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icyhotspartin

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    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, Blocktober 2020   
    2020 marks the fourth October of Blocktober.  During Blocktober, level designers across the world flock to Twitter to share their level blockouts with the tag #Blocktober.  Launched in 2017 by Michael Barclay, Blocktober is the Level Design equivalent of Inktober. Michael wrote a summary of the first Blocktober, appropriately titled 'Blogtober' on his website, and you can read that HERE. 
     
    Now that you know more about Blocktober (or...know the same amount if you already knew about it...), let's get to the point of this here article.
     
    WE WANT TO SEE YOUR BLOCKOUTS!
     
    So, to encourage participation, we're offering up a list of 31 themes (1 for each day of the month) to get your creative juices flowing.  This list is not ours - it was shared on Twitter by Mike Gonthier, Level Designer at 343 Industries.  Suffice to say, we like the list, and we think you will too, so without further adieu...
     

     
    What you do with this list is for you to decide.  Be bold and take on the challenge of completing a blockout each day to match with the themes listed.  Pick one and spend the entire 31 days on it.  Make up your own themes.  It matters not to us.  We only care about the end result - blockouts.
     
    We're publishing this article prior t the Blocktober start date so that you can begin planning in advance.  Once it officially kicks off, we will have a thread created which will host a great many of the #blocktober tagged blockouts.  Here's a link to our Blocktober Thread: 
     
    If you would like your blockout featured in this thread, tag @NextLevelDesig2 in your tweet as well. This is by no means a requirement, as we'll be scanning Twitter frequently, but it will assure that we don't miss your tweet.
     
    Also, as I already said above, we want to see your blockouts. We would love, love, LOVE to have the Next Level Design Projects Section overrun with blockouts. Start a Project Post HERE to share your work with us.
     
     
    Follow Blocktober
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlocktoberLD
    Hashtag: #Blocktober
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
    Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2
    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  2. Interesting +1
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, Gunplay - Westin Koessel   
    Chapter 1: Hear me out
    Going as far back as the Halo trilogy, and especially in more modern games like Destiny, the aptly named Modern Warfare, and even Apex Legends, it has been commonplace to refer to all facets of the 'shooting' in one of these games as its gunplay. Which, in and of itself, is fine - vague and generalized word use is very helpful, and allows us to get complicated ideas across quickly when we’re trying to touch on larger points. For that reason, I don’t go around grilling people who don’t use perfectly accurate verbiage at every turn. However, more often than not, when I hear someone specifically refer to gunplay, I don’t think they mean what they think they mean.

    Perfect examples came out of the recent COD Modern Warfare. We all know that game has problems, and we’re not here to discuss them… but in reference to the game, you'll constantly hear “Yeah that game is really campy and the maps have too many windows and doors, and it’s really too bad, because the gunplay is just "so good". This same idea is communicated in and around plenty of other games, and is regular speech for an FPS player. Inevitably, the first thing that shoots into my head is, what do you mean 'good'? Yes, I completely agree that it feels good to shoot in Modern warfare. The hitmarker sounds, the weapons sounds, the animations, the screams of my dying enemy, even the smoke coming from the barrel of my gun contributes to that effect. The score that pops up after a kill, the guitar riff that plays when I level up. There are endless layers of feedback that all make me feel ecstatic, but at the end of the day, that’s just how I feel, not how the gunplay in Modern Warfare functions. And this is important, because how gunplay functions does contribute to how a game feels, but not in the sense we’ve already described.
     
    First of all, mechanics, in the long term, can create a meaningful fulfillment and feelings of personal growth as we understand and even master them. Then, these skills become practical, climaxing when we put this to use effectively, which is immediately satisfying. This whole paradigm is NOT as simple as "short term vs. long term satisfaction". Some of that instant gratification does come from mechanics, some comes from sensory stimuli, and the two can be distinguished. The former version of instant gratification, mechanical fulfillment, is one reason why watching great players is so fun. You get to feel some of that sweet second-hand dopamine as you watch them succeed in ways you only wish you could, even if you haven't seen the meaningful journey of practice that went into being able to play like that.
     
    While feeling is the word I’ve chosen to use within the context of this effect, as well as the former effect, when I describe them, they are obviously very different. One is pleasurable, and the other is meaningful, that is, earned, and therefore pleasurable. When you refer to a game in the way I described earlier, where our imaginary person attempts to diagnose the pros and cons of Modern Warfare, it seems like what is unknowingly being referred to is mechanical function. Just reflect on that quote from our imaginary MW player. First, he talks about the gameplay, the camping, then he talks about the maps, how they have too many variables, and finally gunplay. Context points to a conversation about mechanical function, but upon further questioning, most I've interacted with are almost always thinking about how the gun looks and 'feels', and not as a result of difficulty or cultivated skill, but as a result of punchy hitmarker sounds and realistic blood splatters. To explain it once more, and perhaps in a simpler way, imagine any shooter, but the gun models were replaced with inanimate bananas, and there were no weapon sounds or effects. Would it 'feel' good to shoot? In one sense, no, because there isn’t any convincing feedback. In another sense, the functional sense, it would feel no different than it does now, because weapon models, animations, and sounds are all just sensory stimuli. The game would play exactly the same way. Same kill times, same recoil patterns, same flinch, same mechanics to master.

    A game that all too often receives this treatment is Destiny, but it’s understandable. It is so unreasonably satisfying to shoot a hand cannon in that game, that it’s hard to separate how destiny’s gunplay feels and how it works. Which again, how it works does contribute to the feel, just in a different sense. And I’m going to use destiny as an example of why it’s so important to separate in your mind these two facets of shooting as a designer.
     


    If we are to look at destiny, on paper, without the seductive visuals of the dreaming city or my homegirl ada-1, you might be surprised of what we actually find. Many times Destiny has been compared to Halo, but when you really look at it, you will see that Destiny, in reality, will reveal itself. The first thing to look at would be your players movement and strafe within Destiny. Yes, there are plenty of advanced movement options, but the lack of mid-air accuracy successfully grounds players for most gunfights, so as far as gunplay is concerned, these are separated. So then, next, we can look at the players strafe. How good is it? Well, it’s not that great. Even with a max mobility build, it’s not very effective. The insanely high bullet magnetism within Destiny can’t help, but I digress. Most combat is grounded, and the strafe is of little effect. Next, we can look at weapons. Almost all weapons are hitscan, and what is projectile usually (99 times out of 100) tracks your target. For the sake of making a point, humor me, how about the maps? Well, with Destiny 2 especially, we see nothing but Treyarch-like 3 lanes, and flat ones at that. This is starting to sound familiar... The last facet to consider would be any system baked into the mechanics, like descope in Halo. Well, Destiny doesn’t have descoping, but it does have hefty flinch, or aim punch as some call it, where enemy bullets cause your aim to jump about and render your gun inaccurate.. Not only is a strong flinch present, but most weapons are also inaccurate when fired from the hip... Okay, so considering all of this, why does it feel like Halo? Well, as far as I can tell, it’s almost exclusively because of the time to kill. This is where Destiny is closest to Halo, with an average TTK of around 1 second. And so, even though we may feel there is a connection to Halo, and there is, when we parse through the mechanics one by one, Destiny isn't "just like Halo". In reality, it's a lot more like a Call of Duty game.

    I trust you see what I mean, reader. You're a smart guy. You know that there’s usually more than meets the brain when it comes to this stuff, and I'm sure you'll agree it to be extremely important to look under the hood before we make claims about how good or bad a mechanic is. You probably already know this, but this thought process can be applied to anything, in order to separate the superficial from the real, and not just with gunplay.
     
     
    Chapter 2: Shoot me
    And, while we’re here, I’ll expand on what I personally find to qualify as ‘good’ functional gunplay.

    Right off the bat, the suffix of gunplay, play, assumes the presence of, well, play. In other words, some sort of give and take. Some sort of interaction.

    Going back to Modern Warfare, the games functional gunplay consists of very little give and take. You essentially put the crosshair on your opponent, and click. Attachments combined with the mounting mechanic will often completely nullify recoil, and most COD players already know instinctively to aim at center mass to prevent flinch from knocking them off target, because flinch will severely punish you for aiming at the head by making you miss entirely, which means you never really should go for headshots unless someone isn’t looking at you. All of this, by extension, is less opportunity for 'play' within your shooting mechanics by discouraging the player from aiming at the crit spot. Now, with the games near instant kill times in mind, and the distinct lack of any strafe, again, the game is essentially point, click, and move on. Yes, technically, there is some gun play, some give and take, as you still have to do the aiming, with a little bit of recoil to account for. To that I would say, if the only requirement for good gunplay, functionally speaking, is the generalized presence of aiming, then every shooter ever made would qualify as having ‘good’ gunplay. No, this can’t be the bar we set, I think we can do better.

    The first way we can do better is with projectile based weapons. Projectiles, while harder to use, are just as accurate as hitscan. The obvious difference being that one must aim ahead and utilize his spatial awareness to account for bullet travel time in order to land shots. Many have said that projectiles are "messy", and that hitscan is the cleaner choice, but projectiles, assuming no other factors are involved, are perfectly accurate. There’s no loss of control as to where your bullets land, they’re just harder to land. Instead of aiming here, you aim 'there', in accordance to your projectile speed and how fast the target is moving and in what direction. This introduces a layer of play, not only within yourself as you master spatial awareness, but when considering projectiles on the slower end of the spectrum, like rockets in Quake, this starts to introduce a layer of play with your opponent, as he can preemptively move away from, and sometimes even react to, the projectiles as they travel, which you then have to adjust for in the future. This becomes an adjustment which your opponent can predict, and then play around, and the cycle of 'mind-play' repeats.

    Not only are projectiles an incredible source of depth in our games, but they also solve what we could call the 'problem of ranges'. Look, every game is made with target ranges in mind, which is why we often see damage fall-off implemented into games like overwatch and Destiny. This is needlessly frustrating, as it’s next to impossible to predict just how much damage my shots will do. And the question does need to be asked, if I’m landing my shots, why are my bullets arbitrarily doing half damage, and when I take a few steps forward, now full damage? What if I only took one step forward? Or half a step? With this system you inevitably run into these thresholds, which can’t really ever be predicted. You have a vague idea of how close you need to be with a hand cannon in Destiny, but It’s not like there’s a ranger meter in my UI telling me how far my enemy is from me, and so even after hundreds of hours of practice, it’s still impossible to always grasp exactly how much damage I can do. I can’t ever really know. Now THIS is what I call messy.
     
     


    On the other hand, projectile weaponry doesn’t require damage fall-off to keep fights within certain ranges, as the travel time of a projectile inherently makes shooting at players who are further away, harder. Once implemented, the developers need only tune how fast the projectiles will travel, until his or her idea of the perfect median encounter range is found, while still allowing for an excellent player to deal full damage if he can land those difficult shots at range. Seriously, God has handed us the perfect design solution via physics, so why are we so apprehensive to utilize it?

    Moving on, I believe that we can also do better with the player strafe and movement in our shooters. It’s hard to determine how fast is fast enough for base movement speeds, or strafe acceleration. Do not assume that more is always better. In fact, some games will sport such extreme abilities that the rest of the game starts to fall apart. For example, I can spend a year meticulously designing a Titanfall map, just to have someone grapple across it in one go and completely nullify the level design. Now that's frustrating. I think there's a balance to be struck here.

    Simply put, I just want to be able to avoid damage. My goal is to always allow the player to live and succeed, even with 1 health point. If play is an interaction, I want to be able to interact with my opponent as he shoots at me. Standing in place and seeing who wins as determined by the whims of flinch should not qualify as gunplay (looking at you, PUBG). The way I see it, my own gunplay is only half of the 'play'. The other half is how I am interacting with my opponent with my strafe, and larger scales of strafe like general movement, geometry manipulation, and advanced movement options. This is about as far as I can go within the context of this topic, because I would have to start introducing specific mechanics from specific games into the discussion to take it any further, and I don’t want to go that far. You get it.

    Next up, we can do much better with the likes of recoil, spread, and bloom.

    Randomness doesn't work, because any random penalty is incredibly frustrating, as I know it wasn’t merited by the other player and wasn’t a result of an honest mistake on my part. There’s nothing I could do about it. On the other hand, any random benefit is devoid of meaning, as I know I didn’t earn it, and therefore have nothing to be proud of, and nothing to learn from the win.

    With that in mind, predictability is key when talking about these things. Recoil, you're up.

    Some games, especially some PC games, are very heavy handed with the recoil. I’m not the biggest fan of recoil, but I would totally respect it, and do totally respect it, if and only if  recoil patterns are predictable. Pulling your thumbstick or mouse down at a rate proportionate to your weapon rise, all while tracking your enemy, certainly is a skill. The problem arises (pun intended) when games, often for the sake of realism, introduce random recoil patterns, and especially horizontal recoil. Even the ‘random’ vertical recoil patterns in games aren’t truly random. That is, they have a general direction. A predictable unpredictability. Horizontal recoil, however, is not the same. Unless there exists a weapon with horizontal recoil that tends to only one side of the weapon (which doesn't exist), horizontal bouncing is entirely uncontrollable. It changes directions radically. Even if you knew when the recoil would bounce left or right, we just don’t have the reaction speed as humans to cancel this out on the fly, which means I don’t have control. To put it as simply as I can, that’s why everyone hates the Flatline and Spitfire in Apex Legends.
     


    Spread… oh man. Spread is a tricky one. First of all, it should go without saying at this point that random spread is never good. Hitting your shots is not a rewarding experience when you know it’s random, and missing is just annoying, because it's not up to you. So, what then entails a perfectly predictable spread? Honestly, the shotguns in Apex Legends and Gears of war are the only examples I can think of at the moment, and I don’t think there’s a better way of going about it without changing how the weapons themselves fundamentally work. Fixed pellet placement. Hipfire spread on non-shotgun weapons, on the other hand, is a different beast, especially when sustained auto/semiautomatic fire is in question. We all know how annoying it can be to die to someone with a spray weapon in an FPS, hip firing his way to victory. This is true for almost any game, Key word being almost. Think on Call of Duty, where your killcam reminds you of the clueless player that just bested you, as he hipfires and hits all headshots, likely on accident, leaving you saying “ah come on, he just hip fired me!” 

    Let's create our own weapon to use as an example, in the image of all militaristic shooters. We'll call it the… D… the D-78... the D-789 Reaper or something. Nice and boring, just the way developers like it. Now, of course this weapon, while aimed in, is pinpoint accurate. While hipfired, however, the spread becomes a cone. While this cone is no longer pinpoint accurate, all of the bullets will land within the cone, which means, if the cone is about the same size as the enemies hitbox, that all of the bullets within the cone will land. It’s like your bullets become 50 times their normal size, while being just as effective. I know that's not always true, it varies, but bear with me. Now, imagine shooting at someone with this cone vs. aimed down sights. Rather than aiming in, wouldn’t it be easier to hip fire, and always have at least part of the cone on target? Yes, and paired with random spread, this means the chance for perfect accuracy with much less effort required. It’s easier to always be partially on target while using a flashlight instead of a laser pointer, which means you almost always have a chance to hit. In this scenario, hip firing is easier, and potentially just as effective as pinpoint accuracy while aiming in, which is why we get frustrated. It’s inherently easier, partially random, and depending on the game, is almost just as rewarding as aiming. After all, the saying is risk vs. reward, not... less risk, similar reward.

    The solution to this one of two extremes. Either you can make hip fire on the R-765 Dynasty, or whatever it's called, unusably inaccurate, or make it perfectly accurate. Let's think. Making hip fire spread worse will make it less rewarding, and therefore not as frustrating as often… but at the same time, will crank up the random factor, and make it all the more annoying when someone does get lucky with the hipfire. Not good. The alternative, perfectly accurate hipfire, may just completely solve the issue at hand. No randomness, and hipfire is no longer inherently easier. Hmm… think back, we don’t say “ah, he just hipfired me!” in Halo, do we? In fact, noscopes with certain weapons are considered harder and more impressive! If you then want to incentivize aiming in while keeping hipfire predictable, you could even add something like increased recoil to hipfire. Not random recoil, but increased recoil. We're killing it! Design is easy!
     


    Finally, while I hate to say it (that's a lie) we could just do away with bloom. With the recent launch of Halo Reach on PC, this is just in time. With bloom, your shots become increasingly inaccurate if you shoot quickly, which encourages you to pace your shots, and rewards the patient. Or at least, this is what it proposes to do. In reality, it forces you to pace your shots, lest your bullets become forfeit to random spread, while it often rewards the goofball who just spams his trigger and gets lucky. Once again, the problem lies in the unpredictability. The defenders of this mechanic always say “well I like bloom, because you have to pace your shots” and while patience may be worth rewarding generally speaking, it’s not a reward if it’s forced on you. And more than this, the random spread that comes along with this fake patience is just not worth it. Again, I like it when I’m watching a Quake duel, and patience wins out over the other players aggressive play now and again. That can be cool. Bloom, however, especially in reach, is a terrible implementation of that idea.

    All right! That's all I have to say about Gunplay today. Keep in mind, the scope of most of these arguments will inevitably be limited to what we see in shooter orthodoxy. To many of these questions and proposals, I would personally just get creative, and make entirely new weapon archetypes and entirely new games and systems. But, within the trends that define almost every modern shooter, these were my thoughts. Thanks for reading!
     
     
    Follow Westin
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/_Xandrith
    Website: https://westinkoessel.wixsite.com/portfolio
     
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  3. Trophy +1
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, February Challenge: A New Love   
    Ahh...February, the month of Love.  ❤️ 😍 🥰 💕 ❣️
     

    Valentine's Day is an opportunity to share your appreciation for those you love the most.  But here on Next Level Design, we're asking you to kick your old lover to the curb.  Not your real life love, but the design methods you've grown to love, and feel most comfortable with. Your Challenge in the month of February is to give your tried and true tools and/processes the cold shoulder, and to see if you can find A New Love.
     
    Use an engine, tool, process, etc. that you're unfamiliar with.  Create a level, model, sketch, texture, etc. and then share the fruits of your new love.
     
    Share your results in the way that works best for you:
    1. Create a post in the Submission & Discussion Thread - This is the easiest way for us to see your submission
     
    2. Tag us on Twitter
    https://twitter.com/nextleveldesig2 - Add a hashtag for easier tracking - #nldchallenge
     
    3. Post in the Level Design section of the Next Level Design Discord Server
    https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
     
    There is no limit to the number of submissions. We're eager to see ALL of your attempts to forge a new love.  Feel free to share as little or as much information about each submission as you like.
     
    If you're not registered on the site, it's an easy process. You can do so here: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
     
     

    This was my first attempt at creating a website, a little over a year ago.  I literally had no clue what I was doing.  It took me an entire weekend to figure out how to post a hyperlinked image to the Home Page. It was ugly and unorganized (and that was after about 15 iterations - you don't even want to know what it looked like to begin with...)
    http://nextleveldesign.proboards.com/page/Home
    http://nextleveldesign.proboards.com/
     
    And here was my first attempt at building and texturing something in Unreal

     
    And now it's your turn to share...
     
     

    If you'd like to suggest some changes and/or improvements for subsequent challenges, feel free to do so in our Challenge Feedback thread here:
     
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
    Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2
    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
     
  4. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, The Genius Level Design Of Halo - Boxman214   
    I'm a big fan of Halo. To the point where I even wrote fanfiction as a teenager about it. It's been part of my life for many years now. However, for a myriad of reasons, I have not had an XBox One this generation until a couple of weeks ago. Ultimately, this means that I've played very little Halo in the last few years. But this year I used my birthday money to buy an XBone. It came with a free trial of Game Pass. This led me to download The Master Chief Collection. I began playing Halo: Combat Evolved yesterday. I played through the first three levels. I was really awestruck by Halo. No, not that Halo. I mean, Halo. The game's unfortunately titled second level (seriously, why is it called this?). I'd like to share a few thoughts on why this level is so great.
     

     
    Halo takes place on the titular stellar structure. It's a ring-world hovering above a gas giant. The interior side of the ring is habitable and Earth-like. The first mission sees your ship, the Pillar of Autumn, attacked by the alien Covenant. You make it to an escape pod and crash on to the structure. This level picks up immediately. Everyone in your escape pod has died except you (thanks, no doubt, to your impeccable suit of armor). You get out of the pod, walk around, and orient yourself. If you look at the sky, you'll see the rest of the ring stretch out above you. Before long, an alien dropship comes to investigate the crash. You can stay and fight, or you can cross a bridge and hide. Either way, you'll see your first pilotable vehicles next. Two wailing Banshees soar above you and take pot-shots at you. Incidentally, these Banshees are not actually flyable here, though you'll use them plenty later in the game. See the below video for more info:
     
     
    There is really only way for you to go. You'll climb a gently sloped hill and come to a narrow canyon. You pass through this quickly and happen upon a large structure, surrounded by Marines.
     

     
    Your job is to defend the building. Five dropships will unload troops (not all at once) and you must eliminate them. It's not terribly difficult. There's lots of ammo and health around if you look for it. After this is complete, a human Pelican craft will drop off a Warthog (the greatest Jeep ever made). You climb aboard and take it for a spin. Again, there's really only one place to go. You find yourself driving down a slope into an artificial tunnel. You'll drive through this and come to a gap. You must have the warthog to jump this gap. You can't do it on your own. This means you absolutely must stay to defend this first structure. There's no getting out of it. This is valuable because it forces you to understand the basic conceit of the level: defending buildings from alien dropships.
     

     
    It also forces you to utilize the warthog. Halo: Combat Evolved was truly revolutionary. Every console-based first-person-shooter since this game has taken direct inspiration from it in a number of ways. But the basic elevator pitch of the game is simple: What if you put vehicles in a first-person-shooter? This was the big innovation they were going for and it worked beautifully. Each pilotable vehicle (of which there are 4: Warthog, Ghost, Banshee, and Scorpion) are extremely easy and intuitive to control. Pretty much anyone can figure them out with ease. They each have nuances that will take practice to master (the Banshee, especially). The physics in the first game didn't use the now-ubiquitous Havok engine. The physics were all made in-house. They're very good, but fairly floaty. This means it's very easy to roll a Warthog if you're not careful. You'll use the Warthog multiple times throughout the rest of the game, including in the climax. So it's great to get an introduction to the vehicle now, in a relatively safe environment. You're unlikely to get the vehicle stuck somewhere. There are also very few places where you can drive one off the level and die (though it will be a valuable lesson if you do). But I digress. Let's get back to Halo.
     
    When you make it through to the other side of the tunnel, the level opens up quite a bit. You'll find yourself in a sort of Hub area. As you explore, you'll find the occasional patch of enemies. Eventually you'll learn that there are 3 major staging areas that branch off of this hub. Each is a sort of mini-level in which you must try to protect some marines from alien dropships, just as you did before. All 3 play out differently from each other. The real kicker is that you can play them in any order you choose!
     
    I consider this freedom to be the pinnacle of Halo level design (and this time I mean the entire franchise, not just this game or this level, gets confusing huh?).  Halo is based on the idea of a sandbox. You are plopped into an area filled with objects to interact with (vehicles, weapons, enemies, etc.). It's up to you to deal with these as you see fit. There is not a certain prescribed way of accomplishing your tasks. Contrast this with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
     

     
    COD4 is a very linear game. It's meant to be like a rollercoaster. You hop on board and ride out the ride. You have very little, if any, choice in how the ride goes. There are certainly advantages to designing a game in this way. It enables you to create very meticlous set-pieces for story telling. It also has some serious drawbacks. For example, in the above screenshot. You are tasked with sniping an enemy target in this story flashback. It's actually fairly challenging because the enemy is at immense range, there is wind, and you're far enough way to have to factor in the coriolis effect. You get one shot (do not miss your chance to blow). If you hit your target successfully, your task is complete. But here's the thing. The story plays out exactly the same way no matter where you hit this guy. If you pierce his heart or his brain, it matters not. The story doesn't care. The man lives on to fight another day. 
     
    Halo isn't like this. For most of the games (at least the ones made by Bungie), you are given the freedom to kill enemies however you see fit (and they typically stay dead when you do so). I absolutely adore the freedom in Halo, and this level does it best of any in the series. 
     
    To get back on track, you have three areas to clear out/defend. In fact, the order in which your perform these tasks will cause slight variation in the enemies you encounter in the hub area. At any rate, I like to start here: 
     

     
    This section has marines take refuge in hills above the building. One of them is even equipped with a sniper rifle. You can take the high ground with them and snipe from afar. Or, you can get up close and personal with the enemy. 
     
    I then go to an area filled with boulders. Marines hide among the rocks. They use them for cover and for a high-ground advantage. Enemy dropships will leave enemies in an open, flat area below and they'll work their way towards the marines. Again, you can climb all over the rocks and use them to your advantage. You can also just hang out in the flat area and work on them with your Warthog. It's even possible to drive your Warthog up on top of the largest boulder, which I find amusing for some reason. 
     
    I like to end with the last remaining area. It is a series of 3 buildings. The twist here is that the Marines are hiding underground. You can take out all of the enemies on the surface before you go in after them. Or you can run in there as fast as you can and have them follow you out for backup as you fight the enemies above. I really like to snipe as many foes as I can from far away, then go in and grab the marines to have them mop up the stragglers. 
     
    This is just one approach. There are 6 different orders in which you can tackle these objectives. And there are varying tactics you can use through each of them. Halo (the level) has peerless freedom in the franchise. I would rank it as the very best level the series has to offer. I am very early in my first playthrough of Halo 5, but it has yet to offer anything approaching this level of autonomy. I hope that Halo Infinite takes inspiration from this Halo in its level design. 
     
    What is your favorite Halo level? Also, what do you think is the best Halo level, as those 2 don't have to be the same thing?
     
    - Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto
     
    *Note: This article is republished unchanged from the original, in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines.
    Source: https://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Boxman214/the-genius-level-design-of-halo-546004.phtml
     
     
    Follow Boxman214
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/Boxman214
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
    Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2
    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
     
  5. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, NLD Update: January 19, 2020   
    We look back at  the articles, news, contests, and forums content shared on Next Level Design during the past week.
    *Note: Clicking an image below will bring you directly to the content.
     
    Articles:
    Reaching Perfection, Chapter 8: Eye Catching - @RayBenefield
    We take a deeper look at the subject of Path Manipulation, with one of the main tools at our disposal - Eye Catching

     
    Leave Enough Room: Design that Supports Player Expression - Randy Smith
    In this 2011 GDC session, Randy Smith, veteran of the Thief series along with several other games, examines the idea of player expression and how and why players project themselves into your game.


    Fundamentals of Gameplay: Part II - Pat Howard
    In the second part of his series on the Fundamentals of Gameplay, Pat Howard looks at the relationship between Height and Continuity, with LOT'S of examples.

     
    Level Design in Battlefield 1 - Peter Vesti Frendrup
    Peter Vesti Frendrup, the lead level designer for Battlefield 1's single player experience, gave this 50 minute talk at DICE. He gives a great overview of the level design approach for single player and multiplayer in the game, sharing some of the challenges they faced, and the ways in which they approached them.

     
     
    Forums:
    In WAYWO, teasers of the newest project from @icyhotspartin

     
    @S0UL FLAME is living on the edge, going off grid.

     
    Inspired by MAAR DUN, @Box_Hoes shares some of the architecture of one of his WIP's.

     
    @MultiLockOn gives us a glimpse of his recently completed project with a Map Trailer.

     
    Our newest member, @Xelily, gives a first look at a single player level that's still in early stages.

     
    @JB_ continues work on the art for his level.

     
     
    Contests:
    NLD January Challenge: Resolutions
    Follow along as participants share their resolutions for the new year, and give updates on their progress.

     
    The Quake January Jump Jam
    The deadline has been extended to January 26th to allow participants to do final polishing, or attempt another level. (Updated Countdown Timer Link)

     
     
    Interested in joining Next Level Design?  Use the links below to Learn, Grow, Share, and Connect with like-minded lovers of game design and level design.
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
    Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2
    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
     
  6. Trophy +1
    icyhotspartin reacted to Kantalope for Featured Content, January Challenge: Resolutions   
    Welcome to the new decade! This is an opportunity to rediscover what makes us who we are, to reflect upon our past actions and opinions then address them in an effort to work for a better us. Something that may be beneficial to change may be core to how we define ourselves, making it hard to accept that it is problematic to our growth as people. Even though it may be painful, being a better, more capable person is worth it.
     

    All of us as designers need to recognize that we can always improve ourselves and our methods to produce even better levels, weapons, and games overall. This month's challenge should be a microcosm of our growth as designers and a detailed focus on what we can do to boost our potential. Find something that you can greatly improve about yourself and your designs and execute a plan to address those faults.
     
    Something that all who wish to participate in this challenge should know this: a design principle or quirk isn't the only kind of thing that can be addressed for this challenge. If you feel that a character or psychological or emotional trait about yourself would be more beneficial to your growth as a designer, go for it. No, it's not likely that this trait would be completely changed by the end of this challenge, but this can provide the tools to cope with or even eventually eradicate it. Because of the potential benefits, this could be a recurring process for the whole of the year or even longer. Enough of the sappy stuff, let's get to designing!
     
    We recommend that you post in the Submission and Discussion thread that tells of your goals with this challenge and how you intend to achieve it. Writing it down, even digitally, helps with retaining that information, thus remembering it more readily. Good luck to all of you in this resolution!
     

    Only three guidelines apply to this challenge:
    The level must be designed around what you wish to improve about yourself or your design choices The level must be posted on the January Challenge: Resolutions Submission and Discussion Thread The post must include at least one picture/sketch of the level If you're not registered on the site, it's an easy process. Here's a link to where you can do so: (link)
     
    The submission thread will remain open until February 2nd at 11:59pm. There is no limit to the number of levels you can submit. Submit one and go into as much detail about it as possible, or submit many with little detail. Take whichever route you feel will be the most beneficial to your own development.
     
    A couple of details that could be included in the level post as a way to better convey the design process are:
    The sandbox of which the level is designed for (Quake, Halo, Call of Duty, etc.) Multiple Pictures, and/or video footage of the level An overview of the layout A flow diagram of the map An explanation of the source of inspiration for the level Anything that helps convey the thought process behind the level  
    Here's a link to the Submission thread for this Challenge:(link)
     

    My goal for this month is to address one of my main issues: commitment to a project. I've been an easily discouraged designer, whether it be due to a lack of confidence or pure boredom. I'll be pledging to fully commit to a new multiplayer level in Halo 5, getting it playable as soon as possible and then playtesting multiple times to then iterate upon it at least once a week. Something that I really hope to have improve along the way is a feel for how Halo 5's combat flows. Because I'm always designing, I end up only designing for a theoretical game in my head rather than the one that I actually am making it in. I'll need help, of course, tons of it, but that's what this forum's community is for; you show a commitment to your design and a willingness to improve and people will be happy to help.
     
    For the level itself, anything above 2v2 doesn't seem very viable. Outside of the recent Mythic playlist, it's been near impossible to find or even create 4v4 testing lobbies. Thankfully the majority of forgers in this forum seem to prefer designing for the lower player counts anyway, so there's plenty of levels that I can look at and play for reference and experience. This has lead me to choose 2v2 to design around. I'm unsure of a theme as of yet. This map is only intended to be a polished blockout, so theme will influence some of the micro and a bit of the macro at best. Now that I have this, it's time to get to forging! I'll be posting updates in the Submission and Discussion thread.
     

    If you'd like to suggest some changes and/or improvements for subsequent challenges, feel free to do so in our Challenge Feedback thread here: (link)
     
     
    Follow Next Level Design
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    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  7. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, NLD Update: Week 52   
    As many of us celebrate the holiday season, at NLD we celebrate all that was shared here during the previous week.  Grab some eggnog and settle in...
    *Note: Clicking an image below will bring you directly to the content.
     
     
    Projects:
    With Love - @Westin
    This week Westin posted up another submission for the Forgehub 2v2 contest.  With Love is set in the French Riviera.  Oui, oui, mon petit chou!  😍

     
     
    Articles:
    Reaching Perfection, Chapter 5 - Deterrents
    In this weeks chapter, Ray Benefield introduces us to deterrents, which can be loosely defined as 'stuff that discourages players from doing something'.

     
    Trinity, Part 7: Ramps Part 2 - Mike Stout
    "A Ramp is a pattern of increases and decreases to Intensity over the course of a game segment, created with the purpose of achieving a desired balance between Intensity and Rest." Read more at the link.

     
    Titanfall 2: How Design Informs Speed - Abhishek Iyer
    Titanfall's biggest accomplishment is unifying all of the game’s systems to incentivize one core feeling: speed. Abhishek Iyer looks at how Titanfall 2 uses all the weapons in its game design arsenal to make being a pilot feel so fast.

     
    Level Design for Platformers - Neutronized
    In this DevLog, the maker of Super Cat Tales 2 offers an explanation and demonstration of his process for creating platformer levels. Steps covered include sketching, creating assets, developing structure, placing enemies and items, and more.

     
     
    Forums:
    In WAYWO, we get a look at a level from @Box_Hoes that's in its final stages

     
    @JB_ offers a couple of previews of the art style planned for the level he shared with us last week HERE and HERE

     
    Something new appears to be in the works from @icyhotspartin

     
    @Xzamplez gives us a look at his project Node To Joy, with this trailer
     
    @icyhotspartin shares another teaser, this time of a project he's been working on for quite some time, and is nearing completion

     
    We get the first look in quite a while at something @purely fat has been working on

     
    Our roll-out of The Architectural Imagination video lessons continues.  Part 5 of this 10 part series is now available.

     
    As usual, stay up to date with level design and game design content from Twitter

     
     
    Contests:
    NLD December Challenge: Thinking Ahead
    You still have until January 6th to get your submissions in, but we strongly recommend you think ahead and get them in early rather than waiting until the last minute.

     
     
    New Members:
    To our newest members, we say - Welcome!  We're glad you found us.  
    @CertifiedChamp
    @Umbrr
     
    Interested in joining Next Level Design?  Use the links below to get involved.
     
    Follow Next Level Design
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    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
     
  8. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to Kantalope for Featured Content, December Challenge: Thinking Ahead   
    Happy Holidays, NextLevelDesign, and welcome to the December design challenge. As many of us are looking to our memories of holidays' past, let's have our players take a glance at what's in store in the coming minutes; let's get them Thinking Ahead.
     

    Design a level, encounter, enemy, etc that in some way requires the player to think ahead in order to succeed in the end goal of said level/encounter/enemy/etc. This can be done in many ways, but, for multiplayer experiences, they are all about predicting and countering the enemy player's strategies so encouraging certain ones should be a designer's goal. Objectives, sandbox, and level design are all integral to how those strategies are formed, so everything must be accounted for in order to theory craft strategies into a game through balancing. How will you reward Thinking Ahead?
     

    Only three guidelines apply to this challenge:
    The level must be designed around players acting upon predictions of upcoming scenarios The level must be posted on the December Challenge: Thinking Ahead Submission and Discussion Thread The post must include at least one picture/sketch of the level If you're not registered on the site, it's an easy process. Here's a link to where you can do so: (link)
     
    The submission thread will remain open until January 6th. There is no limit to the number of levels you can submit. Submit one and go into as much detail about it as possible, or submit many with the bare minimum of detail. Take Whichever route you feel will be the most beneficial to your own development.
     
    A couple of details that could be included in the level post as a way to better convey the design process are:
    The sandbox of which the level is designed for (relevant examples) Multiple Pictures, and/or video footage of the level An overview of the layout A flow diagram of the map An explanation of the source of inspiration for the level Anything that helps convey the thought process behind the level  
    Here's a link to the Submission thread for this Challenge:(link)
     

     
    I've always found pentagons interesting to design around. Back in 2014 I had almost completed a map called "Pentakill" for Halo 2: Anniversary and then reforged it in Halo 5 a year later, playable in it's entirety. Unfortunately I don't have screenshots, so y'all will have to imagine a fairly donut-like futuristic refinery with 4 arms reaching out from a small pentagonal pit in the middle. It took two more years for me to revisit the idea again, but the map that resulted was only there to satisfy my geometric obsession. Speaking of orgasmic shapes, have you heard of a D12? That's what I based my next step into the cult of the pentagon on.
     

     
    With this gorgeous shape in mind, I had to actually make it. First, the basics: the internal angles of a pentagon are 108°, and the dihedral angle is about 116.565°, and with Halo 5's lowest rotation snap being 0.5°, 116.5° should be sufficient for this endeavor. Constructing the shape only took about 5 minutes, but finding a good orientation for the shape took far longer, culminating in the picture below:
     

     
    The structures jutting about the outside are the same set of primitives rotated differently for each face. I think that I was designing for as much randomness as possible because I was watching a metric buttload of numberphile videos to keep me awake as long as possible. The way areas became fleshed out was through giving utility to almost every position on the map. Most of this was through access to additional positions and a plethora of sightlines, seen in the finished screenshot below this paragraph. It has a lockdown on a whole third of the map as well as the top path, including the ability to simply drop down to a multitude of positions, having many varying sightlines of the map. Chasing power was more important than chasing your opponent because predicting their movement enabled taking a power position over their next position. Running for the sake of running is punished harshly, forcing a player in the lower position to instead seek a position of power, creating what I call a cycle of power.
     
    Uppermost power position:

     
    Sightline from nade platform directly below top position into middle:

     
    Sightline from path directly below nade platform into middle:

     
    From what you see above, seeing more and more of the map only took seconds, reinforcing that idea that running is not an option unless you know where you're getting shot from and how much time it takes for someone to get sightline on your new  position. This is also the cause of it being such a mental tactic; now every decision you make must be done to gain more control, and to do so requires knowledge of the enemy's strategy, position, and movement. A true 1v1 space that let's the smarter, more skilled player come out on top.
     
    Now, I must address an issue that persists with this map to this day. If you want to understand the map, you have to analyze it due to the disorienting nature. PC players using the Exuberant Mod aren't nearly as effected as those on console, but the lack but two level surfaces really doesn't help. In the coming months, a reforge should be taking form within the coming months, so stay tuned for that!
     

    If you'd like to suggest some changes and/or improvements for subsequent challenges, feel free to do so in our Challenge Feedback thread here: (link)
     
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
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    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  9. Like
    icyhotspartin got a reaction from franktha for Featured Content, Modern Warfare 2019 - Revised and Revisited   
    // REVISED AND REVISITED
     
    Only a little more than a month ago, Modern Warfare was dropped from Infinity Ward's humid womb and thrust into the online marketplace to dance for our amusement. Its legs still slick with placental fluid, I voiced my concern about the direction of the full release in a previous article.
     
    I’ll link to that article here, but the long and short of it was that the Beta multiplayer suffered from laser-fast time to kill and inconsistent netcode, encouraging players to stay immobile and snipe from dark corners, which was only amplified by the crazy amounts of sightlines that were available from these locations. Not much has changed in that regard, so this revised review will only cover the most relevant topics that have changed since the Beta. It will also foray into the realm of industry commentary - but not too much. 
     
    In the time since the sloppy delivery of MW, there have been three (Nov. 21 draft) - now five - major patches, nerfs and buffs, spread and range adjustments, a DLC drop, and tons of small QOL updates with new challenges, new features, new levelling mechanics, the removal of Battle Chatter from ‘tactical’ modes, and countless video rants released on YouTube and elsewhere. Seeing as the 725, M4, and claymores are still as infuriating after being nerfed, I’m sure that many more will be coming down the line. After all, if a game is never truly finished, and therefore never truly reviewable in and of itself, it can never truly be judged.
     
    Right?
     

    Speak of the devil. Season 1 has just begun, and I need to download a 27.81 GIGABYTE update, as of Dec. 6. Taken with a phone camera, because my Xbox doesn't let me take screenshots of its menus...
     
    Wrong - as soon as a product has been experienced, that product is open to being judged according to its merits, the context from which it emerged, and any attempts at or reasoning behind future updates. 
     
    // MULTIPLAYER
     
    To begin with, nothing has been done to fix the core multiplayer level design, as not much could realistically have been done in the amount of time since the Beta was closed. The levels that were present in the Beta are still weirdly segmented, with crossmap sightlines and incredibly fast TTK. Ground War is still a mess of an experience if you aren’t sniping or camping a staircase with claymores somewhere. The new GW map has flatness designed to contrast it from the other one, which makes for a very slightly different slog playing solo.
     
    This is totally understandable, as most AAA games have levels completely blocked out and finalized long before the textures and art assets are fully plugged in. Asking a developer to completely change a suite of levels that have been polished for months by a team of a few dozen people is not a reasonable request at all. Especially when those levels are major sections of an in-universe Spec-Ops map, apparently tripling as a 200-player Battle Royale level, all of which is visible from the boundary sections of the various levels. The inclusion of the battle chatter mechanic, however, is not such a major feature, and could easily have been surgically removed, much like a useless organ, or a benign tumor.
     
    Much like such growths, however, leaving it in only makes things worse.

    One level was released that addressed the level design complaints head-on, however. Shoot House, released in the first free DLC drop, is a ‘traditional’ 3-lane CoD map, with bounded sightlines, paths between the clear-cut lanes, and some simple micro-pathing available to players willing to think a little bit more. It’s also a very small map, which means that players will always be near the action, no matter where they are. It plays completely differently from any of the other TDM/Domination levels currently available.
     
    Unfortunately, the playability of the level is still heavily affected by the issues previously identified within the sandbox. Straight lanes are affected by the laser ARs and corner mounting - 9 semi-contained mini-arenas designed to allow a push into, holding, and a push out of become impenetrable fortresses because of the claymores and fast TTK - the four semi-symmetrical vertical positions at the corners of the central intersection are easily exploited by corner campers with shotguns or claymores - the main spawn zones are afflicted by both easy access and incredible control over the central lane thanks to the mounting mechanic and the long line of sight - windows are hard to see enemies in, and are easily defended by mounted players - sprinting around corners with a 725 or snakeshot magnum is a very viable option - spawning is even more dangerous because the level is so small relative to the speed of tactical sprint and the spread of solo-queue players around the level…
     
      
    Interesting, I wonder what happens when you overlay the spawn and death maps...

    Of course...
     
    What makes the level particularly infuriating to me, a Forge aficionado of the highest order, is that there are areas which appear accessible in one way or another, but which are not. Most of them involve implied verticality, sections of the level which could offer intriguing sightlines and clear counters, but which are teases at best, and actively blocked at worst. The clearest example is the helicopter displayed proudly in the loading screen view. It does not help that the dark body of the helicopter is also the most visually distinct object on the map, more than even the red crates at the center of the map. The troop doors are even lined in yellow tape, adding to the visual weight of the position. There are other strange artifacts - doors that are lazily blocked off with large sheets of plywood or green tarps, as if they were accessible at one point of the level’s development, but which were not clearly defined with lighting and smaller environmental cues as solid geometry. Similar issues exist on other maps like Piccadilly and Rammaza, where there are thin walls, staircases to nowhere, and blind corners into out-of-bounds spawn alleys.
     
    I think this level was thrown together in haste - squared off, basic 3x3 layout, with reused assets from the available campaign files, and featuring some of the most infuriating spawning I’ve ever experienced this side of Shipment and Nuketown, especially considering the new overhead spawn camera. Now I can see the enemy players coming at me just before I spawn, and I can predict when I’ll be shot at after moving from the spawn point. Unfortunately, I still get killed because player models often are not centered where the player POV is located. I don’t know why this is, but it has been documented that players looking directly at the location of their killer are unable to see them, fully concealed behind thick cover, but are clearly visible on their killcam. It may have something to do with the player's location information lagging behind, and displaying both player and hitbox to other players a few milliseconds behind, allowing enemies to shoot at where you were in the past, killing you in the present.
     
    All-in-all, it’s not so much the controlled chaos that proponents of the classic three-lane formula enjoy as it is constrained chaos. Less enjoyable, to be sure, but still far more manageable than the rest on offer in the core multiplayer playlists. And if the player response is anything to go by, Shoot House is a success.
     
    It is therefore not too much of a surprise that the new Ground War map is also garnering praise for its flatter level design. Unfortunately, I can’t echo this praise. There are so many places to get shot from on this level, that even attempting to use the level’s open spaces is impossible. It once again boils down to a lot of hiding in corners - just with much longer sightlines - and a lot of running from airborne killstreaks and anti-personnel ground vehicles. Too bad that the buildings are so easy to shoot into with thermal scopes and with APC cannons. There’s no direction. It’s just chaos. There’s no communication. It’s just a lot of people running around alone together. It’s actually rather sad, and I can understand why there are so many content creators who are getting burned out playing these games day after day to generate income.
     
    But if this is what garners high praise from the players of Modern Warfare, 3-by-3 level construction and lighting-fast lives, then I cannot blame Kojima for taking a jab at American gamers put off by Death Stranding's gameplay loop.
     
    One more positive thing I have to say about the multiplayer is the inclusion of evolving challenges in the new "Trials" mode, and in the slightly more passively accomplished Missions. These actually let you work for unlocks, which makes them feel a little more valuable. It's not often in the age of microtransactions that a game actually lets players choose the rewards they want to work towards. This kind of design would be so much more interesting if it weren't for the fact that the multiplayer experience made some of these challenges near-impossible to complete
     
    Oh, by the way, Crash is back again. If the last three games it was included in weren't enough to quench your thirst for tasteful verticality in a CoD game, then I guess this will have to do, for now. If only the already bad head-glitching spots along the longest sightline weren't made worse by the inclusion of the mounting mechanic. Oh, and if only the Crash-only 24/7 playlist didn't include the vanilla Battle Chatter for your character. I shouldn't be able to hear myself talking to myself as a harbinger of my own death.
     

    Name a more iconic crashed troop transport - bet you can't!
     
    // CAMPAIGN
     
    The Campaign mode was genuinely pretty fun, and had some serious moments of brilliance. The one I think is most worthy of being singled out is the second-to last level which has you raiding the compound of weapons dealer at night, in order to free his captured family and gain access to the pipelines containing the chemical gas that is being funneled to some Russian proxy or another. The level features the most free-form, decision-based gameplay in the entire game, by mixing elements of stealth, lighting engine exploitation, and appropriate dynamic AI response to player actions.
     
    Unfortunately, this moment shines so bright only because of the thick darkness surrounding it. It is the inevitable result of a glaring oversight earlier in the game. The level based in Piccadilly Circus is easily the most infuriating in the whole campaign. The player is given a clear line of sight into the rear of a terrorist van, and even the option to fire at the terrorists before they do anyhting. They are carrying weapons, in clear violation of British laws against the owning, sale, licensing, and carrying of arms, and the player is already part of a response team sent to handle the threat. The player is then given control of the character, and has a pistol in his hands - the clear thing to do is to shoot these people before they have a chance to shoot first. But that’s not allowed.
     
    The ensuing attack is more annoying than anything else, because it’s so artificial. It is one thing to give the player a shot at stopping the attack - allowing the player to break the rules of engagement (which should not have even factored in, given the law had already been broken by the guys in the van with the machine guns) and have a separate van commit the attack, outside the reach of the player would effectively create the same sequence of events, and serve the same purpose. But to give the player the tools to stop such a terrible thing and punish them for attempting to do so is the kind of mindfuck that should be reserved for movies or unplayable cutscenes; a CO physically restraining the player from firing at the terrorists would create an antagonist, show the effect of international red tape on the protection of western cities, and justify the breaking off of Price and Gaz to eventually form 141 - a separate van on the other side of the Circus would show just how convicted the terrorists were as a unified force, and display to the player what kind of enemy and tactics they are truly up against. 
     
    It carried no weight in my experience, because I had to sit back and let it happen. I developed an active dissociation from the level, because I simply did not care anymore about it or its implications for the story. The attack happened, and I still had to mow down plainclothes terrorists in the street and chase after remaining attackers. If this was supposed to make a point about international rules of engagement and moral conviction, then point taken. The international rules of engagement are bullshit, and the politicians responsible for edifying them in the past are guilty of gross incompetence and possibly murder.
     
    But to give you a gun, full access to the controls, a target, and an object to defend, and to kick you where it hurts for trying to use it?
     
    The other super-duper dark and realistic levels also suffered from this story-driven staging, albeit in a slightly different way. A lot of noise was made about how the London townhouse raid was super dark, really edgy and mature. The level is constructed with four or five floors that need to be cleared of hostiles, and most rooms are too dark to see in without NVGs. Enemies make domestic noises, and the whole level has an intimate atmosphere, broken by the presence of the heavy weaponry and technology, and rendered further unsettling by the sounds of a baby crying, and mothers wailing. The gameplay has you following your squadmates very closely, tripping over their heels and bumping into every step up the stairs, and breaching many doors as you work your way up to the attic, where a woman attempts to set off a string of bombs somewhere in the city. 
     
    The gameplay and the mission design doesn’t really compliment the level design or the story/thematic beats the level lends itself to. In the name of realism, the game locks enemies in animations until they reach a set location, and then the regular AI takes over, assuming you miss the target the first time. But one thing that’s different is that some of the models are not armed, and are technically considered non-combatants. There are no unarmed men in this level, so that means women and children are on the safe list - most of the time. A few of the women will fire at you, but some will not, and some will be holding onto children. Shooting the child results in a mission fail state, which seriously lessens the impact of learning that that’s what you’ve done. It forcefully extracts you from the level and hides the consequences of your actions from you. The only time that doesn’t happen is if you shoot the mother of the child - which prompts a squadmate to gently place the infant in its crib. Unfortunately, you never have to actually witness this, because you can just move on up to the next room, and not see the result of your carelessness - and therefore not learn the real lesson you were supposed to about the horrors of war being brought into the domestic space.
     
    It's sort of the opposite of the Piccadilly level, in that you are free to break the rules and really do some terrible things either by mistake or out of spite, but don't have to see the full consequences, especially when the issue of a child is involved. And I understand - this was likely done to make sure that the game didn't break any international rules about the depiction of violence against children in consumer entertainment, or banned in countries with a lot of regulations against this kind of thing. But later in the game, there are dead children - in fact, you are shown one being shot at (in a haze, so his death is obscured) in a scripted campaign level break - so it's a little difficult for me to square this circle. Maybe the idea was just to avoid controversy - but still, the game has those same elements present and on full display in other sections. Here's an idea - maybe if an achievement had been included - a "Mark of Shame", worth 0 points - for having killed non-combatants in the campaign? That way it's documented that you're either a terrible shot, or a really shitty person. Something similar is already in the game, which boots you out of the mission into the menu if you shoot the baby. That way the gameplay integrity is maintained, and maybe you are forced into a separate cutscene where Price or another CO confronts you, shaking you by the shoulders and yelling at you for doing something that awful...
     
    Anyway... spilled milk...
     
    The reason the Mansion Infiltration mission works so well, in contrast to these two other levels, is that it gives the player the access and tools to tackle the objectives in whatever order they so choose, using the entirety - or as close as they can come to it - of the sandbox as possible. And they’re almost entirely left to their own devices. 
     
    Players have to decide how they will tackle the three different hostage locations, as well as how they will move from objective to objective. Lights can be shot out, which cloaks the entire level in a thick darkness, hiding the eplayer from the enemy’s eyes. Or players can choose to go in guns blazing, and risk getting completely wrecked. No one approach is necessarily best, the player must decide how to approach the objectives, and must do the work to ensure that their approach works. It was a lot of fun trying to make sure I remained unseen, picking off every floodlight, hall light, and streetlamp around the complex, and genuinely challenging to ensure that once the alarm had been raised by gunfire I was positioned well enough to take out incoming enemies. It was also very satisfying to successfully complete a section of the level, exiting onto the street to watch as enemies walked past without noticing my presence, giving me an opportunity to move on to the next one. 
     
    No other level in the game provides this much freedom to make mistakes and clean them up - no other level offers so much choice and consequence to the player. A mistake is not the end of the world, however. Enemies will swarm the player, but are manageable if the player is skilled enough with his tools and aware of his environment. It is going to be a setback, but it will not be the end of the world. Because of this, it was more realistic of an experience than any of the other missions - less staged, and more engaging as a result.  
     
    This level is clearly based on the mission that really cemented the original Modern Warfare as an innovative and immersive shooter. Back in 2007, the original MW placed the player in the shoes of a young John Price, under the command of Captain Macmillan, with the objective of taking out the weapons dealer Zakhaev, while he was making a deal in Pripyat, Ukraine. Unearthly light broke through the clouds, casting an emaciated glow over the washed out grasses surrounding the player like a shroud, complementing the ghillie suits Price and Macmillan wear in the mission. Soldiers shuffle past him and Macmillan, tanks and APCs trundle past, barely missing you. By today’s standards, it’s a little hard to believe that these guys wouldn’t have seen you - it would be difficult for anyone to not notice a human-sized displacement in the grass at that range. Nevertheless, your stealth status provides the boundaries for the rest of the mission. If you get too close at the wrong time, if you shoot at an enemy when someone else is looking at him or too close by, if you run out of ammo and decide to use weapons without a suppressor, you will have a predictable and manageable enemy response: waves of hostiles who aren’t the best shots, but who are able to down you if you aren’t fast or confident enough with your own shooting.
     
    This one level, and its inspiration contrast sharply with the multiplayer portion of the game. It gives the player time to think, and the ability to approach a threat from multiple angles without necessarily exposing themselves to other, unseen or numerous threats. 
     
    The story itself, similarities to the string of American and Russian incursions into the “intellectually barren soil” that is the middle eastern religious and clannish wars aside, is passable, especially for a game known mostly for its multiplayer. The characters are interesting, but their motivations are not always clear. Connections to the original MW plotlines are established through references in a similar style to the way the Star Wars franchise was able to generate an expanded universe, with mentions of characters and locations only found in those games. It was interesting to see a story about someone who is principled in their approach to conflicts and targets, who has only ever lived for one purpose, surrounded by characters who are learning the limits of the bureaucratic standards of modern warfare and social demoralization, which have led to so much strife and loss in their homes. Unfortunately, I think a lot more could have been done with the characters than what actually was done, and a lot more could have been done with the story as well. 
     
    So, I appreciate the work that was put into making the campaign so completely cinematic - but it falls somewhere in the uncanny valley, for a lot of reasons. The ease with which you can miss such an important lesson, and the lame finale, where the woman is so far away from the computer and detonator she was just sitting next to, just doesn’t make any sense, and once again lessens the overall impact of the raid. It just doesn’t make much sense that such a committed cell of terrorists would not have had a contingency plan in place where they would detonate the bombs they’d already planted - and it certainly doesn’t make sense that they would leave someone so conflicted and/or inept to guard it as a last resort. It actually makes the realism feel skin deep when played, and exposes just how artificial the encounters are. Watching it like a helmet cam is also slightly uncomfortable, as not much can accurately be identified in 720-1080p YouTube footage, and the movement is just too silky smooth for the gritty reality it is meant to depict. 
     
    // REALISM / NIGHT MODES
     
    On that same topic, was Night Mode cut from multiplayer? No, not entirely - and it really, really sucks now, with the inclusion of the full weapons, perk, and equipment roster. It’s a gimmick, more than anything else, meant to flex the capabilities of the engine. Much like the rest of the game, a lot more could have been done with this mode - the level from the campaign I have already described used the NVG really well. Smaller, objective-based raid modes could have been implemented in the multiplayer, with stages in the raids, an objects to defend, and lights, backup generators, throwable flares, things like that which would make the mode more than just a cinematic gimmick.
     
    As much fun as I had in the Beta with these modes - again, with caveats - I return to find nothing more than frustration, repetition, and the insane, chemically imbalanced insta-deaths that make the base game so frustrating to begin with. Only it’s 10 times worse, because Night Mode now features all the weapons in the game, thermal scopes included, and also the one-shot headshot kills with every single weapon - meaning that if you expect to survive long enough to land a hipfire kill on someone rushing past you in a doorway (unlikely as it is, since most engagements aren’t engagements, and rather a take on Duck Hunt), you’re very likely to end up dying to a single, random-spread bullet to the temple.
     
    Not fun from a long-term gameplay perspective - I can understand why players cried out to have it removed from the core/TDM rotation.
     
    // SPEC OPS
     
    I admire the ambition, surely - to use the same map file in three separate game modes in order to save on developing bespoke levels for up to 200 players is pretty smart from a cost-cutting perspective and asset management perspective. But the execution just does not cut mustard. Or clarified butter, for that matter. I simply have no desire to be shot at by endless waves of ranged enemies and near-invincible anti-personnel vehicles, nor any desire to sit through the minutes-long respawn waiting screens, only to be forced into the same shitty position I already could not move from. One thing Chess gets right is the 'Stalemate': love it or hate it, it doesn't allow a no-win situation to continue longer than a couple moves. Spec Ops unfortunately allows for no-win situations to continue as long as there is one player in the party who has not been killed by the incessant, invisible LMG and mortar fire.
     
    I struggle too to see how this mode fits the moniker of Spec Ops. The team size is small, yes, but it feels more like a Destiny or Anthem - or Fallout 76 - style raid, with asset flipped enemies you need to take out in an arbitrary order, in order to collect the necessary keycards, in a completely open field, with hundreds of enemy combatants. Instead of treating Spec Ops like a Time Trial mode, Spec Ops is like a hybrid of 6v6 TDM and PvE Ground War. There's none of the magic of the original Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops missions, none of the pleasure obtained by completing a challenge that's just hard enough - and just guided enough - to encourage repeat plays. In fact, I only played it once. You could not pay me to play this mode more than once. It was not fun, and was not finished.
     
    // CONCLUSION
     
    Respawn shooters have always benefited from the ability to jump back into the action with almost no delay. The original variety - Galaga, Contra, or Metal Slug, for example - were contingent on your wallet. Enough coins, and you could get back in the game and finish the fight. This puts your skin literally in the game - either you learn how to win and execute the level, or you lose another quarter, the equivalent of a call to a friend, a boss, or a significant other. Those are some relatively high stakes.
     
    No such concrete stakes exist in the modern online respawn shooter, and Modern Warfare’s bread and butter multiplayer experience is the ultimate expression of this. You load up, you run around like a chicken with your head cut off, and you get killed by some bullshit or another, without any time to react - and then you’re right back in, without any time to let the stress hormones filter through your brain and metabolize. It’s like the whole thing never happened. One false alarm after another, and you never have to learn anything beyond where the spawns are and which areas might spit up an enemy for you to shoot at. You can quit the game, you can get right back into another queue, no questions asked, no effects on your matchmaking or standing in the servers. Either that, out you camp one particular sightline for a couple minutes, racking up kills, only to move onto another mounted position, racking up more kills, and watching the killfeed as players quit and join the game.
     
    The Campaign also suffers from this lack of stakes, but there are moments like the ones I’ve described which show the stark contrast between gameplay designed around cheap life and gameplay designed around valuing your life. 
     
    The weird thing about Modern Warfare is that for all its lack of serious stakes, the only way to play is like a crocodile - waiting in the dark for an opportunity to snag a kill from an unsuspecting duck or goose - which requires you to value your life - but not your entire coterie of abilities. Obviously this doesn’t apply 100%, as the new Shoot House can be played with a run-and-gun approach, but it nevertheless applies to just about every other map and micro-arena in the game.
     
    All that said, I have to say that I am having a lot of fun with the 2v2 Gunfight mode, only because I can play with a close friend and simulate the splitscreen days of old. The maps are easy to remember, the sightlines are manageable and can be countered, and the round-based, set-loadout approach allows for bite-sized gameplay and strategy, easily digested when playing with a teammate. 
     
    They’re all symmetrical and have limited, clearly defined callouts. Normally, I would not praise such level design, but given the nature of the gametype, the sandbox, and the rest of the multiplayer experience in Modern Warfare 2019, I must praise this simple, reductionist approach. The battles can lead to some really crazy map usage and clever plays, and satisfying round-winning trophy moments. Movement is actually somewhat encouraged, too, especially in maps like Docks, where you can have a lot of fun running through the sewer straight at unsuspecting enemies, flanking them right up the middle and flipping the tables.
     
    It’s not perfect. Some maps have awful visibility because of excess foliage and a lack of defined environmental lighting, others suffer from head glitching opportunities and lazy cover placement, and still others suffer from the audio mixing and material footstep design - it’s not uncommon to hear footsteps coming from above and behind you, only to be shot from what used to be in front of you after you turn around to face that threat. It is also not uncommon to hear footsteps on wood, only to have an enemy run at you on a surface entirely made up of concrete. King, I’m looking at you. But they all allow the player to sit back and discuss the next round with their teammate, if they have one.
     
    Let me be clear, however - my current enjoyment in no way contradicts the experience I had with the game type queueing solo in the Beta version, where weapons were picked up around the map and not part of set loadouts. That version was absolute dog. 
     
    That’s to say nothing of the numerous other dodgy features in the Multiplayer, like the ability to regenerate claymores, increase your damage dealt with them, and the fact that they are still so hard to dodge - or the continued presence of Battle Chatter in even a stripped-down form - or the use of side-mounted lasers over your chosen optics in Night Mode. The menus still boot me out of the Gunsmith menu when another screen loads in the background, hit detection is still ridiculously inconsistent and tied to what I call Packet Priority (shoot first, you get priority, because your input data is being sent to and from the server first), and I still consistently get shot in the ankle around corners - Realism and Night modes do not even factor in, anymore, because of the combination of crazy sightlines and the one-shot rule to the head with just about every weapon - I still can’t distinguish enemies from the environment, even on a large 4k monitor - claymore corners and just the sight of the word “Piccadilly” still make me want to uninstall - I still have not played a single match on the Euphrates Bridge map, even when filtering for 10v10 and 20v20 matches, a month after release. Ground War is still incredibly frustrating, and I can only enjoy it through YouTube compilations. The maps are even more difficult to traverse than the base 6v6-20v20 ones, and the player models are even more difficult to see because of the heavily taxed lighting system and framerate drops. 
     
    All told, it is a mess of different things. There’s nothing built in that encourages learning about the mechanics, or allows a mistake to be corrected. It actively encourages you to jump back in, without a single thought as to what happened and how to avoid it in the future. It lives on animalistic, chemically-induced reactions, the likes of which humanity has been working for millennia to rid itself of. That said, there are some gems to be found in the mess. I’ve had a lot of fun with the game - just under really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really specific conditions. All style, with the veneer of realism intruding in many places into the arcadey gameplay; the existing, individual ingredients could be used to create something really well-rounded and tasty, if they were identified and treated according to their nature. 
     
    ❤️ icyhot
     
     
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    icyhotspartin got a reaction from franktha for Featured Content, Modern Warfare 2019 - Revised and Revisited   
    // REVISED AND REVISITED
     
    Only a little more than a month ago, Modern Warfare was dropped from Infinity Ward's humid womb and thrust into the online marketplace to dance for our amusement. Its legs still slick with placental fluid, I voiced my concern about the direction of the full release in a previous article.
     
    I’ll link to that article here, but the long and short of it was that the Beta multiplayer suffered from laser-fast time to kill and inconsistent netcode, encouraging players to stay immobile and snipe from dark corners, which was only amplified by the crazy amounts of sightlines that were available from these locations. Not much has changed in that regard, so this revised review will only cover the most relevant topics that have changed since the Beta. It will also foray into the realm of industry commentary - but not too much. 
     
    In the time since the sloppy delivery of MW, there have been three (Nov. 21 draft) - now five - major patches, nerfs and buffs, spread and range adjustments, a DLC drop, and tons of small QOL updates with new challenges, new features, new levelling mechanics, the removal of Battle Chatter from ‘tactical’ modes, and countless video rants released on YouTube and elsewhere. Seeing as the 725, M4, and claymores are still as infuriating after being nerfed, I’m sure that many more will be coming down the line. After all, if a game is never truly finished, and therefore never truly reviewable in and of itself, it can never truly be judged.
     
    Right?
     

    Speak of the devil. Season 1 has just begun, and I need to download a 27.81 GIGABYTE update, as of Dec. 6. Taken with a phone camera, because my Xbox doesn't let me take screenshots of its menus...
     
    Wrong - as soon as a product has been experienced, that product is open to being judged according to its merits, the context from which it emerged, and any attempts at or reasoning behind future updates. 
     
    // MULTIPLAYER
     
    To begin with, nothing has been done to fix the core multiplayer level design, as not much could realistically have been done in the amount of time since the Beta was closed. The levels that were present in the Beta are still weirdly segmented, with crossmap sightlines and incredibly fast TTK. Ground War is still a mess of an experience if you aren’t sniping or camping a staircase with claymores somewhere. The new GW map has flatness designed to contrast it from the other one, which makes for a very slightly different slog playing solo.
     
    This is totally understandable, as most AAA games have levels completely blocked out and finalized long before the textures and art assets are fully plugged in. Asking a developer to completely change a suite of levels that have been polished for months by a team of a few dozen people is not a reasonable request at all. Especially when those levels are major sections of an in-universe Spec-Ops map, apparently tripling as a 200-player Battle Royale level, all of which is visible from the boundary sections of the various levels. The inclusion of the battle chatter mechanic, however, is not such a major feature, and could easily have been surgically removed, much like a useless organ, or a benign tumor.
     
    Much like such growths, however, leaving it in only makes things worse.

    One level was released that addressed the level design complaints head-on, however. Shoot House, released in the first free DLC drop, is a ‘traditional’ 3-lane CoD map, with bounded sightlines, paths between the clear-cut lanes, and some simple micro-pathing available to players willing to think a little bit more. It’s also a very small map, which means that players will always be near the action, no matter where they are. It plays completely differently from any of the other TDM/Domination levels currently available.
     
    Unfortunately, the playability of the level is still heavily affected by the issues previously identified within the sandbox. Straight lanes are affected by the laser ARs and corner mounting - 9 semi-contained mini-arenas designed to allow a push into, holding, and a push out of become impenetrable fortresses because of the claymores and fast TTK - the four semi-symmetrical vertical positions at the corners of the central intersection are easily exploited by corner campers with shotguns or claymores - the main spawn zones are afflicted by both easy access and incredible control over the central lane thanks to the mounting mechanic and the long line of sight - windows are hard to see enemies in, and are easily defended by mounted players - sprinting around corners with a 725 or snakeshot magnum is a very viable option - spawning is even more dangerous because the level is so small relative to the speed of tactical sprint and the spread of solo-queue players around the level…
     
      
    Interesting, I wonder what happens when you overlay the spawn and death maps...

    Of course...
     
    What makes the level particularly infuriating to me, a Forge aficionado of the highest order, is that there are areas which appear accessible in one way or another, but which are not. Most of them involve implied verticality, sections of the level which could offer intriguing sightlines and clear counters, but which are teases at best, and actively blocked at worst. The clearest example is the helicopter displayed proudly in the loading screen view. It does not help that the dark body of the helicopter is also the most visually distinct object on the map, more than even the red crates at the center of the map. The troop doors are even lined in yellow tape, adding to the visual weight of the position. There are other strange artifacts - doors that are lazily blocked off with large sheets of plywood or green tarps, as if they were accessible at one point of the level’s development, but which were not clearly defined with lighting and smaller environmental cues as solid geometry. Similar issues exist on other maps like Piccadilly and Rammaza, where there are thin walls, staircases to nowhere, and blind corners into out-of-bounds spawn alleys.
     
    I think this level was thrown together in haste - squared off, basic 3x3 layout, with reused assets from the available campaign files, and featuring some of the most infuriating spawning I’ve ever experienced this side of Shipment and Nuketown, especially considering the new overhead spawn camera. Now I can see the enemy players coming at me just before I spawn, and I can predict when I’ll be shot at after moving from the spawn point. Unfortunately, I still get killed because player models often are not centered where the player POV is located. I don’t know why this is, but it has been documented that players looking directly at the location of their killer are unable to see them, fully concealed behind thick cover, but are clearly visible on their killcam. It may have something to do with the player's location information lagging behind, and displaying both player and hitbox to other players a few milliseconds behind, allowing enemies to shoot at where you were in the past, killing you in the present.
     
    All-in-all, it’s not so much the controlled chaos that proponents of the classic three-lane formula enjoy as it is constrained chaos. Less enjoyable, to be sure, but still far more manageable than the rest on offer in the core multiplayer playlists. And if the player response is anything to go by, Shoot House is a success.
     
    It is therefore not too much of a surprise that the new Ground War map is also garnering praise for its flatter level design. Unfortunately, I can’t echo this praise. There are so many places to get shot from on this level, that even attempting to use the level’s open spaces is impossible. It once again boils down to a lot of hiding in corners - just with much longer sightlines - and a lot of running from airborne killstreaks and anti-personnel ground vehicles. Too bad that the buildings are so easy to shoot into with thermal scopes and with APC cannons. There’s no direction. It’s just chaos. There’s no communication. It’s just a lot of people running around alone together. It’s actually rather sad, and I can understand why there are so many content creators who are getting burned out playing these games day after day to generate income.
     
    But if this is what garners high praise from the players of Modern Warfare, 3-by-3 level construction and lighting-fast lives, then I cannot blame Kojima for taking a jab at American gamers put off by Death Stranding's gameplay loop.
     
    One more positive thing I have to say about the multiplayer is the inclusion of evolving challenges in the new "Trials" mode, and in the slightly more passively accomplished Missions. These actually let you work for unlocks, which makes them feel a little more valuable. It's not often in the age of microtransactions that a game actually lets players choose the rewards they want to work towards. This kind of design would be so much more interesting if it weren't for the fact that the multiplayer experience made some of these challenges near-impossible to complete
     
    Oh, by the way, Crash is back again. If the last three games it was included in weren't enough to quench your thirst for tasteful verticality in a CoD game, then I guess this will have to do, for now. If only the already bad head-glitching spots along the longest sightline weren't made worse by the inclusion of the mounting mechanic. Oh, and if only the Crash-only 24/7 playlist didn't include the vanilla Battle Chatter for your character. I shouldn't be able to hear myself talking to myself as a harbinger of my own death.
     

    Name a more iconic crashed troop transport - bet you can't!
     
    // CAMPAIGN
     
    The Campaign mode was genuinely pretty fun, and had some serious moments of brilliance. The one I think is most worthy of being singled out is the second-to last level which has you raiding the compound of weapons dealer at night, in order to free his captured family and gain access to the pipelines containing the chemical gas that is being funneled to some Russian proxy or another. The level features the most free-form, decision-based gameplay in the entire game, by mixing elements of stealth, lighting engine exploitation, and appropriate dynamic AI response to player actions.
     
    Unfortunately, this moment shines so bright only because of the thick darkness surrounding it. It is the inevitable result of a glaring oversight earlier in the game. The level based in Piccadilly Circus is easily the most infuriating in the whole campaign. The player is given a clear line of sight into the rear of a terrorist van, and even the option to fire at the terrorists before they do anyhting. They are carrying weapons, in clear violation of British laws against the owning, sale, licensing, and carrying of arms, and the player is already part of a response team sent to handle the threat. The player is then given control of the character, and has a pistol in his hands - the clear thing to do is to shoot these people before they have a chance to shoot first. But that’s not allowed.
     
    The ensuing attack is more annoying than anything else, because it’s so artificial. It is one thing to give the player a shot at stopping the attack - allowing the player to break the rules of engagement (which should not have even factored in, given the law had already been broken by the guys in the van with the machine guns) and have a separate van commit the attack, outside the reach of the player would effectively create the same sequence of events, and serve the same purpose. But to give the player the tools to stop such a terrible thing and punish them for attempting to do so is the kind of mindfuck that should be reserved for movies or unplayable cutscenes; a CO physically restraining the player from firing at the terrorists would create an antagonist, show the effect of international red tape on the protection of western cities, and justify the breaking off of Price and Gaz to eventually form 141 - a separate van on the other side of the Circus would show just how convicted the terrorists were as a unified force, and display to the player what kind of enemy and tactics they are truly up against. 
     
    It carried no weight in my experience, because I had to sit back and let it happen. I developed an active dissociation from the level, because I simply did not care anymore about it or its implications for the story. The attack happened, and I still had to mow down plainclothes terrorists in the street and chase after remaining attackers. If this was supposed to make a point about international rules of engagement and moral conviction, then point taken. The international rules of engagement are bullshit, and the politicians responsible for edifying them in the past are guilty of gross incompetence and possibly murder.
     
    But to give you a gun, full access to the controls, a target, and an object to defend, and to kick you where it hurts for trying to use it?
     
    The other super-duper dark and realistic levels also suffered from this story-driven staging, albeit in a slightly different way. A lot of noise was made about how the London townhouse raid was super dark, really edgy and mature. The level is constructed with four or five floors that need to be cleared of hostiles, and most rooms are too dark to see in without NVGs. Enemies make domestic noises, and the whole level has an intimate atmosphere, broken by the presence of the heavy weaponry and technology, and rendered further unsettling by the sounds of a baby crying, and mothers wailing. The gameplay has you following your squadmates very closely, tripping over their heels and bumping into every step up the stairs, and breaching many doors as you work your way up to the attic, where a woman attempts to set off a string of bombs somewhere in the city. 
     
    The gameplay and the mission design doesn’t really compliment the level design or the story/thematic beats the level lends itself to. In the name of realism, the game locks enemies in animations until they reach a set location, and then the regular AI takes over, assuming you miss the target the first time. But one thing that’s different is that some of the models are not armed, and are technically considered non-combatants. There are no unarmed men in this level, so that means women and children are on the safe list - most of the time. A few of the women will fire at you, but some will not, and some will be holding onto children. Shooting the child results in a mission fail state, which seriously lessens the impact of learning that that’s what you’ve done. It forcefully extracts you from the level and hides the consequences of your actions from you. The only time that doesn’t happen is if you shoot the mother of the child - which prompts a squadmate to gently place the infant in its crib. Unfortunately, you never have to actually witness this, because you can just move on up to the next room, and not see the result of your carelessness - and therefore not learn the real lesson you were supposed to about the horrors of war being brought into the domestic space.
     
    It's sort of the opposite of the Piccadilly level, in that you are free to break the rules and really do some terrible things either by mistake or out of spite, but don't have to see the full consequences, especially when the issue of a child is involved. And I understand - this was likely done to make sure that the game didn't break any international rules about the depiction of violence against children in consumer entertainment, or banned in countries with a lot of regulations against this kind of thing. But later in the game, there are dead children - in fact, you are shown one being shot at (in a haze, so his death is obscured) in a scripted campaign level break - so it's a little difficult for me to square this circle. Maybe the idea was just to avoid controversy - but still, the game has those same elements present and on full display in other sections. Here's an idea - maybe if an achievement had been included - a "Mark of Shame", worth 0 points - for having killed non-combatants in the campaign? That way it's documented that you're either a terrible shot, or a really shitty person. Something similar is already in the game, which boots you out of the mission into the menu if you shoot the baby. That way the gameplay integrity is maintained, and maybe you are forced into a separate cutscene where Price or another CO confronts you, shaking you by the shoulders and yelling at you for doing something that awful...
     
    Anyway... spilled milk...
     
    The reason the Mansion Infiltration mission works so well, in contrast to these two other levels, is that it gives the player the access and tools to tackle the objectives in whatever order they so choose, using the entirety - or as close as they can come to it - of the sandbox as possible. And they’re almost entirely left to their own devices. 
     
    Players have to decide how they will tackle the three different hostage locations, as well as how they will move from objective to objective. Lights can be shot out, which cloaks the entire level in a thick darkness, hiding the eplayer from the enemy’s eyes. Or players can choose to go in guns blazing, and risk getting completely wrecked. No one approach is necessarily best, the player must decide how to approach the objectives, and must do the work to ensure that their approach works. It was a lot of fun trying to make sure I remained unseen, picking off every floodlight, hall light, and streetlamp around the complex, and genuinely challenging to ensure that once the alarm had been raised by gunfire I was positioned well enough to take out incoming enemies. It was also very satisfying to successfully complete a section of the level, exiting onto the street to watch as enemies walked past without noticing my presence, giving me an opportunity to move on to the next one. 
     
    No other level in the game provides this much freedom to make mistakes and clean them up - no other level offers so much choice and consequence to the player. A mistake is not the end of the world, however. Enemies will swarm the player, but are manageable if the player is skilled enough with his tools and aware of his environment. It is going to be a setback, but it will not be the end of the world. Because of this, it was more realistic of an experience than any of the other missions - less staged, and more engaging as a result.  
     
    This level is clearly based on the mission that really cemented the original Modern Warfare as an innovative and immersive shooter. Back in 2007, the original MW placed the player in the shoes of a young John Price, under the command of Captain Macmillan, with the objective of taking out the weapons dealer Zakhaev, while he was making a deal in Pripyat, Ukraine. Unearthly light broke through the clouds, casting an emaciated glow over the washed out grasses surrounding the player like a shroud, complementing the ghillie suits Price and Macmillan wear in the mission. Soldiers shuffle past him and Macmillan, tanks and APCs trundle past, barely missing you. By today’s standards, it’s a little hard to believe that these guys wouldn’t have seen you - it would be difficult for anyone to not notice a human-sized displacement in the grass at that range. Nevertheless, your stealth status provides the boundaries for the rest of the mission. If you get too close at the wrong time, if you shoot at an enemy when someone else is looking at him or too close by, if you run out of ammo and decide to use weapons without a suppressor, you will have a predictable and manageable enemy response: waves of hostiles who aren’t the best shots, but who are able to down you if you aren’t fast or confident enough with your own shooting.
     
    This one level, and its inspiration contrast sharply with the multiplayer portion of the game. It gives the player time to think, and the ability to approach a threat from multiple angles without necessarily exposing themselves to other, unseen or numerous threats. 
     
    The story itself, similarities to the string of American and Russian incursions into the “intellectually barren soil” that is the middle eastern religious and clannish wars aside, is passable, especially for a game known mostly for its multiplayer. The characters are interesting, but their motivations are not always clear. Connections to the original MW plotlines are established through references in a similar style to the way the Star Wars franchise was able to generate an expanded universe, with mentions of characters and locations only found in those games. It was interesting to see a story about someone who is principled in their approach to conflicts and targets, who has only ever lived for one purpose, surrounded by characters who are learning the limits of the bureaucratic standards of modern warfare and social demoralization, which have led to so much strife and loss in their homes. Unfortunately, I think a lot more could have been done with the characters than what actually was done, and a lot more could have been done with the story as well. 
     
    So, I appreciate the work that was put into making the campaign so completely cinematic - but it falls somewhere in the uncanny valley, for a lot of reasons. The ease with which you can miss such an important lesson, and the lame finale, where the woman is so far away from the computer and detonator she was just sitting next to, just doesn’t make any sense, and once again lessens the overall impact of the raid. It just doesn’t make much sense that such a committed cell of terrorists would not have had a contingency plan in place where they would detonate the bombs they’d already planted - and it certainly doesn’t make sense that they would leave someone so conflicted and/or inept to guard it as a last resort. It actually makes the realism feel skin deep when played, and exposes just how artificial the encounters are. Watching it like a helmet cam is also slightly uncomfortable, as not much can accurately be identified in 720-1080p YouTube footage, and the movement is just too silky smooth for the gritty reality it is meant to depict. 
     
    // REALISM / NIGHT MODES
     
    On that same topic, was Night Mode cut from multiplayer? No, not entirely - and it really, really sucks now, with the inclusion of the full weapons, perk, and equipment roster. It’s a gimmick, more than anything else, meant to flex the capabilities of the engine. Much like the rest of the game, a lot more could have been done with this mode - the level from the campaign I have already described used the NVG really well. Smaller, objective-based raid modes could have been implemented in the multiplayer, with stages in the raids, an objects to defend, and lights, backup generators, throwable flares, things like that which would make the mode more than just a cinematic gimmick.
     
    As much fun as I had in the Beta with these modes - again, with caveats - I return to find nothing more than frustration, repetition, and the insane, chemically imbalanced insta-deaths that make the base game so frustrating to begin with. Only it’s 10 times worse, because Night Mode now features all the weapons in the game, thermal scopes included, and also the one-shot headshot kills with every single weapon - meaning that if you expect to survive long enough to land a hipfire kill on someone rushing past you in a doorway (unlikely as it is, since most engagements aren’t engagements, and rather a take on Duck Hunt), you’re very likely to end up dying to a single, random-spread bullet to the temple.
     
    Not fun from a long-term gameplay perspective - I can understand why players cried out to have it removed from the core/TDM rotation.
     
    // SPEC OPS
     
    I admire the ambition, surely - to use the same map file in three separate game modes in order to save on developing bespoke levels for up to 200 players is pretty smart from a cost-cutting perspective and asset management perspective. But the execution just does not cut mustard. Or clarified butter, for that matter. I simply have no desire to be shot at by endless waves of ranged enemies and near-invincible anti-personnel vehicles, nor any desire to sit through the minutes-long respawn waiting screens, only to be forced into the same shitty position I already could not move from. One thing Chess gets right is the 'Stalemate': love it or hate it, it doesn't allow a no-win situation to continue longer than a couple moves. Spec Ops unfortunately allows for no-win situations to continue as long as there is one player in the party who has not been killed by the incessant, invisible LMG and mortar fire.
     
    I struggle too to see how this mode fits the moniker of Spec Ops. The team size is small, yes, but it feels more like a Destiny or Anthem - or Fallout 76 - style raid, with asset flipped enemies you need to take out in an arbitrary order, in order to collect the necessary keycards, in a completely open field, with hundreds of enemy combatants. Instead of treating Spec Ops like a Time Trial mode, Spec Ops is like a hybrid of 6v6 TDM and PvE Ground War. There's none of the magic of the original Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops missions, none of the pleasure obtained by completing a challenge that's just hard enough - and just guided enough - to encourage repeat plays. In fact, I only played it once. You could not pay me to play this mode more than once. It was not fun, and was not finished.
     
    // CONCLUSION
     
    Respawn shooters have always benefited from the ability to jump back into the action with almost no delay. The original variety - Galaga, Contra, or Metal Slug, for example - were contingent on your wallet. Enough coins, and you could get back in the game and finish the fight. This puts your skin literally in the game - either you learn how to win and execute the level, or you lose another quarter, the equivalent of a call to a friend, a boss, or a significant other. Those are some relatively high stakes.
     
    No such concrete stakes exist in the modern online respawn shooter, and Modern Warfare’s bread and butter multiplayer experience is the ultimate expression of this. You load up, you run around like a chicken with your head cut off, and you get killed by some bullshit or another, without any time to react - and then you’re right back in, without any time to let the stress hormones filter through your brain and metabolize. It’s like the whole thing never happened. One false alarm after another, and you never have to learn anything beyond where the spawns are and which areas might spit up an enemy for you to shoot at. You can quit the game, you can get right back into another queue, no questions asked, no effects on your matchmaking or standing in the servers. Either that, out you camp one particular sightline for a couple minutes, racking up kills, only to move onto another mounted position, racking up more kills, and watching the killfeed as players quit and join the game.
     
    The Campaign also suffers from this lack of stakes, but there are moments like the ones I’ve described which show the stark contrast between gameplay designed around cheap life and gameplay designed around valuing your life. 
     
    The weird thing about Modern Warfare is that for all its lack of serious stakes, the only way to play is like a crocodile - waiting in the dark for an opportunity to snag a kill from an unsuspecting duck or goose - which requires you to value your life - but not your entire coterie of abilities. Obviously this doesn’t apply 100%, as the new Shoot House can be played with a run-and-gun approach, but it nevertheless applies to just about every other map and micro-arena in the game.
     
    All that said, I have to say that I am having a lot of fun with the 2v2 Gunfight mode, only because I can play with a close friend and simulate the splitscreen days of old. The maps are easy to remember, the sightlines are manageable and can be countered, and the round-based, set-loadout approach allows for bite-sized gameplay and strategy, easily digested when playing with a teammate. 
     
    They’re all symmetrical and have limited, clearly defined callouts. Normally, I would not praise such level design, but given the nature of the gametype, the sandbox, and the rest of the multiplayer experience in Modern Warfare 2019, I must praise this simple, reductionist approach. The battles can lead to some really crazy map usage and clever plays, and satisfying round-winning trophy moments. Movement is actually somewhat encouraged, too, especially in maps like Docks, where you can have a lot of fun running through the sewer straight at unsuspecting enemies, flanking them right up the middle and flipping the tables.
     
    It’s not perfect. Some maps have awful visibility because of excess foliage and a lack of defined environmental lighting, others suffer from head glitching opportunities and lazy cover placement, and still others suffer from the audio mixing and material footstep design - it’s not uncommon to hear footsteps coming from above and behind you, only to be shot from what used to be in front of you after you turn around to face that threat. It is also not uncommon to hear footsteps on wood, only to have an enemy run at you on a surface entirely made up of concrete. King, I’m looking at you. But they all allow the player to sit back and discuss the next round with their teammate, if they have one.
     
    Let me be clear, however - my current enjoyment in no way contradicts the experience I had with the game type queueing solo in the Beta version, where weapons were picked up around the map and not part of set loadouts. That version was absolute dog. 
     
    That’s to say nothing of the numerous other dodgy features in the Multiplayer, like the ability to regenerate claymores, increase your damage dealt with them, and the fact that they are still so hard to dodge - or the continued presence of Battle Chatter in even a stripped-down form - or the use of side-mounted lasers over your chosen optics in Night Mode. The menus still boot me out of the Gunsmith menu when another screen loads in the background, hit detection is still ridiculously inconsistent and tied to what I call Packet Priority (shoot first, you get priority, because your input data is being sent to and from the server first), and I still consistently get shot in the ankle around corners - Realism and Night modes do not even factor in, anymore, because of the combination of crazy sightlines and the one-shot rule to the head with just about every weapon - I still can’t distinguish enemies from the environment, even on a large 4k monitor - claymore corners and just the sight of the word “Piccadilly” still make me want to uninstall - I still have not played a single match on the Euphrates Bridge map, even when filtering for 10v10 and 20v20 matches, a month after release. Ground War is still incredibly frustrating, and I can only enjoy it through YouTube compilations. The maps are even more difficult to traverse than the base 6v6-20v20 ones, and the player models are even more difficult to see because of the heavily taxed lighting system and framerate drops. 
     
    All told, it is a mess of different things. There’s nothing built in that encourages learning about the mechanics, or allows a mistake to be corrected. It actively encourages you to jump back in, without a single thought as to what happened and how to avoid it in the future. It lives on animalistic, chemically-induced reactions, the likes of which humanity has been working for millennia to rid itself of. That said, there are some gems to be found in the mess. I’ve had a lot of fun with the game - just under really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really specific conditions. All style, with the veneer of realism intruding in many places into the arcadey gameplay; the existing, individual ingredients could be used to create something really well-rounded and tasty, if they were identified and treated according to their nature. 
     
    ❤️ icyhot
     
     
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  11. Like
    icyhotspartin got a reaction from franktha for Featured Content, Modern Warfare 2019 - Revised and Revisited   
    // REVISED AND REVISITED
     
    Only a little more than a month ago, Modern Warfare was dropped from Infinity Ward's humid womb and thrust into the online marketplace to dance for our amusement. Its legs still slick with placental fluid, I voiced my concern about the direction of the full release in a previous article.
     
    I’ll link to that article here, but the long and short of it was that the Beta multiplayer suffered from laser-fast time to kill and inconsistent netcode, encouraging players to stay immobile and snipe from dark corners, which was only amplified by the crazy amounts of sightlines that were available from these locations. Not much has changed in that regard, so this revised review will only cover the most relevant topics that have changed since the Beta. It will also foray into the realm of industry commentary - but not too much. 
     
    In the time since the sloppy delivery of MW, there have been three (Nov. 21 draft) - now five - major patches, nerfs and buffs, spread and range adjustments, a DLC drop, and tons of small QOL updates with new challenges, new features, new levelling mechanics, the removal of Battle Chatter from ‘tactical’ modes, and countless video rants released on YouTube and elsewhere. Seeing as the 725, M4, and claymores are still as infuriating after being nerfed, I’m sure that many more will be coming down the line. After all, if a game is never truly finished, and therefore never truly reviewable in and of itself, it can never truly be judged.
     
    Right?
     

    Speak of the devil. Season 1 has just begun, and I need to download a 27.81 GIGABYTE update, as of Dec. 6. Taken with a phone camera, because my Xbox doesn't let me take screenshots of its menus...
     
    Wrong - as soon as a product has been experienced, that product is open to being judged according to its merits, the context from which it emerged, and any attempts at or reasoning behind future updates. 
     
    // MULTIPLAYER
     
    To begin with, nothing has been done to fix the core multiplayer level design, as not much could realistically have been done in the amount of time since the Beta was closed. The levels that were present in the Beta are still weirdly segmented, with crossmap sightlines and incredibly fast TTK. Ground War is still a mess of an experience if you aren’t sniping or camping a staircase with claymores somewhere. The new GW map has flatness designed to contrast it from the other one, which makes for a very slightly different slog playing solo.
     
    This is totally understandable, as most AAA games have levels completely blocked out and finalized long before the textures and art assets are fully plugged in. Asking a developer to completely change a suite of levels that have been polished for months by a team of a few dozen people is not a reasonable request at all. Especially when those levels are major sections of an in-universe Spec-Ops map, apparently tripling as a 200-player Battle Royale level, all of which is visible from the boundary sections of the various levels. The inclusion of the battle chatter mechanic, however, is not such a major feature, and could easily have been surgically removed, much like a useless organ, or a benign tumor.
     
    Much like such growths, however, leaving it in only makes things worse.

    One level was released that addressed the level design complaints head-on, however. Shoot House, released in the first free DLC drop, is a ‘traditional’ 3-lane CoD map, with bounded sightlines, paths between the clear-cut lanes, and some simple micro-pathing available to players willing to think a little bit more. It’s also a very small map, which means that players will always be near the action, no matter where they are. It plays completely differently from any of the other TDM/Domination levels currently available.
     
    Unfortunately, the playability of the level is still heavily affected by the issues previously identified within the sandbox. Straight lanes are affected by the laser ARs and corner mounting - 9 semi-contained mini-arenas designed to allow a push into, holding, and a push out of become impenetrable fortresses because of the claymores and fast TTK - the four semi-symmetrical vertical positions at the corners of the central intersection are easily exploited by corner campers with shotguns or claymores - the main spawn zones are afflicted by both easy access and incredible control over the central lane thanks to the mounting mechanic and the long line of sight - windows are hard to see enemies in, and are easily defended by mounted players - sprinting around corners with a 725 or snakeshot magnum is a very viable option - spawning is even more dangerous because the level is so small relative to the speed of tactical sprint and the spread of solo-queue players around the level…
     
      
    Interesting, I wonder what happens when you overlay the spawn and death maps...

    Of course...
     
    What makes the level particularly infuriating to me, a Forge aficionado of the highest order, is that there are areas which appear accessible in one way or another, but which are not. Most of them involve implied verticality, sections of the level which could offer intriguing sightlines and clear counters, but which are teases at best, and actively blocked at worst. The clearest example is the helicopter displayed proudly in the loading screen view. It does not help that the dark body of the helicopter is also the most visually distinct object on the map, more than even the red crates at the center of the map. The troop doors are even lined in yellow tape, adding to the visual weight of the position. There are other strange artifacts - doors that are lazily blocked off with large sheets of plywood or green tarps, as if they were accessible at one point of the level’s development, but which were not clearly defined with lighting and smaller environmental cues as solid geometry. Similar issues exist on other maps like Piccadilly and Rammaza, where there are thin walls, staircases to nowhere, and blind corners into out-of-bounds spawn alleys.
     
    I think this level was thrown together in haste - squared off, basic 3x3 layout, with reused assets from the available campaign files, and featuring some of the most infuriating spawning I’ve ever experienced this side of Shipment and Nuketown, especially considering the new overhead spawn camera. Now I can see the enemy players coming at me just before I spawn, and I can predict when I’ll be shot at after moving from the spawn point. Unfortunately, I still get killed because player models often are not centered where the player POV is located. I don’t know why this is, but it has been documented that players looking directly at the location of their killer are unable to see them, fully concealed behind thick cover, but are clearly visible on their killcam. It may have something to do with the player's location information lagging behind, and displaying both player and hitbox to other players a few milliseconds behind, allowing enemies to shoot at where you were in the past, killing you in the present.
     
    All-in-all, it’s not so much the controlled chaos that proponents of the classic three-lane formula enjoy as it is constrained chaos. Less enjoyable, to be sure, but still far more manageable than the rest on offer in the core multiplayer playlists. And if the player response is anything to go by, Shoot House is a success.
     
    It is therefore not too much of a surprise that the new Ground War map is also garnering praise for its flatter level design. Unfortunately, I can’t echo this praise. There are so many places to get shot from on this level, that even attempting to use the level’s open spaces is impossible. It once again boils down to a lot of hiding in corners - just with much longer sightlines - and a lot of running from airborne killstreaks and anti-personnel ground vehicles. Too bad that the buildings are so easy to shoot into with thermal scopes and with APC cannons. There’s no direction. It’s just chaos. There’s no communication. It’s just a lot of people running around alone together. It’s actually rather sad, and I can understand why there are so many content creators who are getting burned out playing these games day after day to generate income.
     
    But if this is what garners high praise from the players of Modern Warfare, 3-by-3 level construction and lighting-fast lives, then I cannot blame Kojima for taking a jab at American gamers put off by Death Stranding's gameplay loop.
     
    One more positive thing I have to say about the multiplayer is the inclusion of evolving challenges in the new "Trials" mode, and in the slightly more passively accomplished Missions. These actually let you work for unlocks, which makes them feel a little more valuable. It's not often in the age of microtransactions that a game actually lets players choose the rewards they want to work towards. This kind of design would be so much more interesting if it weren't for the fact that the multiplayer experience made some of these challenges near-impossible to complete
     
    Oh, by the way, Crash is back again. If the last three games it was included in weren't enough to quench your thirst for tasteful verticality in a CoD game, then I guess this will have to do, for now. If only the already bad head-glitching spots along the longest sightline weren't made worse by the inclusion of the mounting mechanic. Oh, and if only the Crash-only 24/7 playlist didn't include the vanilla Battle Chatter for your character. I shouldn't be able to hear myself talking to myself as a harbinger of my own death.
     

    Name a more iconic crashed troop transport - bet you can't!
     
    // CAMPAIGN
     
    The Campaign mode was genuinely pretty fun, and had some serious moments of brilliance. The one I think is most worthy of being singled out is the second-to last level which has you raiding the compound of weapons dealer at night, in order to free his captured family and gain access to the pipelines containing the chemical gas that is being funneled to some Russian proxy or another. The level features the most free-form, decision-based gameplay in the entire game, by mixing elements of stealth, lighting engine exploitation, and appropriate dynamic AI response to player actions.
     
    Unfortunately, this moment shines so bright only because of the thick darkness surrounding it. It is the inevitable result of a glaring oversight earlier in the game. The level based in Piccadilly Circus is easily the most infuriating in the whole campaign. The player is given a clear line of sight into the rear of a terrorist van, and even the option to fire at the terrorists before they do anyhting. They are carrying weapons, in clear violation of British laws against the owning, sale, licensing, and carrying of arms, and the player is already part of a response team sent to handle the threat. The player is then given control of the character, and has a pistol in his hands - the clear thing to do is to shoot these people before they have a chance to shoot first. But that’s not allowed.
     
    The ensuing attack is more annoying than anything else, because it’s so artificial. It is one thing to give the player a shot at stopping the attack - allowing the player to break the rules of engagement (which should not have even factored in, given the law had already been broken by the guys in the van with the machine guns) and have a separate van commit the attack, outside the reach of the player would effectively create the same sequence of events, and serve the same purpose. But to give the player the tools to stop such a terrible thing and punish them for attempting to do so is the kind of mindfuck that should be reserved for movies or unplayable cutscenes; a CO physically restraining the player from firing at the terrorists would create an antagonist, show the effect of international red tape on the protection of western cities, and justify the breaking off of Price and Gaz to eventually form 141 - a separate van on the other side of the Circus would show just how convicted the terrorists were as a unified force, and display to the player what kind of enemy and tactics they are truly up against. 
     
    It carried no weight in my experience, because I had to sit back and let it happen. I developed an active dissociation from the level, because I simply did not care anymore about it or its implications for the story. The attack happened, and I still had to mow down plainclothes terrorists in the street and chase after remaining attackers. If this was supposed to make a point about international rules of engagement and moral conviction, then point taken. The international rules of engagement are bullshit, and the politicians responsible for edifying them in the past are guilty of gross incompetence and possibly murder.
     
    But to give you a gun, full access to the controls, a target, and an object to defend, and to kick you where it hurts for trying to use it?
     
    The other super-duper dark and realistic levels also suffered from this story-driven staging, albeit in a slightly different way. A lot of noise was made about how the London townhouse raid was super dark, really edgy and mature. The level is constructed with four or five floors that need to be cleared of hostiles, and most rooms are too dark to see in without NVGs. Enemies make domestic noises, and the whole level has an intimate atmosphere, broken by the presence of the heavy weaponry and technology, and rendered further unsettling by the sounds of a baby crying, and mothers wailing. The gameplay has you following your squadmates very closely, tripping over their heels and bumping into every step up the stairs, and breaching many doors as you work your way up to the attic, where a woman attempts to set off a string of bombs somewhere in the city. 
     
    The gameplay and the mission design doesn’t really compliment the level design or the story/thematic beats the level lends itself to. In the name of realism, the game locks enemies in animations until they reach a set location, and then the regular AI takes over, assuming you miss the target the first time. But one thing that’s different is that some of the models are not armed, and are technically considered non-combatants. There are no unarmed men in this level, so that means women and children are on the safe list - most of the time. A few of the women will fire at you, but some will not, and some will be holding onto children. Shooting the child results in a mission fail state, which seriously lessens the impact of learning that that’s what you’ve done. It forcefully extracts you from the level and hides the consequences of your actions from you. The only time that doesn’t happen is if you shoot the mother of the child - which prompts a squadmate to gently place the infant in its crib. Unfortunately, you never have to actually witness this, because you can just move on up to the next room, and not see the result of your carelessness - and therefore not learn the real lesson you were supposed to about the horrors of war being brought into the domestic space.
     
    It's sort of the opposite of the Piccadilly level, in that you are free to break the rules and really do some terrible things either by mistake or out of spite, but don't have to see the full consequences, especially when the issue of a child is involved. And I understand - this was likely done to make sure that the game didn't break any international rules about the depiction of violence against children in consumer entertainment, or banned in countries with a lot of regulations against this kind of thing. But later in the game, there are dead children - in fact, you are shown one being shot at (in a haze, so his death is obscured) in a scripted campaign level break - so it's a little difficult for me to square this circle. Maybe the idea was just to avoid controversy - but still, the game has those same elements present and on full display in other sections. Here's an idea - maybe if an achievement had been included - a "Mark of Shame", worth 0 points - for having killed non-combatants in the campaign? That way it's documented that you're either a terrible shot, or a really shitty person. Something similar is already in the game, which boots you out of the mission into the menu if you shoot the baby. That way the gameplay integrity is maintained, and maybe you are forced into a separate cutscene where Price or another CO confronts you, shaking you by the shoulders and yelling at you for doing something that awful...
     
    Anyway... spilled milk...
     
    The reason the Mansion Infiltration mission works so well, in contrast to these two other levels, is that it gives the player the access and tools to tackle the objectives in whatever order they so choose, using the entirety - or as close as they can come to it - of the sandbox as possible. And they’re almost entirely left to their own devices. 
     
    Players have to decide how they will tackle the three different hostage locations, as well as how they will move from objective to objective. Lights can be shot out, which cloaks the entire level in a thick darkness, hiding the eplayer from the enemy’s eyes. Or players can choose to go in guns blazing, and risk getting completely wrecked. No one approach is necessarily best, the player must decide how to approach the objectives, and must do the work to ensure that their approach works. It was a lot of fun trying to make sure I remained unseen, picking off every floodlight, hall light, and streetlamp around the complex, and genuinely challenging to ensure that once the alarm had been raised by gunfire I was positioned well enough to take out incoming enemies. It was also very satisfying to successfully complete a section of the level, exiting onto the street to watch as enemies walked past without noticing my presence, giving me an opportunity to move on to the next one. 
     
    No other level in the game provides this much freedom to make mistakes and clean them up - no other level offers so much choice and consequence to the player. A mistake is not the end of the world, however. Enemies will swarm the player, but are manageable if the player is skilled enough with his tools and aware of his environment. It is going to be a setback, but it will not be the end of the world. Because of this, it was more realistic of an experience than any of the other missions - less staged, and more engaging as a result.  
     
    This level is clearly based on the mission that really cemented the original Modern Warfare as an innovative and immersive shooter. Back in 2007, the original MW placed the player in the shoes of a young John Price, under the command of Captain Macmillan, with the objective of taking out the weapons dealer Zakhaev, while he was making a deal in Pripyat, Ukraine. Unearthly light broke through the clouds, casting an emaciated glow over the washed out grasses surrounding the player like a shroud, complementing the ghillie suits Price and Macmillan wear in the mission. Soldiers shuffle past him and Macmillan, tanks and APCs trundle past, barely missing you. By today’s standards, it’s a little hard to believe that these guys wouldn’t have seen you - it would be difficult for anyone to not notice a human-sized displacement in the grass at that range. Nevertheless, your stealth status provides the boundaries for the rest of the mission. If you get too close at the wrong time, if you shoot at an enemy when someone else is looking at him or too close by, if you run out of ammo and decide to use weapons without a suppressor, you will have a predictable and manageable enemy response: waves of hostiles who aren’t the best shots, but who are able to down you if you aren’t fast or confident enough with your own shooting.
     
    This one level, and its inspiration contrast sharply with the multiplayer portion of the game. It gives the player time to think, and the ability to approach a threat from multiple angles without necessarily exposing themselves to other, unseen or numerous threats. 
     
    The story itself, similarities to the string of American and Russian incursions into the “intellectually barren soil” that is the middle eastern religious and clannish wars aside, is passable, especially for a game known mostly for its multiplayer. The characters are interesting, but their motivations are not always clear. Connections to the original MW plotlines are established through references in a similar style to the way the Star Wars franchise was able to generate an expanded universe, with mentions of characters and locations only found in those games. It was interesting to see a story about someone who is principled in their approach to conflicts and targets, who has only ever lived for one purpose, surrounded by characters who are learning the limits of the bureaucratic standards of modern warfare and social demoralization, which have led to so much strife and loss in their homes. Unfortunately, I think a lot more could have been done with the characters than what actually was done, and a lot more could have been done with the story as well. 
     
    So, I appreciate the work that was put into making the campaign so completely cinematic - but it falls somewhere in the uncanny valley, for a lot of reasons. The ease with which you can miss such an important lesson, and the lame finale, where the woman is so far away from the computer and detonator she was just sitting next to, just doesn’t make any sense, and once again lessens the overall impact of the raid. It just doesn’t make much sense that such a committed cell of terrorists would not have had a contingency plan in place where they would detonate the bombs they’d already planted - and it certainly doesn’t make sense that they would leave someone so conflicted and/or inept to guard it as a last resort. It actually makes the realism feel skin deep when played, and exposes just how artificial the encounters are. Watching it like a helmet cam is also slightly uncomfortable, as not much can accurately be identified in 720-1080p YouTube footage, and the movement is just too silky smooth for the gritty reality it is meant to depict. 
     
    // REALISM / NIGHT MODES
     
    On that same topic, was Night Mode cut from multiplayer? No, not entirely - and it really, really sucks now, with the inclusion of the full weapons, perk, and equipment roster. It’s a gimmick, more than anything else, meant to flex the capabilities of the engine. Much like the rest of the game, a lot more could have been done with this mode - the level from the campaign I have already described used the NVG really well. Smaller, objective-based raid modes could have been implemented in the multiplayer, with stages in the raids, an objects to defend, and lights, backup generators, throwable flares, things like that which would make the mode more than just a cinematic gimmick.
     
    As much fun as I had in the Beta with these modes - again, with caveats - I return to find nothing more than frustration, repetition, and the insane, chemically imbalanced insta-deaths that make the base game so frustrating to begin with. Only it’s 10 times worse, because Night Mode now features all the weapons in the game, thermal scopes included, and also the one-shot headshot kills with every single weapon - meaning that if you expect to survive long enough to land a hipfire kill on someone rushing past you in a doorway (unlikely as it is, since most engagements aren’t engagements, and rather a take on Duck Hunt), you’re very likely to end up dying to a single, random-spread bullet to the temple.
     
    Not fun from a long-term gameplay perspective - I can understand why players cried out to have it removed from the core/TDM rotation.
     
    // SPEC OPS
     
    I admire the ambition, surely - to use the same map file in three separate game modes in order to save on developing bespoke levels for up to 200 players is pretty smart from a cost-cutting perspective and asset management perspective. But the execution just does not cut mustard. Or clarified butter, for that matter. I simply have no desire to be shot at by endless waves of ranged enemies and near-invincible anti-personnel vehicles, nor any desire to sit through the minutes-long respawn waiting screens, only to be forced into the same shitty position I already could not move from. One thing Chess gets right is the 'Stalemate': love it or hate it, it doesn't allow a no-win situation to continue longer than a couple moves. Spec Ops unfortunately allows for no-win situations to continue as long as there is one player in the party who has not been killed by the incessant, invisible LMG and mortar fire.
     
    I struggle too to see how this mode fits the moniker of Spec Ops. The team size is small, yes, but it feels more like a Destiny or Anthem - or Fallout 76 - style raid, with asset flipped enemies you need to take out in an arbitrary order, in order to collect the necessary keycards, in a completely open field, with hundreds of enemy combatants. Instead of treating Spec Ops like a Time Trial mode, Spec Ops is like a hybrid of 6v6 TDM and PvE Ground War. There's none of the magic of the original Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops missions, none of the pleasure obtained by completing a challenge that's just hard enough - and just guided enough - to encourage repeat plays. In fact, I only played it once. You could not pay me to play this mode more than once. It was not fun, and was not finished.
     
    // CONCLUSION
     
    Respawn shooters have always benefited from the ability to jump back into the action with almost no delay. The original variety - Galaga, Contra, or Metal Slug, for example - were contingent on your wallet. Enough coins, and you could get back in the game and finish the fight. This puts your skin literally in the game - either you learn how to win and execute the level, or you lose another quarter, the equivalent of a call to a friend, a boss, or a significant other. Those are some relatively high stakes.
     
    No such concrete stakes exist in the modern online respawn shooter, and Modern Warfare’s bread and butter multiplayer experience is the ultimate expression of this. You load up, you run around like a chicken with your head cut off, and you get killed by some bullshit or another, without any time to react - and then you’re right back in, without any time to let the stress hormones filter through your brain and metabolize. It’s like the whole thing never happened. One false alarm after another, and you never have to learn anything beyond where the spawns are and which areas might spit up an enemy for you to shoot at. You can quit the game, you can get right back into another queue, no questions asked, no effects on your matchmaking or standing in the servers. Either that, out you camp one particular sightline for a couple minutes, racking up kills, only to move onto another mounted position, racking up more kills, and watching the killfeed as players quit and join the game.
     
    The Campaign also suffers from this lack of stakes, but there are moments like the ones I’ve described which show the stark contrast between gameplay designed around cheap life and gameplay designed around valuing your life. 
     
    The weird thing about Modern Warfare is that for all its lack of serious stakes, the only way to play is like a crocodile - waiting in the dark for an opportunity to snag a kill from an unsuspecting duck or goose - which requires you to value your life - but not your entire coterie of abilities. Obviously this doesn’t apply 100%, as the new Shoot House can be played with a run-and-gun approach, but it nevertheless applies to just about every other map and micro-arena in the game.
     
    All that said, I have to say that I am having a lot of fun with the 2v2 Gunfight mode, only because I can play with a close friend and simulate the splitscreen days of old. The maps are easy to remember, the sightlines are manageable and can be countered, and the round-based, set-loadout approach allows for bite-sized gameplay and strategy, easily digested when playing with a teammate. 
     
    They’re all symmetrical and have limited, clearly defined callouts. Normally, I would not praise such level design, but given the nature of the gametype, the sandbox, and the rest of the multiplayer experience in Modern Warfare 2019, I must praise this simple, reductionist approach. The battles can lead to some really crazy map usage and clever plays, and satisfying round-winning trophy moments. Movement is actually somewhat encouraged, too, especially in maps like Docks, where you can have a lot of fun running through the sewer straight at unsuspecting enemies, flanking them right up the middle and flipping the tables.
     
    It’s not perfect. Some maps have awful visibility because of excess foliage and a lack of defined environmental lighting, others suffer from head glitching opportunities and lazy cover placement, and still others suffer from the audio mixing and material footstep design - it’s not uncommon to hear footsteps coming from above and behind you, only to be shot from what used to be in front of you after you turn around to face that threat. It is also not uncommon to hear footsteps on wood, only to have an enemy run at you on a surface entirely made up of concrete. King, I’m looking at you. But they all allow the player to sit back and discuss the next round with their teammate, if they have one.
     
    Let me be clear, however - my current enjoyment in no way contradicts the experience I had with the game type queueing solo in the Beta version, where weapons were picked up around the map and not part of set loadouts. That version was absolute dog. 
     
    That’s to say nothing of the numerous other dodgy features in the Multiplayer, like the ability to regenerate claymores, increase your damage dealt with them, and the fact that they are still so hard to dodge - or the continued presence of Battle Chatter in even a stripped-down form - or the use of side-mounted lasers over your chosen optics in Night Mode. The menus still boot me out of the Gunsmith menu when another screen loads in the background, hit detection is still ridiculously inconsistent and tied to what I call Packet Priority (shoot first, you get priority, because your input data is being sent to and from the server first), and I still consistently get shot in the ankle around corners - Realism and Night modes do not even factor in, anymore, because of the combination of crazy sightlines and the one-shot rule to the head with just about every weapon - I still can’t distinguish enemies from the environment, even on a large 4k monitor - claymore corners and just the sight of the word “Piccadilly” still make me want to uninstall - I still have not played a single match on the Euphrates Bridge map, even when filtering for 10v10 and 20v20 matches, a month after release. Ground War is still incredibly frustrating, and I can only enjoy it through YouTube compilations. The maps are even more difficult to traverse than the base 6v6-20v20 ones, and the player models are even more difficult to see because of the heavily taxed lighting system and framerate drops. 
     
    All told, it is a mess of different things. There’s nothing built in that encourages learning about the mechanics, or allows a mistake to be corrected. It actively encourages you to jump back in, without a single thought as to what happened and how to avoid it in the future. It lives on animalistic, chemically-induced reactions, the likes of which humanity has been working for millennia to rid itself of. That said, there are some gems to be found in the mess. I’ve had a lot of fun with the game - just under really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really specific conditions. All style, with the veneer of realism intruding in many places into the arcadey gameplay; the existing, individual ingredients could be used to create something really well-rounded and tasty, if they were identified and treated according to their nature. 
     
    ❤️ icyhot
     
     
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  12. Like
    icyhotspartin got a reaction from franktha for Featured Content, Modern Warfare 2019 - Revised and Revisited   
    // REVISED AND REVISITED
     
    Only a little more than a month ago, Modern Warfare was dropped from Infinity Ward's humid womb and thrust into the online marketplace to dance for our amusement. Its legs still slick with placental fluid, I voiced my concern about the direction of the full release in a previous article.
     
    I’ll link to that article here, but the long and short of it was that the Beta multiplayer suffered from laser-fast time to kill and inconsistent netcode, encouraging players to stay immobile and snipe from dark corners, which was only amplified by the crazy amounts of sightlines that were available from these locations. Not much has changed in that regard, so this revised review will only cover the most relevant topics that have changed since the Beta. It will also foray into the realm of industry commentary - but not too much. 
     
    In the time since the sloppy delivery of MW, there have been three (Nov. 21 draft) - now five - major patches, nerfs and buffs, spread and range adjustments, a DLC drop, and tons of small QOL updates with new challenges, new features, new levelling mechanics, the removal of Battle Chatter from ‘tactical’ modes, and countless video rants released on YouTube and elsewhere. Seeing as the 725, M4, and claymores are still as infuriating after being nerfed, I’m sure that many more will be coming down the line. After all, if a game is never truly finished, and therefore never truly reviewable in and of itself, it can never truly be judged.
     
    Right?
     

    Speak of the devil. Season 1 has just begun, and I need to download a 27.81 GIGABYTE update, as of Dec. 6. Taken with a phone camera, because my Xbox doesn't let me take screenshots of its menus...
     
    Wrong - as soon as a product has been experienced, that product is open to being judged according to its merits, the context from which it emerged, and any attempts at or reasoning behind future updates. 
     
    // MULTIPLAYER
     
    To begin with, nothing has been done to fix the core multiplayer level design, as not much could realistically have been done in the amount of time since the Beta was closed. The levels that were present in the Beta are still weirdly segmented, with crossmap sightlines and incredibly fast TTK. Ground War is still a mess of an experience if you aren’t sniping or camping a staircase with claymores somewhere. The new GW map has flatness designed to contrast it from the other one, which makes for a very slightly different slog playing solo.
     
    This is totally understandable, as most AAA games have levels completely blocked out and finalized long before the textures and art assets are fully plugged in. Asking a developer to completely change a suite of levels that have been polished for months by a team of a few dozen people is not a reasonable request at all. Especially when those levels are major sections of an in-universe Spec-Ops map, apparently tripling as a 200-player Battle Royale level, all of which is visible from the boundary sections of the various levels. The inclusion of the battle chatter mechanic, however, is not such a major feature, and could easily have been surgically removed, much like a useless organ, or a benign tumor.
     
    Much like such growths, however, leaving it in only makes things worse.

    One level was released that addressed the level design complaints head-on, however. Shoot House, released in the first free DLC drop, is a ‘traditional’ 3-lane CoD map, with bounded sightlines, paths between the clear-cut lanes, and some simple micro-pathing available to players willing to think a little bit more. It’s also a very small map, which means that players will always be near the action, no matter where they are. It plays completely differently from any of the other TDM/Domination levels currently available.
     
    Unfortunately, the playability of the level is still heavily affected by the issues previously identified within the sandbox. Straight lanes are affected by the laser ARs and corner mounting - 9 semi-contained mini-arenas designed to allow a push into, holding, and a push out of become impenetrable fortresses because of the claymores and fast TTK - the four semi-symmetrical vertical positions at the corners of the central intersection are easily exploited by corner campers with shotguns or claymores - the main spawn zones are afflicted by both easy access and incredible control over the central lane thanks to the mounting mechanic and the long line of sight - windows are hard to see enemies in, and are easily defended by mounted players - sprinting around corners with a 725 or snakeshot magnum is a very viable option - spawning is even more dangerous because the level is so small relative to the speed of tactical sprint and the spread of solo-queue players around the level…
     
      
    Interesting, I wonder what happens when you overlay the spawn and death maps...

    Of course...
     
    What makes the level particularly infuriating to me, a Forge aficionado of the highest order, is that there are areas which appear accessible in one way or another, but which are not. Most of them involve implied verticality, sections of the level which could offer intriguing sightlines and clear counters, but which are teases at best, and actively blocked at worst. The clearest example is the helicopter displayed proudly in the loading screen view. It does not help that the dark body of the helicopter is also the most visually distinct object on the map, more than even the red crates at the center of the map. The troop doors are even lined in yellow tape, adding to the visual weight of the position. There are other strange artifacts - doors that are lazily blocked off with large sheets of plywood or green tarps, as if they were accessible at one point of the level’s development, but which were not clearly defined with lighting and smaller environmental cues as solid geometry. Similar issues exist on other maps like Piccadilly and Rammaza, where there are thin walls, staircases to nowhere, and blind corners into out-of-bounds spawn alleys.
     
    I think this level was thrown together in haste - squared off, basic 3x3 layout, with reused assets from the available campaign files, and featuring some of the most infuriating spawning I’ve ever experienced this side of Shipment and Nuketown, especially considering the new overhead spawn camera. Now I can see the enemy players coming at me just before I spawn, and I can predict when I’ll be shot at after moving from the spawn point. Unfortunately, I still get killed because player models often are not centered where the player POV is located. I don’t know why this is, but it has been documented that players looking directly at the location of their killer are unable to see them, fully concealed behind thick cover, but are clearly visible on their killcam. It may have something to do with the player's location information lagging behind, and displaying both player and hitbox to other players a few milliseconds behind, allowing enemies to shoot at where you were in the past, killing you in the present.
     
    All-in-all, it’s not so much the controlled chaos that proponents of the classic three-lane formula enjoy as it is constrained chaos. Less enjoyable, to be sure, but still far more manageable than the rest on offer in the core multiplayer playlists. And if the player response is anything to go by, Shoot House is a success.
     
    It is therefore not too much of a surprise that the new Ground War map is also garnering praise for its flatter level design. Unfortunately, I can’t echo this praise. There are so many places to get shot from on this level, that even attempting to use the level’s open spaces is impossible. It once again boils down to a lot of hiding in corners - just with much longer sightlines - and a lot of running from airborne killstreaks and anti-personnel ground vehicles. Too bad that the buildings are so easy to shoot into with thermal scopes and with APC cannons. There’s no direction. It’s just chaos. There’s no communication. It’s just a lot of people running around alone together. It’s actually rather sad, and I can understand why there are so many content creators who are getting burned out playing these games day after day to generate income.
     
    But if this is what garners high praise from the players of Modern Warfare, 3-by-3 level construction and lighting-fast lives, then I cannot blame Kojima for taking a jab at American gamers put off by Death Stranding's gameplay loop.
     
    One more positive thing I have to say about the multiplayer is the inclusion of evolving challenges in the new "Trials" mode, and in the slightly more passively accomplished Missions. These actually let you work for unlocks, which makes them feel a little more valuable. It's not often in the age of microtransactions that a game actually lets players choose the rewards they want to work towards. This kind of design would be so much more interesting if it weren't for the fact that the multiplayer experience made some of these challenges near-impossible to complete
     
    Oh, by the way, Crash is back again. If the last three games it was included in weren't enough to quench your thirst for tasteful verticality in a CoD game, then I guess this will have to do, for now. If only the already bad head-glitching spots along the longest sightline weren't made worse by the inclusion of the mounting mechanic. Oh, and if only the Crash-only 24/7 playlist didn't include the vanilla Battle Chatter for your character. I shouldn't be able to hear myself talking to myself as a harbinger of my own death.
     

    Name a more iconic crashed troop transport - bet you can't!
     
    // CAMPAIGN
     
    The Campaign mode was genuinely pretty fun, and had some serious moments of brilliance. The one I think is most worthy of being singled out is the second-to last level which has you raiding the compound of weapons dealer at night, in order to free his captured family and gain access to the pipelines containing the chemical gas that is being funneled to some Russian proxy or another. The level features the most free-form, decision-based gameplay in the entire game, by mixing elements of stealth, lighting engine exploitation, and appropriate dynamic AI response to player actions.
     
    Unfortunately, this moment shines so bright only because of the thick darkness surrounding it. It is the inevitable result of a glaring oversight earlier in the game. The level based in Piccadilly Circus is easily the most infuriating in the whole campaign. The player is given a clear line of sight into the rear of a terrorist van, and even the option to fire at the terrorists before they do anyhting. They are carrying weapons, in clear violation of British laws against the owning, sale, licensing, and carrying of arms, and the player is already part of a response team sent to handle the threat. The player is then given control of the character, and has a pistol in his hands - the clear thing to do is to shoot these people before they have a chance to shoot first. But that’s not allowed.
     
    The ensuing attack is more annoying than anything else, because it’s so artificial. It is one thing to give the player a shot at stopping the attack - allowing the player to break the rules of engagement (which should not have even factored in, given the law had already been broken by the guys in the van with the machine guns) and have a separate van commit the attack, outside the reach of the player would effectively create the same sequence of events, and serve the same purpose. But to give the player the tools to stop such a terrible thing and punish them for attempting to do so is the kind of mindfuck that should be reserved for movies or unplayable cutscenes; a CO physically restraining the player from firing at the terrorists would create an antagonist, show the effect of international red tape on the protection of western cities, and justify the breaking off of Price and Gaz to eventually form 141 - a separate van on the other side of the Circus would show just how convicted the terrorists were as a unified force, and display to the player what kind of enemy and tactics they are truly up against. 
     
    It carried no weight in my experience, because I had to sit back and let it happen. I developed an active dissociation from the level, because I simply did not care anymore about it or its implications for the story. The attack happened, and I still had to mow down plainclothes terrorists in the street and chase after remaining attackers. If this was supposed to make a point about international rules of engagement and moral conviction, then point taken. The international rules of engagement are bullshit, and the politicians responsible for edifying them in the past are guilty of gross incompetence and possibly murder.
     
    But to give you a gun, full access to the controls, a target, and an object to defend, and to kick you where it hurts for trying to use it?
     
    The other super-duper dark and realistic levels also suffered from this story-driven staging, albeit in a slightly different way. A lot of noise was made about how the London townhouse raid was super dark, really edgy and mature. The level is constructed with four or five floors that need to be cleared of hostiles, and most rooms are too dark to see in without NVGs. Enemies make domestic noises, and the whole level has an intimate atmosphere, broken by the presence of the heavy weaponry and technology, and rendered further unsettling by the sounds of a baby crying, and mothers wailing. The gameplay has you following your squadmates very closely, tripping over their heels and bumping into every step up the stairs, and breaching many doors as you work your way up to the attic, where a woman attempts to set off a string of bombs somewhere in the city. 
     
    The gameplay and the mission design doesn’t really compliment the level design or the story/thematic beats the level lends itself to. In the name of realism, the game locks enemies in animations until they reach a set location, and then the regular AI takes over, assuming you miss the target the first time. But one thing that’s different is that some of the models are not armed, and are technically considered non-combatants. There are no unarmed men in this level, so that means women and children are on the safe list - most of the time. A few of the women will fire at you, but some will not, and some will be holding onto children. Shooting the child results in a mission fail state, which seriously lessens the impact of learning that that’s what you’ve done. It forcefully extracts you from the level and hides the consequences of your actions from you. The only time that doesn’t happen is if you shoot the mother of the child - which prompts a squadmate to gently place the infant in its crib. Unfortunately, you never have to actually witness this, because you can just move on up to the next room, and not see the result of your carelessness - and therefore not learn the real lesson you were supposed to about the horrors of war being brought into the domestic space.
     
    It's sort of the opposite of the Piccadilly level, in that you are free to break the rules and really do some terrible things either by mistake or out of spite, but don't have to see the full consequences, especially when the issue of a child is involved. And I understand - this was likely done to make sure that the game didn't break any international rules about the depiction of violence against children in consumer entertainment, or banned in countries with a lot of regulations against this kind of thing. But later in the game, there are dead children - in fact, you are shown one being shot at (in a haze, so his death is obscured) in a scripted campaign level break - so it's a little difficult for me to square this circle. Maybe the idea was just to avoid controversy - but still, the game has those same elements present and on full display in other sections. Here's an idea - maybe if an achievement had been included - a "Mark of Shame", worth 0 points - for having killed non-combatants in the campaign? That way it's documented that you're either a terrible shot, or a really shitty person. Something similar is already in the game, which boots you out of the mission into the menu if you shoot the baby. That way the gameplay integrity is maintained, and maybe you are forced into a separate cutscene where Price or another CO confronts you, shaking you by the shoulders and yelling at you for doing something that awful...
     
    Anyway... spilled milk...
     
    The reason the Mansion Infiltration mission works so well, in contrast to these two other levels, is that it gives the player the access and tools to tackle the objectives in whatever order they so choose, using the entirety - or as close as they can come to it - of the sandbox as possible. And they’re almost entirely left to their own devices. 
     
    Players have to decide how they will tackle the three different hostage locations, as well as how they will move from objective to objective. Lights can be shot out, which cloaks the entire level in a thick darkness, hiding the eplayer from the enemy’s eyes. Or players can choose to go in guns blazing, and risk getting completely wrecked. No one approach is necessarily best, the player must decide how to approach the objectives, and must do the work to ensure that their approach works. It was a lot of fun trying to make sure I remained unseen, picking off every floodlight, hall light, and streetlamp around the complex, and genuinely challenging to ensure that once the alarm had been raised by gunfire I was positioned well enough to take out incoming enemies. It was also very satisfying to successfully complete a section of the level, exiting onto the street to watch as enemies walked past without noticing my presence, giving me an opportunity to move on to the next one. 
     
    No other level in the game provides this much freedom to make mistakes and clean them up - no other level offers so much choice and consequence to the player. A mistake is not the end of the world, however. Enemies will swarm the player, but are manageable if the player is skilled enough with his tools and aware of his environment. It is going to be a setback, but it will not be the end of the world. Because of this, it was more realistic of an experience than any of the other missions - less staged, and more engaging as a result.  
     
    This level is clearly based on the mission that really cemented the original Modern Warfare as an innovative and immersive shooter. Back in 2007, the original MW placed the player in the shoes of a young John Price, under the command of Captain Macmillan, with the objective of taking out the weapons dealer Zakhaev, while he was making a deal in Pripyat, Ukraine. Unearthly light broke through the clouds, casting an emaciated glow over the washed out grasses surrounding the player like a shroud, complementing the ghillie suits Price and Macmillan wear in the mission. Soldiers shuffle past him and Macmillan, tanks and APCs trundle past, barely missing you. By today’s standards, it’s a little hard to believe that these guys wouldn’t have seen you - it would be difficult for anyone to not notice a human-sized displacement in the grass at that range. Nevertheless, your stealth status provides the boundaries for the rest of the mission. If you get too close at the wrong time, if you shoot at an enemy when someone else is looking at him or too close by, if you run out of ammo and decide to use weapons without a suppressor, you will have a predictable and manageable enemy response: waves of hostiles who aren’t the best shots, but who are able to down you if you aren’t fast or confident enough with your own shooting.
     
    This one level, and its inspiration contrast sharply with the multiplayer portion of the game. It gives the player time to think, and the ability to approach a threat from multiple angles without necessarily exposing themselves to other, unseen or numerous threats. 
     
    The story itself, similarities to the string of American and Russian incursions into the “intellectually barren soil” that is the middle eastern religious and clannish wars aside, is passable, especially for a game known mostly for its multiplayer. The characters are interesting, but their motivations are not always clear. Connections to the original MW plotlines are established through references in a similar style to the way the Star Wars franchise was able to generate an expanded universe, with mentions of characters and locations only found in those games. It was interesting to see a story about someone who is principled in their approach to conflicts and targets, who has only ever lived for one purpose, surrounded by characters who are learning the limits of the bureaucratic standards of modern warfare and social demoralization, which have led to so much strife and loss in their homes. Unfortunately, I think a lot more could have been done with the characters than what actually was done, and a lot more could have been done with the story as well. 
     
    So, I appreciate the work that was put into making the campaign so completely cinematic - but it falls somewhere in the uncanny valley, for a lot of reasons. The ease with which you can miss such an important lesson, and the lame finale, where the woman is so far away from the computer and detonator she was just sitting next to, just doesn’t make any sense, and once again lessens the overall impact of the raid. It just doesn’t make much sense that such a committed cell of terrorists would not have had a contingency plan in place where they would detonate the bombs they’d already planted - and it certainly doesn’t make sense that they would leave someone so conflicted and/or inept to guard it as a last resort. It actually makes the realism feel skin deep when played, and exposes just how artificial the encounters are. Watching it like a helmet cam is also slightly uncomfortable, as not much can accurately be identified in 720-1080p YouTube footage, and the movement is just too silky smooth for the gritty reality it is meant to depict. 
     
    // REALISM / NIGHT MODES
     
    On that same topic, was Night Mode cut from multiplayer? No, not entirely - and it really, really sucks now, with the inclusion of the full weapons, perk, and equipment roster. It’s a gimmick, more than anything else, meant to flex the capabilities of the engine. Much like the rest of the game, a lot more could have been done with this mode - the level from the campaign I have already described used the NVG really well. Smaller, objective-based raid modes could have been implemented in the multiplayer, with stages in the raids, an objects to defend, and lights, backup generators, throwable flares, things like that which would make the mode more than just a cinematic gimmick.
     
    As much fun as I had in the Beta with these modes - again, with caveats - I return to find nothing more than frustration, repetition, and the insane, chemically imbalanced insta-deaths that make the base game so frustrating to begin with. Only it’s 10 times worse, because Night Mode now features all the weapons in the game, thermal scopes included, and also the one-shot headshot kills with every single weapon - meaning that if you expect to survive long enough to land a hipfire kill on someone rushing past you in a doorway (unlikely as it is, since most engagements aren’t engagements, and rather a take on Duck Hunt), you’re very likely to end up dying to a single, random-spread bullet to the temple.
     
    Not fun from a long-term gameplay perspective - I can understand why players cried out to have it removed from the core/TDM rotation.
     
    // SPEC OPS
     
    I admire the ambition, surely - to use the same map file in three separate game modes in order to save on developing bespoke levels for up to 200 players is pretty smart from a cost-cutting perspective and asset management perspective. But the execution just does not cut mustard. Or clarified butter, for that matter. I simply have no desire to be shot at by endless waves of ranged enemies and near-invincible anti-personnel vehicles, nor any desire to sit through the minutes-long respawn waiting screens, only to be forced into the same shitty position I already could not move from. One thing Chess gets right is the 'Stalemate': love it or hate it, it doesn't allow a no-win situation to continue longer than a couple moves. Spec Ops unfortunately allows for no-win situations to continue as long as there is one player in the party who has not been killed by the incessant, invisible LMG and mortar fire.
     
    I struggle too to see how this mode fits the moniker of Spec Ops. The team size is small, yes, but it feels more like a Destiny or Anthem - or Fallout 76 - style raid, with asset flipped enemies you need to take out in an arbitrary order, in order to collect the necessary keycards, in a completely open field, with hundreds of enemy combatants. Instead of treating Spec Ops like a Time Trial mode, Spec Ops is like a hybrid of 6v6 TDM and PvE Ground War. There's none of the magic of the original Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops missions, none of the pleasure obtained by completing a challenge that's just hard enough - and just guided enough - to encourage repeat plays. In fact, I only played it once. You could not pay me to play this mode more than once. It was not fun, and was not finished.
     
    // CONCLUSION
     
    Respawn shooters have always benefited from the ability to jump back into the action with almost no delay. The original variety - Galaga, Contra, or Metal Slug, for example - were contingent on your wallet. Enough coins, and you could get back in the game and finish the fight. This puts your skin literally in the game - either you learn how to win and execute the level, or you lose another quarter, the equivalent of a call to a friend, a boss, or a significant other. Those are some relatively high stakes.
     
    No such concrete stakes exist in the modern online respawn shooter, and Modern Warfare’s bread and butter multiplayer experience is the ultimate expression of this. You load up, you run around like a chicken with your head cut off, and you get killed by some bullshit or another, without any time to react - and then you’re right back in, without any time to let the stress hormones filter through your brain and metabolize. It’s like the whole thing never happened. One false alarm after another, and you never have to learn anything beyond where the spawns are and which areas might spit up an enemy for you to shoot at. You can quit the game, you can get right back into another queue, no questions asked, no effects on your matchmaking or standing in the servers. Either that, out you camp one particular sightline for a couple minutes, racking up kills, only to move onto another mounted position, racking up more kills, and watching the killfeed as players quit and join the game.
     
    The Campaign also suffers from this lack of stakes, but there are moments like the ones I’ve described which show the stark contrast between gameplay designed around cheap life and gameplay designed around valuing your life. 
     
    The weird thing about Modern Warfare is that for all its lack of serious stakes, the only way to play is like a crocodile - waiting in the dark for an opportunity to snag a kill from an unsuspecting duck or goose - which requires you to value your life - but not your entire coterie of abilities. Obviously this doesn’t apply 100%, as the new Shoot House can be played with a run-and-gun approach, but it nevertheless applies to just about every other map and micro-arena in the game.
     
    All that said, I have to say that I am having a lot of fun with the 2v2 Gunfight mode, only because I can play with a close friend and simulate the splitscreen days of old. The maps are easy to remember, the sightlines are manageable and can be countered, and the round-based, set-loadout approach allows for bite-sized gameplay and strategy, easily digested when playing with a teammate. 
     
    They’re all symmetrical and have limited, clearly defined callouts. Normally, I would not praise such level design, but given the nature of the gametype, the sandbox, and the rest of the multiplayer experience in Modern Warfare 2019, I must praise this simple, reductionist approach. The battles can lead to some really crazy map usage and clever plays, and satisfying round-winning trophy moments. Movement is actually somewhat encouraged, too, especially in maps like Docks, where you can have a lot of fun running through the sewer straight at unsuspecting enemies, flanking them right up the middle and flipping the tables.
     
    It’s not perfect. Some maps have awful visibility because of excess foliage and a lack of defined environmental lighting, others suffer from head glitching opportunities and lazy cover placement, and still others suffer from the audio mixing and material footstep design - it’s not uncommon to hear footsteps coming from above and behind you, only to be shot from what used to be in front of you after you turn around to face that threat. It is also not uncommon to hear footsteps on wood, only to have an enemy run at you on a surface entirely made up of concrete. King, I’m looking at you. But they all allow the player to sit back and discuss the next round with their teammate, if they have one.
     
    Let me be clear, however - my current enjoyment in no way contradicts the experience I had with the game type queueing solo in the Beta version, where weapons were picked up around the map and not part of set loadouts. That version was absolute dog. 
     
    That’s to say nothing of the numerous other dodgy features in the Multiplayer, like the ability to regenerate claymores, increase your damage dealt with them, and the fact that they are still so hard to dodge - or the continued presence of Battle Chatter in even a stripped-down form - or the use of side-mounted lasers over your chosen optics in Night Mode. The menus still boot me out of the Gunsmith menu when another screen loads in the background, hit detection is still ridiculously inconsistent and tied to what I call Packet Priority (shoot first, you get priority, because your input data is being sent to and from the server first), and I still consistently get shot in the ankle around corners - Realism and Night modes do not even factor in, anymore, because of the combination of crazy sightlines and the one-shot rule to the head with just about every weapon - I still can’t distinguish enemies from the environment, even on a large 4k monitor - claymore corners and just the sight of the word “Piccadilly” still make me want to uninstall - I still have not played a single match on the Euphrates Bridge map, even when filtering for 10v10 and 20v20 matches, a month after release. Ground War is still incredibly frustrating, and I can only enjoy it through YouTube compilations. The maps are even more difficult to traverse than the base 6v6-20v20 ones, and the player models are even more difficult to see because of the heavily taxed lighting system and framerate drops. 
     
    All told, it is a mess of different things. There’s nothing built in that encourages learning about the mechanics, or allows a mistake to be corrected. It actively encourages you to jump back in, without a single thought as to what happened and how to avoid it in the future. It lives on animalistic, chemically-induced reactions, the likes of which humanity has been working for millennia to rid itself of. That said, there are some gems to be found in the mess. I’ve had a lot of fun with the game - just under really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really specific conditions. All style, with the veneer of realism intruding in many places into the arcadey gameplay; the existing, individual ingredients could be used to create something really well-rounded and tasty, if they were identified and treated according to their nature. 
     
    ❤️ icyhot
     
     
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  13. NLD +5
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, How Have Level Designers Adopted the Spatial Considerations of Architecture Theory? - Charlie Tancock   
    Preface
    Architecture theory is a considerably broad subject, an amalgamation of numerous artistic and psychological sensibilities. However, regardless of architectural movement or era, one idea has proved itself a philosophical mainstay. In the words of architect Louis Khan; “architecture is the thoughtful making of space”. For centuries, architects have been concerned with how physical forms shape and manipulate the spatial void they are placed within, exploring how this influences the ways in which human beings interact with space.

    Even though digital game levels are intangible, players interface with these spaces in a fashion to how their own bodies would interact with the world around them. Hence, level design can be approached through an architectural lens to enrich the player’s experience of digital spaces.

    In this assignment, I shall explore how level designers have utilized architecture theory in their craft. Throughout, I will introduce and explain several spatial principles and present a curated range of game spaces that employ them. This will display the ways in which level designers have utilized, subverted or otherwise re-purposed architectural theory to enrich player experience, but may also show how genre affects these decisions.
     
    Emotionally-guided Planning of Space
    A ‘parti pris’¸ often shortened to ‘parti’, is a planning technique that some architects use early in their design process to identify their project’s layout and spatial qualities. Usually a sketch of the site’s overhead layout, the parti can be informed by external ideas which often transcend the physicality of architectural form. Through this approach, an architectural piece can become a physical manifestation of the philosophical concept it was founded upon.
     
    Meaning ‘spirit of place’, the Roman concept of genius loci has been adapted by architects to describe when a place is recognized for a remarkable or memorable quality. For some level designers, the genius loci may exist through an intended gameplay experience that is shaped by their game genre. In horror game Dead Space 2, hostile enemies were omitted from the chapter ‘Déjà Vu on the Ishimura’ which subverted player expectation and placed it among the most memorable moments of the game’s campaign. The genius loci here can be considered as being the elevation of dramatic tension throughout the level’s spatial atmosphere.
     
     
    Place and Space
    Figure-ground Theory
    Generally, it can be assumed that both architects and level designers must possess a fundamental understanding of how shapes and spaces are visually organised. A way for this to be achieved is application of gestalt theory; the psychological study of human perception.
     
    Level designer Christopher W. Totten refers to level design as “an art of contrasts”, in which the gestalt component of figure-ground theory can be applied. Figure-ground theory states that all components within a person’s visual field can be separated into two contrasting elements: ‘figures’ and ‘ground’.
     
    For Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts”. Through the lens of architectural design, this idea is present; form and space must be considered equally to be distinguishable and understood. Architect Francis D. K. Ching defines the relationship between figure and ground as “a unity of opposites”, alluding to both elements having equal significance to a visual composition.
     
    There are two ways in which the placement of figures will determine how the surrounding ground is visually processed:
    Positive space is created when figures are arranged to imply shape within them. The ground itself can be perceived as a figure. Negative space occurs when Figures are placed distantly from one another, making the ground appear shapeless and uncontained.  
    Ching reinforces how the base principles behind figure-ground theory remain significant when applied to Architecture, claiming that “architectural form occurs at the juncture between mass and space”. This perspective echoes throughout the application of spatial theory in both architecture and level design. Here, mass and space are the tangible equivalents to figure and ground. There must be always be a perceivable contrast between form and space to retain visual clarity. The contrast between figure and ground has numerous was of being achieved, including colour, value, and texture.
     
    N++, as a two-dimensional platformer, does not adhere to many architectural sensibilities. Despite this, the game’s minimalistic level design highlights the symbiotic dichotomy between mass and space. The figures and ground are easily identifiable from each other due to their heavily contrasting colours and values (see Figure 1).
     

    Fig. 1: N++ 2016. 'Parkour Park Prototype' level. [screenshot by the author].
     
    Here, the white masses shown are physical structures, and the navy-coloured void is the space in which players navigate through. The placement of obstacles and enemies within the playable space help to prevent the player from alternating their perspective of the game’s figures and ground, a problem that occurs when both elements of a visual composition have roughly equal presence.
     
    Some levels in N++ are prone to this problem, where their masses and spaces dominating equal space and disrupting the distinction between figure and ground. This is exacerbated when the level’s masses appear to be extensions of the surrounding game border (see Figure 2).

    Highlighting the shortcomings of a minimalistic colour palette, scenarios like these have potential to confuse the player, as the game environment consequently becomes more difficult to read. However, these abstract visual compositions could be considered a positive or otherwise intriguing quality, contributing to the level’s genius loci.
     

    Fig. 2: N++ 2016. 'Learning Process' level. [screenshot by the author].
     
     
    Landmarks
    Urban designer Kevin Lynch proposed that urban city environments are comprised of five key elements. One of these elements, landmarks, can be considered a significant level design tool to enrich a game’s environment. At an urban scale, landmarks are typically physical structures like towers, distinctive buildings, or statues, that serve as spatial anchors or reference points for pedestrians. Furthermore, landmarks have potential to contribute to a space’s genius loci.
     
    Lynch believed that the “principal factor” for an object to be considered a landmark was its visual contrast to a background, which could be achieved through application of figure-ground theory. The Eiffel Tower is perhaps one of the most renowned examples of a landmark utilizing figure-ground effectively. Here, the sky itself is the ground in which the figure is placed upon (see Figure 3). This grants Paris a landmark of immense scale that can be observed and referenced several kilometres from its origin.
     

    Fig. 3: Gustave Eiffel 1889. The Eiffel Tower.
     
    Landmarks as World-enriching Figures
    Naturally, Level Designers can use skyboxes in outdoor environments to similar effect. The skybox can also be made visually distinguishable from the game’s horizon, resulting in a significant amount of negative space to be used as the ground for landmark figures.
     
    In World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, players are immediately greeted by a monolithic structure upon their arrival to the fictional city of Dazar’alor (see Figure 4). This structure is a gilded, Mesoamerican-influenced pyramid that houses the upper echelons of the native society and their seat of power. Visually, the pyramid contrasts its background to a similar magnitude of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.
     

    Fig. 4: World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. 2018. Pyramid landmark in Dazar'alor. [screenshot by the author].
     
    The placement of Dazar’alor’s pyramid echoes architectural conventions of spatial elevation. Ching identifies how the physical elevation of a structure is often a culturally informed decision, venerating the site’s religious or social importance to the area it has risen above. The pyramid itself is among the tallest locations on the entire continent of Zandalar, indicating its significance to the city’s cultural identity. Home to the Zandalari Trolls, the races’ occupation of the structure symbolises their dominance and mastery over the land. This notion continues through the bold, triangular shape of the pyramid, which mimics the surrounding mountains.

    Similarly, the Citadel in Half Life 2 carries a similar theme of dominance over the surrounding landscape, but in such a way that it appears overwhelmingly oppressive. The Citadel’s futuristic, muted features and monstrous size have a discordant but contrasting presence among the dated, brick-and-mortar apartment blocks of City 17. The tower evokes a sense of dread or unease, which is fitting, as Totten explains how the game establishes very early that the Citadel is the location of the game’s primary antagonist.
     
    Using Landmarks as Diegetic Pathfinding Devices
    Additionally, level designers can place landmarks throughout game levels as physical goals or locations that the player must reach. The impact of using waypoints in this manner can be augmented by an architectural technique that Frederick describes as “denial and reward”. Generally, the intention behind this is to make arrival to a landmark or destination feel more satisfying.

    In the context of level design, denial and reward is used during the player’s passage to a landmark. Landmarks become temporarily obscured from view, only to be revealed later from a new distance or perspective. Revealing the landmark from increasingly closer distances can indicate the passage of time to player in a natural and unobtrusive way, compelling the player to proceed.

    Journey utilizes this technique well. The game’s primary objective is to reach the mountain, a distant landmark that is introduced almost immediately after the game begins. The mountain often leaves the player’s field of view as they complete puzzles and traverse the abandoned landscape, but will occasionally resurface, appearing closer to the player. The physical qualities of the mountain are layered; new details are made apparent to the player as they get closer to the summit. These details include changes in weather, as well as the addition of small ruins and structures that would have been impossible to see from a greater distance.
     
     
    Further Exploration of Positive and Negative Spaces
    Positive Spaces in Urban Environments
    In urban environments, architectural figures are often placed in such a way that shapes the within them, implying spaces without using form. These positive spaces act as “dwelling” zones where people are typically found to socialise. The Nolli Map demonstrates the use of these spaces throughout the entire city of Rome, Italy (see Figure 5).
     

    Fig. 5: Nolli 1748. Segment of the 'Nolli Map'.
     
    Major cities in World of Warcraft, social environments using the same considerations of positive space. Like many urban environments, the positive spaces in the city of Stormwind are shaped by the placement of architectural figures. Overhead, the city is shown to have its districts separated by rooftop colour. This is the primary way in which each district’s visual identity can be distinguished. Characteristics like these, although simple, reflect urban planner Kevin Lynch’s criteria used to define ‘districts’ in urban cities, another one of his five urban city elements. Additionally, Stormwind’s layout uses canals to further separate these spaces, resulting in the transition between the city’s district a being very apparent to players navigating through the city.

    In Stormwind City, the Trade District is typically where social interactions between players’ game avatars are concentrated. By observing a figure-ground plan of the area, (see Figure 6), these hotspots are shown to be within the district’s positive spaces.
     

    Fig. 6: Tancock 2018. Stormwind Trade District Figure-ground Diagram.
     
    The high number of players in this zone can be attributed to the clustering of character services that are otherwise sparsely located in the game world, namely the Bank and Auction House. Like many dwelling spaces in urban architecture, the high player activity can be taken for the Trade District’s landmark. This mirrors the findings of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, that designer Claire Hosking references in her exploration of positive spaces.
     
    The positive spaces in the Trade District can be considered a ‘social canvas’, where the high concentration of players has increased potential interaction. These spaces can be utilized by level designers to create memorable social gathering places.
     
    Negative Spaces in Multiplayer Shooters Like positive space, negative space in urban design is defined by the spatial relationship between architectural figures. Here, negative space occurs when the arrangement of figures does not imply space, making the ground appear uncontained and shapeless. The use of negative space can be further considered from a three-dimensional perspective. Like landmarks, playable spaces can be visually identified by contrasting the negative space surrounding them.  
    The rampant popularity of the Unreal Tournament map Facing Worlds (see Figure 7) is often attributed to its use of negative space. For arena shooters, the use of negative space allows players to distinguish other players, both hostile and friendly, from great distances. Additionally, negative space aids in the identification of power weapons and game mode objectives.
     

    Fig. 7: Unreal Tournament 1999. ‘Facing Worlds' multiplayer map.
     
    Level designer Jim Brown compares the use of negative space of Facing Worlds to the lack thereof in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 map Favela. Here, the environment’s negative space is more difficult to distinguish from the playable space, leading to confusion and frustration from players. Despite this, Brown admits that the map’s environmental design was faithful to its architectural source material; the favelas of Brazil.
     
    The primary threat in competitive shooters comes from the presence of hostile players. Therefore, level designers must emphasize negative spaces to make all players identifiable from the game environment. This approach should reduce external factors, outside of the individual skill of the player, that reduces the frustration from failure. In this context, the ‘failure’ comes from being killed by an enemy player.

    In Modern Warfare 2, the single-player mission ‘Takedown’ is also set within a Brazilian favela, utilizing the same level design language and lack of visual clarity as its multiplayer equivalent. Level designer Dan Taylor uses this level to justify that “confusion is cool” but admits that these situations should be carefully and sparingly implemented. It can be argued that using negative space to a similar extent of Facing Worlds would have detracted from the level’s experiential qualities.
     
     
    Repurposing Architectural Conventions for Level Design
    Although many spatial considerations of level design are analogous to their architectural roots, the ways in which people and players experience these spaces are inherently different. Totten manipulates architect Le-Corbusier’s philosophy towards modern architecture, as he states how Level design is often constructed around challenges or situations that must be overcome by the player; “the game level should be the machine for living, dying, and creating tension by exploiting everything in between”. Some principles of architecture must be subverted or otherwise manipulated to achieve said intended experience.
     
    Spatial Considerations of Multiplayer Map Design
    First introduced in Call of Duty: Black Ops, the multiplayer map Nuketown has been embraced by game modding communities and has since appeared in later Call of Duty titles. Nuketown’s popularity, like many other renowned competitive multiplayer maps, could be partially attributed to its use of synergy between positive and negative spaces.
    The spatial organisation of Nuketown (see Figure-8) is based on a suburban living space. Positive and negative spaces are combined in order to separate to allow for both dwelling and movement spaces. Similar layouts can be found on various College and University campuses.
     

    Fig. 8: Tancock 2018. Nuketown Figure-ground Diagram.
     
    Although multiplayer maps like Nuketown follow the same spatial arrangement of real suburban spaces, the purpose of these spaces is manipulated to better serve the shooter genre. The outdoor positive spaces of Nuketown are located on either side of the level’s layout and contain the initial player spawn points. These areas are safe from enemy fire unless encroached upon. To encounter members of the opposing team, players must make the conscious decision to venture from the safety afforded by these spaces into the central space, where lines of sight are opened. The map uses vehicles as figures to define this negative space.

    In level design, the aspects of prospect and refuge spaces can be considered. These spaces share some of the architectural considerations of positive and negative space, where Nuketown’s central area can be considered a prospect space, as the space is an open area that exposes the player to potential threats. The large suburban houses that dominate each team’s side of the map are, alternatively, refuge spaces by way of their positive space being used break enemy sightlines and protect the player from gunfire.
     
    The dichotomy between prospect and refuge spaces in multiplayer level design should inform a player’s spatial experience by exploiting their survival instincts; players within prospect spaces are likely to subconsciously seek the shelter and protection of a refuge space. From here, the player may once again venture into the prospect space to engage enemies.

    Additionally, players can use the houses’ balconies to gain a vertical advantage to the centrally-contested prospect space, although this requires sacrificing the safety granted by the houses’ refuge spaces.

    As a final consideration of Nuketown’s level design, the level’s layout is comparably small to other maps found in the genre. Naturally, this means that the transition between positive and negative spaces are more frequent, raising the frequency in which players will encounter each other. The genius loci of this level could be attributed as a high-paced, thrilling multiplayer experience.
     
     
    Conclusion
    Architecture has long been concerned with spatial theory. Over time, this philosophy has guided and established design principles that remain considered even today by contemporary architects. From my research of architecture theory, it is apparent that the medium’s spatial lessons have been embraced by level designers. Where contemporary architects are guided by the virtues of human comfort and efficiency, level designers can craft virtual social environments by adhering to similar rules.

    Alternatively, level designers can use the implications of game genres to repurpose architectural theory entirely, allowing players to be subjected to numerous emotional experiences. From overwhelming dramatic tension, to the empowerment from claiming a tactical advantage over a contested space, level designers have been shown to achieve genius loci that are unique to digital games. Exploiting the relationship between positive and negative space can foster a competitive atmosphere in what would otherwise be a safe and social space.

    Video games provide virtual experiences that are meant to be interacted with, where levels act as the stage on which those experiences are presented.
     
     
    *Note: This article is re-published in full, with permission from the author. References can be found at the source, linked below.
    Source: https://charlietancock.com/third-year-written-assignment
     
     
    Follow Charlie
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/tancoque
    Portfolio: https://charlietancock.com/portfolio
     
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  14. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, The Silent Revolution of Playtests: Part 1 - Pascal Luban   
    Pascal works as a freelance game designer and creative director since 1995. He was commissioned by major studios and publishers including Activision, SCEE, Ubisoft and DICE. In particular, he was Lead Level Designer on the multiplayer versions of both Splinter Cell - Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, lead game designer on Alone In The Dark - The New Nightmare and Creative Director on Wanted – Weapons of Fate.
     
    Leveraging his console design experience, he is also working on mobile games, including freemium ones.
     
    His first game for mobile platforms, The One Hope, was published in 2007 by the publishers Gmedia and received the Best In Gaming award at the 2009 Digital Media Awards of Dublin.
     
     
    There is nothing new about asking testers for their feedback on a game in development. However, the practice of managing playtests by following near-scientific protocols, and of integrating them very early in the development cycle, is a more recent trend.
      The spread of real playtests in the game development cycle is probably part of this silent revolution; a revolution profoundly affecting the development environment.
     
    How? Playtests force game development to center around the players instead of the hopes of the development team. Let's look at the effects of this shifted focus:
    Playtests allow the identification of gameplay or level design flaws that could elude the grasp of normal testers.  
    After all, testers are always seasoned gamers who are not necessarily representative of the target audience. Who better than a casual gamer to pinpoint issues related to the difficulty curve or the overall understanding of the game?
    Playtests fulfill a moderator role in situations of disagreement or controversy within the design team.  
    A series of playtests can quickly settle a contested issue by resolving almost any counter-argument or dispute, thereby preventing the disagreement from spiralling into an impasse. Playtesting is also a management tool.
     

     
    The partnership between playtesting and design can be very constructive. For example, it can be quite instructive for game and level designers to observe gameplay during playtesting, allowing them to immediately determine whether or not particular aspects of their design work as planned. Playtests executed on pre-prod mock-ups allow the anticipation of problems very early on, as well as timely corrections of said problems (the faster a problem is corrected in the development cycle, the less expensive it is). Game development can therefore become truly "player-centric". According to the playtest protocol and the selection of playtesters (hardcore, casual, etc.), playtests allow the examination of a specific aspect of the game with heightened acuity: game balance, navigation, understanding of the game objectives, etc.  
    We all have the opportunity to play games that display high production values but nonetheless suffer from obvious flaws: erratic difficulty curve early in the game, navigation issues, overly complex interface, and so on.
     
    Such flaws could often have been easily avoided if they had been identified early enough.
     
    Major names in the industry understand this quite well, such as Ubisoft, which possesses qualified teams and invest lot of resources in this aspect of game development.
    What kind of problems might we fix or prevent with playtests? Some examples include:
    Accessibility and ease of use (interface, navigation within the game, etc.). Identification of sure-fire-wins, i.e. strategies allowing a player to easily overcome any challenge created by the designers and therefore remove any interest in the game or the current mission. This issue is especially sensitive for multiplayer maps. Fine-tuning of the game system: experience has shown me that the intensity of use of game features (weapons, equipment, actions, etc.) tends to vary considerably according to a number of factors.  
    These include player profiles, the time a given player spends on familiarizing himself with the game, and of course the game tuning itself.
     
    Only through long-term playtests with relevant samples of players can we ensure that the game tuning maintains its balance and relevance even after long hours of gaming.
    Analysis of the early reactions of different categories of players during their first session. This will highlight their first impressions and initial frustrations. Some game demos have probably had a negative effect on the marketing of games they were meant to promote because of accessibility and tuning issues that could have easily been spotted during playtesting. For multiplayer games, the robustness of the game system and the potential of maps.  
    I have had several opportunities to delve deeply into playtest management. I built the playtest structure from scratch at the Ubisoft Annecy studio, where the successful multi-player "versus" modes of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory were developed.
     
    I set up the recruiting methods, playtest protocols, and the debriefing methods employed in this program. I also set up a playtest cell at the Ubisoft Bucarest office and led playtests there myself. Playtests have changed the way I perceive my job as creative director, so I feel the need to share my experience with everyone.
     
    Let us start with a definition. Playtests consist in analyzing the reactions of a representative pool of players toward gameplay in order to improve the final game and to make sure it matches their expectations.
     

     
    Some will argue that game testing is nothing new. True, but real playtests have nothing to do with the debug testing executed at the end of the development cycle.
     
    Traditionally, game designers ask testers for their opinions. Testers are often excellent players and are therefore not always representative of the targeted demographic which is often made up of mainstream gamers.
     
    Moreover, testers generally get to know a game so deeply that their knowledge of it strengths and weaknesses profoundly influences the way they play. Therefore, they do not play as someone who discovers the game for the first time.
     
    Well-executed playtests allow us to evaluate gameplay strengths and weaknesses with great accuracy since they rely on two solid principles:
    The careful selection of playtesters. The use of ad-hoc protocols.  
     
    The Selection of Playtesters
    Just as a peasant needs fertile ground in order to ultimately obtain the best yields, good playtests require a group of carefully-selected playtesters. I could never insist hard enough on the importance of the recruitment and evaluation of the playtest candidates.
     
    What are the recruiting criteria? This depends, of course, on what kind of playtests we are planning. We may need hardened gamers, beginners, console-only gamers, multiplayer fans, and so on.
     
    The candidate's gaming proficiency and overall game culture represent the first criteria. The second is the candidate's ability for analyzing and drawing conclusions from their gaming experience.
     
    Note, however, that it is not mandatory that a playtester should possess a high level of competence on both criteria. Again, the type of playtests will determine the requirements.
     
    I have the utmost respect for the playtesters I have worked with. Their good will and enthusiasm are boundless. Many came to Annecy from distant cities like Lyon, Grenoble, or Belfort simply for an unpaid half-day session!
     
    This generosity and enthusiasm are characteristics of our industry; let us nurture these characteristics by treating playtesters with the gratitude and respect that they deserve.
     
     
    The Use of Ad-hoc Protocols
    The protocol is the unifying thread of the playtest session, defining the objectives, allocation of resources, and especially the methods of collecting and parsing information for a given playtest. The playtest protocol needs to adapt to the specifics of the challenge at hand (game system tuning, navigation, map concept, etc.).
     
    During the playtest campaigns that I led, I would prepare a different protocol for each session. Indeed, an important part of those playtests involved multiplayer maps under construction or game system tuning. Each session revealed specific problems to be analyzed in the subsequent session.
     
    I shall conclude this first part by repeating that a playtest campaign must be directed with a true scientific rigor if it is to be of any use; one does not conduct playtests simply by bringing over one's buddies for a few hours of fun followed by a session of easygoing Q&As.
     
    Each aspect of the session must be carefully tailored in order to best realize the objectives at hand.
    Managing the session itself requires constant attention, not only because one can learn much by watching the playtesters in action, but also because things do not always go as planned!
     
    I shall address concrete aspects of playtests in the second part of this article.
     
    Source: www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132355/the_silent_revolution_of_.php
     
     
    Follow Pascal
    Website: https://www.gamedesignstudio.com/
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/pascal_luban?lang=en
     
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  15. NLD +5
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, Level Design and Shaping a Cogmind Experience - Josh Ge   
    For years I’ve been taking a pretty standardized approach to designing each new map in Cogmind, and although we have dozens of them now, it’s one of the few topics I’ve never covered on the blog. This is essentially because a serious in-depth look at the entire process would require spoiling a lot of content, considering that all the most interesting maps have been located beyond the early game.
     
    But with the recent release of Beta 8, which adds a very interesting map right to the early game, we now have a good opportunity to discuss map design without worrying too much about spoilers, since for the most part it’s easily accessible content anyway.
     
    This article will walk through every stage of the design and implementation process, from start to finish. I took a lot of notes about the process itself as I was building Beta 8, specifically so I could share them here and to ensure that what I write is an accurate representation of what actually went down.
     
    Note that unlike the majority of maps in Cogmind, due to its nature this particular map has a mostly static layout and content rather than drawing heavily on procedural methods. As such the process is missing a few steps, but I’ll cover those separately in an addendum. A mostly static map, on the other hand, provides some unique discussion opportunities of its own.
     
     
    Conception
    Before even starting, each map idea needs one or more concepts to build around, and in this case we have several goals:
    add more potential variety, especially to the early game provide more early plot hooks help new players  
    For a very long time my notes for potential Cogmind features contained the concept of “derelict labs,” a way to access strange and fun technology, so when I started feeling we’d need a new area of the game to achieve all those goals, this concept seemed particularly fitting.
     
    Once I’d decided this was likely to happen (several months before actually doing it), I began intermittently revisiting that section of my notes to expand it with new ideas and considerations. On each new visit to add more ideas, I’d intentionally avoid rereading previous notes on that topic, instead just appending any new thoughts at the bottom. This keeps me in the unique frame of mind I’m in at the time, allowing me to come up with potentially very different ideas, or even perhaps the exact same ideas again without realizing it 😛 (this because usually days or even weeks have passed and I’ve forgotten the details of my earlier ideas). Note that coincidentally repeating notes on the same ideas can actually be valuable, because it validates them, perhaps with different reasoning, or even fleshes them out in different directions I hadn’t thought of in previous note-taking sessions!
     
    This process resulted in a total of about 2,600 words of rough notes on the topic, which like all of my notes are organized as nested lists in a TXT file.
     

    The entirety of rough notes on the new map, as seen in my editor
     
    Normally I just delete rough notes once their contents have been implemented or converted to more permanent notes elsewhere, but this time I saved them to share with you. Download/read the original notes here (you’ll need line wrapping off to view them properly!). Since the notes are a top-to-bottom process, you can see how they kept getting longer and longer with each extension as I apparently went back and forth on various points. There’s even “final summary” followed by the typical “final final notes” followed by “no wait, final final reverses that” xD
     
    In short, a new mini-faction of “Exiles” from another community has their own lab, offering the player both a new sensor ability (dubbed “FarCom”) and access to prototype gear from among a pool of possible items. Story-wise, they become the player’s earliest significant exposure to the world’s lore. As such, it’s good that I’ve circled back around to add this map after the rest of the world is already completed, so they can hook into it properly based on my knowledge of how everything can play out both in terms of story and gameplay. The alternative, trying to build this map from the start, would’ve likely meant repeatedly updating or changing its contents as the rest of the world was built. (Cogmind’s world was almost entirely built from beginning to end, rather than skipping around.) I’m not a fan of ripping out or making significant changes to old content, preferring to get it right the first time.
     
    So back in late October when it came time to add the Exiles, the first task was to reorganize those rough notes. This normally means reading back over them to remove the stupid ideas, refine rough ideas, and generally consolidate the notes while expanding on any unclear points, making sure it all fits together in support of my vision for the map.
     
    I didn’t spend very long in this phase, though, because there were simply too many notes this time around, and more importantly they were just going to be converted to a new form shortly afterward anyway. After just deleting some unnecessary chunks and making a few modifications, I quickly started on the proper map design doc.
     
     
    Map Design Doc
    The last planning stage before actually working on a map is to finalize all its relevant notes into a basic format I’ve been using since the beginning of Cogmind Alpha.
     
    Each map generally has its own text file describing its design. I call these text files “supplements,” since the idea originated when I started using these external files to supplement Cogmind’s original design doc, a massive file which started to get a little unwieldy by the time the first public Alpha was released after two years (plus I didn’t like the format/program that was used to create the original doc and wanted to start moving away from that, and by then the entire primary design doc had been implemented anyway).
     

    Supplements for various maps added over the years. “EXI” is the code for Exiles--note its size relative to the others. It happens to be one of the more complex maps, with a lot of possible content and various scenarios.
     
    Map design docs break down their contents into a number of common sections, including at the very least the following:
    goal: Main purpose(s) behind adding the map to begin with layout: An overview of environmental factors including the terrain and any props the player will see inhabitants: Descriptions of all the entities (in Cogmind’s case, essentially robots) found on that map gameplay: Primary interactive elements of the map, including any cause and effect related to dynamic content  
    These are the main four, but some maps have one or two additional note categories applicable to that map in particular. For example the Exiles design doc adds a “location” section, because unlike most maps there are a number of important comments to make regarding how to access this map in the first place, and its general position in the world. There’s also a large “part concepts” section for collecting ideas for their stash of prototypes.
     
    You can read the entirety of the Exiles map design doc here (again, turn off line wrapping). If you checked out the rough notes earlier, you can see how they evolved into the proper design doc, which weighs in at three times the size (about 7,500 words). Some of the minor details in this doc may not be the same in the final implementation since I sometimes make last-minute changes that aren’t necessarily reflected back in the notes, but it’s mostly accurate.
     
     
    High-level Design
    It’s extremely important to expand the initial map design process to include considerations beyond the map itself. How that map fits into the bigger picture with regard to overall player strategy should be determined in advance, since it can have a broad impact on a map’s content, and if not careful a poorly planned map could end up needing more significant changes later on if players find that it’s either not very interesting or useful to them in the long run.*
     
    (*There is currently one optional map in Cogmind which unfortunately fits this description: Recycling. It’s a relatively simple, small map with some unique mechanics of its own, but its advantages aren’t really as enticing for players as I had first envisioned them when it was created early in Cogmind Alpha. Back then I was just getting started adding optional maps, and have learned a lot since then, including by way of the player community as it’s matured. I have plans to improve it one day, but it’s not a pre-1.0 priority since it’s rather out of the way anyway.)
     
    I wouldn’t want to waste player time, or my own, so the Exiles map in particular has a number of long-term strategic implications, and properly building them into the experience as a whole involved addressing different kinds of player needs, goals, and… um, craftiness 😉
     
    Like pretty much all of the many optional branch maps in Cogmind’s world, the Exiles offer tradeoffs, making certain areas easier while increasing the challenge level in others.
     

    Primary long-term strategic decisions related to the Exiles. Note that some “drawbacks” may even be seen as good (or at least neutral) by certain players, so there are alternative interpretations to this graph as far as coloring goes. (I’ve chosen the most common view.)
     
    There are other random Exiles scenarios which can affect the available options, but I’m covering just the most common one here. Also, graphed above are only the major strategic considerations--individual prototypes can change a player’s potential route or even suggest builds depending on what they are, because they’re selected randomly from a pool of possibilities. Overall this one map has really opened up a lot of new options! I’ll talk about these options in more detail later.
    As designed, the standard Exiles benefits (one free prototype + FarCom) are especially noticeable in the short-term, at the expense of long-term drawbacks, making them a great choice for new or inexperienced players. That’s not to say they can’t be useful for experienced players as well--already one player won an extended run despite using FarCom, which essentially makes late-game Research branches off limits, even though that’s where one normally accesses a lot of the most effective tools for tackling extended game challenges.
     
    Having tradeoffs makes visiting the Exiles much more interesting, and they’re essential, too, because without tradeoffs it would be easy for a player to become overpowered, and a no-brainer to route a run through this map. Naturally not every map needs such explicit drawbacks, since in a lot of cases the drawback is the inherent cost of reaching and/or fighting whatever is in the given map, but here I should emphasized that the inhabitants of this particular map are all friendly, and reaching it is quite easy, so stronger measures were required.
     
    Okay, planning is over, time to start doing.
     
     
    Building Blocks
    As we already have our high-level analysis and relatively complete plans to guide construction of the new map, the first stage is to put together its entities and items, basically any individual objects that can be created in isolation. This would be the “pieces before the puzzle” approach, breaking down a large project into its smallest parts and working on each of the latter first.
     
    But I’m not even adding them to the new map at this point--it doesn’t even exist yet.
     
    Since there’s a lot of work to do for such a giant chunk of content, trying to add each new element to the map as it’s finished would often involve thinking at multiple levels (local area, map-wide, game-wide…), which is a lot less efficient than focusing on as few aspects as possible without constantly bouncing around. Working efficiently is not only faster, but also gives better results.
     
    So the plan here is to get all the pieces in order, then put them together all at once.
     
    Personally I like to start with the pieces that require the most time to implement, which for me includes most importantly anything that I think would be fun and interesting but is ultimately “optional” when it comes down to it, such as certain rare special events, items, etc.
     
    Stuff like Beta 8′s time travel-enabling “Chronowheel” item took forever, one of those things where I’d say “okay I’m going to tackle this one today,” then at the end of the day it’s “okay, I’ll just have to finish this tomorrow…,” and then a couple days later I’m like “uh, really gotta finish this thing up today!” (and maybe still don’t xD)
     
    But this is the type of content that really makes the project feel more like what it really is, a world built out of passion rather than just a “good enough game to sell and keep the lights on.” If I leave this tough optional stuff until later in the release cycle, it’s more and more likely to get dropped as I see the deadline approaching and there’s still so many other necessary tasks left to do, not to mention the fatigue of what it took to get near the end of the release cycle in the first place.
     
    In the end I’m always glad I’ve done these parts of the content, but I have to essentially force it through proper planning to make sure it actually happens 😛
     
     
    Items
    Items are the smallest building blocks of a map, so we start there.
     
    The notes and design doc originally listed them in completely random order, but again in the interest of efficiency I somewhat reorganized the list to keep certain categories together. For example all projectile weapons should be worked on in succession, since they would all involve similar parts of the data and code. This makes working down the list flow more naturally, without having to jump between too many different areas throughout the source/data, mentally loading extra scopes.
     
    Before starting on any code or data at all, however, I worked with a completely different scope: art. All the art for the new items (more than 30 of them) was done together over a several day period, since again it makes sense to tackle like tasks in bulk. It can be harder to bear when a process like this stretches on for weeks or more, but as a solo dev who can only do one thing at a time, despite game development being a huge long-term undertaking, the efficiency gains are pretty vital.
     

    Art for some EX-tech prototypes found in Beta 8. Each of the new primary NPCs I’d planned for the new map have “signed” their prototypes with their name.
     
    Immediately after the art came the lore. Each of the new items has some lore text associated with it, and seeing how that would in some cases help define or refine the item capabilities themselves, I wanted to make sure they were all accurate and consistent. So all of those entries were written at once, also important here since because they’re generally meant for the player to discover/read them in a particular order.
     
    And finally it was time to create the dozens of items themselves--adding the data, balancing their stats, etc., which altogether took a couple weeks. Some items can be added in as little as 30 minutes or so, while others like the Chronowheel mentioned earlier could take several days.
     
    The “Latent Energy Streamer” weapon adds a whole new resource in the form of “latent energy” which could potentially be more widely used later, but for now the entire thing was added specifically for just that one weapon, despite taking several days to complete xD
     
    Latent energy is found throughout the environment, more often concentrated around stationary props like machines and doors.
     

    Activating the LES, which also reveals latent energy nearby.
     
    The LES draws on that energy and focuses it for devastating amounts of electromagnetic damage over an area, but also has side effects such as destabilizing nearby explosive machines, breaking automatic doors, and even corrupting the user. In fact, a number of the Exiles prototypes have negative side effects, which is what makes it possible to give the player such powerful parts early on in the game.
     

    Firing the LES. The firing animation took a while to perfect, too, being different from normal weapons in that it more closely ties into the surrounding environment, tracing lines through the latent energy that it’s actually using to fire.
     
    The LES itself also has a unique tag which displays the amount of nearby accessible energy in number terms, as well as shows the actual range of damage it can convert that energy to, values which change as the local energy naturally ebbs and flows, or is used up and slowly rebuilds.
     
    I’m really glad the LES is in game (and can’t wait to get a chance to use it myself during a regular run :D), though if I’d waited until late in the dev cycle to add it I’m not sure it would be a thing.
     
     
    NPCs
    After items comes another basic building block: NPCs. Some of these bots make use of the new items so they couldn’t come first, but once the items are ready we’ve got everything we need to put bots together, and an entity (robot) is a pretty self-contained little unit of development that doesn’t rely on the map itself (but will become a part of it), so they’re a good candidate for getting out of the way early. They take a while to build and balance, but focusing on them individually now means it will be easy to drop them all in on short notice when and where we need them later.
     
    The Exiles map includes four new core NPCs, each of which has a line of data defining their properties. It’s a fairly long line!
     

    As a demonstration, here’s the data for one of the new NPCs, 8R-AWN. (I’ve wrapped the line a couple times here so as not to force quite that much horizontal scrolling :P)
     
    When their data is complete, I run them through a separate program that can analyze robot designs and tell whether they’ll be overweight, have resource problems, overheat in combat, or any number of other issues. Their stats can be adjusted as necessary before moving on to the actual map 😛
     
    Actually no… At this point I also decided that before the map itself I’d implement the FarCom sensor ability they can give you. This, too, could be worked on as an isolated system since I could test it explicitly rather than immediately developing the proper method of obtaining it in game. It could be hooked in as a piece of the puzzle later.
     

    FarCom in action, showing a faint circle within which hostile 0b10 combat bots are detected. (The circle has a slow pulse to it, but the gif doesn’t capture that well.)
     
    From an overall design perspective, there are enough types of differences between FarCom and normal attachable Sensors that there is no clearly superior form of detection in all scenarios. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks.
     

    A comparison of standard Sensors vs. FarCom. Green cells are a positive, red are negative.
     
    That said, FarCom is definitely a clear boon for new players, who get a free way to locate threats from afar without relying on any items for that knowledge. New players don’t have an easy time finding (and knowing to use!) Sensors, and parts can be destroyed, while FarCom cannot.
     
    The unquestionably most significant benefit from FarCom, one that’s quite attractive even to non-beginners, is that it doesn’t occupy any part slots at all. This is especially true in the early game where two slots is a larger relative portion of Cogmind’s available slots. Sensor users can try to get away with one slot (just the array without an interpreter), but getting the same level of detail that FarCom offers requires two slots devoted to sensor data.
     
    Freeing up a slot or two means extra armor, more storage, better targeting, and/or any number of other utility options, and this is a benefit that extends throughout much of the run, wherever FarCom is active. Of course, using FarCom is still not something everyone will always want to do, as per the earlier chart showing the serious late-game drawbacks.
     
    Overall I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out.
     
     
    Layout and Integration
    Time to build a map! Sort of 🙂
     
    I always start on blank sheets of loose paper since I find it the most natural, fast, and free-form.
     

    Exiles map general layout, content, and world connection planning.
     
    Most of that page is actually occupied by graphs considering how to connect this new map to the rest of the world. The route the player has to take to reach a map, and return to other areas, are important factors in setting the related rewards and challenge level.
     
    The Exiles are accessible from either -10 (essentially the lowest/earliest depth!) or -9, by the way of the Mines at that depth. They will only appear at one depth, though, and as the entrance is somewhat tucked away inside the Mines, I added a special indicator that lets observant players know when they’re at the same depth as the Exiles. I didn’t want players potentially wasting their time scouring an entire Mines depth for an entrance that might not even be there, so I drew on so-called “level feelings,” a mechanic found in a number of classic roguelikes such as NetHack, ADOM, and Angband whereby on entering a new map you get a log message reflecting a special aspect of that map.
     

    Cogmind’s first application of “level feeling,” added to save players time when searching for the Exiles.
     
    Players can also read lore in the Exiles Terminals which explains the scanning.
     
    As for the return trip after visiting the Exiles, I had thought to maybe send the player back to the main path through the Lower Caves, but that was when I was initially trying to restrict the design to existing options. Instead I ended up deciding to add a new Mines depth at -8, one that can only be reached while returning from the Exiles. This is both better gameplay (Mines are the smallest and easiest maps, suitable for weaker players) and more logical (the Exiles shouldn’t feel quite that close to the Complex, hence no immediate return to it from their map).
     

    In-game world map showing a player route having visited the Exiles and come back to -8/Materials through -8/Mines. That Mines depth is not normally directly accessible in the reverse direction, from -8/Materials, to avoid adding unnecessary exits in that map.
     
    The little nondescript blob at the top right of the note paper is actually quite important, determining the general locations of entrances/exits for the map itself, which in turn can affect the whole map design (terrain layout, content positioning, event timings…). These most vital points determine the flow of the experience. The player enters from the lower-right, and almost immediately there’s a junction leading to an exit out (mainly necessary to provide an avenue for other robots to enter the map from this side--more on that later), then the main content area would be in the middle, and further to the left is a second “back exit” from the map.
     
    Lastly, on the left* of the notes is a list of ideas for things I’d need to add to the actual map layout, which I’d sketch out next…
     
    *I’m left-handed and tend to orient my paper horizontally and fill pages of notes from right to left 😛
     
    Confident in the connections, it was time to sketch the map layout in more detail!
     

    First pass on a reference sketch for Exiles map layout.
     
    As a static map with important NPC interactions, the layout really had to take into consideration the flow of a new player coming in and experiencing it for the first time--who will they see first and what will they say so that the order of everything makes sense?
     
    So after doing the quick tentative sketch above (based on the earlier general list), I had to take a break from this and jump ahead a bit to work on content for a day, specifically dialogue. True, the NPCs haven’t been placed yet, nor is there even a map to place them in, but by writing out the dialogue in advance I could make sure no single NPC was saying too much or otherwise needed to offload some lines onto another, which might affect the layout. (It did.)
     
    After the dialogue detour, I did another pass on the map sketch, creating this second more specific iteration to match it:
     

    Second pass on a reference sketch for Exiles map layout.
     
    The player enters from the bottom right, sees another corridor leading to an exit but no hostiles in view so it’s safe to continue exploring. Also there are some “rigged” power sources in the tunnel forward, a mechanic only made available via Exiles tech and therefore will be new to the player--anyone curious will want to check them and out and continue exploring, first meeting 8R-AWN in the corridor there for a friendly welcome/intro chat. Then they’ll move into the central area and spot the second main NPC, EX-HEX, who introduces a bit more of the lore and invites the player to seek out EX-BIN to help with a project. From there they can go anywhere, either learning more about the place from prototype tester NPCs in the south area, or head north to get the main benefits of the map, FarCom and the prototype(s). Either direction is fine for a first experience. Then they can leave by heading back to the east side, but are more likely to take the rear exit.
     
    At this point I went ahead and put together all the extra terminal lore and minor NPC dialogue as well, since there might be something in there which could affect the map layout as well (there wasn’t, but anyway having just finished the dialogue it was good to keep up the pace while still in “writing mode”--efficiency!).
     
    Then comes time to break out my next tool: REXPaint. I turn the reference sketch into a general layout in REXPaint, measuring out cell distances to make sure everything will fit just right--not too squished and not too open, and that the average player FOV from a given position will reveal the right amount of content.
     

    Exiles map taking shape in REXPaint. For now it’s just a single layer containing the general layout, entrance, and exits, still no objects or other details yet. It’s also lacking some layout details that might emerge/become necessary as objects are added.
     
    And with that file saved it’s ready to drop into the game!
     
    (This map happens to have a fully static layout, so it skips some steps here that many other maps might require. I’ll cover those in an addendum.)
     
     
    Content
    It’s now time to build the actual experience, starting… outside the map 😛
     
    As a beginner-friendly map which is still kind of out of the way, I wanted there to be some ways to help funnel new players in that direction. So before working on the map itself, I again wanted to develop along the flow of the experience by beginning with how players are most likely to find it the first time. 8R-AWN, the brawn to the Exiles’ brains and the first NPC players meet on entering their lab/cave, is sometimes out running errands for them, and the player might meet him while on one of these errands.
     
    In one of the first Materials floors, whichever matches the Exiles depth, 8R-AWN can be found making his way across the floor towards an exit the Mines. The chance he’ll be around is higher for new players who’ve never met the Exiles before (unless they’re using a seed, since seeded content should be consistent, irrelevant of player history). On spotting the player, 8R-AWN invites them to follow, and proceeds to trash hostiles all along the route to the exit. (Or if the player is on the far side of the map, they may simply find a trail of destruction left in his wake from earlier, and 8R-AWN is long gone.) He’ll take the exit himself, and if he spoke with the player earlier will be waiting there when the player arrives before some more dialogue and continuing to lead on to the Exiles’ hidden entrance.
     
    Another possible encounter with 8R-AWN occurs during the Mines infestation. Assembled suddenly swarming into the area is a pretty deadly encounter for the unprepared, so it’s nice that 8R-AWN might show up to save the day, using special tech to shut them all down remotely. In this case if he spots the player he’ll also lead them back to the hidden entrance.
     
    This hidden entrance actually took a few attempts to design, since there needs to be a wall that opens up automatically for a friendly player, but I didn’t want the player to see a wall from a distance, conclude that it was a dead end, and never bother approaching, so the trigger was placed such that the walls would open immediately as they came into view.
     

    Exiles entrance layout design in Mines. To the player it will appear as if the corridor continues forward until they round the corner, at which point the hidden doors open automatically to reveal the exit as long as the player is friendly.
     
    This entrance is placed as a guaranteed prefab using the pre-mapgen method described here.
     
     
    Exiles
    That same post describes the data/scripting methods used to define the contents of Exiles, which as a static map is simply one giant prefab 🙂
     
    At this point we can start dropping in all the objects that were created earlier--items, NPCs, dialogue, lore, etc. So it’s a relatively quick process since the objects are all ready, which is better than having to repeatedly stop what I’m doing to implement them. Instead I can focus on how everything is fitting together at the macro level, rather than worrying about low-level details.
     
    Once again we’re following the flow of the experience into the map from the right side, only this time using additional layers of the REXPaint to draw machines (gray lines) and mark entity and item positions (green letters and green numbers, respectively). Machines and other props, including invisible triggers, are identified using uppercase green letters.
     

    Final Exiles prefab in REXPaint with all data layers visible.
     
    The corresponding data goes into a text file, the features of which I’ve provided a breakdown before in “Map Prefabs, in Depth.”
     

    Complete Exiles prefab data in image form, since it’s easier to read with syntax highlighting enabled. (Some of the lines are really long but not worth extending the image for, so they’re just cut off.) The file is also available in text form.
     
    As I’m going through adding the objects, I make a list of all the related explicit tests that will be necessary to confirm the content is working as intended. I’m also constantly thinking of all the things that could go wrong and need to be looked into once everything is in motion. This list will be quite important later, and is better put together while each element is on my mind rather than trying to remember these points later, or coming up with tests from scratch. Despite my best efforts at the initial implementation, usually a number of things don’t work as intended, and it’s certainly better to work through it all systematically rather than wait for a stream of bug reports from players 😛
     
    This is a fairly large map so I didn’t wait until everything was placed before testing, instead stopping a few times to test in batches, generally clearing out the list in the process.
     
     
    Bling
    With most of the main content done, I moved on to more superficial elements of the kind that can be tacked on.
     
    The FarCom mechanics were already implement much earlier, but it was still missing the animation played when you first receive the ability from the Exiles. There are a number of full-screen animations throughout Cogmind which occur when major abilities are conferred, so FarCom shouldn’t be an exception.
     

    EX-BIN using the FarCom Aligner to add you to their system.
     
    One element I also always leave for the end of the content phase is audio. Working with sound effects involves concentrating on tasks other than code, including managing a bunch of audio files and messing with them in Audacity. It’s more efficient to do all of them together, so whenever I come across something that needs audio I just leave a placeholder and add it to a list, one that gets taken care of after the rest of the content.
     

    Ambient audio visualization of the area around the FarCom Aligner, where brightness indicates volume. For those who want to read more on this, I’ve written about ambient sound before.
     
    There were other non-ambient sounds to handle as well.
     
     
    Variants
    I keep saying the Exiles map is “static,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a little variety!
     
    There’s the usual variety created via the prefab data shared above: Common items in store rooms are randomized, as are the prototypes (where there is quite a large amount of variety since the items can change up gameplay significantly, but appear in different combinations each run).
     
    There’s also some variety created via the fact that you may or may not meet 8R-AWN before reaching the Exiles, in different situations, so that makes for unique dialogue options.
     
    But the most significant variety comes from players not always finding the map in its default state at all. There are actually four different scenarios, the above text describing only the first. As part of the world generation, a random state for the map is chosen from among the following:
    51%: The default scenario, as described. This state is also always forced under a number of other world conditions outside the map, so the effective percentage is somewhat higher. 12%: Deserted. The Exiles have already wiped their terminals and abandoned their lab. 12%: Destroyed. Complex 0b10 has already attacked the Exiles, leaving the place scarred from battle. There are no survivors to be found, but the area contains other useful remains. 25%: This is equivalent to the default scenario, except forces from 0b10 will attack while the player is there.  
    I built the base map first, then implemented the 0b10 attack (essentially an event tacked on), then moved on to the other two variants last since they were less complicated. More complicated map variants should come first in case they require changing parts of the map concept itself to work right, whereas doing complicated variants later could mean having to waste time changing a bunch of earlier work! It’s hard to predict all the changes that might be necessary in advance, so prioritizing like this is important.
     
    The deserted and destroyed variants were easy to manage since they were basically just modified data and REXPaint maps.
     

    “Destroyed” Exiles prefab in REXPaint with all data layers visible. A comparison to the earlier default scenario reveals newly destroyed machinery, randomized (and randomly shifted) debris, exploded areas, and other different procedural content like possible salvageable robots.
     
    The attack scenario was the most time-consuming variant, since I had to watch the same battle again and again to see all the possible outcomes and whether they met expectations. I spent a couple hours just watching attacks, repeatedly tweaking various parameters to get the desired results.
     

    The Exiles are attacked by 0b10, with the map fully revealed for observation/debugging purposes. 8R-AWN covers the retreat, and EX-DEC drops a sentry turret before taking off.
     
     
    Special Considerations
    Finally almost done! The “normal” way to play is complete at this point, but there’s one more important stage: anti-cheese measures 🙂
     
    Naturally some players will try to gain every possible advantage they can think of, even those requiring outright thievery or murdering allies, so it’s necessary to balance those possibilities, too.
     
    Aside: Not all roguelikes need to be balanced like this--some even revel in being totally unbalanced, but for the most part Cogmind is meant to be a tightly balanced experience. Even though some players do still manage to stretch the limits through extreme cunning, which is fine, I want to be careful about allowing specific actions to be so rewarding over others that players always see it as “the proper way” to do something, to the detriment of all other possibilities.
     
    Sure the Exiles are a friendly bunch, but players who see them as a means to an end will likely… try to end them. Handling this was a bit more complex than usual because the Exiles experience isn’t limited to a single map--player hostility could begin wherever they see 8R-AWN, thus behaviors could change during future meetings, including on the map itself.
     
    Earlier I charted the strategic decisions a player can make with regard to the Exiles, and the whole reason these are decisions to begin with is that each comes with an associated cost. Players can choose to…
     
    1) Use the default approach, by taking a single prototype from the Exiles vault and using that and FarCom scanning support to just tackle the main areas of the Complex.
     
    This is the easiest option, good for new players. They’ll lose the chance to get imprinted in Zion (normally another good crutch for newer players but one that doesn’t appear until the mid-game), and they’d have to avoid the late-game Research branches which are very deadly for players with FarCom. Balance-wise, this is because those branches contain alien tech and many of the most powerful items in the game. FarCom makes many other maps easier, at the cost of not having access to these resources.
     
    2) Take one prototype and FarCom, and enter the Research branches anyway.
     
    This is extremely difficult. Entering a Research branch with FarCom triggers “Maximum Security,” the strongest response from the Complex so far, which is essentially like an instantly triggered version of “High Security” with even more assaults (basically endless increasingly strong waves of hostiles entering the map). This mode was added to Cogmind specifically as a response to FarCom, but also made sense to trigger in a few other special scenarios, so I applied it to those as well.
     
    You can see in the rough design notes that the original anti-FarCom plan for Research branches was to dispatch Trackers, a new type of fast and deadly prototype bot. Later I decided that Maximum Security was a better solution there (mainly as an even stronger deterrent), but having already done all the preparations for adding Trackers, I decided to at least make them part of a revamped Intercept squad system.
     
    Intercept squads are another form of tradeoff in Cogmind, originally intended to be very challenging, but players had gotten so good at strategizing that they weren’t quite challenging enough anymore--now the good players have to think long and hard about whether they really want to risk Intercepts 😛
     
    Ideally like the FarCom sensor mechanic and other building blocks, something as fundamental to the overarching design as MaxSec and new Intercepts should’ve been determined much earlier in the map design process, but I hadn’t yet come up with a good solution and needed to let it sit for a while, and couldn’t wait any longer to start Exiles work for Beta 8, so it had to be postponed and wasn’t even decided until close to this final stage. Some major changes are best left in waiting 🙂
     
    3) Steal all three prototypes from the Exiles vault and add some challenge to the mid-game caves.
     
    For those who really want more than one prototype, this is possible albeit with a bit of a drawback. For one, FarCom will no longer work since by stealing all the prototypes you didn’t follow their instructions, although for some players this may be a positive since entering Research branches then becomes a possibility (as does imprinting, if they want to!).
     
    The prototypes are quite powerful, so there needs to be a clear cost associated with stealing them. For this scenario I added a new drawback: Master Thieves. Although they’re not too common, Cogmind already has thieves hiding in caves, so I made a special variant which is even more effective and specifically tracks a thieving player any time they’re traveling through caves. If you steal from the derelicts, they steal right back--it’s an “eye for an eye” sort of deal 🙂 (Thieves race up and try to rip a part off their target, then run away and eventually disappear forever once out of sight.)
     
    Beta 8 has been out for a little while and the current meta among the better players seems to be preferring this route more often than others. I’m not sure if it’ll be necessary, but if this route is always superior there are other tweaks to consider, such as allowing Master Thieves to rip parts out of the player’s inventory as well ;). That said, I don’t want to make this tradeoff as expensive as the FarCom-Research thing--it should be something that players are willing to face under certain circumstances.
     
    4) Steal all three prototypes but just tackle the main areas of the Complex, avoiding the caves.
     
    While not the easiest option, this is still easier than a non-Exiles run. Stealing all the prototypes means losing FarCom, but using sensors instead and avoiding the caves means staying safe from thieves, and still being able to stealthily raid Research branches for the best parts. Avoiding the caves does means losing access to some potential mid-game benefits, but those are optional and there are helpful non-cave branches to consider anyway.
     
    5) Kill the Exiles, specifically 8R-AWN to salvage his own excellent prototype loadout, and also steal all three prototypes.
     
    This is basically the strongest result for the player (assuming no need/desire for FarCom), though also the most dangerous option since 8R-AWN is pretty powerful and Cogmind is weak at the beginning. Players are already doing this, though, because of course they are 😛
     
    I did add the possibility of a Hero of Zion attacking the player as a result of their hostilities, but didn’t make it guaranteed since that, too, could be gamed by players for more cheese potential. I’d rather it just happen in some cases as more of a lore-related surprise.
     
    As you can see there are quite a few special considerations when adding a new map! Gotta think of how players will react to each possibility, and whether they’ll think certain tradeoffs are worth it. In making these judgements it helps that I play a fair bit of my own, and that I’m also always reading about player experiences.
     
     
    The next pair of articles are addendums to this one, covering steps specific to procedural level design, and a comparison of static vs. procedural maps.
     
    Source:https://www.gridsagegames.com/blog/2019/02/level-design-shaping-cogmind-experience/
    Source:https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoshGe/20190313/338510/
     
     
    Follow Josh
    Website: https://www.gridsagegames.com/blog/
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/GridSageGames
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
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    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
     
  16. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, The Difference Between Environmental Design and Level Design - Josh Bycer   
    Creating the game space for the player to explore is another aspect of game development that can prove daunting. Despite all the games we’ve played, it can be hard to actually break down what makes a good level or environment. Today, I’m going to try and shed some light on this topic, and explore how there is a difference between level design and environment design.
     

     
     
    World Building
    Both terms “level design” and “environment design” may be viewed as interchangeable by developers, but to be able to talk critically about games, I’m going to separate them.

    Environmental design has become a major part of how game designers treat their game spaces over this decade. Some examples would be crafting decaying cities in the Souls series, to the original environment of Horizon Zero Dawn, and many more.

    Environmental design is about the aesthetics, architecture, and in some cases the lore of the world. You’re not just building a crazy mix of platforms and rooms, but a coherent world that feels as alive (or dead) as possible. The rise of environmental design has gone hand-in-hand with the popularity of open-world games. Treating your game space this way had lead to some of the best titles released this decade.
     

    Enivronmental design establishes the world…

    With that said, there is one limitation that has reared its head. Games that focus on environmental design may be pretty to look at, but may not offer much in terms of actual content. For that, we turn to level design.
     

    Crafting the Challenge
    Level design, in the context of this article, will refer to the act of creating content with the explicit purpose to test the player. In this case, it’s the act of creating a challenge; be it through enemy placement, traps, or a specific test within the game space.

    If we’re talking about open-world games, level design also refers to missions that lock the player in a specific area. The purpose of level design is to create interactive situations (or events) within the environment. A popular term for this in open-world games is “points of interest.”

    Typically, level design is hard-coded by the designer (although there are exceptions, such as Spelunky). As a designer, you’re thinking smaller than the full game space, but deeper in terms of the area that you’re working in. While environmental and level design work in tandem, it’s about two different goals.
     

    Architect or Trap Maker?
    For today’s video games, it’s not about viewing the design of your game strictly from an environmental or level design point of view, but combining them both. The goal is to create a game space that feels alive, but at the same time, there should be challenge within the world.

    The example I have in mind today would be Blighttown from Dark Souls. From an environmental standpoint, Blighttown is a decaying shanty town with a giant poison lake at the bottom. The place is dirty, disgusting, and a place for the forgotten to live.
     

    …and level design is thinking about what the player is going to be doing.

    From a level design standpoint, Blighttown features several key aspects of challenge. You have moving between the different floors, enemies spitting poison darts, the dreaded elevator, and moving through the poison at the bottom.

    In this way, Blighttown’s challenge felt like an organic growth from the environment the designers created.

    Many open-world games tend to treat environmental and level design as two separate entities. You have the wide world where nothing really happens or challenges the player, and then the set missions or challenges that are engaging. There has been a push towards having an “AI Life” system or having the game generate situations to happen; either procedurally or random events.

    This is not the same as having the game spawn situations around the player, but having them happen organically with or without the player’s involvement.

    The point is that you need to think about things from both a world view and at the moment to moment layer in order to create an engaging game space.
     

    The Best Worlds
    Games over this past decade have shown just how much thinking about a video game from an environmental and level design standpoint can elevate a game. If you want your game to stand out, you have to deliver on a beautiful-looking world that also has things to do in it. Creating great levels or game spaces takes a lot of work, and we’ll be talking about the key traits of that in an upcoming post.
     
     
    Source: http://game-wisdom.com/critical/environmental-vs-level-design
     
     
    Follow Josh
    Website: http://game-wisdom.com/author/adminjosh
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/gwbycer?lang=en
    Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJPQyAGAbIcXZXfM01oOPOA
    Discord Channel: https://t.co/WW9k1iVqje?amp=1
     
    Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
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  17. NLD +5
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, The Dos and Don’ts of CS:GO Level Design - Exodus   
    The following is portion of a massive guide on designing levels for CS:GO, written by Exodus.  They represent the current edition of the guide, as of October 30th, 2019. The full contents of the guide are shown in the index directly below. This article consists of portions that should be applicable to many different games and editors. Please follow the link at the end of this article to read through the original guide.
     
     
    Index
    1. Prologue
    2. Layout
    2.1 Meeting points/Battlefronts
    2.2 Chokepoints
    2.3 Staging Areas
    2.4 Bombsite entrances
    2.5 Post plant areas
    2.6 Simplicity > Complexity
    2.7 Unused Space / Areas without serving a purpose
    2.8 Negative space
    2.9 Support various playstyles
    2.10 Allow advanced tactics and teamwork
    2.11 Wingman specific chapter
    3. Routing
    3.1 Avoid obstructions
    4. Flow (Chapter written by @oliver_irl)
    4.1 Natural guidance
    4.2 Decision-making
    4.3 Loops
    5. Navigation/Intuition
    5.1 Landmarks
    5.2 Roof detailing/Alignment hints
    5.3 Detailing
    5.4 Consistency
    5.5 Visual indicators for plant zones
    6. Timings
    6.1 General
    6.2 Battlefront timing
    6.3 Avoid wasted time
    6.4 Rotation time
    6.5 “Around the world”
    6.6 Measuring timings
    7. Risk and Reward
    7.1 General
    7.2 Risk and Reward via route design
    7.3 Risk and Reward via sound design
    8. Sightlines
    8.1 Long sightlines
    8.2 Tight angles
    8.3 Pixel angles
    8.4 Vertical sightlines at ramps
    9. Verticality
    10. Auditive Design
    10.1 Spatial awareness
    10.2 Environmental Audio
    10.3 Sounds of interactable Objects / Triggered sounds / Positional hints
    10.4 Allow sneaky plays
    11. Cover
    11.1 Avoid Head peeks
    11.2 Natural Cover
    11.3 Overpowered Cover
    12. Models/Props
    12.1 Model shape and model collisions
    13. Scale/Dimensions
    14. Grid
    15. Visibility
    15.1 General
    15.2 Environmental Lighting
    15.2.1 Colouring
    16. Spawns
    17. Buy zones
    18. Clipping
    19. Basic Optimization
    20. Presenting your map
    21. Playtesting
    22. Dealing with feedback
    23. Further guides and tutorials
     
        1. Prologue Playing multiplayer games on well-designed levels is usually a great experience while playing on flawed maps often leads to frustration. If you’re designing levels, you obviously want people to enjoy the levels you create. However, if you’re new to the scene, it’s hard to start out without prior experience of what’s good and bad. This guide aims to assist you in your design choices by providing ‘good measures’ in moments of uncertainty during map creation. This guide isn’t meant to be a fixed ruleset, rather it’s supposed to be a piece of reference material to lead you in the right direction.

    Since I joined the mapping community back in 2014, I’ve witnessed a lot of unique and interesting maps – good ones, bad ones and most of them in between. Almost every level can become a good one, if enough time and the right changes are put into it. Iteration is the key for a good layout.

    Hopefully this paper will assist you in making the correct decisions and adjustments to your current and future projects. It’s designed to help you succeed in mapping and as a paper of facts and tips to revisit later.

    While this guide is aimed at the classic defuse game mode in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive it can still be beneficial for other game modes and games with a similar style.       3.  Routing   3.1 Avoid Obstructions Players in Counter-Strike are always focusing on positioning, crosshair placement and tactics. This implies, that basic movement around the level mostly works on an intuitive level without actually looking where players are going. To allow players concentrate on the greater things, movement should be hindered as little as possible. Main travel routes must be free of obstacles and collisions as smooth as possible. Keep floors in these areas smoothly even and move detailing to the sides to keep paths clean.     4. Flow (Chapter written by @oliver_irl) The kind of flow important in CS:GO level design is about flow of movement and action.
      4.1 Natural guidance Examples of flow of movement is when the player is lead forward and not backwards. You want to move towards the opponent and the objective so the level shouldn't be designed in a labyrinth kind of way, but instead one area should flow naturally into the next.

    You want the player to feel like they are in control and give them the opportunity to make decisions on the go, so the overall goal should be to make the flow of movement smooth so that the player can always be in motion.

    Examples of flow of action is what options the player has in the event of an encounter. In CS:GO you have to think about the map holistically [/as a whole]. Everything is interconnected, so every area can be an isolated "war zone". If the level has enough cover and options to use utility, then that contributes to good flow.
      4.2 Decision-making Flow is about decision-making. Do you let your players play the way they want? Do you feel in control when you enter a bomb-site? You don't really notice when levels have good flow in them. Bad flow can be recognized once certain parts of the map feel uncomfortable for the player and the map doesn’t allow the player to make decisions.
    You can see that the movement is disrupted in the second example and the player is moving backwards for a moment.


    Guiding players naturally in the environment contributes to good flow, and players don't have to stop and think about where to go. In addition to that it keeps the movement going forward.

      4.3 Loops Loops are especially important for CS:GO, since you can use them to get better positioning on your opponent. They are so elegant they work when you want to take a bombsite as a terrorist, or hold the site as a terrorist. Players use them to fall back if you lose an engagement, and loops give players more than one option at any given time.

     
     
      5. Navigation/Intuition   5.1 Landmarks Subconsciously, players take in the rough look and shape of their surroundings to find their way through an environment more intuitively. Therefore, many maps rely on landmarks. Landmarks are unique, mostly large, structures which are visible from large portions of a map. Having a large focal point like this available makes it easy for players on a new map to get the grasp of a layout quicker than without such a landmark. A great side effect of landmarks is the possibility to align grenade throws by putting their crosshair somewhere on the structure. A prime example for landmarks is the TV tower on Overpass.
      5.2 Roof detailing/Alignment hints Learning how to use utility grenades on many maps can be quite a time intensive task. In order to make the learning process as accessible as possible, make use of detailing above the playable area in a way, that objects help aligning grenade throws. One example how to it, is the placement of antennas on rooftops.
      5.3 Detailing Contrast and detailed areas attract players. Use this knowledge to guide players through a level as much as possible. Highlight and detail accessible doors, corridors and other points of interest. Tint usable doors in a certain colour while leaving inaccessible doors in shades of grey or rather muted colours. Keep the detailing and contrast in non-accessible areas at a low level to avoid disorientated players.
      5.4 Consistency Players should never be confused by all kinds of aspects in level design. Intuitive navigation through gameplay space requires consistency in design decisions. An example for this is the colour coding of interactable elements such as doors. If you decided that an openable door is tinted in a vibrant colour such as red, all openable doors should be tinted with the same colour.

    Highlighted accessible door on the community map Thrill
      5.5 Visual indicators for plant zones Intuition can be further improved by placing visual indicators on bombsites which show where the C4 can be planted. This indication can be achieved by placing decal sprays around the bomb target trigger or - more elegant – incorporate the indicator into the visual design of the bombsite architecture.

    Do:
    Highlighted plant zone on the community map Breach

    Highlighted plant zone on the community map Iris

    Don't:
    Missing plant zone indicators on Mirage  
        8. Sightlines Lots of fights in Counter-Strike take place around corners, therefore you, the mapper, must pay some special attention to the various angles in the level.
      8.1 Long sightlines It’s recommended to avoid super long sightlines, where it’s only possible to make frags with a sniper rifle. The Dust 2 spawn to spawn sightline is ignoring this, but it is working fine there, because early round picks shouldn’t happen with every type of assault rifle. You must own a rifle dedicated for long range battles. The Terrorists also have an option to avoid this sightline and enter the mid through a more central path. The remaining sightline is so long, that you can achieve frags with an assault rifle as well. Since CTs aren’t supposed to get active mid control early in the round, they don’t need the possibility to frag enemies from spawn to spawn with an assault rifle. That being said, I personally do not recommend to create such a spawn-to-spawn sightline.
      8.2 Tight angles When blocking out a map, it often happens that tight angles are created by accident and enable long and overpowered sightlines. Luckily they are easy to fix by moving the causing corners a bit.


      8.3 Pixel angles Like tight angles, pixel angles are a result of slightly misplaced corners. These types of angles are questionable for multiple reasons including optimization, unintuitive gameplay and unfair advantages. An example for such an angle is in the sightline from the B balcony on Mirage all the way through apartments:

      8.4 Vertical sightlines at ramps When creating ramps or elevation changes, it is important to think about the line of sight between players. If the player on the upper part of a ramp is standing behind cover, he might be able to see the player on the lower part, without being seen by the opponent - if it’s done wrong. To show this off more clearly, I found these examples on Dust (1) and Cobblestone. When a Terrorist on Dust is coming straight through the underpass area, the Counter-Terrorist on the upper area is able to see the enemy’s feet without being seen himself. On Cobblestone on the other hand, the underpass area is created in a way that the attacking players are side-peeking towards the upper area of the big ramp. This way both parties have the same chances in a firefight without massively unfair advantages.

    Don’t:

     
    Do:

     
        11. Cover   11.1 Avoid Head peeks When a player is barely able to look over cover, it is called a head peek. If an opponent is encountering a player behind such cover, barely half of the player’s head will be visible to the opponent. As a result, the encounter between these players leads to a frustrating and unfair firefight.

    Creating head peek cover is one of the most common mistakes mappers do. The reason for this is simple. The default grid size in Hammer is 64 units and the height for head peek cover is 64 units as well. Gameplay, sightlines and firefights around these are very strange and not enjoyable at all. It’s recommended to use below-head cover (~56 units) and above-head cover (~72 units) like on Dust2 A site instead. But not only those classic cubic boxes are enabling them, misplaced ramps and stairs often create head peeks, too. Try keeping them to a minimum.
      11.2 Natural Cover Most Counter-Strike maps utilize crates and boxes to create cover. Unfortunately, some of them rely too much on it, which feels unrealistic and repetitive pretty fast. Whenever it seems possible to integrate cover into the architecture of a map, do it. This does not mean using boxes as cover is a bad thing. It just should be balanced out, so the map is looking like a believable space.
      11.3 Overpowered Cover When adding cover to a map, it’s important to not overdo things. Some level designers mistakenly create too many powerful spots without playtesting beforehand to see if there’s even the need to do so.

    A possibility to limit the strength of a hiding spot is to be not covered towards all possible angles.
    A good example for this is the Dust 2 A site. Most of the common positions offer cover for 2 of the 3 bombsite entrances. This way the defender has enough cover to work with, but not enough cover to always feel safe. A lot of maps prove that some more powerful cover is working as well though.
    If you really want to add some powerful cover to your map, there are still possibilities to handicap it. These areas could be crafted like a death trap, without an easy way to leave them - shall they be contested with an incendiary grenade for example. This disadvantage will even out the fact, that players hiding there can’t be seen from any of the entrances into the corresponding area. A fitting example for this is the “ninja” corner on Mirage A site.


     
     
     
      19. Basic Optimization In the very early stages of prototyping, optimization is not really an important thing. Until the very basic shape of a layout is created, it’s ok to work with no proper skybox, because changes are way faster and easier to apply. This can quickly be achieved by using the cordon tool. However, as soon as the basic brushwork is completed, it’s good to start caring about it. Set small and non LOS (=line of sight) blocking brushes as func_detail and start creating a proper skybox. Another rather simple optimizing technique is to disable collisions on props further outside the playable area. Doing these things will not only improve performance but also reduce the compiling times of a map significantly. A well optimized map can run well on a low-end system while poorly optimized maps often have trouble on medium to high-end systems. A detailed guide on optimization is linked down below since this is not the main goal of this guide.       22. Dealing with feedback Mapping newcomers often crave for feedback, but don’t really know how to deal with it. What you secretly expect, are people saying that your layout is awesome and could be the next Dust 2. Unfortunately, this will most likely never happen. Sometimes feedback will be harsh, but you shouldn’t let yourself be discouraged by that. If people are harsh with their feedback, there must be some reason for it and only shows the urgency of changes and that things can’t stay as they are. Counter-Strike is a competitive game and therefore people might become emotional very quickly.
    If you ask these people to explain their feedback a bit more detailed, most of them will respond nicely and help you fix the flaws a layout may have. Don’t respond that you feel mistreated. It’s in the nature of CS that players get annoyed by poor design decisions. You, the mapper, must learn to deal with feedback like this.

    “Feedback” à la “Valve, add this pls” is pretty much useless. Sure, it’s nice to read, but this is no useful feedback at all. Personally, I’d rather see someone complaining that the map’s balance is “crap”, than just telling me “good map”. Level design is very iterative and therefore every mapper should be happy when people showcase the flaws a layout may have. Accept feedback and consider changes. Don’t be ignorant with a mindset, that your layout is already perfect. If all you want to see are compliments, don’t ask for feedback.

    The above being said obviously only applies, if you actually did receive feedback. This is one of the reasons I created this guide. Aspiring mappers should have some guidelines to work with, while missing feedback from other players.  
        23. Further guides and tutorials CS:GO 6 Principles of Choke Point Level Design (World of Level Design):
    GDC Talk about CS:GO level design by Volcano and FMPONE:    Follow this link to read the full guide: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1110438811     Follow Exodus Twitter: https://twitter.com/El_Exodus   Follow Next Level Design
    Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/
    Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2
    Discuss on Discord: https://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
     
  18. Haha +1
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, NLD Update: Week 43   
    Roses are red. Violets are blue.  Sorry, I have no idea where I was going with that.  Let's forego the poetry and just take a look at what has happened in the last week on NLD.
     
    *Note: Clicking an image below will bring you directly to the content.
     
    Projects:
    the bloodsoaked releases his first official level, built for Far Cry 5. In Prison Escape, 'The Cult' has taken over a decommissioned prison on an island off mainland USA and you have managed to break out of the prison complex unaware. Can you make it out alive?

     
     
    Articles:
    In the first of a 2-part series called 'Beginning Level Design', Tim Ryan offers pointers for those who are beginning a journey towards becoming a level designer. He reviews a wide range of subjects including: simplicity, challenging players, entertainment, and Verisimilitude.

     
    Inspired by a question about a specific element of the original Halo (Quick Camo), Hardy LeBel wrote a series of articles which demonstrate in detail his approach to game design and balance - Universal Truth Number Three.

     
    NLD Flashback: Max Pears asks a really important question... “Where is the Toilet?” Now you may be thinking “What the F*** does this have to with Level Design?" The answers are in the article, so read it and find out!

     
    Chris, of Purposeless Rabbitholes, swears a Fu**ing lot. You've been warned. Listen in, if your ears aren't too tender, as he breaks down the fantastic level design of Dishonored 2, and what he believes makes it special.

     
     
    Forums:
    The last week has brought an abundance of activity in WAYWO. 
    First, another preview from @icyhotspartin


    Next up, we get a teaser video from @Westin

     
    @JeremDem offers up some floor plans for his Splinter Cell based level & a mission document.

     
    A hotly debated discussion on 'rewarding players proportionate to the amount of skill it takes to perform an action'.

     
    The Architectural Imagination class on edX began this week. If you missed the registration, all is not lost. Follow the thread in the Design Discussion Forum to access some of the content from the course. We will be updating it with new content weekly.

     
    The stream of #Blocktober content on Twitter continues to flow. Check our Blocktober thread for a curated look at some of the shared blockouts from the past week.

     
     
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  19. NLD +5
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, Universal Truth Number Three - Hardy LeBel   
    Recently through the mysterious and tenuous connections of social media, I was asked a few questions about the game design of Halo multiplayer.  Yes, the first Halo. Combat Evolved.  Yes, I know that game came out when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, but there are still a few things about the development process that might be interesting to designers.  One question in particular caught my attention: “Was quick-camo intentional?” Paraphrased, I read the question this way:

    "When the player picks up the Active Camo powerup, they turn invisible. If they shoot while they're invisible, they become visible for a while. But some weapons seem to make the player fade in and then back out of view faster than others. Was that intentional?"

    The answer is related to one of my Universal Truths of Game Design. The Universal Truths are rules that I have figured out throughout my career in game development. I know they're true, because I have followed these rules and succeeded, and I've ignored them (or just been ignorant of them) and failed. In this case, the answer comes from;
     

    UNIVERSAL TRUTH #3: You must create a mental model
    That means that, as a designer you must create a theoretical model that describes how the systems in the game should act with each other. Game data design and balancing is an incredibly complex task. As anyone who has ever opened up a set of modern game tools knows, there are an overwhelming number of places where a designer can change numbers that can affect how the in-game systems behave.

    Here’s an example picture of an open game toolset that I grabbed off the web: 


    It’s a pretty typical screenshot of a set of development tools. There are windows that allow the designer to place objects in 3D space, and along the right side of the screen there are a bunch of folders that hold different types of data that you can fiddle with. And adjusting any of the numbers will change what happens in the game.

    I’ve seen it happen many times, a good game designer is tasked with making the game more fun and, faced with the complexity of that job, gets overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to change to make the gameplay better. At best, a designer stuck in that situation is ineffective. At worst, the game sucks because of them.

    In my process, I make a mental model of how I think the system should work. It gives me a place to start figuring out what numbers to change, and in what ways I need to change them. From there, I adjust the data values to suit that model. And the more rigorous I am with my mental model, the more confidence I have when I'm adjusting the sea of numbers in front of me.

    Let me give you an example.

    As we were working on Halo, the team lead’s first choice was to make the guns work the exact same way in single player and multiplayer. The responsibility for balancing all those numbers had been given to a senior designer on the project, but the general feeling was that his changes were not making the game more fun (see above).

    I talked things over with Jason Jones (the creative genius at the core of Bungie) and he and I agreed that somebody with more experience in game balance needed to take over the job. Initially, Jason volunteered to handle it all himself. As the man behind the game balance of Myth, and the Marathon series of shooters he was more than capable of the job.

    But I pointed out that multiplayer would have very different needs for the guns than the single player team. Weapons in the hands of dumb AI bad guys need to provide fun challenges for the player to overcome, but weapons in the hands of a player are a different matter. As a quick demonstration, think about the gunfights in Halo. In most cases, encounters have multiple bad guys shooting at you at one time. Each gun can be adjusted to be a little bit weaker in enemy hands so that player (the hero of the story) doesn't get overwhelmed. But in multiplayer, most decisive fights are one on one. Guns needed to be unique and powerful. I also pointed out that if we just used one set of data, as I was changing the gun data for multiplayer I might be damaging the overall balance of the single player game. Jason agreed, and we decided to "branch" the data and create two versions of the numbers, one for single player and the other for multiplayer.

    So starting out, I had a handful of guns with some data already attached to them based on the single player game. I had the freedom to change whatever I wanted. All I needed to do was figure out how to make the fighting fun. I needed a roadmap to follow. A mental model.

    But where to start?
     

    Follow this link to read this section of the article:
    https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150105/233483/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt1.php
     

    But just making the Halo multiplayer weapons respect their roles in the matrix really wasn’t enough. That’s kind of “first-person shooter design 101.” In a first-person shooter, weapons are the stars of the show. They need to look good, and sound good. They need awesome animations. They need to be effective in their roles and they have to make the player feel powerful and competent. But perhaps most importantly, they need to reward player mastery.

    To accomplish that, the design needed depth.


    Universal Truth Number Three (Part 2)
    I characterize depth as game systems or balance details that are included to enrich the experience of the player, but that are not necessarily explained or documented. They’re meant to be discovered and exploited as players’ expertise with the game grows.

    There are lots of great examples of what I’m talking about in all types of games, but I will offer up a couple of made-up examples for illustration:
    Example Game 1 is Wizard Warts, a fantasy role-playing game about a cabal of magical toads set deep in a haunted swamp. Pollywogs evolve into acolytes - able to hop, swim, wear armor and use weapons. But once they grow strong enough in the shallow waters around their home, they can quest deep into the swamp to find and eat one of the legendary magic Dragon-Flies.

    Four different types of Dragon-Fly swarms live in the swamp: Fire, Ice, Poison/Acid and Love. Once a toad gobbles one of them up, the acolyte evolves into a Toadzard, and can thereafter belch spells powered by the type of bug-dragon they gobbled. It’s important to note that an acolyte toad can only gobble one type of magic Dragon-Fly in their life, and the choice (and the evolution into Toadzard) is irreversible.

    The swamp is filled with a variety of magical monsters. They are all dangerous and hostile, but we can use the data of the game to add more depth to the gameplay. For example there are Plant type monsters are more vulnerable to Fire magic and take x3 damage from any source with that description, while Undead creatures are immune to Poison spells.

    Notice that one of the Dragon-Flies has two “type” descriptions – Poison/Acid. I chose to include the "acid" description as part of that spell group because of the depth that I wanted to include in the design. Acquiring spell powers and evolving into a Toadzard would be a big part of the fun in the game. But if the player chooses "poison" spells and finds that they are literally useless against undead monsters, and "poison" was the only type of damage in that spell category, it could leave an entire class of Toadzard useless in some situations. That’s a very un-fun outcome to players who chose to build that type of character, and it might make the game unexpectedly difficult. Consider the example of player who decided to make their Toadzard Poison/Acid and then had to take on a tough mission against Undead bad guys. A player running into that situation might have so much difficulty that they abandon the game, and who could blame them?

    Dropping some "acid" in helps solve these problems. "Acid" spells could still damage undead, leaving us the freedom to make "poison" spells useless against them. At this point you might reasonably ask; "Why fight so hard to preserve that part of the design at all?" The answer is that there is a lot of potential drama in the design that occasionally makes spells useless. It aggressively forces the player to adapt their comfortable play patterns, and it might encourage players to explore more of the content in the game. Imagine the player who finds themselves in a scary predicament when the spells and strategies that they've previously counted on suddenly stop working entirely. But, as they dig into the fullness of the spell systems they find that there is a way for them to adapt to the game situation without having to start over from the beginning.

    A less aggressive way to achieve a similar effect would be to extend the Fire example above, and only give the monsters vulnerability to some types of spells. So for example we could include Hate type monsters that were vulnerable to Love magic and Lava type monsters that were vulnerable to Ice magic. Anyone familiar with the Pokemon series of games will recognize this precise design. It doesn't penalize players as harshly as the proposed design above, but it's also not as dramatic in the player's experience.
     
     
    Follow this link to read this section of the article:
    https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150112/233956/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt2.php
     

    The interesting, and sometimes wildly frustrating thing about depth in a design is that some players never become aware of the underlying nuances. In fact there are countless examples where depth is built into games, but players don’t understand it or take advantage of it. Multiplayer games suffer the most from this kind of mismatch in player expertise, because the parts of their community that grasp the deeper elements of the design and use them often have a significant advantage over the less-knowledgeable. This can lead to all sorts of hard feelings. (if you’re a League of Legends fan, last hitting creeps should spring immediately to mind)

    As I mentioned earlier, depth in the game balance can exist without being documented anywhere else. Players will feel the effects as they play and hopefully they’ll pick up on the subtleties and learn how to exploit the design. But for that to work well the design needs to make some kind of intuitive sense to the player. In the Wizard Warts example, the player would glean that Fire is extra dangerous to plants. That's a common trope in games and of course; wood burns. But the underlying logic that "poison" wouldn’t have an effect on the Undead since they don’t have a working nervous system or circulatory system is less obvious, and so might never make sense to the player base. If the game is popular enough, the players will learn how the numbers work and "play around" them, but they're liable to think there's some kind of a bug in the game.

    So to recap: We need a mental model with an underlying design for depth which is (hopefully) intuitive to the player. Which brings me back to the multiplayer weapons design process for Halo.

    I’ll explain how it all connects in my next post!


    Universal Truth Number Three (Part 3)
    I wanted the Halo weapons to have depth, so I began thinking about all the guns that were in the matrix. I needed to understand what they were, and how they fit into the design.

    The Human weapons were easy to understand. I’m a Human, and I know what we use guns for. But the weapons used by the aliens of the Covenant were another matter. The easiest place to start would be to simply say that the alien guns were simply analogs to the Human weapons on the matrix. The pistols, assault rifles etc. could be basically the same, only with different visual presentation. Easy, yes. But that seemed like a huge missed opportunity to add depth and richness to the game. So I started thinking why would the Covenant choose these particular weapons in the first place?

    We (Humans) have guns. And once guns were developed, Humans developed systems to protect people from bullets (bullet proof vests, riot shields etc.) And then in the relentless march of progress, people invented ways to kill other people inside of their body armor (armor piercing bullets etc.) Remember that at the time there wasn't a lot of settled "lore" about the game story. I decided that in my model, Human Spartan armor was created as a desperate response to the Covenant attacks. It had similar functions, like a personal shield, but was based on different technology.

    So how about the Covenant?

    There were some notes about the bad guys and their guns, but the honest truth was that the aliens shot light-up bolts of energy because they looked a lot more visually impressive coming towards the player on screen. If the bad guys shot nearly invisible bullets and you couldn't see them coming at you, it would be a total drag every time you died. But just knowing that they were colored lights wasn't going to help me balance my combat data.

    Clearly they had guns. And they had an equivalent to our body armor – personal energy shields. I could imagine Covenant warriors facing off against enemies across the universe with their plasma weapons blazing. Or more specifically, their Plasma Rifles. As an poor man's analog to the Human pistol, the Plasma Pistol was a pretty dull thing, only useful as a desperation choice for one of the two gun slots you were limited to. I stared at the various data fields in the Halo toolset for quite a while, trying to imagine what to do with the Plasma Pistol to make it cool. And then a question occurred to me: What if the Covenant had to fight an enemy with shields like their own? Or what if they had to fight themselves? They’d need their own armor-piercing capability.

    In the Halo tools, every projectile had a “shield damage” value. Most were set so that they would damage shields at a rate that matched the damage that their bullets would do to the player's health bar. None of the projectiles were really aggressively balanced against shields. And you know how I feel about data balance in a matrix! I started to experiment with making Plasma Pistol bullets designed to specifically shred shields. It was a snap to make a projectile that blew them off quickly, but then it seemed overpowered to also make those bullets do good levels of “body” damage as well. Then it occurred to me: maybe the shield-shredding effect could be assigned to a different bullet. The one assigned to the secondary fire-mode for the gun – the overcharge.



    This proved to be very fun. In my early playtests, I'd grab the Plasma Pistol and use the overcharge specifically to blow up the shields on enemies that I ran across. But it was frustrating when I missed the overcharged shot (full disclosure: I am a much better designer than I am a player) So to compensate, I gave the shield-busting projectile a terrifying amount of magnetism so that it would track towards whatever I shot it at. I loved it – I could overcharge the Plasma Pistol and let the shot fly, and it would whip around corners and blast targets, stripping off their shields just as I came running in behind and mowed 'em down!

    In the short term, I won a lot of playtest games. Unfortunately, once this tactic became known to other players, battles essentially started with “overcharged salvos” of tracking shots whipping across the battlefield. The only thing you could do was hunker down in cover and wait as the first round of supercharged shots came whipping overhead before you started moving. It was interesting to see how these data adjustments changed player behavior during our playtests, but a bunch of auto-tracking missiles wasn’t very true to the spirit of the Halo combat model which rewards player skill, fire and movement. So alas, the “super tracker” overcharged shots had to go. But I did keep some tracking, to help reduce the frustration of a player using the overcharge trick but missing the shot entirely.

    So my mental model of bullets/armor/armor piercing was working to create fun combat. But what else could it do for the game?
     
     
    Follow this link to read this section of the article:
    https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150120/234625/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt3.php


    I made one other change under the hood of the Human weapons, which many people don't even realize exists at all. Jason Jones had designed the Human pistol to be the weapon of choice for players at medium/long range. The accuracy, high damage and the limited sniper zoom on the pistol made it a powerful choice for dropping enemies right at the edge of their "AI awareness" bubble, enabling players to pick off one or two targets as the enemies startled into their alert state and then came charging into battle. But it was strong. Damn strong. Frankly, it was too strong for multiplayer. I toyed with damage settings that made the multiplayer pistol weaker than it's single player counterpart. But to be honest, once it was "nerfed" it became a pale shadow of it's single player cousin and using the pistol became a lot less fun.  Still, I felt that turning the full power of the pistol loose on the Halo multiplayer "sandbox" unaltered would be opening the door to endless criticism, so I decided to made a subtle change. The single player version of the pistol is "autofire" - meaning that if you hold the  trigger down the weapon will repeatedly fire at the precise point you're aiming at. But... that's not true with the multiplayer version of the pistol. I wanted to at least challenge the skill level of players a little more. So the multiplayer version of the Pistol has shot spread. What that means is that, if you simply hold the trigger down and let the pistol automatically fire over and over, each bullet will deviate from the point that you're aiming at. And the amount of deviation will increase with every bullet. I wanted to make it so that players could still use the badass pistol, and it could retain the fun feeling that it had in single the single player game, but only if the player could master the technique of actually pulling the trigger with each individual shot. I still believe that this was a "righteous fix" - meaning that it was justified and the solution was (in my humble opinion) elegant within the restrictions of the established game play. Unfortunately, I lost my nerve a little bit. After all, this was a huge change from the behavior of the single player version of the Pistol. I was worried that players might have to re-train themselves to use the multiplayer version of the gun, which again might lead to huge volumes of outrage from players. So I didn't make the pistol deviate enough while auto-firing. Oh, the shots will spread  if you hold the trigger down, but not so much so that you might not still get the head shot that you were aiming at. To this day, not adjusting the spread rate of auto-fire on the multiplayer pistol is one of my regrets. I wasn't aggressive enough!

    But hey, people still seemed to like the game.

    One of the things that I’m proudest of is how my mental model for Human and Covenant technologies had profound impacts on the single-player game. For example, the high camouflage ping rate of the Human weapons meant that, even late in the campaign, Human guns were ideal for exposing Covenant bad guys that were cloaked in Active Camouflage shields. A second impact was on the AI development of the game. When the mighty Chris Butcher (AI programmer for Oni and Halo) saw the changes to the Plasma Pistol, it gave him the idea to have the Jackals use the Plasma Pistol in it’s overcharged mode, along with their shields, to greatly differentiate them from the Grunts wielding Plasma Pistols and grenades.

    I’d like to take a moment here to talk about why I keep using the term “mental model”. You might ask “Shouldn’t the design document cover all of this?” And my answer would be that my design documents have never captured all the details of the game. I find documents valuable in helping me codify my own thinking, and they can occasionally be good tools for communicating a design to the people that are responsible for implementing it. But I've never encountered a game development team that religiously read every document produced by the game designers. And when you're actually knee-deep in making the game, you rarely have the time to fiddle around with keeping all your design documents up-to-date. So my own process has evolved to be very fluid and organic. I start with some clearly stated intentions as to what I want to accomplish with a design, and then start to build it. But along the way, I watch the design evolve and continually evaluate that process. As things happen I’m constantly deciding, “How is thing coming together? Are we going in the right direction, or should we be going another way?” So my paper specs get me started, but beyond that my mental model is constantly evolving. I once read a quote from Tim Schaffer, that I'm going to have to paraphrase heavily because I can't seem to find the original quote. He described the process of making a video game as building a puzzle out of pieces falling in slow motion. But the pieces fall at different speeds and the shape of the puzzle changes, depending on which pieces you get, and which fit. That is a very poetic and accurate description of what my process looks like: I like to toss the pieces up, and every day take a look to see what’s coming together, what’s falling behind and what shape the final form is going to take. (I apologize, but I can't find the quote out there on the web. If you find it please add it to the comments section and I'll edit this post!)

    So that brings us full circle, back to the one-sentence blurb question that I got via Twitter: was quick camo intentional? Yes; entirely intentional. All of the camouflage behaviors are a product of my mental model for Human and Covenant weapons, and my desire to add depth to the gameplay model for players to discover and exploit.

    Did it work? As I said before: often players will never know all the details included to add depth to a game. The fact that a person on Twitter was asking about that feature proves that, although my mental model was thorough and effective, it wasn’t so intuitive that players completely understood it, even after a decade of playing the game.

    But here’s the thing: even if an audience doesn’t understand all of the influences that shape their experience with a work of art, those influences still resonate in their mind at some level. That’s called subtext. When I watch a performance of Cirque du Soleil, I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the overall story of the performance. But I know there is a story.

    And my experience as an audience member is all the richer for it.

    There are large sections of the above article omitted here.  We strongly recommend you read the articles in full via these links:
    www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150105/233483/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt1.php
    www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150112/233956/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt2.php
    www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150120/234625/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt3.php


    Follow Hardy
    Youtube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCRTexStRSiHNR21y4hdx4Yw/videos
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  20. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, NLD Update: Week 41   
    We have a plethora of content for you this week, my friends, so let's get right to it.
    *Note: Clicking an image below will bring you directly to the content.
     
     
    Articles:
    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.

     
    This interview with Gabe Betancourt reveals some of tricks of the trade that lighting artists use. Learn about lighting game environments, Lightmaps, Indoor and Outdoor Lighting, making light work with gameplay, and get Gabe's advice.

     
    Game Maker's Toolkit, along with designers Jakob Mikkelsen & Eskil Mohl, breaks down 'The Finish Line' from Hitman 2. Learn about their overall approach to developing levels, along with discussion on the idiosyncrasies of this specific level.

     
     
    Contests:
    Our October Challenge "The Thrills of October" continues.  Check out the Announcement Thread for all the details, and the Submission Thread when you're ready to share your work with the world.

     
    The Quake Halloween Jam, hosted by @yoder is still underway, with a submission deadline of October 26th.

     
    Mapcore's Exotic Places CS:GO Contest continues. Check out our thread, which includes links to all of the relevant information, along with showcasing some of the projects that are being worked on for it.

     
     
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    @DrOctavia completed 2 more Blocktober Challenges and posted them in the dedicated thread.

     
    @Z_SweLL is also celebrating Blocktober on Next Level Design, starting up a Gallery that will house all of his submissions.

     
    @Box_Hoes is working on a project for the Forgehub 2v2 Contest, and has given us a look at how it's coming along.

     
    We get another look at the current WIP from @icyhotspartin. 

     
    #Blocktober rages on on Twitter.  Our dedicated thread is full to the brim with blockouts to get your creative juices flowing.

     
     
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  21. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, The Making of Hitman 2's Miami Level - Game Maker's Toolkit   
    Game Maker's Toolkit, with the assistance of designers Jakob Mikkelsen & Eskil Mohl, breaks down the level 'The Finish Line' from Hitman 2. Learn about both the overall approach IO Interactive uses to develop levels, along with a relatively detailed discussion on the idiosyncrasies of this specific level.
     
     
     
     
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  22. Fire +1
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, Learning Lighting for Video Games - Gabe Betancourt   
    This is a recap of an interview with Lighting Artist Gabe Betancourt which is posted on 80 Level.  The full interview covers many subjects, and is linked at the bottom.  It's shared here for educational purposes.  This recap consists of only a small section of the interview.  The topics covered in the full article are:
    Working as a Lighting Artist  When exactly do you get on into the production? Production What do you usually work with as the lighting artist? What are the peculiarities of lighting game environments? The Challenges Behind Game Environments Lightmaps Indoor and Outdoor  GI Dark Areas Destructible Environments Framerate What is the best and most efficient way to light the scene? Advice  
    Here, we share a portion of the Introduction, tools of the lighting artist, the peculiarities of lighting game environments, Lightmaps, Indoor and Outdoor, making light work with gameplay, and Gabe's advice.  Please click the link at the end to read the full interview.
     

    Introduction
    My name is Gabe Betancourt, Lighting Artist at Naughty Dog, and have been working in entertainment for over 15 years. I was born and raised in Miami, FL. Graduated from International Fine Arts College (IFAC) in 2003, acquired by Art Institutes, now Miami International University of Art &Design. Before Naughty Dog, I worked at Activison/Treyach on Call of Duty Black Ops and Call of Duty World At War, for single player, multiplayer, and Nazi Zombie campaigns. My first full game dev opportunity happened at Crystal Dynamics on Tomb Raider Underworld, ironically around Uncharted’s first game, Drake’s Fortune in 2007. Before that I worked in visual effects for TV, film, music videos, and game cinematics.


    What do you usually work with as the lighting artist?
    Mostly Maya and proprietary tools. A lot of what’s used is developed in-house.


    What are the peculiarities of lighting game environments?
    Artistically, to provoke. When a player walks into a space, does lighting urge a sense of presence? Does it excite wonder, dread, joy, anger, reverence, peace, or sadness? A lot goes into capturing a feeling that takes being in touch with one’s inner sense and watching how others react to get right. It’s the most difficult challenge to accomplish. Second to that, avoiding flat shapes. Lighting builds depth. A prudently lit area has a sense of focused direction (what we call directionality) but also conveys volume by shape, silhouetting values between foreground, midground, and background geometry. Technically, we wrestle with lightmap UV artifacting, resolution, UV space allocation, memory constraints, and areas too bright or too dark for gameplay. Bakes can produce artifacts and splotches we don’t plan for and we investigate the cause. Some lights will or won’t appear as intended or colors won’t look right even though we used the right source texture (like with skies). We try to push values as far as we can to get the most dramatic result, but if it’s interfering with gameplay we scale back. Sometimes we exaggerate to lead players around an area or make enemies more visible during combat. Foreground elements will not always blend well with background and we figure out workarounds for that.


    Lightmaps
    Generally lightmaps take advantage of quality from pre-processed rendering such path tracing or ray-tracing and global illumination, to provide bounce, shadows, and occlusion with detailed precision. Otherwise, a game with all those features at runtime would run very slow if at all and make the game unplayable. Or it might work well with large scale environments but fall short of quality up-close. Raytracing is expensive. Baking frees up CPU and GPU bandwidth for more things like AI, polygon vertices, physics, particles, etc. Tech is improving and runtime GI is emerging in popularity as well as techniques for dynamically refreshing lightmaps. It’s hard to say if all games benefit from lightmaps. Some open-world, hub based games fare better without because scale is too massive for practical purposes. In our case it’s ideal for cinematic quality and adventure themed projects.



    Generally it starts with appraising what’s beneficial to lightmap. Sometimes baking into polygon vertices can yield a good result and save lightmap space. One rule of thumb I like to use is to measure geo against the hero. Anything larger than the main character benefits most from lightmaps, anything smaller is better for vertex baking. It helps because we often judge scale in relation to character size and our perception of detail adjusts to compensate for objects looming over the hero. Exceptions include round or long objects such as columns or door frames. A bookshelf is likely to look better lightmapped, but if it’s at knee height, it might not matter as much or look better if vert baked. Next we try to make sure UV layouts are clean. It’s vital to get the most out of texture space which can quickly take up memory. Then we appraise whether the resolution of lightmaps justify the amount of screenspace it takes up. Is it worth the scale it uses? If too dense we shrink, if too low we scale. A mountain in the background gets decreased compared to a cave in the foreground since the player might never approach it. Then, what isn’t manually UV’d gets auto arranged. We look at the result and from there, iterate art.


    Indoor and Outdoor 
    Every scenario is different. For outdoors the camera can go almost anywhere, so there’s a lot of ground to cover to make everything look good. It can take a while and challenge one’s ability to make a close up detail or large vista wide have equal quality and depth. It’s difficult to achieve both simultaneously. We look at time of day and weather for opportunities of grandeur; sunny days allow for godrays, heavy rain gives us dense fog and bright reflections, and night time allows us to use fire. Some areas don’t work well and we end up cheating a bit with runtime lights, cloud shadows, or particles. Interiors are different, a main source might not be available for good lighting or the camera’s limited reach can make it harder to show the environment. To remedy that, we try to figure out if there’s a source we can improvise, and make it hit a target area with bounce. Sometimes we’ll decide to use electricity, fire, flares, or player flashlight.
     
     

     

    How do you make light work with gameplay?
    We look at intended paths, where to guide or distract players and iterate on anything that may discourage or encourage advancement. Also assisting combat, making sure enemies and cover in an area remain distinct. Sometimes a light can entice players to pay attention to an object, location, or help with puzzle. Some of the most involved is with light-based puzzles. We’ll work closely with designers to get runtime lights working well with mechanics.
     



    Advice
    If at all possible, find a really good reference from a photograph or a film that captures the overall color or mood you’re going for and try to match it with just one light. While it sounds oversimplified, if you can get a strong base for that end result as much as possible, it goes a long way. And like previously mentioned, only after exhausting the most you can with one, then add another.

    *Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

    Read the full article here: 80.lv/articles/learning-lighting-for-video-games/


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  23. Like
    icyhotspartin got a reaction from Soldat Du Christ for Featured Content, NLD Review: Modern Warfare Open Beta   
    // INTRO
     
    The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Open Beta closed two weeks ago, which has given me a healthy chunk of time to digest my experience with it. What follows is an in-depth review of the various elements the open beta had on display. For reference, I was playing on the XBOX ONE S, and played enough to reach the Level 30 cap, max out available attachments on all the starter weapons, and try my hand at a number of the unlockable weapons.
     
    // MENUS - UI - GUNSMITH
     
    The first thing I noticed upon opening the game was the graphical fidelity - I'd say the game is on par with the last Battlefront game, in both visual and audio fidelity. The animations are smooth, naturalistic, and very convincing - as are the environments, utilizing unique color palettes and lighting angles to give each map a distinct feel and sense of place. The weapon and POV models are also impressive, as are the particle effects and dynamic lighting elements that bounce off them. The weapons, in particular, are quite detailed, with small scratches, grooves, patches of wear, exposed metal, and top-notch shading. This level of graphical polish is particularly important in the Realism and Night modes, given how these modes are meant to be so immersive.
     
    The menus were relatively easy to navigate, if a little jarring in their transition from the main menu to the various different diorama screens for character outfits and weapon modifications. However, there were a couple annoyances: one, I would often get booted out of the gunsmith menu by a change of "screen" during the intermission lobby. I either had to quit a lobby to create a class, or sit at the beginning of a match for 15 seconds, frantically editing my attachments and perks and risk getting booted or killed. That, and the option to edit a class or weapon is not mapped to the A/X button, and instead has to be selected with the left thumbstick. Little frustrations like this build up over time.
     
    The other was the inclusion of a looped, fully-rendered player character at center screen, endlessly stalking invisible enemies, through the misty grey infinity (ward). I admire the visual callbacks to Modern Warfare 2's menu screen, but this was really distracting and occasionally off-putting - I can only handle so many muzzle sweeps and so much anxious crouch-walking.
     
    // GAMEPLAY - CORE
     
    I should have considered the menu's stalking man as a kind of foreshadowing; this posture and body language came to define the winningest strategy for any player moving in any kind of sustained forward direction.
     
    Most people who play CoD do so because they just want a fun game to play, and don’t have 8 hours a day to devote to perfecting their playstyle or map strategy. They just want to have a quick bit of fun at the end of the day, sit back with a beer and joke around with their friends online.
     
    This kind of player - the main market for Call of Duty games - will be turned off by the absurd amount of angles he will have to cover, and the domination of the maps other, more dedicated or experienced players will be able to enforce - especially when it’s so easy to just super sprint your way around the map, and get killed by someone camping behind a piece of deployable cover. Either that, or he will only play a small fraction of the map, as will other players of his caliber and attention span. Add to this soft skill-based matchmaking, and most players will end up playing the same 15% of a massive level, reinforced by the inclusion of Tactical (Super) Sprint and weapon mounting to cover.
     
    My experience with the Objective gametypes, especially Domination and Headquarters, confirmed this. In Domination, only one of the three objectives were ever contested, and the only times the spawn-area objectives were played were when spawns flipped. This is typical for public matchmaking, especially in Call of Duty. But it was incredibly frustrating, because the games boiled down to a mad dash towards the action, which stays in one or two areas near the center of the map, often interrupted by a player who has managed to post up somewhere with an LMG or Sniper and who can easily cover one of the two main routes from the spawns to that objective, benefiting greatly from the faster TTK and the incredibly sluggish transition from sprint to Aim Down Sight (ADS), as well as the increased rendering distance.
     
    The game is incredibly complex - sightlines overlap to an absurd degree. Stepping into a courtyard, for example, exposes you to upwards of 10 different locations at a time. Meanwhile, taking a side route through a building can be just as dangerous, as you must contend with the possibility of CQC engagements or running into a claymore. This is made all the more daunting because many buildings have doors that must be breached in order to enter, and the lighting contrast makes it very difficult to see players crouching or lying prone with an SMG or Shotgun. The map Hackney, Yard, for example, has a number of buildings that can be explored, in which there are upwards of 5  places a player could be hiding - and vice versa, if you are hiding in these buildings, there are upwards of 5 places a player could challenge you from. Some buildings are also partially destroyed, which opens them up to multiple lines of sight - there are windows, doors, cave-ins, cutaways, scaffolding, and other tears in the structures which can open up a player to numerous angles of attack, most of which cannot be countered because of the fast Time To Kill (TTK).
     
    // REALISM / NIGHT MODES
     
    In Realism mode, the heavy lighting contrast forces you to face into the sun for an advantage in most cases, and the dark areas can easily be controlled by players jumping around corners or posting up on portable cover. Plus, spawns are easily broken because they’re proximity-based, which means your team can be daisy-chained at one spawn location, especially because it's hard to determine where your team is (or the other team), unless they are onscreen, helpfully overlaid with an immersion-breaking nameplate that IS NOT EVEN CENTERED OVER THE PLAYER MODEL. There is nothing more frustrating than firing under a bright red nameplate in a black void, only to watch your tracers fly past your killer's head in the killcam.
     
    As a direct result of the confusion and hyperrealism, I’ve spawned into the line of fire a few times on the Cave map. This should never happen, especially considering how large that map is - but because the lack of onscreen prompts is anathema to the average CoD player, my team was scattered all over the map, and therefore not concentrated in any one area, which breaks the spawns, apparently. Not pictured are the 4 or 5 times I was spawned in the same location (southernmost Allegiance spawn zone) with half of the enemy team within my visibility.
     
    In Night mode, the game plays with tunnel-vision, artificially reducing the sightline saturation through the use of ingenious lighting tricks, replacing it with a totally desaturated night vision landscape of pale greens and deep blacks. This is accomplished in such convincing detail by the rendering of Infrared light in-engine, so that your night vision goggles are actually picking up the "real" IR signatures bouncing around the map.
     
    This actually makes the pathing easier to digest; your visible options are significantly reduced, as the eye is not drawn by natural light towards the next potential target. Instead, there are pockets of light near burning vehicles, in doorways, and near some light posts, which highlight a few places where a player may come through. The lack of a HUD helps emphasize motion past these light sources, but the low lighting and monochromatic display makes it hard to chase players who don’t run directly past your immediate vicinity. This spreads the concentration of action way out, which slows gameplay down significantly, unless you happen upon a firefight that’s already started. Unfortunately, however, this just makes it all that much easier to run past someone and not notice them - or get picked off by someone posted up in a makeshift crow's nest.
     
    // GUNFIGHT
     
    The complexity of the Core maps is offset by the small, simple layouts offered for the new 2v2 Gunfight mode. Unfortunately, this mode suffers from the same problems as the 6v6 and 10v10 games, only in a much more concentrated form.
     
    The way this played in practice was like a very frantic and constricted form of BLOPS 4's Blackout. Depending on your connection and your dedication to this form of combat, your experience will differ. Mine was not overly positive, as I was often left to play alone after my teammate quit 2 rounds in, or sacrificed to the CoD gods by the spotty hit detection.
    I eventually learned how easy it was to use one strategy to dominate play on one particular map.
     
    But, because the maps are various forms of symmetrical environments, feature asymmetrically symmetrical weapon spawns, and the matchmaking process cannot guarantee communication between you and your teammate, these strategies relied entirely on my faith in RNGesus and my willingness to gamble away another 30 seconds of my life.
     
    Keep in mind, the version I got to try of this did not offer players a starting weapon. This was infinitely more frustrating than anything I've ever played. Weapons were set at spawn points, equipment pickups were randomly cycled, and the 'hold X' prompt did not function consistently unless I slowed down to walking speed near a pickup.
     
    Consider, then, that most of these pickups were placed either in highly contested, staged areas (except for the pistols), or in very enclosed areas. It felt a little bit like playing a sped up version of dodgeball, where a round is decided by the first player to grab a ball from the midfield line. Only in this game, some balls are clearly better than others, and if you want them you have to put yourself in an almost indefensible position.
     

     
    The small scale of these maps, the fast TTK, and the high mix value of footsteps makes moving fast a problem, but also the only way to win. Each map differs slightly, but generally speaking, Sitting still and mounting your weapons is a recipe for death, as is stalking the enemy. Unfortunately, moving fast also makes the pickup prompt even less responsive, to the point where I had to backtrack to pick something up, taking twice as long to pick the damn things up. Last I checked, players don't hold X to reload, so why not reduce the amount of hold time necessary to pick up weapons?
     
    I would often pick up a starter pistol, only to be picked off by a player who had already  super sprinted to my flank, grabbing a shotgun or M4 along the side route, uncontested by my teammate, who had already died running straight at the middle of the map without a weapon. If I was not picked off, a comeback was extremely difficult, because you can't shoot at two enemies at once in CoD, and if you do get lucky and catch them doubled up, chances are they'll do enough combined damage to you before you can down either of them, especially if they've already picked up the weapons you'd need to do that kind of damage.
     
    As a result, the gametype is hindered by not only the inherent imbalance of semi-variable, asymmetrical weapon pickups, but also by the fast TTK and extreme movement delta necessary for consistent accuracy. Rounds that last less than 30 seconds are more frantic than fun, and rounds that last more than a minute are excruciatingly stressful. Both kinds of matches also suffered from the long wait time between rounds, the jittery nature of the 3rd person death cam, and the extremely repetitive round-winning killcams. 
     
    And yet, it's possible to win a round of this game simply by taking advantage of the lighting, and manic repositioning of the other team, as evidenced by the time I idled for a good 20 seconds, only to see the enemy jump onto my screen, not notice me, allow me enough time to run up to him, without a weapon, and punch him to death, again, without knowing I was there.
     

     

     
    Imagine an F1 race where every lap alternated between Green and Caution, and where there are no hard and fast rules on the displacement or aerodynamics. For only 10 laps. Get the picture? 
     
    // GROUND WAR
     
    This was beyond a mess. No structure whatsoever. Avoid, unless you want to play a less fun, less polished, less understandable version of Battlefield.
     
    // SANDBOX DESIGN
     
    Every individual encounter lasts less than a second, and you never know when someone will super sprint around a corner with an MP7, or pick you off from a window you can't see without a 60-inch 4K TV and the in-game brightness turned up far beyond what's healthy. In a game that encourages such slow movement, but which has a staggering amount of variability in it's movement speeds, this is beyond frustrating.
     
    It does not help MW’s case that the vast majority of, if not all, the weapons are hitscan laser beams. Leading the target is not necessary, which eliminates the kind of skill that would make faster TTKs manageable and a bit more rewarding.
     
    Some of my best plays were made while moving slow and methodically, which is incredibly counter-intuitive in a game under the CoD banner. I think this mixed signal comes from the decision to go back to something more 'boots on the ground'. The community of CoD players out there had been clamoring for less complex movement, less cheap jumping and dropshotting, and less bouncing around the map. Unfortunately, somewhere the signals must have gotten scrambled. Sprinting is pre-loaded with risk vs reward design, as is the Hipfire/ADS split.
     
    I do not suggest changing the formula for the Core gameplay options, it is far past the point where that's feasible before release. But if the idea is to offer a structured, competitive arena experience where players must weigh the risk of changing location with the reward of a potential score, players ought to spawn with a set loadout, weapons should not be randomized, and players should be bound to small ammo counts and given a severely restricted sandbox.
     
    Here are some solutions I suggest, for Gunfight: Pistol starts, smoke and decoy grenades, Semi-Auto ARs placed on periphery paths, and foregripped, sightless SMGs placed in the map center, with and Molotov Cocktails enforced as the available pickups. This way, precision is encouraged, and area denial becomes a more passive strategy, allowing players to actually move through the map and fight on their feet. I would also remove the immediate elimination, offering teams up to 3 lives between them per round, and a squad-spawn mechanic that would spawn a player behind, or very near their teammate, in cover. This would encourage longer-term game strategy, and would keep players invested in the match - which would also allow for actual plays to be made, and lessen the frustration of losing a match. I'd even up the TTK, which would make the gunfights - eh? - a little bit more complex than just two people running straight at each other like runaway trains.
     
    Oh, and random spread on semi-auto weapons should be heavily reduced at walking speed. You could even include hipfire while sprinting, if you want that increased spread, to give players an option to actually defend themselves while moving, but one that is realistically effective, and not deceptively ineffective. Frankly, this would be a good addition to the base sandbox, considering the realism IW is going for.
     
    // GUNPLAY
     
    It's Call of Duty, so the main character is your chosen weapon. As I've mentioned, the weapon models were quite detailed. The staggering number of available attachments are all rendered to the same level of polish as the base weapons, and each provide a unique status effect on them. Red Dot sights, for example, allow for greater pinpoint accuracy and spatial awareness, whereas holographic sights offer a vignette sight picture, with a general idea of where your bullets will land - angled foregrips provide a little bit of aiming stability, and lightweight stocks/barrels visibly affect your movement speed, across all movement types. Laser pointers are particularly useful, as they paint your target with an angry red glow from the hip. Very useful on the MP5, so that will probably get nerfed.
     
    As to the animations, these are really quite impressive, from a 'digital GoPro' perspective. Shotguns pack a massive punch, blasting backward with a flash of light, the Desert Eagle bounces around in your hands as you wrestle it back to the target, and even the movement of the character is reflected, with every change of direction accompanied by a somewhat elastic arm movement, no doubt intended to convey the weight of the weapon in your hands. Even sniper scopes refract and bend light in a realistic way, with the lenses blurring and distorting according to where the crosshairs are located.
     
    Unfortunately, this level of realism is oftentimes distracting, or even detrimental to the gunplay - the sniper lens effect, the shotguns' incredible kick, and the various pistols' inability to sit still in your hands all can make it very hard to keep your weapon on target. Add to this the notoriously bad random spread on hip-fired weapons, and the inconsistent hit detection (especially on: pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, and marksman rifles) and you've a recipe for even more little frustrations. I suppose this is to be expected in CoD, but that is not meant as an excuse - rather, it ought to be considered a glaring condemnation of the developers' - and publisher's - lack of care for gameplay integrity.
     
    // LEVEL DESIGN
     
    The environments are as spectacularly rendered, and the way they are designed conveys a true sense of place. This does not prevent the environments from being readable, as the artists have done a pretty good job of making sure areas you can access are clearly defined when approaching them. Another cool detail is the way in which some maps offer players some platforming opportunities, and the way these alternate paths overlap with each other. Hackney Yard was the most notable example of this, with shipping containers placed just so in the central courtyard, and a dual-tiered workshop roof accessible to players who wanted a vertical advantage. These shipping containers double as cover for players on the ground floor, which lessens the advantage of such vertical positions, and makes players decide whether they will chase along the adjacent roof, or try something riskier, hopping from container to container.
     
    That said, there are a few places where this is not so well done - one was a sheetmetal awning on Azhir Cave, between the catwalk bridge and the middle cave entrance, a position that would have offered an interesting sightline into he cave, towards the Coalition spawn.
     
    Normally I would welcome this change from the tired 3-lane approach CoD has been using for the last seven (7) years, a formula that BLOPS4 deviated from a little bit - notably with Morocco, Icebreaker, Militia, Jungle, and Firing Range, two of which were lifted from the first Black Ops. I say that these maps deviate because they offer players more meaningful movement choices around the environment. Rather than just pushing straight up one lane to flip the spawns, you might have a choice of high or low ground. Rooms were sparse, but did not offer opportunities for corner camping. Sightlines were direct, but limited in their scope, power positions were accessible from one or two angles of attack, and grenades were effective area denial tools. Pathing branched off at predictable, well-paced intervals, but there were flanking paths with subtle changes in geometry and elevation, allowing players to be more thoughtful about their aggression, and more capable of fighting back if they were caught off guard.
     
    Modern Warfare attempts this with its levels as well, offering maps that deviate in subtle ways from the 3-lane formula. Interiors were alternatively open and closed, environments are more vertically inclined, overlapping, and there are multiple ways to approach a firefight or hot zone - this gave many of the environments an organic, flowing feel to the progression through a level, making stops at clearly-defined minor arenas along the way. And with the simplified weapons and movement abilities, this makes a lot of sense. This added a layer of thought and strategic movement I really appreciated at times, but which I could not get engaged in long-term because of the need to speed up and slow down so much.
     
    Even then, the maps do not deviate all that much from the 3-lane formula - instead of offering a suite of branching, but not necessarily intersecting paths with a smaller, more manageable number of sightlines to consider, the spaces between 'arenas' are saturated with sightlines, overlapping paths, hard, blind corners, equally-dispersed cover, and 'risk/reward' verticality.
     
    Vertical positions tend to have NO cover, unless they are window positions. Windows are strengthened further by the fact they are always in shade, and do not make a player's presence readable at all. Even the ones that are open and lit, like on Hackney Yard or Azhir Cave, are incredibly difficult to see, because the lighting engine favors the brighter areas, in the name of photorealism. If a player is not playing extremely stealthily, peeking around corners, momentarily mounting their weapons on cover, checking their six, and sliding into the next piece of conveniently placed cover along a particular path, they will be pinged from somewhere totally unpredictable, and generally invisible until the killcam reveals the position. This is very frustrating on levels with so many overlapping lines of sight, and so many blind, tight corners.
     
    There is one notable exception, where a vertical position does have some cover created by the integrated geometry/pathing, almost as if the level designer was unintentionally quoting a Halo map of old. Unfortunately, that position is nearly impossible to break because of the ability to go prone, the incredibly fast TTK, and the fact that it can control the entire central courtyard of the map by the mere suggestion that someone might be up there.
     

     
    The above image is meant to highlight the 11 (count them, there may be more that I didn't include!) places the blue player choosing the middle path on Hackney Yard can expect to be shot at from off a respawn. The non-rectangular zones are spots a player can reasonably expect to either be mantled, or come super sprinting around without warning. There is also a closed door on the left side of the image, which can be used as a deterrent, or a dynamic piece of cover for players controlling that hallway. To players without a minimap, this area is a deathtrap. To players with a minimap, this area is a no-go zone. Maybe that's another layer of realism that was intended? I can't say for sure.
     
    To that point, the replacement of the mini-map with the overhead compass wouldn’t have been an issue if the levels weren’t so ridiculously segmented and easy to control because of small spawn zones, relative to the rest of the map. I also don’t understand the claim that they aren’t 3-lane maps, they very clearly are, just with too many lines of sight to consider - or lines of sight you can’t consider, because of the contrast and deep shadows.
     
    Here is a perfect example, taken from my own gameplay:
     
    I was breaching the HQ by the Coalition spawn on Gun Runner. I began to take hits from my left-front, which I assumed to have come from beyond the barrels you can see - in an attempt to set up for the next encounter, and protect myself from further fire, I hid behind those barrels as I had not seen any bullets fly through them. But because of the lighting, again, I could not see that there was already someone there, who turned out to be the guy who had shot at me just prior. Totally invisible from 3rd person, but in is killcam, his hands are weapon were easily visible against the room.
     

     

     
    Another fun example is the exposed studding in the upstairs hallway in Hackney Yard's green building. I should be able to bounce a cooked grenade off a wall down a staircase without it hitting a minuscule piece of geometry and bouncing back to kill me. Just as I should be able to open a door while cooking a grenade, without the "OPEN DOOR" prompt cancelling itself out, unprompted, while I still have the damn thing in my hand. Either that, or DON'T ALLOW PLAYERS COOKING A GRENADE TO OPEN DOORS.
     
    Once again, the emphasis on realism gets in the way.
     
    // IN TOTO
     
    Encourage and condition for the spectacle of speed, make every moment a life or death struggle for control, but also set up the sandbox so that only the careful, slow players are able to achieve anything, and you'll get yourself a Hypertension Simulator.
     
    Fundamentally, the issue with this game is that it is designed - intentionally, I think - so that every single decision you make is life or death. This is passable in social matches where there is so little at stake. But in ranked matchmaking lobbies and small scale encounters, which are the bread and butter of the old CoDs, the ball has been dropped. This the most frustrating CoD experience I’ve yet to have, and the campiest one, at that. Individual empowerment is meaningless if the power comes at the cost of its advantage. It's as if *any* kind of aggression was tossed out with the bathwater.
     
    I will say, that if players are joined up in appropriate groups, this game’s current build could play really well, especially for eSports viewership considerations, with a free-floating spectator camera. A pro gaming audience, and the average bar audience with ESPN would eat it up, especially from a franchise that already has a pro circuit set up, with pro teams who get first looks, alpha testing access, who have a close relationship with developers, and a pre-existing fanbase.
     
    Plus, there’s something really appealing about the extremely cinematic look, with an epic, crisp, widescreen quality I last saw in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago. The recent story trailer clearly attempts to emphasize this cinematic quality, and I expect the final product to blur the lines between game and film even further, at least in the campaign mode. But, whereas those are classic golden-age Hollywood films, with engaging plots, unique, goal-driven characters, incredible sets and cinematography, and thematic integration in the very specific visuals a director chooses for the audience, this is an interactive and dynamic piece of entertainment, built on the choices people make during the course of a match, and ultimately only as interesting as the gameplay on display; the spectacle of a film can only carry a bad plot so far.
     
    I think I understand the thought behind the choices - Infinity Ward is trying to capture lightning in a bottle by attempting to replicate, on a much tighter scale and with far greater visual fidelity, the success of both a Battle Royale and the classic Search and Destroy, where players' limited lives add a layer of tension and skin in the game. The human response to such a sustained state of tension and a spike of adrenaline is certainly the stuff of spectacle, especially in the world of real sports.
     
    But if every moment is unpredictable, life-or-death, without time for the adrenaline to actually kick in, the only thing you get in the long term is apathy. And for a franchise built on a yearly release model, this is only going to engender further loss of confidence in the brand.
     
    Infinity Ward has few weeks before the full release of the game, so there’s still time to consider the feedback they receive from the general public, and implement a few changes they find most in line with their overall vision for the product, and what they've already built. Considering the recent news about SpecOps Survival being a PS4 exclusive, I hope that they consider this, and other voices that took the time to carefully digest their experience with the beta build; if they don’t make the game as tight as they possibly can, they will only add one more nail in the coffin of a once great franchise.
     
    If I can offer one final bit of advice to the devs at Infinity Ward, and anyone from Activision's QA and executive departments: always check your premises. If you don't there's no telling what kind of jumbles you'll get yourself into, especially with something as complex and fine-tuned as an online PvP shooter, or even as simple as a pencil sharpener.
     
    So, we’ll see what happens, come October 25th - there's a skeleton of a good game in there somewhere, but like a fat person in denial, those bones can't hold them up much longer.

    ❤️ icyhot
     
    Who the hell am I, anyway?
    BA Philosophy / BA French Intellectual History
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    Further Philosophy and Design reading here at NLD!
     
     
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  24. Like
    icyhotspartin reacted to a Chunk for Featured Content, 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
     
     
    Introduction
    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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  25. NLD +5
    icyhotspartin reacted to Kantalope for Featured Content, October Challenge: The Thrills of Horror   
    Welcome all to the spooky thrills of the October design challenge! Will you test your fate in the bowels of an insane asylum? Escape a mad man on the loose? Take on a cult of God fearing abominations? Maybe even run from a more everyday horror? Then set your players off on the thrill ride of their lives!
     
    So what's the challenge?
    Sticking with the themes of Halloween, design a scenario and level that enforces any chosen feeling of horror, the more the not-so-merrier. The player could be chased or on a desperate chase, under a looming threat, or any other thing that you can imagine. Be creative with how you torture your player! Don't get too caught up in the excitement, though; you gotta explain why you chose to do what you did.
     
    Since this is also Inktober and Blocktober, feel free to share some sketches and block outs of any horror related concepts and designs. It would be great to see what existing horror designs and concepts you all have already come up with, too!
     
    Guidelines:
    Only three guidelines apply to this challenge:
    The level should be designed to instill feelings of horror and the like The level needs to be posted on the October Challenge: The Thrill of Horror Submission Thread The post needs to include at least one picture of the design If you're not registered on the site, it's an easy process. Here's a link to where you can do so: [link]
     
    The submission thread will remain open until October 28th. There is no limit to the number of levels and designs you can submit. Submit one and go into as much detail about it as possible, or submit many with the bare minimum of detail. Take Whichever route you feel will be the most beneficial to your own development.
     
    A couple of details that could be included in the level post as a way to better convey the design process are:
    The sandbox of which the level is designed for (No weapons, limited weapons/precision necessary, specialized tools, small arsenal, etc.) Multiple pictures and/or video footage of the level An overview of the layout A flow diagram of the map An explanation of the source of inspiration for the level Anything that helps convey the thought process behind the level
    Here's a link to the Submission thread for this Challenge:[link]
     
    An Example:
    In a D&D game that I had been DMing, there were almost exclusively fighters, a bard, and a rogue. Not that creative, but this gave them almost no ability to deal with magic (mind you they were only level 3 at this point), and they always wanted to pick fights. This gave me an idea for a location; a tavern that appeared to have only large barbarians and a few wanderers that were clearly unaware of the tavern's reputation. This tavern was in a holy town, so this should have set off some red flags already. Basically these barbarians were bait for the fighters so that they would all stand in one general area, then *whoosh* the floor opens, dropping them into a deep pit. If the rogue had suspected fowl play due to the tavern's location, they could've noticed this and completely ignored that section of floor.
     
    Once dropped into the pit, they'd need to roll at least a 21 (with modifiers) on an Acrobatics check to not fall to the bottom, becoming unconscious. If anyone rolled high enough, they'd be clinging to the sides of the contraption, and the tavern owner would take notice, beginning to fire eldritch blasts at them until they lost grip. This whole opening section was most likely to be thwarted by the rogue, but I think that they were being to dark and brooding to notice what was actually going on.

    Once they were down their, their belongings were stripped away from them, leaving them with no special items. When they woke back up, they were in a cramped room, supposedly underground. This is where the fun begins! As they came to terms with what just happened, the door to this room slowly opens with no one on the other side, only a dark hall with a few branching paths. Much of the ground is coated with blood and maybe some guts? Maybe just normal flesh? For a majority of these paths, along with the main dark hall itself, they were littered with traps, some obvious, some not. Gotta give them a false sense of security.
     
    A few of the rooms have tools that aid the players; early on in one of the paths there's a wrench attached to an enchanted torture device, requiring one of the player characters to endure a major wound upon their hands (the obvious choice was to make sure that the rogue would be safe to continuously check everything, and keep the bard okay to make sure that they can inspire at important moments).
     
    Similar events like this occurred elsewhere; one device caused a player to be inable to walk, making traps that chase the characters extra intense. Another requires a character to use wrench to tighten a steam leak from a system so that a few doors open, but also incapacitating said character due to the amount of steam released onto them. The whole floor plan was designed to imitate the police station in Resident Evil 2 to a certain extent so that exploration would be important to the party's survival.
     

     
    A quick run down:
    - get short bow and 5 arrows, both hands injured
    --- shoot arrow at target down jagged hallway to turn off steam blocking off said hallway
    - grab wrench, leg injured, hard to ignore floor traps
    --- turn release valve to open all steam doors, getting severe burns in the process
    ----- beast released from cage
    - assemble lever from parts found in beast room and main hall
    --- place lever in wall near red door, thinking that the door opens with lever
    ----- boulder releases from other end of hallway, quickly approaching red door
    ------- boulder crashes through door, forcing characters to crawl under
    - shoot target near door at end of hallway to close spike pit
    ---------> escape
     
    Feedback:
    If you'd like to suggest some changes and/or improvements for subsequent challenges, feel free to do so in our Challenge Feedback thread here: [link]
     
     
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