Multiplayer Level Designer Amin Montazeri has shared tips and tricks for presenting blockout levels in a portfolio for level designers, covering the topic from the three views: isometric, plan and section, and player perspective.
Hello my fellow level designers! I’m Amin and this is a brief write up about my tips and tricks for presenting a blockout level that you can put proudly in your portfolio. Most of it is based on my experience in the past three years and I'll keep this updated if I discover anything new.
- What’s this writing NOT about?
- Please DO NOT expect it’s related to environment art or anything like that. It may be useful for artists or other peoples from different industries, but the primary audience is level designers who deal with greybox/blockouts.
- It’s NOT about how to design levels too.
- Why would I write this?
I received a lot of comments from my LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers about how they were impressed by my presentation and asked about my method every time I posted a new level. So I decided to end it up with this article. Besides, knowledge-sharing is the most beautiful culture in the world.
- Why should you care about the presentation?
You really don't have a choice if you are NOT a veteran or haven't completed any projects yet! We must FACE the truth. Those guys have their own connections and can close a deal with the flick of a finger or a phone call. They don't require a strong portfolio as we do, which is natural. The only solution we have is trying to make good levels, and most importantly, present them as kickass as we can, otherwise your name will remain at the bottom of the list.
In this article, I’ll get through of three views:
- Plan and Section
- Player Perspective
Don’t miss any detail if you want to reach the same shots.
Let’s get started!
This is probably the first view of your model, right? No worries. Let’s hide the wireframes to present our blockout better.
Inside Rhino, by selecting the “Arctic” mode, we have this result. Nice and clean view but still not suitable for presenting. Everything has the same value and is too white.
The next step is to choose a color palette and assign it to the objects. The point is that we should choose wisely based on these three criteria:
- It should be eye-catching (not boring)
- Compatible with the theme of your level
- Compatible with the functionality of your elements
I used this color palette from the colorhunt website:
Of course, I explored a lot of palettes with different RGB codes before deciding on that. Here's the GIF I created:
Yeah, this step took a serious amount of time from me, but it was well worth it. You can NOT achieve your “fantastic” result without putting time on that. This is a natural rule that cannot be denied.
- Why only solid colors? Any grid texture?
Well, the answer is it’s not necessary that we use grid materials all the time. Break your habits and think again. What’s the problem of solid color? Nothing!
So… after testing and assigning colors to objects, by selecting the “Rendered” mode in Rhino this view would be our result. Much better, but still not good enough, in my opinion.
According to those 3 aspects I mentioned, this color palette is:
- Attractive at first sight.
- Not unusual for an industrial theme. If those three cylinders had been blue, it would have felt like a water tank or something.
- Explains the functionality of my main elements correctly. For example, what was your reaction if the ground was red?
By adding “outline” to the edges, this view is our result. This is a huge improvement, isn’t it? But I’m not done yet!
In Rhino (Display option), these 2 options will give you that outline result:
Here’s the final step. This process is done in Photoshop. I just added a “color lookup” and a text that I wrote “Isometric View” to it. That’s all. No complicated layers.
Here are the PS layers: (simple and easy)
That was all the 5 steps I used for reaching that amount of quality. Could be much better but that’s enough for us. I mean, as a level designer, they don’t expect us to bring an artist-like portfolio with stunning graphics. Nope!
Also, I made a GIF for the whole process:
It was all about isometric views (usable for perspective too). I did my best to clarify this as much as I could. (Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.)
- Why did you choose isometric view, instead of normal perspective?
Both have pros and downsides, however in this case, we want to present the overall view that requires more FOV.
- What is Rhino?!
Rhino is an industrial modeling software that supports both 2D and 3D environments. It means you can create any simple or complex 2D layout (such as AutoCad) besides any 3D models (such as Maya). There are many other great things that I would not discuss in this write-up, but you can get more information here.
- How can I do this with my software? (Blender, Maya, etc.)
Well, it could be definitely possible in whatever software you use. Maybe not the same effect, but I’m pretty sure those companies hired many employees for this type of situation.
For example, Sketchup has good numbers of filters that make your model stylish or sketch-like. Here’s an example:
This blog will not end here. Two other important parts are still left.
Let’s jump in…
2D Plans and Section
This part is kinda tricky because as far as I know, not all 3D software supports it. Rhino has these 2D features because of its users. Industrial designers and architects are the most of their clients who commonly deal with this kind of stuff in their works. Companies will follow requirements in their road maps. As a result, don’t expect other tools that have other users (such as environment/prop/lighting artists) to have this 2D visualization. What does a lighting artist do with that?
This is the top-down view (with the previous setting I mentioned earlier. Nothing changed):
For emphasizing the main lines of the layout, I mixed that with a regular Pen view:
Here’s the first floor plan:
- How did I make it?
Rhino has a command named “clipping plane” that cuts out everything in front of it. Here’s the perspective view of it:
This is how section works in Rhino:
I just move that plane lower to pick this shot, the ground floor:
Nothing here is special or done with complex commands or other means. You’re looking at images that almost include my layout and software visualization. That’s all. Don’t let any fear enter your heart! Try to get inspired by these notes and create your own.
Only “solid” meshes/polysurfaces can have red color in the section. That means if you have any incomplete 3D shapes for any reason, Rhino or whatever software can’t make a red surface for them. In the bottom GIF, I showed what I mean:
This problem has two solutions:
- Modeling with more attention!
- Use Photoshop to cover the areas which aren’t red
I personally use solution 2 for most of the cases. Don’t ever think those sections I made have no edit in PS!
The final GIF shows all 4 top-down images:
Is it cool? You can easily make your own 2D layouts like these.
Let’s go to the "2D section" part…
These are two vertical sections which I have showed the direction of them in the top corner:
You can skip this part if you don’t have any tool for it. The goal is to have better shots for your portfolio, not the perfect or ideal one.
- Why should I care about the section?
I myself use it most for checking the overall lines of my designs on the Z-axis. It’s very hard to simulate every surface's height of your layout in the top-down\plan view. OFC, you can skip it and think about it in other ways.
“Section” also can be one of the approaches for the beginning of your design process. That means you can start with sketching a vertical layout instead of a top-down. For example, this is my early sketches of this map:
- Where did you learn this 2D stuff?
As you may know, I studied architecture and all of these weird phrases, like section or plan, which are not normally familiar to level designers, I learned back then in university. I always say: “architecture for me was like nitro in racing games”. It really boosted me up when I switched to level design.
That was everything about the 2D plan and section. The following section is about player perspective in Unreal Engine. Let's get started...
For level designers who want to test and walkthrough their blockouts, Unreal Engine is pure gold. There are lots of pre-made tools in there that prepare the scene just ready to test anything (both multiplayer and singleplayer). So this section explains how to present a player perspective view of your blockouts.
Look at these shots to talk about them later:
My older levels:
Package No.1 – Low Poly Shooter Pack
Unreal has its own FPS template but don’t satisfied with it! With all due respect, It’s ugly, has only sci-fi theme, rough animations and… , that’s why I suggest Low poly pack. (Use its free version if you don’t wanna purchase the complete one).
Package No.2 – Animation Starter Pack
For Putting player references with animation. I see a lot of LDs put T-pose references that make no sense at all! They are usable for walkthrough video too, because their animation gives more life to your levels.
Package No.3 – Advanced Cel Shader Lite
I use it just for its very cool water material that has wave motion too. (Maybe you can find something else interesting in it!)
Package No.4 – Post Process Shader Pack
It’s the main package that gives you a very interesting visual inside Unreal. Unfortunately, its page has been down on Epic Store! Didn’t find anywhere else. (Email me if you couldn’t find that anywhere else).
Package No.5 – Blocking Starter Pack
It has both cool grid materials and pre-made meshes for making blocking out very easier. (Use the SuperGrid Starter pack as a free alternative for it if you don’t wanna purchase that).
I’m not going to explain this part with details like previous parts, because make this blog too long, so I’ll make it as brief as I can:
1. Import all those five packages I mentioned;
2. Create a new level and Import your FBX into it;
3. Change the game mode override in world setting to “BP_LPSP_GM_LPSP”;
3.1 Choose your favorite weapon in default pawn class
4. Copy all this text and paste in your world outliner
It will make a clone of my magic lighting and post process settings at your level:
Note: Make sure you added package No.4 before pasting that text.
4.1 That custom PP is totally changeable and you can add or remove any effect on it. Just select that and go to this tab:
Here’s a GIF that shows applying every filter on the level, I skipped the lighting and sky setting process though:
- Did you test it inside UE5 too?
Just package No.1 and No.5 released an update for UE5, but good news, I migrated them into UE5 and this happened:
Yes! As you see those post process shaders works inside UE5 too.
Just need some changes on lights and skybox. No more.
That was all about the «player perspective» views inside Unreal. I did my best to clarify this part as much as possible. If you have any suggestion, question or critiques on this, put it in the comment section down below.
And the final question:
- Is this a life-time method for us?
Of course NOT! The world is changing super fast and we should stay updated with the latest technology and knowledge, otherwise we get left behind. No doubt!