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Level Design process, moving from organic to urban areas?

Hello! Still quite a noob in unreal and game design. I have been looking into the process of level design and a lot of info is based around more urban environments where it seems modular design is going to be the main way of creating levels. However my question is how do you blend from a more organic outside environment to a modular urban environment?

Would you begin by sculpting the outside within unreal using the landscaping tools and then place the urban modular environments on top of that? Do you NEED to use landscaping inside unreal for the ground, or is it preferable to do outside of unreal?

Any help would be really appreciated! Thanks

Hey, there’s a few ways you can do it depending on your preferences, how sculpted you want the landscape to be, landscape features, and how specific you want the landscape to be to a predesigned layout… The main methods I know of are to sculpt the landscape using the UE4 landscaping tool or to import a heightmap… You can also use a hybrid approach of both; find a heightmap somewhere import it then further sculpt it using the landscape tool; or sculpt it using the landscape tool then export it to another tool like World Machine to add extra features like ravines or environmental erosion and then reimporting it. You can also sculpt it procedurally, although I haven’t done that myself… You can also use landscape stamps to quickly add features to a landscape (check landscape stamps in the marketplace)…

Noting that urban environments will usually have a flattened landscape under the buildings (easy to do with the landscaping tool), and rural areas will often have major features such as cliffs, cut-aways, or steep banks that will likely be made using asset models (there’s only so much detail and gradient you can put on the landscape).

I think in the end it just comes down to preference and what works for you…

As for the process of designing the landscape, first sketch out the topology of the whole landscape, starting with your main feature areas (such as towns, cities, villages, industrial areas, quarries, lakes, etc) then sketch in the large intermediate areas such as mountains, rivers, roads, transport links, then finally add any smaller features and filler areas such as fields, hills, woods, scrubland etc.

When your happy with the overall layout, block it out in UE4, roughly shape the landscape and put placeholders (basic cubes the same size as your final buildings) where the buildings will be (as it will be a lot quicker to make any changes at this stage than after you’ve started populating the map). When you’re happy with the finished layout of the map then you can start populating it and putting in the finer landscaping details.

This is only the method I use, so would be interested to see how other people approach it…

Thank you very much! That all makes sense and I will definitely try that out. It sounds like this approach is favoured to bigger maps maybe? I’m looking into a side scroller game where urban areas would be broken apart with organic areas. But they would still be smaller (thinner) than your average game I guess… do you think designing these within Maya would be a more efficient solution?

Oh sorry I assumed you were talking about a 3D environment. If you’re making a side scroller, I’m guessing it will either be flat 2D in which case you won’t need a landscape object not sure how they make long landscapes in 2D, possibly using tiled landscape images? Or possibly 2.5D, in this case you might as you say use a long thin landscape for the ground which you could sculpt to make the landscape you want using the UE4 landscaping tool, then place your asset models along the map to create your level. In which case you will most likely use individual mesh models for the various map props (trees, bushes, fences, buildings, etc) how modular you make each prop, for example buildings, would be down to preference. Then how you transition from an urban to rural area on your map will be down to artistic style and how you transition from using the set of urban models to using the rural ones. As or making the models Maya would probably be preferable but otherwise Blender or 3Ds Max.

Yeah okay that makes sense, would be all 3D still just locked in that side scroller camera. Will give that try! Thanks for your help!