After a bit of a hiatus and allowing myself to relax from graduation from university, I've decided to come back into the creation of an environment in the Unreal Engine. This blog post will be a journey from start to finish of the creation of a game environment, to not only teach new and aspiring environment artists about the process (from what I have learned from my time at university and solo work).
I begin by just looking through a bunch of gameplay on YouTube and looking through images on Pinterest and Google Images. I do this just to get my creative juices flowing, thinking about what I should do for an environment. Ultimately the idea for the Victorian Asylum came to me from strangely documentaries about them. Here's the thing about finding ideas, don't just focus on gameplay, concept art etc. Watch movies/documentaries, read books and go outside and explore, it's genuinely amazing what you can find and might spark your imagination to do an environment that you might not have thought about.
In my case, the Victorian era has been one of my favourite eras in history, mainly due to the evolution of civilisation, but it was also the time when the mentally ill started to be treated within hospitals, but not in the best of light. Mental asylums are quite disturbing places, which is why they are very common level ideas in horror games or they are presented with horror themes, mainly the paranormal and the fear of the unknown (which is why the level "Robbing the Cradle" from Thief: Deadly Shadows works so well as a horror level, that level is not for the faint of heart).
Now that I have an idea of what I wanted to do, I started to create moodboards, mainly inspired by the workflow of Tim Simpson, mainly from his submission for the ArtStation Feudal Japan challenge: https://www.artstation.com/contests/feudal-japan/challenges/51/submissions/36680
This workflow is perfect for creating items within the games industry since one of the big rules is always find inspiration and form a solid foundation to what you want to do with your project. Without them, it's ultimately going to create a directionless and spineless project, which can be a mess. I have chosen to make three moodboards: Key References, Lighting and a secret weapon for people who keep in touch with the progression of the games industry: AAA Benchmark.
This moodboard is dedicated to the key items and references that would be in a scene like this. What props would be in it? What's the condition like? What are the materials like? These are the kind of questions that this moodboard can answer pretty quickly. I have searched on Google Images and Pinterest to find these images of asylums and mental hospitals, mainly in the Victorian era if I can find some. This in result gives me a clear direction of the look and atmosphere of an asylum.
This moodboard focuses on what kind of lighting I want to aim for. It's a moodboard that can help environment artists help establish a look of the scene with the lighting, what mood are you aiming for? What lights are being used? is it natural or artificial lights etc. Poor lighting can ruin the effect of a scene, it can be too bright or too dark. Lighting has been a weakness for me since I can make scenes too bright or too dark, so I've been focusing my efforts into improving this aspect especially.
This moodboard is a secret weapon to a lot of artists, mainly due to how powerful it can be for referencing a scene they are making vs what AAA companies are doing in terms of art. It's a good way of progression (Am I making something of similar quality, can I improve this aspect, how can I achieve it etc.) It's a powerful moodboard and it's perfect for anyone who wants to make themselves stand out with AAA quality work.
Making this moodboard requires you to go through a bunch of gameplay videos and artwork done for video games. If you've found a game you want to reference, look up the game and look up the artists who've done work for the game and go through their portfolios for their work on that specific game. In my case, I was mainly inspired by the work done on The Order 1886 and Assassin's Creed: Syndicate so I looked up specific levels (Whitechapel Hospital and Bedlam Asylum) and found the people who made the artwork for them and ultimately results in a moodboard of which gives me a benchmark for me to refer to whenever I make models and textures for my environment.
Once I have gathered references and an idea of what the environment, I get to work on a blockout. When planning environments, you must make a blockout to understand the layout of the environment, the basic shapes of it and the rough idea of materials and lighting, not a lot of time should be spent on perfecting the blockout before you jump into making assets. A blockout should be a plan of what the environment's layout is going to be like, not the final product. The blockout is ultimately a stage designed for what the layout is going to be like, basic lighting, textures and how it will play.
To begin, you need some kind of scale reference to a player, so the architecture scale should be accurate and optimised for gameplay. In this case, the blockout will be designed for a third person game (like The Last of Us).
This blockout was created from the mixture of understanding asylum layouts and the inspiration from The Order 1886 and Assassin's Creed: Syndicate to create a blockout that involves hallways and a staircase. I have chosen to not indicate where I will place props due to the fact that props will be mainly focused on the alpha/beta stage of the workflow and more detailed stuff like debris and decor will be focused during the polish stage, therefore I will consider this further on during the process of creation of the environment and whenever I get to those stages, I can then plan the placement of props within the environment.
In the end, I feel that I have started the project well with the planning and improved moodboards of which allowed to gain more of a good idea of what I want to create for this environment, while ensuring that I can reference from AAA quality video games to ensure that I am on the right track in terms of the art. In addition to this, I feel confident with the blockout working well for a third person shooter in terms of the design of the layout and I also feel confident with the more simplistic blockout to allow me to focus on the creation of the modular elements before I can focus on props and polishing the environment.