All posts by retrosquid00

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.


On and up. The Fallen circa early 2011.

Well, after a few months hiatus due to computer death, I suddenly had a new computer again, all thanks to Jamie “Mortis2000” Reader. The beautiful bastard that he is.
With his help, guidance and general wizardry, we put together a new PC that would fit me needs for further game development and be my workstation for the college course in Digital Games Design and Development I had just enrolled for. Suddenly seeking qualifications in it all.

This time, rather than just just building, without a plan, I decided to dedicate a chunk of time to actually writing a relatively hefty design document, it covered everything from play style, art style, back story for the world and a vast list of flora and fauna to populate the world, a lot of which also had deep intertwined back story.
Suddenly, I was writing major plot points, scribbling storyboards and designing characters. 
This project was fast becoming scarily sizeable, but still, I continued, pouring hours into designing the layouts of the overworld, where the difference races would reside, their relationships considering their rather spotted past… 
This was clearly something entirely different, something bigger, better and, in hindsight, probably far too much for me…

So, after a few weeks of writing and creating these characters, I had everything but a game, I had the beginnings of what I was hoping would become a game.
I had The Fallen: Forgotten Heritage.

To start with, I built Chaplin, my main character, a small, innocent blue haired chap.
Chaplin BlueChaplinAlthough I did experiment with blonde hair, but I felt the blue just fit a little better in the world.

There was also a knight armour created early, too. the armour would eventually belong to Chaplin, changing the character model and abilities accordingly.

The armour started life as a basic black and white sketch, but it quickly became stylised to fit in with Chaplin and the vision of the world so far.
Mau Knight Sprite_front - CopyMau Knight Sprite_backMau Knight Sprite-wings

After creating these sprites, and others, it became time to start figuring out how they would control and interact with the world.
I mocked up a very simple test area and immediately dropped Chaplin in the middle of it, so far, with just basic up, down, left and right controls.
It was basic, but it was a start. Here’s a short clip of nothing more than Chaplin’s walk cycle in this basic environment.

Now, just as I felt things were getting somewhere with The Fallen, I started college. Suddenly thrown into actually doing work I was told to do and generally being educated, after so long out of the saddle, so to speak, it was daunting at first, but also distracting, so, unfortunately, The Fallen sort of fell by the wayside.

My next post will be focussing on 3D Level Design at college, a course that introduced me to 3D development tools and ultimately changed the direction of The Fallen, but that is for another time.

Thanks for your time!

Bernjamin “Retro Squid” Swindells.

Where it all started. Circa mid/late 2010

So, I guess it started when I was given a somewhat crappy, old, hand-me-down PC. It wasn’t up to much, no idea what spec, all I knew was, it was a PC, the first one that was technically mine.

Almost instantaneously, I knew I wanted to try and make a game, nothing but, nothing amazing, just something that I had made myself.

Not entirely sure what I was doing. After speaking to my wife, a software developer, I realise there was such a program as Visual Studio, so, I researched, discovered the XNA framework and just started to play about.
Ultimately, it was like the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, there I was, staring at this obelisk in the form of pages and pages of “how to” books and sites…

In the end, I just decided to go with what I knew. I grew up with Mario, Sonic and an almost infinite number of platformers throughout the 80’s and 90’s on machines ranging from the NES and Sega Master System to the Amstrad CPC464 and the ZX Spectrum.
A platformer it was, but, not wanting to slow the process down with character designs and the likes, I sort of ‘borrowed’ the work Nintendo had done previously and decided on a Mario themed game.

So, I put together a basic ‘room’ using Mario and random squares to define boundary.

From there, I added basic left/right and jump controls with the most basic of physics, if you can call it that.
After realising I just needed more, I expanded on this concept and spread to individual worlds.

So, with what I had learnt so far, I started plotting a basic level concept, but quickly found myself actually building the world as I planned, so unfortunately, there was very little forethought…

We started with the first level, a very traditional styled Super Mario Bros type level created with a sprite sheet of assets I had sourced.

I quickly realised the level was bland, so started adding coins to collect and enemies to kill/avoid and it finally started feeling somewhat like a game.
By the end of the first level, I was starting to feel more confident and decided to mix things up somewhat… A change in style was needed, even though it would mean a hike in the workload, I felt like I was on a roll.

So, the new level, in typical Mario Bros style, had to be an underground level, but, to further aid the atmosphere, I actually decided to alter all the sound effects and music to include a slight echo.

I also added the Koopa enemy, although, with the Koopa enemy having multiple states, (Walking Koopa, stationary shell and mobile shell) I found it somewhat difficult to program, I just took ages to get my head around it, but, after a few days of toiling and trawling the internet, I finally cracked it, I had a Koopa that reacted as hundreds of thousands of us 80’s-90’s gamers would expect it to!! Booyah!

Now, not really sure where I should go with this next level, I went for something visually, somewhat simplistic, just a typical Mario Bros 3 W1-1 style, with the NES Mario Bros 3 sprite to mix things up a bit.

Wanting to learn more and also explore what I was able to do, I finally started experimenting with animations… Staring with the “Munchers” depicted above. It’s a simple open and close animation, but it was a start!
I soon decided to swap out the Goomba I had used in previous levels for one more suited to the Mario sprite, which I felt needed an animated walk cycle, too. Things were coming along indeed.
It was as I was putting together the final parts of this level, I thought something felt… … missing, for lack of a better word.
So, I backtracked a little and started playing around with layering. Having a few semi-transparent blocks meant I could make the player head THROUGH the terrain… At the time, this blew my tiny little mind, it had to be added…

So, with animations and transparency added, I decided to start adding animations to Mario himself, so, in the fourth (And what turned out to be the final level, Mario finally actually walks.)

I decided to increase the jump hight of Mario for this one, and decided I wanted to make the level more vertical, I also wanted to slowly evolve the level the higher the player went. The Goombas towards the bottom of the tree were the simple two frame animated ones from the previous level, but towards the top, I had started to experiment with 7 framed sprite sheets hoping to generally improve the overall look of things.

It soon turned out to be somewhat difficult to add separate animations to Mario himself, though. A left and right walking animation was easy, I had pretty much nailed that, but a jump animation, for some reason, I just couldn’t grasp it. It was being overridden by the left/right commands.
My lord, it was frustrating…

Unfortunately, my time developing this particular project had come to an end, the hand-me-down computer had died, and with it, I had lost everything. Fortunately, I had had time to add a title screen, including music and also a basic ‘controls’ screen before the old chaps demise.
I had managed to e-mail the .exe to one Jamie Reader, so, although I lost the majority of my data, I had the actual standalone executable, it wasn’t all for naught!!

So, that was my first learning experience of any sort of game development, and, honestly, I think I was hooked.

Here is a little video playthrough of said game, titled “Super Mario Bros… ish…” and thanks for your time!

Benjamin “Retro Squid” Swindells