Architechture Tutorial Written by Hourences

Since I enjoyed making the other 2 tutorials, I decided to make a third :) This tutorial will explain the basics about good geometry and architecture. It doesn't contain everything, but it will give you a good idea of what to do.

This time with architecture, the thing that is most important in mapping is contrast- differences- but at the same time keeping the unity in everything, it has too look like every part is all related to one big part. This is of course also true for geometry. Map elements that are the same throughout a level are boring; there is no contrast- it's just one idea repeated over and over. In the following pics you can see it: there is a giant empty space. This scene is very boring to look at and not at all interesting



Or what about this leet corridor



You need to ''break'' the surface- it's a straight big line now. Break it. For instance, make pillars on the walls, tiles that are loose on the floor, and construction to hold the space on the ceiling together with some air vents or whatever you can think of. But avoid such large, undetailed spaces by any means necessary. In the pics below there is a floor, wall, and ceiling that aren't so boring anymore because their surface has variation in height and look; it becomes interesting.



And that's important, too- difference in height. In the pic below, the author made a couple of pillars on the wall on the exact same height as the wall, so it's flat now.




It's boring again. If you are making stuff for a 3D game, then make it look like a 3D level. Place the pillars in the front of the wall. There is a difference in height now -> more variation -> better too look at. I am not saying you may never place brushes on the same height though, it can be good sometimes, but don't make your entire map like that, and don't do stuff like on the second picture.

The next step many mappers do is that they see the big empty spaces they've created, and they try to fill it up, but they fill it up in the wrong way. You then get stuff like this:



There is no unity- you are making a building or a landscape. Its 1 level with one theme, not 100 smaller parts with 100 different themes. The level has to look unified; it all has to connect and each section of the map must look like it belongs to a greater whole and that's not the case in the above screenshots- it looks like copy/paste work, like children do. They fill in surfaces. What the authors did in the above maps is that they saw that they had a big space, and they tried to fill it up with typical things like an air vent, but they just added a cube in the middle of a wall and next to it a lamp in the middle of nowhere, and so on. The different parts have nothing to do with each other- they look like they are all from a different style and pasted on a big wall for no particular reason. The parts need to flow, just like gameplay has to do. A floor trim goes over in a floorlamp, that floorlamp becomes a pillar, the pillar becomes a ceiling trim, and that ceiling trim becomes another lamp, while it splits up and holds down an air vent or a window somewhere else. That's the idea- connect it all- like in the screens here:



This is generally something you really learn by time, people who have just started mostly have a hard time getting this idea. In the second pic, for example, the slant brush by number 1 on the floor prevents the floor being boring- it fills up the floor and adds differences in height at the same time, while the 4 cut out things in it bring out variation in it. The pillar by number 2 has a slightly wider bottom, to prevent it from looking too straight, to make it look more dynamic, and at the same time the pillar makes interference with the ceiling and the bar that goes over it by number 3. And that bar goes over to the sides again, together with the other ceiling decorations so it's all connected, and feels like a unified approach to the geometry.

Slant brushes mostly look good in today's maps, they are easy and fast to make, and make the map look more smooth, and they are not poly intensive like curves which are generally too high-poly for current hardware. Just using a lot of cubes with vertex editing on them can do a lot. I made a lot of maps with 95 % cubes and vertex editing. They can fix a lot, like for instance the dead corner in this pic, its straight, empty and boring:




But in the other pics below you see the use of an angled brush to make it look smoother, and it has a noticeable effect. It looks smoother now.





This ''straight lines are boring'' solution works for floorplans too; never make a giant long corridor that is just flat and long. You can make it high-poly and give it extremely cool architecture but it stays a long and boring corridor unless you break it, make differences in heights, add stairs, or even better a ramp every now and then, some turns, pillars which are somewhat in the way (but not so much that they make the gameplay ghey- don't start adding pillars everywhere), anything to break up the monotony. In the below pic there is a long, plain corridor, which looks okay for the decoration but it doesn't work for the gameplay and it feels boring because it's too much of the same thing:



When you have a long bridge, catwalk, or corridor, break it up like here in CTF-Hydro16, the bridge is narrower and lower in the middle:



And in general, just try to avoid such long corridors. The only place where they could work is in singleplayer when you try to achieve a certain theme, but even then still be aware of the fact that it can become boring because it repeats too much. In multiplayer it never works, certainly not in games like UT, because no one is interested to run 5000 miles to the next room through a long, straight corridor. There needs to be variation, there is no variation in an über-long corridor.

Don't make geometry repeat endlessly either. Don't use 1 wall decoration all over the map; it needs variation and if it looks like it's been repeated everywhere it gets boring and it won't improve orientation either. Use different types of decorations, but make sure they all still look they're in the same style. Don't make the same room all the time, don't make the same corridor all the time: make them all look different.

This idea goes for symmetry, too. Don't make everything symmetrical, the only gametype in which symmetry would be ok would be CTF, but for the love of god please don't make symmetrical DM maps. When you make everything asymmetrical you can at least use twice as many cool ideas in the same map :)

When you have a border on a catwalk or bridge or something trim it off, don' t just cut it off like in this pic:




The sides are just hacked off. Trim it and make a border around it, like here:




The same idea goes for doors, If you made a 2d shape extruded corridor for instance, and you are trying to connect 2 rooms with each other, then don't just cut them out of the wall, make a nice border around it so it looks good, like here:


Passage 1 is made with a texture, the total door is 1 texture, and that texture delivers the border. This way looks the smoothest and best. Or else you can do it like 2, another shape around your subtraction, as a real brush border.

Make sure your architecture looks "realistic", too, not like in this pic:



If this scene were in real life, then the construction you see in the above pic would collapse. Of course it doesn't do that in UT or any other game built in a 3D engine, but it looks unrealistic, and therefore pretty ghey. This problem is one you see in a lot of noob maps- things that are extremely thin, or extremely long constructions that are realistically not supported by the surrounding geometry to make it look possible. You need to make stuff like you have in real life. Put in big iron bars that hold it, or wood, or stone, or whatever. And it has to be thick enough to look real, so no 8 unit high catwalks and using it to cross a distance of 4096 units with it or something that looks like crap

Make detail too on some places, but avoid making too much of the same thing or getting a too-high poly count through it. Make everything leet. If something is wrong then don't be afraid of deleting it and trying again. It 's always better to work a few days longer on your map then to finish it quickly and then have a sucky map. Be a critic for yourself, look at the map like you would look at someone else's map, and look at what is wrong. Your map is only as good as the worst part of it.





- Added September 29th '02


Few things I need to add.

Coming back on the slant brushes for a sec. Slant brushes will cause your architecture to look less cubic, it will literally and figuratively give the impression of more flow.
Following pic is a corridor with cubic brushes :




It's boring and cubic.
- Now look to this pic :




It's the same corridor, but now with made of slant brushes, the 90 degree corners are gone, it now looks a lot less cubic, and more interesting for the eye. The shapes really flow and "play" with each other For the best flow result you should also let it flow in between the pillars, letting the pillars flawless flow over in to the wall, and flawless to the next pillar. So it flows in X, Y and Z axis.
You could also do this with your whole map layout, having some parts of your map 45 degree rotated. This will give a cooler result, but UT's engine isn't the best engine to do this with due to the bsp and the grid.
In the new Unreal engine and in programs such as 3DSMAX you can easily select a poly/face, and extrude and bevel in, this is easy to do and gives decent results.
For the people that are always asking "how do you make those slant shapes ?". With cubes and vertex editing. 2D shape might work too, but most people use vertex editing and cubes, since its faster and easier to adjust later on. And it's the same method as you would use to model things in programs such as 3DSMAX.


Forgot to mention this common problem in the original tut'. What you see noobs do a lot is adding ridiculous underscaled and thin pillars or other small things to a big space. Like this :




It looks so wrong, makes no sense at all. And it's still cubic like hell. In this case the pillars are uberthin, while pillars are mend to support the building, they make sure it doesn't collapse. So pillars should at least look a bit strong and looking like they really help the building, unlike this example.


Other thing you can do is working things open. Having the inside cut out, so you only keep the outer frame. This gives a much better 3D effect, and good contrast.
Simple example :








It's less boring, breaks the flatness of the original shape.

When you don't know what kind of detail to add to your map, a thing that could help, next to searching reference pic's online and in books, is looking at textures. Textures often have lot of detail, and some of it could be transformed in 3D. Like next texture from AVP1 which I quickly turned in to a low poly 3D wallpanel.






You don't have to copy it exactly, bit lame too, but you could get some nice inspiration from it.


Next thing is the so called thing "thematic execution", something that will get a lot more important in the future. The "why does this building look like an alien starship" thing. Not only the big general architecture shows what type of building it is, also the detail does, the detail you barely got in older engine as the UT engine. Things like little control panels, little plants, even spiders on the walls, anything, detail that fits by your theme, and that improves your maps theme. It's not enough to make big very smooth curved pillars, and very high poly spheres. You also need the detail in between. After all you are making an environment. And a research lab, an alien starship, a temple, ... were, if this would be the real world, build for a specific purpose. Researching, military outpost, worshipping a god, etc. It's build for that, so there are tools, and items and things in the level, which would be there in real life too since you need such things in a research lab or anything else. Sounds logical, but lot of people forget it when they come from a low poly engine to a new higher poly engine like the new Unreal engine now with UT2003

A thing what you certainly shouldn't do is letting the textures control your theme. If you need textures to show you just made a temple, then you got a problem. The textures help the theme, they don't create it ! 5 year ago it was done since the PC's could barely handle a decent polycount so you had to use cubes with textures. But today the day with quickly rising polycounts you can't do that anymore.
If you would take away all materials (= textures) from your bedroom, so your bedroom would be totally unskinned and having a default color, then you would still see it's a bedroom. Why ? 'cause of the detail, there are typical details in that room which clearly show what type of environment it is, and what purpose it serves. That's what you need, thematic detail, your environment has a purpose.





Everyone sees that this is a garage, and while it may not have good architecture, it does have detail, small but important things, like the earprotectors against that wall, and the little red rotated wire at the ground. Very typical elements.
Imagine that you would need to make a spacedock, where they repair and work on spaceships. Then you would most likely make big curves, pillars and bars, and other stuff. And on the ground you would place some buttons to open doors, some occasionally cable and wire, and some bombs that are ready to be loaded on the ships and most likely you put in a few ships too to show its a dock. But the real detail is still missing then, without the few ships and signs in the room you wouldn't see if its a dock. You could add a drill on the floor, some material, maybe some little stairs, some helper robots, some little or big cranes, etc.... Searching for pictures online as reference will help a lot with that stuff. The more powerful the engines will get, the more important this will be.


-=Hourences=-
For comments and stuff, Hourences@planetunreal.com or our Forum