Here's a breakdown of the assets used to build up the scene.
When broken down in this way you can see more clearly the primary, secondary and tertiary forms.
Rocks make up the primary base, coral makes up the secondary points of interest and then smaller foliage and decals make up the tertiary pass and help to dress the environment making it feel more natural.
Even within these three main groups you can see a similar rule applies.
First, big shapes are used to block out large masses then more detailed meshes are employed to fill in the gaps and add things like cover or obstacles, finally decorative rock pieces are added to help mask any crashing geometry and add detail where it's needed to lead the players eye.
Above you can see a demonstration of the world aligned material used for the basalt rocks.
Because the world editor is such a large part of the game, we really wanted a texturing solution that allowed players the ability to scale, stretch and rotate assets without losing quality.
The world aligned function is a great way to achieve this.
Not only does it keep the texel density consistent across the level. It also helps ease the transition points between objects so that you don't get as many of those obvious seams.
That way players can really experiment with the different assets and build the worlds they want, without having to worry about the materials
It was very important to have a good range of modular assets since we didn't want to limit players creativity within the in game editor.
The basalt rock pieces come with both world aligned and static UV variants of the material.
The world aligned version is good for scaling and stretching pieces quickly and easily but a UV version was still required in case players wanted to have moving platforms.
All of the coral pieces come with high resolution detail textures and a large amount of LOD's so players can afford to be pretty dramatic with the scaling but still strike a balance where performance is concerned.
The movement in the foliage such as the swaying grass and hanging seaweed which blows in the wind is all achieved by offsetting verts through the material shader.
This much animation in a scene would be far too costly to bake into a skeleton or have running in real time physics but having some movement in the scene goes a long way to making the world feel alive.
Some early Ideation.
Exploring potential colour palettes for the corals assets.
Limiting your colour palette is a great way to nail down a mood and a feeling for the scene.
Sketching over screenshots is also a nice quick way to play with different ideas before committing to them.
Lastly but arguably most important of all is the gameplay breakdown.
These sheets are invaluable for communicating quickly and clearly to everyone where the main chunks of gameplay are going to take place. Used in conjunction with gameplay programmers and those in charge of coding AI to hammer out details and any adjustments that need to be made.
Where should players expect combat? Are there rest periods geared towards exploration where secrets or collectibles should be hidden?
Giving yourself this broad overview can also really help you see how the flow of the level is shaping up on a macro scale. Is there too much combat clustered in one section ? Are there any choke points that may hinder the flow of gameplay ?
Coming from an artists background rather than a gameplay background it was great to shift more into the level design side of things.
I have always been conscious of leading a player or a viewer through an environment.
Using light and shadow, warm and cool colours or high detail vs low detail areas to direct your audience through a scene.
However thinking more explicitly about gameplay and constantly playtesting sections as I built them has really helped crystallize this idea in my mind.
Keeping gameplay in mind when fleshing out environments can really help to inform the artwork and vice versa.
Using things like landmarks in a scene can not only be a useful gameplay device, helping players build an internal compass of the world, it can also be a bold artistic choice which adds visual interest.
Building different routes and paths through a scene doesn't just make for more interesting composition. It can also help give players a sense of freedom and a desire for exploration, thus keeping them engaged and playing longer.
Games are a medium like no other in that it's not just important to make something that looks pretty. It's also important to consider what these places will feel like to inhabit.
I think any successful game understands that level design and environment art are two sides of the same coin and should work together to achieve the same goal, both informing each other.