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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 3 of 3

Making your engine and your game co-dependent can involve serious risks, however. Above all else, it's a strategy that demands rigorous commitment from the engineers, because a compromised engine can end up stalling the entire art staff.

It's also going to be a challenge if your game isn't destined for PCs. Creating an engine that really looks the same on a PC and a console is a serious challenge. But if you can't pull it off, the benefits of using your engine as an editor are lost.

It would be nice if there were some way to hedge against the risks of integrating world editing into your engine. For several years now the major 3D packages have been touting the ability to run your own renderer inside their editor windows.

This is a very attractive idea in theory, but in practice it may not be much protection from the risks inherent in the engine-as-editor strategy. It reduces, but doesn't eliminate, the dangers of engine breakdown or the divergence between PC and console rendering.

Maintaining good interactive performance within your package can also be a problem -- you're not getting much value from integrated rendering if your artists all work in wire frame to keep their frame rates up.


Of all the calculations involved in designing a tools path for your world editing process, the trickiest calculations are the human ones. Level building is a uniquely cross-disciplinary business. There are a number of very different models for the designer-environment artist relationships, and your tools should be a natural extension of your overall process.

In some companies, both jobs are handled by a single person: a "level designer" rather than a "level artist." At the opposite end of the spectrum are companies that have designers doing all their work on paper and simply presenting their maps to artists for implementation. In some places, the artists supply puzzle piece modules to designers, who snap them together to create missions. The varieties of artist-designer relationships are enormous.

Despite their variety, though, in every case that relationship has to be expressed in the tool chain. Studios using the "level designer" model are often inclined toward editors like Hammer or UnrealEd, which emphasize design flexibility and integrate game entity placement right into the authoring tools.

On the other hand, companies that have artists and designers who don't work in the same application tend to need designer-specific applications for placing things like player spawns, triggering volumes, and placing game objects -- the alternative, teaching a non-artist enough Max or Maya to let them navigate and place objects without breaking things, is a recipe for trouble.

When you sit down to plan your next set of level tools, think about both ends of that artist-designer relationship. Look how your artists and designers cooperate now, and consider whether that relationship would benefit from a shared editing environment. Obviously, no piece of software is going to magically build creative cooperation on its own, but an upgrade to your tool chain is a great opportunity to upgrade the relationship between artists and designers as well.

Costs and Benefits

If you're still wondering whether you ought to be designing your own custom world editing tool, that's good. Building a world-class world editor is not a slam-dunk proposition; it's a major undertaking that deserves serious thought.

At least we're fortunate that they confluence of graphics hardware and new development tools has made it a thinkable option. Nobody wants to end up like one of those workstation-era companies that were handcuffed to doomed hardware and software platforms.

When you do sit down to ponder the question, take the opportunity to ping your friends at other studios for more information as well. The industry does a great job of solving problems, but not so well at sharing solutions. Doing a little better on that score really is a slam-dunk.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was independently published by Gamasutra's editors, since it was deemed of value to the community. Its publishing has been made possible by Intel, as a platform and vendor-agnostic part of Intel's Visual Computing microsite.]

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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