Some things, you just don’t know until you try it. When we have to build large things or make changes to large parts of our games, we rely pretty heavily on prototyping and rapid development techniques… just in case it doesn’t work out. We wanted to share a little bit about how we prototype large scale things for Vegas Prime.

In Vegas Prime Retrograde, our city Vegas Prime, is so important that it essentially is one of the characters. The style of buildings, the layout of the streets, the skyline — they’re all part of the quintessential Vegas Prime Retrograde experience. Changes to Vegas Prime have to be perfect; Changes can’t detract from the experience of playing and they can’t change the relationship between the characters and the city. So we prototype everything.

Vegas Prime is really large and has a really large memory foot print for things like consoles, so we do as much light-weight prototyping as possible at first with tools like SketchUp. It let’s us see what something will look like before we bring them into Unity3d, and it let’s us rush through and try multiple city layouts relatively easily. It helps us get our vision together before we start working with high end 3d artists.

For Vegas Prime, we start with the city streets and pathways, which help us define city blocks. Vegas Prime is an enclosed city, like in a dome or a shielded area, so it is built with grid-based systems to support a large population, very dense.

Then, we build up the larger structures in the city center. Skyscrapers and other things that help to create the unique skyline of Vegas Prime. When you travel around a city, often times the large buildings that peak over the horizon give you a sense of location and we wanted to preserve that feeling. As we build away from city center, the buildings become smaller and smaller, and more sparse, until the outskirts of the city area where density is low.

We include larger, squat buildings near the outskirt areas to act as factories and warehousing, presumably they would control some component of maintaining Vegas Prime’s inner workings and atmosphere.

Once we have this, we bring it into our Unity3d scene and walk around it. How does it feel? How are the distances between things? Does it feel large enough? Small enough? Can we tell multiple stories here? Can we have disparate groups of people here, with different iconography? Can Vegas Prime support the diversity that we believe it would have? When you look up, do you feel crushed by the buildings or do you feel that the stars are closer?

It’s important to note that at this point, we don’t have any ground details and ground details, like trashcans, light posts, trees, and NPCs create a sense of vibrance. That comes later!