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Norwegian style winter castle environment

Hi everybody! I'm doing a school assignment right now where we have to prepare pieces of a modular environment for use in UDK (the course doesn't actually teach UDK as it's a general 3D/animation/VFX course), but since I'm very focused on game development, I'll be taking my environment one step further and actually building it in UDK as well.

I've got some experience building environments, though I am no expert on modularity. I have a lot of experience with Unity, but almost none with UDK, so this is both an opportunity for me to practice making a modular environment, but also to learn UDK! The assets for the scene are due by christmas break, though I will probably still work on it further for my portfolio after that due date.

Also, since I'm new to Polycount, my site is www.graemeborland.com if you want to know a bit more about me!

Anyway, on to what I have for this environment so far!

The idea is to do a wintery castle on a giant rock in the middle of a permanently frozen lake. The castle acts as a waypoint on a major trade route rather than a military establishment. At the bottom part of the entry ramp is a platform that acts as a kind of dock for dogsleds and caravans that are coming across the ice, and most of the buildings are either lodges for travelers to stay in or shops. These first three images are the concepts I drew to get a feel for the structure and explore some colours, they don't have all the details fleshed out.




And here's my map, just to show the layout of the walls and such, and what each building is. You can compare it quite easily to the second concept above. I did a few more zoomed in maps of each area with indications of where detail objects would go, but I won't post those since this is already going to be a pretty image-heavy post :)


These are some studies I did to get ideas flowing for what some of the detail objects could look like, as well as a concept for the castle walls.



And finally, here are some of the reference sheets I put together for this environment, first of all some photos of the type of norwegian architecture I am trying to represent:


...and also some images from existing game environments that represent the colours/mood/feel I am going for:



So, that's the direction I'm headed in right now. Next I'll be working on studying the buildings and structures in my reference to determine how I could break up the architecture into modular pieces. I'm also in the process of searching around for good beginner UDK tutorials as I beef up my knowledge on how the engine works.

Would love to hear your feedback/crits as I go along, this project is as much about learning new things for me as it is about making a cool environment.


  • -Em'-
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    -Em'- polycounter lvl 8
    Lovely concepts and drawings ! Even if they are not that accurate, they have some great atmosphere and feeling.

    'following !

    > direct to my inspiration folder :)
  • Tobbo
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    Tobbo polycounter lvl 8
    I'm following also! Looking forward to seeing this evolve!
  • 4evra
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    4evra polycounter lvl 4
    Awesome concept art.
    Only thing that looks kinda odd in there is that bench with those sides.I think only chairs had those,benches we're plain and simple.Just a thought
  • garmee
    Thanks for responding, guys!

    I spent the day working out some modular building blocks to create the houses/lodges with, as well as getting myself familiar with how to do things in UDK. There are still plenty of errors to fix and gaps to fill in this set, but I am pretty happy with this as a starting point.

    Here's my breakdown of roughly how I plan to split up the main structures:


    And here's a quick block-in I did in UDK to test how those pieces would work in practice. As you can see, there's still a lot of room for improvement, but I'm proud of it as a first attempt in UDK! :)


    Tomorrow I'll be fixing up this set to fit together better in UDK and finishing up blocking out the pieces I'm still missing. My roof pieces are a bit heavy, so I'll be revisiting those sometime soon as well.
  • whyareyoumakin1
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    whyareyoumakin1 polycounter lvl 7
    Winter is comming.
  • garmee
    Okay, update time! I've finished blocking in the main shapes of the scene in UDK, as well as a rough terrain shape. I'm pretty happy with how things are breaking up into modular pieces, now I need to do a pass through and replace all this placeholder geometry with proper lo-res models.

    Still a lot of tweaks I need to make (mostly the walls, which are still super messy), but it's nice to see the general shape of the concept come to life in 3D like this :)




    It's still in pretty early stages, but let me know what you think! Here's a couple closeups of individual buildings and totem poles I assembled using modular pieces. Again, just blockout geometry.



    Next step is refining this scene and working on lo-res models!
  • garmee
    Progress! The majority of the lo-res models are done and placed, and the scene is coming together. Most of the work that needs to be done at this stage is on the castle walls and the upper area, then I can move on to the high-res stuff. Here's a glance at how things are shaping up.



    And as 4evra mentioned, my concept art for the benches looked a little weird, so here's how the shape ended up looking.

  • Darkleopard
    Awesome progress. Really nice blockout. Cant wait for some assets!
  • CordellC
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    CordellC polycounter lvl 8
    Jesus, that looks nice. Can't wait to see textures!
  • 4evra
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    4evra polycounter lvl 4
    Amazing work.
    I'm gonna sub to the thread,its worth it :)
    Keep it up ;)
  • Mr Smo
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    Mr Smo polycounter lvl 13
    nice progress man, keep that loveliness coming.
  • amile duan
    Beautiful castle and lake.The enviroment seems a quite time-comsuming work,how much time have you spent so far?
  • garmee
    Thanks for the comments guys :)

    @amile duan - Here's a breakdown of my time spent so far:

    November 5th - 9th: Concept art, mockups, planning. Probably a total of around 10 hours or a little more.

    November 12 - 16th: Blockout, learning UDK basics, and starting to model. Maybe spent about 45-50 hours that week, though a lot of that was checking out UDK tutorials and the like.

    Yesterday and today combined I've put in maybe another 18-20 hours or so. My schedule for the last week and a bit is to be at school from 8am to 8/9pm, and the vast majority of my time there is spent on this project.

    So, roughly 75-80 hours so far? A little longer than I'd like to get to this point, but I am still a UDK noob, I'm sure my next one will be faster :)
  • garmee
    Worked on the castle walls today, here's a look at how they turned out. I will probably revisit their textures in the future to add more detail, but first I need to go through all the rest of the props and get them to at least this level of completion.

    The wall segment runs 826 triangles and the tower/corner piece is 254. Each is using a 1024px texture.



    For the textures, I used some stuff from CGtextures as a base, but painted over it quite a bit. I'm not going for a totally realistic style, I want things to be a little stylized, kind of in the vein of Guild Wars 2 (a huge inspiration to me). Had a lot of fun learning how to make zBrush, Xnormal and Photoshop all work together. More to come! Let me know what you think.
  • garmee
    Here's some shots from the last couple of days, mostly more work on getting some basic textures in place.



  • m4dcow
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    m4dcow interpolator
    Good progress, however I can't help but think you are going too dark with values on your textures. For instance the spaces between the rocks on the rock wall, and spaces between shingles is very dark. So I would say at the very least ease up on the opacity of the AO pass.
  • garmee
    My main progress in the last little while has been rocks, terrain, and distant objects. Here's a look at how things stand now.


    Here's a view of the central area without fog so you're actually able to see it. I'm not considering the wide open area within the outer walls to be walkable by the player, it's just going to serve as a vista to look at when you're on the entry ramp.


    A view of the (walkable) lower platform, looking up.


    This is currently what you see as you leave the main castle gate at the top of the hill.


    And a closeup of the interior of the castle area.


    My instructor has suggested that I spend some time working on the micro level now that I have all these large objects placed, and fill out more of the walkable area with human-scale props. That and texturing the few remaining untextured objects will be my next task. Let me know what you think!
  • garmee
    More progress shots! A lot has changed since my last post, so let me know what you think. This is all still very WIP, but its getting closer to the kind of atmosphere I want for the final product. Lots of tweaks and detail props still to go, but at this rate I'll be able to finish by my deadline of the 14th.






    Crits and comments welcome!
  • achillesian
    m4dcow wrote: »
    Good progress, however I can't help but think you are going too dark with values on your textures. For instance the spaces between the rocks on the rock wall, and spaces between shingles is very dark. So I would say at the very least ease up on the opacity of the AO pass.

    seconding this, let the normal maps work
  • Clark Coots
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    Clark Coots polycounter lvl 9
    looking very nice, you've accomplished a lot, its turning out well. I like the modularity of the buildings, its very smart
  • Orangeknight
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    Orangeknight polycounter lvl 5
    Hey this has had alot of progress and is looking much better. I have one major problem with this enviroment and that is that your not keeping your textures consistent. In some of your textures it looks like you hand-painted your textures (like the stone floor) while some of them look realistic. This causes alot of confilct in the overall scene and I just tell what look you are going for. I hope this helps and you understand what I'm saying.

    Here is a example of what I'm talking about in your work
  • garmee
    Here's the result of some texture tweaking to lighten up the cracks/dark areas as you guys suggested. I think it looks much better now that the effects of the normal map are easier to see!


    @Orangeknight - Thanks for the crit, though I'm honestly not really able to see the contrast between hand-painted and realistic that you're referring to. Here's a comparison of texture flats for the castle wall and the tiling stone floor you mentioned. Could you suggest anything specific that would help harmonize the two? Maybe with an example I'll be able to see it.

  • MainManiac
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    MainManiac polycounter lvl 8
    Oh my god!

    Would this map happen to be for chivalry MW ?????
  • garmee
    frell wrote: »
    Oh my god!

    Would this map happen to be for chivalry MW ?????

    Nope, just a college project :)
  • joeriv
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    joeriv polycounter lvl 7
    Looking cool, especially that shot from the air.

    Just 2 things that catch my eye:
    -The scale off the floor seems a bit large in the closeup.

    -The wear on the side of the individual stones looks to "painted", like you took a small brush and just quickly made some fast strokes on the edges and I feel like it drags the texture down a bit in the closeup shots.
  • Endfinity Jon
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    Endfinity Jon polycounter lvl 8
    This has really inspiring atmosphere and scale! Really makes me want to try something with a similar theme in the future. Your overall composition is strong, as is your scale and layering. Love the 3/4 top down shot, really grand!

    A couple suggestions, but take what you will as time is of the essence. Your ground texture leaves a little something to be desired. I'd mess with the spec map a little to see if you can get glints of pop because it's a little flat for my taste at the moment. Speaking of the ground, some vertex painting/texture blending would really help break up the monotony. I'd create a snowy cobble variant that you can mix in near the snow meshes to make the transitions smoother as well as maybe around bases of buildings and in other scattered areas. Your textures have similar hues and values, so in the future, I'd try to bring a bit more variation as well as experimenting with ways to push your specular materials to create some further separation. Also, I'd watch your edge work on your textures, it's a bit heavy.

    Thirdly, only a suggestion, you could really dial up the storm and pull in some more lighting contrast. I'd pull the fog a bit closer and pull back the intensity of the directional light so the scene gets a touch darker and moodier, this will give you an opportunity to push the warm oranges in your windows/fires/practical light sources. That visual contrast will really sell the cold and draw people's eyes across your image more.

    Either way, great work, really looking forward to seeing
  • garmee
    Thanks for the suggestions, guys. Here are two new floor textures I made with your crits in mind. I've shown them to a few people and the consensus seems to be the the bottom one looks much better, and I think I agree. But what do you think?


    @Endfinity Jon - I am using BSPs for those big flat floor areas. I agree with your idea about a snowy texture variant to blend, but I'm unsure how I should set that up, since I can't use vertex painting on a BSP. I could just layer it onto the material using a mask of some sort, but that of course would make it very difficult to line up the snowy mask with my snow drifts and buildings that were placed in UDK. Any ideas on how I can get around this?
  • Shoy333
    Really epic work on this project dude your scene looks incredible and is really inspiring! For the floor textures I'd have to say i like the first one best as the circular design of the walking stones id nice and refreshing when compared with alot of the square stone design you have going on in the rest of the scene. Keep up the good work dude this scene rocks :poly142:
  • Iciban
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    Iciban polycounter lvl 8
    i like the 1st one, where everything is more random and complex. Has a lot more shape to it.
  • fragfest2012
    The bottom of those two new textures is FAR better. Overall, this looks absolutely FANTASTIC, and I cannot wait to see more progress!!
  • garmee
    Thanks for your input, guys. After asking a few more people for their thoughts I decided to go with the square stones and made a snowy variation of them for blending.

    I resolved my BSP problem by exporting my ground from UDK and bringing it into Maya, adding topology, then re-importing it into UDK as a static mesh. I then made a material to blend between cobblestones, snowy cobblestones, and pure snow based on vertex colours. The material also gives some specularity to the "snowy cobblestones" areas, to give a sort of glare ice effect. I'm really happy with the effect, especially in my top-down shot. This solution worked fine in my case, but I am still curious if there is a way to achieve a similar effect using BSPs...

    And, rather than discarding it, I'll be adapting that rounded cobblestone texture for a path texture outside the city walls.



    Tomorrow I'll be back to cranking out more props to fill in the areas lacking detail!
  • Anthy9986
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    Anthy9986 polycounter lvl 7
    You should add some bump offset to that snow to make it pop more. where the static mesh of the snow drifts hits the snow material is killing it for me. You could try making the ground a terrain instead of a giant static mesh also that would allow you to blend the various materials together also. Other than that I am not sure of a way to blend the materials using a BSP outside of decals but that probably wouldn't get your desired results.

    It looks really nice :) Can't wait to see more.
  • J0NNYquid
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    J0NNYquid polycounter lvl 5
    Agree with @Anthny, for a level with such high visual fidelity, that harsh transition b/w snow and brick is jarring. That being said, I think the shader you've got on your stone is gorgeous, and the whole environment is very well done.
  • garmee
    Thanks for the crits! I spent some time this morning ironing out those snow seams. Before, I was doing the snow drifts by poking up the terrain through the floor's mesh, but now I've modeled the drifts right into the floor and hidden the terrain underneath. I'm still using the same vertex painting based method, but I added another texture to the material that contributes noise/turbulence to the blending rather than using straight vertex color values. I think it's made the edges between stone and snow a lot more realistic.

    I'll work more on the normal map for the snow later if I have time to make a better one, gotta finish off some more props for now!

  • Anthy9986
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    Anthy9986 polycounter lvl 7
  • garmee
    It's done! The deadline has come and gone and I managed to put together a finished product that I am happy with, especially for my first UDK environment :)

    Check out this page for a bunch more screenshots of how it turned out. Thanks so much for all your help, the feedback from this thread really helped me push this environment. I learned a ton and am looking forward to my next environment where I can apply all this knowledge and improve further!

    Crits and comments are still very much welcome, on both the scene itself and its presentation on my site. I'm going to be moving on to other projects I have going, so I won't be going back to make more changes to this environment, but any crits will be appreciated and taken into consideration for my future projects!

  • whats_true
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    whats_true polycounter lvl 12
    The giant bolders are too smooth and blobby. They look fine in the distance, but up close you notice the simplicity and lack of detail in them.

    Your AO is punched up way to much. Im noticing this a lot more with peoples work. Tone it down. Let the lighting and environment help you out. Dont let it be your fall back for grounding objects to the world. Leaves, dirt, snow pileing up, triming, those are the things that will not only ground your objects to the world, but give the world a greater sense of believability. Its more noticable with white snow.

    The castle wall textures The crevises are way to big and dark. Even in a stylized setting, they become noticable and just add noise to the scene. Some areas they look fine, others they dont. They look good in the dark but stand out in the lighted areas.

    If your going for that top down view, man, fix the tops of those catle towers. Having those next to the highly details wood towers, they just look bad with their low resolution and all.

    You need to push the story on your mini scenes. The camp fire, armory, tent markets. You got some detail in them and then you just stop. Bring it to life. Add foot prints to the ground, meat and plates were people are eating.

    The setting for the Wall in Game of thrones is a great reference for those little storys that happen in a living world.

    Finally, your snow. It just kinda nicely fizzels out uniformaly. In a place were people live and work, your gona have a lot of mud, deep goudges, and harsh shadows created in this place. Your camp fire scene. Someone lit that right. So people must be living their right? The snow is so transparent and bland. Man, up it with a stronger normal map, or a few different snow textures to create different snow breaks.

    Their are like, 3 different textures in this photo you could use if you were to model it out. The smooth, the choppy and the beaten over choppy snow.

    Anywho, its good stuff man. Id keep pushing it further. Dont let what little knowledge you know stop you from what you could do.
  • Lucas Annunziata
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    Lucas Annunziata polycounter lvl 10
    Ah man! Looking really great. I think the you could push the warmth of the light a bit more to pop the contrast a tad more. I'll be saving this in my "medieval inspiration" folder. I'm excited to see what you're next project will be.
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