Creating a Level Design for a Game
First, the Concept
We had three months to create a level with a creature for a DLC of Horizon Zero Dawn. It is a world full of nature with mechanical animals and an amazing artistic direction. I was in charge of the environment and I started to make research on great American forests.
Redwood Park was the perfect place because of its overgrown trees, and luxurious vegetation. We wanted to do a dangerous place, controlled by a giant centipede. I started this concept, with trees where the centipede could hide and climb, in a hilly area.
Understand, then Create
Our teacher validated our concepts and helped us to find more ideas, like the logic of the vegetation and plant growing. After research on Redwood Park, I found lots of unique species of plants with weird but beautiful shapes. The nature evolved without flesh animals in this game. So I kept it in my mind that plants could have bigger sizes than reality.
The most important thing I learned is to share advice with your partner and ask for comments from everyone.
So I started to create a selection of plants. I created their meshes and regrouped their UVs for optimization. I photobashed plants pictures from the internet for the textures. And I used Bitmap2material to create the Normal and Occlusion maps.
Finally, I had 2 textures set (Color, Normal and RMA) for these flowers and weeds.
Shaping the World
Then for the trees, we learned to use Speedtree. This software was perfect because it could randomize the meshes inside UE4. So I obtained trees with different size and shapes. It was a bit tricky to understand, but it was so fun, I created bushes, ferns and grass with it. With all these plants, I felt ready to start the level.
Starting to create a world is so fun, this is what I like the most in Level Art. The school gave us some megascan meshes and textures to help us. So I used their rocks to shape the field, like modelling clay.
The tricky part was to keep a “field logic” with these rocks, so you need to understand a bit geology. Like a small stream with small rocks on its banks, can be a torrent during rain time. So boulders are carried along the flow and the field gets more chaotic.
The Nature Logic
I put the vegetation with the foliage system of UE4. First, I placed the trees, then different types of grass. It grows like patches on more concentrated on flat areas. And I placed the flowers and ferns to fill areas without grass, like the riversides or cliffs.
In the main river, I added some fx of a splash. I also worked on the water and created a stream flow by moving the normal map on different directions. I was really happy with the result because it felt like the water was made of small twirls, like a real stream.
The Micro Stories
In this game, there are some relics of the past civilization put here and there. I created a rough tank destroyed by time. Then I buried it in some places with some vegetation growing on it. One of them is buried in a small pond, so I added a small brook.
Find the Right Mood
Finally, I worked again on the lighting and added fog and post process. I enjoyed finding the most dramatic lighting with the sun rotation. I ended up finding some cool vistas with forest mountains, and the centipede taking centre stage.
Doing all this level was an intense journey of three months and I discovered many things with it.
The most important thing I learned is to share advices with your partner and ask for comments from everyone. I could not do it without the experience of my teachers and a good teamwork with my friend. And I still remind this to myself every day, as now I work with a big team.
And one year after this project, I discover it again and played with the mood to transform the whole place :D