Techland's Lead 3D Environment Artist Bartosz Januszkiewicz has told us about designing environments for Dying Light 2 Stay Human, spoke about the working process behind them, and explained how the levels were made intuitive.
Hi. My name is Bartosz Januszkiewicz and I’m the Lead 3D Environment Artist here at Techland. The Environment Art team consists of very talented and passionate artists that come from different backgrounds.
I’ve gotten into environment art through playing World of Warcraft, funnily enough. This pushed me to start studying Game Art & Design at DeMontfort University in Leicester UK from which I graduated and went straight into my first Environment Art job at Crytek as a Junior Environment Artist on Crysis 3.
The Environment Art team is divided between 3D Environment Artists and Level Artists. We tend to work together as one with the help of our Environment Concept Art team. A lot of the team members tend to be the "jack of all trades" that can tackle any task they get down the production line. We still do have people that focus mainly on certain things like vegetation, architecture, or interiors. Generally, we collaborate with all departments a lot to find the right balance between gameplay and art.
Starting an Environment
New environments are always a bit of a challenge. The two key pieces of information we need from other teams are a solid level design with smooth parkour as well as mood, executive concept art, and the story behind it.
Based on a Level Design blockout we tend to create "prototype" versions of systems and assets that our Level Artists use. Prototypes are very quick assets that are based on provided concept art or refs that roughly resemble their final look in the scene. This stage always saves us a lot of time later down the line as it always answers a lot of questions that might not have popped up during the design process. Once everything is greenlit we start developing the final quality of those assets.
In our asset production pipeline, we use mainly 3ds Max, Blender, and ZBrush for modeling and Substance 3D Painter for texturing. To save us some time we also work with scans. Having a good library of in-house scans made by our scanning department at Techland as well as Megascans we can quickly grab a few things into ZBrush and make them into an asset or a tiling texture. This is the best way to keep the quality up without spending a vast amount of time sculpting things from scratch. We also tend to make them as optimal as possible by saving on tri-counts and texture space so in the overall scene we can put more detail.
To save some time we used our own scans from our scanning department and Megascans but still had to prepare them in a way that met our technical expectations to be as optimal as they can be for an open-world game like Dying Light 2 Stay Human.
Modularity was a huge factor in our pipeline to create and populate such a big city. It saved us a lot of time with each iteration that had to be made. With a parkour game like this having the possibility to create, adapt and change routes within seconds is very important. Apart from regular city architecture, we took the same modular approach with open-world activities such as water towers and electrical substations. By collaborating with our designers they were able to create any gameplay puzzle they needed with the assets provided by us.
Our team has created hundreds of modular pieces of architecture which were later on populated by our City Builder tool as a starting point to build our city. From that point, our Level Artists have put a tremendous amount of work to make places feel more unique. Loot islands, lost convoys, rooftop storytellers, and many many other storytelling elements were placed around Villedor for players to discover. Another thing would probably be the four different roof biomes that we created for the rooftops so that some parts of the city feel different than the others.
When it comes to texturing the world of Dying Light 2 Stay Human we used a mixed array of tools. Starting from Substance 3D Designer to Quixel Mixer and of course using the classic approaches. Using scans to create tiling textures in ZBrush and bake them down was also the case. We didn’t have a one "must go to" pipeline and everyone was free to use whatever approach they liked as long as the result was easy to iterate on later.
Making Environments Intuitive
Obviously, the biggest challenge was to find that thin balance line between large-scale and micro-detail. Thanks to the collaboration between Level Design and the Environment Art teams we constantly checked in-game how it all felt as you played.
Designers made sure that clear pathways were always readable, and 3D Environment Artists made sure that the details in shape, form and textures were very well balanced and readable. Our Level Artists ensured it all fitted nicely in place. Teamwork was the key to all of that.
Challenges and Bottlenecks
The biggest challenge we faced as an Environment Art team was the constant iterations on parkour routes as they had to feel right towards the end and fun to play. With that sometimes we had to change whole districts, building placement, and their verticality, add an interior for a quick pass through the building where there were none before, etc. Thanks to some of the tools we had in C-Engine we could quickly do so without having to redo a lot of work.
What made us most proud is seeing all of that work coming along together in the end. All the hard decisions and introductions of new things such as roof biomes made us realize all of it was worth it. It enriched the gameplay and the visuals. At one point you’re running down a street full of zombies, streets covered in mud and corpses and within a second you can grab a zipline and find yourself in a lush colorful forest on the rooftops.
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