When thinking about what our community might like to see from our dev blogs, we often draw from topics that excite the team. This month, we’re sharing one that’s always been a conversation-starter: The process behind turning a bare-bones map into the beautiful level you see in game. Today we’ll be sharing how Nimbus Reach was designed, from start to finish.
Starting From White Box Levels
Nimbus Reach was a large undertaking, and it all started with a layout made by the level designers called a White Box. The main purpose of a White Box layout is to define the gameplay before going too far into the visuals. White Box levels have the fundamental gameplay elements: defined enemy lanes, objectives, Kismet integration, and the basic architecture of the map. Most of the geometry is created with primitives like cubes and cylinders, but sometimes temporary meshes are used for clarity. Once the White Box level for Nimbus Reach was done and properly tested by our team, we moved on to the next stage.
Where We Get Our Inspiration
Before we can build any geometry, we have to have some inspiration and a strong idea of how the final map should look. This is where our talented concept team comes in. At this stage in the process, they create concept sketches and mood shots to inspire the rest of the developers. Later on, they paint over the geometry to show new assets that need to be built or any tweaks that need to be made.
How We Build
Once the concept artists have given us an end goal to work toward, we study the initial layout and make it more visually interesting by replacing the basic primitives (cubes, cylinders, etc) with more complex shapes and curves. In the process of doing this we have to be very careful to keep the gameplay intact, especially the enemy lanes and the objectives.
We always start working with the floor areas first, because enemy lanes are one of the most important things on our levels and they define the final gameplay. In the picture below you can see an example where we did a complete ground path mesh based on the initial White Box layout which is defined by the red lines. In this example, a basic shape is turned into a finished, vertex-painted mesh in Maya.
So this is for the basic geometry of the level -- floors, walls, ceilings, etc. -- but there are other types of geometry we don't need to create from scratch. These are based on our environment artists’ work.
They create new meshes with superb, hand-painted textures based on concepts for every level. And although most of these new pieces are modular, sometimes we need to make modified versions to fit them to complex areas of the level. This can done in 3D software using blend deformers like lattices, curves, and also the classic modelling tools.
Adding the Lighting
After the geometry is created and placed, we then need to add lighting to the map. In DD2, we’re trying to define strong focal points by creating depth. Lighting plays an extremely important role in this, and not just visually. Good lighting should help players find the critical areas in the level, while drawing attention away from less important areas.
The Final Result
Once all of that is done, the map is passed off to the VFX artists where it’s really brought to life. You can see the final result and the evolution of Nimbus Reach in the picture below, from the White Box layout to the final level.
And here’s another example from Little-Horn Valley:
It takes a lot of hard work and a team full of dedicated artists and designers, but we’re extremely proud of the level of polish we’ve achieved with our maps and hope to bring you the same quality in the future.
Of the maps revealed thus far, which would you like to see from start to finish? Let us know in the comments and you could win a seat on the Defense Council!
The random winner of our Witherbeast blog is Satori!
Leave a comment to get your hands on the Dungeon Defenders II pre-alpha. We’ll pick a random poster and reveal the winner in our next blog post!