Ever Have One Of Those Months?

January was one of those times where things were just out of whack! I wasted a lot of time but I did learn some things so I guess it wasn’t a total waste…

When I started working on Laughlin Lake (yes, we’re revisiting it!) I thought that the best way would be to construct the entire terrain in an external program (it totally wasn’t) I used a landscape generator to make some random terrain, sculpted the larger details and cut it into large quadrants. I would then work on one quadrant at a time and sculpt in any fine details I needed. I was even able to create roads that conformed to the terrain itself. I used these techniques on the Outskirts map.

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The problem was that this terrain (for the Lake) was about 8 times larger than the one in the Outskirts and had more variances in it. I stuck with this for a couple of weeks but eventually gave up as it became so tedious and ate up a huge chunk of time having to alter it, reimport it, make sure everything was aligned etc. and then go back and do it all over again. UE4 already has its own Landscape tool with almost everything that I could need and yet here I was trying to reinvent the damn wheel!

So after abandoning that idea I started using UE4’s built-in tools to create my terrain. I’ll admit that the last time I used the UE Landscape tool was when it was in the UDK and I didn’t have a good time with it. It had some limitations and I experienced frequent crashes while using it.

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WOW! SUCH ATMOSPHERE!!!!!!

I’m happy to say that this time around it has been painless. It was a bit of a set up but proved worth it in the end. I could sculpt, paint, scatter foliage all in real time and make changes as needed. There is even a tool to create roads and have the Landscape align itself to it! Awesome.

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It’s a modest Material. Cheap and nothing fancy needed!

If during testing I got stuck somewhere on the terrain, I just fixed it up in realtime instead of having to go all the way back into the external modelling program, fix the issue, re-import it in again and hoped that it all worked out. Huge time saver there.

Then I needed to bring in some Spruce trees I created some time back! I had generated them a year ago in Speedtree but never imported them into UE4 because I didn’t need them yet. But wait a minute…something is off. The textures aren’t aligning with the models! I take a closer look and all the tree models (all 88 of them, YIKES) have issues that I somehow missed the first time through. So I renew my Speedtree subscription so I could use the tools and get to repairing them all. In the end, I ended up rebuilding all of my base trees with further optimizations and just randomly generated the rest from those base trees.

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After that was done, I needed some rock and cliff formations. Now, in my opinion, I think that natural-looking rocks and trees are the hardest things to model. That’s just me though, because I’ve seen plenty of other Artists do some mind-blowing work. Anyway, I found and purchased a Rock Generating program (it was super cheap) and though I initially thought that the rocks looked pretty good, I eventually decided it wasn’t what I was looking for. I needed something more realistic.

Then I remembered about Photogrammetry! Yes! I went through a couple of tutorials and it all seemed pretty simple! I decided to get a rock from outside and started to take pictures of it. The very first attempt was a huge success! Out of 125 pictures I took with just my phone, Meshroom was able to use 123 of them. I did this by slowly rotating the rock and taking pictures from the same angle (it sort of reminded me of Highscool when I dabbled in a bunch of stop-motion animation projects. Good times)

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It took about an hour and a half to process and the results were fantastic! I gathered about 10 more interesting-looking rocks and took hundreds of pictures and fed them into Meshroom. Unfortunately, after an entire week, the only success I had with Photogrammetry was the very first rock. The pictures I took kept getting rejected by the program for some reason! Similar setup and lighting, I tried anywhere from 30 pictures up to 200, I tried setting up markers, I tried circling the object. None of it was working and I kept on getting partial, messy models. Each attempt took anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to process. It was just eating away too much time again.

I gave up on that idea and just bought a bunch of photoscanned rocks online, made some alterations and now they’re in-game. I should have just done that in the beginning! I did make a few rocks of my own but I mainly used the photoscanned assets to help flesh out the rock cliffs I had made.

Now onto the Lake water itself! I used the material for the Blood River in one of the Hell levels and altered it to look like water. But wait a second…now what?! It turns out translucent materials can’t accept shadows! I didn’t notice it before because of the lack of directional lighting in the Hell level! So while the water effects looked fine, the shadows from the surrounding environment weren’t showing up on the water! I decided to make the material opaque so that it could recieve shadows and I also dithered the edge of the water to give the illusion of translucency…except now, the water doesn’t have any caustics! Opaque materials aren’t capable of refraction! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS CRISPY!

After spending a bunch more time on that I finally figured out a method that looks alright. I now have the water recieving shadows, there’s depth to it and the geometry underneath the water distorts properly.

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Obviously it isn’t well represented here but when you see it in motion it looks nice.

Alright, so it’s back to work! The map is nowhere near finished but this should give you an idea of what Laughlin Lake will look like this time around!

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Why Is No One Renting?

A generous space for storing anything you want is only an extra $10 a month and yet, no one wants to go down there? I wonder why? 😳

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All kidding aside, the layouts for the Apartment storage area are complete. All of the cages are empty for the time being but rest assured they will be filled with all sorts of junk that you can rummage through. Items will be randomly generated each time so you may find nothing or you may find tools, weapons or even old stashes of dirty, DIRTY 60’s porn! 😆

As I was building this storage area it started to look more and more like a sewer. In keeping with the visual consistency of the underground parking lot, I needed this place to look wet, dank and cold. I went back to the old OoH 2009 map and found the solution! I added in some wooden slats between the cages and also the framework along the walls for insulation and voila! It broke up the monotony and the little bit of color instantly transformed this environment!

I felt bad teasing a chainsaw in one of the cages in OoH 2009 without ever letting the player get a hold of it. I can’t remember exactly why I left it out in the end product but it may have had to do with animation problems. I think I couldn’t get the chain to move convincingly enough. I also left out other weapons like the bat, shovel and sword because of redundancy but that will all change this time around. Weapons will serve different functions and with the random nature of weapon spawns, I can afford to include more types!

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I’m going to take a break from underground stuff now and move onto the forested areas next! I actually find it’s a good idea to switch to a different type of environment after a map is done. Otherwise I start getting tunnel-vision and things start to look the same…the office building map starts to look a lot like the police station map which looks like the apartment map and…well, you get the idea. If I started on the sewers next and then more hell levels, they would all start to look and feel similar in the end. Changing scenery keeps all scenery fresh!

Hope you enjoy this small update! Have a good one and I will see you all in the New Year!

All Parking Lots Are Creepy!

When I was a kid my parents used to make me take out the garbage when we lived in these old apartment complexes. They ALL had creepy, damp underground lots and of course, the garbage room was always as far away from the entrance in the dankest, darkest corners as possible! Being a bad kid, I would always find other places to throw the garbage!

When I started work on the apartment map I naturally started with the underground lot first. I visited the old mod version to refresh myself and was surprised at how much garbage there was everywhere! Like, literal garbage! Piles of bags and so many dumpsters in non-sensical places the city garbage crew would have a really tough time collecting it every few days! It was all subconscious stuff I guess! It was totally unintentional.

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I’m actually amazed that I can even get anything done in regards to level building. Though my workflow is much better than it used to be, I still don’t do a good job of laying it out on paper first. Take a look, this is 100% real…unfortunately:

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I usually work just from imagination or referencing memories of places that I’ve seen or been to, like the creepy old apartment parking lots! Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this…

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…eventually turns into this.

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I’ve found that once I establish a basic layout and nail the atmosphere down, it just sort of…takes on a life of its own? I don’t know how else to explain it other than the flow and logic of the visuals just guides me to fill in whatever it needs next.

Does that make sense? Hmm…I might just be crazy.

Yardwork!

I’m back with a small update on the next map: The Trainyard! It’s always interesting looking over the old maps from OoH 2009 for reference and trying to re-imagine them in more realistic, interesting ways:

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I’ve tried to take a more grounded approach this time. No more nonsensical structures just to make the scenery look busy! There’s actually room to breathe now.

There really isn’t all too much to report other than I’m moving at a pretty good pace with these maps. Now that the base layout is done and the atmosphere established, I’ll be jumping onto the next map and flesh out the visuals during the detailing phase later!

Bloody Hell…

Hey! Just a small, quick update! I’ve been working away at one of the Hell levels and I just wanted to post a few pictures of it. Please keep in mind there are not many props at the moment (Tortured corpses, floating bodies, heads on pikes etc.) I will come back to it later and add more visual details since I’m just concentrating on the layout and trying to establish the look right now.

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This is one of the many levels of Hell that you’ll be exploring. Some are pretty claustrophobic, some cavernous, some desolate and open. The deeper you go, the more f***** up it will be.

A thing I’d really like to explore is the contrast between the ‘normal world’ and ‘Hell’. Not just the obvious visuals but the atmosphere of it. I’d like the player to dread being in such a place, feel oppressed and constantly in a “WTF IS THAT?!?!” mentality and then emphasize a huge sense of relief when returning to the normal world.

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As it turns out, making a river of blood look like…well, a river of blood was harder than I thought! If it was too translucent, it just looked like red dyed water. Too slow and thick and it looked like gelatin. Took me a while to nail it down but I think it turned out alright.

I hope my vision of this place so far grosses you out! Now I’m onto the next map!

Autumn Scenery!

My absolute favorite season is here! I love everything about the Autumn; the colors of the leaves, the sounds, the grey sky on overcast days or the deep blue on clear afternoons. The smell of that chilly air first thing in the morning and the way the fog just clings to everything! Black coffee, pumpkin pie, cinnamon, nutmeg…man, I just love this time of year! With Halloween around the corner, that Occult-vibe really keeps me inspired during these months too. It’s no coincedence the setting of Out Of Hell takes place during the Autumn!

So I’ve finished up the Outskirts map and am hopping onto some Hell levels next. I initially had some areas fleshed out but looking at them now they just seem boring to me. It all looked like the classical vision of Hell with caverns, red sky, fire etc. The direction I’m taking it now will be much more…macabre. The archetecture/environment will probably appear nonsensical because I don’t want to be limited by…I guess rules of the physical world if that makes any sense. When we have nightmares we never stop and think about why things are the way they are inside the nightmare. The only thing that matters is the fear and I’m going to try to instill that in people.

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If you check out the screen just above, there is a lot going on. With a little trickery I was able to get just a ton of grass and vegetation in there. Lighting and shadowing is all dynamic, everything reacts to the wind and despite the amount that’s onscreen, I think the framerate is not too bad! (Hey, still runs better than the OoH 2009 Mod ;p ) I also have a middle-of-the-road to lower end PC now so I’m sure more modern systems will run this with no problems. Eventually I’ll revisit this and all the other maps to do some tweaking and a couple more visual passes but for now, it’s done and I’m moving on!

Poll Results!

Thanks to everyone that voted! I think it’s a pretty safe bet to go with the No HUD route. I came up with some neat alternative ways to display your health and ammo. The method for checking your health is quite unique; I haven’t seen it done in any game before.

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I’ve finished up the functionality (ADS, reloading, spread, etc.) for all the weaponry. I have Fully Automatic weapons, Semi-Automatics, Pistols, Shotguns, Bow and Arrow, melee weapons and I finished up the monster AI as well. Surprisingly, that all took me only a fraction of the time to do compared to the interaction/inventory! The inventory believe it or not was just a huge pain but all the legwork is done now and it’s a pretty robust system (outlines on interactable objects, picking up items, items counts that stack, item descriptions, dropping items from the inventory into the world)

Thanks again for voting! See you soon!