Making the Change

By Tony Garcia (a.k.a. Wolf)



This is designed to help level designers make the change from Q2 to Unreal. Anyone who has had a little success with any of the Q2 editors might think it would be a snap to pick up on UnrealEd. And while there are several things you might have picked up in Q2 editing that will help with UnrealEd there are many preconceived notions you have you must get rid of to fully understand and operate UnrealEd.

Now, let me start by saying there is no ULTIMATE fps game engine...yet. Unreal has its strengths and weaknesses and so does Q2. I started level design with DOOM which used a sector mapping approach. I am not going to get into the specifics of that type of level design, but suffice it to say "WE HAVE COME A LONG, LONG WAY." I moved on to Quake and then Quake II. Now I am very happily "married" to Unreal editing. My wife thinks I am married to her, but I think we know who my true love is. I have to say that the Unreal Engine is more powerful than Q2 (and I don't just mean graphics here).

Everyone has his or her favorite game. If you read the message boards you know that everyone you ask says something different (good and bad) about these games. I try to be objective and open-minded about things and I have to say that after learning UnrealED and the Unreal engine, I can't go back to Q2 editing. I have tried. I may try again. I might use both engines for different editing projects. I will never limit myself by saying THIS IS THE ONLY THING TO USE, because it's not. If you are happy and comfortable with Q2 then edit away. If you are into Unreal, more power to you. If you can do both then Godspeed man! The point is that we all have our preferences. Though this document was written with the idea of making it easier for Q2 editors to make the move to Unreal, it's purpose is not to CONVERT anyone, but to show good level designers there are other options and game engines to work with that can offer different things.

I will give you a brief explanation of the two types of editing styles and show you some of their strengths (and weaknesses).



Q2 is a brush based editing system. It doesn't matter which editor you use; they work on the same principle. I used most every q2 editor out there at one time or another. My favorites were qED and Qoole. With qED I loved the interface and the tree view system, but was limited by no vertex manipulation and less than optimal property editing for both entities and textures. Qoole had much better prefab interface and texture browser, not to mention the wire frame entities (made scaling wonderful!). I like to know just what size a brush is that I am working with, and be able to tell the editor "I want a 128 x 128 x 64 brush"--these things were difficult or impossible with Qoole. However I used both editors, often building the "base" level in qED and then added details and prefabs in Qoole. I tried Worldcraft, BSP, QeRadiant, and a couple others. Like I said, everyone has their favorite and which ever editor you use(d) is great. As I was saying, Q2 is a brush based editing system. You start with a void and fill that void with brushes that make up your world. To make a room you needed six brushes. Some editors made this easy, you could add a cube to the world and then hollow it out, and presto, it made your six-brush room for you. You had to completely seal off the void, for everything existed inside the brushes put together. I thought of this like designing a space ship or submarine. It had to be completely airtight to work. This could be a pain when you discover somewhere after thirty some hours of level building you have a tiny leak and can't seem to find exactly where it is. Many editors had leak-finders but they were less than perfect and marginal at best. If you were good and new a few tricks (like surrounding the level with a big brush and compiling and repeating the process till the leak came back, narrowing the search down) you could find the leak and fix it. This was very tedious and time consuming, but often necessary.

Once you found the leak you had to fix it. Sometimes it was simple, a misaligned wall or floor. Sometimes it required a design change or work around. But once you sealed any leaks and recompiled the map it was great. So the brush based system had some kinks. Not the least of which was compile times.

With Unreal it's a much different approach. Unreal uses CSG (Constructive Solid Geometry). Instead of starting with a void, Unreal starts with a huge, solid block. You carve your world from this solid using a builder brush. To build a room you simply make a cube brush the size you want and subtract it from the world. Once you have the room carved out you can add brushes back in for detail. Some Q2 Editors used a "builder brush" technique, however, after you added the brush you could still manipulate it. You could resize it, move it around, retexture it, etc…With UnrealEd once you add it, it’s there. But don’t fret, you can still move it and retexture it but you cannot resize it. There are work arounds, however. You can copy the shape of an existing brush to the "builder brush" and then delete the old brush. The thing about moving/deleting brushes in UnrealEd is that you have to rebuild for the brush to actually be moved. In UnrealEd’s 2D views you can see the brush is moved, but in the 3D view it is still in its original position. Believe the 3D view. Simply rebuild and your brush is now where you moved it. Don’t be afraid of rebuilding in UnrealEd. It is much different than compiling in Q2. It takes minutes in UnrealEd where it would take hours in Q2 editing. This is probably the biggest difference between the two styled of level building. With Q2 EVERY editor was a separate program where you build the 3D geometry and added entities and properties and then ANOTHER program (or three!) would compile all this information into a format that Q2 could use. With UnrealEd there is virtually no separation between the editor engine and the game engine. The Editor engine IS the game engine. They were developed together to be as one (See : Zen and the art of level design). This is an awesome idea and it works great. I have built levels in Q2 that too 8 or more hours to compile. I can build a more complex level in UnrealEd and it takes 5 minutes TOPS to build. I built my first small level in UnrealEd then pressed the "Rebuild Geometry" button it was finished in under a minute. I said to myself "What? That’s it?" I checked the 3D view and sure enough, my lights were right, the geometry was right, the level was "compiled" in seconds. This alone to me was one reason I started devoting more time to UnrealEd. Which brings me to this: A comparison of the two editing types.



Aside from the above comparisons on how the different editors work in this section I will point out some differences that should help Q2’ers adapt to UnrealEd. First of all, forget everything you know about Q2 editing. Okay, not EVERYTHING, but most. If you go into UnrealEd with preconceived notions on how to build levels you are going to spend a lot of time trying things that don’t work and cussing and restarting and saying, "This was so much easier in Worldcraft!." and cussing again and closing the editor and not ever building an awesome Unreal level. The reason it was "So much easier in Worldcraft" was that you KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DOING. UnrealEd is just as easy as Worldcraft if you know how to use it. Take the time to learn to use the editor (like you did with WorldCraft). UnrealEd is a tool (as is any editor). You have to know how to use the tool before you get good results with it. Try driving a nail with a screwdriver. You bang on it enough and it will drive the nail in (if you are lucky it will go straight in) but it is not the right way to use the tool, or the right tool for the job. Nearly every complaint about USING UnrealED (not bug reports or crashes) were related to someone trying to "drive a nail with a screwdriver." Someone would get frustrated trying to resize a brush after they added it only to find they couldn’t (although you can). Another might spend hours trying to get light from a brush face, but you can’t. Someone might spend days trying to figure out how to make those cool skies in unreal by adding "Environment" to the brush face on top of their outdoor area with the cool sky texture. You might spend days trying to figure out just how to get a "simple frigging door!" to show up in the editor. Needless to say, this isn’t going to work. Before you give up, before you bash the bast damn level editor ever (quote me on that), before you say "Forget Unreal…it doesn’t work!" do yourself a favor. READ something. If you read a BASIC tutorial and then try to apply what you learned then you will be surprised how easy and powerful it is to make basic levels in Unreal. But you have to stop comparing it to QERadiant or whatever Q2 editor you used. UnrealEd is, by design, different. This is a feature not a bug! It is part of the game engine for awesome real-time 3D views of what you are doing (complete with effects and lighting) and seamless transition between game and editor.

Suppose this word processor I am using worked like Q2 editing. I would have to type all this out, then run a couple programs, let’s say one to syntax it correctly, one to disregard all the imbedded codes that aren’t visible, one to format the text to make it look right and one to actually view what I was writing in the format some other reader would see it. That would suck! I like WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and you should, too. Don’t get lost in what I am saying here….UnrealEd is by no means a true WYSIWYG editor (look at a mover in the editor and see what I mean). My point is that the game and editor are the same animal. They are the same engine. There is no compiling, there is no converting, and there is no waiting for the next millennium to see your results.

All right. This was originally going to be a tutorial/article about outlining how to start using UnrealEd after having used Q2 editor but that has changed. Instead, I will point out the differences, likes and dislikes about editing for each and follow up with a wish-list for the Unreal engine. This is not just my opinion. I have had a questionnaire up at Wolf’s Unreal since February and I have kept each post and saved the results just for use in this article. The results below are from that data.

Note: There were several items people suggested or wished UnrealEd had, when in fact it does! They just didn’t know how to do it, or know that it could be done. There were also several things that people noted as "a lot harder" in UnrealEd that are just as easy if not easier, it’s just that they were in the mindset of how to do it in Q2 editing and had a hard time re-learning it. So here are the questions and answers from that questionnaire and my response to some of them.



1) What do you like better about Q2 editing?

a) The most common answer was brush/vertex manipulation and brush/plane clipping. People like the ease with which most Q2 editors you could resize the brush by clicking on a side and stretching it and the same with vertices. Also the fact that you could see the brush resize in real-time in the 3D view without recompiling

Although you can resize and scale brushes and move vertices with UnrealEd it is a lot easier and much less problematic with Q2 editors. As for clipping brushes, it can be accomplished quite easily in UnrealEd.

b) The next most common response was editor stability. A lot of people still have problems with UnrealEd crashing.

This has been fixed for the most part. There are still a few things that can cause crashes with the editor (like resizing a window with another window open) but the random, unexplained crashes were gone after the second patch or so. Personally I think now UnrealEd is just about as stable as any Q2 editor out there.

c) Help files! UnrealEd didn’t come with any.

This is true, but it was shipped as unsupported beta. In light of which I think Epic has a done a wonderful job of supporting the editing community. That comment will get some rants, but it’s true. They have lots of help on their Technology Page and the community has some great tutorials and help files.

d) The next most common responses had more to do with the game engine itself and not the editor. Things like texture lighting, water brushes instead of zones (*thus making movable water) , ladders, crouching changing the players’ collision height, etc. . .

There are game engine issues and not editor specific issues. Thought I would love to see some of those features in Unreal they don’t really pertain to editing.


2) What do you like better about UnrealEd?

  1. By far the biggest rave was compile times. UnrealEd seems instantaneous compared to Q2 compiling. Along with that was the concept of CSG instead of "6 wall" construction and "no leaks."
  2. Next was the integration of the editor with the 2DSE and mesh viewer and script compiler as an "all-in-one" editor.
  3. The next would have to be the WYSIWYG 3D view. Editors love being able to see their lighting effects before rebuilding/compiling!
  4. Outdoor area creation. Lots of people love the sheer size and "look" of the outdoor areas you can create with UnrealED, You wouldn’t know it from a lot of the questions I get and questions in the forums but people like the way you create outdoor areas in UnrealEd.
  5. Flexibility was the next most common response. I am not sure how they meant that. Whether they meant flexibility in design or the way you can customize your views and the editor layout or the ease in which you can accomplish certain tasks, but they all apply. UnrealEd if very flexible.
  6. The next most common responses were game engine specific: Graphics, textures, effects and "decorations."

3) What was the hardest thing to pick up in UnrealEd as it relates to Q2 editing?

  1. Subtraction was by far the biggest thing that people had a hard time adjusting to. They were so used to adding "six walls" to make a room. By far, it is so much easier to make a cube and subtract it to create a room. I can’t agree that this was hard to pick up.
  2. Movers. Specifically making them and not being able to see them in the editor. I found this rather difficult to adjust to myself and often wished you could change the texture on a mover after it was added.
  3. Stability. More complaints about the having to be patched to even start and then crashing often.
  4. Intersecting/deintersecting. This concept confused a lot of people. Just remember: intersect will "wrap around" the added brush(es) and deintersect will remove that which won’t be seen or "overhangs" into space.
  5. Zones. Some people had a hard time getting the whole zone concept.
  6. One brush technique. The "builder brush" or "red brush" was hard for a lot of people to adjust to.
  7. Copy/paste/clipping . These were misconceptions people thought were not available in UnrealEd.
  8. Property windows. Several people thought that every property in the property windows applied to that actor. The property window is "generic" in that all the properties are there in the window (whether they are available for that actor or not) . Most actors have actor specific fields that only show up on that particular actors property window. It would be nice if non-pertinent fields were "grayed out."

4) What Q2 editor(s) did you use?

I asked this to get an idea of what sort of inter face people preferred. These are the responses in order of popularity:

  1. WorldCraft by far the most popular
  2. Qoole it was close, but barely beat QER
  3. QERadiant almost tied with Qoole
  4. Quark about 1/3 as many votes as WC
  5. Others –including BSP, qED, DMM2, Quest, and Stoneless?

So it seems the WorldCraft interface was pretty popular. I read somewhere the Tim Sweeney (programmer extrordinaire) had thought that a more "WorldCraft-like" user interface was an idea for the next UED. I kind like the current UED interface J

5) What would you like to see added to UnrealEd?

Some of the most popular responses were game engine related and not editor specific but here are the results:

  1. Stability. The biggest complaint about UnrealEd and what people want to see fixed the most. Like I said earlier, I think the current version of UnrealEd is pretty stable.
  2. Better brush manipulation, including vertex editing and "clipping" Tied with Help Files.
  3. Help files! Including toolbar tips. Tied with Brush Manipulation.
  4. Faster loading.
  5. Tied were: Better Interface, changing the way you make movers, Texture lighting and 3D acceleration.
  6. Misconceptions: People wanted prefab ability (it’s in there), grouping (has it), grid snapping (on by default), curved surfaces, weather, grass (game engine not editor), plug ins (coming soon), bigger actor icons (see properties/display/drawscale), texture browser (exactly which editor were you talking about?), and the best (worst) two responses: "make it more quake-like" (go edit quake), and a Quake2 conversion (learn to design levels!) –even though there is a user-made conversion already out there.


To sum it up, people want a more stable, well-documented editor with much better brush manipulation. A lot of the negative responses about UnrealEd were misconceptions or misinformation. Several things were mentioned as hard/impossible to do or not implemented in UnrealED that simply are already there. This may go back to lack of documentation but a lot things people had no clue how to do were right there on the Unreal Technology Page. Not to mention some wonderful editing sites users have created out there ( – Unrealized – Wolf’s Unreal – etc….).