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Open World EXPERIENCE
Ghost Recon

Main project focus: Technical Design, Mission Design, Game Design
Introduction

In this project I my goal was to create something spacially aswell as technically impressive. With Ghost Recon: Wildlands as my inspiration I wanted to capture that sense of scale and player freedom in the open world.

 

Utilising Unreal and its tools and features to test out a process for creating Large open world levels while allowing for a non-destructive workflow thoughout.

Details
  • Non destructive open world level design

  • AI and Game/Mission Director

  • Procedrual Foilage and nature

  • Tool integration & Development

Project time

8 Weeks - Half time

Overview
 

Open World overview image
Synopsis

'GHOST RECON' gameplay in a Scandinavian environment. Raiding outposts and destroying infrastructure to harass enemy occupation forces. The level set right after the introduction to the game and features new gameplay elements to be introduced to the player. This is the first real open world area that the player will be introduced to in the game.

 

Note: This overview is of the whole open world, the scenario showcased plays out in the bottom middle of the map

Level Design
Process

 

Pre-production

"Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first." - Murphy's 12th Law

Setting Goals and Ambitions

Originally, I aimed to create something big, using 'GHOST RECON: Wildlands' as a reference but altering its design. This led me to research landscape sculpting and generation techniques. Discovering Unreal Engine's experimental landscape tools, my project objective then became : non-destructive, tool-assisted landscape and terrain sculpting within an open world featuring dynamic weather and procedural foliage.

However as the saying goes.... "No plan ever survives contact with the enemy"

OverviewOLD.PNG

The first overview with POI's and biomes planned out.

Moodboard for open world
Choosing a Location

I really wanted to do something green and lush, somewhere that I love to roam. So I decided on setting the location as Rural Sweden.

Recalibrate the scope

The initial plan for the project was alot bigger, featuring a team of six people. However this plan fell though and I was left to keep going alone, this lead to scoping down somewhat. But not deteried I continued with the main plan as I knew that i could pull it off.

The first sketch

I knew the enviorment I wanted to create so i started by sketching out the shape of the landmass I wanted to create,  making sure to give enough space to each area to insure that each area felt unique and so that progression would not be hampered.

This process goes from paper to Engine multipe times, each time adjusting from what was lernt from how the world looks and feels in 3D.

UpdatedOpenWorldGifs-ezgif.com-added-text.gif

Diffrent overviews showing how the level evolved during the development.

Iterative blockout Process

"Everything takes longer than you think." - Murphy's 2nd Law

Blockout to Whitebox

Due to the emense scale of this level I knew that finding a pipeline that would allow for quicker itteration than traditional sculpting allowed was imperative for the design to work. But untill then the almighty Cube and rightous Extrude would be more than enough to get an inital plan down for the shapes and scale of the landscape. 

Problems encountered

Working with experimental tools and a new workflow caused many problems in the beginning, notablelly the Landmass plugin not really working as intented and causing massive performance issues.

This lead to other approches and futher testing/development of alternative tool. Something that later lead to choosing to use Landscape Patches and the water plugin for the final pipleline.

Blockout progress gif
The water problem

I wanted water to be a large part of my level, from small streams to the large river splitting the map and leading on the lake that creates a border to the south of the map. However working with the water plugin caused much headache and another pipleline for water would need to be used for long term use. 

The problems encountered where.

  • Unrealistic water flow

  • Broken water meshes

  • Messing with the landscape heightmap

  • Causing problems with performace and level partition.

Showing off problems with water
Transition to proof of concept

When moving this project from an assignment to portfolio project I had to choose what I wanted to keep, futher develop and what to abandon. This lead to a deeper dive into gameplay systems and a newer and more simplyifed workflow when it came biome and foliage control using PCG.

Gameplay

Creating a gameplay example

"Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget." - Murphy's Law

Initially, my aim was to develop not just a vast open world but a playable prototype.

 

Despite challenges and changes from conception to completion, the level currently features a playable scenario, with the foundation set for easy expansion.

A Working Prototype
Creating new gameplay elements

From the assignment's onset, I was certain about incorporating a helicopter, leading to the creation of a helicopter system alongside a mission and game director.

 

This was designed to challenge players who linger too long.


Tool Building
 

Building the Tools that built the world

"If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop." - Murphy's 6th Law

Outlining Requirements

When working on this project I knew I would have to build many diffrent systems with varied uses and importance to the final resualt. 

So using the MoSCoW method i proritiezed systems which would be seen rather than systems which mostly ran in the background, but which would be crirital for a future prototype.

However, plans always change and continus review of the importance of each system is needed to determine the criticality where to spend time.

Utilising Unreal Landscape Patch system 

Building the Prototype

Getting a quick prototype to test feasbility is always a must to ensure that the scope is within reason and testing if it will save time, or cost time.

Realign or commit

After all the systems have been prototyped a big decision is made, to eaither realign the concept and downgrade the scope. Or commit to futher development and take the risk that the system can actually be build in time

Never ever commit to something you know will not be done in time and within scope. But nothing cool is done without risk.

Improving useability and optimisation

"Anything is possible, provided you have sufficent RAM" - Me during this project

Useability

Ensuring the system's user-friendliness and minimizing clicks for optimal results were constant priorities. Additionally, it was important to guarantee the usability and visibility of elements like splines in the editor.

Optimisation

A few weeks into the project, performance issues arose, prompting a shift towards optimizing both the tools and the overall world. By implementing world partitioning and enhancing tool performance through sequential or simplified execution methods, I managed to double the frame rate in my level.

Useability.PNG
Optimising.PNG
Building & Working with third a party template & Tools

When choosing a gameplay template I knew that Jakub (ALS) was close to the reference game but with many flaws to take itall the way. Alot of design desitions where made with the knowlage that i could not modifiy the template too much due to it being hard to work with and with much being designed for a diffrent game enitely. But using it for a locomotion standin worked quite well for a proof of concept.

Rebuilding & completting

"Nobody remembers a coward" - Unknown

Tech List 

List of things that where done to make the project get where it ended up:

  • Vehicular AI and driving model

  • Helicopter AI

  • Game director and mission director

  • UI elements to inform play of world state

  • PCG systems that work in unision with other tools

  • PCG system intergration with blueprints and data tables for easier use by enviormental art.

  • Spline systems for various use cases such as powerlines and roads. 

  • Modification of Jakub (ALS) to fit closer with the reference game

  • Landscape material and foliage system with 7 Unique landscape types and auto material properties. 

  • Using and modifiying landmass, water and landscape patch system. 

  • RVT intergation for material blending.

  • RVT use for material overlay splines to create landscape variation, details and paths.

  • Bullet penetration and weapon system. (Not implemented) 

  • Rewamped AI and cover system. (Not implemented)

  • Various particle systems such as rocket trails. 

Tech List

Mission & Game
Design

 

Making the world feel alive

"New systems generate new problems" - Murphy's Law

Mission Types

Mission variety is something that was critical to the overall design so I took what 'Ghost Recon' Provided and built upon it.

Main Missions

The main objectives in the open world is to do story missions connected to the resistance and working to turn the occupation forces against eachother.

The story missions present on this map are the following:

  • Destroy, Hack or Take over the communications antenna.

  • Kill or Capture enemy high ranking officer 

  • Retrive or destroy documents detailing supply drop from crashed transport plane.

Side Missions

Side missions are missions that have less impact on the world than main missions. However they do effect the game world but to a lesser extent per mission

The side missions present on this map are the following:

  • Destroy, disable or capture enemy convoy

  • Destroy or disable enemy Anti-Air battery

  • Destroy enemy checkpoints

  • Find weapon cache's

Building upon the Ghost Recon game & Mission Design

I focused on refining 'Ghost Recon: Wildlands' by categorizing gameplay elements to remove, keep, or add. This led to a focus on enhancing the game world's responsiveness to the player. Disappointed by the original game's static environment and enemy behavior, I aimed to create a more dynamic and interactive world. By designing a game system that demands strategic thinking and quick actions from the player, this involved introcuding varying enemy responses and tactics.

 

The objective was to create a feeling of waging a guerrilla war, with missions impacting the game world, such as affecting enemy reinforcements and territorial control.


Conclusion & Reworks
 

How it went

"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" - Murphy's 1st Law

The Good
  • Overall System Design

  • Vehicle System

  • PCG and Spline Intergration

  • Landscape & Material Pipeline

The Bad
  • Level design lacking in depth.

  • Level lacks  variation of diffrent enviorments in final product. 

The Ugly
  • Limitations of 3rd party template

  • Placeholder systems with hardcoded varibles.

Lessons learned and where I want to take the project

Throughout the project, my learning was primarily centered around pipeline and workflow, serving as an exercise in exploration. This entailed assessing methodologies previously implemented by others, while simultaneously forging my own path. The critical elements for the project's success were the continuous reevaluation of time allocation and maintaining flexibility in my approach. Due to the departure of my entire development team, the project underwent several rescope efforts, compelling me to shift my focus significantly towards developing my own systems. Consequently, this adjustment resulted in a decreased emphasis on level design, with greater attention dedicated to system and technical design—a decision that proved beneficial ultimately.

In retrospect, I am satisfied with the outcomes of the project and carry forward numerous insights regarding the building of expansive open worlds.

But also, damn you Epic Games! You decided to release the Unreal 5.4 Preview containing a PCG biome system very similar to what I made 2 Weeks before my portfolio dropped...

Honourable Mentions

As previously stated I started this project with other people but in the end only my own systems ended up being used in the final product. This is something that could have been caught & avoided with more pre-production and planning. Nonetheless I want to highlight the following individuals for their efforts.

  • Tyler Thomas - Technical Artist

    • We worked together on a different PCG biome system utilizing Unreal PCG which ended up not being used in my project but can be seen on his portfolio site, Check it out!​

    • https://www.tylerthomastechart.com/
       

  • David Widmer - Character Artist

    • We had plans for making some uniforms for both the player and enemies but due to time restrictions we ended not implementing any in the final product. ​But do check out his portfolio to see some awesome character models!

    • https://www.artstation.com/dwidmer
       

  • Philip Wolff - Weapon/Prop Artist

    • Philip Wolff is a skilled weapon/prop artist who created the AR-15 for my portfolio piece as seen used by the main character. For a closer look at the model and his other work do check out his portfolio!

    • https://www.artstation.com/philipwolff

  • Anna Christensen - Enviorment / Foilage Artist

    • Anna is a talented artist which made trees for my open world that ended up not being used in the final project due to conflicting timelines but she deserves a shoutout nonetheless for her ability to use Speedtree with great speed and efficiency.​

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