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About this blog

This blog will detail my environment art and level design work in Leadwerks.

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Hello again! Just in time for Halloween, my blog once again rises from the dead. Although I wrapped up the Zone project back in July, I just recently finished a 13 minute HD video tour of the completed project. I may be doing a "behind the scenes" video some time later on if there's interest.


For now, welcome to The Zone:



It’s finally that time — the Zone project is coming to an end. I have really enjoyed working on this project and sharing the progress with you all. Thanks for all of the great critiques and feedback! Today I will be posting images of the last building for the Zone, as well as images of the final level design and some wallpapers at the end of the blog post.


To start things off, here is the centerpiece of the forest. This small, dilapidated house was condemned after the Chernobyl accidental and has since fallen into disrepair, but it seems that someone has recently taken shelter here. A small path leads from the military base to the back of the house, or you can reach it by taking what remains of a dirt road from the main highway in the area.


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I also have a few teaser images of the player start area, the exit/entrance of an underground lab that the player emerges from:


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And here are some renders of the map border near the road bridge and the edge of the forest:


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And here is an experiment with emitters in the swamp:


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I'll leave the rest of the map open for you to explore for yourself at a later date, but I'll wrap things up with 13 1920x1200 wallpapers which you can see below and download from here:


http://www.davelee3d.com/downloads/leadwerks/TheZone_Leadwerks_Wallpapers.7z (7-zip is recommended for unzipping)


Thanks for reading!


- Dave


This blog has also been listed on the website GameDevBlogs, where you can find other game related blogs with a lot of great info and behind the scenes material. Be sure to check it out!


Please excuse the rather horrifying pun in the title, but today’s update will highlight quite a few new assets and more level design, focusing in on the new grave sites and Zone signs specifically.


Let’s dive in!


First up, here are the new overview images. I’ve been working on the level design quite a lot, so you’ll notice lots of changes, along with a new skybox and afternoon lighting.

I’ll be showing more detailed images of some of these areas later.


The new skybox:


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Overview images:


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I have created 8 different grave sites for this project, primarily to populate a small hillside graveyard at the edge of the map and playable area.


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This graveyard began as a community graveyard for this remote area of the Chernobyl region (especially seeing that there was no local church). After the Chernobyl disaster it became a grave site for the military defenders and explorers of this area of the Exclusion Zone, as many met untimely ends here.


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Next up, I have new Zone signs. These will help add interest to parts of the playable areas as well as help add borders to the map, especially where there may be invisible walls (such as out in the river).


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To close out this blog update, I have new images of the swamp and military base. I’ve completed a “B” version of the military barracks where it seems that unknown forces once barricaded themselves in against some horror of the Zone. Many of the windows are boarded, and there are barricades over some doors and scattered around the inside of building. What happened to those who defended this building is unknown…


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I have also added a few additional debris props like tires and concrete slabs, some of which you can see here:


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And finally, a few more screenshots of the rest of the military base. You may notice a new structure in the side of the mountain at the back of the base. This underground entrance is where the player will begin, but that's all I'm telling for now. ;) Enjoy!


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I still have much more to show (including the last full building), so expect another blog post in the near future as the project reaches completion.


Today’s blog update on the Zone project will be quite lengthy, as over the last few weeks I have been finishing up the remaining assets and now I’m beginning to focus on the level design side of things. My new Intel i7 system is up and running once again (and no longer on fire), so today I have a good number of screenshots to share with you.


It’s been a while since I shared some overview images with you all, so I’ll start off with those:


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In these you can see where I’ve begun to detail and work over more areas of the map. I’ve also begun setting up the LUA scripts for the main buildings and assets, and correctly setting their view distance and physics settings. LODs models are also being created to help with performance. Today will be focusing on the railroad station area, but other areas you see here will be covered in future blog posts.


You may notice some obvious tiling in the ground textures. While they usually won’t be seen from this altitude, I’ve already re-processed all of them to reduce the tiling effect.


The largest model of the project, weighing in at over 22,000 polygons at the maximum LOD, is Bober Station. The name, as well as the inspiration for this building comes from the real railroad station in Bober, a small community near Chernobyl that was actually evacuated a few months after the disaster had happened when officials decided that Bober was also too contaminated.


To go along with the station, I carefully modeled an old bench (and several damaged versions) based off of a real life source that I was able to photograph and study:


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To wrap things up, I have a good selection of screenshots of Bober Station and the surrounding area. The prop detailing is close to complete, but I will probably be filling in more props before calling it complete. Enjoy!


Some of you may have noticed via my status updates last week that I was in the process of my 2-year PC upgrade cycle, and that I was working on building an Intel Core i7 based system. The good news is that the upgrade went well despite having to reinstall Windows (nothing was lost), and the system was stable and powerful within 24 hours of the parts arriving. The bad news? Saturday, during a heavy CPU load, a capacitor on the motherboard exploded, sparking a small fire on the board. Yes, I’m serious:


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As far as I can tell, the motherboard did not take any components with it when it died a catastrophic death, but I won’t be able to fully test everything until the replacement motherboard arrives. In the mean time, I’m going to change the topic of The Zone Blog Post #8 from what I had planned, and make do with what images I already had available.


Ah, game development. Always an adventure!


Instead of the Bober Railroad station, today’s update will feature a selection of new debris and background props that I have created to populate The Zone.


First off, I have created two versions of a Soviet style hammer and sickle statue; one is aged but stable, and one has been vandalized.


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Next up is another Zone sign. These signs warn travelers of the dangers of eating the wild plants in The Zone. It says: “Picking mushrooms and berries prohibited!”


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The rest of the images speak for themselves, so enjoy!


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Hello again, programmers, artists, and game designers! Today's blog update will be a smaller one, with a much larger update on the way soon. Today I'm going to talk briefly about one way to utilize vertex color when texturing an asset, in this case a building, and then share some images of the Zone beta milestone from the end of May.


Those of you that downloaded the R5 version of Leadwerks 3.32 are already familiar with my derelict garage model. For this model, I initially used a single main texture for the concrete floors and the base of the building. It tiled well, and had some nice detail in the diffuse and normal maps. The problem I faced was that because it tiled so well, when viewed across the building it appeared very flat and boring, even with ambient occlusion.




To help add some visual interest to this base texture, which covers much of the building and the player's viewing area, I decide to utilize vertex colors and a second texture. My plan was the create two versions of the concrete base texture, one clean and one dirty. They would share the same normal map, saving some texture memory. Here is a look at the textures:


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And here is how I laid out the vertex colors:




And finally, here is how it looks in game after adding the vertex colors:




If you've taken a look at the garage in game for yourself, that means you've probably explored the beta version of The Zone a bit as well. Here are some screenshots of that beta version that feature a bit more detailing work:


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With only a few assets remaining, this project is rapidly coming to an end now. If you look around at some of the Leadwerks banner images, you may see some glimpses of my next blog post, which has a lot of new material that I'm very excited to share!


As promised last week, it's finally time for a new blog update! Lots of new artwork has been created since the last update, but I'm going to start off by posting several large renders of the Zone project from a few weeks ago. These would make for great desktop backgrounds:


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The biggest focus of the last few weeks has been the design of the derelict Ukrainian military barracks. This building was based off of a real barracks in the Exclusion Zone. One of the new Leadwerks features that I implemented in this model is vertex color texture blending, which I used to blend brick and stucco textures for the exterior of the building. The blend shader is included with R4 of version 2.32, and I will be posting the .mat code for the blend texture at the end of this post. The newest version (2.2) of ArBuz's fantastic Leadwerks tools for 3ds Max includes support for vertex color, and I used his tool set to export this model. You can find it here:




Besides the building itself, I have created quite a few new props to populate the building. I'll start off with screenshots of the entire scene, and then I'll break down the props:


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Here are some of the new props that I created for this part of the project. From back to front: 3 cubed shelving units, gun rack A &B, 3 fuse box wall props, 3 variants of a military bed, old wall sink and radiator.


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I hope you enjoyed the images! Feel free to leave comments or suggestions, and I'll see you all in the next blog.

Here is the blended material .mat file that I used:






Hello again, everyone! As some of you may of noticed, it's been quite a while since my last blog update. Lots of good things have been going on behind the scenes, which is why there haven't been any recent updates. I'm currently preparing a large blog post for this weekend, but for now you get this little teaser:


Hello again, everyone! It's been a busy few weeks on the Zone project, and a lot has been accomplished. Besides the work presented here, a lot has been going on behind the scenes as well. Last week Josh wrote the GMF Processor, which collapses GMF models into an optimized mesh. This tool has helped speed up in-engine performance significantly, and you can try it out for yourself here: http://leadwerks.com/werkspace/index.php?/topic/1767-gmf-processor/


I've also been fixing mesh errors and cleaning up and tweaking previous assets - it's the non-glamorous side of being a game artist!


I still have news on the "new art" front, of course. The paved road bridge (based off of the famed "Bridge of Death" near Chernobyl) has been completed. First off, here is a look at the small version of the bridge:


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Like the railroad bridge, I have also completed a modular version of the road bridge. It comes in End A, End B, Middle, and Middle with pillar sections for now. In the near future I will be completing a destroyed section as well which will help close in the area that players can explore.


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I also have some larger renders to show today. Last week I was attempting to get the "save render" script working. After having difficulty getting it to work in the actual Zone map, I put together a small showcase scene with more of a mountain environment. Here are some of the larger renders from that scene:


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You may have noticed a few new assets in this scene. The largest one is the Bober Warehouse, based off of the Bober train station in the real exclusion Zone. It features a full interior as well as exterior, and you may even be able to explore the attic by the end of the project.









But, what's a building without some furniture? I've been working on some wooden furniture props to help fill the buildings that will soon be populating The Zone. More variants, as well as other furniture like old lockers and tables will be coming in the future as well.






Thanks to the modular bridges, I was able to drop them into this mini-scene with no effort. Here's an overview:




If you haven't tried the 3.32 beta yet and you're working with heavy scenes with lots of vegetation, you should try it out. This scene has billboards disabled (meaning that the thousands of trees and plants I have in it are all being rendered at any distance) and I'm still maintaining 10-20 FPS on my nVidia GTX 285. Although, I wouldn't recommend these kind of settings for your games, as your users may complain about playing a slideshow!


That's it for this blog post - thanks for reading!


Welcome to another installment of “The Zone” level design blog. Today I’ll be detailing what has been going on since the last blog post, which includes some new and imported assets as well as some significant changes to the level design in the Editor. I implemented the new SSDO that Josh posted recently, and redid the lighting based off of a few tips he suggested. The main sunlight is a white-orange, and a very dark blue-gray ambient light is used to lighten the shadows and balance the lighting. I posted my current SSDO settings at the end of the blog post if you are interested in seeing them.


To start this entry off, here are several overview images of the level. As you can see, the placeholder vegetation is gone and I have begun to populate the level with vegetation created by Pure3D. If you have been thinking about buying some of their vegetation packs, I would highly recommend them! The roadside pegs and yield sign are also by Pure3D. Check out these images for some examples (note that not all vegetation placement is final):


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I also used the Fill option under my cliff side texture to auto-fill all areas of the map with a slope greater than 7 degrees. If there are areas above 7 degrees that I want to paint with another texture I can do so, but as you can see from these screenshots using the fill tool helped me to automatically create some interesting texture work for me to build off of. I have also deleted all terrain that isn't visible from the "play area" to save resources.




The first of several new dirt road textures is now complete and in game. The first image of the road also shows one of the new radiation warning signs. These signs are placed both on the borders of the Zone as well as areas of extremely high radiation.


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The railroad bridge first seen in the last blog post has now been fully modeled and textured as well. I created high-poly bolts and baked them into the normal map and used a WACOM tablet to hand paint most of the diffuse texture. The first two images are large in-engine captures that show an overview of an assembled and disassembled bridge. Theoretically, the bridge can be made to fit any length that you need. I'm also showing a re-sized (1024x1024px) version of the bridge's diffuse texture - the full size is 2048x2048.


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Besides the railroad bridge in the “new assets” department this week, I also have a small outbuilding. This is another background building without an interior (expect a full building in a blog post soon!):




Some road barricades have been completed as well, with damaged versions to come:




Finally, as you may have picked out from the first few images in this post, I have created a few low-poly background buildings for this map:




And that wraps up blog post #4. If you have anything you would like to see in the next update, or if you have any suggestions be sure to mention it in the comments!


SSDO Settings:


#define aointensity 6.0         // between 1 and 5 is good
#define aointensitydiv 2.5
#define aofalloff .35
#define aosamples 8                     // dont change
#define aopass 4                        // 4 * aopass = samples
#define aocut 0.6
#define aosize 0.5
#define aoscreenlocked 0                // enable this for screen locked AO




               #define raycasts 6//Increase for better quality
               #define raysegments 8//Increase for better quality
               #define aoscatter 0.5
               float raylength = 0.5;//*dist*1.0*50.0;
               float cdm = 1.0;// * dist * 50.0;


In the last update I was working on laying out everything in the map, especially the roadways and block placeholders for the main buildings. In today's update, I'm going to go over what I've been working on since then, which is the most logical step after roads...rails!


But, before we dive in, here is an overview image for Blog #3:




One of the biggest steps since the last blog update was to get a modular rail system set up. Based off of that photo shoot I did 2 weeks ago, I created a 12 meter section of old railway. These sections lock together using the Leadwerks grid system to create perfect seamless straight sections of railway. They also have several Level of Detail versions to save polygons (elements like the tie down plates and rail connectors disappear with distance).


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While not yet finished, I'm also working on curved sections and a switch (not pictured).




And of course, if there's a railway there must be an old pile of ties.




I have also completed the final terrain texture, a unique cliff texture:




A new brick wall with A, B, and damaged version is also now completed. The accompanying debris pile is designed to work with most other damaged brick

assets as well.




For those of you that have played the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, this next prop will be very familiar. This is a simple barbed wire fence meant to keep curious eyes away from the Zone... and to help keep some of the strange horrors of the Zone inside. These, along with radiation warning signs, will border the map.




The dirt road (not seen yet, the dirt ground texture is a placeholder) that winds through the woods to an abandoned house crosses over part of the swamps. I have created an older style wooden and concrete bridge for this road designed for light personal use off of the beaten path. Its timbers have shifted with age and plundering from explorers looking for material for fires or shelter.


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Finally, a big part of what I've been focusing on is the railroad bridge needed for this map. I decided to build this bridge in modular sections. This will allow users to adjust the length of the bridge as they need to for their own levels. The design of the bridge is largely inspired by this bridge near Chernobyl:




It is divided into 4 sections, with each of the main middle sections being 12 meters long:

- Middle

- Middle with support pillar

- End A

- End B


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Here is how the untextured model snaps together inside of the Leadwerks editor:


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That's all for today. For the next blog post, I'll be texturing the bridge, working on the road bridge, continuing with more railway assets and maybe getting more textured buildings in the editor.


Thanks for reading! :)


Hello everyone! It's time for another blog post about The Zone Leadwerks level design project. I'm going to start today's update off with an overview screenshot of the map. I plan on doing this for each blog post so you can easily follow the overall progress week to week.




I've been working on setting up the major terrain features as laid out in the planning sketch. Below are screenshots of some of the roads with WIP textures, the swamp next to the military camp, the military camp itself, the creek and graveyard area, the thick woods and house, the two edges of the map with guard towers, the Bober railroad station area, and the destroyed main road bridge among other areas. There are quite a few placeholder trees on the map right now, so don't panic! I'll be optimizing the forests later.


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As you might have noticed from some of those images, I have continued working on getting some textured buildings in the editor as well. While I'm still sorting out some issues with some of the normal maps, here are a few screenshots of the derelict guard outpost:


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No game is complete without some crates, and I've been creating a few to populate this level. These are the base models, and I plan on using decals to add different labels to them. More versions and texture varieties are also in the works.




And here they are in the interior of the guard outpost:




Last weekend I went out to a local abandoned rail depot to take reference images. These will mainly be used to create the railroad beds, rails, ties, and other sections, but I thought you all might find some of them interesting:


View part of the railroad depot reference photo shoot.


Here is a WIP image of the new railroad bed that I'm working on based off of some of those images:




To finish up this blog post I'd like to share how I created a simple prop building for this map. My goal was to use a good texture image that I had on hand to create a nice looking background building without having to create a high poly version to bake normal maps from. I had a texture of a bunker that was roughly a 1:2 ratio in pixel size, and I started by using Photoshop to set up the texture at 2048x1024.




With this complete, I mapped it to a cube in 3ds Max and then I actually cut the shape of the building out of the textured cube.




Next I re-UVW mapped new sections of the building that had stretched textures. I then used Photoshop to create a faux heightmap for the texture based off of the image.




I then used Crazybump to combine an automatically generated normal map with my custom painted heightmap to create this normal map:




To finish off the model I added some Ukrainian signs that use a separate texture map. And, finally, here is the final result in the Editor:


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While it's best to create high-poly models and bake normal maps for important assets, for background assets like this bunker/outbuilding, Photoshopping a heightmap for use in Crazybump can produce nice results while saving time.


That's it for this blog post. In the coming days I'm going to be working on more terrain detailing, preparing some of the bridges and rail systems, and getting more textured assets in the editor!


Hello everyone! My name is Dave Lee, and I am a 3D artist and level designer. As Josh mentioned in a recent blog post, he has hired me to create a AAA-game quality environment for the Leadwerks engine — one that really shows off what it's capable of. This environment will be a fictional scene inspired by the real Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. For now it is titled simply "The Zone".


While I'm still getting the hang of Leadwerks and the Editor, I've found it pretty easy to just jump right in with only my experience in CryEngine 2 and some studying on the Leadwerks Wiki. So, this blog update is going to be a good sized one! I have drawn out a sketch for the environment, which you can see here:




I have also been collecting quite a few photographs from the internet for my "inspiration folder". These are images that I look over to maintain realism. I have uploaded some of them here so you can get an idea of what I'm drawing some inspiration from:


Inspiration Image Slideshow


Terrain textures were one of my first experiments in the Leadwerks editor. Each of these has a specular map (in the alpha of the diffuse) and a separate normal map. I also did a bit of experimentation with the vegetation painting system, which works great, especially the LOD levels and billboards.






After experimenting with some terrain elements in the editor, I dove into the 3dsMax > Leadwerks import process. The first stages of the level is to get some of the rough untextured models into the environment without their textures but at the correct scale. With these untextured models in the Editor and some placeholder block models made at the approximate size I can "block out" the level in its entirety. This will allow me to make sure that I'm staying true to the original concept before I waste time detailing areas that will need to be adjusted on a macro scale later on.


Below are some screenshots that show the early stages of the blocking out process with some of the unfinished models:


b01_01_s.jpg b01_02_s.jpg




I also worked on getting one textured building in game so I could learn how 3dsMax's materials and Leadwerks interact. You can see my first (and rather simple) textured building, a portable military trailer, below.


trailer01_s.jpg trailer02_s.jpg


That's it for this update. Stay tuned as I continue to block out the environment and begin working on more buildings and props!