Fantasy Tavern is a level I built using the Unreal Engine 4, to show off my love for the fantasy genre stemming from games such as The Elder Scrolls and Dungeons and Dragons Online. For a while now, I've had the image of a tavern in my head whenever I close my eyes and I keep thinking how great it would be to step into a tavern from a fantasy game, especially on a cold and snowy night. I imagined who might be in the room, what smells I might smell, and what noises I might hear. In my head, I saw everything from patrons sitting at the bar talking with the bartenders, to a party in a dimly lit corner planning and somberly thinking about the tough task they are about the take, to the loud and boisterous party that is celebrating another successful quest. As I imagined all of this, I thought about where my character might fit in, what my possible reasons could be for being in the tavern, whether it be for a bed or to find a person to talk with.
Planning, Blockout, and Population
This imagining is what lead to me planning on and building Fantasy Tavern, first starting with a top down view using graph paper. Once I had the layout just right, I blocked out the level in UE4 using BSP brushes, getting the room sizes correct and adding in positions for doorways. At this point, I went to the Unreal Marketplace and found a pack called Bumping Pub by Bumping Studios, which I found included all of the assets I wanted in the style I was looking for. Using this pack, I first placed out the big objects such as the bar and tables, getting them positioned just right to match both what I envisioned in my head and what I had initially detailed on my graph paper map. Once these assets were positioned correctly, I added in the chairs and bar stools, making sure that my distancing was correct. It was at this point I added in a lot of the support beams and pillars that are in the level. My reasoning here is I wanted to see how cluttered the level would look with them in, so I didn't go overboard with smaller assets. From here, I then decided to populate the walls, so that they would look plain and bare. Unfortunately, I found my selection of wall-based assets to be limiting, so I had to work with re-using cabinets and wall mounts. This also lead me to stacking some barrels on the wall. During this stage, I also added in the fire place (minus the VFX), and cooking equipment that is seen in the level. Once this was done, I then moved onto placing light fixtures and getting an early idea for where I wanted lights. Once I had a rough idea of where light sources would be placed, I moved onto all of the smaller assets seen on the bar, tables, as well as populating the storage room. My method here was pick an area, populate it until everything felt right, and then move onto the next area. Once everything was populated, I made sure that the floors, walls, and ceiling all had appropriate textures and then moved onto lighting.
Lighting and VFX
For lighting, I knew I wanted the majority of the level to be well lit, except for the secluded table on the left side and the storage room. To accomplish this, I used about four point lights in the main area on the right side, surrounding the light fixture I hung from the ceiling. I lessened the intensity on these point lights so that they would look to be produced from candles, and made sure that these lights covered as much of the main area as possible. I then made two more of these lights to go on either side of the light fixture between the man door and the bar, to light the entrance way and bar as much as possible. When working with these lights, I made sure that they were not going to wash out the textures by being to bright, and that they didn't look to be lights coming from an invisible light source, but instead from the candle fixtures. I then created low power point lights that I used to brighten the bar up a bit more, and bring light to a couple areas that were still too dark, such as the area in front of the storage room. I then created one more of these point lights to dimly light the secluded table on the left side of the tavern, to create further separation between it and the rest of the tables. With the main area well let, I then moved into the storage room and placed two points on either side of the room, so that everything was just barely lit. I then took a third point light and moved it close to the door, to help illuminate the entrance and tankards on the wall. My final step was to use the lights to make the setting seem warm and inviting. To do this, I changed the lights to warmer colors like light yellow and orange, to help look as though they were being produced from candles. I then added in a post processing volume to help bring all of the lighting together.
With lighting done, I moved onto adding in the fire VFX for the main floor and dust particles for the storage room. Both of these VFX came from the standard Unreal Asset Pack. I included dust particles in the storage room to help give off the feeling that it wasn't a room used very often, so dust often collects on things in there. I ended up reducing the power on the fire VFX by 50% because at full strength, it looked out of control and like it could burn down the tavern. Even though this isn't Minecraft and the fire won't spread, it still needs to look believable.
While I love playing and developing games for many different genres, open world fantasy games remain among my favorite because of the level of depth that can be provided. For instance, while building this level I kept envisioning how it might fit into an overall world environment and why the Player might come to this tavern. Is it because of a secret dungeon underneath that the bartender talk about? Is there a person staying here that is included in a quest line? Or perhaps this tavern is merely a stopping point on the way to a dungeon. With more development on this level, I think all of those will become a reality, as my next steps include adding in a small cavern dungeon that is accessible through the storage room, as well as a second floor with rooms and a place to sleep. My goal was to make this look like it came straight out of some of my favorite video games, I'd like to think I came pretty close.