Saturday, April 3, 2010

Building the Great Unknown

Today I've taken my first steps along the path of level creation within the Dragon Age toolset. Previously I'd opened the level editor up, failed to move around (thanks to a finicky issue with the scroll wheel click not acting as a middle mouse button), and quit. Even after I'd solved that, I has shied away from attempting again after seeing the near indecipherable model lists for art assets... yes, that's what that image on the right is, a partial list of the folders containing items to pretty up Dragon Age levels. Good luck figuring that out without a set of screenshots or a glossary.

But having mapped one of my spare buttons to act as the middle mouse, and knowing the only way to learn was by doing, I opened up the level editor this morning and had a go at it. My initial level was... too small. It seems 64mx64m is not really sufficient for an exterior area once you put in a few props and try to create some background to stop the player seeing past the edge of the terrain. But after ditching that and trying a 256mx256m area, I came up with something passable. It's still a work in progress, but this is my learning curve of dealing with a new level editor and part of the result of about 8 hours work.

You can click that(and the one further down) for a higher resolution image, by the way. I'm sure I'm making mistakes as I go, so anyone spots any glaring newbie errors in area creation, I'd be highly grateful if you could point them out to me. Please note that I've taken these screenshots from the toolset, and I'll reiterate that it is a work in progress. I'm yet to put down many models to clutter the area, and I've not even attempted any lighting. I also was not brave enough to try to use water for this first effort. I thought I'd start simple and work my way up in complexity.

One thing that did take me ages to work out how to do was to create overhangs. I was very happy when I saw overhangs in Dragon Age's landscape, but had forgotten about them. But, as I opened up one of the single player levels to find some trees, I saw one, and realised I didn't have any in my level. As such, I just had to have one. Or several. Then came the hair-tearing process of working out the level designers had done it. No matter how I used the terrain tools, I couldn't get it to work. Just as I was about to admit defeat and ask on the forums, I found the solution. It had been staring me in the face. It was the deform tool... but you need to change an option in the Object Inspector:

Simply set the Deform Mode to "Extrude along normal" and you can now make overhangs. Just extrude the face sideways, and use the tessellate tool to increase the density of your terrain mesh to get a nicer looking cliff/overhang. See exhibit B on the left in the foreground, and also exhibit C further back on the right.

I feel I should try and put together what I've learned in some kind of level editing "walkthrough" at some point to help other people through the other issues I've fought with bitterly. Though I might leave that for when I've been doing it for more than one day and actually have a playable level/area!

1 comment:

  1. Heh, that was an entertaining read. Making a cave and an overhang were two of the first things I tackled as well because they were new things you couldn't do in NWN2. :)

    Your screenshots are looking nice, especially for the time you have put into them. It looks like you will pick this up just fine and do well with it. It sure helps having designed for NWN2. Don't sweat the water, it's pretty simple. Just remember to export your level from the Single Player campaign in order to see it in game.

    Also, check out Adinos' DA Model Manipulator if you want to browse the models quicker:
    What I did is browse all the models with a given area in mind and write down all the ones I might want to use for it. Sure, it takes 30 minutes to an hour but I think it will save time overall.

    Good luck, I love level building! :)