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  1. WAYWO has landed. This is one giant leap for Level Design, one giant leap for Video Games. Or anything else you all deem appropriate to discuss in here, since it is traditional to go way, way, WAY(wo) off topic.... 😉
  2. The following video series created by Riot Games, maker of League of Legends, covers some of the essential aspects of making a video game. Do You Wanna Make Games? Then watch this series. Here's an overview of the episodes, listed in order: Intro to Game Art Concept Art Character Art Environment Art Technical Art Character Animation Game VFX Sound Design User Interface Design Game Design Episode 1: Intro to Game Art Episode 2: Concept Art Episode 3: Character Art Episode 4: Environment Art Episode 5: Technical Art Episode 6: Character Animation Episode 7: Game VFX Episode 8: Sound Design Episode 9: User Interface Design Episode 10: Game Design Follow Riot Games Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJEGvSZnQ1pkVfHO8s5G8hA Twitter: https://twitter.com/riotgames Website: https://www.riotgames.com/en 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. In the third installment of his Action Adventure Level Design series, Lara Croft creator Toby Gard examines how the design process should incorporate discussions of pacing, structure, and mood -- and how leads can hone their feedback to the team to make it all work. Part 1 described how to create a Level Flow Plan to hand off to the level team. Part 2 described a variety of tools to help turn those Level Flows into detailed, immersive and interesting levels plans. By the end of the process described in the last article -- building through fiction -- you will most likely have a mixture of paper maps, written stories, detailed flowcharts, concept art and possibly some 3D mockup spaces, depending on how each level team prefers (or has been instructed) to represent their plan. Those levels will have taken shape in surprising and unexpected ways. Levels that we had assumed to be straightforward action levels may have revealed rich veins for puzzles, and many levels are likely to have prompted ideas that fall outside of the current game mechanics.Evaluating the Big PictureTo structure their feedback, the creative leads need to validate all level plans in relation to each other. Because the levels are likely to be pretty complex, it is useful to create a simplified representation of the whole game so that you can assess the pacing and emotional consistency of the experience.Extraction of MechanicsThe first step we need to take is to identify all of these special case interactions and ideas that the level teams have come up with while fleshing out the level plans. Inevitably they will be some of the coolest in the game: Ken Kong falls down a 30 story lift shaft, doing frantic mid-air kung-fu until there is a pile of zombie bodies beneath him thick enough for him to survive the drop. It sounds awesome, but the fight system simply cannot accommodate this "fall fighting" mechanic, so the level team has suggested it as a cutscene.In a couple of other levels, Ken Kong has to destroy some walls and the level teams have proposed different McGuffins to allow him to do this, such as a convenient, precariously balanced heavy object that will break through the wall if triggered.It is this list of ideas that can produce the neat and original game mechanics that will set your project apart from everyone else's. By promoting ideas that have the flexibility to be expanded into the core mechanics and peppering them throughout the game, we can create a richer more coherent overall experience.For example:How could destroying walls become a reusable mechanic? Would it require a consumable, or is it a readily available ability? How rich of a vein is it to be tapped for more applications? Does it have synergy with other player abilities?Let's say that we can integrate destroying walls with a new survivor type, a demolitions expert, who carries around explosives that can be put to all sorts of uses, but who also explodes when attacked by a zombie -- potentially taking out a large proportion of your crowd. This could make for an interesting risk/reward mechanic and with some standard "explodable" barriers and/or enemies could be used in several levels.Perhaps the "fall fighting" could also be used on several levels, but this seems more like a mini-game than a new mechanic. While the idea is interesting, the question is, could you make the gameplay deep enough to justify three or four "fall fighting" sequences throughout the game? It potentially seems like a large investment for too small a gain, but if we could make it work, it would be really cool.These mechanics are generally gold, because they were not forced into the game design from a desire to tick boxes based on competitive products, but were discovered organically through an exploration of its unique themes and the thoughtful exploration of its world.Once we have integrated the new mechanics and rejected or noted all the new set pieces, we will have adapted the character to live in this more clearly defined world and gathered a major part of the information needed to give feedback to the level teams.Gameplay Types Most games have a basic mixture of elements. For instance, an FPS might have 70 percent shooting on foot and 30 percent vehicle combat.If every level in the game had exactly that mixture of gameplay, it would get dull for the player pretty quickly. But if you have levels that are entirely on foot, interspersed with a few levels that are predominantly or entirely involving vehicles, then they will act as palate cleansers, changing up the experience enough to keep players interested.A great example of a game that keeps the player constantly interested is Half-Life 2. Almost every level has a new central theme, whether it's a new weapon, a new vehicle or a new type of enemy, your experience changes dramatically every thirty minutes or so.By looking at the mix of gameplay types over the course of the game, you can isolate points where the experience might be too flat.Example: KFZKLet's carry on with the imaginary game Kung Fu Zombie Killer, discussed in depth the last installment. The variety of gameplay in that design comes from the types of survivors that you rescue.• With doctors, you could have a level where your goal is to heal injured survivors.• With forklift truck drivers, you could have a level where heavy equipment has to be taken to a particular location in order to progress.• With engineers, you could have levels that included traditional puzzle elements.• With soldiers, you could have a level where your crowd actually does most of the fighting for you.• And so on.Let's assume these were the locations we settled on for the levels:• Dojo• Hospital• Building site• Army base• Power station• Police station• Supermarket• Town hall• College campus• Cinema• TV station• Office blockWe know from the story that the game has to start in Ken's Dojo and that it has to end with camera men filming Ken as he rescues jenna126xyz.We have goal mix of 80 percent fighting, 20 percent puzzles for the whole game and we had ordered things like this: But during the detailing phase two things happened. (More likely a massive number of things would have changed, but let's keep it relatively simple.)First, someone came up with a really cool teacher survivor who can put zombies to sleep by lecturing them, which changes the gameplay mix at the college to involve more puzzles.Second, someone has proposed changing the cinema into a film studio, whereby the zombies and the survivors can be based on clichés like Wild West or Godzilla films. People are very excited about this idea and enough crazy mechanics have come from it to justify potentially splitting it into two levels.Consequently things are now looking a little less balanced and we have one too many levels: We have found enough new mechanics that we can nearly introduce a new mechanic every level. By cutting the supermarket and moving the power station a bit earlier we can adjust the level order to create a better gameplay rhythm: This can still be improved; we can look to either find a new survivor type that can be added to the town hall level, or we can try to replace it with something else that gives us more opportunities to do so.Mood MapThere are potentially a host of emotions you will want the player to experience over the course of the game. The main character may experience things like unrequited love, revenge, sadness, and anger. These sorts of emotional events are important to track but they are not as important as the overall emotional tone or mood that you want the player to experience.By "mood", I mean a basic emotional concept that can be passed to the audience. So panic, fear, trepidation, awe, and excitement would be considered moods, while higher order conceptual emotional themes such as revenge, jealousy, or nihilism would not be.Generating the mood map has two purposes. It is used to assess that the level order and content will not interfere with the emotional journey of the player but more critically it is a fundamental tool for aligning the whole development team towards creating a holistic experience.For instance, let's say that the story of Ken Kong will go like this: Ken fights his way across the city saving the loved ones of his crush, but it takes him so long that by the end when he reaches her, she has been bitten and become a zombie herself.If I define the mood map like this: Kick-arse awesomeness - farcical chaos - mounting triumph - dark comedy• Art will keep things bright and well lit.• Animation will tend towards outrageous over the top stylized action.• Music and sound effects will tend towards fast-paced and comical.• Designers will feel free to be more game-y in UI game design decisions.By defining the moods specifically over time you will guide the whole team more precisely than you might imagine. For instance "mounting triumph" implies a growing crescendo. It is likely to encourage a ratcheting up of music intensity, increasingly outrageous level end victory animations, and a general tendency to try to up the pacing each level.While you probably assumed that the tone of KFZK would be defined as something like "zany", the act of stating it over time has a dramatic impact on the whole development.For instance, if I instead define the mood map for the whole game like this: Panic - horror - increasing trepidation - tragedyEvery aspect of the game will be completely changed by this mood map:• Art will create darker dirtier spaces; they will light the levels with flickering pools of light and dress it with increasingly disturbing stories.• Animation will tend towards realism and will avoid any movements at might be construed as funny.• Music and sound effects will be disturbing.• Designers will try to keep UI and other design elements realistic and invisible.With exactly the same game design, these two mood maps would generate utterly different gaming experiences. When the whole team embraces the mood map and diligently tries to express it in all the assets and creative decisions they make, the mood will be successfully instilled into the player.What normally happens, though, is that every team member has a slightly different idea of what mood or tone the game should be creating, and rarely any idea at all of what mood the player should be experiencing at any given point in the game. Is it any surprise that most games fail to move people, when the development team are all communicating slightly different messages?The mood map can be as simple as the above four stage progressions, or it can be as detailed as putting several mood chunks into each level. It is worth bearing in mind that literally no story-based game has only one mood. Even horror games oscillate between building tension and outright terror.Once you have the gameplay types laid out and the moods defined you can see how the current level plans fit together. In our case we have puzzle levels late in the game that are clearly going to slow the pace where we want people to be experiencing "mounting triumph." By reordering levels, or shifting ideas from one level to another, we can better support the emotional goals: Luckily KFZK's level order is very flexible, but most games are not. In most cases the answer is to give feedback to the individual level teams to try to reach the desired mood and gameplay mix.While the above example is probably not the best order, or even the best mood map, the point of the exercise is to try to force yourself into examining the entirety of the plan so that feedback on each level is given relative to its place in the whole experience.Block Mesh and PrototypeThe next step is to start building the levels in 3D, and I argue that the best people to do that are artists, not designers, if you want believable and interesting spaces. Block mesh should validate whether the level as planned will fit into the technical and production limitations while demonstrating that they can be compelling enough spaces.As these levels are prototyped, inevitably things will end up being slightly different than planned. Designers will adapt their plans based on the art, so throughout the block mesh and prototype phase, the leads have to continually update the game rhythm chart and validate the levels within the context of the mood map.By continuing to extract new mechanics that arise from the block mesh phase and staying open to level re-ordering you can continue towards a balanced game plan without restricting the creative process of the level builders.Final planAll the information gained by building the block mesh should have refined the game design significantly.• A final Mood Map has been created that will inform all asset creation.• New mechanics have been defined and inserted into all relevant levels.• Levels have been reordered and massaged to create the desired pace and mood.• Memory budgets have been validated.• Weak level plans have been cut.• Player abilities have all been prototyped and final metrics defined.Once all the levels are prototyped and one level has been polished to act as a vertical slice, production can begin from a very solid basis. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the authorSource: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/133829/action_adventure_level_design_.php?Follow Toby:Website: www.focalpointgames.comTwitter: https://twitter.com/mechabadger
  4. Next Level Design has been given permission from the author to host this entire book in PDF format. Download the attached PDF at the bottom of this article for the entire book, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70zStill not sure? Read through this section on lighting that was recently posted on Next Level Design: In addition, we've included another small section of the book right here: pg. 25 INTRODUCTION Due to games’ ever-increasing complexity and the expanding nature of levels in general, it can certainly be said that levels are not easy to design. Levels, as said before, are combinations of dozens of different aspects, the conglomeration of which render them complex by nature. This combination of complex systems itself requires good design from the start in order to avoid an inconsistent and downright messy result. Because the different aspects are so interdependent, it’s very important not to lose sight of a level’s ‘big picture’. This chapter highlights some of the issues that can pop up when designing a level, as well as some more minor aspects to keep in mind. The overall design is the foundation for a level. Without a clear, strong design, there is no solid base on which to build the level. THE CREATION OF A NEW WORLDThe most important part of a successful level is its beginning. The way a level starts will determine a great deal about how the rest of the level will evolve and how quickly. In these days of growing complexity, efficiency and speed are valued highly. Getting off to a bad start or using bad work methods can cost time which is usually at a premium to begin with. Part of starting a good design is foreseeing potential problems before anything is created. By doing this early in the process, a good level designer can quickly and easily modify the design to better fit the available time, workload, difficulty, technical limits, or all of the above.How one begins a new level is different for every person. One designer may write everything down in a design document while another, like me, just plans it out in their head. The method used also depends upon if one is working in a team environment. Working with a team means that the level’s design must be communicated throughout the team which usually means some sort of written, drawn, or quickly modeled design that can be passed around and/or presented. How it’s done isn’t important as long as several key aspects are kept in mind and the end product is of a sufficient quality. If the technology used cannot create lush jungles, for example, then this must be recognized before starting.A design should progress only when exactly what is wanted and how to accomplish it is known. Exact information is the key to this. Again using the jungle example, one must know what the jungle will look like, the colors it uses, the overall style, how the player will move through it, if the engine can render thick vegetation, what kind of physics will be involved, and too many more to list here.To assist in this task, I have developed a type of checklist that is at the base of everything I design. The list compares several key values against each other to see if they are possible and if they should be modified. It also helps define the values better. The list checks to see if the rules of, for example, lighting and composition are contrary to each other and if the goal is possible and what direction to take. This extensive chapter will mostly be about the latter.A level is complex and it takes increasingly more time and effort to successfully complete one; thus failure is not an option. All the areas that could potentially cause a problem should be identified before starting any work. Once the design process starts it should go smoothly; design dilemmas should not occur or, if they do, should be easily overcome with few modifications to the overall plan. Getting stuck can be very demoralizing and time consuming. pg. 26THE CHECKLISTA level always begins with a goal, a theme, or both. The goal may be that the game requires a medieval castle, or that it’s missing an ominous environment, or that the level is to be the central hub of the game.After identifying the basic idea, certain key information needs to be pinned down before starting the level. This ‘key information’ will be referred to as ‘the keys’. The keys communicate important properties about the level. They are the key words the level is built around and provide more information on the level’s requirements.The following are questions to determine the key information for the level-to-be: • (1-Time) How much time is there available? Is there a deadline? • (2-Tech) What tools and game engine will be used? • (3-Limitations) What limitations are there? Is there a shortage of art assets or staff/personal skill limit? Can anything be made or are some aspects beyond the scope of the project because of their complexity? • (4-Requirements) What kind of requirements are there? Are there any specific elements, for example, special buildings or areas that have to be in the level? When compared to the rest of the game what visual style or theme must the level adhere to? • (5-Purpose) What is the overall purpose? For example, is it a multiplayer practice level or a singleplayer boss arena? • (6-Gameplay) What should the gameplay be like? How should it be played? Should there be enough room for a large boss encounter? Or does it need to be large enough to contain a large number of enemies attacking the player? Perhaps it’s a vehicle level? Or it is a stealth level? And so on. • (7-Theme) What theme and/or style will the level have? Will it be a castle or a jungle? Will the style be cartoonish or realistic?This is all essential information for a level. The order of the list is not as important as the answers. Once the essential elements of the level have been identified it can be run through a checklist to see if it holds up. Will it work? Look right? Play right?The keys provide the information while the checklist determines if it is possible or not. The checklist combines two or more keys in order to determine if they fit together or not. If the desired theme is a jungle, but the engine can’t handle rendering dense vegetation, then these are two keys that do not fit together and the design will need to be adjusted accordingly. This is the type of information the keys provide: essential information that design decisions can be based on before actually starting work on a level. Thinking ahead is the key to success.The checklist itself is a system for asking questions and making comparisons. The questions are different each time, but the comparisons remain the same. Verify that the individual elements compliment each other.Here's the entire Table of Contents: Download the attached PDF below, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z *The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted on Next Level Design with permission from the authorFollow Sjoerd De JongWebsite: http://www.hourences.com/Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/Twitter: https://twitter.com/HourencesYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed The Hows and Whys of Level Design.pdf
  5. Intro This tutorial will cover where to look for ideas/inspiration and how to put them on paper for current or future reference. Please note that this is not the right way of doing things. This is simply my methods of producing and documenting level design ideas.Looking for Ideas There are lots of ways how you can find ideas. Sources of inspiration are practically endless, but the problem is that some are harder to spot than others. Little things such as a shape of a flower can give an idea for an organic level. It's just a matter of how you look at things. Here's a brief list of where you can find ideas: - Digital and printed photos - Movies - Real life architecture - Concept art - Video games - Nature patterns For me one of the most important parts of the level design is atmosphere. I play games to escape reality, to feel like I am in a different place. The way a level designer can create (visual) atmosphere is by paying attention to shape, space and lighting. What kind of shape is it? How does a space define it? How much does a light reveal of that space? All those questions are important to achieve atmosphere. Sound plays a big role in atmosphere as well, as showed in Doom 3 and Condemned games. If you choose to look at architecture for ideas, then my suggestion would be to take a look at contemporary architecture. The reason it can spark a lot of ideas is because it has interesting looking shapes that are wisely defined in space. Most of the structures don't have a lot of textures or small details on them, therefore you are free to use your imagination. *TIP: German publisher Taschen produces some of the most affordable contemporary architecture books of great printing quality.Sketching Ideas Once you found inspiration or got an idea, it's wise to put it on the paper, so you won't forget it. Plus planning a level on the paper before building it in the level editor, guarantees to save you time and prevent most mistakes that could be encountered later in the design process. I suggest using printer and grid paper. Printer paper is great for rough sketches of shapes. Grid paper is more precise and let's you plan the space more wisely.*TIP: Fine point Sharpie marker is great for putting ideas on paper, because you can apply pressure for rough and solid lines. When I find an interesting shape, I draw several variations of it on the printer paper. Some are top view and some are side view. It's wise to put a little note of that next to the sketch, so in the future you won't be confused. Once I'm happy with the shape, I define the space by cross-hatching with pen outside the shape. Making a small solid rectangle for the player size to show the proportions can be useful. Next step would be to use grid paper or continue on the printer paper and add more notes for the sketch. Here's a list of things you can add notes for: - Item placement - Height level - Direction of stairs/slope surface - Entrance/exit points*TIP: Try not to be too specific when putting ideas on the paper, so you can add and improve them later in the design process. At this point you should have enough information to open up the editor and start blocking the level out. Outro I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any comments or questions you can contact me at the links below. *Note - This article does not represent Yan's current approach, which has evolved during the 10+ years since this article was first published. Source: web.archive.org/web/20090412012908/http:/www.methodonline.com:80/ld_ideas.htmFollow Yan Website: methodonline.com/ Twitter: twitter.com/idMethod