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Workflow For Creating a Low Poly Western World Game in Unity

Ivo J. has shared a comprehensive workflow of Rzberry, a cartoonish action-adventure Low Poly Western World game, focusing on level design, composition, asset workflow, and lighting. 


Hey folks! I'm Ivo J., a game and level designer from Macedonia with a knack for creating exciting levels and environments. My love affair with games kicked off at age 9 when I got my hands on my first computer, a trusty Pentium 4. Timon & Pumbaa’s Jungle Games was my gateway into the world of gaming.

Fast forward through endless gaming sessions, millions of stories and characters, and different worlds and environments, I decided I wanted to be more than just a player. 

The game changer? My first Global Game Jam. I signed up as an Audio Designer as I have a background in music and sound effects, and that's where the wild ride of creating Echoes' began.

Dropping out of college to pour my heart into Echoes, I became a self-taught Unity expert, navigating the challenges of game development on a shoestring budget. A year of hard work paid off – Echoes hit the top charts in Europe and Asia and even got a nod from TouchArcade and Apple.

Hungry to learn from the pros, I enrolled in the Academy for Game Design and Development at Qinshift. There, I discovered my passion for level and environment design, cooking up three game projects for my finals.

Post-graduation, I joined Aeria Canada, a mobile game studio with over 300 million downloads. In the role of Game/Level Designer, I meticulously crafted new levels for the shooter games: American Block Sniper Survival, Survival Hunter Games 2, Rescue Robots, and others, as well as working on existing ones, focusing on choke points, enemy placement, and droppables tailored to different difficulty levels.

Never forgetting my roots in audio design, I contributed to custom soundtracks and effects for the company's games.

My journey continued at Dexioprotocol, where I assumed the role of Lead Game Designer/Level Designer, shaping worlds, levels, and mechanics for games within the ecosystem, Dexi Dragons, Dexi Knights, and the GeoQuestAR app.

Grateful for the journey, I circled back to where it all began, but now as a tutor for Unity 3D and Level Design at Qinshift Academy for Game Design.

Right now, I'm knee-deep in multiple cool projects as a level designer, including Rzberry, where the Western Environment is set and is getting ready to be explored! 

Unity Experience

Ah, the love-and-hate relationship. 

I embarked on the Unity journey back in 2015-2016 with version 5.3. This marked the inception of a critical chapter in my career. Early experiments involved small-scale projects, where I delved into crafting miniature worlds and fine-tuning movement and combat mechanics, as well as playing with physics and simple animations – foundational steps in establishing a robust relationship with Unity and getting to know your way around the engine.

The acid test for my Unity proficiency surfaced during the development of Echoes. The intricate demands of this project compelled not just usage but mastery of Unity's capabilities. This journey was a blend of self-guided exploration and structured learning, complemented by the insights gained at the game design academy later on.

Fast-forwarding to the present, Unity has weathered both acclaim and criticism, to be honest. It is true that certain decisions led some indie studios to explore alternatives like Godot and Unreal, but I refrain from playing favorites among engines. Each has its distinctive strengths, contributing to the versatility of my toolkit.

In practical applications and daily usage, Unity has exhibited its mobile-friendly prowess, proving particularly advantageous. The collaborative aspect within the expansive community of indie developers has been a game-changer. Unity's efficient operation on less powerful hardware has also been a pragmatic choice, mostly in comparison to Unreal Engine, especially back in the days when beefy computers were a bit costly.

Within my professional collaborations, where budget considerations and subscription plans are integral, Unity has consistently demonstrated its value. Its intuitive design, customizable UI layouts, and extensive library of assets make it an indispensable ally for game and level designers. The engine's adaptability to various project scales and styles is one of its standout features.

While Unity shares space with other engines in my toolkit, its significance is undeniable. The learning curve, while present, is approachable, and Unity Learn serves as a valuable resource for beginners, facilitating not only an understanding of the engine but also delving into C# programming and fundamental structures. Unity remains a trusted companion, guiding me through challenges and significantly contributing to my journey in game design.

About Rzberry

Approaching level design is a bit like crafting a symphony; each element must harmonize to create a memorable experience. My process always kicks off by diving into the core of the game – understanding its mechanics, narrative, and overall vibe. 

Just as characters narrate a video game's story, the levels and environment should also cook a compelling tale, offering players a glimpse into the essence of the game.

The game that hosts the world is Rzberry, a cartoonish action-adventure game, boasting a kaleidoscope of vibrant levels, each tailored to a unique theme and timestamp. With gameplay mechanics ranging from PVE combat to driving, flying, and crafting, it's a game that packs a punch in terms of variety. There will be announcements about the game soon.

My concept creation is where the magic truly happens in my level design process. I spend hours sculpting the world in my mind, aiming to capture the theme's essence, scalability, and key points of interest that elevate the player's experience. Once the mental canvas is painted, I transition to a rough concept sketch in Photoshop (sometimes even MS Paint), mapping out POIs, critical paths, and battle zones.

For that extra touch, I often create a miniaturized version of the level on my desk using everyday objects like mugs, phones, clips, and pens – a quirky yet effective method for me to envision the player's movement and encounters.

References are the seasoning that elevates the dish, firing up the imagination if you will. To immerse myself in the Western World of Rzberry, I played Red Dead Redemption on my Switch and shared laughs during a movie night with my girlfriend, indulging in the hilariously delightful Western comedy, Shanghai Noon, which helped me envision the world and the style of the environment in real-time.

These immersive experiences not only set the tone for the environment but also aligned seamlessly with the game's needs, ensuring that the Western World in Rzberry tells a captivating story with every turn.

Asset Workflow

Navigating through an ocean of assets can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. The secret sauce? Organization. 

My workflow kicks off with strict organization, starting with the hierarchy. I create empty game objects that are named based on the part of the level they occupy, ensuring clarity and easy access. 

_TownPOI, for instance, becomes the parent game object for all things town-related, while _Trees holds the arboreal assets across the level. I extend this organization to lights and cameras, simplifying accessibility.

Moving on to the Project Folder, I undertake a systematic arrangement of prefabs and assets. Getting lost in that same ocean of 3D models is counterproductive, so I peruse through assets beforehand, establishing a mental map and notes of what is where. Naming conventions prove their worth during design, aiding in quick prefab searches.

In the Project Folder, I create a personal folder that serves as my quick-access hub, housing frequently used materials, assets, and prefabs. 

With the initial setup complete, the block-out stage takes place.

ProBuilder is the tool that I most often use for the block-out stage, translating the concept and rough drawings into a 3D environment. I tend to add other terrain blocks that serve as a general idea of where a cliff or mountain for example should be placed.

Scaling the level based on Points of Interest (POIs) and spacing is usually what I want to ensure next. I aim to inject a sense of "white space" between zones and POIs, especially because vehicles are also included inside Rzberry.

Once the blockout aligns closely with the initial concept, the environment design and composition phase commences. Blocks from the blockout transform into real buildings, props, items, terrains, and other environmental assets. 

This level features key POIs like The Town, closely inspired by the ambiance of Shanghai Noon, and other POIs such as The Indian Camp, The Quarry, The Bone Train Stop, The Farm, and other small ones that are scarred across the level, provoking the players to explore through the level and get immersed inside the overall theme and feel of the world.

Beginning with the main POI — The Town. The overall feeling of the town, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, is influenced by the movie Shanghai Noon. It is divided into two parts, each with its own buildings and thematic settings. I like to create visual connections and cues with different spots and POIs in the level. For instance, a railway divides the town, serving as a path to other zones if followed, or the lake on the other side of the town splits into small rivers, each leading to another zone, offering visual cues to players.

Strategic design choices, like incorporating ramps in The Quarry, add vertical movement options for players. Easter eggs and hidden spots cater to the avid explorers, enhancing the level's depth and of course prizes!

The whitespace between POIs, colloquially known as walking grounds (usually a natural environment setting like a forest, dunes, cliffs, etc.), serves a dual purpose in introducing players to smaller yet significant POIs like The Farm and The Bone Train Stop.

These smaller zones act as intricately designed pockets within the overarching landscape, adding layers of depth to the player's experience. The Farm and The Bone Train Stop, specifically crafted as compact POIs, play a pivotal role in enriching the overall world and its ambiance. Within these smaller spaces, players discover hidden gems, unveiling reward points and prizes that contribute to their progression or unlock exhilarating boss fights.

The design philosophy behind my level design rests on the delicate interplay of imagination and adherence to specific guidelines that are seamlessly synchronized with the game's mechanics and overall game flow. It's a harmonious balance that not only enhances the immersive quality of the level but also contributes to the strategic foundation of level design. These carefully integrated elements, both grand and subtle, tend to create captivating gaming environments.

Design Workflow

Assembling the scene and crafting its composition involved a thoughtful blend of creativity and practical design principles. Inspired by "Shanghai Noon" and "Red Dead Redemption" the town was distinctly divided into two parts, each with its unique charm and pointing to a different direction in the level, each holding a different color palette. 

The surroundings encompassing the town showcase a diverse landscape, featuring expansive sand dunes that evoke a quintessential Western ambiance, giving more attention to the brown/beige/yellows palette of colors, on one side, and on the flip side of the level, a harmonious blend of trees and grass introduces a spectrum of calm and soft colors to the scenery. 

This intentional mix allows for a smooth transition and injects a rich variety into the overall design, incorporating elements like rocky and mountain terrains.

Nestled within this diverse landscape is the Indian Camp POI, strategically placed on the other side, to offer a complete contrast to the town's vibes. Positioned in a lush, green area, the Indian Camp is adorned with trees, overlooking the entire world, rock formations, and a palette that veers away from the typical western yellow and brown tones and gives more attention to the green/gray palette.

This deliberate juxtaposition of environments adds visual interest and also creates a unique and immersive experience as players traverse between the contrasting atmospheres of the town and the Indian Camp, the farms, and the quarry.

Now, when it comes to composition, every element, from buildings to environmental details, was strategically placed to create a visually engaging narrative, for example, if seen from a Top Down perspective, the rock formations inside of the level have the form of a maze/labyrinth, that serves as a critical path for players.

The goal was to strike a balance between the grandeur of larger structures like cliffs and rocks, and the subtlety of smaller details, ensuring a dynamic and captivating visual experience and engaging the player movement thus provoking exploration and engagement within the environment.

Scattering different details throughout the scene was a challenging task, as there were never enough details. Props, textures, and environmental elements were intentionally placed to enhance immersion and give a little bit more texture to the ground. Whether in the bustling center or the quieter outskirts and smaller POIs, thematic details were carefully integrated to complement the narrative and feel of the Western theme.

The overall design demanded a well-rounded strategy. Thematic settings in each part were thoughtfully curated to evoke specific atmospheres and different feelings. 

Pathways, visual cues, and interconnected zones were also integrated, ensuring a fluid and immersive experience for players who are ready to explore the level. The key element of the Western Environment was the train track. This allowed me to make "connections" within almost every POI at the level. This gives the composition a fine finish.

Overall, scene assembly and composition were driven by a keen eye for detail, respect for thematic cohesion, and a commitment to creating an environment that captivates players with its cinematic inspiration, or an animated Pixar Movie.


When dealing with lighting, the array of options and variations is vast, and therein lies its beauty. I also have a night iteration of the level that further enhances this diversity, predominantly illuminated by spot and point lights, each with distinct colors corresponding to their source and intensity.

The directional light takes center stage with higher intensity and a deeper yellow hue, aiming to encapsulate the essence of the sun in the west, casting stark and defined shadows.

To add a layer of intricacy, a subtle touch of fog, set at a low intensity (0.01), adopts the color palette of the light. This choice imparts depth and complexity to the environment, enriching the overall ambiance with a sense of richness.

I always spend a lot of time playing around with the Skyboxes. It is really strange how a Skybox can affect the entire environment and overall color intensity.

The Western Environment uses the Universal Render Pipeline (URP), as I think that URP offers workflows tailored to artists, enabling the swift and effortless creation of optimized graphics for various platforms, from mobile devices to high-end consoles and PCs.

Exploring various post-processing options has been a personalized journey for me, where preferences and an eye for detail play a pivotal role. Among the millions of variations, my final tweaks were finely tuned within Depth of Field, Auto Exposure, Color Grading, and Ambient Occlusion. 

These specific options align with my taste and the overarching concept, creating a visual composition that resonates with my vision for the level. 

When it comes to captivating game environments in Unity a thoughtful and multi-faceted approach to lighting is a must. At a fundamental level, I prioritize the use of real-time global illumination, harnessing Unity's Progressive Lightmapper for high-quality indirect lighting. This contributes to the creation of dynamic and visually appealing scenes, elevating the overall gaming experience.

Strategic placement of dynamic lights, such as point lights, spotlights, and directional lights, is a key element of my design process. This allows for the accentuation of specific in-game elements, casting realistic shadows, and providing depth. I carefully fine-tune parameters like light color, intensity, and range to evoke the desired mood and atmosphere in different parts of the game world.

On the other hand, optimization is crucial, particularly for static objects. I employ lightmap baking to enhance performance, allowing for the pre-calculation of indirect lighting and ensuring consistency throughout the environment. 

This becomes especially significant in larger-scale or open-world scenarios where performance is a critical factor.


The creation of the level was a great journey, spanning approximately 45 to 50 hours from the initial concept on my mind canvas to the realization of a final playable environment.

While the design process was mostly smooth sailing, if I had to pinpoint a challenge, it would be the manual placement of props and 3D models on uneven terrain. It's a bit time-consuming, but some things are just worth the effort.

For anyone venturing into game design or already immersed in the industry, I highly recommend checking out the book "Game Development Essentials: An Introduction, Third Edition." It's packed with insightful articles and advice, by industry professionals and veterans, and a lot of history for the gaming industry.

As a pro-tip, dive into Unity Learn for a free and engaging way to delve into Unity and game creation. It's a fantastic resource to grasp C# through fun and practical examples.

For those looking to up their game, I'd also suggest exploring the CGMA Level Design Course. It's a comprehensive resource, beneficial for beginners and even seasoned professionals. Refreshing your core skills with a course is always a good call! 

Ivo J., Game/Level Designer

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    Nice story and nice portfolio. Keep up the good work lad.


    Anonymous user

    ·2 months ago·

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