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Tutorials to Becoming the Best Level Designer and Game Environment Artist (since 2008)

"WoLD Insider" Newsletter Issue #05

April 25, 2017

Welcome to "WoLD Insider" newsletter issue #5.

Every "WoLD Insider" newsletter is packed full of tips, links, resources and updates about World of Level Design, level design and game environment art. "WoLD Insider" is exclusive to you as WoLD subscriber.

Following Issue #5 of "WoLD Insider" contains:

  • Coming Soon: Premium Tutorial Series on Custom Static Mesh Pipeline with Maya LT and UE4
  • 7 Latest WoLD Tutorials Released
  • 6 Unreal Engine 4 Tips
  • CryEngine Texture Tip
  • 3 Maya LT/Maya Tips
  • Quixel NDO Fix: Normal Map Not Showing Up in 3DO Preview
  • Importance of Photo Reference Examples
  • 5 Level Design Tips
  • "Max Payne 2" Gameplay and Cut Scene Examples
  • Book That is Frequently Bought Along with "Preproduction Blueprint"
  • Source Engine In-Editor Work
  • 2 Source Engine Tips
  • Throwback Thursday Screenshots
  • 21 Productivity Work Tips for Level Design and Game Art
  • WoLD YouTube Milestone
  • 8 Year Anniversary of First WoLD YouTube Video Upload
  • 12 Resource Links

3 Ways to View this Newsletter:

Following issue of "WoLD Insider" newsletter is available as Email, Online or Download as PDF.

  • View this Issue as Email (subscribers only)
  • View this Issue Online as a blog post (currently viewing)
  • Download this Issue as a zipped/compressed PDF (subscribers only)

Let's get started.

Coming Soon: Premium Tutorial Series

Since beginning of February I have been working on a brand new premium tutorial series.

UE4/Maya LT: Custom Static Mesh Formula - this video tutorial series will feature the pipeline for how to take your custom Static Meshes from Maya LT/Maya, export them and import them into Unreal Engine 4 - covering all the steps, problems and solutions along the way that you will encounter during the process.

Estimated release date is early summer 2017.

Latest WoLD Tutorials Released

Below are the latest 7 new and updated tutorials released.

Updated "Maya vs Maya LT: Why I Decided to Switch to Maya LT for Game Environment Art"

I have been using Maya LT as my main game environment modeling/uving software. This is after almost a decade of being a regular Maya user. I had to go back and update this post 6 months later with some additional info about Maya LT vs Maya. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

Updated: "26 Ways to Have Your Best Level Design and Game Environment Art Year"

Steve Jobs once said that "You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards."

Looking back, I now know what I should have done.

I needed to develop daily discipline to work, to maintain focus on one project at a time, to assign a project to work on for every goal I set, focus on small projects first that I could do before attempting to work on larger goals, don't multi-task, focus on hourly work sessions without interruption and a lot more which I will share with you in this post. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

"Abandoned House" Workflow (Part 1/5) - BSP Block In Tutorial

A lot of topics are covered in this first tutorial including planning/preproduction, scale, layout, essential entities to compile/test, developer textures and blocking in the entire house environment using BSP brushes. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

"Abandoned House" Workflow (Part 2/5) – Texturing Tutorial

Topics covered in this tutorial are using nodraw textures to start with and why, replacing textures, texturing the "Abandoned House" environment, texture alignment and scale, texturing shortcuts, re-using textures and importance of maintaining same theme and color texture saturation. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

"Abandoned House" Workflow (Part 3/5) – Detailing Tutorial

Topics covered in this tutorial are adding props, refining BSP brush work. We'll create stairs, porch, overhang porch roof and add decals. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

"Abandoned House" Workflow (Part 4/5) – Displacement/Terrain and Foliage Tutorial

Topics covered in this tutorial are adding and modifying displacement (terrain), texturing the terrain, blending between terrain textures, working with displacement patches and making sure everything is aligned, placing foliage, adding displacement decals and creating additional terrain detail. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

"Abandoned House" Workflow (Part 5/5) – Beyond the House, Lighting and Final Compile Tutorial

Topics in this tutorial include adding additional props to build up believable non-playable areas, tree cards, additional foliage, updating the sky, updating lighting and fog, tonemap and color correction, bugs and fixes, cubemaps, final compile and screenshots. (Continue to the Full Tutorial...)

UE4: Installation Options and What I Choose to Install

Every time there is a new version of UE4, I'm presented with various options to download. I have to remember which options I chose on previous install. I wrote them down, here is what I install Core Components, Starter Content, Templates and Feature Packs, Engine Source and Art Tools.

  • Core Components: required component needed for installation
  • Starter Content: includes high quality assets that can be added to a new project
  • Templates and Feature Packs: install templates and feature packs that can be used as a starting point for new projects
  • Engine Source: install engine source .ccp files to make browsing/degubbing code easier, cannot be modified or rebuilt
  • Editor symbols for debugging: includes symbols to allow debugging C++ projects in the editor
  • Art tools: includes option art tools to work with 3dsMax and Maya
  • Target Platforms: includes the different target platforms that you can create Unreal Projects on. These include binaries for IOS, Android, HTML5, Linux and TVOS

I do not install "Editor symbols for debugging". I don't use C++ at the moment so I don't need this functionality.

I do not install "Engine Source".

I also do not install "Target Platforms" for devices I won't be developing for.

UE4: What are UE4 Art Tools Offered During Installation

When installing new version of UE4, you'll have an option to include "Art Tools". These are Maya Animation Rigging Toolset, Pivot Painter Tool and Render to Texture Blueprint Toolset.

More info on each can be found here.

For "Maya Animation Rigging Toolset", go here for installation instructions and here to begin using it.

UE4: Fix: "Degenerate Tangent Bases Which Will Result in Incorrect Shading" Error

If you are receiving ''degenerate tangent bases which will result in incorrect shading'' warning on UE4 Static Mesh import - this is due to object's improper UVs.

Fix: UV your model properly and re-import.

UE4: Where Did Anti-Aliasing Option Go

Since UE4 4.14 Anti-Aliasing has been moved from Post Process Volume to Project Settings > Rendering > Default Settings > Anti-Aliasing Method:

UE4: What is "Map Build Data Registry File"?

In UE4 you will now have a "map build data registry file" saved along with your map (MyMap_BuiltData.uasset).

It is the map's light map data saved in a different file alongside your map. This allows you to have multiple light build data for a single map.

Bit more info on this here:

UE4: Normal Maps and Alpha Channels

Do not create or include an alpha channel with your normal maps in UE4. Unreal Engine 4 uses BC5 compression for normals maps which removes the Alpha channels on import.

CryEngineV Texture Tip

However, in CryEngine always include your gloss map in the alpha channel of your normal map.

For more info on CryEngine normal maps visit here.

Learn 3D Modeling Software as a Specialist Not a Generalist

You must learn 3d modeling software as a specialist and not as a generalist. Follow this 9 hour tutorial series and finally be able to learn Maya LT/Maya for game environment modeling and UVing.

Maya LT 2017 Features New Workspace Layout Option

In Maya LT 2017 there has been an addition of Workspace Layout options which I really like. These include UV, Modeling, Rigging, Animation and of course you can customize it.

More on Maya LT 2017 – Workspaces:

Maya LT/Maya: How to Cycle Between Different Background Colors

MayaLT/Maya Tip: Press "Alt + B" = Cycle Between Various Background Viewport Colors:

GIF Link: http://gph.is/2lZfALE

Fix: Quixel's NDO Normal Map is Not Showing in 3DO Preview

Known issue in Quixel's NDO is not seeing 3DO preview of your normal maps. To fix this, create New Project first then 3DO preview of your normal map will work.

Level Design on Importance of Reference

Importance of photo reference no matter what game engine you use. All examples below were created using Source Engine.

Abandoned House photo reference and in-game:

House in Menorca photo reference and in-game:

Raye Street House photo reference and in-game:

5 Level Design Tips

Tip #1: Make level design and game art your #1 priority, when you do everything changes. Your work will begin to improve. You will have a sense of purpose and direction that you didn't have before.

Tip #2: Don't wish for your level design and game environment art projects to be easier, work to become better.

Tip #3: Spend time to rework your geometry from the BSP block-in stage to more refined and detailed brushwork in important areas of your environment. Example of concrete block-in stairs to more refined detailed wooden stairs. Once done, I duplicated the detailed stairs to the rest of the house.

Tip #4: Early BSP block-in process will often look very ugly and make you question if you on the right track. But if you keep true to photo reference and continue working on it, it will begin to look better.

Tip #5: HL2: Lost Coast is a great study of level design in a single self-contained map with a difficulty arc and final boss battle. Still continues to be a lot of fun.

Max Payne 2 Exaggerated Physics

Dream sequence in Max Payne 2 had one of the best atmosphere effects and exaggerated physics which added to the surreal feeling of the dream:

GIF Link: http://gph.is/2kYeXnR

Cut Scenes Example: Mona Character Introduction in Max Payne 2

Character introduction of Mona Sax in Max Payne 2 is legendary. John Woo would be proud.

Video Link: youtube.com/watch?v=4VZrDMHXfco

Which Other Book is "Preproduction Blueprint" Often Bought With?

"Preproduction Blueprint" is frequently purchased with another level design book, "An Architectural Approach to Level Design" by Christopher W. Totten.

Why Can't I Quit You Source Engine?

I still have a hard time letting go of Source Engine. Nostalgia.

Source Engine Fix: Bad/Weird Blob Shadows from Prop Statics

If you are receiving bad/weird blob shadows from prop_statics (e.g. foliage, garbage) in Fast compile mode:

Fix this by going to prop properties and set "Disable Shadows" to Yes. This will prevent the prop_static from creating cheap render-to-texture shadows.

Using Full Compile mode also fixes this issue.

Source Engine: What Does Env_Tonemap_Controller Do

In Source Engine, env_tonemap_controller entity allows to control auto-exposure (HDR) of your level but you'll need logic_auto to start the tonemap on map spawn.

More info here and here.

Throwback Thursdays

Some older work from Source Engine in Left4Dead2 on architecture and lighting studies:

21 Work Tips For Level Designers and Game Artist

Work Tip #1/21: Maintain focus by working on one project at a time.

Work Tip #2/21: For each level design and game environment art goal, set a project that is associated with that goal.

Work Tip #3/21: Draw/sketch props and environment as you work to think, understand and figure out your objects:

Work Tip #4/21: Do not multi-task.

Work Tip #5/21: Focus on 30, 60 or 90 minute work sessions without interruption.

Work Tip #6/21: Always work to a timer, know when you start and end each session (allows focusing on the task at hand).

Work Tip #7/21: Develop daily discipline to work on level design and game environment art regardless how you feel.

Work Tip #8/21: Use the daily screenshot technique:

Work Tip #9/21: Build momentum with a series of small, manageable projects you can complete in a very short time frame; build up confidence with finished work.

Work Tip #10/21: (if having hard time getting started at all) build momentum with short timed work sessions (15-30 min each) every day for 30 days without skipping a day.

Work Tip #11/21: Break the year into 4 quarters - 3 months each. Plan for the upcoming 3 months; 3 months will be enough to complete a project, or hit a major milestone on your long-term project.

Work Tip #12/21: Every month and every 3 months (quarterly) - sit down and look where you are and how you are doing; rework, update and revise your goals and projects.

Work Tip #13/21: Use Parkinson's Law "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".

Work Tip #14/21: Do not have open loops. Eliminate them. If you haven't touched or opened a project in last 3-6 months, then it might as well be dead. Kill it! Otherwise set it as your primary project and begin working on it.

Work Tip #15/21: Use other artist work as motivation to get better but avoid judging yourself, your work and your skill against another artist; only judge against what you've done yesterday, week ago, month ago.

Work Tip #16/21: Keep notes on what you are working on, learning about and steps on achieving a specific result; this will save you time when you have to repeat the steps again.

Work Tip #17/21: Use Pomodoro Technique - set a timer for 25 min, work on the task at hand without  interruptions, take 5 min break, jump back on another 25 minutes of work.

Work Tip #18/21: Break everything down into small actionable steps and focus on the next upcoming step.

Work Tip #19/21: Embrace the hard and deliberate work of level design and game environment art.

Work Tip #20/21: If you want to become the best, forget about balance and become obsessed with level design and game environment art.

Work Tip #21/21: In order to sustain continuous high-levels of focus, concentration, mental energy and productivity, schedule clean starting and ending work times within your day and schedule days off within the week.

Bonus Work Tip: eat healthy, get good quality sleep and WORKOUT (run, lift, punching bag, bjj) - these are essential that directly/indirectly contribute to the quality of your work.

WoLD YouTube Milestone

WoLD reached 40,000+ YouTube subscribers! Thank you for watching!

Subscribe and watch here.

8 Year Anniversary of First Video Upload

8 years ago, Feb 8, 2009 I upload very first WoLD video to YouTube "Counter-Strike: Source Environment Lighting - Case Study".

Video Link: youtube.com/watch?v=6EIPwSBZ3sE

12 Resource Links

Resource links include things I've stumbled upon, used for research, found inspiration in and wanted to share with you.

Beautiful Pixel Art Game Backdrops: imgur.com/gallery/gyErY

Assassin's Creed: Revelations: Concept Art by Martin Deschambault.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate: Industrial buildings – Textures.

Thief Artwork: by Mathieu Latour-Duhaime: here and here.

Presentation Slides: "Killzone Shadow Fall" demo Post-Mortem presentation slides.

"Remember Me" PBR Articles: "Main difference between traditional lighting model and physically based BRDF are: fresnel everywhere and energy conservation". Article #1, Article #2 and Article #3. Worth reading for learning more about Physically Based Rendering pipeline.

Screenshot Reference Database: Great game art screenshot reference database by Mateusz.

Voice Pack for Game Devs: Cyael's Dobson free voice (License CC-BY) pack for game devs.

Screenshot Reference:

"Counter-Strike: Global Offensive", "Half-Life 2: Lost Coast", "Left4Dead 2", Source™, Source 2™, ©Valve Software. All rights reserved.

"Remember Me" ©Capcom. Dev: Dontnod Entertainment. All rights reserved.

"Killzone Shadow Fall" ©Sony Interactive Entertainment. Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge. All rights reserved.

"Max Payne 2" ©Rockstar Games. Dev: Remedy Entertainment. All rights reserved.

"Assassin's Creed: Revelations" ©Ubisoft. All rights reserved.

"Assassin's Creed Syndicate" ©Ubisoft. All rights reserved.

"Thief" ©Square Enix. Developer: Eidos Montreal All rights reserved.

Unreal® Engine 4 ©Epic Games, Inc. All rights reserved.


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