Mastering Realism: How To Create Props & Environments for AAA Games

The Kevuru Games team has returned to 80 Level to offer a behind-the-scenes look at their environment/prop production process.

Intro

When we think of AAA games, compelling characters, and action-packed scenes often come to mind. Yet, the environment is just as important in creating a truly immersive gaming experience. A well-designed environment brings the game to life, adding depth, context, and emotional impact to the story. The environment also contributes to the atmosphere and narrative of the game.

With years of experience creating props and environments for AAA games, the team at Kevuru has mastered the art of combining artistry and technology. Their work shows how attention to detail in the environment enhances the overall gameplay, creating a seamless and believable world that keeps players engaged. Studio has gained expertise working with 2D and 3D environment design of diverse styles. 

We asked Roman Kochergin, the Head of Kevuru Games’s 3D Department, to give a slight insight into the Kevuru team structure and working process on the example of how to build vehicles for games. Let's explore the process of creating realistic props and environments for AAA games, examining the techniques and challenges involved in crafting visually stunning and authentic environments.

Working Process Specifics of the Environment Team in Kevuru Games

Kevuru Games is an outsourcing full-cycle game development company, and our specialists support the development of popular shooters and all other genres - RPGs, vehicles and flight simulators, strategies, etc. Today, we have a diverse pool of experts specializing in narrow areas in each genre, and we declare that we can cover full-cycle or custom solutions in the customer game development process.

The Kevuru 3D Department is composed of highly skilled artists, each specializing in areas like weapons, characters, environments, and props. Furthermore, the team excels in a range of artistic styles, including realism, semi-realism, casual, etc.

Creating environments for games (as opposed to individual props) requires very complex recruitment and planning, where each specialist performs different calendar tasks, such as "modular system designers", "Trim\Atlas Materials", etc. 

The environment must not only be visually stunning but also functional. It needs to support the gameplay mechanics and provide a seamless experience for the player. Our artists spend hours tweaking the minor details to ensure everything looks authentic, from the leaves on a tree to how light reflects off a surface.

The approach to creating the environment is quite transparent and depends on only two styles. The situation with weapons, robots, cars, and other objects with a hard surface differs. And that's where we use not only classical methods and applications such as ZBrush, Maya, etc. but also all the delights of CAD modeling. A special place in the skills of artists who work with Hard Surfaces takes Fusion and some of its analogs.

Challenges Kevuru Team Faces When Creating Environment or Props

One of the most daunting challenges is creating an environment or props that are realistic and believable. The process involves carefully balancing texture, lighting, and physics elements. Like when we create props for numerous AAA games, our artists try to find real photos and mini models. 

Recently, our 3D artists were involved in developing the Birdly Insects VR simulator for the Swiss company Somniacs. Working on this project, the Kevuru Games team studied insect anatomy and behavior to depict each creature meticulously. We also involved naturalists and biologists in the work so that they could give us feedback on the correct representation of various details of the models. 

When we create photorealistic weapons for numerous AAA games, our artists from the Weapon Department visit a shooting range and learn to shoot. 

And one more challenge mostly concerns the customers' uncertainty about what they want to see in their games, especially when launching a new title where the pipeline still needs to be defined. In such cases, the Kevuru team makes every effort to offer and select the maximum possible pipeline options at the initial stages.

Racing to the Top: The Popularity of Driving Simulators

Kevuru Games' artists employ classic and new techniques to make stunning props and environments. These techniques allow us to create realistic, immersive game worlds that enhance the gaming experience. By combining traditional artistry with cutting-edge technology, we extend the limits of what's possible in game development. So, let’s delve into the behind-the-scenes process of one of our latest project props for a sports car. 

Driving simulators have been hugely popular in the development of computer and console games in recent decades. The sensational NFS is worth something and has imprinted itself in the hearts of gamers of different ages and interests.

Today, car simulators have occupied their permanent niche among fans, and the appearance and quality of the main characters of such games (cars) will make you forget that you are still sitting in an office chair and put you right behind the wheel of a McLaren v12.

As the power of gaming hardware increased, the level of detail of the environment and props, such as cars, also increased inexorably. Today, it is difficult to distinguish the rendering of a modern AAA car simulator from a real shot. And since the cars are the focus of such games, the little things and design features of each model are under thorough observation.

Concept of Creating Props and Environment

It all starts with an idea - then it comes down to technique and skill. The essential resource for a successful start of the project and the work of 3D artists are references. These can be detailed concept art, blueprints, photos, 3D scans, or a combination. Suppose the development of buildings, landscapes, and other large objects can be done without verification in millimeters. The situation is quite different for weapons and vehicles, which require 100% similarity to the original, at least for the visible and moving elements of the model.

Sometimes, we get sets of drawings from our clients, or we can look for the required materials ourselves; believe me, if you look, you will find them. But drawings alone are not enough, and to recreate the correct appearance, you need a large number of photographs of objects, the sources of which can be not only online stores, articles, and other classic Google searches but also specialized exhibitions and museums, especially if it is something rare.

However, when it is necessary to add something unique to the original or somehow change its original appearance, concept artists come into play, working with 2D and 3D software and creating incredibly accurate concepts for even the most unthinkable changes.

Returning to the topic of cars, we will look at an example of creating a Porsche GT3 for racing simulations on PC and console.

The Pipeline of Creating a Car Prop: Key Aspects of Each Stage

The pipeline, i.e. the chosen sequence and development methodology, can be structured differently in different styles and games. In addition to the main approaches to creating 3D models, we often use mixed approaches depending on the task.

One of the most popular development plans for modern PC and console games might look like this:

  • Creation of a blocking 3D model (basic shape, silhouette).
  • Creation of a high-poly version of the model. Despite optimization, all object details are worked out at this stage.
  • Optimization or creation of a low-poly model. Optimization of the high-poly model by the number of polygons, taking into account all future features of the object (animation, physics, etc.)
  • Creation of UVs. Scanning of the 3D model.
  • Roasting, or Baking. A bit of CG magic when details of a high-poly model are displayed on a low-poly version due to texture maps.
  • Model Texturing. The process of painting and creating materials.

The task of our project was to create a copy of a real car Porsche GT3 2023, with an adaptation for UE5. The development pipeline for this car was mixed and included both SubD modeling and classic high-poly modeling in ZBrush. Developing a high-quality and accurate high-poly model is the most important phase in creating a car, as this phase determines the further approaches to optimization and texturing.

Blocking and High-Poly Modeling Stage

In our case, we used 3ds Max and ZBrush for this step. Here, at the stage of creating the car body, we used the SubD approach, which allowed us to quickly create not only the Blocking of the car but also a good base for further optimization. Wheels, suspension, body, and all add-on parts - everything was created in 3ds Max and brought to the right HighPoly stage. The car's interior was also developed in 3ds Max but further refined in ZBrush when working with soft elements.

Hundreds of references, different parts of the car, dozens of adjustments to the shape of the body elements, and as a result, we got the final HighPoly model, ready for further optimization in LowPoly.

Optimization and Low-Poly Modeling

Since most of the vehicle was created in SubD format, making the low-poly model took much less time than the high-poly phase. Global cleanup of geometry, optimization of curves according to the formula "a number of faces per circle diameter," and control of the number of polygons - the final game model is ready and moves to the creation of scans and baking maps.

UVs

At this stage, we have planned the final quality of the car since the scans will allow us to use the intended texture resolution and uniqueness of the future texturing.

Baking

It is one of my most enjoyable stages of developing a 3D model: the part when the 3D model seamlessly transitions the deep technical development into the artistic part of the work. The first baked highlights of the Normal Map, the emergence of details from the high-poly model, and other joys of the baking phase - I want to drive already! To do baking, we combined Substance 3D Painter and Marmoset Toolbag.

Texturing

Substance 3D Painter is one of the most popular programs to work with at this stage. And in our case, we also used it, but with some reservations. We textured small and unique parts of the car, including the interior in Substance 3D Painter. And we created a unique material and shader for UE5 for the car body and some large elements and controlled its appearance in the game engine.

Key Areas to Focus on When Creating a Compelling Environment

Every 3D model of modern games is not just visual content. Behind very small assets is a huge amount of work by various specialists, from basic planning to implementation in the game engine.

The potential for creating increasingly realistic and immersive environments grows exponentially as technology advances. The attention to detail in game environments will continue to be a focal point, significantly enhancing the player's experience. The trend towards realism in AAA games shows no signs of slowing down, and the environment will remain a critical element in achieving this realism.

We recommend that game developers looking to create compelling environments to focus on several key areas:

  • You should study real-world locations, architecture, and nature to create a good game. Draw inspiration from art, history, and culture. Proper research will provide a solid foundation for creating authentic and believable environments.
  • Consider how the player will interact with the environment. What dynamic elements to create that respond to the player's actions, such as destructible objects, moving foliage, or changing weather conditions? This interactivity adds depth and realism to the environment.
  • Pay meticulous attention to the small details in your environment. Texture, lighting, and sound contribute to the overall atmosphere and can significantly impact the player's immersion.
  • Gather feedback from playtesters and iterate on your environments. This feedback will provide valuable insights into how players perceive and interact with your environments, allowing you to improve the overall experience.

Join discussion

Comments 4

  • Anonymous user

    For the car, how long did each part take?

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·2 months ago·
  • AHMAD FARHAN

    i like how you explain everything in detail

    0

    AHMAD FARHAN

    ·4 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Thx:)

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·6 months ago·
  • Komarov Simon

    Great !!! I like this post

    0

    Komarov Simon

    ·7 months ago·

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