SOVEREIGN MOON PRESENTS…
Unity Environment Design: I Made This 3D World In 24 Hours
In this tutorial I’ll walk you through my environmental design process for a game we plan on launching out of our studio soon.
Unity Environment Design Using No-Code Tools
Today, Sovereign Moon Studios, the makers of your favorite NoCode game development course, will be walking you through our environment design process using Unity’s game engine. As you’ll see, world building can be done quickly if you leave a bit of time for play and experimentation.
Let’s jump in!
Environment Design Introduction
Today was the day that we started production and I just wanted to share our progress with you so far.
Coming from an indie film background, I’m accustomed to thinking about ways to creatively squeeze as much production value out of a project as possible while working within my limits and not overstepping my boundaries. Here are some scenes from films I directed in the past where I had really limited budgets and really limited timeframes to complete the project within.
I’d have to think really creatively about how to schedule my production time to ensure certain scenes would have the natural light I needed. Other times, when working in the studio, I’d ned to think creatively about how to dress a set to make it appear as though the space we were working in was bigger, even though it was a very small space.
I managed to achieve looks like this because I always built time for play and experimentation into my development process.
I think both filmmakers and gamemakers get divided on this topic.
Some will preach the importance of setting up your boundaries early on and not wavering. These game makers and filmmakers need clear goals and boundaries beforehand, because too much freedom can lead to endless expiration and the ultimate death of a project. Without rules, it’s easy to get lost and never finish anything.
Others work best with more freedom and find their ideas in play, and then build structures and framework around that play.
For me personally, I need a calculated combination of both. I can’t’ start without an outline, because I get lost too easy. However, I can’t over-plan myself into a corner, because I know my best ideas come from experimentation and play during production. So I build in play and experimentation into my production schedule. And I always start my first day with play, because early play will help you spot potential problems early on and help you troubleshoot those issues in an open space.
This process was inspired by a Picasso quote, where here states that:
The Importance of Play & Experimentation When Designing Environments
Now in the world of indie game design, I find it beneficial to take a similar approach. We often put so much pressure on ourselves to know exactly what we’re going to do before we open up a blank canvas. However, it’s often not until a black canvas is in front of us and we stay playing when ideas start flowing to us.
So this is the approach I take on my first 24 hours of any creative project I work on. So here is a shot of the environment I managed to build today.
Now, mind you, it’s not much, but the work that I did today will lay the foundation for the work that I plan on doing in the coming months.
I had very clear goals going into my day today. Even though it was a play day, I knew I had some things that I needed to solve. In this tutorial I’ll provide a framework for the 5 things that I use to guide me on my first day of development.
My Game Environment Design Process
1. Time Chunks: The first game element I play with is time. I already have the game planned and roughly mapped out. I want a game with roughly 1.5 hours of gameplay and therefore my goal is to create an open world where my character can explore 6 different micro-environments each taking about 15 minutes to complete and each with their own set of obstacles, characters and stories. Each section of the map will also roughly correspond to my plot points so I’ve tentatively designed each mico-environment to correspond to the mood I’m trying to set narratively. So today I’m trying to get a sense of roughly how big my level map will need to be to support 15 minutes of exploration and game play.
This will help keep me motivated and on track because rather than having the daunting task of completing a 1.5 hour game, I can instead focus on breaking my work down into smaller manageable chunks and focus on completing the smaller 15 minute micro-environments.
Also, in order to speed up the development process I’m using free tools like Unity’s 3D Game Kit to get access to pre-built skyboxes, cameras and UI. I’ve just retargeted the character so I could swap out their default character. All of these things together save me a huge amount of time.
2. Object Auditioning: Another goal I had today was to audition as many free art assets as possible to see what I can make work within my game environment. Free art assets are great, but using many together often result in a disjointed and visually inconsistent game since the assets often weren’t designed to exist in the same world. I’ll be doing the same for materials as well. For example, notice that I have many different rock, metal and cement textures that I can use within my game world. So one of the first things I’ll do in my first day of development is to audition as many of these materials as possible. What I often do is I setup little spaces on a map where I can audition assets or materials for different game ideas.
Here, for example, I’m trying to find the right material for these large pillars. As I audition different materials, I listen to what my gut tells me. I really like some of the materials, but I feel some of them have too detailed of textures. While I like this in other games, I’m not going to have the time or budget or do justice to a photo-realistic environment.
So I was something flatter, more basic and a little more cartoony. My character is also a bit more cartoony and I need to ensure that there is design synergy between my character and his world. Here I find a tentative material that I like so I’ll stick with that.
Also, the reason that I like this more simple design is that for my hero environment pieces that I plan on building from scratch in Blender, if I’ve already established an environment with less detailed objects, when it comes time to design my custom pieces I’ll be able to build things much quicker because I won’t be forced to match their level of detail to the rest of my game world.
By keeping design simple now, I’ll save myself a mountain of work later once I move away from stock art assets.
3. Color Pallet: My third goal for today was to find a color pallet for my game. My goal is to use a very simplified color palette consisting of no more than a handful of colors for the majority of my work. My hope is that I can create interesting worlds using this color palette of dark blues and bright oranges. Complimentary or “split complementary” colors are colors that exist opposite to each other on the color wheel. When planning this game my goal was to use either complimentary colors or analogous colors, which are gradients of colors that exist beside each other on the color wheel. But when I played around with an analogous color palette, I found the result a bit flat. I might have been able to make it work, but my instincts drew me back to the complimentary color palette I was using before.
4. Materials: My fourth goal after auditing as many art assets and materials as possible, was to find a creative solution to solving my design cohesion problem. Because I’m going to be using a lot of off-the-shelf art assets to make my game, I need to find a way to make things look like they should exist in the same world together. One of the things you can do, is to make small adjustments to the color pallet of your individual art assets. For example here, notice if I drag in this new material on my rock the rock doesn’t match my terrain texture at all. In order to bring those colors closer together, I can just open my object shaders color tab and bring those colors closer together. This will help a bit. But in my world I expect to have a lot of rough edges. I need to find a way to hide some of these issues.
5. Atmosphere: I decided to use a volumetric lighting tool that you can get in the unity asset store to help me add volumetric lighting to my game.
This will fill my game with the fog you see now and help me tie things together and help me hide some of my game’s rough edges.
After experimenting a bit with lighting as well, I find that either keeping my game really dark or really light and blown out will help me hide some design flaws of the game. Notice for example, that when my character looks up, the fog and light obscure the character’s ability to see to the top of these pillars. In reality, these pillars don’t go up very high. Not having to build really high pillars with perfect details all of the way up, saves me a lot of time.
Similarly fog helps me hide the fact that some o the art assets I’ll be using are free assets you can download off the unity store. Now, this fear is often unfounded, but I think it goes through most indie-game makers head at some point. You don’t’ want your game to be called an asset kit flip. You want to make things on your own, but you don’t really want to have to design everything from scratch. We ask to ask ourselves, will my world really benefit from a custom designed rock, or tree, or cash register. Or can we just use the countless assets that have already been specifically designed to save you time.
Your fear that someone on Reddit or twitter will call you out saying “hey that’s the same cash register that was in 10 other games I played this month, is mostly unfounded.”
That said, I do think asset manipulation is important because not only does it allow you to hide the fact that you’re using pre-made art assets but more importantly, it helps you better fit these assets into your environments. For example, here is a stock spaceship that I download for free from Unity’s asset store. I’ll provide a link to this asset below, but notice when I change the material a bit to remove the colors and then place the object out into space, it’s hard to identify this asset as a stock asset.
So in a nutshell, those are the 5 things I completed on my game’s first 24 hours of development. I’m going to complete this game entirely using no-code tools to help us promote our no-code game development course where we teach indie game devs how to make breathtaking games from scratch without having to know how to code. So if you’re interested in learning more about this course, or monitoring the progress of this game, I’ll provide a link to our website in the description below.
Thanks for stopping by today.
Sovereign Moon Studios is dedicated to helping game enthusiasts bring their creative visions to life without having to know how to code or draw. Our NoCode game development course teaches indie game devs how to build breathtaking games from scratch.
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