. Creating natural paths and laying out elements that a player will see and instantly know what to do is what makes good game flow in my opinion.
As an environment artist we have the job of arting up designer block outs, making sure to place specific landmarks and props that the player can easily recognize, and know where they are and where they are going, without getting lost.
The environmental production varies from studio to studio. I’ve worked in studios where I got to take part in both prop and level art, but I’ve also worked in studios where it is a single discipline. In most companies I’ve seen artists separated into 2 aspects. Level art, and prop art. The prop artists create the actual props that the level artists will use to art up their specific areas.
Building Levels for Online Games
You could probably write a book on online games level design. One thing I’ve noticed in online games is that the size of the map will be determined on the number of players on each team. Big open world online games with have thousands of players, whereas a game with 16 players will have a map that is much smaller.
When making a multiplayer game from a single player game, a lot of the same assets are repurposed and reused, making modifications in polycount and texture count to lower draw call numbers. It’s especially important in multiplayer games to reduce shaders and polycount when you have so many players on screen.
Best Way To Start and Environment Production
References. I think gathering reference is really important, something that you can go back to and look at for inspiration.
Concept Art. Having a concept is a huge plus because it will essentially set the mood and tone of the entire scene. Professionally I’ve always been handed designer geo as a base to start from, with correct sizing and proportions that make arting up a lot easier.
Building Open World Environments
If you’re designing environments for the open world, look at the big picture and work efficiently in the large space. If you focus too much time in the small pocket of an open world level, it could take you a very long time to get that same level of quality across the entire map, work smarter not harder. This is especially important in terrain sculpting.
A common mistake I made in my first job learning to terrain sculpt was focusing too much attention on a small area, when in reality I had an enormous part of the map to finish. Making sure the spacing of props is natural and believable rather than feeling too clustered or not full enough is something to take into consideration.
To me some of the coolest environments in games are the ones that are kept relatively simple. Ones that can tell a story and set the tone by the arrangement of props and or lighting. Being able to look and see the environment and instantly know what has happened or what is going on without introducing a narrative is a big plus.
Creating Assets for Games
The peculiars of asset creation are dependent on how the player will see and interact with the object. Something the player will pick up and see up-close will use a lot more polys and textures than say something that is used more as a vista prop far out in the distance. As far as cutting down polycounts, a lot of engines I’ve worked with have multiple LODs (levels of detail) that can reduce the number of polygons based on how far or near the player is.
The way I build my materials depend on the look I want to achieve, if I’m going for something organic I will typically use Zbrush. If I want to make something hard surface I will use NDO. No matter which method I use, I always go to Photoshop to compile and refine my textures for the final touches. Most shaders I’ve used professionally have multiple inputs for detail maps, that give that extra bit of surface detail on tiling textures.
The Future of Procedural Technology
Procedural technology is helping a lot in the artistic workflow these days, but should be treated as a first pass and not a final product. If you just run a few simple presents in Quixel DDO and leave it as is, it’s just going to look like everyone else’s. You should always take the time and care to go in and add some unique details that make the material you’re working on stand on its own.