Game developer - Level Designer - Environment Artist - Author - Tutor - 15 Years of experience with Unreal Engine 1, 2, 3, 4
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About : A look at some handy free or cheap tools that come in handy when dealing with level design and environment art within Unreal Engine 3.
Target Audience : Beginner/Intermediate.
Platform : Unreal Engine 3, although a lot of this is useful for Unreal Engine 2 and even 1 as well.
Last Update : December 2010

Notepad


The most basic one of them all. Standard Notepad, or any text editor for that matter, is definitely the tool I use most. The great thing about Unreal is that you can copy paste any actor from within the editor directly to Notepad, and it transforms into T3D, Unreal Text export. You can then make any modifications to that text, and copy paste it back directly into the editor!

Things I use this for:

  • Making backups of sets of actors. For example a torch setup, where I have a light, a mesh, a particle, and a sound, I would copy paste to Notepad, and save it somewhere on my hard drive as a txt file. Next time I need a torch I would simply open txt – ctrl A – ctrl C and paste it into the editor and I got my torch back! Takes a second or ten to do.
  • Copying multiple things at the same time between two different levels. If I want to move several different areas and Kismet from one level to the next, I usually open several Notepads and I copy paste one part into each Notepad. This goes much faster than having to reopen the level time after time after time and copy paste piece by piece.
  • Manually editing properties. Not all properties show up in the Properties Windows. Some are hidden in the window, but can still be accessed via Notepad, or I could even manually add a line that I know is hidden and otherwise inaccessible. For example Ambient Lighting on InterpActors.
  • Finding Problems. Sometimes there is a property messed up in an actor somewhere. For example during the development of The Ball I encountered a problem with all my sound actors. There was a hidden property enabled that shouldn’t have been on, something that messed up when I ported the content from UT3 to UDK. I quickly solved this by selecting all sound actors in a level – ctrl X – paste in Notepad, doing a Search and Replace for that specific line, and copy pasting it back into the Editor. I fixed hundreds of hidden and erroneous properties like this in matter of minutes over a dozen levels.
  • Rounder


    This is a very tiny little program someone once wrote for me, but it is extremely useful both in the editor and in 3D packages. Rounder does two things.

  • Grid
    It tells you what the closest “good” number is to whatever you input. 1024 is a good number for example, so if you’d enter 1041 and you would be working with a grid of 64 units, it would tell you instantly that 1024 is the closest “good” number. Easy right? This is super useful, especially when dealing with large and complex numbers. Take 94749 for example. The closest 64 Grid value to that is 94720, the closest 16 Grid value is 94752. And so on. I use this a lot when I work in a 3D program and I want to make sure that a row of vertices somewhere is stuck to the grid. In such case I would select those vertices, look at their coordinates, and I would see that they are all on X -8743.217474 for example, I would copy paste that into the program, and I’d copy paste the returned value of 8736 to the vertices and there I go, I got it all on the grid.
  • Scale
    The same goes for scale. When you scale modular meshes in Unreal, or in any engine that uses modular meshes for that matter, you have to make sure that the scale remains “good”. If a mesh is 512 units long, and I scale it by 1.5, then that mesh becomes 768 long and that is still on the Grid. However if I were to scale it 1.3, the mesh would be 665.6 long and that is obviously not on the grid. The scale of a modular mesh has to be exactly right, and Rounder helps you find these correct values. The closest correct value to scale 1.3 is 1.3125 on a Scale Grid of 0.0625. Rounder can quickly tell me that for example the closest correct scale value to 4.7 is 4.6875, and that saves me a lot of time and calculating.
  • Layout Tool


    The Layout tool is basically an Array tool. An Array tool has long been lacking in Unreal, and this tool fills that gap. Ever wanted to quickly place a long row of pillars? This program will do that for you. It makes arrays of things.

    Improved FrontEnd


    This custom made FrontEnd offers a lot more control and options, one thing I like in particular is how it allows me to cook non-standard languages.

    3DSMax Batch Exporting


    This is becoming somewhat redundant now that FBX is beginning to take over from ASE as the default export/import format, but this 3DSMax batch export plugin allows you to quickly export hundreds of meshes to individual files, using their own pivot points as the pivot point Unreal will use. This speeds up exporting meshes tremendously.

    Ultimate Unwrap 3D


    This is the only program in this list that is not free. During 2008 I long looked for a cheap program that fully supports all export features that I require. There are a lot of free or very cheap modeling packages out there but almost none of them support exporting to ASE, and even if they do they usually only support it in a limited way. Ultimate Unwrap 3D is the only cheap program that I found that actually supports the whole array of important features.

  • ASE Exporting
  • It even opens ASE files, something a couple of the really expensive 3D packages don’t even manage.
  • Supports exporting smoothing groups/edges.
  • Supports exporting multiple UV sets.
  • Supports exporting vertex colors.
  • That is a lot more than most programs offer. However, it is not a true modeling program. I therefore use Silo, a low cost and really good modeler, to do the actual modeling, and I use UU3D to unwrap it, set up the smoothing/UV Sets/VTX colors, and export it, and that workflow works pretty ok. Can’t beat Max/Maya, but for about 160 USD or so in total for the two it is quite ok to help yourself out if you are looking for something low cost.

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