Sean Jan Runnels, senior associate at Days Gone, spoke in an interview with 80 Level about creating content for a large open world, and gave some tips for developing games. We have chosen the most important thing from the text.
One of the main tasks of Runnels after joining the studio was to create textures for shelters – users had to spend a lot of time there during the battles, so it was important to do everything at the highest level. In addition, he was responsible for preparing various collectible, interactive items and much more. A small team of artists helped him in his work.
According to Runnels, he drew inspiration from many sources. Many of them are related to the theme of the zombie apocalypse and the general desolation of human civilization. Obviously, this is in line with the theme of the Days Gone.
Among the films, the artist especially highlighted such paintings as “Planet of the Apes: War”, “Planet of the Apes: Revolution”, “28 Days Later”, “The Road”, “The Walking Dead”, “Life after People”. He also watched videos on YouTube about creating temporary shelters with his own hands. The artist especially noted the channel Joe Robinet . Among the photographers, Runnels singled out the work of Rebecca Lilith Betori, who removes abandoned places.
During development, the artist set himself the goal of showing what Oregon would be like if people left it for two years. Runnels focused on booming vegetation, piles of rubbish and ruined roads.
According to Runnels, the huge scale of the world, of course, a little scared him – in the course of development, he faced many problems. This primarily concerned the performance and behavior of NPCs on such a large card. To cope with the workloads, the team of artists was divided into several subgroups.
For example, there was a group that created content – props, environment, VFX, characters, and so on. There was also a team that was responsible for building the world using content created by other groups. In addition, this group worked closely with the staff responsible for creating missions, landmarks and various tasks in the open world.
Since the game was developed by a small team, individuals alone dealt with certain aspects. For example, there was an artist who created all the vegetation, and another worked on all weapons and vehicles. Also, the team was very helped by the technology of automatic placement of objects in the game world.
The last months of development have been entirely devoted to optimization, concern about levels of detail (LODs), the number of unique assets and texture sets.
At first, the team focused on global issues – reducing the number of assets, replacing unique sets of textures with tile materials, reducing the geometry of vegetation, and so on.
But some zones had special conditions. For example, the walls of the forts were often carelessly made of boards, which allowed them to look through the cracks. This greatly influenced performance, because you had to process the inside of the fort while the player was outside its walls. As a result, this problem was fixed, due to which productivity increased near the Crater and Diamond lakes. Thanks to such point solutions, the team managed to optimize such a large world.
According to Runnels, he always creates content, guided by the ideas of flexibility and iteration. He worked very closely with the leveling team to determine what content she needed and how it would be used.
When Runnels works on any type of modular set, he creates straight and angular elements, so that he can then collect something from them. The same applies, for example, to stairs. He always adheres to the metric system and tries to make these sets small so that it is easier to work with them. Then you can complement what is created from the basic elements.
When you work with a vast world, try to minimize the number of unique assets. For example, when Runels first joined the team, there were four types of garbage containers in the game, each of which was very slightly different from the others.
Therefore, the first thing he began to reduce the number of such objects. The team did not need six types of barrels, which are very slightly different from each other. Two barrels were enough, which can be propagated and made unique by changing the color or material. We need to make the content library small, but flexible.