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Developer Briefing #71 – Utah Beach Overhaul!

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Apr
09
    Coming in Update 6!
    Developing Hell Let Loose has been a wild journey. What started as a project back in 2015 as a team of three has slowly become this huge beast of a title that we pour nearly every waking hour into – with our ultimate goal of creating one of the largest and most immersive World War Two experiences we can.

    A critical part of this is our approach to level design and mapping. Over the course of development you’ll hopefully have noticed that the visual quality and gameplay integration into our mapping has significantly improved from the early days of Alpha, Beta and our initial launch into Early Access.

    With our continued journey through Early Access, we’re keen to make sure that our eventual full release contains all of our current maps at the same visual, optimisation and gameplay standard as our very newest.

    We’ve done significant work on Foy already (however, there will be more to come), but the next cab off the rank has been Utah.

    Revisiting Utah has been hugely fun. The heart and soul of Utah Beach has always for us been the beach area itself, as well as the transition to the flooded lowlands beyond the hamlet of La Madeleine and to the inland causeways that the US forces used to quickly progress into France. We’ll break down the way we thought about the Utah overhaul below.


    Utah Beach – The improvements coming your way!


    Lighting

    To start with, we overhauled the lighting to match photoreal qualities and values. This has done many things to increase the image quality and the way the player transitions from the dark of shade to the light of day. The key challenge in Utah is capturing the grim atmosphere of the wet morning while also balancing enough light to make sure the map didn’t feel flat or drab.

    Trees now cast better shadows at range, while clouds project dynamic shadows across the landscape. Interiors are now dark (but not too dark!) and have photoreal contrast. Volumetric fog now hangs low on the landscape, while catching the initial rays of sunlight on the horizon. You’ll notice that distant views are now far more photoreal and sit together far better. Ironically, the new lighting is also more optimised due to a better understanding of correct values within the engine.




    Visuals

    Many of the older maps feature a mishmash of different textures and assets with varying collision, function and quality. Textures were overstretched, or tiling to a tiny scale. We were using 9 stone textures when one would function fine on it’s own.

    Now that we understand what works visually – and have a fantastic photogrammetry pipeline in place to achieve it – we are beginning to overhaul all our foliage. You’ll start to notice that both trees and bushes LOD far less aggressively (this means that they change quality far less noticeably the further away you get), as well as have a realistic leaf and branch structure according to the specific species.

    Better yet, up close is where they really shine. As an FPS game, you spend a huge amount of time pressed up against tree trunks. Previously, they’ve been less than pretty – often the wrong species for the environment, as well as very low texture quality and unoptimised to boot! This has all been overhauled now – and we’ll continue to overhaul each tree and bush until they’re all unified at production level visuals and performance. Finally, all new foliage also now reacts to wind – allowing us to alter the wind to match the weather. Get ready for some storms!





    On top of this, all buildings in the map have been swapped out with gameplay in mind. Including the introduction of building types that you’ve never seen before. Our art team has spent huge amounts of time researching, refining and creating new structures that not only look great, but are also optimised and offer all new gameplay.




    Gameplay

    Many of the early Normandy maps suffer from the same “hedge-road-hedge-field” gameplay, creating in our opinion repetitive gameplay that could lead to frustration when you’re on the receiving end of fire with no cover in sight.

    With the Utah overhaul, we’ve introduced more than 2000 additional pieces of integrated micro-terrain in order to create more interesting combat and more opportunities to dig in and drop OPs and Garrisons.

    The whole team was tasked with playing the map and making copious notes and markups on specific approaches to specific flags. As a result of this, some of the weaker strongpoints have been totally overhauled, while many others have had additional cover introduced. Utah specifically was plagued with many wire fences and endless hedges – we’ve worked hard to make new passages through these, as well as create much harder cover than the flimsy wire fences.










    Optimisation

    Right now, we’re in the process of overhauling many aspects of the visuals in order to get everything to a “1.0” quality. This is a long process, but as we work we’re taking great care to make sure that we audit each asset in order to maintain a consistent FPS count. This overhaul has many positive effects:

    • We can make sure the visual quality is AAA grade
    • We can make sure that it is fit for purpose for gameplay
    • Props are the right height for cover or MG deployment
    • Objects properly conceal players
    • There is more opportunity and safer locations to place spawn points
    • There are more intentional choke points or cover points when defending or approaching an Objective
    • The collision for the prop or structure isn’t confusing and janky (ie. getting caught on oddly sized fences or walking on top of hedges)
    • We can instantly fix and optimise each asset in a targeted way that will have positive effects across all maps where it is in use


    Conclusion

    We’re very excited to see what you think of overhauled Utah Beach. While it seems like a footnote in Update 6 (which will contain new vehicles, ballistics systems and Hill 400), we feel like it’s a great indication and summation of the direction we’ve taken and are moving in as a Dev team. We hope you enjoy playing it as much as we did making it.

    PS. While Offensive mode won’t be dropping for Utah in U6, it won’t be far away!

    We’ll see you on the frontline!
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