How to create 3D environments in games in 4 steps

With each passing year, video games are becoming more and more massive and complex when it comes to bringing them visually to the screen. The worlds they present are ever more detailed and the stories ever more exciting. The main reason this is possible is the technology that is developing at a very fast pace. A number of professionals are involved in creating a title. Among them is the 3D artist, who takes the concept of the game designer and uses his creative and technical skills to build a believable and exciting universe. In this article, we will look at the question of how to create a 3D environment in games.

  1. Gathering references

A video game’s universe building should be tailored to its genre and the story it tells. The action can take place in a post-apocalyptic world (The Last of Us), in a fantastic environment (Final Fantasy), in a specific historical era (Assassin’s Creed) or in a single house (12 minutes). 3D artists draw inspiration from books, movies and other games as well as from real life. Gathering references is an important part of preparing for a new project. It can be done both in the field by taking photos (of the mountain, sea, meadows, abandoned factory, etc.), which are then used to create the environment in the game, and online through Google images. Visual references are a kind of guide for the whole project. Once the team has decided exactly what the environment will be in the game, a 3D artist sticks closely to the references to build the relevant scenes. They tell him what textures to use for different areas, what lighting to use, and so on. References is a guide that guides him through the entire environmental development process.

  1. Preparation of a general plan

Creating a general plan is the most important step. This phase determines the shape and composition of the respective scene. Some elements may change, but ideally these changes should be complementary and cosmetic. Once all the parts of the scene are created in the relevant modeling software, they can be transferred to the engine that creates the entire game and accordingly, be made available to the rest of the people involved in the development of the entertainment software. Another important point when creating a general plan is to use a scaling tool (such as the standard size of the UE4 mannequin relative to the environment assets) – the purpose of such a tool is to make all elements of the scene fit together well. Although we know approximately how big a book or table is, arranging objects in three-dimensional space “by eye” can be a complex task. It is also important for 3D artists to know what the camera positions are in the early stages of the project. It helps them decide where and what elements to add.

  1. Texturing

Texturing is one of the most exciting stages of environment design in a video game. It is done through special programs like Substance Designer and even Photoshop. By using a rich set of textures, the scenes get a more finished look, which combined with the created materials can make the tiles in a bathroom have wet spots or mold, some of the flowers in the garden wither, etc. Such a visual detail makes the spaces come alive. 

  1. Lighting

Lighting is a very important part of the environment creation process in video games, as it greatly affects all elements of the corresponding software – triangles, polygons, materials, particles, etc.. Lighting can be dynamic or static, fitting it in individual scenes is a whole science. Large studios have specialists who only take care of lighting, while in smaller ones, this task falls to 3D artists or game designers.

The rules for creating believable 3D worlds nowadays are changing with the ideas of talented artists and imaginative storytellers. The technological limitations of gaming on consoles such as the PlayStation 5 and high-end PCs are becoming smaller and smaller, and with the development of multiple platforms that sell affordable 3D assets, today even smaller teams can create extremely impressive volumetric worlds.

3D modeling is one of the disciplines studied at ARC Academy. If this field seems interesting and challenging to you, you still have a little time to apply for one of our vacancies.