Creating Realistic Environments for the Blender Game Engine

Blender's game graphics engine is fairly simple as such things go, but with a little hard work one can still create relatively realistic games. In this article, I'm going to try to help you learn how you can use these features to make your Blender games as realistic as possible. Note: This tutorial was originally published in BlenderArt Magazine Issue 7.

Blender has changed a lot since this tutorial was written. Much of the tutorial assumes that the reader is working in TextureFace mode, which was the only method available at the time of writing. Since then, many other options have been implemented. Though many of the step-by-step portions of this article are obsolete, I think the advice provided may still be helpful. Read it and decide for yourself, but be forewarned that many of the instructional portions are now out-of-date.

 

Planning

Before you begin making a game scene, you should have a set idea in your mind of what you want the scene to be. Decide:

  • What does the area look like?
  • What is the player meant to accomplish here?
  • What is the area's “real” purpose, i.e., if the area really existed, what purpose would it serve?

Once you've worked out the answers to these questions, you're ready to get to work on your scene.

When designing your scene, remember that the player needs to be fenced in somehow. No matter what, people always seem to want to go beyond the confines of your game map, and you'll need to come up with a good excuse as to why they can't. Preventing the player from leaving the main part of the scene is not enough, you must also convince her that she does not want to leave it. The most popular forms of environment bounds are as follows:

Island is usually what it sounds like. This is an extremely popular method of defining scene boundaries: simply put in a vast ocean and people immediately assume they cannot traverse it. In my game The Voyage of the Golden Arm, I used the Island technique in a desert as well: one of the game's levels takes place on a large hill, which is surrounded on all sides by a desert wasteland. The effect is the same though the “ocean” is an ocean of sand and not water. Another variation is the “butte,” in which the game area is atop a high cliff, surrounded on all sides by vertical drops. Islands can also be combined with invisible walls, to prevent the most determined players from walking too far into the ocean.

Canyon is an environment which is surrounded on all sides by unsurmountable walls. Preferably, these should be high walls: short fences tend to frustrate people, as in real life they would simply step over them. The best Canyon walls should be much higher than the game character's height.

Tunnel was popularized in games like Doom, where all the action takes place inside closed-in corridors. Tunnels have fallen out of favor because they allow for very little variety in your game scenery.

Death Zone is the least recommended of the acceptable boundaries. A death zone is an area outside the main game environment which causes instant death if entered. An example is the dark caverns of the text adventure Zork, in which wayward players are devoured by “grues.” These are not recommended because they seem unfair to the player, and cost lives. If you decide to use a death zone, make sure that the player is well-informed of the area's status. Nothing is more frustrating than a “surprise” death zone.

In this article, we will be working toward a realistic Island scene. I'm not expecting you to follow along with the tutorial, simply read it and look at the steps I take to improve the island's realism. Learn these techniques, and you'll have all the tools you need to work on your own creations.

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