Leander Burger

Til Nord

Open World Driving Game | UE4 | 8 Months | Team Size: 15 | 2020/21

Published on STEAM (Currently at 83% with 284 reviews)

“Til Nord is a free open-world driving game where you explore the world on your snowmobile, Doing odd jobs to pay back the debt of your gap year.”

The Final Release Trailer was created by me and Environment Artist Jens van Kampen, who created the final edit.

It was fun to stage cinematic shots and render them directly from within the game at 4k resolution.
We made heavy use of Unreal Engines sequencer features to achieve these shots.

I created a presentation about the Level Design work I did for Til Nord and presented it in our Level Design Guild.
This was great preparation for future presentations, and it was well-received by the other students.

Research & Documenation

Level Design Document

Link to Document

As the main Level Designer on the project, I had the responsibility to create detailed documentation for the Open World environment.

– Created Level Design Documentation
– Analysis of Level Design in AAA Open World titles
– definition of Level Design Pillars according to Design Pillars
– defining Level Design Ingredients

 

Conditions of Satisfaction

Link to Document

To keep track of the goals for the Level, a Conditions of Satisfaction document was created, to be filled out by all Level Designers.

– Document creation & maintaining over the production phase
– Weekly feedback sessions with Level Designers
– plan playtest sessions to verify changes

Tech Design

Day and Night cycle

One of the requirements was the creation of a dynamic day and night cycle.

Responsibilites:
– creation of dynamic Day & Night cycle in UE4 Blueprint.
– integration with weather effects
– implementation of Aurora Borealis

 

Optimization

We wanted to create a smooth Open World experience for players, so optimization was important to think about early on.

Responsibilites:
– optimization of trees using octahedral imposters based on this tool.
– Creation of LOD assets
– performance testing

Deformable & Destructible Objects

The player feedback was important when driving around the world, so I created dynamic objects the player can destroy when driving into them.

– Creation of destructible meshes in Blender
– Implementation of Destruction in Unreal Engine
– Fixing bugs

Skin Coloring system (Proof of Concept)

I experimented with a system that could let players decide on the colors for their snowmobile. It uses the base skins provided by the game but each of the colors can be tweaked.

– Breaking skin textures into masks
– Creation of dynamic Unreal Engine material

Level Design

First blockout in Blender

To get a better sense of the environment composition and where the large features would go, I created a block-out based on a sketch. This allowed me to define important features and the structure of the environment.

– level design sketching & prototyping
– creation of key features and landmarks
– terrain sculpting in Blender to use as base for World Machine

World Machine

To create a more realistic Height Map, I had to use World Machine and modify the base terrain.

– Using World Machine with custom Height Map to create Terrain
– set up of Level Streaming
– Terrain iterations in World Machine
– creation of Landscape Materials

Level blockout

Inside of Unreal Engine, I used BSP brushes to block out the points of interests in the world. I thought about the placement of assets and the story in the world.

– blocking out major features and landmarks
– block out of town & road network
– creation of gameplay moments by setting up interesting jumps and creating interesting, vehicle based traversal

Iteration & Set Dressing

Over the next 8 weeks, the level was regularly iterated on and improvements were made to every aspect of the level.

– Set dressing of foliage and detail props
– improvement of house placement
– improved lighting and post processing
– testing & fixing level issues (floating props and holes in environment)

Downscoping

To improve the quality of the level and to manage scope better, we decided to cut a large part of the map. Everything above the red line was cut from the game. This allowed our Level Designers to focus on the remaining landscape and create a more detailed level.

Even with the remaining size, Players can easily spend an hour in the environment, exploring all it has to offer.

Top Down Overview & Conditions of Satisfaction

As the Level Design Supervisor, it was my responsibility to keep an eye on the work which was distributed between 4 level designers.
To aid with this, I created a Conditions of Satisfaction Document.

– Reviewing & giving feedback to other Level Designers
– Set dressing environment with nature assets (rocks & foliage)
– improve player guidance & gameplay opportunities in the Open World.
– Collaborate with Mission Designer to create interesting encounters.

Photo Mode

Photomode was one these “nice to have if we find time for it” features. We decided to cut some corners by buying a Marketplace Asset, allowing us to quickly implement this feature at the end of development.

We wanted a way to show off our environment to players and allow them to create their own screenshots within the game.

This was a big success, and the feature was quickly beloved by everyone in the team and community.

Here are the Steam Community Screenshots

Closing Thoughts

Through this project I learned a lot about Level Design for Open World games. I managed to explore new workflows, like using Blender together with World Machine to create good looking environments. I was able to experiment with a lot of ideas and had almost free reign over the level design.
In my free-time I helped out the Artists with some technical implementations, like the Day & Night cycle and Imposter Meshes.

Driving games were completely out of my comfort zone before, but thanks to this project I learned a lot about them.