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Custom Tools: Environment Artists and Game Editors
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Custom Tools: Environment Artists and Game Editors

April 22, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next


The paramount factor to remember when designing your own world-building tools is the nature of the game you're making. This sounds like a truism, but you don't dare forget how intimately the choice of tools is going to affect your game's final character.

In particular, you'll have to decide just how to balance your artistic desires for precision, control, and detail with the ability to quickly and iteratively refine play spaces.

Max and Maya are very powerful and provide exact control. They'll empower you to fiddle with every vertex in your world till the cows come home. Unfortunately, that level of control may be more curse than blessing if you're working on a game in which careful calibration of the play spaces is a key to success.

If your game's success hinges on multiplayer action, for example, flexibility may be more important than precision. If moving a doorway is going to cost you days of retexturing, shuffling around UVs, or fiddling with sliver polys from bad Booleans... well, you're not going to move that door, even if it's adversely affecting gameplay.

If changing the slope of your terrain means manually rebuilding separate meshes for the render, player navigation and physics, you're going to be pretty leery about tweaking the subtleties of your terrain.

There's no pain like shipping a map you know is un-fun just because fixing it would take too long. It's no coincidence that so many multiplayer-heavy titles use CSG editors (Valve's Hammer, Epic's UnrealEd) or fast height field-oriented terrain editors like EA's Battlefield Editor, since neither of these require careful UV management or as much attention to vertex level detail as conventional art packages.

Of course, plenty of games aren't so dependent on delicately-tuned play spaces. A fighting game with a static stage or a fixed-camera game of the Resident Evil variety, for example, would benefit more from the per-vertex detail of 3ds Max or Maya than from the ability to quickly sculpt a terrain mesh.

Games with more confined play spaces and lower density environments don't stress the capabilities of the big two packages so severely either. Games with more formalized play spaces can strike a balance by assembling hand-built puzzle pieces to get a mixture of flexibility and precision control at the expense of some variety.

The point is not that traditional packages can't do environments well, it's that the definition of "well" includes a lot of assumptions about the role of speed and detailed management that you need to consider with care.

Engine Integration

If iteration is critical for some kinds of gameplay, it can also be important for getting the most out of all our fancy-pants rendering technologies. There's a school of thought -- exemplified by tools like Crytek's CryEdit -- that says the best editor for your game is the game engine itself.

EA/Crytek's Crysis

The advantages of tightly integrating your tools and your game engine should be obvious. For starters, you can build and texture your world with the textures and materials your players will see, so that artists get immediate feedback.

Having game controls and game physics running can also make it easier to see your level from the player's point of view, complete with animation and interactive behaviors.

Not only does this cut down iteration time, it's also a great corrective to the level artists' perennial temptation: worrying about how the level looks in the overhead view that only the author ever sees.

To round it all out, your game engine probably has better interactive performance than a standard app -- after all, it's optimized for the kind of content you're creating. At least, you'd better hope it is!

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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