Introduction to UDK. Circa 2011/2012

In the weeks before my college course kicked off, after reading the course outline, I had been exploring Unity 3D somewhat, but just enough to give myself a slight foundation of 3D thinking.

It was UDK (Unreal Development Kit) we played about with, though. A little different from the Unity 3D I had been playing with, but still, I was eager to play about with 3D Development tools.

The unit was simple, to create a 3D level, with three separate areas and include light sources and to populate the level with static meshes, so it wasn’t just a bland mess…

For any of you unfamiliar with UDK, here’s a shot of it’s UI.

UDK UIAs you can see, for a n00b, it’s potentially daunting, but, I had no intention of letting that stop me.

Having previously worked within Unity 3D to some degree, migrating over the UDK was relatively easy, it was just a matter of learning the new layout. I quickly discovered that I found working and thinking within a three dimensional environment was very natural, and a lot easier than I initially expected. 

Within a few hours, I had sketched and plotted my level.
Yeah, the sketches weren’t brilliant, but they were good enough to provide the foundation of my level.
And, plotting out the environment within UDK was proving to be a rather smooth, and easy-going process, although I had grabbed myself a rather shiny, new laptop so I could work in college, because the general scope of my design was becoming increasingly difficult on the computers in college, there was just too much going on and they couldn’t quite keep up.

My actual level within UDK had strayed somewhat from my original sketches at this point, but the atmosphere and feel of the environment was still there, so, I ran with it.

After putting down all the base geometry, I realised my level was still rather bland and somewhat uninteresting.
I went back to the beginning of the level, and just walked it, making note of all the areas I could populate with anything from static meshes, lighting, cool lighting effects, particle effects.

I populated the first corridor with a strange instillation on the right and the obligatory barrels on the left, with a few crates the player would have to head over.

Needing to populate the world, but insisting on using only the standard assets within UDK, I had to experiment with numerous meshes, lighting and effects in an attempt to create something that wasn’t just a bland, dark hallway.

Not entirely sure why, but I have a real thing for light shafts, as you'll see with some of the later images, too.
Not entirely sure why, but I have a real thing for light shafts, as you’ll see with some of the later images, too.

Adding lighting behind meshes, including the odd particle effect and then light shafts in an attempt to create a fake volumetric lighting look became one of my favourite things for the first stage of the level. I just couldn’t get enough of it all! 

Again, more light shafts and cloud particle emitters, trying to give a slightly eerie vibe to this stage.
Again, more light shafts and cloud particle emitters, trying to give a slightly eerie vibe to this stage.
More of the obligatory barrels.
More of the obligatory barrels.

This time, when putting the barrels in, I put a player trigger point about 10 metres ahead of the stairs that ‘switched on’ the physics of the barrels, causing them to roll down the stairs.

More light shafts.
More light shafts.

Towards the end of the corridor section, I added one dark, somewhat moody hallway, with heavy use of the light shafts again, as this was taking shape.
I’m pretty sure it was highly inspired by the movies Alien and Aliens.
It seemed fitting for the final section before the level opened up somewhat.

The first open area. Not the most elegant, but I felt the need to open up the roof and show the sky.

The sconces placed around the perimeter of the area are placed in such a way to guide the player through the environment, I actually put my wife in the environment to see how a non-gamer would navigate, she instinctively followed the sconces, so, I guess it works.

A few health pickups before the player takes the plunge into a fairly lengthy drop.
I quickly found that there were a few points within the level where the player would take falling damage, so I placed a number of health pickups within the level to negate this.

Placing the health pickups throughout the level not only gave the player with a health boost to negate the lengthy drops in a couple of areas, but it also provided the player with a potential goal. As most of us who have ever played a game have felt at one time or another, one must collect all the things.

As the player exits the dart, industrial first stage...
As the player exits the dart, industrial first stage…

I had added audio to this area, just a simple whoosh of wind and some quiet birdsong to signify a significant change in the environment. I also added two triggers here, one switched on the physics of the barrel to the right (just as I had used on the stairs in the previous area), but also a player check point, seeing as from here, the player was able to fall to their death.

More health pickups and a "jump pad" amongst the rubble ahead.
More health pickups and a “jump pad” amongst the rubble ahead.

A jump pad was placed amongst the rubble, with health pickups leading upto it, as the player approaches, it hums and glows, hoping to lure the player into stepping onto it.

The player is fired across the chasm and lands safely on the opposite side at the opening of a short cave system. The length of which has pipes running along the wall.

A broken water pipe signifies that the player is almost at the end of the tunnel.
A broken water pipe signifies that the player is almost at the end of the tunnel.

As I was coming to the end of the short cave system, it was becoming apparent that the deadline for the assessment was fast approaching. with lighting taking about 20minutes to build before I could test at this stage, the process had slowed down rather dramatically. Yes, I had already met the assessment outlines, but I wasn’t finished, I still had more to do. I had only got near the end of my second stage.

The teleporter acts as a bookmark for the point I had reached as I hit the deadline for the assessment.

Here’s a clip of a walk-through of the area.

I had only spent a short time UDK, but it had most definitely had an impact on my early days project The Fallen. I had basically decided to throw all the development of The Fallen (And believe me, there wasn’t much at this stage) out of the window, instead, the game needed to be in 3D.

So, I set about exploring the plethora of of 3D game engines out there.
I was almost shocked at the sheer number of available engines, but I started exploring their pros and cons.

From Unreal Engine 3, Cryengine 3 and Unity 3D to the more obscure engines like Shiva 3D and Esenthel Engine there were a ton to pick and choose from, and honestly, today, I’m still not entirely sure what the best engine for the job would be.

Anyway, thanks for your time, next entry will be focussed on my first dip into 3D animation rather than game development! 🙂

Benjamin “Retro Squid” Swindells.


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