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Map Feature: MAAR DÚN

A 2v2 slayer level for Halo 5, set in a Wraith City called MAAR DÚN

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    Level Design Patterns: Looking for the Principles of Unified Level Design - Simon Lund Larsen


    This article is intended to be an introduction to a paper written by Simon Lund Larsen, called simply "Level Design Patterns".  What's contained here is only a portion of the full writing.  There are 6 primary Patterns addressed in this piece: 

    • Multiple paths
    • Local Fights
    • Collision Points
    • Reference Points
    • Defense Areas
    • Risk Incentive


    Only the section on Collision Points and Defense Areas are included here.

    *Credit to Michael How for the thumbnail image




    The idea for this paper came about when I first heard about design patterns in an object oriented programming class at the IT-University of Copenhagen in the fall of 2004. It occurred to me that many different fields use design patterns, but very few call them what they really are; patterns. Creativity is guided by formal design tools in many fields, such as movie making, music, literature and comics. Even the art of computer game design is much focused on “common practices”, “good advices” and the paradigm of “why-fix-it-it-aren’t-broken”. Never before has the process of creating games been so complex and time consuming. The time for formal design tools is now.


    By using design patterns as a design tool when creating levels multiplayer games you ensure that the players can seamlessly navigate through your game world. At the same time it will greatly reduce the scope of the design process as you apply tried and tested solutions to your current problem domain. There is no need for reinventing the wheel every time you plan and design a new level. The question that I will try to answer in this paper is; how can formalized design patterns be used for creating interesting choices in level design?



    What are design patterns?

    Design patterns are formal tools used for solving known problems. Said in another way; it is a design toolbox. In many fields, ranging from architecture, over software development to creative fields such as literature and movies, people are using some form of formal design tools to help create their work. Some call them design patterns others call them “tools-of-the-trade”, but they are essentially the same; formal tools that describe problems (or problematic areas) and proven ways to solve them. If we take movies as example, try to count how many movies you have seen lately that followed a storyline similar to this one: the main character of the story sets out on a quest to undo the wrongdoings that has fallen upon him/her. During this quest, the main character faces many perils and is close to giving up near the ending, but somehow he/she prevails in the end. I would dare say that the large majority of the movies present on IMDb.com’s Top 250 list of the greatest movies ever made follow a storyline very similar to the above. Looking at how movies like Indiana Jones, the Star Wars movies and The Matrix trilogy is using the Hero’s Journey way of storytelling and then comparing it to the way David Lynch told the story of Lost Highway it is easy to spot the difference. Filmmakers such David Lynch, whom is truly artists in their field, makes movies that are not easily understandable. Ask anyone who have seen Lost Highway (1997) or Mulholland Drive (2001) of what the movie is about and you will properly end up with as many answers as people you ask. The popular movies all revolve around the same story outline. They do it because it works. It is easy to understand for the viewers, because of the familiarity of the storyline. You can argue that this type of storyline is a design pattern. Are they works of art? No, by no means! But they are all using a collection of very effective tools for creating entertainment that is easily recognizable for everyone.


    The question then is; do these tools hinder the creative workflow and merely created assembly line produced entertainment that all look the same? When doing level design for multiplayer FPS, the aim is not that the player must play against the environment and solve its architectural puzzles embedded within. They must be able to instantly recognize the navigational patterns and move fluidly through the level. The architecture must be created in such a way that the players are working with the environment and it is not becoming an obstacle that the player also has to overcome. More Indiana Jones and less David Lynch, so to speak.



    Level design patterns

    "Few things are harder to put up with than a good example" - Mark Twain


    In the following section I will present a small collection of design patterns applicable for multiplayer FPS level design. The collection is by no means exhaustive but should provide you with a starting point as to what design patterns could look like in connection with level design. The design patterns have come about from analyzing several levels looking for common ways of solving problematic elements of level design. The design patterns themselves will abide loosely by the Game Design Pattern Template as set forth by Björk & Holopainen (2005, p. 38-39);





    Multiple paths - Each path must be supplemented by one or more paths in order to overcome bottlenecks.

    *Follow the link at the end to read this section



    Local fights - Break up the level in smaller areas that are more or less closed of the rest of the level.

    *Follow the link at the end to read this section



    Collision points - The paths of opposing players must cross at some point to create tension in the level.


    General description: When playing multiplayer games one of the key elements is meeting other players and playing against them. The paths that lead from one team’s area to another, or to and from an important objective in the level, must cross so that members from both teams will face each other at some time.


    The overview map for the Kalt level from Day of Defeat (Image 10) clearly marks the Collision Points. At least two places (center) the routes for both teams will collide head on. This provides some very interesting gameplay as both teams try to push the other back and conquer the objectives that are located on both sides just beyond these collisions points.



    The collision points in the Kalt level are clearly visible


    Another way of creating interesting collision points it by make the only way to enter the opposing teams base go through some very narrow spots as in the Maul level from Unreal Tournament 2004 (image below). Here two rather small holes in the dividing wall serves as clear collisions points that makes up for most of the battle in this level.



    The two holes in the wall create unsurpassable collisions points


    Using the pattern: If you are making a Capture the Flag level, construct the level in such a way that all players must go through a central area (be that either a room or a specific outdoor area). By doing that you ensure that the players will eventually run into each other at some point.



    Making the main paths cross produces interesting situations for the players


    If used correctly the level can rise from being confusing and mediocre to being a tension filled experience. This is also one of the best design patterns for accentuate to the players that they are playing in a multiplayer environment, since they are hereby guarantee to run into other players.


    Consequence: If the map only contains one collision point, it is imperative that the “time-to contact” for each team reaching these points is the same. Locating the collision point too close to one of the teams’ main defense objectives renders the level unbalanced, hence unplayable.


    Relations: There is a relationship between this patterns and the Local Fights pattern, the Collision Points patterns being a sub-pattern of the latter. Using the Collision Points pattern is one way of ensuring that at least one Local Fight will be present if implemented correctly.


    Reference: Christopher Alexander talked about adjusting the layout in city planning so that you would create areas of the community that would concentrate the activity in so-called nodes (1977):

    Pattern #30: Activity Nodes: Create nodes of activity throughout the community […]. First identify those existing spots in the community where action seems to concentrate itself. Then modify the layout of the paths in the community to bring as many of them through these spots as possible. This makes each spot function as a ‘node’ in the path network. (p. 166)


    But the most vigorous analysis of collision point in level design comes from Güttler & Johansson (2005) in their article on the topic:

    The play patterns are formed on the foundation of the spatial design of the level and the behavior of the players. […] These tactics are all based around the collision points of the level; points, that are noted by the two teams mission oriented paths verge on or cross each other on one or more locations through the level. (Own translation, p. 156)



    Reference points - Always provide reference points in your level to help navigation.

    *Follow the link at the end to read this section



    Defense areas - Aide the players or team defending objects by making the architectural layout of the level work to their advantage.


    General description: Most levels for multiplayer action oriented games revolve around one team attacking another team’s location or skirmish over specific control points. In either case team-members frequently needs to defend these areas or objectives. Because the defenders do not know when or where the attackers might come from they have a disadvantage. This can be counter by giving them objects that can help them defend.


    In the Anzio level from Day of Defeat the defense of the bridge can be done from a ruin located nearby (image below). Here the defenders can partly unseen watch all the traffic crossing the bridge and can quickly duck for cover if under enemy fire.






    The defense of the bridge, as seen from the attacker’s point of view (left) and the defenders (right)


    More open areas, as in the Avalanche level from Day of Defeat (image below) and the Iwo Jima level from Battlefield 1942 (following image) can be aided with the addition of sandbags or sandbag-like structures that the defenders can cover behind.



    The sandbags defense of the German flag



    Defense of the hill in the Iwo Jima level


    Alternatively the defenders can be given extra hardware to help with the defense. This can be either stationary guns or special buttons that can close of areas or shut doors. In the case of the El Alamein level from Battlefield 1942 (Image 20) the defenders have been provided with a heavy anti-aircraft gun and a high powered stationary machine gun with unlimited ammunition.





    The upper image shows an anti-aircraft gun and to the lower is a mounted machine gun


    Using the pattern: Create areas surrounding important objective in the level with elements that can help the defenders of the object defend. That being either providing elements that they can seek cover behind or adding hardware that aide in the defense.


    Consequence: If the defense area becomes too powerful it will effectively bring the level to a standstill with the attacker having no way of overrunning the defense area. So this is one pattern that should be used with a lot of thought. A good way of using this is to combine it with the Multiple Paths pattern, making the defense only cover one entrance to the objective and then have one or more alterative paths leading into the area surpassing the defense.


    Relations: There should be a relation between the use of Defense Areas and the Reference Points patterns. For both the attackers and the defenders using the Defense Area it is important that it is easily recognizable so that communication about events taking place at these areas can be easy conveyed to follow team members.



    Risk Incentive - Access to wanted objects in a level must be connected with some element of risk.

    *Follow the link at the end to read this section



    Conclusion and future research

    "It's all very well in practice, but will never work in theory". - Anonymous


    The craft of designing levels have in the resent decade, along with the rise of FPS, become a fullfledged profession comparable to programming and art direction. All professions need formal design tools and it is time that level design got its. The presentation of the level design patterns herein merely scratches the surface. There are many more patterns waiting to be formalized and many more to discover. My aim with this paper was show the usefulness of design patterns both in connection with design levels but also in connection with analyzing them. They can provide a much needed vocabulary to the discussion. You could easily state “This level is boring… add more Multiple Paths” or “This area is too open and wide, add some more Local Fights”. It is the same with movies (and other non-interactive narratives); if the main character seems dull or unbelievable you give him an inner conflict. That is an established way of making him much more interesting. The same goes with music. Keep the lyrics but changes the beat or add another verse. If the players of your level complain about it being monotonous to play then go back through these pages and try and add one or more of the design patterns offered. It will most certainly enhance your level.


    It is not about streamlining all levels and only creating levels after the same template. That would result in indistinguishable generic levels a looks and play alike. The level design patterns presented herein should instead be looked upon at as tools. As paint brushes to help you paint you canvas. There is no silver bullet to be found for designing levels.


    The work ahead is now to look for additional and more complex patterns that can be used in the analysis and design of future levels. There is a need for level design patterns for single player games as well. My hope is just that the level design patterns can remain as abstract as possible so they do not become watered down iteration of the same patterns presenting the same solution to the same problem domain in different ways. Increasing the sheer number of patterns achieves nothing. The aim is to keep them as hands-on and relevant as possible.


    Read the full paper here: http://simonlundlarsen.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Level-design-patterns.pdf



    Follow Simon

    Website: http://simonlundlarsen.com/

    Website: https://medium.com/@simonlundlarsen

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/SimonLundLarsen



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    Article Preview: This article from Simon Lund Larsen introduces 6 primary "Level Design Patterns" - Tools to create a more intuitive experience: Multiple paths, Local Fights, Collision Points, Reference Points, Defense Areas, and Risk Incentive.

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