The blank piece of paper can be daunting, and needs to be combated. Since I’ve been working in Unreal I’ve had this idea for a flying prison, suspended above a city. It floats above the city to remind the citizens what they stand to lose if they become criminals. It acts as a daily reminder to prisoners of what they’ve lost.
As a level I think will be really cool. That said, without the rigid structure of a tutorial, finding a place to start can be tricky.
My approach was to create a testboard, a large flat level where I could play with different ideas without worrying about precisely measuring sizes, dimensions and pacing. Just a place to see what was fun, what was cool and what I could think about including in the final design.
The first scenario I played with was this exploding door. As the player closes in on the door I wanted to give the impression that it had been destroyed from the other side, blasting the player character back in the explosion. The explosion itself is a combination of a custom fracture mesh, a radial impulse and some particle effects, all linked to a trigger. The effect works really well, particularly when the door is approached from the front. The head shake, the camera looking to the sky as the player is blasted back, and the waiting robot all make this effect work well. That said, this setup works best in a tight corridor, where the player’s angle of attack can be predicted. If the player approaches from the side, it is too jarring when the camera switches to the matinee cam.
I visualised the prison as three shells, linked by a glass corridor. I modeled the first shell, measuring sizes to get an image of how big the level would be. One challenge, oddly is the thickness of the floors. Early in the clip it is possible to see the broken doors hanging through the floor due to how shallow they are. This is precisely the sort of information that is vital to building the level. The worst thing in the world would be to put the empty shells together, only to realise that the architecture of the floors was incompatible with my visual design and scripting.
I played around with different door openings, faulty doors and damaged doors. I’m very conscious that, even though this is a prison, there should be views of the floor and the city below from every level. As such, I focussed on creating angles and vistas that highlight this, chiefly the hole in the centre of the prison and the glass walkway which would link the separate shells.
To be honest, I could write and describe everything in the level, but that would be boring. Everything is there on the video.
More important, I think, is the approach I took. This was the first work I put together which was totally free of tutorials (though, if you track back through my other videos, evidence of my learning is everywhere). Rather than be phased out, I used the blank slate as an opportunity to practice, experiment and design a level. I think that, even unfinished, it is my best work to date.
The next stage is to start putting the level together. I have an interesting idea for approaching this, which I want to detail in a future blog. I’m going to write the story of my level, and then script the level based on that story, trying to do the atmosphere, the look, the feel, justice.
I’ll keep you posted.