Epic Games Art Director Chris Perna took some time to explain how the level “Outpost 23″ came to life. Chris takes a look at the early level and concept art and the process taken throughout the level’s creation. It’s amazing to see the amount of work that goes into creating a level from scratch and we truly appreciate all of the work and content that is coming from the Unreal Tournament Community.
by Chris Perna
We showed these on the live Twitch stream a few weeks ago and there have been some requests to post the images. Here they are with a bit of explanation.
First, we started with the gameplay shell, DM_Circuit. At the time, it was the most “complete” level and we wanted to really dig in and nail down a visual direction for the level set and the project in general. It wasn’t a very large level and seemed pretty straight forward so that’s what we decided to start with.
Before we began, there were a few questions that we wanted to really nail down.
What would we be able to get away with graphically that ran at 120Hz on a high end system and would still look and run well on mid to lower end systems?
What did we need as far as a visual bar to give Unreal Tournament a fresh, modern look and feel?
How were we going to design a modular set of assets so that modders and level designers could mix and match its pieces, alter them and ultimately use them to create their own masterpieces?
The first thing we did was define the set we wanted to flesh out. There are essentially three major environment sets in Unreal Tournament:
From these 3 sets we figured that people could mix and match and create many multiple spin-offs.
We decided that the first set was going to be Sci-Fi.
Here are some shots of the simple gameplay shell we started with called DM_Circuit.
This is the “Landing Area” and overlooks the entrance to the facility.
This is what we called “The Boiler Room”
This area is called “The Maintenance Bay”
This is “The Drill Room”
This is “The Atrium”
We studied these areas of the map and talked about how they might be altered to improve lighting and visual fidelity. Then we pulled a bunch of reference from different places and talked about what worked and what didn’t.
Once we had a vague idea of a direction, I was assisted by the uber-talented James Paick and his Scribble Pad Studios do a few rough passes of look-dev.
We started off with some thumbnails looking at shape language, tone and composition.
After the initial round we changed direction a bit and started to explore lighter tones.
I like to get multiple artists takes on things, so I looked to one of our internal concept guys from another project, Zak Foreman, who is very talented. I had him take a shot and he did this paint over of the Atrium area.
And finally Shane Pierce who is another amazing concept artist working here at Epic gave us his take. Outer deck, landing area looking out from the facility. This was an early direction, we wanted to look out and see lots of mining activity and equipment but alas… tradeoffs…
The Drill Room, James Kincaid wound up modeling a version of this drill for the final version of the map.
A version of the “Blast Door” open and looking out into the Atrium area.
In conjunction with the concept work I started to put together a “working concept” of the level in the editor using simple parts and items like pipes and wall panels to make more complex structures.
Later I would use these to guide Josh Marlow in the mesh work he was modeling and also to make a “vertical slice” of an area of the level.
Here I start laying in meshes trying to obtain some of the feel from the concept art.
After fleshing this area out we realized that the circular opening was not going to work with gameplay so we used something more in line with the original BSP shaped opening.
Once we finished vis-prototyping we had our direction and Josh Marlow and Rick Kohler got to work creating each individual asset. The first mesh that was completed and imported in the level was the “blast door” frames.
The idea behind these openings was that they could be used to shut off the interiors of the base during planetary surface storms and alien weather anomalies. The blast doors were energy based and could activate and deactivate when needed.
As the mesh work continued to come on line Rick Kohler would start to place and light specific areas.
One of the things we were trying to avoid is “sameness” throughout the map. With things being whitewashed, we wanted to give specific areas more of a unique feel.
We really tried to name each area and then fill it with things that might really inhabit an area like that. The challenge was that this is still a precision shooting game and we couldn’t go nuts with props.
In the end we chose a minimal approach to support gameplay. We tried to get away with the least amount of clutter to support the look of a certain area. Some areas were more successful than others.
All of these next images are pretty early on.
This first area is “The Boiler Room”
We imagined it was a place where the facility processes its ore or whatever it mines. This area went through multiple iterations.
First Pass boiler room, we opened up the roof to let some light from the sky bounce around:
Third Pass: Trying out a change-up in materials, adding some color and tweaking the material a bit.
Closing in the ceiling and tweaking the lighting for a more dramatic effect, ultimately too dark.
“The Drill Room”:
This was meant as an elevated drilling platform and so we started to experiment early on with a regular drill bit. Ultimately we wanted something a bit more high tech.
As we moved on to a second pass we started to add more color and tried a plasma torch type drill.
“The Maintanence Bay”: This area is where the facility repairs and refuels its vehicles and equipment.
Trying to lay in more color variation, refueling hoses and signage.
The area is open so that aircraft can dock and refuel and drones can fly in with equipment that needs repairing.
“The Landing Platform”: This was the entrance to the facility where miners and workers were dropped off. There are large communication towers on the deck with a more desolate sci-fi backdrop.
At this point we were going for a more drab, sci-fi moon-base look. The colors are more subdued and desaturated, it’s a deserted mars type planet surface, with overcast lighting.
I think in the end we wanted to add a bit more color and life to the level so we steered away from this.
“The Atrium”. This is where we started to have some fun. The mesh work and the materials and lighting were all starting to gel and the look was getting more and more cohesive. Here we were experimenting with dirt and grime as well as roughness and roughness variation.
“Maintenance Lift” area: Laying in some color.
Early drill room area:
“Fan Area”: We had dynamic lit sparks but had to lose them to increase performance.
Lighting and mesh experimentation: These are areas that had early lighting and mesh passes not optimized for gameplay most are too dark at first but look good to artists. Tradeoffs are then made to optimize for gameplay.
The rest of these are beauty shots made by Rick and Josh. They are using extreme look up tables and post process to create darker, more filmic/artistic looks. This should touch the surface as to the many different looks you can get simply by playing around with post process, lighting and screen effects. You may also tweak the materials and that offers another whole world of possibilities as you can add color, roughness, metalness…etc. and completely change how things look.
Just as a comparison, the final level looks like this: