Level art workflow steps
- Level artists create the visible game environment built on the collision block base created by designers.
- Level artists work with the Frozenbyte in-house engine and editor.
- The Idea - a mental image to work towards. The Idea is shaped and refined by reading the script, exploring the concept art and level wiki site and communicating with different team members like the AD, designers, the scriptwriter and/or other artists.
- Outline meeting can occur before the design work has even started, gathering all the people working on a level to plan and discuss.
- Collecting reference includes researching the topic by searching inspirational reference images. Pinterest, for example, is a good online source for reference images.
- Level collision base meeting takes place before the level art phase begins. The AD, level artists, designers and other related people working on the level are involved.
- Preassembly can happen when a designer works on a level file, making it impossible for a level artist to access the same level. The artist can build level art arrangements to a separate file, requesting feedback from the AD during the preassembly.
- Base art - The Base art phase includes establishing a preliminary lighting setup, blocking the level art and building a strong and working base supporting the gameplay. Base art should be kept simple, concentrating only on the big forms and covering all the bare collisions.
- AD's camera check, done in collaboration with the designers, is followed by a camera fix list. It guides to adjust the cameras so that their positions are optimal for both the gameplay and art.
- AD's base art check results in a fix list that may include paint-overs advising on how to improve the base art.
- Base art fix round includes optimizing the camera positions and improving base art according to the feedback of the AD.
- Lighting adjustments
- Detailing - Once the base art meets the requirements, details are added.
- AD's details check results in a fix list that may include paint-overs advising on how to improve the level art.
- Details art fix list round has the artist improving the level art based on the AD's feedback.
- Polish - Polishing happens at the end of the project when there's spare time. It consists of improving the level art by, for example, adding new 3D assets, documenting significant changes with before and after screenshots and consulting the AD.
- Polish and optimizing includes general level art polishes, lighting adjustments and optimizing things.
- Playing the game: should be a daily level artist routine. Only by playing the levels you can evaluate the quality of the level art and make sure the level art supports the gameplay as much as possible. The level artists should play the game together in co-op, as well, to observe level art in a multiplayer mode and share ideas.
Things to consider
- Working with the level art is an iterative process: Art is created layer by layer, starting from the crude, bigger forms and ending with the detailed, final art.
- The aim is to keep the whole level at a consistent state at all times and only add finer details once the big forms are satisfactory.
- Level art is a process of continuous development. Nothing is final after the first round, and sometimes whole level areas might be reworked entirely. Large, creative projects always involve some degree of adjustments and alterations, but there are several reasons why level art can be subjected to a change:
- All the assets might not be available during the initial level art work, forcing the level artist to use temporary assets. They need to be replaced with new ones later, which can be time-consuming.
- The design can change, also affecting the level art.
- A new and better visual idea for a scene might emerge at any point during the development.
- Technical changes sometimes require level art reworking.
Additional tips about the creating process
- Play the game It's crucial to play the game as often as possible and during the whole level art process. Only by playing you can confirm that everything works as intended and see how the art looks in the game!
- The level artist's responsibility is to ensure that the level art supports the gameplay in each part of the level.
- The player can only see what the in-game cameras are showing, making play testing the level even more important.
- It's essential to get the scale of the environment right as early as possible. Always have a game character model as a scale reference when you start blocking the level art.
- Generally, the assets in the background of a level tend to look smaller than you might expect, and you might have to scale up those assets slightly to make them look better in the game. Commonly, in-game assets are bulkier and larger than their real-life counterparts since that helps them stand out in the game. However, you should be careful when scaling assets, as the texel density (texture resolution) and geometry get easily incoherent.
- How to nail the right scale: Using Details To Make Something Look Big By Neil Blevins
- Flexible level art work
- Sometimes you might be in a hurry to finish the level art, but the design is unfinished, leaving you unable to work on the level file.
- In a situation like this, it's best to communicate with the designer to determine whether some areas of the level are already finished. You can create a copy of the level to start your level design work, and when the design is complete, just copy and paste the level art to the actual level.