While UT3’s retail version will come out in the next weeks, Dave Ewing, Senior Level Designer at Epic Games, agreed to answer some of our questions regarding his work and the mapping creation process in the devteam.
Unreal.fr : How do you become level designer at Epic Games?
Dave Ewing: Well first of all I should mention that the role of Level Designer has for the most part been split into two distinct jobs for UE3 generation games. You have Level Artists and Gameplay Level Designers: Gameplay designers will generally start the level and finish it. Level Artists hit it in between to make it pretty. I’ll go into the distinction between jobs in more detail later on. As far as getting hired for one of those two positions, well, there’s no magic formula, but the best way to start is to work with the UE3 editor once UT3 comes out. It will take lots of iteration and feedback from the community, but if you’re good and very persistent, eventually you’re likely to find a job. It may not be with Epic, but lots of great Design studios are using UE3 and can use a skilled LD who know’s his or her way around the UE3 editor.
U.fr :Can you explain in a nutshell the mapping process at Epic Games? From the concept art to the final version of the level, how many people have worked on it?
D.E. : It starts off with a gameplay LD messing around with a general gameplay idea. They will shell it out (simple geometry and bsp with very few static meshes) and get some initial playtesting done on it. Much gameplay revision happens at this point and sometimes even the initial gameplay idea that started the map will die or mutate. At this point the maps look much like UT99 maps with bad lighting. ? After the gameplay team feels it’s at a good spot, some screenshots will go to a concept artist who does a paint-over to give the level a visual theme and cohesiveness to strive towards. Then it’s off to the Level Artists who make it pretty! They will mesh and light the level using the concept art as guidance and will constant feedback from the gameplay team to make sure no gameplay is sacrificed. After they are done with it, it goes back to the gameplay LD’s who will do some rough collision work and get the level playable again. Then more testing to ensure the gameplay is still good. The last phase is a ‘shipping’ phase where collision is made smooth and solid all over, AI is fully implemented, bugs are squashed, etc. Generally most of each level is done by two designers, but sometimes a third or fourth will hop in to help out or to allow for schedule juggling.
U.fr : Where does your inspiring influence come from? Any favourite movies & novels?
[gallery columns="4" link="file" ids="761180,761181,761182,761183,761184,761186,761187,761188"]
D.E. : Definitely movies and books have inspired some of my past work. I’m a big fan of Tolkien and I’m also a big WWII buff (having graduated with a History Degree before I got into game design) so some of that has crept its way into my levels. Hero is IMO the most beautiful movie ever made and inspired some of my UT3 work as well. But (being more of a Gameplay Designer) mostly inspiration pops into my head when I think of a particular gameplay idea that I want to work a level around. For instance, with DM-Heatray (which will be in the demo) I thought ‘what if instead of a Redeemer I used a Dark Walker as the super weapon for a large DM map?’. It doesn’t always work out, but sometimes you strike gold and people love it. Hopefully people will like our work in UT3.
U.fr : What kind of gamer are you?
D.E. : Sadly not near the gamer I used to be. I’ve grown up too much and now have a family with 2 kids which is where much of my time away from work goes. Unfortunately now most of my gaming is ‘find a few hours to check out this game and see what’s cool about it’. Every-so-often though, I still manage to find a game that will make me give up too much sleep and get my family mad at me. The last two were WoW and Oblivion, but I have a real problem this fall since there are so many amazing games recently released (Bioshock, TF2, EnemyTerritory, Halo3) that I want to play a lot of and it’ll be very tough to choose just one or two of them.
U.fr : Regarding your work, what are your obligations with a game as UT3? For instance are you free in your map-theme choice or your boss says « no more egyptian-theme level »?
D.E. : Generally speaking there is a specific art style and concept and a set number of each type of map needed, so there is a bit more structure then there used to be with past UT titles. That said, we are very open to new ideas here at Epic and within the confines of gametype and the need for the level to be playable and fun, the sky is really the limit.
U.fr : UT3’s levels show an impressive amount of details, have you reached with Unreal Engine 3 the possibility to make artworks-looking maps?
D.E. : In this industry, you can never say you’re as good as you’re going to get or else you’ll quickly get buried by the competition. At Epic the goal is to raise the bar with each game, rather than just with each new iteration of our Engine. We feel UT3 was a step up from Gears, visually, and we will make our next project another step up again.
Thanks very much for the interview!