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Home-made 3D level editors?

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Good afternoon all. I've been doing some thinking about how I proceed in my study of game creation. One of the things I have heard many times is that junior programmers in the gaming industry are often hired to write tools for the designers, artists, and more senior programmers. It makes sense to me; they test your knowledge in the manipulation of various game elements, while not actually letting you break anything that they are trying to SELL to people ;) And while you're at it, you're interacting with different types of people, and hopefully making their lives easier. As far as character modeling and animation, I doubt that professionals are using anything rolled-from-scratch. It seems like the existing tools are already so powerful and effective accross genres. Yet, level editing and scripting must be much more specific to an individual game, and I believe they are needed by any serious project. Hence, I am thinking about making a user-friendly tool to create levels and their behavior for a simple platformer. Now, I understand this is no easy task. A GUI that would draw, texture and store even simple geometric primitives is a lot of work. Not to mention one that would allow importing and placing of models. Then there's the representation of game state that this level represents. Throw some sort of behavioral language editor in the mix, and it's a HUGE project, even if the game has the rough complexity of donkey kong. However, I feel that it would be a really good way to A) learn about the programmatic implementation of basic game design B) be a tool I could use and expand upon MYSELF in game development and C) a good selling point for any potential company/group I would like to work with. I still have more to learn about DirectX ( and more to REMEMBER about C++ ) before I would be comfortable tacking this sort of project, but I'd like to set it as my first big milestone. Does this sound reasonable to anyone out there who has been through the paces? Is this a common effort to undertake for a beginning developer, or am I kidding myself? Are home-made editors as wide-spread as I think they are? Thank you for any advice, I really do appreciate it. Mike

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Tool development is very good practice, useful, and really fun.
Just keep reading, practicing, practicing, learning, ect. It'll pay off trust me.
Matter of fact, I'll work on mine now. :)

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While creating your own custom level editor is probably a good idea for a 2D game, these days I'd wager most companies are using regular 3D packages for their level creation as well as modeling and animation. A small tools group at a professional company simply can not keep up a home-brewed level editor with the feature set of a large 3D program like Max/Maya. Is anyone else doing it besides Epic these days with UnrealEd? I'm not sure, but I don't think too many are. At my company we use Maya with multiple plug-ins which allow our game specific entity objects to be placed, tweaked, etc. and then exported.

I'm not trying to dissuade you from trying to create a 3D level creation tool and companies you apply for jobs in will surely like that you have taken the initiative to create something like this. But you might want to consider trying to get some experience with one of the major 3D packages as well, that would also be a great thing to have on a resume.

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Deled is good and cheap for making levels. www.delgine.com

If you want to make a game, focus your energry on that, and use existing software to make your models. Otherwise you are never going to finish all your little editor projects! Trying to take on too much will come back to bite you in the ass later, when you are all burnt out and lose interest in everything!

There are a ton of editors out there so that you don't have to waste time re-inventing the wheel. Why not take advantage of them?

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My take on it is that it is very possible and very realistic. I mean as long as you start simple and focus on getting the base model done and working, then it is just a matter of going back and imporiving one piece at a time, rewrting where necessary. There is not that much to it though. Take for example this old project. You can find the source and binary on his page here to get one idea of how one homemade editor went.

I think it would be a good excersise for you to do, since it will help you learn DirectX along the way as well as you add more advanced fetures. There's nothing quite like the sense of accompishment when you can use your tools to get work done, since you can get everything exactly as you want it. It may be tricky at first, but in the long run, it'll definitly help out. So good luck! [smile]

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2d tools (particularly level editors) I'd suggest doing yourself (and always have done myself, about five or so times now [grin]). They can be as simple or complex as you like, but generally you can make them easy to use by tieing them directly to your game engine and giving them a very WYSIWYG feel.

3d tools are a whole other beast, and very tricky to get right. I'd suggest using existing tools for the actual modeling (which is nicer if you have to rope in an artist) and maybe some kind of custom tool (or collection of small tools) to bind that together into a complete level.

For a platformer 3d 'tiles' should work nicely - make prefabed tiles of a fixed size, then use one custom tool to define properties (such as collision surface, solid/walkable/water/etc.) and another simple level editor to place these tiles and make a coherant level.

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Thanks much for the response guys!

And also for pointing me to that link with the fellow's dissertation( simple level editor ). That's exactly the sort of thing I'd love to achieve.

Much appreicated!
Mike

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Model editors are harder to implement, but the price of 20-30 licences for a company (with new versions every few months) might be bigger than the fee of 2-3 medium level programmers that will programm a small editor in 1-2 years and adjust it continuosly. In 3 years you'll have a good modelling tool focused on your type of games and with all modern features. And of course you may start selling it :).

Level editors are a different story. Once again you may use a existing one and tweak your game and engine with respect to the editor's limitations or you may assign one programmer (not a good one but a medium level one) for the whole project's length. After two months you'll have a poor working version and start draft levels. At 3 quarters of the project you'll have a decent level editor. Of course, the programmer will continue to work and on your second project you'll start with a good editor that will get even better in time.

That's the way it worked for a company I work for and most people I know are working faster with those editors because those editors ARE MADE FOR the kind of games the company does.

As new technology appears you decide to implement it or not and to implement it now or after 6 months or so, you don't have to wait untill the editor's makers decide to implement a feature you need. Also you don't have to wait (and pay for) a hundred useles features just because you need the next version of a tool for one usable feature.

You are in controll.

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FWIW, I think that in the past it's been true that tools programmers have been looked on as a position to secondary. And, traditionally, more junior programmers have bene put on the level editor projects, etc. However, I think this perception is starting to slowly change...thankfully!

The reality of it is that creating really great tools is an art. It requires an oft-found blend of knowledge that bridges the gap between what the run-time wants/needs and how the artists/designers want/need to work. At the end of the day, it's ALWAYS a trade-off. The fastest game engine in the world buys you close to nothing if it's impossible to create content for. And likewise, if you based your run-time on the methods that Max/Maya/Soft/etc work with, you'd likely have an engine that was too slow to do as much as you desire in "real-time".

In my experience, the best trends lean towards environments that are easy for the artist/designer to develop with and a toolset that, smartly, pre-processes that input data in a way that optimizes it into the best representation possible for run-time. And THAT is a feat that requires highly skilled and knowledge-able people.

To me, the days of forcing the artists/designers to work in awkward ways because the engine needs the data in such-and-such a form is an obsolete practice that will only result in sub-par game assets and design. The bottleneck ceased to be the programmers years ago and that trend is continuing. It's not that the game engine doesn't need to be optimized...it does. However, the cost of getting high-quality assets into the game has increased at a rate far greater than that of programmers learning vertex/pixel shaders or learning how to program for multi-core cpus. Thus, those skilled in the art of aiding the assets to be created in an efficent manner which also map to an efficient representation at run-time are becoming more and more sought after.

Anyway, this is all just my opinion. It is definitely becoming recognized more and more industry-wide, but it will probably take a few more years until it's truly held as a skill that's as important as it should be. The long and short of it, for you, is that if you're interested in tools then it's a great time to get into it!

-John

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If the tool fits use it. In my case, I need a custom level editor for various reasons so I built one. You wouldn't want to use something like Blender for creating Quake like levels for example because while you could probably do it the pain would drive you insane. Or you would have to rewrite some parts of Blender to fit your level building better. However using Blender for characters and objects is a good idea.

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