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Anyone have any knowledge on modular level design?

Hey

I want to build a fairly large and complex environment for my current project. I would like to build out a kit of reusable 3d assets that I can clip together to put buildings, decor etc together.

I have read the bethesda presentation on this school of thought but I had a little trouble following it. I am an experienced programmer but am really doing this project to become familiar with 3D development so I am fairly limited by my own lack of knowledge on the topic.

If anyone can help with letting me know how I might go about putting together a “kit” of sorts for my environments, that would be fantastic.

Thanks in advance.

I can help more if I had specifics, like what type of gameplay and environment you are thinking of. Feel free to reference other games for comparison.

A general approach I would take is to identify what assets are going to make up the bulk of your environment and tackle them first. Start with developing a small area that represents the larger scope in your game. For example, if were developing a game that took place in a futuristic city, I would not start by making a massive city. I would make one block or street instead.

Inside this scene, it would break it down to common elements that I can reuse to construct a city. While you are doing this, your first time should be spent on the things that affect gameplay. For our hypothetical game, lets say its GTA on a Mars in the year 3000.

I don’t think you’d want any assets to have too much detail and a basic texture/color. You want to concentrate on strictly form. I’d make a simple roadpiece, probably with a sidewalk built in. Then I would make a number of interesting shapes to represent buildings. It’s the future so they are funkier than normal. I’m not even doing interiors because that makes it a hell of lot easier. Now you can start building your city block in the world. If at this point you are still having problems determining what to make for pieces, limit it by scale. Do not make anything that would fit into a 20x20 foot box (for this example, for a different type of game that would be different, be flexible. A flight sim would be 200ft. So no signs, cars, benches, robots, trash cans, - any smaller detail.)

Run around your world, make adjustments on this scale. You will start to notice what you need. Bridges maybe? Overpasses? Address these larger concerns and then move onto the next scale level. Make anything that is between 10 and 20 feet. Cars, light poles, oxygen generators, larger props. Place them around. Feel out your environment.

At this point you could do a test. Duplicate your city block. Rotate it 90 degrees, place the duplicate next your original block. Delete some buildings from one block. Rotate some others. Copy these two blocks, rotate 90 and place adjacent to the previous set. Switch up the buildings in those blocks. Now you have a 2x2 section. Play your environment. How does it look? What is repeating? What is working well to sell your vision?

Looking good? Move to the next level of detail. Street signs, curbs, building details - maybe make a kit of windows and doors your can tack onto your building shapes, space dumpsters, etc.

Rinse repeat. You can stop at any point, at which you should have a collection of assets that can make a city block. You eventual goal is to replace these temp assets with ones that represent the style and look of your game. You could work on that now, or you might want to do some planning on paper, what kind of limits you want to go for, what are some landmarks you might want. Maybe the city has a big dome over it. Or a giant generator in the middle. Again, stay general. Take that information and start to build your whole city. With that guide you can take your block, rotate it, change it up, clone it, clone that set, and the next one, etc. Mockup your landmarks and start putting them in.

Hope this helps - any questions?

For modular level design (in an interior setting), my usual process is:

  1. Decide on a theme for the environment so the aesthetics are consistent, and use textures of the same type within the theme

  2. Construct hallway segments, corner pieces, floor tiles, hubs, etc. that are aligned with the grid in the 3D modeling application

  3. Make sure to center all of the modular pieces to the origin in the 3D software before exporting to FBX so that placement is easiest in UE4

  4. Use the grid snap in Unreal to arrange the layout out of the different parts that were constructed in the 3D software

Hey, thanks! This and the answer below make up exactly what I was looking for.

I am building an environment with a city and suburban area. What I want to do is have entire wall sections and building sites in a models repository that I can use to build up my environment rapidly. Various buildings should be able to be entered etc. I know that this is a heavy task and this is why I am trying to make it as reusable as possible.

Thanks

When you make your city, I really want to stress this- don’t try and create a literal recreation of what you think a city is. Most cities are flat and have very simple building designs. Instead, you can do your grid design but try and build the spaces inbetween buildings with height differences. GTA is a great example of city design. Most of the cities in GTA give you the feeling of a city without actually being constructed like one.

If you have a copy of Torchlight, or Torchlight 2, I would strongly suggest downloading our mod tools and exploring that. We build everything with modular assets and it sounds like it would be a great example for what you are looking for. Its a different engine, but still applies.