Members of the VestGames team Louis Peters and Hendrik Hollenborg told us about their upcoming game Eville and touched upon creating environments for their game.
80.lv: Please introduce yourself and your team. Where did you study? What projects have you contributed to?
Louis Peters, 3D Artist: Hi I'm Louis, the 3D Artist of VestGames. I studied Game Design in Düsseldorf Germany and also worked on several VR B2B applications for a specialized agency.
80.lv: How did you start Eville? What inspired you? What was your initial goal?
Hendrik Hollenborg: I was inspired by the amazing party game Werewolves when I started working on a prototype in January 2019. The idea was to bring the party game to life in a freely roamable world and break away from the turn-based elements, making it fully interactive. At the time I was shocked that this type of game hadn't been explored yet. We believe this is the next step for the genre.
80.lv: How did you form the initial understanding and plan environments? What are the tricks when designing locations for multiplayer games?
Hendrik Hollenborg: We wanted to have a medieval village as the setting, called, you guessed it, Eville. We had to go through multiple iterations for our first map. For a multiplayer title, we had to figure out what areas we need from a gameplay perspective and how essential they are. Obviously, discussion is the key element in Eville, so everything is built around the town center and marketplace, where votes and executions happen.
In our current iteration, we have spread several points of interest over the town with differently designed locations to help the communication without having to look at the map – so people can just say "I saw a murder happen by the tents".
The points of interest are quest givers, objectives, vendors, gatherable herbs, and many more, evenly distributed in the environment to spread players out.
One of the issues we had is tackling what a player can see. Being a 3D game we couldn't just add fog of war without it feeling weird, so we had to design the map layout and player perspective in a way that a player never can see too much of an area they aren't in. This meant that for the current iteration we redesigned the layout and all of our buildings, which either block the view into another area or have more twisted paths instead of the straight roads we had before. Sometimes balancing can be improved by better map design instead of changing the way certain classes work.
We rather focus on a few maps that take some time, but everyone wants to play, instead of many maps for the sake of variety.
Setting Up Buildings and Vegetation
80.lv: How did you create different buildings and assets for your levels? What tools did you use? How did you achieve enough variety?
Louis Peters: The workflow was to blockout the map within the Unreal Engine Editor. The blockouts then got exported into Blender. There I broke them down into reusable parts. The models were made with Vertex Painting in mind to achieve enough variety.
Textures were equally baked and painted in Substance Painter or set up as tileable textures in Substance Designer. The type of texturing process was decided by the needs of the model. Setting up highly adjustable materials was the key to really achieve variety and making the parts fit into their specific area. A good example of this is the port area where there are a lot of wooden houses overgrown by moss. They use the same meshes as the city houses but I swapped out the materials and applied some more vertex paint.
80.lv: Could you also discuss vegetation and how you set up different foliage assets?
Louis Peters: Most of the textures for the foliage were photographs or stock footage that got overpainted in Photoshop and post-processed in Substance-Designer. Using pictures as a foundation simply was a way to save time as well. Using Photoshop, I was able to cut them apart with the Lasso tool and make variations. Often one or two branches and a leaf were enough foundation. Photoshop also helped to quickly flash out some Details, as well as overpainting unwanted ones. After that rough overpaint I took the Texture into Substance-Painter, to clean the texture up, level it out, and sort channels for masking.
Here I tried to trick a bit by reducing the number of textures and storing them inside one shading texture instead of the typical unreal textures, which saves a base color texture per asset and makes it reusable.
The Textures then got fed into a shader handling color customization, PBR, Subsurface Scattering, and tree movement.
The rest was fairly basic, modeling trees in Blender, baking them in Substance Painter, and placing them with the Unreal foliage tools, the only exception is the grass, getting distributed by the landscape layers.
80.lv: How did you use modularity to save time? How did you combine different assets? What are the tricks when reusing elements?
Louis Peters: One of the Challenges was to have a modular system that works without looking too angular. The solution was to have a palette of equally sized parts that align in a grid-like fashion, as well as single parts to break up straight walls or to fill up weird angles. The equally sized parts helped to fill big areas fairly quickly since they align and snap, this saves a lot of time.
When awkward angles appeared it was helpful to have smaller parts available, so you would not need to make specific or unique parts to fill those spaces. Also, it helped to simply stretch parts when needed, this was especially useful when placing the rooftops. With all the shapes and angles of the buildings, it was helpful to just have 3 different-sized roof parts and resize them to match the building. Most players don’t look at a rooftop when they see their friend murder someone in front of them.
Working on Details
80.lv: How did you scatter different details? Did you use some kind of procedural approach? How did you achieve organic results?
Louis Peters: As the map is a set stage rather than an open world, setting up procedural tools would have cost too much time. As tools like Houdini are outside my knowledge base, learning them for this task specifically would have been too time-consuming. When making decisions like these, sometimes you simply have to work with what you know already and can effectively use, especially when the programmers have a tight schedule as well and can’t really help you out on the more “tech-heavy” tasks.
So all of the details and props in the map were placed by hand or with the tools already available with UE4. To make the scattering of details easier, I tried to focus on the points of interest first and put details in the areas where players are more likely to see them. Sometimes placing a camera as a fixed view helped, envisioning it as scenes from a cutscene and composing with that in mind.
80.lv: Could you sum up some of the main tricks that helped you build environments fast, with a limited budget? What advice could you give to aspiring devs?
Louis Peters: Having a plan and an asset list is essential, even though looking at them can be overwhelming at times. You should always keep your goal in mind, making the most prominent and biggest assets first, adding props and details later. If possible, get 80% of the content done in 20% of the time.
Thinking ahead and considering things that might be useful in the future will help you a lot! It was a lifesaver to have some of the textures and materials prepared, even before the rebuild of the city was fully planned. When I originally made them, I made them “generic” enough to reuse them. Have a palette of tools available and know what their strengths are, that is super important. Every time there is a task that you think could be done faster, quickly google it, there probably is a faster way.
Also, when you want to make a lot of content You need to prioritize the parts of the visuals that stand out the most, so there will be things that simply won’t be as polished as others. In our case, the texel-density basically got thrown out of the window to be more flexible and re-use textures and assets even more. The wooden bars we use in the main architecture are basically the same, so windows, wooden stairs, and fences use the same wooden textures, nothing of it uses unique textures.
Also, don’t be too hard on yourself, remember you are no AAA Art team. Also, keep in mind that you have to work around limitations and that’s okay. You can just do your best and try to be efficient.