Introduction Hello, my name is Zachary Downer and I’m the creator of Ira Act 1: Pilgrimage, an upcoming atmospheric adventure game from Ore Creative that you can check out here

In this tech blog, I’ll be covering Ira’s Blueprint-based asset stylization pipeline, why it was created, and how you can leverage Unreal Engine’s Editor Utility Widgets in your projects.

Benefits of stylization

Stylizing your game is a great way to do a lot with your visuals using limited resources. On our end, stylization allows Ira to use almost any asset from the asset store, speed up development time, define ourselves visually, and allows us to create an overall richer experience with a lot less work.

Like many in the indie scene, I’m a solo developer who can 3D model, texture, use Blueprints, and more. I know enough to be dangerous in a handful of areas, but I’m not going to be creating all the assets for Ira Act 1: Pilgrimage single-handedly as it would take too much time and resources. If I attempted to make everything in Ira myself, the game may never get released. The limitation of time means I need to leverage premade assets from places like the Unreal Marketplace, and be strategic about what needs to be created from scratch or modified from pre-existing assets. There is no need to spend large amounts of time modeling generic assets when they are widely available online, and, in some cases, free for commercial use. 
The Unreal Marketplace features high quality assets from talented individuals and is a great resource to leverage for your project.

While the benefits are clear, using premade assets can come with certain limitations and challenges. For example, many of these assets have varying styles, material formats, creator idiosyncrasies, and, if not used properly, could turn people off from your game (regardless of how enjoyable it is) as their initial impression might be that the game looks like an “asset flip.” Even assets that attempt a more realistic look may showcase an individual creator’s style, which can create visual inconsistencies. The way I solve for this in Ira is by (you guessed it) asset stylization. Once everything is stylized, people won’t know where the assets have come from. They will simply be integrated into the world seamlessly. This has saved me a significant amount of time and energy, so I can focus on making the game the best it can be.

Another great advantage of stylization is that it can be done in an almost limitless number of ways. This allows developers to create a unique style that fits the mood and atmosphere of their experience while simultaneously allowing them to stand out among the crowd. In today’s world, if your game can’t distinguish itself visually, then it might be held back from reaching its full potential. If you are new to defining an art style for your project, however, you’re in luck. There are plenty of tutorials and livestreams that can help you get started with post-process and material stylization. Feel free to check out this livestream from Epic to get started with stylized post process effects.

With that said, when stylization is leveraged properly in your development process, the benefits can be far-reaching.

How Ira leverages Editor Utility Widgets to create an asset stylization pipeline

Using Editor Utility Widgets allows me to significantly cut down the time it takes to use asset packs and convert them into a style that would fit Ira. Editor Utility Widgets have saved me countless hours over the course of the game’s development. Let’s take a closer look at the system I’ve put together, and once you see what’s possible, you can borrow some of these ideas and use them to your advantage in your projects. The pipeline is split into a few parts.

Breaking up material groups

Some assets require minor preparation before being converted using Ira’s asset conversion tool. In this first step, I break up asset material groups into their own unique material slots (when necessary). This allows me to quickly create solid color groups that match Ira’s visual style.

Part 1: Break up materials  Breaking up material groups (if necessary) using the built-in Mesh Editing Plugin.Processing assets

After making sure the proper material groups are assigned, I use Editor Utility Widgets to automate repetitive tasks in the editor using Blueprints; in this instance, converting assets to be used in Ira. Once the assets are converted, I simply tweak a few material settings (if necessary) and the asset is game-ready.

Part 2: Process assets with Ira‘s utility widget tool 

Processing assets with Ira’s asset conversion tool so they will be game-ready.

In scene stylization tools

Once the assets are processed, I use my visual stylization tool (based off a custom post process actor) to better control the lighting and atmosphere of the scene. This tool allows for scene and actor stylization without having to re-setup the logic each time, and provides me with an unparalleled level of control. This is another time-saving tool that makes stylization fast and easy.

Part 3: Scene stylization tool 

Using a custom post process volume actor and custom stencils to affect the scene’s visual style in a more granular way.Conclusion

In this clip, you can see the culmination of the asset pipeline on this mesh/scene. By leveraging Editor Utility Widgets to automate Ira’s stylization pipeline, I’ve been able to save time, money, resources, and even myself from unneeded stress. I hope you found this peek into Ira’s visual pipeline enlightening and that you’ll be able to walk away with some new techniques and ideas for your Unreal projects.  

Part 4: Conclusion

Find ways to leverage Editor Utility Widgets in your own project. Follow this link for a live demonstration on creating editor utility widgets.For more information on Ira Act 1: Pilgrimage, follow us on Twitter @IraGame or visit our website

Source: Unreal Engine Blog