The Italian Courtyard - Chapter 1
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Hello. I thought I would start with giving you a little information about myself. My name is Andrew Finch and I'm an environment artist in the games industry. I've always wanted to create tutorials that would help others to get into the games industry, so I have come up with this tutorial which concentrates on creating a portfolio piece from start to finish. A very common problem I encounter is people not completing a project because they get bored or have bitten off more than they can chew and can't find their way to the finish line. With this in mind, I have structured this tutorial in easy-to-follow chunks which are not too overwhelming.
A lot of tutorials out there concentrate on creating individual assets. This is okay because it teaches you how to produce a nice detailed asset, but I think if you are going to present it to a potential employer you need to show off your asset by putting it in a little scene. This allows you to show off multiple skills, not just modeling and texturing. The level I will create is reasonably small and basic and is hopefully easy to follow, but what it will do is prepare you to start and finish your own projects and produce a really nice portfolio piece.
At the end of this tutorial you will be able to export textures from Photoshop and 3D assets (static meshes) from 3ds Max and then import them into the UDK game engine. You will also be able to set up a level in a way that will allow you to create a standalone program of your level and be able to distribute it in your portfolio to future employers or even just to your friends. I will also cover lighting and post effects to really add polish to your environment and make it stand out and look professional. This tutorial is not an in-depth guide to UDK or 3ds Max and Photoshop, I will show you how I created this environment but basic knowledge of the applications is required.
To get your hands on UDK you can download it from here: http://www.udk.com/download. Once downloaded, you will get the game engine and a small library of assets available for you to use in your environment. The advantage of this library is that you can quickly populate your scene and add lots of detail. This will help you to figure out how many assets you really need to create a convincing scene. The disadvantage of using these assets is that it can make you lazy and discourage you from producing your own assets. When it comes to interview time you will be asked exactly what you have made in the environment and it won't look good if you're using other people's work to make yours look better.
For this tutorial I will create some assets and textures but because of the time restrictions, I will also use some assets from the library to bulk up the scene. I encourage you to create 100% of your own assets to further impress possible employers.
So let's start by taking a look at the finished scene (Fig.01). The scene is made from BSP geometry, Static meshes, particles, lighting and post effects. So what exactly are these?
BSP Geometry - This is basic geometry that is created in the UDK engine and can be textured in the same way you would texture geometry in a 3D package. This is the base that we will build on layer upon layer to get a detailed environment. This step is important because it shows us how big the level will be and it will allow us to move about in the world and get a feel for the space and make sure it looks right. The BSP geometry is easy to edit so if something is not right we can fix it quickly. If we were to create the whole level from complex static meshes it would take a lot longer to make edits. These images show the BSP geometry and then the BSP geometry with static meshes added (Fig.02a - 02b).
Static Meshes - These are assets such as building sections, objects, vegetation and sky domes, that are created in your 3D package and exported in a format that is recognized by UDK. In 3ds Max you would export meshes as ASCII Scene Export (*.ASE) format. The process is very simple and quick; it makes it very easy to get your meshes into UDK (Fig.03).
Particles - These are a great way to bring your environment to life. In this tutorial I have used a leaves particle effect to give the illusion of leaves falling from the trees (Fig.04). It adds another dimension to your level and also adds movement to an otherwise static scene. You can also add particle effects to show water or splashing effects or even birds flying in the sky. The possibilities are endless!
Lighting and Post Effects - The lighting in this scene is very simple but will give us some very interesting areas in the level. The scene is lit by strong sunlight that will produce nice shadows and dark areas, but on the other hand will give us very strongly lit areas and bounce lit areas. We will use the new lightmass technique to create the sunlight and bounce light.
Post effects are things such as motion blur, color correction and depth of field. I will show you how I used these techniques to create a polished looking final result. Fig.05a - 5b show the scene with and without post effects. As you can see, post effects add a lot to the final scene.
Open up UDK and let's make a start. In Fig.06 I have highlighted the main areas we will be working in. I'll give you a brief breakdown of what they are, but I will go into more detail as this tutorial progresses. If you want to know what each icon does then hover your mouse over the icon and it will pop up a quick description.
1. These are your building tools. You will use these tools to create your BSP geometry and edit their shape.
2. These tools allow us to add or carve out geometry that we have placed using the BSP brushes above.
3. These tools allow us to add special volumes to our environment, such as water and collision. They allow us to isolate areas in the map and give them special properties that don't affect the whole map.
4. These are our viewport controls, similar to what you get in 3D software. They allow us to view the viewport in different modes.
5. Highlighted in a cyan box, this is the Content browser. We will be using this tool a lot. This is where we import all our assets for the environment and browse the library of assets that come with UDK.
6. This is where we build our level. When you make edits to the world you have to rebuild the geometry and lighting in order to get the changes to display correctly. We will be using this area a lot during the tutorial.
7. Finally these tools get us in the game and playing our level so far. Very important for viewing how our level looks.
To control the camera in the viewport:
- Click + drag left mouse button moves the camera forwards and backward.
- Click + drag right mouse button rotates the camera on its pivot point.
- Click and drag the Left + right mouse buttons moves the camera up and down.
- Click and hold right mouse button and use keys W, S, D, A allows you to move about the viewport in a more natural game control system.
Let's create a playable little area to get us more familiar with these tools. Click File > New Map and select Additive for the Geometry style. This allows us to add geometry to the map. Right click over the Cube brush and the settings for the brush appear. Use the same settings I have used in the screenshot (Fig.07) and you will see the red builder brush change shape to match the settings you typed in. Then click on the CSG ADD icon, as shown in Fig.08. If nothing happens you need to make sure you are in Unlit Mode for the viewport, located in area 4 of Fig.06. Because there are no lights in the scene at the moment, the geometry may not be visible. So let's add a light to the environment.
Left click on the top surface of the new geometry and it should turn a blue color. Then right click to show a menu. In this menu scroll over Add Actor and a further drop down menu will now appear. Select Add Light (point) (Fig.09). This will drop an Omni light into the scene. Now in the viewport options select Lit Mode to display lighting in the viewport.
With the new light selected press F4 to display the settings. Here you can adjust things such as brightness, color and radius (Fig.10). I will go into further details later in this series but for now keep the settings as they are. Move the light up in the Z axis to get it off the ground and allow the light to spread across the floor.
We now need to build the lighting so click the light bulb icon located in area 6 of the tools described earlier. This will pop up a new window of options. Leave all the settings as they are except for Use Lightmass. Uncheck this option for now. Lightmass is a new tool that calculates bounce lighting and something I will go into further later on in the tutorial (Fig.11). Click OK and UDK will calculate the lights in the scene and then display the correct lighting.
In order to be able to move around the level we need a starting point for the player. We can do this by using the same process we used to add a light start point. Left click on the top surface of the new geometry and it should turn a blue color. Then right click to show a menu. In this menu scroll over Add Actor a further drop down menu will now appear and select PlayerStart (Fig.12). This will drop an icon of a joystick in the scene (Fig.13). This is where the player will always start in the level. Be careful not to move the icon in an up or down direction as it will affect the player. Too high and the player will drop onto the floor; too low and you will get error messages that the player is starting in the floor geometry.
Now here comes the fun! Time to play what you have created. Click the joystick icon located in area 7 of Fig.06. This will pop up a game window and you will be able to walk around and shoot your gun, exciting yeah (Fig.14)! When you are done walking around, just press ESC to quit out of the game window.
You should now have a basic level setup and be ready to start working up into a detailed environment. In the next chapter I will complete the BSP geometry of this environment and apply temporary textures and draft lighting (Fig.15). I will also cover how to test your environment and make any changes that are needed.
I hope this tutorial has not overloaded you with information. It is a lot to take in but after the next chapter you should be comfortable with creating a basic level ready for dressing with assets. Keep practicing until the next chapter and familiarize yourself with UDK. It really is a powerful piece of software. Thanks for reading!