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Looking back over last decade it is easy for me to tell you what I did wrong and what I could have done better in learning level design and game environments. It is easy to say what I could have avoided and where I should have focused my time on.
The mistakes and failures I went through were extremely valuable, even though during such moments it seemed I wasn't going to pull through. In the end, most if not all experiences were valuable and I wouldn't give them up.
But, I do wish someone could have told me a few things to make level design and game environment art creation a simpler process to go through. Certain principles to keep in mind and goals to aim for. So I didn't have to re-invent the wheel. It would have helped me to avoid my first few years starting a project after project and never finishing a single one.
One of the biggest roadblocks I needed to focus on was planning.
I needed to know what I was going to create before starting to work on any projects. I believed that if I had the right foundation, the right plan to execute it would help me to finish. Although planning did not make me finish all of my maps and it will not make you finish everything you start. But I realized that planning is a very important part of a larger process.
Planning my level designs and game environments helped me to know exactly what I wanted to create before I opened a level editor or 3d application. I now had a foundation to work with - something to rely on. Planning gave me the confidence to pursue an idea to work on.
Planning process is called Preproduction and what you end up with is Preproduction Blueprint. A document for your game environment or level design. This document details what you are going to create. How it is going to look, how it will play, location where your environment takes place, top down layouts, objectives, purpose, reference, story and visual development.
This is how I used to design game environments and level designs. There was no planning involved. When I had the idea, I would go straight for the editor. Sometimes I would create a top down layout.
I didn't research or collect photo references, I didn't explore various layouts, I didn't have a story, I didn't set up a visual theme or set goals. I didn't know how the environment was going to look, play or how it was going to come together in the end. For a few hours it was fun.
Idea would begin to take shape inside the level editor. I would be excited. Then slowly the entire map would begin to collapse. When I encountered my first problem or a decision I had to make, I didn't know what to do.
More and more questions began to pop up during production. I did not have answers for them because I had no foundation to rely on. I was left with making on the fly decisions. I would get more ideas and try to incorporate them into the current environment. As the environment began to grow in scale and complexity, I would become overwhelmed. I would try to change the layout and the foundation. Which often destroyed the project.
Soon after, the entire environment would fall apart. I'd get frustrated, overwhelmed and move on. I would abandon the project.
I would then begin a new idea. New project. Thinking this time it will be different. This time I will push through and finish.
Of course nothing different happened, because I didn't change my process. This continued for couple of years.
I often would get so angry with myself that every map and every game environment project I started did not get finished. It came to a point where I stopped creating maps for a while.
Something had to change. I reached a point where I walked away from level design and game environments. I just told myself that I would pursue other things, that level designing and game environment art wasn't for me.
I went to college to study filmmaking, drawing, painting, architecture, programming, web design, photography, business and management. I ended up getting a B.F.A in Computer Animation.
The thing was, my love for level design and game environments never left. Throughout my entire college career I wanted to design game environments. I would always get more ideas that I would want to create. Environments I wanted to see come to life. I was obsessed about level design and game environments. I just suppressed it and pushed it away.
During my junior year in college for computer animation, everything began to click. For my senior thesis I had to create a 2-minute animation short. But before anything could be modeled, textured or animated, I had to spend an entire semester during junior year in prepro. This is where I had to create a story, design characters, props, visual style and environments not in a 3d app, but on paper. I had to have a plan and know exactly what I wanted before Maya was ever opened. I would have to present the story and all the design ideas to faculty for feedback and criticism. This continued for an entire semester. No modeling, no lighting, no animation. Just preproduction for a 2-minute story. A full semester!
If this is what I had to do for a 2 minute short, I realized I needed to do the same for my level designs and game environments. Perhaps not a full semester. I decided that I needed to create a planning workflow specifically for level designs and game environmentsI could use every time I worked on a project.
After a semester of prepro and before I had to return to work on my senior thesis I took a trip to Switzerland for 19 days. Something happened during the trip made me realize that level design and game environments was something I want to do. I couldn't ignore it anymore.
You see, I never wanted to animate. I thought I did when I first got into learning computer animation during first two years. But more I animated, the less I ever wanted to animate anything ever again. Going through the computer animation program made me realize how much I love level designs and game environments.
After I came back from Switzerland I started and finished a playable map in only 3 weeks. For me this was huge revelation.
I began to take a closer look at what exactly I would need to do in order to plan out the process workflow for my environments. Next big breakthrough was 11-day level design where I started and finished a map in 11 days.
Level design and game environment creation comes down to just 4 things.
I believe that a proper plan; a strategy for a game environment or a level design is the foundation of a completed project. It is the blueprint that everything else can be built on. It is like a house foundation, if it's faulty eventually it will crumble. Game environment that is planned out has a better chance of seeing the light of day then a vague idea where you jump into the editor without figuring out all the details about the environment.
A lot of questions need to be answered before you begin creating any game environment or level design.
There are many more questions and figuring all these out has to be done before opening up the editor. No matter how large or small the idea is, always spend time in planning.
Slowly I began to develop a planning workflow. It gave me a sense of purpose and a clear goal to aim for when I would begin creating game environments.
It has taken me couple of years to put it in a step-by-step process, and it took me even longer to figure it all out.
The planning workflow system is called "Preproduction Blueprint".
"Preproduction Blueprint" is something you can comeback to over and over again. It is a system that will set a foundation for your future progress as a level designer or/and game environment artist.
"Preproduction Blueprint" is a complete system for planning your game environments and level designs.
Preproduction Blueprint contains 11 steps/chapters and you will learn.
Watch this video for in-depth breakdown of the book and its 11-step process.
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Original version of Preproduction Blueprint was PDF e-book and included a set of videos. This has been now updated to paperback or Kindle versions only and does not include videos.
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There is no difference between the PDF, paperback or kindle versions of the book. Content between all of them is the same.
PDF can be read your computer, phone, tablet or Kindle. Kindle version can be read digitally on your Kindle device. Paperback will be shipped to you as a physical copy.
Althought I recommend the PDF version as you purchase it directly from World of Level Design.
Preproduction Blueprint deals with the planning and pre-production stages of a project. There is no software that is required in order to follow this product.
No. Preproduction Blueprint can be applied to any game environment art or level design project.
It does not cover anything about Unreal Engine 4 Blueprint scripting system.
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