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[UDK] Desert Palace - Prince of Persia inspired environment

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teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
Hey guys, I'm back with another project so prepare your keyboards because for the next few weeks I'm going to need some serious crits

Anyway, as an assignment for my modelling class we are required to create a a short animation between 60-180 seconds. Since me and animation are not very fond of each other, I have managed to convince my teacher to let me do an environment and make a short fly-by video of it instead.

To give you a rough idea of the style I'm aiming for, here's a nice collection of concept art from PoP 2008 which I'm using as my main source of inspiration (in all honesty I'm shamelessly ripping off the ideas :poly142:)

Here's a rough block-out of the environment.


Rather than make my terrain in UDK I have decided to use a static mesh. I have exported my blockout into zbrush and used the unified skin (kudos to CheeseOnToast for giving me the idea) to merge it all together. After all sculpting is done, I will most likely use Decimation Master to bring it down to a managable level and bake out normal, color and cavity maps for my terrain shader. I'm not sure if this approach will work the way I'm expecting it to, but so far it's been going smoothly.

Here's my failed attempt at using UDK's terrain tools. While I'm fairly happy with the texturing, the results were far too "blobby" for my taste. I'm hoping that the new approach will allow me to have nice, crisp edges and sharp slopes.


One thing I should mention is that I will be working on this piece in two stages. Firstly, I will focus mostly on meeting the requirements of the assignment. I have only 6 weeks to make something fairly decent so I will most likely take a few shortcuts here and there. However, I'm planning to work on it further after my work is handed in; I'm really hoping to give it a rather painterly look and to try out some fancy shader magic later on.

I realize there isn't much to crit on yet but any feedback and tips would be helpful :)


  • Artifice
    Looks neat! I've really enjoyed your last threads, so this is one I'll be following for sure. As you say, it's a bit early for crits, but I'd be interested in hearing your ideas for color palette and lighting. Desert scenes often come off as bland and monochromatic, with harsh lighting. It'd be nice to see something that breaks the mold there.

    So, yeah. Thread subscribed. Now show us the good stuff. :)
  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Cheers mate :) In terms of colour scheme I'm thinking of going for something like this. I planning to add some foliage here and there to break up the monotone look. Also, in order to make the palace stick out a little bit more I'm planning to use some purples and blues.
  • EMC3D
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    EMC3D polycounter lvl 7
    Weird I was playing this last night and thought " This would make an awesome environment ".
  • Jesse Moody
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    Jesse Moody polycounter lvl 15
    That bottom pic looks pretty nice. Adding some material variants on the ground and making the rocks and stuff out of actual statics would help.

    Using statics + terrain you could then use the mesh paint tool inside of UDK and blend the static meshes into the terrain a lot easier and that would be a HUGE help for everything.

    At least that is the way I would attack things. :)
  • fearian
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    fearian Polycount Sponsor
    Ah, I'll definitely be following this one! Love your stuff Tea, and I really love the art from PoP '08! I've sunk crazy hours into that stunningly average game just to enjoy the environments!

    I predict... windmills! :) They where everywhere in PoP! and it should give you some nice background movement for the flyby animation.
  • Tyler
    Might be worth messing around with the desert generations in GeoControl 2. Not using it in your final scene (the generated heightmap) but looking at how the dunes and rocks form in that sort of environment. with G16ed you can even import the heightmaps into UDK and apply your textures :)
  • haiddasalami
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    haiddasalami polycounter lvl 11
    Got a subscriber :) I was actually thinking of making one of those concept pieces during the summer mainly to mess around with toon shaders and what not. Gonna follow this :)
  • Razgriz
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    Razgriz keyframe
    You know, I'm actually really impressed by the way that desert has started out looking - very nice so far. If I had an initial critique/suggestion, it would be that I think your sense of scale is confusing. Following the sand texture to the left, it looks like I could run over and jump close to the top of the rocks, but then looking straight ahead at the rock silhouettes, their shape makes me think that they should be massive mountains that are miles in the distance. Depending on whether you are trying to achieve the former or the latter, you might want to clarify this with some rock/mountain references.
  • nfrrtycmplx

    Unreal terrain is a general pain in the ass to get something to look good in... in my experience... so you've done a good to great job on this so far.

    excited to see what you do with your alternative setup

  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Thanks for the replies guys :)

    Here's some early progress from my sculpting adventure:


    There a lot of work in front of me; some parts are still looking a bit blobby and other are not even touched yet. But regardless, I'm fairly happy with the way it's progressing so far.

    MrBear: Haha, let's hope I will be able to replicate some of it's style.

    Jesse Moody: Cheers! I've been planning to use the method you described, however I found that to get decent sharpenss I had to subdivide my terrain up to 1.7m tris and even then I wasn't able to get the level of detail I wanted. For now, I will most likely stick with using a static mesh as my terrain and then add smaller rocks and cliffs to break up the repetition.

    Either way, I'm still experimenting with different approaches. I'm trying to avoid any overhangs in my terrain so I can create a displacement map out if it if neccessary.

    Hboybowen: In all honesty, I have no idea :p I haven't considered that at all since it was never meant to be playable. I don't think that collision would be an issue here; if this was playable, only a small part of the terrain (mainly desert) would require a colision mesh so I'm guessing that you could either do retopo or model it by hand.

    fearian: It's a strange game; it has all things I hate about current gen games, QTE combat, handholding, terrbily low difficulty and repetitive missions. Yet, at the same time it has some incredible mechanics that really seperate it from other games of its kind. Plus, it has some of the best platforming ever; many people complain about the "magnetism" but personally I love it. It certainly works better than having to save the game every time you want to perform a jump. I really hope they will make a sequel; if they fix all the issues from the first one and make it more challenging I would probably grab ten copies :poly142:

    But I think the main reason why I like it some much is because it really reminds me of ICO; both in terms of gameplay and art direction.

    And yeah, windmills would be great :thumbup:

    Tyler: Yeah, I've been thinking of using GeoControl/World Machine at some point. I'm hoping to add some erosion/weathering to the final sculpt since I'm lazy like that :p

    haiddasalami: Cheers! I completely suck at shader and math oogabooga so it will be a good challenge :poly142:

    Razgriz: Yeah, the scale is really off at the moment but that was merely a simple test. Once I my terrain done and get some props and buildings in there it should look a lot better :)

    nfrrtycmplx: Cheers man!
  • IchII3D
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    IchII3D polycounter lvl 12
    I'm not sure what you have planned, but the scene looks interesting and judging from your early block out it looks like you know what your doing.

    The only crit I could really make right now is more curiosity about what you might use to break up the skyline? Also, because everything is so far away you might want to push your skydome drama to help sell some form of ambient storytelling.

    - A coming storm
    - Loanly remains
    - Raining meteors
    - The coming gods

    Ye, now I'm rambling. Looking forward to seeing more from this one :P
  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Ichii: Thanks mate!

    In all honesty, I don't really have a plan. There's not much time left for me to finish this so I'm making up shit as I go along :poly136: We'll see what comes out of that, ha!

    While I haven't decided on the final composition yet, I do like the idea of putting something in the background; I've been thinking of putting some lowpoly mountains with ruined towers built on their tops. Or you know, this guy:

  • Shogun3d
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    Shogun3d polycounter lvl 12

    Looking good I really like the blockout/zbrush approach to the terrain, I think you'll have much better control that way but you will also lose the advantages of terrain vertex paint/foliage etc. I think it's worth the extra work and you get to be more precise. Good luck, looking forward to it!
  • mrturtlepaste
    Or you know, this guy:


    Hahahaha, yeeaaap. You should definitely go with the guy. But in all seriousness, can't wait to see where you take this!
  • Dragan
    hey man, really liking the sculpting aprouch you have going, but what are you thinking for colours for your lighting? also, just out of curiousity, what renderer are you going to be using for the final renders?
  • Andrew Mackie
    Nice block out, I really like the composition of everything.
    Can't wait to see some assets for this environment.
  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Thanks for the replies guys, here's a quick test of the terrain in UDK. I'm going off to bed now so I will try to write a little bit about my workflow tomorrow. Erosion pass was done in World Machine, but afterwards the terrain was brought back into zbrush for some more sculpting.

    Now that I think of it, I should take a step back and add some canyons; the middle is too plain and boring now. If I get some canyon down I could add some water in there and spice up the things a little bit. Another note to self: the scale is still a tad off.


    Dragan: I'm using UDK. About the colors; I haven't decided yet but I think of going for pastel colours; mostly light yellow, reddish-orange and yellowish green.

    Kaburan, Andrew: Thanks :)
  • nfrrtycmplx
    I like that it's empty in the middle...

    if you plan on detailing out the buildings area, it could be a nice contrast...

    just a thought
  • tristamus
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    tristamus polycounter lvl 9
    I like that it's empty in the middle...

    if you plan on detailing out the buildings area, it could be a nice contrast...

    just a thought

    lol, way to be a smartass ;P

    I'm sure he has that in mind....you do, right teaandcigarettes?
  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Alright, I apologise for not updating this thread in a while. I was quite busy with my assignments and this project didn't exactly go as planned. I have decided to cut out the palace due to time constraints. Here's the final video I had submitted today (looks better in 720p):


    Although I'm quite happy with it, many corners were cut and it is a bit shoddy on the technical side. I'm planning to work on it further once I get back home and replace most of the models. I will also go along with the original plan and add some ancient structures.
  • Seaseme
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    Seaseme polycounter lvl 8
    I've got to hand it to you - This is amazing!

    I love the rocks, and the balance in the entire scene. The way it ends on the water is really nice as well.

  • percydaman
    Well that turned out nice nonetheless. As windy as it was, would liked to have seen more blowing sand going on. Would have given it more atmosphere.
  • Sean VanGorder
    Beautiful work man.

    I'm working on a scene at the moment, and I'm having a hard time keeping the dominant light and lens flare from being way too bright, have any suggestions for that? For now I'm just using the default lens flare from the foliage demo.
  • Cooljay
    Very beautiful. I enjoy the texture for this map, and the the sand animations.
  • JasonLavoie
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    JasonLavoie polycounter lvl 12
    Man... awesome awesome awesome!

    Gotta say I hate seeing stuff like this because you guys keep jumping leaps and bounds with your skills, I feel like I've falling back so badly :( Need to kick my ass into gear man!

    None the less, crazzyyy inspirational, welllll done!
  • synergy11
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    synergy11 polycounter lvl 6
    Amazing work. I gotta say I like tea and cigarettes as well. Not much of a coffee drinker.

    Will you post some close ups and texture sheets etc for us to look over?

    How did you workflow change from the original block in full environment to sculpt?

    It looks like you decided to go a different route using a tighter path with many larger rock clusters to frame in your level?

  • easterislandnick
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    easterislandnick polycounter lvl 14
    Its looks lovely, a really nice colour palette! How are the plants animated?
  • Kawe
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    Kawe polycounter lvl 8
    Its looks lovely, a really nice colour palette! How are the plants animated?

    Prolly done in the vertex shader together with vertex painted plants.
  • Timeyy
    amazing lighting, it looks so warm and clean without being unnatural
  • Makkon
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    Makkon interpolator
    Can I see your rock shaders? They look fantastic.
  • ParoXum
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    ParoXum polycounter lvl 9
    Looking ace, some places are left a bit empty compared to the first 'rooms' but overall I really like the style you've got here.
  • Mark Dygert
    That came out great and it looks like you learned a lot and will be walking into the next project with a lot more confidence, so that's a huge win, nice work.
  • OtrickP
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    OtrickP polycounter lvl 9
    Beautiful!!?! That was great, may we see some of the wires/textures ect? i'd love to see a god view of the whole scene with wires
  • MeintevdS
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    MeintevdS keyframe
    Holy crap, that looks awesome. I'd love to run around in a scene like that.

    The only thing that caught my eye as being "off" would be the water. I think water at that angle pretty much works as a perfect mirror and should thus show the ground/foliage/rocks in their own color and not turquoise/blue color the water reflection has now. Also the water feels a bit milky now, not transparent?

    Other than that this scene is just freaking amazing, and I'm looking forward to the improved version you are speaking off o.o

    Oh and a question, how many rocks did you create for this scene? and would you mind posting a few of them as separate objects?

    Keep up the awesome work!
  • Anuxinamoon
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    Anuxinamoon polycounter lvl 11
    This is really beautiful! I bet you learned lots!
  • adam
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    adam polycounter lvl 16
    Great work man! Shows how far a few assets can go when creating environments.

    Mind breaking things down for everyone? The rocks + their materials, how you did the grass, and so on?
  • SnakeDoctor
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    SnakeDoctor keyframe
    Adam beat me to it.
  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Thanks for all the comments guys :D I'm happy to see so many positive replies, considering that it's not entirely finished yet ;)

    Seaseme: Thanks mate!

    percydaman: Thanks. I was planning to work on the sand material and add some panning to it, to fake the wind movement. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to finish it on time. I will work on it more in the coming weeks.

    SeanEG: I believe it's affected by a combination of many factors. Try to adjust your Bloom settings (via world postprocessing, or postprocessing chain) and lower the Bloom Scale in the Light Shafts section of your directional light. Adjusting the position of Lens Flare Source actor might also affect how pronounced its effect is.

    Cooljay: Thanks!

    Jason: Hehe, you're making me blush Jason ;)

    synergy: I will try to post some sheets later on. Atm, the scene relies heavily on quick, tiling textures. I'm planning to sculpt some nicer ones later on, instead on relaying so much on photos.

    In regard to my workflow: I have decided to bake a height map out of that rough sculpt I posted at the beggining of this thread. Then, I brought it into World Machine and added a bunch of Erosion, Terracing and Snow passes to get a more natural feel going on. I feel that doing so gives you much more control over the final result. It also gives you tons of masks you can use to quickly blend between your textures.

    I have decided to limit the view due to time constraints. I'm sure it would take me much longer if I tried to detail the whole landscape.

    easterislandnick, Kawe: Kawe is right; it all boils down to a Sine plugged into World Position Offset node and masked by the vertex colour (to prevent roots from moving). Doesn't look as good as in Epic's foliage map but it does its job.

    Timeyy: Thanks mate!

    Makkon: I have posted my material network at the end of this post. Sorry for the bad stitching job and enormous size.

    ParoXum: You're completely right; I feel that I could have added some decals towards the end to spice it up a bit. Anyways, now that I'm on holidays I can pimp it out a lot more :)

    Mark: You're right. I might have changed my original concept but at the same time I have learned a lot of time-saving tricks. Having to balance this and a few other big assignments was also a solid kick in the butt. I'm generally slow when it comes to creating environments, so I'm happy that I had a tight deadline.

    Thanks for featuring it in the news section Mark!

    OtrickP: Thanks! I will try to post some wireshots later on.

    MeintevdS: I agree about the water. It looked much better originally, but unfortunately I was getting a strange error when I enabled fog in my SceneCaptureReflectActor. The water would flash when I moved the camera around so I had to rework it a bit. I'm not too good with complex material work, but I will try to come up with something better.

    I have made 11 different rocks and moved them around; I have managed to break up repetition by wrting a shader that blends between the moss, sand and rock texture depending on the slope of the surface normal. I posted some highpoly rocks and my material at the end of this post

    Anuxinamoon: Thanks mate :) The most valuable thing I've learned is that cigarettes comes in handy when you're doing long lighting bakes.

    Hboybowen: In the end I used the Landscape tool. It turned out to be incredibly powerful after I had figured it all out.

    Adam, Snakedoctor: Thanks a lot! I have posted some breakdown shots at the end of this post. I will add some more later on; I'm going back home to Poland for the summer so I'm a bit busy with packing up my stuff. I will try to post some more info before I leave.

    Here are some highpoly shots of my rocks:


    Rock material:



  • nicocabbalero
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    nicocabbalero polycounter lvl 13
    that landscape is amazing. did you use an external package to make the height map? its all very impressive.
  • teaandcigarettes
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    teaandcigarettes polycounter lvl 10
    Thanks. The rough shape was first blocked out in Max, then sculpted in Zbrush and then brought into World Machine; from there I exported the height map and masks for my diffuse layers.
  • Minos
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    Minos polycounter lvl 13
  • jocose
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    jocose polycounter lvl 11
  • jeal
  • Shaffer
    Thanks for that huge reply, subscribed and will be giving that terrain work flow a try this week.
  • MeintevdS
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    MeintevdS keyframe
    Yes thanks for the reply. Those rocks look sexy. And that shader looks complex D: so many nodes...
  • AlanSMitchell
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    AlanSMitchell polycounter lvl 11
    Amazing Work! Also your website is filled with amazing
  • tharle
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    tharle polycounter lvl 9
    looking really nice - couple of minor crits though - firstly the transition from grass to sand is pretty harsh - i'd expect a couple of small tufts of grass to be able to survive in the sand. also maybe a couple of small rocks or something to break up the texture would be cool.

    secondly some of the grass is interpenetrating with the rocks - especially around the 50 second mark. maybe just reduce the wind effect here so it's not enterign the rock.

    lastly the plants in the tunnel seem to have some sort of self illumination on - presumably that to fake light penetration but there's no light in the tunnel so they look sort of glowy.

    really amazing work though
  • ParoXum
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    ParoXum polycounter lvl 9
    Really cool workflow for the terrain, I completely forgot about world machine, could be useful to me on other projects as well.

    Hope you get the job you deserve.
  • IchII3D
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    IchII3D polycounter lvl 12
    Nice work, the quality of individual assets is very nice. personally I felt it lacked a bit of atmosphere, as Percy said the sand would have been great. The whole thing from start to finish felt fairly consistent, it didn't arch in color or content. It would have been interesting to try have clusters of foliage instead of a steady stream of small bushes and trees, also the bushes in the cave are a bit weird as their wouldn't be much light for them to grow. Which make it feel a bit out of context.

    Generally speaking though its a nice bit of work and I only mention such critical things because I feel it might spark a few ideas or help you develop it further once you get home and have more time to add/finish it.
  • PogoP
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    PogoP polycounter lvl 10
    Out of interest, what did you use World Machine for? Never used it before, and I don't know exactly why you used it. I know it can be used for randomly generating terrain, but you just said you made it in 3ds max/zbrush. Was it for texturing perhaps?
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