posted on October 30, 2017
During our Kickstarter campaign we held a vote to see which map from Project Reality you, the community, wanted us to remake for SQUAD. Fallujah clearly won that vote and was put on the roadmap. At that time, we were still learning a lot about the engine and how to efficiently tackle level construction in Unreal 4.
We started with barren desert maps like Kohat, then started adding more complexity seen in maps like Chora and Sumari. From there, we explored the Eastern European setting with large forests on maps like Fools Road, Gorodok, and Yehorivika.
Next, we pushed on to an urban setting on Narva, all the while knowing that Fallujah was one of the key maps that we were working towards. Upon the release of Narva, we began pre-production on Fallujah. At this stage we knew we wanted to take some extra time to brainstorm how we approach gameplay and visuals, because of this we decided to revisit our workflow and we really think it has paid off.
The first thing we did was spend about a week reference digging. We wanted to gather tons of inspiration and sources to help us capture the essence of Fallujah.
In order to stay organized and to produce things in phases we broke the city up into four key recognizable districts: Outskirts, Industrial, Urban Residential and Urban Center, each contributing to the map in a unique way both in visuals and gameplay. Defining these districts allowed us to plan out the flow of the map and also breakdown the production of the assets into manageable phases.
The Outskirts consists of slight hills, sporadic homes in-construction, and other medium sized buildings creating well spaced areas for mechanized infantry to establish an approach into the city.
This district is made up of large warehouses, office buildings and large in-construction buildings. Similar to the Outskirts, these areas will spaced out and provide prime locations for FOBs while offering vehicles cover, allowing them to push into parts of the city.
Consisting mainly of homes, this district provides medium density with plenty of areas for infantry to take cover in. Taking vehicles into the Urban Residential areas will be a risky endeavor.
The Urban Center district is the heart of the city. Large roads, overpasses, big commercial buildings and high density will ensure intense combat.
With the map broken down into key districts we were then able to start visualizing some potential map layouts. The original Fallujah West from Project Reality (PR) was examined and, in the end, we decided to use it as a starting point for the map.
The goal is to give a homage to the original map in the lower left while expanding upon it and making it our own. The PR map was based off of a real world layout, but breaking free from this gives us much more freedom in level design allowing us to prioritize gameplay over exact authenticity.
After getting organized we began producing the first district, Urban Residential. We chose to start on this district because we knew we wanted to revisit the way we produced buildings as they make up a large chunk of our map and wanted to address this first. We also knew the Urban Center district would be the most complicated and intricate set of buildings we would have to make so we decided to save those for last and start with Urban Residential.
In order to maximize the gameplay experience of our buildings we made rough blockouts of our buildings based on references. After we blocked out 15-20 buildings we threw together a test map and playtested them. During this stage we weren’t concerned about textures or materials, we focused on spacing and variety of gameplay for this district.
After a few adjustments we were happy with the blockouts. The team then took them through phases to get the buildings to a final state while creating other assets for the district. The end goal was to make a “vertical slice,” a section of the district that represents the target visual style and quality for the rest of those areas of the map.
Being a small team we always look for ways to make our workflow more efficient. To save up on production time and resources we’ve introduced procedural materials to our pipeline. Vehicle wrecks are an asset which add a lot of character and drama to a scene – and we wanted to do them justice. However, creating vehicles is always time consuming and can be costly in terms of memory footprint. With this in mind, we decided to reuse our existing vehicle models and repurpose an existing shader to “wreck” them.
Using this smart material, we can procedurally blend between various states of damage, such as burnt paint and ash. The technique also allows the artist to edit each vehicle in real-time without the need for time consuming asset reauthoring. Both the method and texture set is not unique to any single asset and so can be reused many times – making it inexpensive, versatile and time efficient.
Once the buildings were in a good spot we then arranged them into a scene and started adding other assets. Wall sets, rubble, destruction, building props, terrain materials and a host of other items were worked on to bring the scene together. Taking the time for R&D and to rehash our pipeline has really paid off and has set us up to move through the other districts at a good pace.
The level of detail in our vertical slice is our ambitious goal for key objectives of the map but for performance reasons may not get fully realized, but as they say, “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”