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Level Design: Steampunk Environment Production

Oguzhan Kar shared their workflow in Laertes Studios, discussed their approach to creating and using modeling assets and did a breakdown on the creation the SteamPunk Environment. Their pack is now available on the Unreal Marketplace.

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Hi, I am Oguzhan Kar. I have graduated from the Architecture Faculty at Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul (Bachelor) and Poznan Technology University (Msc. degree ). When I started my professional career around 5 years ago, I have been working in Architecture companies as CGI Artist, and I was always interested in real-time graphics, innovative technologies. Back in 2016, we had an opportunity to work in the game company - CBILAB VR Studios – with my friend from University, Bora Helvacioglu, and this was the starting point of my professional career in the Games Industry. Later on, I have changed the country and moved to Poland to receive a Master’s Degree, and I worked in a few game companies in Warsaw as Senior Environment Artist. By the beginning of 2019, we have established Leartes Studios with my friend Serdar Urkmez, and we work in Laertes to create Asset Packages for Unreal Engine and Unity Marketplaces and also work on freelance projects.

The Idea Behind the Project

Personally, the atmosphere and concepts of Steampunk and Victorian Architecture/Design were always tempting for me, and this was one of the attractive themes that I wanted to work on and create my own Environment/design ideas in this concept. While I was surfing on the internet and Artstation, some artworks in the steampunk concept amazed me with beautiful details and unique concepts. 

SteamPunk/Victorian Environment project was teamwork, which we have created in Leartes Studios. We were interested and had the passion for Steampunk and Victorian concept for a long time, and we thought this could be a good idea to create an environment in those concepts, and we started looking for good references to start this project. 

Gathering the Reference

In our project, we tried not to use direct concept references because of copyright issues since it was a commercial project, thus we tried to check as much as references from Artstation/Pinterest as possible and to have an image in our minds about the concept. Then, we work with basic sketches, and much of the concept evolved on the way of modeling/texturing/ scene creation process. As the assets we made were modular pieces it was rather easy to change shapes/designs of buildings while creating a level in Unreal Engine.


My idea was to create a complete Steampunk/Victorian Environment package which will be modular and easy to use for the people, therefore, we needed to make a good plan and time management for our tasks. We separated models as groups like buildings, vehicles, gear systems, pipes system, and all these asset groups planned to be modular. As an art director and lead environment artist, my role was to split the workload reasonably, give feedback, critics and to involve the assets creation process in needed parts. Martin Letizia was responsible for creating most of the modular buildings, and Serdar Urkmez was responsible for creating props, we made all assets modular, and we used low/high poly modeling method to be able to bake high poly details on low poly meshes by using normal map, for texturing we used substance painter, for complex models we used 3 LODs to make the scene more optimized .

Speeding Up the Workflow

Making our models modular gave us a chance to speed up our level design process. By using modular parts with 7 unique building models, we were able to create more than 20 seamless and various building models by alternating modules placements, heights of buildings, etc. In addition, good work/time management helped us to finish the work faster, eventually, the project was ready in four months from the start.

Working on the Details

We started the level design by creating unique buildings with the modules we have made. Our idea was to make a downtown with a small square and a few streets to showcase our asset package. After alternating our buildings and creating around 20 buildings with the ground (roads/pavements), we started placing all vehicles/props around the downtown, we have prepared 65 different types of decals like water/dirt/rust/signs/neons. Those decals gave a more detailed look for the environment, modular gears/pipes. Assets helped us to create various gears/pipes systems around buildings to reflect and adjust the steampunk look of the environment. Zeppelin, Baloon, and Classic vehicles models helped us to strengthen the Steampunk vibe.

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The lighting of the scene is usually the most enjoyable and interesting part for me because you can reach completely different results with the same environment by your lighting approach. For our showcase level design, our target was to show assets clearly by using daylight, but at the same time, when giving the feeling of the Steampunk atmosphere, we have tried some different lighting previously to reach the final one. We used exponential height fog with volumetric light, which comes from the directional light (sunlight). We used baked lighting in our level, and we made post-processing inside the Unreal Engine. Also with post-process volume, we used default light mass settings and tweaked some adjustments on post-process volume such as saturation/contrast, scene color to achieve the best contrast in lighting and color of the scene to reflect Steampunk/Victorian Concept.

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The Biggest Challenges

Since the project includes more than 400 assets and lots of materials/textures, the biggest problem was optimization. Fortunately, we predicted that some issues would happen with optimization in the progress of the project, and from the beginning, we tried to make the pack as optimized as possible while maintaining the quality for better optimization of assets. 

We used low poly/high poly meshes baking workflow as well as LODs for complex meshes.  We also tried to use common textures for a few meshes for mid-size or smaller meshes, with this approach, we have managed to use fewer textures/materials while maintaining quality 

The other thing that we had to overcome is to make the package technically convenient to be accepted by the Marketplace team. Marketplace team has its guidelines and, particularly for this project, we had to do everything suitable according to Unreal Engine Marketplace Guidelines. We had several feedbacks in the submission process, and, fortunately, we have solved all the issues.

Finally, I want to say that at the same time, creating SteamPunk/Victorian Environment was the passion for me and our team. That’s why we enjoyed a lot making assets in this concept and whole progress of creating the project. So, the advice I can give to readers is to create environments in the concept that they personally like, that they have enthusiasm for. Then everything will go smoother, and they will like to dive into more details of the project, eventually, the result will reflect this passion and will be looking better.

Oguzhan Kar, Senior Environment & Lighting Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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