Say that you are building some 3rd person game environments, something like this:
Which would be composed from a modular kit like this:
Say you pain stainkingly snap together these many walls, roofs, doors, etc to create a few buildings. Then later you want to pick up all those buildings, move them 10 meters left, or swap one out for another style... it is possible, you can group static meshes together, but it's really messy in the unreal outliner, and if you want to make edits to the buildings themselves, it really seems a lot easier to do that sort of thing in a 3d program.
So to me it seems that level blockout and replacing the blockout with actual art assets is a lot easier to do in 3d program just because you get much better organizational tools + better selection and editing tools. But the trade-off is that you don't get as immediate feedback about how it actually looks in game. It can be pretty fast, not a big deal to just export, wait half a second, import to game engine... but it's not ideal compared to working right in the game engine.
I also don't find any examples of enviro artist doing their work in 3d program like I am saying, so I am curious to hear anybodies thoughts / experiences? Are there good reasons to just put up with the game engines quirks and do blockout and level design in there? Any tricks to help prevent feeling "locked in" to your level design simply because iterating on it is a PITA?
eg. When I'm blocking out I'll build a whole house or floor of a building in max and just dump the fbx to unreal to run around it - editing brushes is far too slow and clunky for me. I woudn't want to do a whole level like that though as it means going back to the DCC and changing the model to leave a bigger gap between two houses
One tool it's definitely worth building is one that will dump instanced/referenced object transforms in max/maya to csv and load them into an actor as ISM/HISMs that reference existing static meshes in your unreal project.
I've found that really useful for more intricate compositions of modular pieces eg.buildings
The tool is all doable in blueprints and fairly simple python for the maya half (you're just dumping transforms for selected objects to a text file)
the only tricky bit is deciding how to connect a maya object name to a static mesh in your project (simplest is to use string comparisions).
ISM meshes are sent to the GPU once (per lod level) and instanced there - this means 10 of them uses 1 'draw call'. normal static meshes are instanced in memory but not on the GPU (so 10 of them is 10 draw calls).
HISMS are magic - same sort of idea but they can lod independently and still manage to instance on the GPU
after 4.26 you can enable automatic instancing and it'll treat static mesh actors like instanced static meshes so you don't need to worry about handling instancing between individual props
It's still worth doing the ISM thing for actors where you want to use lots of instances of modules because it guarantees they'll instance - the auto instancing isn't necessarily predictable
I guess that came from the datasmith stuff.
problem solved then
You can also parent objects to each other if you want. Just like in maya.
Even destroyed buildings can be modular. Here's some examples from art station:
The reason I came up with tools for turning modular compositions (ie buildings) into single actors are :
1 : you can store hundreds of instances in a single actor and not clutter the outliner
2 : it's a lot less runtime overhead than having hundreds of separate actors in the scene
3 : you can duplicate a whole building easily and update all the duplicates at once by editing the source actor.
throw a load of those onto a landscape, rearrange them as you please and its a pretty flexible way to work.
In theory, level instancing in world partition is a better way to do the above - however, since world partition doesn't work properly yet I'd avoid it like the plague for at least the next 6 months .
But Modules should be the size that suits the gameplay space you want. So if you're making a lot of repeated buildings it's ok to have a module that's the size of a building. If you want lots of unique buildings then you need smaller modules.
And this is especially true if you want to work in a team with a level designer. If you don't expect the designer to change the shape of the buildings then they can be one actor. But if your level is supposed to have unique building shapes that are tuned for gameplay reasons then you need to allow for someone, who probably doesn't know maya, to edit the buildings somehow.