Nick Joebgen

Distant Island

Posted by admin on January 15, 2016


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Distant Island, built with Unreal Engine 4, is an open world level I built with the specific goal of creating a space that feels serene, safe, and secluded, while still offering the sense of excitement and adventure. This level, in my opinion, really shows off my love for simulation games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing, seeking to answer the question of what the two might look like if they were to be melded together and splashed with a dose of action/adventure. This level took me roughly three weeks to build, working at least three days a week for about four hours each day. It should also be pointed out that this level was created utilizing the Advanced Village Pack which can be found on the Unreal Marketplace. I'm going to be doing a separate write-up on this pack later, reviewing it and offering my thoughts for people considering purchasing it for their own utilization.


As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, what inspired me most when building this project were the worlds I've previously seen crafted in games like the Harvest Moon series and the Animal Crossing series. What I've loved most about these worlds is that they offer interesting spaces that feel safe, secure, and isolated. I genuinely feel like my character could fall asleep anywhere in these worlds and be completely safe the entire time. This is something I would love to feel in real life, but instead I decided to settle for trying to recreate it.

Destination: Island

So, to create this feeling of safety and seclusion, I decided to go with an island setting. This is because on an island, it's relatively hard for new people to just show up without being evaluated by current dwellers, and also just the definition of "island" lends itself to seclusion. In order to help with the feeling of safety, I made sure that the Player has access to every part of the island and can see everything. This way, there are no questions as to "what's over the ridge" or "are there enemies in an unknown part?". Players can explore everywhere and understand for themselves that the most danger they are in is being attacked by the harmless butterflies. 

Open World and Terrain

Open World games are some of my favorite games to play because I can go where I want, when I want. I feel like I control what happens in the world, instead of the game controlling me. I also love the levels and spaces that Open World games create, hence why they are among my favorite levels to build. When approaching this level, I made sure to keep a couple of important things in mind that helped shape how the level turned out. 

1). Include different areas that could represent different lifestyles happening. In the level, you'll notice there are quite a few distinct zones that share the same feeling, but clearly different lives are being led. There's the village, with its "hustle and bustle", and its inhabitants probably venture to other parts of the island to collect what they need. There's the forest area, where most of the inhabitants can collect what they need without venturing to the village much. There's the farmhouse, with the farmer that's probably connected to everybody. Then we have the mountain that overlooks everything and the lookout house that helps to guide people passing by the island. The Player will be able to visit and interact with all of these lifestyles and, in a full game, might get to make a choice as to who they attribute with most during gameplay. 

2). Make sure the terrain isn't boring. So many times I'll turn off an open world game because it's just so flat and everything is on the same plane. That's why I made sure to make good use of the terrain editing tool that Unreal Engine 4 provides, to raise and lower sections in order to break up the world into different heights. Two areas I'm particularly proud is the three tiered plateau, with each section offering something different. The other area I want to point out is the mountain that overlooks the entire village.  That in particular took a while to craft, including three redos, but is something I'm particularly happy with. 

Critique and Future Edits

1). Not enough functionality: In a future edit, I'm going to dive into the Blueprints more and try to create some quests, while showing off my visual scripting skills. 

2). Terrain Painting: Painting a terrain is still a skill I'm working on, and I feel like it shows here.

3). Not enough wildlife: This is primarily because it wasn't included in the asset pack, but I'd like to see more wildlife on this island, to make it seem like it's not deserted. 

4). More town population: Once again, this falls under the category of assets I just didn't have available, but I'd love to eventually go back and add in some more inhabitants to the island. I could then utilize Blueprints to give them basic AI functionality and quest giving features. 


Thanks for checking out this level, feel free to reach out to me at with any comments, or tweet me at @nick_joebgen.

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