Holon Palace

Holon Palace will be my first major project with UE4.

I am interested in creating powerful VR/Oculus experiences, through world building. I’ll be focusing on three key features/mechanics:

(1) Unique worlds, full of landscape, art, architecture, and lore. All of which are synthesized.

(2) Living breathing nature, creatures, machines, infrastructure, and architecture. All of which behave on their own, with each other, or with the player (see #3). Emergence is a goal.

(3) Player is their own self, in first person. No avatar or character projected onto you. Input should be noninvasive. Interaction is done via proximity and motion. The world and its inhabitants should react to you in diverse ways. Give the player something interesting to look at, so they don’t even feel the need to move. Give the player something to be excited to walk into, curious about how it will react. This duality is a core mechanic.

Yes, I’m describing walking simulators. I’m ok with this. I love going for walks. But irl, with its city streets and arboretums and supermarkets, is quite alive and always fascinating to watch. I think walking simulators can reach similar levels of gaze worthiness. That’s what I want to try. Also I think VR, with its enhanced immersion and presence, is going to really help make this more possible than ever.

These are the kinds of games I want to play. These are the kinds of games I plan to make. Holon Palace will be my first attempt at it, implementing the best I can the above features, with specific themes and aesthetic in mind (more on this in a future post).

Disclaimer: this is my first devlog; ever! Don’t know what I’m doing. But I hope to document my progress (duh). To share resources as I find and learn from them. To answer UE4 dev questions, if you wonder about how I did something. And to hopefully inspire excitement about this kind of game. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting these kinds of worlds.

I’d love for any thoughts, encouragements, resources, suggestions, or examples of games which do this. Or just anything.

Have you had a “stop and watch” experience in a game?

Dynamic lighting success!

Just so I’m not all talk, I’d like to briefly share tonight’s success with dynamic lighting and day / night cycle.

Screenshots of a test sequence in a test world:
lighting success 0.jpglighting success 1.jpglighting success 2.jpglighting success 3.jpglighting success 4.jpglighting success 5.jpg

We start at night. A point light hangs above a rotating cube. Slowly the sun rises, but the point light stays on. So we get both the point light and slight sun/sky light. By image 4 the point light turns off automatically, since dawn has happened. We now just have sun cast shadows, which then move across the terrain. As the sun begins to set, we get nice long shadows. The cycle would begin again in just a moment.

This was a big breakthru for me, as I’ve been wrestling to understand all the ins and outs of dynamic lighting for the past week (still infinity to learn). I still have to touch up the entire process, and replace the default sky box (have to learn to make one first), and play around with the timelines more, and learn more about post process volumes, and try it with real materials or complex meshes. But the concept is there, and I’m quite pleased.

In relation to Holon Palace: being able to create systems is important. I want to be able to make a world where, for example, light is changing, and where lamps or other infrastructure turns on and off. Where automatons can act different based on light. I believe all of this makes for a rich world. This was an important first step toward building that.

Quick tips, resources, and lessons:

First, note: the ground is terrain from the terrain generator. And all the other objects are made from one single cube static mesh which I made and imported from Blender. Default Blender cube. Also, I started with the world with the already setup directional light, sky box, fog, etc.

This UE4 wiki entry could not have been more helpful. Especially its mention of dynamically changing the brightness per day/night:

Also, studying the Stylized Showcase Demo was a very good exercise. I saved a copy of the level, and I started breaking and reverse engineering everything. Turning things on and off and deleting elements, etc. This helped me to better understand what elements had what effect on what. Do this if you are having trouble! UE4 devs, thanks so much for the showcases and demos.

I’ll also mention that adding a Sky Light is important, if you want those sun cast shadows to be light and realistic. Without the Sky Light in the scene, you get very dark shadows. HOWEVER: If you do add the Sky Light, then you also need to dynamically alter its brightness between day and night. Otherwise, your night will not be very dark, and in some cases will be as bright as day! This worked for me and is easily added to the above tutorials blueprint, but maybe I am just ignorant about something and this is overkill.

There might be other things I’m doing that I’ve not mentioned, so if you can’t replicate my results please feel free to ask. Also, I have no idea if this is actually performance breaking. But it looks okay to me, and runs good on my (albeit pretty good) system. Will it work in VR? That’s a post for the future (when DK2 comes out).

Lastly, I’m not really advanced enough yet to give great advice or solutions. But I’m sharing this here because I struggled to understand this all. Maybe my adding one more knoll to the set of knowledge will help somebody in a small way. Thanks to everybody who has answered questions about lighting and to all tutorial makers. You rock! :slight_smile:

Next up: AI and user control

edit: I am also aware that dynamic lighting is still under development in the engine. I don’t fully know to what extent, but I’ll follow along as changes happen, and adapt as needed. I assume it will only get better and give more control/power to developers.

World Sketching

Spent the evening “world sketching.” I want to get faster at the entire process. Rapid prototyping, etc. None of this will make it into a final game, but it felt good to work through almost all of the process. I learned a lot. I started with nothing, made 3D models, thew together textures, and started building in UE4.

Next goal: continue with world sketching, working with a smaller “canvas”/landscape, and give each sketch at least two sessions.

Do you ever try to make stuff quickly? Do you “sketch” in engine, or prototype? Tips or lessons?

Personally, and given my background, I prefer to prototype stuff in Maya, then drop it into the engine as static meshes. My poly workflow is much faster and more intuitive in Maya than in UE.

I’m using Blender, but any tips on how to more quickly and freely and naturally work with 3D “sculpting”? Any specific very natural tools? (For example, I like using content aware fill to quickly explore 2d visuals). I actually today thought I would look up stuff like “how to make Blender models quickly” and “Blender sketching.”

To be clear though, it’s not about speed, but more about being mentally free to explore. I’m a mind that tends to get bogged down in the meta, and I am always in a battle to fight against that. I don’t want to calculate and derive a sculpture, I want to just make a sculpture.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this :slight_smile:

Well, I’m torn between two opinions - I like to be able to just throw down shapes and let a design form organically, but at the same time, the technical artist in the back of my head is complaining about topology/edge-flow/optimisation etc etc.

I’ve never used Blender, but I have used Maya for years and years. After a while, with the gestures system and practice you can very quickly manipulate geometry without really ever having to take your eyes off the screen. Its pretty useful, and lets your concentrate on the creative side of your design, rather than getting bogged down in the software.

I don’t do a lot of true sculpting, I’m more of a hard-surface person myself. But something like Sculptrix is pretty awesome for speed sculpting, and best of all its free.