This project was a personal exploration into environment art workflows, and how environments can communicate both a location and the passing of time.
I aimed to better understand the work involved in asset creation, optimization, implementation, and how these skills are used in combination to create game environments.
Inspirations and Goals
The goal of the project was to create a feeling of rediscovering a long buried ruin. This idea was inspired by the sense of discovery created by games such as Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3: Wildhunt, and Assassin's Creed Odyssey when entering caves or ruins.
The project drew on the aforementioned titles, cinematic references such as the Indiana Jones series, and real world examples to inform the final piece.
Tropes and Mockups
All of the references were analyzed to pull out repeated themes and tropes. The key tropes identified were a subterranean environment, singular spot lighting used to highlight an item of great value, and a scene composition which indicated the environment was part of a larger and grander complex that has become obstructed due to weathering, time, or deliberate damage.
I used these tropes to previsualize the scene in Unreal Engine 4 as a grey box. I used several camera shots of this greybox in Photoshop to photo bash mockups. These mockups allowed me to see how my scene compared against my reference title's final environments.
The grey box was used to iterate on space and scale at a higher speed, and to inform upon an asset list of both 3D assets, and textures. After some iteration in the mockup phase I had decided upon ancient Egypt as the setting for my scene.
I updated my greybox to bulky shapes which more accurately matched my location of choice's architecture.
I continued greybox iteration with the location in mind. The key areas of focus were the central sarcophagus, pillars, and stairs at the back of the scene. The large support columns seen along the edge of the room communicated that the room was part of a larger structure bearing a great weight above the room. The sarcophagus worked as a focal point for the layout and lighting whilst reinforcing the tropes of something buried away deep below ground. Finally the stairs and attached parallel walkways suggest further rooms, branching in multiple directions, within a larger complex.
Once these key points in the scene were communicating their goals effectively they were exchanged for 3D assets created in Autodesk Maya.
I returned to my references during asset creation and set dressing and focused on showing aging, wealth, and the Egpytian architectural style in the scene. During this stage of the project I taught myself how to optimize 3D meshes, create trim sheet textures, and channel pack textures. I used Maya, Substance Painter and Designer, and Adobe Photoshop to create the assets.
Once the texture and mesh files were imported into Unreal Engine 4 I expanded my blueprinting knowledge to add detailed materials to each mesh.
To further reinforce the location I printed the hieroglyphics onto the walls using decal materials. After this I reviewed the scene and it felt too clean and new. To resolve this I created a quick wins asset list which I could create using my existing textures and add to the scene to make it feel old and untouched.
Once the quick win assets were added to the scene it felt much older but it didn't feel subterranean as I'd intended. To solve this I created a particle system which poured sand in through the point light. This further highlighted the focal point within the scene too.
I moved many of the decorative assets around the scene once lighting and particles were in so that light was reflected at many different locations in the scene with different effect each time.
Although the project captured the tropes and visual style of the references, and in doing so achieved the project goals, there are still areas to expand and improve the project.
In terms of the environment itself it could be expanded upon to introduce a tunnel section which would lead into the current scene. This tunnel section would introduce the player to the subterranean nature of the scene and create an opportunity for a moment of revelation as the player enters the riches filled tomb. This juxtaposition between the barren tunnel and the room filled with riches further highlights the value of what the player has discovered and matches the level progression of the reference titles.
From a visual perspective the scene requires a pass on light mass maps, and could benefit from additional particle effects and lighting around the upper walk ways. These particle effects would be flames within wall torches and produce a dim flickering light. These lights could be used to catch player attention on the doorways to additional areas of the tomb.