Dev Blog Ep. 09: Designing the Worlds of Nekovia

By Niles Sankey, Lead Level Designer

The process of creating worlds is no small task, especially when those worlds exist in a fantastical fictional feline universe. Places with a rich fictional history and spatial design must deliver fast action-packed shooter gameplay that’s both immediately readable while also offering strategic choice at large and small scales.

In pursuit of this endeavor, the level design team is currently hard at work building the gameplay levels of Nyan Heroes. There are many exciting updates, and we wanted to share what we’ve been up to and how we are building the worlds of Nekovia.

The Process of Building Worlds

The worlds of Nyan Heroes are being built using a very specific method that requires coordination from multiple departments. We typically start with high level vision concept art to draw inspiration from. These concept art pieces will be the spiritual guide for the art and design teams building the world. Below are some of the concept images we’re using to inspire our level design.

The actual level design then starts with a phase we call “grey boxing”. This is the process of building a level using very simple grey shapes (cubes, cylinders, etc.). While the grey boxing phase isn’t very pretty, it’s critical to the success of the gameplay. Using just this basic geometry, the team can very quickly evaluate the grey box level to determine gameplay flow, scale, composition, etc. If layout changes need to be made, this is the ideal time to make those changes!

Once we’re happy with the layout and placement of the basic level geometry, the 3D art team works on making the environment look visually appealing, while the design and engineering teams refine game systems and scripting (although I’m currently filling the role of lighting artist for the team, so if you’re a talented light artist looking to join us, please drop us a line! :). Below are some “before and after” images from our gameplay update trailer. You can see just how talented our 3D artist are, turning a group of basic grey cubes into a beautifully rendered world.

The images above demonstrate these level design and world building methods on a smaller scale, but we also use the same method when building levels on a larger scale, which will be fundamental to delivering our Nyan Heroes battle royale experience!

Speaking of building larger scale levels..

Unreal Tools and Technology

The world of Nekovia is being built with Epic’s latest and greatest Unreal Engine 5 (UE5) tools and features. While many of the new engine features are still experimental, the technology already allows us to build worlds on a massive scale. These levels are relatively fast to produce and can be played instantly!

In the images below, taken from the UE5 editor, you can see the large landscapes we’re building, both from a high-altitude perspective and a ground perspective. In the distance you can see the grey boxing of the gameplay leak level. The entire gameplay update video was encompassed within the spatial constraints of those grey boxes, so you can start to get a sense of the scale our levels will ultimately deliver.

What lies in the near future?

The Nyan level design team is currently building a revision of our first battle royale map. All the images above are simply the building blocks for this task. In addition, our elite engineering team has recently delivered a set of brand-new feature integrations that will allow players to choose when and where to drop into the level from high altitude and then engage one another over a networked game in a “last cat standing” battle royale game. These are exciting times for us at Nyan, as the vision of the game is starting to come to fruition.

We’ll next focus on designing the points of interest within the battle royale map. We’ll be working closely with the combat designers to shape the layouts and evaluate gameplay metrics with the new player classes and abilities that are actively coming online. We’ll also be working with the art team to bring our new map’s visual quality to what we presented in the gameplay update trailer.

We’ve also been experimenting with day/night cycles and randomized weather patterns that will breathe even more life into our Nekovian worlds. The results have been visually spectacular and we can’t wait to share those with you.. in a future update! 😊

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

Niles

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