Immersive Town Tutorial

Immersive town part 2 – research

Research and preproduction is essential to level design, which is essentially what our immersive town scene is: a game level.

In a real AAA type game studio environment, where I have artists and other developers to work with, I would approach research and preproduction similarly to the advice in these resources (written by AAA game designers):

But in our case, we don’t have any artists or other content creators on staff. So it’s essential that we approach research from a “what do we have access to” perspective.

When designing a real game level, I would ALWAYS start with a greybox (aka whitebox) designed around the intended gameplay and playtest and iterate.

Since our goal is immersion, it’s more important to find assets that will help sell the atmosphere we attempt to evoke rather than focusing on the gameplay purpose of the playable space. Then we will have to plan our gameplay content (quests, NPCs, key items, etc.) around what we find. 

THIS IS TOTALLY BACKWARDS from how I would typically design, but it makes sense in this situation.

As an aspiring designer, you want to create both types of  portfolio pieces:  levels that show you can create an original layout perfectly suited to your intended gameplay starting with a 2D map and then a graybox; AND beautifully crafted scenes based on assets you have sourced or been given. In this tutorial we are focusing on the latter.

Why to research first and what to look for

Since the focus of our project is narrative and immersion, it depends on compelling assets. Rather than starting with whatever scenario I can dream up, it’s much smarter to browse what’s out there and let that inspire you and jumpstart your creative juices.

Look for assets that will work well together. We want the pieces of our game to feel coherent and consistent. As a result, it can be useful to find a kit or asset pack that includes several environmental pieces and or characters that all fit together.

If you can’t find something integral to your idea, you need to switch ideas.

Let the assets you find guide your creative vision.

Where to find assets

There are an amazing amount of great free game assets to find online. Here is a compilation of links to help: 

As you peruse these sites, be sure to check the license agreements for any work you plan to use. Do not steal work that you don’t have permission to use.

Bookmark the assets you might want to use. This way we can find them later and credit the authors for their work.

If you want to spend money you can, but I think it’s worth seeing what you can build for free before you invest in paid assets on later projects.

Video: finding character art

I’m going to find character art first, because I think it’s more scarce and it depends on animations. The best resource I know for this is Mixamo.

Video: finding environment art

“Modular” asset packs mean the assets are built as pieces that can be snapped together like Legos to create your own custom layouts. This can be useful but might also make things slightly more complicated.

Be sure to consider if you can find characters that fit this world as well!

Video: testing environment art

Once you’ve picked out some environment art, it’s time to see what’s actually included and how it works in Unity.

Next: Part 3

Immersive Town Tutorial

Immersive town part 1 – project set up

For this project we will use Unity to build our environment and the excellent plugin Pixel Crushers Dialogue System to craft our interactive conversations and quests. Dialogue System is a paid asset, but there is an evaluation version as well as an educational version.

IMPORTANT: The educational version of Dialogue System is not for commercial use. (If students end up taking a project to market, they can upgrade to the paid version.)

We will use Mixamo for character models and animations.

Video: project setup

Video: test level overview

Next: Part 2

Immersive Town Tutorial

Tutorial: create an immersive video game town

Video games can pull me into a narrative world more than any form of storytelling. Whether gazing into space from the deck of the Normandy in Mass Effect, exploring the gritty glow of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII, discovering the cultures of the wasteland in Fallout, or taking in the haunting solemnness of Tristram in Diablo; video game “towns” enchant players and engross us in their world. “Town” is used loosely here. Any game scene where the player can speak with non-player characters (NPCs) and take a break from the main action counts.

You don’t need to be a 3D artist or programmer to create an immersive scene using this tutorial. The  project will outline steps to use existing code and art assets to craft a  game environment, focusing on narrative techniques to immerse the player. This tutorial won’t cover how to create original environment art or program character controllers or dialog systems.

Our goal is to create something that feels like a living, breathing place with its own culture, history, and future.

Learning objectives

By completing this project, you’ll be able to:

  • Research and plan a theme for a game environment.
  • Construct an immersive game environment using free assets.
  • Use characters, cinematography, lighting, and props to create mise-en-scène and environmental storytelling.
  • Create animated NPCs with physical, psychological and social dimensions to occupy the environment and make it feel alive.
  • Create NPC barks to engage the player and create narrative immersion.
  • Create branching conversations and use conditional logic to have NPCs react to player actions.
  • Create trackable quests that give the player objectives and rewards.
  • Create interactive props the player investigate or collect.
  • Author lore using notes the player can discover and read.
  • Use the above techniques to create an immersive, narrative-driven game scene.