Now that most of the immediate play space is decorated, we can finally have a step back and look at the background elements. Keep in mind that the player will never reach that area so we are going to stay fairly loose and try several layouts. The background’s main purpose in this case is to immerse the player to make them feel as if they are part of something larger. As a level designer you always want the player to look in the distance to reveal other parts of the world and make them want to go there.
Vistas and backgrounds should have strong silhouettes and be readable from afar. If you squint at the backdrop you should still be able to make out the shapes. Each of the following images has a depth pass accompanying it. This is to show that you want to build your background in layers to give a good sense of depth and parallax.
At this point I really didn’t want to make any new assets so my first pass is using all the modular structural models I did earlier. At first glance this attempt felt pretty good. You can also you can see I used some statues that came with UDK. This not only gave the scene something interesting to look at but also a focal point to lead the player.
Though the background was beginning to shape up, I felt like it still needed a bit more. I really wanted the player to feel small, like they were on a journey up the side of a mountainous city. So I tried to give it more height by stacking structures and rocks. It’s still very messy at this point as I am just trying different looks. Overall I’m quite happy with it as it really broke up the simple horizon line I originally had.
Taking this rough composition, I found that the original assets I had didn’t read very well from a distance so I eventually had to recreate a few pieces for the background. There’s nothing special about these models, just lower poly versions of what was originally there. The final background shot is composed of 5 meshes; square pillars, cylindrical pillars, archways and a wall, and of course that one rock we created last week. Eve
rything is just mashed together, again keeping in mind the player will never actually walk through the area. Unfortunately the statues had to go, I didn’t want any stock UDK models and time just didn’t permit me sculpting a new one.
It’s been quite some time developing this scene, experimenting along the way, finding out that some things work while others don’t. There’s been a lot of trial and error to get to this point but we’re almost there!
The last thing to tackle is lighting and post fx.
Victor Kam teaches Level Design and environmental design in the VFS Game Design program