Designated Position – Environment Artist/Level Designer

What are my aspirations?

Throughout my studies, I’ve always found myself gravitating towards facets of Game Design that involved building something physical; something that the player can hold or interact with, or an environment to be explored or contested amongst. Ever since being blessed with the majestic vistas of Halo: Combat Evolved and Destiny or the masterful puzzle and level design of franchises like Zelda or Banjo Kazooie, I’ve been inspired to learn from these examples and create environments of my own that may one day be capable of delivering the same sense of awe and wonder these games, (and many others), were capable of evoking.

Whilst I’ve explored a few other areas of design throughout my degree, such as Animation, Programming and Art/UI, Level/Environment Design has always stood out to me as something that I was truly passionate about and something I’d love to pursue as a career.

What does the Industry require? How do I fit amongst it?

Different genres of games obviously have different goals in mind when it comes to the game’s design, but in terms of creating a cinematic, non-competitive experience, I believe successful Level Design is being able to smoothly guide a player through an environment whilst unknowingly (to the player) orchestrating their behavior and attention to achieve the most entertaining experience possible. Not to mention, possessing the skill to create a virtual world that captivates the player, and utilizes techniques such as mise en scene, frame composition and recognizable landmarks to assist in wayfinding. Some of these skills, when implemented correctly are hardly noticeable to the average player, yet provide enough guidance to encourage steady progression and enjoyment. These are all skills that I’ve taken great consideration in throughout each of my development cycles, and have tried my best to demonstrate them in my portfolio. Whilst I still have a lot to learn in terms of practical skills and software experience, I believe I’ve acquired a comfortable grasp of the theory behind successful Level Design.

My passion in having control over the direction and flow of a level, along with my imagination of how each of these spaces should be presented artistically leaves me at a crossroads for whether I’d prefer to take the path of Level Designercreating 2D layouts and metrics for levels, to accommodate for puzzles or other gameplay experiences, and being in charge of the flow or challenge of a level, or to take on the role of an Environment Artist with a stronger focus on the visual side of things — modelling/sculpting assets to fill the environment, working closely with other artists to ensure visual consistency throughout the game, and assemble the world using asset kits made my myself and/or other artists. My history in game development thus far ticks a few boxes in both columns, so I would like to see where my decision lies after I’ve gained further experience developing a more artistically focused project.

In terms of software experience and practical skills required for the industry, Environment Artist positions generally require an in-depth knowledge of software such as Maya/3DS Max for modelling, or ZBrush/Substance Painter for texturing and detailing, however I’ve yet to acquire much experience using these programs. On the other hand, Level Design positions often require a strong knowledge of 3D software like Maya for environment layouts, along with experience with 2D software such as Illustrator and Photoshop for creating Level Maps. I’m currently very comfortable with the Adobe Suite, so this could be something attainable if I can improve my skills in Maya or other 3D Packages.

Here are a couple of job postings I’ve found at 2 of my preferred studios that require some of the skills mentioned above.

Level Designer at Santa Monica Studio
Environment Artist at Santa Monica Studio
Level/Environment Designer at Naughty Dog
Environment Artist at Naughty Dog

Plan of Approach

Due to the missing areas within my portfolio, I propose to work towards this goal with my next project, where I plan on demonstrating my skills in creating a small-scale environment that utilizes high-resolution textures and lighting with the help of Unreal, as I’ve always wanted to broaden my horizons in terms of game-engine familiarity. My current experience with Unity may benefit me when applying for an indie studio, however my long-term goal is to join a AAA team, where using a licensed engine is more likely, therefore I believe that having a strong understanding of 2+ engines would make learning a third engine much more intuitive. I also plan on implementing all the correct optimization methods so I can maximize visual fidelity, but also demonstrate my ability to create a product that’s as efficient as possible.

Upcoming Project – Cabin in the Woods

The project I plan on creating will consist of a small-scale environment that takes place within the sleeping cabin of a crew-member onboard an intergalactic vessel. The scene is likely to be set in the distant future and will support a ‘retro sci-fi’ theme, featuring recognizable objects from the 21st Century along with other fictional elements created to depict a futuristic civilization. The objects found in the room will illustrate the day-to-day life of the cabin’s occupant, and will aim to evoke a sense of distant familiarity, seeing the progression humanity has made, whilst still holding onto significant remnants of the past that shape the occupant’s persona. I also plan on emphasizing feelings of isolation, with photographs and memorabilia of distant family/friends, alongside the endearing view out of the cabin window of the distant cosmos and an unexplored planet below.

Upon completing this project I plan on reevaluating my career preferences based on the new skills I’ve acquired, and hopefully make the next step in refining my portfolio even further to get closer to my goals for the future.

Thank you for reading!

References
Holt, C. (2016). The Cosy Frontier. Retrieved 23 August 2019, from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rBeAO

Linares, M. (2019). Urban Survival Unit (Interior). Retrieved 23 August 2019, from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/zA0mom

Naughty Dog | Naughty Dog. (2019). Retrieved 23 August 2019, from https://www.naughtydog.com/

Santa Monica Studio. (2019). Retrieved 23 August 2019, from https://sms.playstation.com/

Schreurs, T. (2015). new Earth. Retrieved 23 August 2019, from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/YPBVX