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  1. Introduction The number of quality books on Level Design has grown by one with the release of Let’s Design: Combat – A Level Design Series by Max Pears. The book is comprised of 25 subjects organized into 3 different sections (Planning, Blockout, Iteration) over the course of 80 pages. It brings us through concepts such as Metrics, Enemies, Decision Points, Combat Fronts, Verticality, and Local Landmarks. These subjects are presented in bite sized nuggets of insight from Mr. Pears, and supported with fabulously unique graphic depictions. We recently met up with Max to pick his brain about level design, and more specifically about his book on designing for combat. Interview Hey Max. Good to talk to you again. You’ve definitely been one of the most active level design content creators in recent years, putting out numerous articles and videos, along with mentoring others in the community. When and why did you decide to do a level design book? Hey mate, thank you very much for having me and great to be talking with you again. Aha cheers mate, yeah I had not stopped to think about being one of the most active. I guess it’s because more and more people are getting involved in our great Level Design community. It’s a funny one, as honestly I did not think I would write a book. I’m sure some of you who have read my articles on Next Level Design will know I am not the best writer, but I’ve gotten better, haha. My bad writing and jokes aside, it is because people kept asking me to write a book. After the combat article series I wrote and you published here, the demand increased. I thought well let’s give it a go and see what I can do. Another reason I think people were asking was/is because I’m so active. We have many great Design Books, but a lot of them are written by those who are outside of the industry, which does not take away from their value, I just think students and Jr designers want to hear from those who are in the industry. Plus I feel that level design is still not fully understood. So if I can help to reach students or Jr Designers to help them get a clearer picture in a more tangible form, I think a book may be the best way to do it. Yeah, for sure. It's awesome having a full collection of tips and tricks all in one, rather than taking bits and pieces from different places. Speaking of your experience within the industry, that reminds me that there may very well be people reading this that are just getting into level design, and may not be super familiar with you. How long have you been working as a level designer, and can you share some of the projects you've worked on? I have been making games for just about Seven Years now, crazy to think how fast time has flown by. I originally started in mobile games at a studio called FOG (Free Online Games) Media, where I made around 7 games in total, a couple made it to the app charts (Very proud of that). After I left went to Ubisoft Reflections, in which I worked on Tom Clancy's The Division, and the DLC Underground. Once that wrapped up I headed to where I currently am which is CD PROJEKT RED, where I am currently working on Cyberpunk 2077. Sadly right now I can not talk much about CP, but I am sure we will talk again after the game launches. But yeah that is my career so far, I am very happy with the projects I have been able to work on and the other developers I have had the pleasure to work with. Great. Thank you for that. Now let’s talk about this book of yours. Let’s Design: Combat – A Level Design Series is organized into 3 chapters – Planning, Blockout, and Iteration, in that order. I can’t help but point out that this exactly mimics the typical design process order. I assume that was intentional? Do you feel It’s important for level designers to follow a strict process? Should they always (or nearly always) be addressing the subjects covered in the Planning section of the book before moving on to the ‘Blockout’ phase of the process, or should a process be more fluid than that? Also, you’ve worked on games that differ greatly in style, and I’m curious about how process and priorities might change to align with the type of project you’re working on? Glad you noticed mate, yeah I made sure to break it up to make it feel as close to the overall game development process as possible. I think it is important for students to understand how games are made as well as levels, at some parts of your career you might jump into a project at a different stage, so I feel this is a way to help those understand how the overall process looks. Yes, these are the stages everyone should learn, now someone's planning may differ from the next, but the overall experience in terms of big milestone structures are roughly the same. The process of how we design our levels should be roughly the same, but games and plans change throughout development so you might be at a point where an area is already art-ified so you can not block it out with your LD blocks. Yet you can still use the art assets for that area to use as cover instead. There are some adaptations that may be tweaked or less time invested into due to the stage of the project, however, if this book can help up and coming LDs understand how important these stages are to making great levels, then I will be happy as well. I am really glad you pick up on that, as I did think about how to best represent the overall process when coming up with this book, as there are some subtle details and others less subtle in the presentation & structure of this book. I hope other readers notice this as well. Your comment on understanding the importance of the various stages of designing levels brings to mind a semi-related question that I'm really eager to hear your thoughts on. I've noticed that as designers are in the learning stages of understanding level design (and we're basically all always at the learning stage), we tend to focus really heavily on particular concepts as we learn about them, perhaps to an extent that isn't really justified by their actually usefulness. One obvious example in the level design community would be 'leading lines'. Now while this is a cool concept, in the grand scheme of things it's probably not amongst the most important concepts to understand and incorporate. I won't ask you to call out the most over-hyped concepts in level design (but feel free to do so if you really want to, haha), but what are one or two of the concepts covered in your book that you think are undervalued, and really important in the level design process? Aha, yeah leading lines. I won’t lie, I have highlighted these before in my tweets and use them as an example in a few talks I have done. Now is this part of level design over exaggerated? Yes, by a country mile, haha. The element of why to consider is because it is easy to highlight over social media. It’s harder to break down more detailed topics over 280 characters or in a picture. Now that does not mean that we should ignore leading lines, as they are a useful tool, but think of it more as an additional tool. On its own it’s not the best, but when combined with negative space or lighting it really helps. As for a topic of level design that is not spoken about enough, I believe that has to be metrics. When I graduated and started working at Ubisoft, when they started showing me the metrics graph and making sure I stuck to metrics (I was a renegade haha) I was so confused as to how some created them. Why? Because it was not taught to me. Metrics is so crucial for your LD process, we need to be much more aware of how metrics work, how to use it communicate with the player, and when to bend the metrics to craft an emotional response from the player in our spaces. To any up and coming LD, do try to find out more about metrics. Metrics for sure are important and overlooked. I suppose that's part of the reason why it's the very first subject covered in your book. Moving on to a different subject, one of the first things that jumped out at me as I was reading through the book is the graphics in the example depictions. I personally really like the style you went with. It's very unique. There must be a story behind how this graphic style came to be? Yeah exactly mate, hopefully when people read and see it as point 1, they will take notice and prepare as best they can to understand more on metrics. I am glad you liked the graphics, I think it is for sure one of the coolest elements we nailed down for the book. Haha yeah, there was a lot of thought which went behind it. What you might notice with the grey grid and ui in the top right hand corner, is that we wanted it to look like it was taking place inside a game editor. Really ground it to the fact that you as a reader can feel that what you see on the pages can be instantly transferred into say Unity, UE4 Or whatever editor you are using. Which is why the text is window shaped boxes. It is making it not only give information you can apply but feel like it is already applied for you. The process of the pictures was super cool as I would actually block the Out layout, to then give to my artist J. She would then translate it to the beautiful images you see on the pages. She also brought those characters to life, as we wanted to make it super clear what everything was as well as throw in our sense of humor. As learning can always be fun. But I think one of the biggest inspiration for the art style was my Twitter (not in an egotistical way). I found that a lot of people would like to see my early blockouts or 2d layouts for my layout. With that in mind I wanted it to feel like that. I am really glad you liked it, as I feel anyone who reads this book will be delighted with not only the information written but also with the presentation. It's been really nice talking to you again Max, and getting some insight into your book, Let’s Design: Combat – A Level Design Series. Can you share some logistics with us? When and where will the book be available for purchase? What can we expect the price to be? And also, one final question... I can't help but notice that the books subtitle says "A Level Design Series". This would seem to suggest that it's part of a series of level design books. Do you have plans for a follow up book/s? Always a pleasure talk with you buddy, thank you so much again for us sitting down giving me a chance to be on your site. Yes, so the book releases 21/07/2020 so not long, of us doing our interview. Very excited and nervous haha, I hope everyone who purchases it will enjoy it. In terms of picking it up, you can buy either a physical or ebook copy of the book, which can be found here: Ebook £15 ($18.84 USD) - https://bit.ly/2WvrTUR Physical Book £25 ($31.38 USD) - https://bit.ly/3fBQ2k9 The book will be available on other stores like Amazon, but the best way to support me is to buy it from the links in the article (Gumroad and Lulu bookstore) as most of the money goes to me so I can reinvest into.....your second part of the question. Yes I intend to aim for three right now, the next one will be about Traversal/Exploration and I will start work on this around November and try to release it around Q1 of 2021. I want to make ‘Let’s Design:’ the best possible series I can so aspiring LDs can be better prepared for when they arrive into the industry as well as help those who are already on their great design path. It is an exciting time, I hope those who do pick up ‘Let’s Design: Combat’ truly enjoy it and find it helpful. Resources Looking for more content from Max? Here are links to all of his articles shared on Next Level Design: - Level Design for Combat Part 1 - Level Design for Combat Part 2 - Level Design for Combat Part 3 - Shape Theory in Level Design - The Illusion of Space - Do Your Research: Where’s the Toilet - Game Design: Introducing Mechanics Follow Max/Level Design Lobby Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  2. About Reaching Perfection Missed Chapter 27? Read it here: Reputation Intro Are you still having problems getting players to find the incentives that you have placed around the map? Do players just walk past weapons laying around the map despite the eye catching techniques you used to draw attention to them? There’s more to getting people to notice things than just using color contrast. Have you ever thought about their attention being drawn elsewhere in that situation? Point of Focus When in a combat situation players are constantly maneuvering their focus to things that they feel require their attention at the time. If someone is shooting at them then their attention is drawn to that deterrent, not the weapon lying on the ground beside them. If the capture the flag waypoint is straight across the map then their attention is going to be towards the shortest path to get to it, not the sniper rifle that is sitting comfortably in a cupboard behind them. If there is a rocket launcher sitting high up on a pedestal with lights shining all over it they aren’t going to notice the hidden shortcut that is off to the side out of their view. Standing in their shoes When trying to draw attention to something think about the most likely places that a player is going to be; whether it is coming in through a doorway, hiding behind cover, or sitting at a control point. Now imagine the player’s current priorities and where their point of focus is; this could be any possible threats, any obvious incentives, the next objective, etc. Now in your mind draw a sample of their possible perspective based on their focus point and position. Use that as a guideline as to what the player is looking at. Place what you are trying to draw attention to in that perspective keeping in mind the rule of thirds, color contrast, and other eye catching techniques. If you know a player is moving around a lot, keep in mind the possible perspective variance and plan accordingly. This technique can be used in a variety of ways. You can use it for area introduction, deterrent warnings, incentive presentation, and other such instances. This is similar to the way that you setup spawn perspectives except that a spawn perspectives direction is always known. Perspective direction is about making an educated guess and imagining yourself as a player, not as the designer. A third dimension When considering a player’s perspective direction it is easy to keep in mind that they can be focused anywhere in front of them, behind them, or to either side of them. Most designers forget that there is a third dimension in most games. Imagine a ramp. If a player is sitting at the bottom of the ramp and their path map reads that they are likely to be going forward over that ramp where is the player’s focus point? It isn’t straight ahead because then their perspective is filled with the ramp. Their perspective direction is towards the area of highest possible threat. When sitting at the base of a ramp that area is typically the very top of the ramp. So placing an incentive at the very bottom of the ramp is probably not a good idea as it is out of the player’s perspective. Always put yourself in your player’s shoes. Remember that they don’t know your map like you do. So show them. See your creation from their eyes, not from yours. Read Chapter 29: (to be updated) Follow Ray Twitter: https://twitter.com/RayBenefield Mixer: https://mixer.com/RayBenefield 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  3. So how do we handle cover placement? What’s the thought process that we should apply? How combat spaces are composed You can’t have cover without thinking about what it’s good for, and depending on what game your are making it can stand for a lot: In a stealth game it serves as a path tracer. So the player can actually maneuver around the NPC’s placed in the map. Stealth Game — Cover Placement Illustration The way cover is placed in this example is based on a few simple principles: Player will move from cover to cover to avoid NPC detection This implies that exposure to NPC line of sight acts like a window of opportunity moment. The player waits for the NPC to look away before moving to the other cover spot. Based on the turning patterns of the AI you can break down parameters that can affect how hard this scenario ca be. Examples of parameters: Traveling Distance and NPC Look Duration Window of Opportunity Chart — Traveling Distance vs NPC Look Duration This could lead towards interesting combination that juggle with the distance between covers and the NPC looking/turning direction. Of course other parameters could be applied as well. In cover shooters it serves as a way for the player to avoiding the enemy, survey the battlefield and move from cover to cover to circumvent crossfires. Cover Shooter — Cover shooter simplified In this kind of situation we can apply the same chart as before but we need to replace Look Duration with Shooting duration. Window of Opportunity Chart — Traveling Distance vs Shooting Duration Some hybrids use a blend of Stealth and Combat cover to facilitate both play-styles. Games like GTA, WatchDogs, Mafia 3 blend stealth and combat spaces into one unified space that serves both purposes. However since these games area also open world games, for the sake of immersion have to also reflect the world where they exist. This means they have to justified from a narrative standpoint. In order to do that in a way that doesn’t raise any eyebrows, one method of actually placing cover in a realistic space is to actually consider the concept of: Implied Spaces An implied space is a subdivision of space that is implied by it being delimited by other bits of geometry or functions. Example of Implied Space This concept from architecture and can be used to solve cover placement in level design. For example: Implied Space integration — Example By creating a niche inside a space we can actually imply the idea of an auxiliary space that can serve both as cover placement and decorum, all without sacrificing the leading lines needed to establish direction within a layout section. Direct application withing an actual layout Here are some other examples for a more combat oriented space: Halo Reach — Level Exploration Example Realistic Layout — Example Another example of implied space are shadow/shade spaces. These kinds of spaces exist simply because they are shaded and provide a different type of visual cover for the player. Example of shadow space For this sort of cover placement there is a need for us to have some sort of control over the sources of light inside the environment. *Note: This article is shared in full on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: https://medium.com/@iuliu.cosmin.oniscu/how-to-handle-cover-placement-d10580faac66 Follow Iuliu Twitter: https://twitter.com/notimetoulose Blog: https://medium.com/@iuliu.cosmin.oniscu 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  4. Intro This is the latest in a series of articles I’m writing to describe the way I approach game design. The last installation was on “Ramps” – essentially a tool for scaling intensity over time. This article builds on the last one, so if you haven’t read it yet I’d recommend you do that first. (Link to Part 7) This installation is going to be on a concept I call “Paths.” I’m going to need this concept to explain something else further down the line, so I wanted to outline it now. I’m planning on fleshing the concept out a bit more when I return to it later. Path: One or more Ramps comprising a connection between multiple parts of your game. For example, I often talk about the “Critical Path” – the simplest collection of Ramps and Nodes that connects the beginning of a game to the end (if the game has such a thing). A Path can be very small or very large, depending on how you apply the concept. It can refer to small part of a single level of your game or it could refer to a huge web of ramps spanning the far extents of your game. Note how the Paths contain both Ramps and the “hub areas” before and after Common Path Types This list is not comprehensive, but the three types of Paths I outline below make up what I see in maybe 80% of all games out there, so I wanted to bring them up. They are: Linear Forked Spiderweb Note how the Paths contain both Ramps and the “hub areas” before and after Linear Linear Paths are one contiguous series of Ramps and areas (perhaps with small offshoots for non-Critical Path bonuses). One Ramp leads to another until the level is done. Note that many linear Paths (like the one in the diagram above) have short offshoots for rewards, secrets, sub-missions, or optional objectives, but those almost always return to a hub back on the linear Path after a short time. Note how the areas connect together in a linear fashion The above image is a map of the first level in Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, The Flying Lab on planet Aranos. The player starts at the bottom of the map and has to get to the top. Note how the areas connect together in a linear fashion. Forked Two or more Linear Paths joined by a “hub” area. This is the second level of the same game (Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando), and this level has a forked Path structure. The player starts at the orange star and has a choice of two Paths to go down (A and B). Each loops back to the start hub when it is done, and each one is linear. Path C is grafted onto the end of Path B, and when you finish it you can shortcut back to the hub area. Spiderwebs A spiderweb contains many forked Paths and many hub areas all joined together. This wasn’t a structure we used much in the Ratchet and Clank series – you tend to see it more in games like Skyrim, Fallout, or the Deus Ex franchise. Players are allowed a number of possible solutions to many problems they encounter. Because of its complexity compared to the other two, I don’t have a good way of visually representing this, so let me give you an example. In the Deus Ex franchise, for example, there are often three or more ways to solve a problem: Combat You versus enemies Stealth/Hacking Avoid and find shortcuts Special ability (super-jump, punch through walls, etc) The player has many context-sensitive abilities such as punching through walls. Often problems will allow the use of one of these abilities as a solution. Each of these Paths through a challenge involve separate Ramps. For example, there’s a mission in Deus Ex 1 where the player needs to get into a building. The player can go in through the front door, but then the only option is a bloody fight with the guards. As another option, the player can find a secret passage by hacking a soda machine found in a different part of the level and get in that way without having to fight. As a third option, if the player has purchased enough ranks in the super strength augmentation, the player can lift some heavy boxes blocking a back-way into the building and thus either avoid combat or get the ability to sneak up behind patrols you otherwise couldn’t sneak past. (Link to Part 9 - To be Updated) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: http://www.chaoticstupid.com/trinity-8-paths/ Follow Mike Website: www.ongamedesign.net/ Website: http://www.chaoticstupid.com/ Twitter: twitter.com/MikeDodgerStout 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  5. Hey everyone, it has been too long and I am sorry about that, I meant to finish up this final section of the topic last month but got distracted. Regardless, I am here now to give you my final article of the year, and thank all of you for reading my articles and wishing you all a Merry Christmas & Happy holidays. Now what could be more Jolly and Christmasy than that of how best to defeat your enemies in ranged combat. If you have not read my previous entries in the series I do recommend that you check Part 1 and Part 2 out before continuing with the finale. Recap In previous entries we spoke about how important it is that you understand your metrics for the weapons, cover, avatar and much more. We next discussed the importance of 2d maps and research. With all of that in motion I can now go forward and show you my blockout. To give some context as well, as I mentioned in the previous articles the layout we will be looking at today was from my time on the CGMA Course I took part in earlier this year. This challenge was to create a combat layout of a certain size (30m x 30m). There was no theme, no story, etc, just pure focus on making a great combat layout. We were given a set of LD Kits that we could use as well for these blockouts. Now with this in mind lets see the magic. Level This was the 2d map of the level, a 30x30 map: Here is a top down shot of the blockout: I wanted to share these just because I have seen people talk online about not doing a 2d plan or google sketch up before starting a level as they “do not want to constrain themselves”. I am writing to say that is not true, they are tools to help you plan your level. When you look at the two images you can see that there are differences, as I needed to make some to help the level improve. Just showing you how planning does not restrict you, these planning tools are there to help you, then you can go to adjust accordingly. A 2d map helps you create a footprint of your level, it can not and will not represent how it will feel with the overall camera, mechanics etc. Changes With me mentioning how it is important for you to make changes from your plan to your blockout, let us talk about some of my changes. The biggest one for sure is my mix up with the height. I have raised the back section of the level. In the previous article I mentioned that I wanted to section off my level, and I divided it into quarters like so: With having some combat take place within interiors and other combat areas take place out in exterior areas. Yet when I was running through my level I noticed that although you can feel differences in sections they do not feel so different, so by raising up parts of the level you would feel a difference, a transition. Not only this but it would help divide the space up even more, one half would be raised while the other would be lowered, one half is in an interior space while another would be exterior, again helping the space feel memorable and helping players build a mental map. This was not the only reason I wanted to raise up the space, it was to put players at a disadvantage, to increase the challenge. Something to memorise “It is easier to shoot down, than up” so by dividing the space and having players start on the lower section, it would make them feel as if they were charging into enemy territory. Second biggest change you can see between the map and top down shot was that of the cover placement. That one for sure is always going to change, as you can plan but for sure that is always subject to change, as until you understand how the enemies will move, which archetype of enemy you will use, etc., these are always ideas at best. I did not get functioning enemies in this level working, but I did place down placeholders and routes for the enemies to still help me shape the encounter. From this I was able to help picture the cover and plan the combat fronts for my level. Now these are some of the changes, I do not wish to go into too much detail here as there is still so much to talk about and we are almost 1000 words into this blog. As mentioned previously it is okay to make changes, as iteration is how we as level designers make better levels. We do not accomplish it in the planning stage. We do not ace it in our first blockout. We make it slowly with each iteration. Walkthrough After discussing these changes, let’s break down the level step by step to show you my design choices and why I made them. First up, is the players starting position: As you can see in the blue circle, the player starts in the bottom right corner, in almost a corridor like space. So there are a few things to break down in why I chose this starting position: I did not want the player to start exactly in the corner so later on the level can open up and feel bigger, so by manipulating the space and eating it up I can make it feel larger as the player progresses The starting position is a safe space for the player, allowing them to gather their bearings without feeling threatened. From this position I can slowly feed information to the player, when they turn left they can see another section of the level and a challenge, making sure players do not get overwhelmed with everything going on. I wanted to slowly give information to players. You can see this slowly happen so that players can tackle certain challenges one at a time, and it is also a way to encourage exploration. With the fact that players do not know the whole space, nor can they see it, they will want to go and explore. The space opens up more and more, so the player can start to see more and take in more information. Something to remember is “How we interact with the world, comes from how we see it” If you want players to plan and stick to more of one area, show more of the level, if however you want players to go and explore, then slowly feed them information. 4. Presenting the player with knowledge and options. From this position the first thing players can see are windows, this informs the player that there is an interior space in front of them. This is crucial for a later choice, as it is foreshadowing how the space is divided. (These windows would be blocked by glass as well, hinting to my second point) Next is the opening on the left, by having that negative space as well as the cover there as well it peaks the players curiosity, and with the fact that in the west we read left to right it is the first thing players can possibly help pull players in that direction. As players turn the corner, we move on to their next view: (Before we break this next step down, I just want a huge shout out to a truly amazing Dev Miriam Bellard, Miriam has such a phenomenal mind for design. In her superb talk Environmental Design in Spacial Cinematography Miriam talks about how each view of the level should contain vital info for the player. I really enjoyed that and tried to think of it as I blocked out this level, anyway side note over, do check out Miriam’s talk and follow her on twitter if you have it) In this shot I wanted players to have a decision point, this space allows players to See the Challenge and then allows them to Plan for said Challenge. In this shot we would be able to see one enemy: From here players can decide if they should engage in combat, or move closer. To help pull in the player I have done a few things. Number one is having the enemy have a patrol path, so the enemy won’t be static so the lineup for the perfect shot is there, but only for a limited window. Number two is through cover placement, if we look at the cover it is a stepped position to help players move through the space. By staggering the cover like this it still allows the player to feel safe as they move through. giving them an advantage. Now I do this because this is the first enemy encounter, so I want players to feel safe and still decide as they move through the space. Another choice that will be noticed from earlier is that there are more windows hinting to the player that there is still an interior space to be explored. As the player gets closer they see an option to enter the building. Now this entrance not only works because it is an extra option for the player so that the player can strategize, but also it helps to add loops to the combat. (With combat loops, the aim is to make sure that players or enemies do not run into dead-ends, or out of choices (over simplified explanation)) From this position players can possibly see the other enemy as well, alerting them that they are outnumbered. If players chose to enter the interior space, one of things is that I wanted it to feel different than the exterior space. I did this in two ways. First is with the ceiling, it instantly feels a lot more claustrophobic as well as feels limiting in where to shoot, as now players will only aim on the X & Y axis vs that of when outside where they have more freedom to aim higher. Secondly is through lack of cover, compared to where we were, there was a lot more cover close by, while here there is a lot less. Most of the cover comes from the architecture itself. Once the player has picked their path they can then start to engage the enemies in combat. In order to make sure that space helps players know best how to tackle this encounter is by making sure that the Fronts are clear to the player. (Fronts - mean a clear line of combat, knowing where your cover is and knowing where the enemies line is. We all see those games where we are walking around and suddenly see a lot of crates in an area, we as players know that combat will take place here) EF = Enemy’s Front PF = Player’s Front In this space there are actually two Fronts of combat, in the picture above we will be engaging in combat from this direction to start as we take on our two starting enemies, however there are two enemies up the stairs that the player is not aware of. For pacing, the encounter would go along the line where players would engage with the first two enemies, after one has died then an enemy from uptop the stairs would start attacking the player so the Combat Fronts would change. A reason for doing this, is to keep the encounter engaging and challenging. By moving the fronts, it means players will have to move as well, making it so they do not camp at certain spots. Creating movement in the fronts allows players to see more of the space and master it. Gears of War were great at this, as they would have sections of the level where players had to fight their way up to take down an enemy using a turret, only for the enemy waves to attack the player while the player had the turret, making re-use of the level as well as allowing the player to see the level from a different angle. By also switching the front as well, I am now changing the difficulty of the encounter. During the first Front players and enemies are both on the same level of height, while when it changes the enemy is now higher than the player. In order for players to get on the same height as the enemy, it means that they have to cover more ground and expose themselves before they can get up the stairs. What I have done to help the player, but also another way to help encourage movement within this combat space, is by mixing up the cover height. In these pictures you can see that some cover are 1m Low cover and while high covers are 2m tall. Now we could go into how the different sizes of cover impacts players, but we are already pushing the word limit here, so I will say that by having some High Cover it blocks Line of Sight so players will have to move around in order to line up the shot that they want. By using Low Cover as well, it may not always be the safest option for the player, again forcing them to move. This will also help players strategize as they chose which cover to move to. We could continue you on with the level, as this so far is only just one quarter of the level. However, during the time of writing this it is getting closer to xmas, so I am going to cut things short around here. Also, go enjoy your time as well with the ones that you love. Learning Points Although I have only showed you a section of my level, let us talk about what you should take away from this article and apply to your own combat encounters: Starting Point - When choosing how or where to start the player, think about a safe space in which players can get their bearings first (unless it is an ambush situation) Revealing Information - Depending on the situation will dictate how much you will want to show your player. Just remember that the amount you show will impact how players move, as well to make sure you do not overload your player too much. Provide choices for the player - this can just be as simple as which cover to use, but by providing a choice it helps players feel that they are in control. Provide Combat Loops - It is simple but will help reduce frustration for players, by making sure that they do not end up in dead ends, it helps keep the flow of combat engaging. Establish your Fronts - Make it clear where the fight will take place so players can best prepare themselves Change the Fronts - It is great to have your fronts, but by changing it part way through combat, it encourages movement and allows the player to see and understand more of your space Mix Up Cover Height - Mixing up cover height is great for variety, as well as having players interact with the space differently Height Level Changes - Are a great way to break up line of sight, change up the difficulty as well as a nice way to break up the traversal and process of aiming. You can do it by making your space two floors, but also just by raising an area by 1m. Every game, combat encounter, and level is different so these are not hard rules, more of suggestions. It is about knowing when to apply them as well. I do hope they help you when you create your future levels. Improvements This small encounter space may be something I am proud of considering the time constraints I made it in. Yet that does not mean it is a perfect space, I know that there are some things I need to adjust and change in order to make this a more memorable level. I am going to mention a few of them here, so you can make even better levels than myself. Help make each section more memorable - I spoke about how I tried to divide this level into quarters, which I think I did okay, but I should have experimented with local and global landmarks so players would instantly recognize the sections a little better. I tried with the architecture of the space, however I should have looked at more propage ideas as well. Less Cover - Now that is not a sweeping statement for the overall level, just in certain sections I should have reduced the amount of cover, that way it would encourage more long range combat forcing the players to hold their ground in certain sections. Tweaked metric guideline - For this space it may not seem like a huge deal but my cover buffer was 2m, I think I should have pushed it for 3m to have more space and not have certain areas feel as tight as they did in the level. Have actual enemies - Now these red boxes helped me for sure, but nothing is better than having actual AI inside your level, as that would give me far better feedback for my level. For sure there is more than this, but these are the bigger issues at hand when I go through this level. As I said before, we do not get everything right the first time we do it. Our levels get better with each iteration. With that said, if you have enjoyed this article and level, then maybe you want to see another level I did this year, which has objectives, a theme and a location to show you how I applied these rules to a new space. Check it out here: Please Support If you want more Level Design tips then please follow me on twitter. If you want more quality LD content and want to imagine how my silky voice sounds, then please come check out my podcast. iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  6. Intro This is one part in a series of articles that will attempt to explain how I think when I design. The purpose of these articles is not as much to provide a hands-on practical approach – just to explain how I do things. Once I finish this series, I’ll focus on some more practical applications. (Link to Part 3) Important Points from Previous Articles The Big Principle: A game is fundamentally a conversation between the designer and the player. Principle #1: As a game designer, your job is to ask your players Questions. The players’ job is to answer those questions using the Tools you give them. Principle #2: When the designer creates a challenge to ask the player a Question, the designer must also create Tools for the player to answer it. Game mechanic: A game mechanic is the meeting point of two design ideas: a Question the designer asks the player, and the Tools the player has for answering that question. Choice Field: A collection of spectra all of which describe a single game mechanic. Spectrum: Any two opposing concepts which are the same in nature, but differ in degree. Dimension: A single spectrum inside a choice field. Last Time Last time we looked at a game mechanic that described one possible relationship between Enemy Placements and Weapons: Range vs Horizontal – Weapons that have good Range will solve Horizontal enemy placement problems (gaps), but not necessarily Vertical ones (ledges or cover). Directness vs Height – Indirect weapons are usually very good at solving Vertical enemy placement problems (cover, a ledge, flight). This Time I’m going to talk about the limitations of the choice field drawings I’ve been making – specifically that they do not represent complex relationships between game mechanics very well. I have some diagrams that are great for that, called Chen Diagrams, but I won’t get to those for a few weeks, when we start to talk about meta-game stuff. So for this article, I want to show you how spectra (a plurality of spectrums) relate within a choice field, and how one can view that data in different ways by opening little “windows,” or views into the field. Chromaticity diagram for the CIE 1931 xy. Because spectrum. It’s my hope that by the end of this article, a few of the concepts I’ve been working on for the last few articles should gel together and make sense as a whole. First off Before I can get into the meat of this article, I have to add one more spectrum to the choice field we’ve been building up since last article (the choice field describes a combat system similar to those found in Skylanders or Ratchet and Clank games): HP vs Damage – The player generally wants to use a high damage weapon to take out a high HP enemy. Conversely, the player wants to avoid getting hit by high-damage enemies but can afford to suffer several low damage hits. Note: I’m not describing specifics of our HP or damage systems here. For example, this could describe both a Halo-style “regenerating” health system or a Quake-style “hit-points and health pickups” system. It doesn’t really matter yet, though it will matter a lot later on. For this article we can safely avoid the topic. The important thing is that damage removes HP from players or enemies until they reach 0 HP, then their avatar dies. The Spectra, Unconnected So now we’ve built a rudimentary combat system out of six spectra. For a moment, let’s ignore how they link together dimensionally and just focus on them as separate things: These six spectra make up the combat choice field we’ve been constructing Each of these spectra reveals a potentially interesting aspect of the game’s design. Ideally we’d be able to combine all of these into a nice image that shows us all the extents of our choice field… but there’s a wrinkle. One of the limitations of the diagrams I’ve been using thus far is that drawing a four-dimensional choice field is not really a simple thing to do (just look at these hypercube illustrations as an example of how hard it is). Just adding on a single dimension as we did with 2 and 3 dimensional fields doesn’t work very well, as you see from this image that tries to display all the information we have about weapons: Figure A: This diagram may seem useful, but because directness and damage don’t overlap at all, the diagram is missing all four extremes dealing with both damage and directness. This gets even worse as you add more dimensions. Fortunately, this limitation doesn’t present too much of a problem, since you rarely need that much information at any given time. By regarding two or three of the spectra at a time, we can create “windows” or views into game mechanics that can give us a ton of information. For example, this is one possible view into weapons (notice it’s half of figure A, minus directness): The above diagram shows us eight of our possible weapon archetypes (one per dot). The most obviously useful info we get are the eight archetypal weapons we can create – but it gets better. The important thing I’m trying to show here is how the overlapping of all these spectra create new and interesting choice fields. Each choice field comes with a selection of archetypes (the dots), which represent the extremes of your system. Each weapon is made to answer a question, so by knowing the answer you also can know the question the weapon is built to counteract. This shows us our weapons and enemies are related opposites (Principle #2). By knowing eight possible weapon archetypes, we also know eight possible enemy archetypes. These archetypes don’t represent the full richness of our choice field since many things are missing, but eight weapons and eight enemies is a hell of a start in getting there. I don’t think I’ve ever created a combat game that needed more than four or five enemy archetypes at one time, and three axes tend to be more than enough to give ideas for interesting enemies or weapons. Usually you spread the full richness of your choice field out over the course of your game, so this one choice field view diagram gives you enough information to start creating enemies and weapons. If you create another view into the choice field, for example, to represent the other half of Figure A, it can look like this: Another view diagram that shows more of the weapon choice field — this time we get the missing info about directness. With this data, you can start to see some archetypal ways that weapons can interact with enemy placement (high, low, far, near). I talk a lot about these enemy/environment interactions in my GDC Talk on Skylanders (language warning). This gives you more than enough information to start designing combat setups and even more enemies because you know what tools you’re allowed to use to ask level-design questions in combat: flying enemies, enemies behind cover, enemies on ledges, enemies across gaps, etc. (Link to Part 5) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: http://www.chaoticstupid.com/trinity-4-spectra/ Follow Mike Website: www.ongamedesign.net/ Website: http://www.chaoticstupid.com/ Twitter: twitter.com/MikeDodgerStout 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  7. Hello all of you fantastic and wonderful people, I am BACK! I just want to say thank you all so much for the support and kind words from part 1 of my article. Great to see that many of you enjoyed it and feel like you have learnt something from it, but we can not linger in the past, instead we must look forward to the second part of what makes good level design for combat. Introduction In the first part, I discussed how important it is for you to understand your metrics, scale, weapon, etc. All this planning helps you to create great levels, now that we have an understanding of these crucial elements, it is on us as LDs to crafts spaces that players can have a great amount of fun and enjoyment with. In this article I will be breaking down the next steps of the process of the 2d design, then looking at a level I created and breaking down what I think made it a good level for combat. Pre-production - Research Now that we have gathered all the useful information to help us we need to move through to the research stage of our level design. This stage can not and should not be skipped, it is crucial to not only making a good level but also a believable level (A quick side tangent, always keep in mind and to quote my friend Stuart Scott we are creating ‘Believable not realistic spaces’ meaning we do have creative freedom within our levels) Now you will be set a location for your level, this could be a castle, maybe a hotel or even a space station. Regardless of what that location may be you will need to make sure that you have an understanding of how these spaces work such as: What rooms do this area normally contain? Where is the toilet? How do people interact with this location before the player arrives? How does it connect to other spaces? What is its architectural style? Where can you find this location? Which country is this location located? And other such questions, in order to answer these then you must first do research. You can do this by googling pictures, then entering google maps to find a real life example, you can start to see how the location looks in real life. Videos are also a great help, or there might even be an example in other games. I strongly recommend of gathering not just images of the location but also floor plans as well. The reason for this is it helps you see the overall picture of a location as well as how some typically look. Not only that but this is a great starting point for your own level, as you can use this as a basis for your level. Even better with this, you can not start to see which rooms in a floor plan can be kept, removed or altered. Maybe there are too many rooms that are dead ends which do not give a good loop for combat, or there are not enough spaces for hidden loot, well now you can tweak these in your floor plan but still keep that location based in reality. From doing your research not only will you have a basic understanding of how the locations flows together but you can grasp the theme of location, how it looks at certain times of days, How it will look if it is abandoned or when it is fully functional. Now the gathering resources is in full motion, you can use many different cool tools to store them, from it either being a folder on your computer or Pinterest or Google Docs as long as you have easy ways to access your files that is the most important thing. It is important because you will need to make sure you have access to them while creating your level to constantly reference. Yet it is not only important for your beautiful LD eyes but it will come in handy in reviews, so that when leads or directors are checking your work they can see why it looks the way it does but also helps them understand how you got to this layout and why, also this will really help your teammates in Enviro Art so they can get a much more vivid vision of how the location should look. As for example you may be asked to build a level set in a church, but this church is built in a Latin community. Yet when I think of a church I visualize a huge Gothic church in the shape of a cross, but that would never fit inside a Latin community. By doing your research you can see how different areas and communities view the same space, making sure you create more authentic and believable spaces. Once you have gathered enough references (50 images minimum in my opinion) you can start to move to the next step. Pre-production - 2d Map One of the most commonly asked questions I receive is “Max should I do 2d maps, is that the right way?” now for me the answer is yes. I used to do them and then stopped and just jumped straight into the blockout, but I noticed that my quality of my work decrease as well as it taking longer when staring at that ominous blank screen. There are many reasons I believe 2d sketches to be important, such as: Quicker to start work on blockout Easier to address feedback Allows you to see the flaws quicker Helps you go through multiple iterations before choosing and starting a blockout Now I know some of my other friends and other designers I have met use Google Sketch-Up before creating their blockout as it helps get a better sense of scale. Honestly both are great, the point you should take away from this section is that you need to plan before your blockout. People also feel that when they do a 2d map or a form of planning they feel that they are trapped? I put a ‘?’ because you should not. This is a plan meaning this can and should change, this is your starting point! Meaning that you can and must make changes as you see fit, I even did this in a recent level I made, do not be afraid to change from your plan if it does not feel right. Now with these points added to your pipeline of level creation we are going to do a break down of a combat level I created and break it down. (Before we do this though, do make sure to check out this great article which is fantastic for what to think about when creating your levels and brings forth some additional points on things to consider when making your levels) Case Study - Part 1 Okay, you now know how important pre-production is to your level, we are now going to get to the sexy part, which is the level itself. I created a small combat level for a task, now we will be breaking down the level and showing what I believe helps make this level good for combat. Quick side note, all of those documents in part one were my design rules and metrics and those were what I was referring to when I created my level. This level was not built or set on any particular location, we had a week to create Three combat spaces, so there is no reference images, just more of me creating a space that felt right. With no research I had my restrictions for space of 30x30m as well I could only use five enemies, with cover spacing of 2m and with that I created my 2d map. As you can see, it is not the prettiest of sketches but it gets the job done. It is very important when you do a sketch that you do use grid paper. The reason for this that you can get a sense of scale as well when it comes to putting it in the editor it you can translate the cube on the paper for 1m and use that to block out your level in the editor. When creating the level (and hopefully you can see this) that I wanted essentially split the space into quarters, so that the player could feel a difference in each section, but also feel a sense of progression. Quartering the level allowed me to reveal information to the player slowly, not just throwing them into the middle of a battle ground. It allows the player to focus on the task at hand, before showing more slowly, also by hiding certain information from the player it also plays to their disadvantage making the challenge feel even stronger. Another reason I was splitting up the space is the fact that it can and will reduce Long lines of sight. This way it forces players to move through the space in order to engage in combat, while also making them move to get an understanding of how the space is connected. Part of how I quarter the level is by dividing the space between interior and exterior spaces, most of the right hand side is set in the interior space, while the left hand space is kept in the open space to the exterior. This is handy for combat as players will have a different feel in each of the spaces. Exterior - players will have bigger spaces to engage in combat, having flanking opportunities, as well as having a larger line of sight to deal with and keep an eye on as enemies progress. Interior - players will be kept in a much more narrow space forcing them to focus on the front of combat as they battle with the enemies to move forward. Not only is this designed to have a visual separation but also designed like this to provide a number of ways in which players have to deal with the different encounters as well, making the space feel different too. You have now seen why I have decided to quarter the layout but it would not be much of a plan if I did not think about how the enemies occupy this space. Here is the plan I had for my enemies in the space as well: (The enemies are the Red Diamonds with the giant E, inside them. While the player is the Green Circle, with the P inside it) Before I jump to why I have placed the enemies in this position I want to talk about the players position first. This is sometimes an oversight when designing a level but trust me when I say, how the player first sees the level will inform how they play your level. One of the biggest/basic mistakes I see in beginners work is that the designer places the player facing the wrong direction, so make sure you place the players avatar facing the direction you want them to move towards. Look at how Mario always faces the right as players must move right. With that same context I have it so my player faces forward leading them towards the window and to the turning on the left (we will break down why that is important later) but a big reason why I have placed the player a bit away from enemies is for safety. Players can start my level without feeling pressure right away. Allowing them to find their bearing before entering combat. Switching gears now, we will look at enemy placement, now I have only showed you their starting off placement not their patrol route. We will talk about their route when it comes to the blockout phase. One of the key things I have tried to do here is that I have tried to hide enemies from the players initial view. If you look at both the top right and bottom left, there are two enemies in each section, yet only one is visible in the players initial LoS. The reason behind this is: To surprise the player, this way it keeps the engagement interesting Reward the players who do not go in guns blazing, those who statergise and truly take in the level will be able to not be caught off guard. Conclusion From this article I hope you have understood the importance of research and planning, this is a necessary stage to make great levels, as well as seeing some questions you should as yourself as you start working on your level. Always make sure to build up a library of references because the more you know the more authentic and believable your space will become. Floor plans are a great place to start when it comes to creating your own 2d maps, as you can use them to help ground your level or even the foundation of your own level. 2d maps don’t need to be art, as long as it is understandable and makes sense then that is the most important thing. Plan the position of your player and your enemies as that will help you get an even better understanding of how the level will actually flow with your objectives. I was planning for us to start looking over the blockout of the level but honestly I think it has turned out better that we have focused solely on the planning phase of development. Because now you can understand how important it is, as well as see my thought process when creating this level. Next will be the concluding part of this mini-series on making a combat level. I did not want to explain all of my design choices in this post as you will see in the next part that some of changed, but also I believe it will be better to see them within the level I have built. Please Support Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this, hope you have found it useful. If you do want to hear more about my thoughts on level design, then please checkout my podcast: iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K Read Part 3 Here: Follow Max Level Design Lobby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCncCrL2AVwpp7NJEG2lhG9Q Website: http://www.maxpears.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  8. Hello Everyone! It has been a long, long time since I have written an article but what can I say Inspiration hit me! Before I begin, I want to say the way that inspiration struck all came across by taking part in an online course I recently just finished on CGMA which was ten weeks long. Thank you very much to Em Schatz for putting the course together and to Patrick Haslow for being a great tutor and taking the time to review my work. Introduction: Now I have worked on a range of titles as a Game Dev and Level designer, but as my career has switched over to AAA for the last five years I have noticed a common thread with the projects. That thread is Combat. What you make of combat within games and especially in AAA games is up to you and heck, I hope we get to talk about it in detail in the future but, none of us can deny how popular action is, in all mediums. With the projects that I have been working on, a lot of combat spaces have been designed by myself and by my teammates. So I have seen a lot of AI blood shed, as well as seen some good and bad examples of levels for combat. While working on this course one of the weeks we are asked to design a combat space (Ranged combat with guns). I completed the level and it is not the perfect example of a combat space, but it is one that I am extremely proud of. After this it got me thinking, “What makes a good combat level?” The question yet still haunting me, I decided to try to find out more. Sadly, there is not as many resources as I had thought would be available (If you know some great ones please do send them over to me). This is a great article though so please do read this, it was another inspiration for this article. Past Thoughts: I even went back to think about how I was taught at my University, and how bad my levels then were for combat. For what plays such a massive role in the gaming industry we were not taught anything about this topic: How to design levels for the purpose of Combat. Now with my xp of working in the industry for a while, making different spaces for combat, I finally feel that I can help. Hopefully, someone who reads this will find this useful, and it will also build a topic of discussion for many more and far better designers than me to help us understand Level Design for Combat. (see how I worked the title, into the article? Pretty impressive.) Keep in mind that I will only be talking about Combat involving guns, designing for close quarter combat, or turn based combat will not be mentioned here. (Here is a great article on DMC’s combat design) This article will only be focused on the level design involvement of combat as well, not breaking down anything to with weapon or mechanic design. With that out of the way I am going to be breaking down how to create a level built for gun combat step by step. Let Us Design It! Metrics: One of the first steps to designing a good combat space is first by understanding your Metrics. The subject of metricts I do not feel is mentioned enough when creating a level and how vital it is. Metrics determines the spaces of your levels, how high the cover should be, how wide corridors are, and much more. As for who decides the metrics for your game, that is a task for the level design team. It comes with experimenting in a ‘Gym’ it is tough to decide as you must decide by what feels right. I personally have only been involved with it once in my career and it is a tough thing to figure out. Create spaces for you and your teammates to test (This here is a ruler where I would time the players movement speed and jumping length) (having a range of boxes I used this to test jumping heights, single and double) You get the point that I am making. Once you have these gyms set up, have others test them out to see which they agree feels the best. These numbers and sizes will change depending on the view of your game, TPP, FP, Isometric, etc. Once you have the metrics, make sure that you are constantly checking them. (Side note, make sure that the document is easy to read and people understand it from first glance) Here is an example of what I put together when creating my combat level: From what you can see, the documents are very easy to read and you roughly get a sense of scale when looking at them. (Again these are not perfect documents, as it would be good to have tables listing the numbers on the documents as well so designers can have one place to look quickly without scrolling down several pages to get to the info they need) With these figures you have a great starting point, make sure that you are constantly referring to these documents. This is super important as not only does it allow you to make sure the architecture of your world is to scale. It allows you as a level designer to start understanding how verticality on two floors can play into combat, how to signal to players which rooms are safe while others they must be on their toes. Final point on this is now how you can combine the believability and theme of your architecture with the great feel of your gameplay. “A rule of thumb when creating metrics (Again all depends on your game, in the world of game/level design there are no hard rules only suggestions and what suits your game the best) is to make sure that your differences between a main door vs a side door, a main corridor vs a side corridor. Is that the main is double the size of your side, the reason for this is it is visually different. Increasing your main door size by just 1m is not visually distinct enough, so try to do it by doubling as visually it makes an impact on the players’’ Now you may be thinking that our time working with sexy metrics is over, but oh no no no there is still some fun to be had here sweet child. We have set up the rules for our architeture but now we need to set up rules for the combat spaces themselves. Because we were smart enough to set up the metrics for the architecture before it makes things a little easier for us. With the combat spaces, the elements you want to focus on are: Correct Cover Height & Width Cover Spacing (Buffer Zone) Cover rules on Architecture Weapon Range Enemy Archetypes Cover Height & Width: This is an easy one, for this we are focusing on what dimensions the player can use for cover, from low to high cover. Making sure that it is clear and readable to the player what is cover and what is not. Cover Spacing: Now this one is extremely important and should be one you follow very closely. This here is the distance between covers, we use this to make sure that cover is not just randomly scattered all over the place. That it is clear for players to understand a cover route through the combat, but also that AI can make it’s way towards the player too. There could be other technical reasons too, but this is a very important to follow these rules. Cover Rules on Architecture: As you have seen above we have metrics for say our doors and windows, but in order for us to not just have these set up for traversal we need to think about how to best use them for combat. Making sure that there is always cover on a door so players do not walk into a room and get blasted in the face. How players can use windows as a sniping spot, etc. Weapon Range: In most games that involve guns, there is a whole array of weaponry with some games like Boarderlands having over a Billion Guns! With that in mind it is important to build spaces to help encourage certain styles of play. Thinking about sniper nests or areas for players to flank and use short range weapons like a shotgun to attack the enemy from behind. Before we do all this though we need to understand how far these weapons can shoot, what is the best distance to use said weapons. Enemy Archetypes: In your games there will more than likely be different enemies within your game. Again like the weapon range we as level designers need to make sure that we build spaces that allow these enemies to have the best space to shine, show off their skillset but provide players cool and unique ways to win. By understanding these enemy types, we as LDs can build unique challenges which force players to strategize, who they should take out first or even work together as a team to coordinate an attack. How Players Avatar Holds the Gun: This topic here was not mentioned on the list above as it is not the biggest thing to consider but it is a detail worth knowing. What am I referring to when talking about how the avatar holds the gun? I am referring to will the avatar be right handed or left handed. Small detail but a detail nonetheless as then you must make sure that there is cover with an opening for the weapon. If the avatar holds it more to the right, then on door frames make sure there is cover to the left, and visa versa. (A lot of game though now allow the player to switch the shoulders of which they aim from) Now you can see the amount of planning that goes into creating a good combat space before we even have opened the editor. These steps are vital in creating a great combat space for your game. (Please note these design pages which I have put together are to show you an example of what to plan, when you are putting your design doc together you can do way better, these are just to show you what I mean, use these as a learning point and make fare better documentation team!) Conclusion: This article has become an extremely long article already and there is still more to cover. So this is where I will end part 1, but we will move on to the next step following this, such as paper design and the actual Blockout. We will be breaking down the blockout I mentioned at the beginning of the article, breaking it down. Please Support: If you have enjoyed this then please be sure to check out my podcast (Level Design Lobby): iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K If you want to reach out to me, to give me some suggestions on good combat spaces or to see my bite size level design tips then please check me out on Twitter Read Part 2 here: Follow Max Level Design Lobby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCncCrL2AVwpp7NJEG2lhG9Q Website: http://www.maxpears.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  9. Pacing and sequencing are neither art nor science, but a combination of both. If they were an exact science, making ninety quality combat encounters would be as easy as following a formula. It is not purely art either, for there is science to base our decisions upon. Rather, pacing and sequencing is an art, based on science. The following explores how artistic decisions based on scientific process pave the way to making awesome combat encounters. The Combat PlanIn order to understand the science of pacing and sequencing, we must first understand a games combat plan. A combat plan is all the actions the player can choose during a combat encounter. In most games, that plan is a pyramid, made up of assess, attack and move choices. Fig 1: Combat Plan Pyramid At any point in a combat encounter, a player may assess the situation, attack their enemies and/or move. The more times the player stops what they are doing to pick a new action in the combat plan, the more intense the encounter becomes. For example, if there is a simple firefight going on with two enemies, the player may feel very comfortable within an attack action they are executing. However, if a reinforcement pod lands bringing new enemy types, the player must re-assess the change in the battle and pick a new combat action. Stopping their current action and choosing a different one makes the fight more intense. Increasing intensity in a combat encounter is a key concept to grasp for understanding pacing and sequencing.PacingIn general, pacing is the flow of the combat encounter. Respected God of War designer, Mike Birkhead put it best in his blog, Flark Design, Great fights have a flow to them. They start off strong, sure, but they also build; eventually building to a final crescendo. Lets break down a pattern that dominates most combat encounters in modern games to prove why building to a crescendo is so important for combat encounters. The pattern goes as follows: introduce the enemies, initiate the combat, escalate the combat, allow a midpoint for a breather and then end in a challenging climax. For an example, look at the below chart in which I have broken down a combat encounter into each stage of the pattern and the action that occurs at each stage. Fig 2: Common Combat Pacing Pattern Now that we have our basic example, we need to add empirical data to prove why the pattern provides good pacing. In order to achieve that data, we need a mathematical definition for pacing, intensity over time. Time indicates the duration of the action. Remember from above, that Intensity is how often the player must re-plan. Therefore, we represent intensity with a zero to ten number value representing re-planning, zero being no re-planning and ten being the most re-planning possible. Those numbers are added to the chart we made before and then plotted on a graph for easy visibility. Fig 3: Time and Intensity added Fig 4: Pacing = Intensity / Time The combat pattern is successful because it increases in intensity over time, provides a midpoint where intensity decreases and then a climax culminating in the most intense moment of the encounter. Great combat encounters use intensity to build to the crescendo that Birkhead mentioned. Not every combat encounter need follow the pattern we applied for the example, but it must hold true to increasing intensity. Increasing the intensity holds the tension of the fight, preventing the player from getting bored and keeps the combat fun. Sequencing I mentioned in the introduction that pacing and sequencing are both an art and a science. Pacing is the science and sequencing is the art. Refer to our example combat encounter chart again; the actions column determined the intensity. Those actions, like the arrival of new enemies or a helicopter flying in, are sequencing. These actions are created by combining different in-game factors. Those factors are: enemy types, enemy count, enemy spawn locations, time between spawns, music, dialogue and big events in the level, like destruction of the environment. These factors will expanded upon in detail further in.In order to determine how successful a designer is at putting these factors together they must continually be play testing their encounters. The intensity and time numbers used to plot pacing graphs need to be driven from play tester results. According to Wikipedia, art is defined as, the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Combining the different factors together that constitute sequencing require great amounts of creative skill and imagination.Enemy Type FactorThe enemy type sequencing factor is a character archetype the level designer spawns to fight the player, each one behaving differently from the next. A designer may spawn one type in a group together or combine different types.Bringing in new enemy types is an easy way to change the intensity of an encounter because it introduces a new pattern for the player to deal with. For example, in an encounter full of machine gun guys, after so many machine gun guys die, the designer spawns a shotgun guy. The shotgun guy tries to get close to the player to shoot him instead of firing from far away. The intensity rises because the player deals with danger up close from the shotgun guy and danger from far away via the machine gun guy. Fig 5: Different Enemy Types Designers need to be careful with enemy types so that they do not introduce too many different types together at once. If too many types are on screen at once, it may overwhelm the player and make the fight too intense. Measure that by watching players during play testing.Designers also need to keep in mind how AI work together, a shotgun and machine gun enemy are a better combination than a pistol and machine gun enemy. The difference in adjusting to a medium range and close attack pattern requires more re-planning and therefore higher intensity than the addition of another medium range attack enemy. Try to pick enemies whose strengths and weaknesses complement one another.Enemy Count FactorThe enemy count sequencing factor is simply the number of enemies on screen at any point in the combat encounter. Adding or decreasing the number of enemies on screen determines the enemy count intensity. Enemy count is the easiest knob to turn to make an encounter more intense. Is one guy too easy, add another or vice versa.The enemy count factor goes hand in hand with the enemy type factor. Eight enemies with low health and one attack will not be as tough as eight enemies with high health and three different types of attack. There are two main patterns when sequencing the enemy count for a combat encounter, the triangle pattern and diamond pattern. In the triangle pattern, the designer increases the enemy count while keeping the enemy type intensity consistent. Fig 6: Triangle Enemy Count Pattern In the diamond pattern, the designer starts the same as the triangle pattern but changes halfway to increase intensity by decreasing the enemy count while increasing the enemy type intensity. Fig 7: Diamond Enemy Count Pattern The triangle pattern is the most common pattern used in encounters. The designer simply adds more guys to each wave or as more enemies get killed. The diamond pattern is more common in boss or mini boss fights. The fight starts off with cannon fodder and as they get destroyed, fewer more difficult enemies enter the encounter and culminate in one incredibly challenging AI archetype.Spawn Timing FactorThe spawn timing sequencing factor is how much time comes between each AI appearance on screen. If enemies come onscreen to quickly together, the player may not be able to recognize each pattern they must combat and the fight may become too intense. Conversely, if they slowly trickle out, the intensity may drop too quickly, boring the player. Spawning a combat encounter is like choreographing a violent dance. Let the player appreciate and digest the arrival of each new dancer to the stage allowing the player to plan the correct actions to take. Be careful of the distance the AI spawns from the player because that effects timing as well. It is not just the time between spawns, but the time until engagement with the player. Spawning them too far away may make the AI feel like they are not a threat because it takes so long to reach you. Spawning them too close to the player allows the AI to reach the player before they have a chance to plan..Enemy Spawn Location FactorOne of my personal favorite sequencing factors is the enemy spawn location factor, where enemies appear on screen. It is of upmost importance to keep the player's crosshairs moving around the screen in a fire fight and not focused too much in one spot. If the players keep shooting in one area to engage all the enemies, then the fight will not require much re-planning and not be very fun. Keeping the player moving around the scene not only helps intensity, but also helps them appreciate cool environments artists dress up.Before we delve further, let's take a brief break and discuss how the human eye works when looking at the screen. Most people read from left to right and that causes the human eye to start in the left upper corner of the screen and move around in a circle through all four corners. Knowing this fun fact, always start your first AI spawn in the upper left and plot the subsequent spawns along the circle. Fig 8: Eye moves from left to right in screen space Following the circular pattern allows the player to easily digest what's happening on screen and plan accordingly. It also allows for the use of really interesting spawn animations which always make a combat encounter sing. With appropriate timing between the spawns the designer can reach deep into the modular spawn animation bag and combo repel, zip line, drop ship, closet, trap door and a myriad of other spawn animations together for a proper punch to the player's sensory system. To test whether you are successful, watch your team mates or testers play your level. Specifically, watch their crosshairs. Are they not moving much and staying still in a specific part of the screen? If so, you need more intensity. If the cross hairs move around the screen too much, making the player feel frustrated, you need to slow down the spawning through the circle so the player digests each new enemy. Find a sweet spot where the player is moving their crosshairs around different parts of the screen, watching the AI enter but not feeling overwhelmed.Level Event FactorsLevel event sequencing factors are scripted events designers add to the level that help tell the story of the fight. Level events can be anything from cover destroying, paths getting blocked to whole rooms catching on fire or flooding. They add intensity because they force the player to re-plan.Consider the fight in Uncharted 3 on the cruise ship where the room steadily becomes more and more flooded. As the room fills with water, the playable game space shrinks and the player must re-plan with each new flood state change in the room. Because of the intensity provided by the flooding room, the designer of the level did not have to add as many enemies as other fights to capture an intense feeling. Fig 9: Uncharted 3's Cruise Ship Level Flooded during Combat Dialogue FactorThe dialogue sequencing factor is the use of dialogue to foretell a change in the combat spawning or to broadcast that a level event is about to occur. For example, if enemies fall back and say, "Let's get outta before the big monster arrives," then the player will immediately stop what they are doing and re-plan to figure out how they are going to fight this new big monster. Without the dialogue, the intensity would change because the player would have less time to re-plan his next move. AI broadcasting pertinent information about a combat space via dialogue lines is a great, cheap way to affect combat intensity.Music FactorIn general, music adds scale and dramatizes events. In a combat encounter, combat music helps dramatize the combat and becomes another layer of the combat pattern the brain begins to recognize and learn. For a funny experiment, have someone play a white box combat setup with and without music and ask them which felt more intense. The one with music will always feel more intense because of the drama the music adds, it takes the player to another emotional level.ConclusionCombining all the factors together is the art of sequencing. The timing at which sequencing factors occur is the science of pacing. While executing pacing and sequencing in combat encounters, it is important to remember that they are two separate but linked aspects of an encounter, a change to one invariably affects the other. *Note: This article has been posted in its entirety on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/TravisHoffstetter/20130210/186364/The_Art_and_Science_of_Pacing_and_Sequencing_Combat_Encounters.phpFollow TravisWebsite: https://www.travishoffstetter.com/ 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp