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Snowpainters

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PROJECT SUMMARY

Project Summary

Role: Level Designer

Genre: 3D Kart Racer

Editor: Unreal 4

Platform: PC

Process: Research, Scrum, Strike Teams, Iterative Milestones, Playtesting

Tools: Jira, Monday, Slack, Zoom, Perforce, Miro

Development Time3.5 months (15hr/week)

The Game: (2021)

"Snow Painters is a pc game in which penguin characters slide around, bringing color to a plain arctic world through paint mediums, while competing against other penguins, whether human or AI, to win races. Players utilize a variety of pickups & strategies to earn first place in one of three tracks. Players can learn the mechanics in a playground map before racing on a single track or joining a grand prix style competition." 

Focus: Track Design, Terrain, Collision, Spline Research, Creative Problem-Solving

Track 1 - "North Pole"
POSTMORTEM

Postmortem

WHAT WENT WELL

  • Overall, the tracks were designed well, the mechanics worked great, and the environment art came out really nice. 
     

  • I was able to bring some research to this team that helped save the team time and taught everyone how to use a new tool to procedurally generate track meshes using splines. 
     

  • I worked on a strike team where we worked very well together in a pod to develop the vertical slice for the game. We had communication and workflow down to a science and it showed.
     

  • I worked closely with the art team to ensure that level design needs were met while art was able to still showcase their work. 

EVEN BETTER IF

  • In retrospect, the banking curve could have been cut saving a lot of time. instead of hand sculpting it and modifying it several times.
     

  • It would have been even better if art and level design communicated more during the end of the project. The final material on the mountains removed all conveyance that was established for the player to determine what was drivable ice/snow and was was mountain and not drivable. 
     

  • It would have been even better if we discovered how to bank curves with splines and punch holes in terrain -- things I learned on later projects.

WHAT I LEARNED

  • On this project I learned how sublevels worked. This was a super efficient addition to the project workflow. 
     

  • While I had done prior research with spline tools, this was the first time I really had a chance to use it and see it in action. 
     

  • I learned how to better work with project pipelines and other departments. 
     

  • I honed my skills in map diagramming, level construction, and collision placement for level bulletproofing.  

Contribution Summary

CONTRIBUTIONS

Level Design Contributions:

  • Developed top downs

  • Used the spline tools

  • Utilized many of the terrain tools

  • Implemented collision volumes

  • Optimized the terrain for performance

  • Monitored Jira for issues

  • Logged tasks in Monday.com

  • Participated in scrum meetings & retros

  • Collaborated with other departments & leads

  • Conducted research

  • Created sublevels

  • Modified materials & blueprints

  • Identified risks & solutions

  • Presented research findings

Special Assignments:

  • Led a sub-team of 4 on a research mission to investigate the pros & cons of spline roads

  • Served on a strike team of 4 to design & implement the first track (vertical slice)

  • Became a terrain specialist for the overall project with a focus on gameplay

Main Contribution Areas

Track Design

& Level

Implementation

Terrain

Sculpting &

Painting

Research

& Bulletproofing

Levels

_Design & Implementation

Track Design & Level Implementation

Overall, I designed and implemented the map for "North Pole" and heavily modified the terrain and track for "Ice Caves;" I modified some of the terrain for "Glacier". On this project, terrain played a huge part in the overall gameplay.

 

In the early weeks of the project, I collaborated on a strike team of 4 to design and implement the first map of the game: "North Pole"; this map would become the game's vertical slice map. We began collaborating by each of us naming a feature we wanted to include in this map and then we found a way to implement these ideas into a single map. The most challenging part for our team was determining the length the track should actually be given that no one on the team had built a racing game before, and we did not yet know the speed of the player's kart; we only knew that the laps had to be under a set number of seconds, and it was a very low number. 

Top Down Design (North Pole)
Final track design (North Pole)

Once we had our design, we split each core area of the map into sublevels for each area and by creating folders in the outliner to keep each person's assets organized. We pushed our changes to Perforce every few minutes in the beginning. This system helped us to understand where our pieces were in the world space, how they fit in with everyone else's pieces, and if our track scale was similar to the others' scale. This was the first time that any of us had used sublevels or Perforce; so we realized early on the error of our ways, and later restructured this outliner and sublevel system to be organized by type of work to be done (landscape, track, props, race logic, audio, etc.), instead of by the person doing the work or by some kind of quadrant location in the map. This allowed us to check out sublevels for extended periods of time while not impeding any one else's progress.

To make this system work, we also divided tasks by the person; I became responsible for sculpting the terrain around the track for gameplay and performance purposes while others were tasked with modifying the spline track's shape and connector pieces, adding race logic blueprints and checkpoints, adding pickups and kill volumes, or placing proxy props for the art team.

Early in the project, my terrain work was almost entirely focused on preventing the player from escaping the map and blocking sightlines where ever possible. I did this by creating mountain ranges around all of the edges of the track pieces, except for where the track hovered over other track pieces; for these, we used guard rails. Because our game was set on ice and snow, we wanted the feel of sliding from the beginning; so, we used as few railings as possible to prevent harsh collisions, and we hoped that the physics system would account for the penguin racers to slide down the mountain sides as they began to slide up the edges with natural gravity and slippery mechanics. 

In the "Ice Caves" map, I spent considerable time working with a technical designer from the "North Pole" map to ensure that this map was built in a similar manner to the "North Pole" map for consistency. I spent about half of my time altering the edges of this track for sightlines, and the other half of my time reconstructing ramps and revamping the track and terrain near the final stretch of the map; all of this work was specifically to improve gameplay.

I spent a little time in the "Glacier" map to fix a few ramps, smooth out  stretched textures on terrain, and fix areas where the player would get stuck. This map circled around a giant block of ice that blocked sightlines by default, and the majority of the track was encased with a guard rail.

_Terrain Modification

Terrain Sculpting & Painting

Since our track was made of ice, we wanted the environment to feel organically created by the elements; so, we used terrain to widen parts of the drivable area outside of the track. An auto material was created that measured the slope of the terrain; if the terrain area was flat enough, it would create snow material, and when it was too steep, it would look like mountain rocks. I sculpted the terrain to convey to the player that the flatter snow on the ground was drivable terrain in addition to the ice track and used this strategy to create interesting gameplay; this was particularly necessary when creating split pathways with track connector pieces where I needed there to be snow over the edges of the track. For added conveyance, we paired this with pickup and boostpad-breadcrumbs.

 I carefully smoothed and aligned the terrain perfectly with the spline track so that there was not even a single bump when they slid off the track and onto the snow. This was a tedious process requiring careful communications with teammates and constant review and iteration of every spline track in every map. The results were perfect sliding during transitions on and off of the spline track. Using the same methods, I was able to construct ramps out of the terrain as well; this saved our artists time and efforts from having to create ramp meshes. 

Problem Solving: The spline track was made of a narrow mesh rectangular piece with an icy material strung together mesh by mesh along a spline. There were cases where the team could not get the track to be less bumpy and still make the sharp curve we needed it to make, which caused the player to experience turbulence while racing. I problem-solved with the leads and determined that I could use nearly-invisible terrain patches that would seamlessly blend into the spline track. resulting in the player experiencing nothing more than a  gradual ascent and descent over a small sized shallow hill.

_Research & Bulletproofing

Research & Bulletproofing

Our development team began with a challenge: We had a smaller art team, and the leads were looking for ways to cut back on what the artists needed to make on this project. I had done some prior research and discovered splines in general and the Modular Road Tool (MRT).

 

At the start of the project, I pitched the use of splines for track creation to the leads and was later asked to lead a strike team of 4 to research the pros and cons of using the MRT for track design. I proved a strong case and came to the table with solutions for every risk our team stumbled across. 

 

Every year, Guildhall students make a kart racing game, but Guildhall had never heard of using splines for a track before. After we began using the MRT tool for track design, I created an entire wiki page dedicated to spline use for level design (aimed at track design) for future cohorts to use. Now, Guildhall uses splines for other kart racing games as well (i.e. Hex Rally Racers).

Research team planning
Spline tunnel

Problem Solving: Later in the project, the art team was worried about making large cave meshes for the "Ice Caves" map. I suggested they take a similar approach as the spline track. So, with this in mind, they created a singular cave mesh and the programming team added a new attachment to the spline tool for this meshto act as a dome over the the spline track.

 

The result was a spline, with numerous mesh attachments on each segment (i.e., ice track, guard rail, and a cave dome over the top of it). For the end caps, a glacial arch mesh was created that designers would stick onto the ends of the cave. The solution worked out perfectly. 

Cuts and pivots: Near the last quarter of the project, I realized that the programming team was not going to deliver the physics we had initially hoped for on the vertical slice strike team; the AI penguin karts would soar right up and over the mountains and cheat the race. With this in mind, I began to create blocking volumes around the edges of the track where there were no guard rails. I chose not to align the volumes with the spline track; instead, I stuck them into the mountain a little to give the player a little slide room before it became too steep to climb -- where the snow faded into rock paint; this helped to create natural, non-abrupt feeling barriers.

 

The penguins still believed these blocking volumes to be climbable; so, we tagged them with a special "no climb" label and programmed AI not to drive on anything with this label.

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