Desolate Mind

Desolate Mind

Desolate Mind was my first experience with Unreal Engine 4, where I specifically had a focus on level design (as per my brief from the university assignment). I went through a step-by-step level design process of:

  • Beatchart
  • Top Down
  • Whitebox
  • Meshing Pass
  • Lighting Pass
  • Polish Pass

Some of these steps I put a lot more time into than others, very specifically the meshing pass took about 2-3 weeks of my time as the map was quite large (and I wasn’t as great at using art assets to their fullest potential at the time).

Premise behind the game

While all work I did was my own, I worked with two others when designing the premise of the game. The basic premise of the game was an unnamed character going through different stages of their life represented by 6 different areas for the player to walk through.

  • Garden
  • House
  • Underground
  • Street
  • Forest
  • Graveyard

Creating the beatchart

A beatchart is a “one-page document that describes the structure of the game as a whole” and I used this for many different elements from the goal of each section to its story beats or colour palettes

Beatchart made for Desolate Mind

This mostly stayed accurate with the game as it progressed through development but there were some cuts to gameplay mechanics due to blueprints in Unreal not working the way I was hoping. But with this beatchart done, I started to work towards a top down of the level. Before working on that though, I wanted to also mention some articles I used as reference points during this production. There were 3 main articles I used, with all discussed level design in depth.

I didn’t end up following these exactly but mixed and matched different tips from each of them to help me along.

Top Down

Starting off the top down, I first went onto paper, and reflecting back on this, there’s definitely a lot to be desired here, most notably that I wish I used some form of graph paper for a scale reference.

Desolate Mind | First Top Down

There are quite a few issues with this top down, and I did end up scrapping this version. After restarting, I made sure to clean everything up using Photoshop and while this version still isn’t the most polished, it was much better than the previous

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an image with a key but I mostly remember what each part of this was

  • Blue | Debris – Impassable
  • Purple | Debris – Passable
  • Red | Breakable window

The arrows towards the bottom signified a change in the gravity, as initially this location was quite heavily inspired by the Distortion World in Pokémon Platinum but this was a mechanic that never made it into the game sadly, mostly due to time constraints.

After some more work on the top down, 2 new areas were added into the game.

That was pretty much the end of the top down and I began working on the Whitebox in Unreal Engine.


Creating the whitebox took quite a lot of my time, but I soon got into the rhythm of using Unreal Engine BSPs to create the environment.

Whitebox of the first two locations in Desolate Mind
Whitebox Screenshot

Something that changed during the whitebox phase was the layout of the location shown above known as “The City”. Initially this had the player walk around all the buildings, but this changed into the player exploring inside all of these buildings, which was inspired by Half Life: Alyx at the time, this ended up giving the level some much needed verticality.

Before moving onto the next section “The Forest”, I want to mention a landmark in the game, which was a giant tree that the player will always see, but the player would also walk through it as a way of distinguishing between the city and the forest. I really liked this idea and in testing it seemed to work perfectly as the placement of the tree meant the player would see the sunset as they emerge out of it.

Desolate Mind | Gif of the player walking through the tree to the forest

This coupled with some background music really set the emotion of the area and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

With some more work on the game, the whitebox was completed.

The Meshing Pass

This left me onto the meshing pass – as this was a solo project I had to use all the different art assets myself which led me into 2 major problems:

  • I was not good at using art assets to their fullest
  • I had no idea had to optimally use art assets which resulted in a lot of slow down in certain sections.

The meshing pass took the longest out of everything, over 2 weeks of replacing the whitebox with the final art assets – these assets taken from whatever free packs I could get my hands on. Some areas ended up looking pretty good by the end of this pass, others… Did not.

Showcasing different sections of the meshing pass, one good, one bad.

This brings me onto my biggest regret when making this game, I wish I spent more time learning and understanding how to use art assets instead of being impatient with them and creating a final product that isn’t very pretty – This is something I definitely learnt from, and changed going forward, I just wish I did it for this project as well.

Finishing Touches

In the finishing touches of the game, I made sure to add some much needed polish to some areas, including decals on walls for graffiti, fog in certain areas, text bubbles for the player, and most notably, a developer commentary mode so I could talk about different aspects of the game.

There was honestly a lot to learn from this project, I got better at level design, and understanding what’s enjoyable to play, and what isn’t, I understood more how to use art assets, and it definitely hit me how important optimisation is.Like I’ve said a lot in this portfolio already, it’s definitely a game I wouldn’t mind re-creating one day.

Project Duration:

November 2020 – January 2021

Team of: 1

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