UE3 101: Your First Level

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In this tutorial i am going to show you the basic skills that you will need to create the most basic of levels in Unreal Engine.

You will need a unreal engine 3 game for this tutorial; I will be using Unreal Tournament 3 as an example. You can also use the Free UDK Epic has released.

Opening Unreal Editor

Depending on your UT3 installation, you may or may not already have a shortcut to run the unreal editor program. If you don’t we first need to give you access to the program. If you already have a short cut for ‘Unreal Tournament 3 editor’ then you can jump to the next section.

Navigate to your binaries folder, located in the UT3 installation folder, By default this is in the program files folder.

Locate the UT3.exe folder and right click on it. choose ‘create short cut’, this creates a link you can place anywhere (Desktop is a good place) that will open up UT3. Now we just need to to the link instructions to open the editor instead of the game.

Right click the short cut and choose properties and look for the field labeled ‘Target’. It should currently read something like:

“C:\Program Files\Unreal Tournament 3\Binaries\UT3.exe”

To enable the editor add the word editor to the end so it reads:

“C:\Program Files\Unreal Tournament 3\Binaries\UT3.exe” editor

Now when you use the Short cut, unreal editor for Unreal tournament 3 will start-up rather than the unreal tournament 3 game. Don’t worry if it takes quite a while, it has a slow start-up, especially on the first time you open it! So just be patient.

Unreal Editor

Unreal Editor

The Look of unreal editor for unreal tournament 3 when you first open it.

Now that You have unreal editor open, its time to build your first level. We are going to make a simple box room, texture it, add a few static meshes, light it and make it ready to use.

I am going to assume you have no knowledge of unreal editor for this tutorial and this is your first time trying to make a level.

Navigating Unreal Editor

Unreal Editor is made up of 4 views of your level (In clockwise order from top left – Top, Side, Front and Perspective). Top, front and side are all wireframe viewpoints. Perspective view is a 3D view which is textured and lit as it would be in game.

Top, Side and Front Controls:

  • Both mouse buttons + Dragging forward or backward: Zoom in or out
  • Mouse wheel forward or backward: Zoom in or out
  • Left mouse button OR right mouse button + Dragging in any direction: Pan the view

Perspective Controls:

  • Both mouse buttons + Drag froward or backward: Move view up or down
  • Both mouse buttons + Drag left or right: Pan view Left or right
  • Left mouse button + Drag Forward or backward: Move view forward or backward
  • Left Mouse button + Drag Left or right: Turn view left or right
  • Right mouse button + Drag in any direction: Rotate view left, right, up or down.

Try moving around in each of the views and get used to the view controls, you will quickly get used to it as you will be almost constantly moving around each view port.

As we progress through the Tutorials I will discuss what each button and menu  does and its function in context.

Important Level Requirements:

Before The editor will allow you to test your level, you need to fulfill the following criteria:

  • Some CSG or BSP – You need some sort of ground to stand upon; The editor would not let you place a Player_Start without some ground to place it upon.
  • A Light – One of the different lights available in the engine. Otherwise the level will be unlit and you won’t be able to see a thing.
  • A Player_Start – This is where the player will spawn when killed or when the level begins.

In addition to these 3 vital components, We are going to look at textures and static meshes.

Brush Building

Lets start by building the floor, walls and ceiling of our level.

If you look to the left side of the editor window, you will see the CSG creation tools. The Primitive shapes – Cube, Cone, Curved Staircase, Cylinder, Linear Staircase, Sheet, Spiral Staircase, Tetrahedron (Sphere) and Volumetric.

These are the tool you will use to create the basic shape of your level.

Right-click the cube icon and the brush builder window will appear. Here you can specify the following settings for the CSG you are going to build:

X, Y, Z: These are the Brush Size settings. X and Y and the width and length, Z is the height setting.

Wall Thickness: This sets how thick the sides of the brush are when you have hollow set to true.

GroupName: You can set a name to group items in your level together.

Hollow: This makes the brush hollow (Oddly enough) with the inner size set by the X, Y and Z settings, and the walls set by the wall thickness setting.

Tessellated: If this is set to true, the sides of the cube will be divided into two triangles. You will rarely need to change this setting.

Brush Builder

The Brush Builder Propertity window


Use the following Settings in the cube brush builder

X:  512

Y: 512

Z: 512

Wall Thickness: 16

Hollow:  ticked

Tesselated: Unticked


This will create a hollow cube brush in your level.

To create a simple room level a hollow cube is the easiest way to make your level, however, when you start building your own level you should use a non-hollow cube to make your floor, walls and ceiling all seperate from each other.

Important: What you have just created is NOT the CSG. This is simply a brush, which you can now Add to the level to create the CSG. Think of the brush as a template which you can now use to add to the level as many times as you need.

Manipulating items or brushes

Now you have a brush in the level, what if you want to move it somewhere in the level? or maybe you want to rotate the brush?

There are two different ways that you will use quite regularly; using the top, side and front views and press CTRL+Left Mouse Button+Drag in any direction to move the current selected item around. If nothing is actually selected, then the editor will assume you want to move the brush.

The other option is to click on the object you wish to move and a movement Gizmo will appear. In the Top, Side and Front views the Gizmo will be made up of 2 different coloured arrows (In perspective it will have a 3RD direction – a 3RD coloured arrow) You can then Click on the arrow and drag to move the item along the axis that the arrow points.

Try moving the brush around now; much like the view port controls, this will quickly becoming second nature as you will be moving objects all over the place.

To choose between Move, Rotate, Uniform Scale and non-uniform Scale, there are a selection of button along the top of the editor window. The buttons are located below the help drop-down menu and look like this:

Manipulation gizmo tools

Adding CSG

Now that we have the Brush, its time to add it to the level: using the add button (Complex, huh?) The Tools for add, subtracting, intersecting and De-intersecting brushes are just below the CSG brush primitive buttons. There are 4 buttons; But for the most part you will mostly use the Add and subtract tools.

Hover over the buttons to have a pop-up tell you which each one is, and then click the Add button to create the CSG using the brush.

If you press Ctrl + click and then drag in any direction in the Top, Side Or Front views, the brush will move and you can see the CSG you have added below. As it was added, you will see a blue wireframe of the level. How about in the perspective view?

At first it may seem like nothing has happened; In fact you have just added a hollow cube brush (Which will serve as our room) into the level, but its difficult to tell because the is no light source to light the level. This means the level is currently not lit. We could add the light now, but instead i will show you a trick for when you are making more complex levels.

As it is normal to create a level in passes (CSG, Static Meshes, Movers, Lighting, Detailing) you will often do alot of work before you ever add a light. If you hover over buttons above the perspective view, The fifth button from the left is called ‘Unlit’. This changes the view mode to unlit, which means it will apply a 100% bright light evenly across all surfaces. This is only in the editor window (If you start a level it will still be pitch black) but it will give you the ability to see in the perspective view until you add lighting to the level.

With the perspective view mode set to unlit, you will be able to see your level in the perspective window (move around if you need to). From the outside it will look like a cube, but if you move the view inside the cube, you will see that it is, in fact, hollow.

You now have a room in your level!

Cube Level

The view from outside your level

Adding Actors:

Now that we have fill one of the requirements of the level, lets get started on the next two: Light and Player_Start.

Both of These Are objects called ‘Actors’. They are placed within the level and fill a specific purpose; The light illuminates the level and the player start tells the game where to spawn a player.

Move your view so you can see the interior of the room and right-click on the floor. In the pop-up that appears , you have a range of options; Choose Add actor > Add Player_Start. A small joystick icon will appear with an small arrow pointing in one direction. This is a player spawn actor; The blue arrow indicates which way the player will face when they spawn.

Now in the rough center of the room right click again and select Add Actor > Add Light(Point) to add a light to your room. Now use the movement tools to lift the light to roughly the middle of the room so the light illuminates as much of the level as possible.

You now have fulfilled all the requirements to make your level playable. You have some ground to stand on, a light to illuminate it and a player start so the game can spawn you into the level. Why not give it a go?

Go to Build drop down menu > Build all. This calculates the light fully and checks for any errors. You may have one or two errors arise, but they won’t stop your level playing. now choose build > Play Level to open your level in the in-editor game window. You can now see your level and run around a little.

In-Editor Game window

Testing your level in the in-editor game window

Additional: Texture The Room

So we have a empty cube room with a wierd default texture on all surfaces. Not exactly amazing is it?

Well, with this you have learnt the basic skills you need to put together a simple untextured CSG level. Now I will show you how to texture the world and add Static meshes into the environment to make the level more interesting.

Open up the Generic browser again and make sure the generic tab is open. Here is where you can view all kinds of art, sound and effect assets from the game you are editing. Currently it is showing us every sort of asset available in the opened packages.

In the top left make sure ‘Show all resource types’ is un-ticked. Then in the list of asset types, make sure all but materials is un-ticked and that materials is ticked. This will make the browser only show us the materials.

Important note: Do not mistake Textures for Materials. In previous Unreal engine’s you applied a texture directly to a surface, but in modern game engines, such as Unreal engine 3, Textures are combined to create a material, which is applied to a surface. This allows a material to contain a texture, bump map, displacement maps and more to create specific effects.

We are going to open a package. When you look at the generic browser you need to open a package before you have any really usable assets available to you.

From the generic browser choose File > Open

By default the game will be looking at the Unreal tournament folder that is in your Documents folder. Unfortunately this is not where the asset packages are located. Navigate to this location:

C:\Program Files\Unreal Tournament 3\UTGame\CookedPC\Environments

and open the package named ‘HU_Base.upk’

Right click on one of the surfaces of your cube and choose ‘Select all Surface’ to select every surface in your level. This means when you select a material in the browser, it will be applied to all the surfaces.

In your generic browser click on the Material Called ‘M_HU_Base_BSP_Asphalt02’ then minimise the browser. You should find all the surfaces have now had the asphalt material applied to them.

But how about if you want to apply a material to only 1 or a few surfaces?

Either Right click and choose Select surface >Adjacent <something> to select all the walls or floors or ceilings, etc…

Or If you hold CTRL and click on the surfaces you wish to select, then you can select each surface manually. Select all the wall of the room now.

With The walls selected, use the generic browser to select the material ‘M_HU_Base_BSP_Slats01’ to apply a different texture to the walls.

Then look up and click on the ceiling to select that surface and then, in the generic browser,  choose the material ‘M_HU_Base_BSP_Concreate08’

Additional: Static Meshes:

Now that the room has some materials applied, lets add a static mesh.

Back in the generic browser, un-check Materials and select Static Meshes in the asset type selector, now your browser will only show you Static Mesh Assets.

Now in the Generic browser, open the package ‘HU_Deco’

In this package you will find a range of static meshes that you could place within your level. Look through the package and find the Static mesh called ‘S_HU_Deco_Barricade01’ It should be the first Static mesh in the package. With it selected, minimise the browser again.

Somewhere in the middle of your level right click and choose Add actor>Add StaticMesh ‘StaticMesh HU_Deco.SM.Mesh.S_HU_Deco_Barricade01’ and your mesh will appear in the level. You can now move the Static mesh around and rotate it to place it exactly where you would like.

Thats all it takes to add a static mesh to your level. Easy huh?


You now know the basics you will need to start making levels. You learnt how to navigate the unreal editor view ports, manipulate brushes and items around the scene, add CSG, Add Actors (Light and Player_Start), Use the generic browser, change materials, add static meshes and how to run your map to test it.

The map we made may not be exciting or interesting, but with the skills you have just learnt, you will soon be able to build fun and interesting levels.

Remember to come bvack to VG-LevelDesign for more Tutorials, tips, tricks and Theory soon!

One Response to “UE3 101: Your First Level”
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[…] I covered the process you need to go through to access the unreal engine editor in my post ‘UE3: Your first level’ […]

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