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Before20 project - Issue one.


*** Caroo - I moved this topic to the design section due to it being more relevant here. ***

The ?Before20? project: Creating a design folio.

Current update: Production Week 2 [ 26th /3/2006 ]

The Quick Sum-up of this project.

The before20 project is the name given to my folio. While the folio will contain some concept art and design documents. The main bulk/work/attraction to this folio when it's completed will be a fully playable single player level using the unreal2004 engine. [For those who do not have unreal2004 a video showing it played out with and without background commentary will be provided on folio DVD when complete.]

The Single Player level is designed totally by the folio maker and he's striving to put as many of his own made assets into the level. The storyline is small but meaningful enough to drive the game with a sense of purpose.

I want to become a game or level designer. Both are good although my skills lean toward game designer more so. Listening to the advice of other designers in the industry I aim to make a folio that has as many tangible assets as it does documents and concept arts. But is this really nessercry for a budding designer?

Probably not in the requirement sector. But it shows something that so many in the industry want. Passion. I?m not going to call it talent [because talent is natural ability: I spent a month doing and compressing 500 pages of unreal and Maya tutorials into 40 odd pages of notes. I have passion and skill. Not talent]

With this level completed and showing enough passion for a game designer to learn modeling, texturing, level design and creating scripted sequences I hope to god that it?ll be enough to turn one or two heads and someone in this industry to give me the big break I want.

To put it simply. I aim to learn and earn my way into this industry.

My real name is Chris Watts. I?m currently 19 years old. [Thus the name before20] I?m an aussie who has a passion for video games, Good anime and American cartoons. Transformers and robots. Sci-fi and all those other nerdy things. I currently live in eastern rural Melbourne with my father and brother.

I?m by no means a genius in any way, shape or form. My VCE score was a meager 62.20 [reduced from 75 though. That's what you get for taking design in school XD]

I love stories that go and teach us something. A enjoy seeing the good guy win and the bad guy getting his retribution. My pet peeve is serial killer and some ?Psychological thriller? movies, as I both hate watching people die for someone else's entertainment and I have a phobia of seeing people's entrails?

This folio is to be done right in my own home using a computer I brought with about 3 months of saved up money. Learning from books, internet tutorials and the advice of experienced individuals on forums I plan to make a folio that's up to par and if not better then others studying at the expensive courses. This is not done in spite or dislike of these courses. But I?m just trying to show that through self-motivation and passion to get better you CAN do it on your own.

Also there's no way in hell I can afford those things. XD

So with the introduction finished it's best to tell you how the project is coming along.

Production: Week One:

With the tutorials and preparations done it was time that I would start to make this folio into something more tangible. I hit a bump in the road to begin with. The static mesh [meshes that are used for decoration and/or non animated] exporter from maya or unrealED was buggy and didn?t export the meshes correctly. While I sought advice on a few forums I would make myself useful and start to curve out the rooms I would be populating with items in unreal. Making these rooms is done with BSB brushes. Using ad and subtract buttons you can make any type of room you really want depending on your skill. The only two rules to follow is to make sure no BSB brush cuts into another and to keep the rooms in 16 unit segments, preferable to the power of two.


While I did this for a week or so I finally came across my solution to my static mesh problem. After installing another version of Maya and a new exporter [ActorX] the meshes came into unreal looking just the same as in Maya.

Production: Week two:

With ? of my level carved out in BSB and temporary textures in place it was time I started to create some assets. Starting with the simplest thing possible I made a floor segment:

While crudely textured and not a very pritty mesh it was my first successful import. This was made on Monday 20th/3. On Saturday however I improved upon it and made a new mesh.


TIP: As I viewed the original mesh in lighting which was a small 40 ploys I noticed the light and shadowing that reflected off it was poor and unrealistic. This is because I stretched the polygons to far. The second floor segment mesh resolved this issue by placing 16 evenly spaced polys on the top face of the mesh instead of 2 stretched out ones. The shadowing and lighting on these faces are now more realistic. The trick is exactly the same as texturing. While you try your hardest to make your textures and meshes as small as possible also remember to prioritize and give extra ploys to where it's needed.

With this segment being 128x128 units it snaps on perfectly in the map editor. I cannot stress enough keeping meshes to ether the power of 2 or in 16 units per measure.

I also created stair segments, lights, a console with a 2nd texture placement to put any animated texture on, a door with a border, supports and most important for this room the core generator and its coolant segments.

Part of the levels design was for the player to use a button to make objects move in order for him to progress. While a simple door can do this it doesn?t show much skill or imagination. So in this room when the player presses the use button on a console; 8 coolant segments come out of the side of the generator to ?vent? excess power. However for the player this gives him something to jump and progress on. Using sounds, moving objects and an animated texture I came up with this. Keep in mind extra effects like steam and shaking the players view wont be implemented until all the ?game play? class meshes are inserted into the game. Functionality over looks is the core of this folio.


So for two weeks work I think it's all coming along nicely. While I do admit I?m nowhere near as fast as many other level designers. I have to remind myself that the only way I can improve is to keep at what I?m doing and not let anyone else discourage me.

Until next time - Cheers

Next project review in one month.

Asset tally:

Static meshes made*: 12
*This does not include meshes that have been replaced by better ones.

Textures made*: 22
*Animated textures only count as one each even though there are multiple textures. Textures no longer used are also not counted.

Scripted sequences*: 2
*Scripted sequences are using events and objects to make interesting interactive elements into a game. Do not mistake it as programming.


Submitted by J I Styles on Wed, 29/03/06 - 2:43 AM Permalink

Not much to say that would be too relevant since I'm not a designer, but I will say that I respect the ambition and drive you're putting into this project - well done.

Submitted by Jackydablunt on Wed, 29/03/06 - 6:27 AM Permalink

Good stuff man, put yourself out there, this is the kinda thing that eventually will get you noticed, and really I'm quite suprised companies havent been asking you to apply already. They spend far too much time looking for the good ol 3/4 years of 'exp' that they overlook and miss examples of tenacity such as this that would play just as much as an asset.

I havent gone through it all yet but I'll read and post my opinions later tonight. Though through the personal conversations you and I have had I for one am sure you'll land a job someplace soon Caroo, sooner or later a company will look past the stats and see the potential.

Submitted by nexx on Wed, 29/03/06 - 10:04 AM Permalink

Looking good! Any timeframe for when you expect this level to be completed?

I was recently offered a level design position (my work has been mostly UT2004 based) so I'll have a think about it and post my thoughts/tips later. A junior level design position would seem like the most appropriate place to start out.

PS: If you need any help with the Unreal Engine/Editor let me know and I'll be glad to help :)

Submitted by Caroo on Wed, 29/03/06 - 11:18 PM Permalink

J.I.Styles & Jackydablunt:

Thanks for the support guys. My mind-set on this project is that while I?d love one of the studios to take notice of me now and see the passion. I'm betting heavily that it wont happen. I have sparked interest in one company before but I believe there still a little iffy on me. I don't blame them really. A designer with no credentials is a very dangerous thing to a companies production, he could fit in well..or....


The name of the project is called "before20" meaning I have to my birthday to finish this level and all the documentation/assets. That gives me as of now around 5 months to get this level looking impressive and something that will cause curiosity in the studios. Keep in mind though there?s far more to do then just building assets in Maya and exporting them to unreal ed, There?s texturing, scripting, designing and layouts, training, concept art and hopefully if time is kind I?ll make a intro and outro movie to the level as well.

While I?d prefer a junior game design title I?m trying to cover both bases by also adding in a lot of level design into this project as you can see. Leaving me open to apply for two positions instead of just the one.

Cheers guys. And good luck and all your endeavours as well.

Submitted by Jackydablunt on Fri, 31/03/06 - 11:50 AM Permalink

Caroo, one thing I'll point out is you need more of a synopsis on the actual level, I'm not really too sure of the overall goal of the design itself. You've got the wireframe there of the level, but I'm not actually too sure of what I'm looking at. I know you bear some 2D concept skill so use it, hammer up some schematics of the level with descriptions of what you hope to achieve in specific parts, storyboard a few sequences as well, and the Player's progression through it. A Designer has the Design in their head, they write a document purely for the benefit of others (also to keep track of stuff though meh), so you have to explain the experience of what you're hoping to achieve and get all those involved thinking on the same lines. The more that people know of the goal, the more they can help you achieve it, and in this case, the more you can show your skill in achieving it yourself.

One thing I've brought up with a few guys at certain Industry and portfolio review nights I've been to, is you have to always assume the reader is non industry, doesn?t play games, and has only a minute to spare in which to read the document. You have to get as much info into the first page (paragraph even) as you can, and leave the detail to last. One thing I've found and really its no surprise, is that people just don't want to read documents and would prefer to simply just get a jist and wing it, so you have to try and keep it as brief as you can but as comprehensive as you can as well. It's no easy ask but you can get a feel for it eventually, certain details just simply don't need to be given right away, and can be saved for an appendix or something later.

This also allows you to maintain the dynamic nature of the Design. Some of the best ideas you'll come up with will be while laying in bed at night halfway through the production, or you'll get from the guy who delivers the watercooler bottles to the company, so although its dangerous to throw spanners around the place while everything's on a roll, its also dangerous to design too much detail too early and kill the chance of a possible improvement in the future. Its good to keep a basic overall synopsis document to always refer back to and that'll be the bible, the thing that will guide everyone and yourself, it covers all aspects of the project but keeps it all brief and easy to read. The detail of each section however you hold for separate appendix' that you can get into and change at a later date (after much discussion and compromise), and hopefully wont screw up other parts of the project. This being said however, sometimes you can get away with just one big F?Off doc, but always keep the detail to the back.

One last thing and this is a big one, is Spelling and Grammar. The primary purpose for your documents is for them to be read by a large number of parties, more than likely from all parts of the world, so legibility is paramount. Posting on forums yeah its cool (I can see a number of mistakes I?ve made in this post so far myself, whatever) but with any serious documentation you have to take into a word processor and read and reread multiple times, you have to be really strict with yourself. Just force yourself into a habit of rereading absolutely everything you do, even quick stuff. If you're even slightly not sure of a word then copy paste it into MS Word or something with a spell check (google even). Also make your favourite site, by regularly using the thesaurus you can compact a lot of info into a few words, its also a great tool for coming up with exotic names.

And most importantly you gotta be humble and ever self critical, you can be proud of your achievements, even boast sometimes, but the moment you stop looking to improve, is the moment you stop improving. (this quality I think you've already got, I'm just noting its importance). Once you're in the industry always remember, Artists know Art better than you, Coders know Code better than you. Even if you've dabbled somewhat in this or that, the other guys in the company work in that specific fulltime and their knowledge is critically important. Never just lock yourself in a room, design something, and pass it on, always ask the Art, Tech, and Marketing Leads for advice and feedback on everything, right from day one.

Submitted by Kalescent on Fri, 31/03/06 - 1:12 PM Permalink

I remember again when you first jumped onto sumea touting your devotion, and really you havent ceased to amaze me. It wont be long before your snaffled up if you maintain this drive.

Im in total agreeance with jackydablunts last post, youll remember much earlier on my comments to you about spelling and grammer [;)] and in paticular the last paragraph in his post.

Thats pure gold advice.

Submitted by Djenx on Wed, 05/04/06 - 8:17 PM Permalink

Good one Caroo!

With determination like that you?re bound to find the job you?re looking for, it's only a matter of time.

Make sure you post your level once it's done, so we can "test" it[;)]