Evaluation of Final Major Project

Having started preparing and researching for this project early, I already had lots of ideas and had spent time looking at the professionals in my field to see what was already being achieved. My research was invaluable as it has helped me select just the right tools and programmes I needed to use for the visuals and workflow. Having a lot of experience with software already, I was able to choose from a wide range and access the right tools for specific needs as well as choosing relevant tools which are currently used within the industry.

As an avid gamer I have a good understanding of what is available on the market and with some feedback from the gaming community, I feel the game is relevant and pitched favourably to its target audience. The input from piers and consultations with tutors also helped me to see things from different viewpoints.

My original ideas included a player exploring the environment and completing puzzles, the puzzle element became less important to me as I focused more on the photorealism of the environment. One of the main reasons I decided to create a massive playable environment was because traditionally most environments in games or animations are just to look at, they are not meant to be played, they were not built to be playable. This is because when there is too much detail in the environment, the game would become laggy (slowing and pausing) disrupting the flow of the game. These types of landscapes are solely for looking at. I wanted to create an environment you can explore, a high-quality massive landscape designed to be playable.

When deciding on which type of landscape to build I was drawn to dramatic scenes, not somewhere you would normally see locally but somewhere you would travel to just for the scenery. I researched big extreme environments before selecting the type which would fit perfectly to what I needed. The mountain views, the giant tall trees of the forest together with the foliage covering the forest floor.

The process began with the first stage in the pipeline which was creating the landscape in World Machine. I chose this software as I knew this was already being used by professionals to create realistic landscapes. I decided on the sizes to use in the map for areas like the mountains, the erosion damage, all these contributed to the scene looking natural. Then I exported the height map from World Machine to fill the landscape with the height map data within UE4. The next stage was splat mapping the landscape. The height and slope of expanses allowed the spawner to know where to deposit the vegetation and foliage. The size of the landscape is so vast that to hand place all the foliage would have taken too long. This was avoided by using the Procedural Foliage Tool within UE4 and set spawners that covered the whole environment so that the foliage could be simulated following an algorithm. This is a method used by professionals which is not only time efficient but also produces excellent organic results.

Lighting is an important feature which can make a huge impact on the scene. Because my assets move and I wanted the light to be dynamic not static, I changed the light source to Moveable mobility. The light adjusts based on the movement of the landscape to create moving shadows this gives a realistic look. However, if there was one area which I would improve on it is the lighting. I wanted the light to be sharper, I can see tiny lines at the top of the trees in the forest where the sun shines through their branches, this is where the light needs to be sharper. The shadows also need to be sharper in some areas. The light rays or god rays do take time with a lot of trial and error, this is because it is different for every asset. Having said that my favourite feature is the rim lights that are produced by the sky dome. Advanced techniques are used to sharpen and blend, I used Runtime Virtual Textures in UE4 to create a blended texture between the grass and the trees to give a seamless appearance. In the future I would like to design more challenging environments with even more complex techniques, I was going to incorporate rivers into my landscape but the tools needed to create them were too expensive. I would like to study and create different weather conditions and learn how to make it snow and rain. One area in which the game could be improved would be by adding an additional element. The game could incorporate some non-playable character animals into the landscape. This would increase the players interest and enhance the visuals.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating the landscape. It has taken so long to build. I have taken time attending to every detail, continuously adjusting and fine-tuning features and settings to maximise effects to get the best results. It was important to persevere on many occasions, for example the lighting was static and did not work with the foliage, which meant I had to have dynamic lights instead of baking the lights. I have learnt so much through trying new software to improve on image quality. I can now use World Machine effectively as it was a new programme to me.

On reflection the process has been filled with a range of emotions, hard work and expectations, which overall have been met and some surpassed. This project has enabled me to show my capabilities and expertise, it has given me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and develop my skills further. It has also taken me into new areas to investigate. Moving forward I would hope my next venture will allow me to explore areas like night and day cycle and non-playable characters. I am aware of the speed the industry moves and realise the importance of staying up to date with significant changes and developments. I will continue to maintain my research on a wide and relevant range of programmes to design with.