Part of our brief was to find a competition and work on it as a live brief. At worlofleveldesign.com I found an old competition that suited my skillset and gave me the chance to continue my UDK training.
The challenge was to create a visually appealing and interesting environment using UDK with the custom assets created by WarrenM.
I started by collecting reference imagery based around the pirate theme. This consisted of photography from real pirate coves, concept art and scenes from films such as Hook and The Goonies, and images from the granddaddy of pirate games The Secret of Monkey Island. The images I found were often set at twilight with foggy dark blue hues, lit only by the lights shinning from the windows of the tumbledown wooden shacks. Other common elements were rickety gangways, galleons and crows nests all of which seemed cobbled together from ill-fitting wooden planks.
Starting with the default night-time lighting in UDK, I dropped all of the assets into the scene and began 'kit bashing' them together to explore the different assets I could create from the limited selection we were supplied with.
The assets leant themselves well to objects like boats, chests and walkways all of which would fit with the theme of the challenge. Of course with the wooden plank asset almost any structure could be built, although this would mean building them plank by plank, but in doing so would give that tumbledown feel.
I was inspired by the spiral shape and texture of the rock asset, it reminded me of fossilised coral which leant itself well to a sea cave. By scaling, rotating and merging the rock asset I decided I wanted to make a secret pirate cove with branching walkways and splintered shipwrecks around the entrance. The rocks I've started to clump together have begun to look like a rock monster so I could take this in a completely different direction to my initial idea, whilst remembering to stick to the theme.
I worked on a few more structures to create walls and archways, with only one rock asset it was tricky to reuse it without the repetition being obvious so I tried to make the spiral forms flow into one another to look like folds in the rock. If any of the assets were scaled too large you could easily begin to see the pixelation of the texture. I placed the rocks to rough out the initial outline of the cove to estimate the scale and height.
By duplicating, scaling, and rotating part of the arch I saved time creating the domed shape of the cove. It doesn't look great from the outside but it'll only viewable from the interior anyway. If I was building a structure like this for a game I would use a single mesh to keep the poly count as low as possible, but that was against the rules of the competition, and as we were asked to create concept pieces polygon count wasn't an issue.
I created some terrain for the floor of the cove using the landscape edit tool in UDK and then using the brush tool to create a simple slope towards the back of the cave. The interior was staring to come together, I used some of the rock structures to create stalactites and stalagmites to give the cave a more natural look. I removed some of the rocks in the side of the cove to allow some of the moonlight in and add some visual interest to the scene, I'd like to experiment with the volumetric properties of the light to strengthen the light shafts that are already there.
With the environment roughed out I started to create houses for the interior, I imagined this cove to be a colony of marooned pirates that have built all the structures from pieces of shipwrecks that have washed into the bay. I tried to make the structures as modular as I could to same time by reusing assets I'd already created to make new ones, using the grouping functions in UDK to create groups within groups really helped to speed up this process.
I made a few more buildings adding detailing such as the ships wheel to suggest that cobbled together feel. I also wanted the environment to have multiple levels so added balconies to one building that I wanted to string together with chain link gangways. Looking back on my progress I really should have added some randomness in the width of the planks, like I did with the length of those on the roof to get a more realistic feel. I haven't worked on the interior of the buildings, but I'll probably do one as proof of concept. I'd also like to have more randomness in the window shapes of the buildings, a round window would look good as if it's a salvaged porthole.
I began to place the assets around the edge of the cave as if they were built up against the wall, whist paying attention to randomising the assets by mirroring and rotating them so the repetition was less noticable. I grouped a point light with the lantern asset supplied to place in each building, this simulates the same lighting that I'd seen in the pirate images from my research.
One of the larger structures I worked on could function as a tavern or meeting hall, acting as the focal point or hero object in the scene. I created additional details, such as the crows nest and ladder by manipulating the plank asset, to enhance the theme and salvaged look to the structure. The only BSP brushes I've used in the scene were for the mast, keeping within the rules of the competition. However I had to use the plank texture provided which was noticeably pixelated when applied, it won't matter as long as I keep the asset at a distance from the camera when I take my final shots, but this would be an issue in a game level.
I placed additional environmental details such as the leaves around the gap in the cove where light would be available for plant growth. As well as adding more visual interest I hope it acts as a signpost to the viewer that there may be an environment outside the cove such as a tropical jungle.
I used the plane and textures we were given to create the sea for the environment. I placed more assets to suggest numerous shipwrecks such as the decaying ribs of a galleon, small boats shattered against rocks, and submerged masts.
I continued to work on the scene thinking about the people that may inhabit it, how they move about, and the structures they may have built. There needed to be more verticality in the environment so I created a chainlink bridge asset that I could use to link buildings of different levels. I was keen to have walkways around the stalactites, in a game this would allow for multiple pathways in the level making it more interesting, and allow the player to get different viewpoints of the environment. Placing lights at the end of some of the walkways highlights them to the player to let them know it's an area they can access.
The level was starting to come together, however due to time constraints I was unable to put the finishing touches to the environment. I underestimated the time it took to create the assets, mainly as they were built plank by plank. The scene was also becoming very dense, at this point it was taking half an hour to generate the light maps to be able to preview the lighting in the scene. As proof of concept what I had fit the themes and requirements of the brief, and the beauty shots below communicate the idea I wanted to convey, they just need some extra work with detailing and lighting.