The ash shore
Time Frame: 3 Weeks Half-time
Engine: Unreal Engine 4.27 & Unreal 5.0 (the final week)
Additional Tools: Blender, Adobe Photoshop
Inspiration: The Mad Max Franchise
Creating a vast desert open world environment
Creating a framework with fps & vehicular combat
Create a non-linear gameplay experience
Populating an open world with POI's to create a believable environment fitting the franchise
The ash shore is a project set in the mad max universe, where water is spare, sand is abundant, and modified cars are the way of life.
Given the short time span for this project I had to prioritise they key-points of what makes Mad Max, as well as the things that would make the most impact in this setting.
The Ash shore is meant to be a chunk of a larger open world game, a vast dried up river, settlements built around a capsized bulk carrier, Gas stops converted into settlements and the ruins of city with makeshift repairs that try to bring it back to a semblance of it's past glory
The level design focuses on allowing the player to traverse using vehicles, vast open spaces filled with hubs and nodes along the way.
Open worlds should be as seamless as possible and the world needs to be able to work with different light setting as well as weather effects, as not to become too bland when traversing across areas or biomes.
In order for this project to be representative of an open world, I made a Day & Night cycle, as well as a simple fog/sandstorm modifier using unreal blueprints
With the ash shore being inspired by mad max, the three most important things were Cars, Guns and Sand, as such I used an fps template that had been merged with a racing sim template.
I later modified them to suit my needs as well as made landscape material out of Quixel mega scans materials and a trail shader for it, to be applied on the sand layer.
When designing an open world, it's important to have a good knowledge of the world the game plays out in, as well as save some time by using real life as references
As such a lot of the reference imagery not only contained reference material from Mad max, but also birds eye view imagery and maps of existing cities and and terrain
When creating the initial block-out I found a river in Sweden on google maps that had a couple of smaller communities on scattered along it on either side as well as mountains, I found this the perfect fit for what i was after and started re-creating it by tracing the map. Later adding additional rivers and exaggerating the mountain range to serve as a natural map border
Once happy with the terrain, I started adding outposts, Ambush spots, Landmarks.
Using Google Maps and Google Earth, I also recreated a chuck of Chicago to use as the Long-term goal city. Overlaying the map, blocking out buildings comparing it to the google earths 3d models, and later gamifying it i wanted to give the city a hint of realism, and saving time from designing a city from scratch
The final part of preparing the level for the art team was making sure that the player always knew there to go next
The first time the player sits in the car and drives over the first hill, they will have an establishing shot over the entire dried out river giving them an early vista over the short-, mid- and long-term goals, and letting the player decide weather to go to the final destination, or explore them map before doing so.
Designing for an open world
When designing for an open world, we have to take into account the scale of the world, This project is designed as a chunk of a much larger world, and it's adjusted for both vehicular combat as well as on the foot fps action, As such we need to have a balanced mix of open areas where the player and NPC's can have to space to "dog-fight" in their cars as well as smaller areas with covers corners and verticality for on-foot game play
Tension & Release
cannot forget to pulse game play, with vast areas to traverse we cannot forget to design for the high intensity moments that follow the build up.
For example an ambush waiting around a corner or a raid attacking the outpost you're currently in, the important thing is to keep the player interested while periodically giving them time to breathe and take in their surroundings
It is important to make sure that it's clearly readable when the player is behind full cover, and when they are behind half-cover.
in the same manner we use elevation, a player being above an opponent is considered partially covered due to the angles & sight lines, as well as the psychological effect of having the high ground.
Risk & Reward
Using short distances between cover we create cover islands, we allowing the player to slowly and relatively safely progress
Medium distance signals greater risk, but rewards the player with better positions, new angles, and progression
Using Long distances the player is exposed to open fire with no nearby cover, we call this area the no-mans land