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Questions about properly constructing huge buildings

Hello, I am attempting to model a large factory in UE4 and I am curious about the best way to go about it, before I get too far in.

The factory in question is millions of square feet in size, and consists of only two main buildings. The smaller of the two is millions of square feet on its own.

For the main structure of the buildings, like floor, walls, and columns: BSP or modeled geometry? It doesn’t need to be an extremely accurate representation of the factory, and things like baseboards, outlets, door trim and such are not likely to be included.

The ceiling is mostly a complex set of i-beams and semi-intricate structures to support the roof and various other things.

Air ducts, water and waste pipes, electrical conduit, junction boxes, power distribution, sprinklers and lighting will all be included, at least. Major manufacturing machinery will be included.

We monitor a great deal of things and want to visualize them in 3D. There are no tools available that currently meet our needs.

I know about geometry decimation and LODs (not as well as you lot, of course) and I am aware of things like replacing small metal meshes like chain-link fence with textures with transparency that looks like the wire mesh, for example, and there are a lot of other tricks that I do not know.

Does anyone have any general rules of thumb that I can absorb? I want to model the inside of these buildings, the outside, and some of the major landscaping.

Thank you.

Usually these buildings are modular and based on a large grid system. So what I usually do is finding repeating elements and then model one of them and copy them in unreal. You can’t have too many small pieces but if you have a 7.5 m axis that repeats you could follow that system.

Best to try to hide the seems behind columns if possible or make it a proper seem like you have them in buildings to avoid cracks. It’s really like building a real building out of prefab elements. Just make sure you don’t have thousands of small elements.

Also it lets you lay out the whole building quite fast by starting with simple elements and then update/improve them later (called grey-boxing) I’m not sure how familiar you are with unreal. Basically you place your module from the content browser and every placed instance will update when you update the static mesh itself.

Yes, and the buildings I am looking to recreate in Unreal are not modular. They have evolved and grown over many years into the sizes they are now. There are repeating elements in them, yes, but not like you’re thinking, sounds like. Also, they are an odd mix of office and factory space. It’s a giant mashup.

I guess I’m looking for tips on how to build it so that far off geometry is not a performance problem. Back in the Quake 1 days when I did this before, I understood BSP well enough to know that you wanted things broken up and occluded, and if you did it right, your level could pretty much be as big as you wanted, because you could only see nearby stuff. That’s true in large factories as well, but rather than giant walls that break up large spaces, it’s just tons and tons of machinery and building infrastructure.

This is going to take a few tries to get right I think.

It’s easiest to build the level in your 3D software, Maya and 3ds Max have good support for this where you can export the entire scene to UE4 with FBX and it’ll create a Blueprint file that allows you to just drop the whole thing in your scene and it’ll keep your object placement and instances. The Unreal Studio datasmith tool makes it easier with extra support for materials and lighting as well.

Alright. I don’t know how to use 3ds Max well enough to do that, but I suppose now is a fine time to learn. I have a lot to learn…

Ok, so making anything a precise size in 3ds Max is not exactly a straight forward process. This is not a CAD tool.

Well - BSP is definitely something from the past so you will need to learn either 3ds max or another software like Blender (which is free).

You can import CAD data into max and then just build your walls based on that CAD data. Then it will be precise. 3ds max has lots of tools that help you to be precise. It’s not that difficult once you know the basics. But yeah - 3ds max, despite probably 10 redesigns of the interface is one of the most confusing applications ever made.

Technically, it’s not going to be as precise because it doesn’t have as much floating point precision. But, that doesn’t matter for games because they do things the same way.

I wouldn’t say the UI is confusing, it does need an update because they just haven’t done anything with it for years while they’ve been adding more features (mainly things are in a bunch of different places)
But I’d say the UI/workflow of Zbrush is much worse.

@S-Dot Yes, BSP is from the past. Why does that necessitate that it not be used? I am also from the past; am I to be avoided also?

UE4 is already a huge tool that I need to learn, and I can’t use it to create basic level geometry? You are telling me that I have to learn yet another tool to create a basic, rudimentary level in a game engine that already has a massive toolset of it’s own that must be learned as well? You have got to be kidding me. That cannot be the case.

What hellish chain of events led to this ridiculous situation? This is an absolutely stupid place to be.

The game engine toolset is not enough to create a game. Think about that for a second.

I am not an artist, and I’m being told that I must be an artist to create something in UE4.

You can use BSP to create basic geometry, but I wouldn’t use it for anything beyond blockouts and basic geometric shapes. You can use a lot of the free content on the market place to quickly throw things together.

UE4 is a game engine designed for indie and professional developers using industry standard practices. Developers use dozens of pieces of software to make a game. There’s plenty of things you cannot do in engine, or at least do much beyond the basics.

I know it is really sad, I completely agree with you,

What is the point of trying to develop the tools to have it all within one software when there’s already software that can do those things better?
Not only that, but it’s impossible to get all of the features that someone could possibly want, which is why people use multiple tools even if they’re supposed to be able to accomplish the same things.

There are so many different ways that people might want to construct 3D data that you wind up with specialized tools for all of them. There are specific modeling tools for creating plants and piping for example.

If you want a general, easy to learn, works for most shapes (but not characters), then maybe SketchUp is easiest to pick up. We are working on getting that data into Unreal using Datasmith.

That is a valid point, and an excellent one. Here’s a counterpoint. I have yet to come across any 3D tool, at any price, that makes creating level geometry as easy as WorldEdit did back in the Quake 1 era. Valve bought it, it’s now called Hammer, and it was dead easy to use to sketch out levels. One guy wrote it, and it didn’t take him long, either.

It seems that Epic could achieve the basic tools that existed in WorldEdit 20 years ago relatively easily, AND leave the complex 3D stuff to the tools whose sole job is to assist artists.

I may have to use SketchUp. I know that tool well enough. I have another suite of tools that I can use to get the .skp files into FBX or maybe glTF, I can’t remember, now.

Please understand my frustration. I realize that game companies usually have more than 1 person, and that there are dedicated artists. I am not one of those game companies. I work for a large company that does not make games in any way, and I’m the only guy on my team working with game engines in any capacity. Learning new tools adds months to my delivery timeframe, and subtracts thousands of dollars from my already tiny budget.

Look at it this way, even if UE4 had 3d modeling, learning how to model in UE4 would take MORE time than learning to model in Sketchup or Blender. There would be much less in terms of documentation and tutorials, less features, less polish.

And time lost to make these tools that can’t be as good as Zbrush, Solidworks, Catia, Blender, Maya, is time not spent to improve the heart of Unreal Engine : show a scene photo-realistically and in real time.

The geometry tools in UE4 definitely need to be updated, since they are pretty much useless as it is. But even if they’re improved people would mostly be using another 3D software to model all of their assets so it wouldn’t necessarily be useful to most UE4 users.
And like ZacD said, you’d still have to spend time to learn the tools if UE4 had them.
If you already know how to model with some software then there’s probably a workflow that you can use that will avoid having to learn a new software entirely.

I don’t want to do full 3D modelling. I don’t want to model perfect 1m poly Greek statues, I want to draw a wall. Poke a window through it. Very basic tools that let me sketch a level out. I recently learned about the dev-geometry branch on GitHub and I’m going to be trying that out, since it is apparently headed in the direction I am indicating.

So Blender is good enough for that. And it’s not that hard to learn. And it’s free.

Blender is a Pain in the butt to learn