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  1. Special thanks to Ivan Buchta from Bohemia Interactive for his help. Introduction According to Cambridge Dictionary: “Landforms are natural shapes on the earth’s surface”. It’s logical to see how important landforms can be for any outdoor video game map. The way those landforms are incorporated can, as we will see, result in interesting situations depending on how and how much they are used in the game. During this presentation, we will use war games of different genres: battle royals, war simulations, and traditional fps such as Battlefield. During this analysis, we will ask ourselves a simple, but important, question: “What is the relationship to the reality of war games with landforms?”. With this question, we will look into games such as Arma 3, Apex Legends or Battlefield 4, 1 and 5. We will analyze what their links are with realism, their vision of realism, and how they adapt that vision of game design according to their vision of realism and what is the legacy of their predecessors: the Wargames. We will conclude by reviewing the impacts of this vision on our modern vision of war with microtopography and the lack of humans. Analysis of the topography in shooters games Mountains and terrain morphology The hills and mountains constitute the most significant type of topography in reality and in video games. Furthermore, they constitute, as we will see, an elegant way to balance levels and put more challenge into games. This is accomplished thanks to the natural obstacle and challenge that hills and mountains present. What do we mean? We'll explain. With this really interesting landform, we'll see how a mountain can create interesting situations in different types of shooter games. First, let’s focus on war simulations such as the Arma series. This series, well known for its commitment to realism and its realistic environments, used mountains as a way to balance play, just as they balance real battles. In real battles, mountains create a really good way to defend an area, or just to keep an eye on it. Also, they give a good advantage to artillery that has a higher range thanks to the altitude. Moreover, it will make it difficult for tanks and other land-based vehicles to access the top of the mountain. Finally, perhaps the most important bonus provided by this landform is the increase to a sniper’s range. This means they can detect and eliminate enemies much easiler than would be possible on flat ground. These bonuses, which are common for all war simulations because they try to mimic reality, are important to balance a battlefield, and these landforms can completely change a game. For example, a poorly placed mountain could create a mismatch between teams. One team could always have an advantage over the other thanks to a mountain that becomes their stronghold. But a well placed hill or mountain can create a true challenge for teams. For example in Red Orchestra 2 Rising Storm, in the map “Hanto”, the attacking team will have to face off a hill as a first obstacle. This hill, protected by machine-guns and flame-throwers, is difficult to take. However, the map is quite easy to go through as an attacker. This means that, during very first seconds of the battle, the attackers and the defenders go through a tense moment because the faster the enemies take that hill the easier they will win. We can see that, in shooter games, hills and mountains are a symbol of dominance and of difficulty. But the Arma series succeeded in putting drawbacks to that landform for the defenders. First of all, the mountains in Arma are sometimes surrounded by dense forests, and so a good commando can sneak into the camp and create a mess, providing an opportunity of attack. In Arma 3, the gameplays and modes are made to encourage good teamwork. And so it motivates players to work together efficiently, rewarding them with a higher probability of breaking through defences. Additionally, if defenders depend too much on the hill, an imbalance in their defences can result in chaos. Errors such as that, which are inherent to the strategic flaws of hills, are also linked to the way that Arma designs war. As we mentioned earlier, Arma tries to be the closest to reality, which means every flaw or bonus of a landform is translated in the game as the same flaw or bonus, meaning that the level design of Arma, as we will see later, is actually inspired by real battles. However, terrain morphologies could be used in ways other than just a military way; they can be used to do proper level design. In smaller maps, edges can be used to set the map’s borders. It can be also used to restrict access to specific areas to allow some levels to load and not others (such as in Firewatch). Mountains can also be used as Landmarks; they're something symbolic that catches the eye of any human. So a mountain can be used as a landmark to give a geographical point of orientation for the player. One example of this can bee seen in Fortnite, where the player can use the mountain as a way to see where the player is. Terrain morphology is a really interesting way to create symbols in level design. It can also be used to enhance the environmental design or narrative design (such as the mountain of Journey which is a narrative symbol and an important landmark). These uses, in addition to the strategic uses, help a lot in creating a coherent and interesting topography for game design. But also the use of terrain morphology can be used for more abstract level design, or for game’s production. Plains Plains look like the most simplistic landform that exists on Earth. They are just plain, flat, as simple as a line. But, correctly used, it can be a good way to design landscapes and include elegant level design into maps. Moreover, going through a simple plain can create thrills or strike fear into the hearts of players. To continue with our thought process, let’s first focus on the flaws and keys strengths of the plain. The first, and most obvious, key strength of the plain is the ease with which vehicles/squads can be transported, which means the players won’t have difficulty transporting vehicles such as trucks or tanks. It’s also provides a space to easily land a helicopter or airplane, for example. This key strength makes a plain a good way to gather units, even to build camps. And of course, it’s quite easy to go through a plain in comparison to rough terrain. There’s another key strength, which is also a flaw: it’s easy to aim with artillery on a plain. Despite the fact that targets are more mobile, the lack of natural protection (trees, landforms) makes aiming at them easier. This means if someone has to mount an attack on a plain, the attackers can pound the area to exsanguinate the besieged. This also means that anyone who is in a plain is an easy target, and this doesn’t only apply for artillery, but also for snipers or anti-vehicle/infantry weapons. This flaw has a major influence in the UX of the Arma series. Going down to the plains isn’t just walking straight like nothing will happen to the player. It’s clearly the opposite: Arma’s players are afraid of the plains. Because the danger can be everywhere for them. It can be from the sides by rivals trying to ambush them. It can be from in front of them in the form of a sniper. Or worse, it can be from above them by the artillery or aviation pounding them. This creates real stress for players. Each minute in a plain creates tension in the group because they become paranoid at every noise. They need to be extremely vigilant to survive. A single moment of inattention can lead to the death of the whole group. Also, as stated earlier, plains are a good place to create an ambush because it’s easy to flank and contain a squad with motorized infantry. The plains lend some freedom to the player to choose a path to complete an objective, the cover and the vegetation have their specifics and allow the player to choose which path is the better in his situation. So putting a plain in a map is useful if we want to create a meeting point of players or to create tension into a game by making plains the only way to reach the enemy. That makes the plain a good element to create an elegant and dynamic level design. The Forest Forests are often seen in video games, but their use can be very different from one game to another. Some games don’t have huge forests because of performance issues. They can, for example, create a specific atmosphere to a game, create hiding places, be a focal point etc... In an FPS, the forest can serve as a hiding place and/or be used as a tool to change the gameplay. In Arma 3, the jungle is ever present in the Tanoa map, especially in the middle of isles. It forces players to play as infantry (it’s too hard to control vehicles in the jungle) and challenges them on that particular fight situation (close combat). The jungle also limits visual information, which can be stressful if danger was teased before. This technique can be very useful for solo or coop levels. The camouflage has high importance in the forest, the player can hardly see enemies so the environment becomes very stressful for him. In Battle royal games, the forests are used to hide and collect information, which gives players a feeling of security and control of the situation. It’s also a place where the gameplay combat changes, and players are forced into close quarters combat like in FPS. In Fortnite, another use of the forest is to hold resources. Players are pushed to play in forests to take advantage of and use resources during the game. This kind of area becomes attractive to players, providing an area for them to prepare for an upcoming fight. The resulting decrease to the pacing gives players a break before the inevitable rush of adrenaline that will happen in the upcoming battle. In real life, a forest is a place where it’s difficult to walk because of mud, brambles, roots etc.. Like some real forests, in video games the player often has to zig-zag between rocks and trees. It has different atmospheres, depending on the hour of the day, the season, and various other parameters. Contrary to the forests in video games, where the gameplay is the primary atmospheric influence, a real forest’s atmosphere is influenced by the weather. However, the weather is used a lot in video games as well, to provoke a more realistic setting. Watercourses In video games, watercourses are mostly used as obstacles or as communication routes. In Fortnite, the watercourses have two goals. The first is to give a pleasant way to move across the map, watercourses provide a fast and easy way to reach the next “safe zone”. This goal is linked to the second goal, have a place to fight and break the monotony of some games. People are attracted by the advantages of having boats, and the level design encourages boats to go to the middle of the map, so some fights happen to take advantage of other players. In Heroes and Generals, the players can swim to cross watercourses, but can’t use their weapons. So it’s a dangerous move which can be rewarding if the player succeeds, allowing them to access a new situation. This kind of moment is highlighted when the objective is on a bridge, or on the opposite shore. When attempting to cross the watercourse, the player feels mainly stress because of the danger, but if he succeeds and kills other players the feeling of satisfaction and pride will be very high, which helps to balance out frustration resulting from previous deaths. Real watercourses are a way to exchange, to move or to communicate. But in wartime, they becomes an obstacle, and bridges become strategic points. The watercourse’s goals in video games are very close to the uses of rivers in real life. Origins, context and construction Large water areas Large water areas are in the majority of the open world games (The Witcher, GTA V, Just Cause etc…). Often, they are used as a border, but sometimes they serve the gameplay. Like in Metro Exodus, where the goal is to put pressure on the player, and to do that they include some water areas with aggressive monsters inhabiting them. You can see when they go underwater, but you don’t know when and where they will attack you. These monsters produce a sensation of insecurity and pressure. Combined with the poor maneuverability of the boat, the player feels like he can’t control the situation and must adapt to complete his objectives. In Arma the large water areas and watercourses allow players an alternate method of completing objectives. It links to the game design of the game, which aims to give some freedom to players with vehicles and other ways to move. One example of this is the Tanoa map, where islands are separated by the sea and players must use ships, planes... or swim. Seas and oceans are empty, occasionally used to transport goods. We can see a parallel between the games which use the sea as borders and the empty area in the ocean, the two have no interest for the majority of people but can also serve as communication roads. Life and topography We noted previously that games try to be very realistic with their topography and use it to improve their gameplay, but it often lacks something important to make it feel very realistic: life. Some animals are in Arma, such as rabbits and lambs, but there aren’t any civilians living in the cities, mountains, or other landforms. Those games are dedicated to wars, and so the battlefields are just a place to fight, and not to live. Arma and Apex Legends provide a clear vision of “realism” for these games. War isn’t something dirty, with lives or cities destroyed. It’s just a sandbox where you can “play war” with your friends, like when you were a child. And this gives a biased view of war. They tend to make players see “realistic” war games as games that tend to have ballistics, wind, and a huge FOV. Even more, it doesn’t include the uncertainties of war created by civilians: road nails, makeshift roadblocks or sabotage of team sites. This tends to make the players think that a war simulation doesn’t need civilians to be realistic. Nevertheless, the games with the most realistic part about humans are the military simulations. VBS is a good example of this type of game. To train military's, some civilians are in cities. They are autonomous and react to the environment, but their impact on the environment is non-existent. The DLC “Laws of War” from Arma 3 is an exception, Bohemia Interactive tried to put the human in the centre of the game. Despite the last part being very difficult to develop (because it’s requires very complex AI) it could be interesting to add this into games. But to make the environment credible, impacts of life could be visible. For example, in Battlefield 1 blast craters are the result of the actions of humans. Little paths or mines in Arma are created by the action of animals or humans. This produces environmental storytelling which is important to create stories and make the environment credible. As we saw previously, the human (except players and militaries NPCs) is not often represented in shooters and has a limited impact on topography. (Nevertheless, initiatives to represent the human factor exist, like “Spec Ops the Line”...) In Spec Ops: The Line it’s pretty clear to see all the influence of war in the area, building exploded, traces of previous human life which was here to show how terrible the event is. Despite the sand being mostly symbolical in this game, it shows a really good overview of how a cataclysm and war can affect humans in terms of psychology and topology. It could be a bad example because in this game everything is scripted, contrary to Arma 3 (despite the campaigns are scripted it’s still more free than Spec Ops: The Line). Context and history of the topography in-games Video game landscapes are inspired by natural landscapes, but their utility in game-design can come from literature, movies, series etc… For example, in movies like Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, the swamps represent something dangerous and scary, where we can barely walk. and it’s hard to move around. The landing of Luke Skywalker, the creature who eats R2-D2, and the sinking of the vessel enhance this sensation. We can find the same feelings in Metro Exodus, where the boats are hard to handle and there are enemies both in and outside of the dirty water. These reactions can be explained by the dangerous animals we can find in swamps (Snakes, Leopards, Crocodiles etc…), the lack of visibility, and the difficulty for humans to live here. So the natural landscapes and the corresponding reactions are inspirerd by stories created by traditional media, and these stories were converted into gameplay by designers. History is also a great inspiration for topography in games. As said before, battles were mainly influenced by the topography (Waterloo might be a very good example of this, because the French partially lost because of the topology). This explains why the Topology has been a key factor in many strategy games. Many great battles (mainly in the Total War’s series) are represented in games. The point of view is different from one game to another, but the goal is the same: let the player experience the battle as if they were part of the history. And the exactitude of the topology helps a lot in immersing the player into the experience (and also rewarding them if they play the role of the loser, such as for Waterloo’s battle in Total War Napoleon). Making the topology a key factor of immersion also influences the way to maps are designed. Level design is, for sure, heavily impacted by this. The level designers have to make a historically precise battle, meaning that the battle will be unbalanced. This way to design could sound really strange but it’s actually made in a way that players have to use their game’s knowledge. But also, and it makes that kind of games pretty unique: their historical knowledge. Thanks to historically accurate AI behaviour/units. But the relation between topography and Game-Design is not exclusive to video-games. Warhammer games are precursors in the use of the topography, the magic zones, the covers, the dangerous zones etc.. add different elements to play, so each game is unique. The rules help represent what could happen in reality. For example, the more a unit is hidden behind cover, the higher the penalty for shooting at it. Nevertheless, the use of environments is limited by very precise rules which make it difficult to have different ways to play with it. Pipeline creation of realistic map Example of the production pipeline of Bohemia Interactive to create maps. (“Terrain Processor” and “Terrain Builder” are internal tools) To create a huge map inspired by real locations, developers can use the geographic data. The geo data is data of the topography. To obtain it, developers can buy, download or create it. They can buy NASA’s data. They can also ask private companies to get it for them, etc. They then analyse the data with a GIS (Geographic Information System) (which shows where there are mountains, their height, width...where the rivers are...). Data points are adapted to the game, reducing the size of the map, the height of the mountains, etc. as needed. Terrain must also sometimes be adapted to facilitate the job of AI, and the gameplay of players. Finally, the map is implemented in the game and playable content can be made with it. Conclusion During our presentation, we saw that games have two main ways to represent landforms. The first is a non-realistic one, where the gameplay is more important than landforms. In this approach, landforms are adapted depending on the game design, and those landforms are used to enhance the game design. The second way is to use the landforms in a realistic way, which means those games try to represent as close as possible the influences of the landform on the soldiers. This way sounds the closest one to reality, and those games also try to be the closest to reality, as the game design is adapted to the landforms and not the reverse. It could be a quick, logical, and quite a simple answer to say that the scientific approach of war simulations is more realistic than Apex Legends or Fortnite. As mentioned earlier, although there is a huge lack of humans in games, there is more and more of an awareness to develop games so that civilians are included. We can even cite the humanitarian aspect in, for example, the ARMA series. But this awareness is clearly a niche compared to the vast majority of shooters. And many ARMA players won’t play the add-on despite the great sales (more than 300k sales). Even though It's a wonderful initiative and well done (half of the revenues were given to the charity and it respects Geneva laws), it’s very little compared to the very large sales of Red Orchestra, Fortnite, or even Arma 3 itself, which don’t talk of civilians normally. And VBS isn’t accessible to civilians. This tends to make us think that if we want realistic landforms maybe those war simulations need to rethink their vision of war in general despite some of them (and the most famous) trying to get rid of this lifeless vision of war. Follow Remi Twitter: https://twitter.com/RemiDumas Follow Erwann Website: https://pottiererwann6.wixsite.com/erwannpottier 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. Below is the only available YouTube link to this presentation which we've been able to locate. It focuses primarily on the presenter, rather than on the slides. Scott has hosted the slide show on his website, so you can follow along by having this open also: http://mrbossdesign.blogspot.com/2009/03/everything-i-learned-about-game-design.html Alternatively, the presentation is hosted by the GDC Vault. This cannot be embedded here on the Next Level Design forums, but it provides a good view of both the presenter and the slides. Watch the GDC Vault presentation here: https://twvideo01.ubm-us.net/o1/vault/gdc09/Videos/8662_1238169435968WZHR-1000.mp4 Follow Scott Twitter: https://twitter.com/mightybedbug Website: http://mrbossdesign.blogspot.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
  3. This article is a portion of the thesis titled "What Level Design Elements Determine Flow? How Light and Objects Guide the Player in Overwatch and Doom" by David Eliasson. The 'Results' and 'Analysis' portions for Doom have been left out of this posting, along with several other sections. Please follow the link at the end to read the full thesis. We hope that you'll find something of value in this piece, and would love to hear what you've learned from it in the comments below. Happy reading! Abstract This thesis presents a comparative study between Overwatch (2016) and Doom (2016) to determine how these fast-paced games facilitate flow in their gameplay. The second chapter looks at formal definitions of flow and level design to establish a vocabulary for following chapters. Through formal analysis the level designs of both games are then examined to establish what elements in them guide players and keep the flow in gameplay. The thesis also examines how the initial gameplay design principles, which are rooted in the older shooter genre, have impacted the level design. The author uses screenshots from both games, interviews with the design teams and published literature on game design for the study. It was found that the architectural design of a level in hero-based gameplay (Overwatch (2016)) could control the pacing by changing the elements that enable certain types of movement such as climbing or creating setups that favor one team over the other. On an individual player level, flow is kept with intentional placement of light and bright colors to guide the player. While Doom (2016) uses different abilities and movement sets for its hero, the tools of guiding the player proved to be very similar but with heavier focus on environmental markings and lights. In both cases the look of these guiding tools was adapted to fit into the game world without breaking the player’s immersion. Introduction Immersive gameplay is vital to all aspects of game design but how do developers design gameplay which causes the least amount of immersion breakage. How is level design affected by the playable characters’ abilities to maneuver and interact with the environment within the level? If a player’s abilities to explore and traverse are being hindered, or if their current abilities are inadequate to overcome the challenges they face, the players risk losing immersion in the game. So, how are levels designed to reduce this? “Heroes” and “Doom-guy” are references to different player avatars from the two games this study is based on. “Heroes” comes from the online fps multiplayer game Overwatch (2016) where players control one of several heroes, all with their unique abilities and means to traverse and interact with the environment. “Doom-guy” is the space-marine protagonist of the Doom (2016) single player campaign. The first part of this thesis’s title “What level design elements determine flow? How Light and Objects Guide the Player in Overwatch and Doom.” addresses two theoretical parts of level design; principles and flow. To establish what principles exist in a field which is heavily dependent on which genre it is and as its own individual game. What principles determine which elements should exist and their placement so they enhance flow and do not disrupt it. In turn provides immersion by catering to players’ suspension of disbelief. The second part of the thesis consists of a practical examination of the two games to pinpoint these elements within their levels to determine if they create and continue to enable flow. The purpose of this thesis is to examine what level design principles exist to curate flow and then to compare two games with different mechanics and player abilities to examine how those principles are applied in each game to support the intended experience. Background These two games were chosen since they were both nominated for the same awards during 2016’s Game Awards. They were nominated for: Game of the Year, which Overwatch (2016) won. Best Studio/Game Direction, which Overwatch (2016) won Best Action Game, which Doom (2016) won Both games are also grounded in the old-school fast-paced FPS shooter genre. Jeff Kaplan game designer on Overwatch addresses this in the GameSpot video interview (GameSpot 2016) The Story of Overwatch: Return of the 90s Shooter (which refers to Doom (1996), Quake 2 (1997), Team Fortress Classic (1999) & Team Fortress 2 (2007)) and how these games have influenced the Overwatch (2016) development. In the interview Kaplan talks about how they want to bring back fast-paced gameplay with free-flowing movement abilities. In his opinion, this has been lost over the past decade as the design philosophy in the fps genre at large has moved closer toward mimicking reality. The goal of Overwatch (2016) was to bring back intuitive gameplay where players compete to get to alternative vantage points and use unique abilities to maneuver as well as neutralize enemies. With focus on the player’s ability to control how they traverse through a level. Kaplan continues to explain their level designs guiding goals and how they work to facilitate this. These are: Heroes First - Levels are meant to support the heroes’ differences and so they are built to create different opportunities for each hero’s movement abilities and skills. Maps should feel intuitive enough to navigate that they do not draw away attention from the heroes. Diversity of Experience - Levels should be playgrounds for different playstyles and skill levels, with built-in vantage points to climb and chokepoints for close combat. Environments should be diverse enough for all hero types to shine. Clarity of Space - Players should be able to smoothly navigate levels even if it is their first time playing them. They should have enough affordances to clearly direct them and distinguish between travel areas and locked areas. Every playthrough, players should find new, alternative ways to maneuver through the level. The environment should be visually clean, with clear points of interest. Immersive World Fantasy - Each level should be a fantasy-rich and inspiring version of real-world locations to further immerse the player in being the hero. Environments should also provide a clear view of distant areas to make the levels feel as a part of a larger, surrounding world. Doom (2016) is heavily influenced by its predecessor from 1996 in terms of level layout and how they make speed into a key element for more intuitive gameplay. In an interview (Graft 2017) Marty Stratton game director on Doom (2016) talks about this and how the team aimed to recapture the original game’s essence of fast-paced, agile combat. Creating a fundamental core design principle of gameplay resulting in a constant push-forward combat tactic. Stratton defines this as combat chess, consisting of: Speed of movement. Players’ ability to in an agile way move around in the environment. Individuality of demons. Prioritize enemies based on their unique traits and how they work in unison, variation of demons presents different challenges. Distinctiveness of the weapons. Like distinctive enemies determine which weapon best deals with facing various kinds of demons as well how they feel to interact with. Overall power of the player. Players’ health, weapon damage, reload speed and how well they are equipped overall to face various kinds of demons and obstacles. “Make me think, make me move”. This concept refers to a style of gameplay where, due to the player’s fast movement speed, challenges must be solved as they move through the environment. So, all information needed to solve those challenges must be clearly visible and easy to understand as the player maneuvers the environment. In the same interview Stratton also states: “The right size arena, with just the right amount of space, actually made the players feel even faster, … Your top-end speed is good but you’re more agile than you are fast. If you’re in the right space, it can just feel perfect. We spent a lot of time during development finding exactly what the rightsized spaces are for Doom to make you feel quick and agile, but still under control.” Here both Stratton’s and Kaplan’s design principles match, both are looking back into what now could be called classics. Striving for gameplay where a player’s control over their avatar determines how good they are at the game, as long the game provide enough feedback and has mechanics that are in tune with the levels they traverse. To summarize, there are similarities in both design philosophies, showing that they strive for: Core gameplay centered around player avatars and their abilities. An immersive world with plenty of affordances for varied playstyles Simple but stylized environments which clearly show that the avatar belongs in them as well clearly showing how to traverse them. So, what have these games done to facilitate these design goals and how does these it affect the flow within the games. What elements do their levels contain and what principles have they used to guide their players? Previous Work This section explains the fundamentals and guiding principles of level design to provide a vocabulary for the methodology. What is a Level? Game development terminology describes the term “level” as multifaceted. Scott Rogers writes in Level Design: Processes and Practices (2017:102) that a game level can be the environment the player is currently traveling/performing actions within. As well as a numeric sense of how far they have progressed within the game or as a representation of an avatar’s power. In his book, Level Up: The Guide to Great Video Games Second Edition (2014:225) he defines four different variations for this term, Rogers states that this is due to a limited professional vocabulary within the industry. These are: Level: Environment/location where gameplay occurs. Level: Physical (in-game) space based upon specific gameplay experience. Level: Unit of counting player’s overall game progression. Level: Term for marking character progression and improvement. The first two definitions are aimed toward environmental aspects where the first encompasses the larger play space and the second definition refers to the smaller sections within the space. For example, the desert in Diablo 3 (Blizzard Entertainment 2012) represents a large level that the player can travel through and at various places there exists explorable caves. The caves are parts of the desert level but each cave is their own level and would be broken down to more levels if the caves would contain various locations. Anna Anthropy (Anthropy, 2014:40) explains this divide further by defining and breaking down levels as scenes which in themselves are built by various scenes, “A scene is a more atomic, fundamental unit of gameplay than a level, or a world, or a region in a game world.” To continue the previous example from Diablo 3 the various rooms within the cave are independent scenes connected by traversal scenes. A traversal scene would be a bridge presenting a challenge the player must clear to proceed, Anthropy means that if any form of progression occurs it is a scene of its own. For the scope of this thesis levels are defined as Rogers described them as a main level containing certain sublevels instead of the in-depth definition which Anthropy talks about. Instead Anthropy’s definition of scenes, especially traversal scenes is being used to examine how levels facilitate flow. What is Level Design? Ernest W. Adams in his book Fundamentals of Game Design, explains it as “The level designer creates not only the space in which the game takes place—its furnishing and backgrounds—but also the player’s moment-by-moment experience of the game and much of its emotional context.” He also notes that level design is “…the process of constructing the experience that will be offered directly to the player using components provided by the game designer.” Christopher W. Totten in his book Level Design: Processes and Experiences makes the distinction between level design is neither art nor game design even though it is dependent on both, just as they are dependent on it. Level design is not about the creation of assets or definition of game mechanics but a middle point of both as the level should work to facilitate core mechanics and thus shape its landscape accordingly. To make use of assets so they enhance, rather than hinder flow in the game. Ernest W. Adams argues as well that it is the level designer who puts it all into practice as they design the challenges and set the mood in the levels. Huaxin Wei and Chaoguang Wang also state that level design is its own position, apart from that of game designers and environmental artists. It is the role of the level designer to guide players through the game and so they must work in close tandem with programmers and artists as “In the actual design process, it is important to communicate with artists and programmers to get their attention on the functionality of a game level, which is realized in both the operational and the presentational structures.” They write how the levels are more than their design and visuals, they embody the player’s possibilities to navigate through and interact with the level. Jess Schell states in his book Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses: “All a level designer does is arrange the architecture, props, and challenges in a game in ways that are fun and interesting — that is, making sure there is the right level of challenge, the right amount of reward, the right amount of meaningful choice, and all the other things that make a good game. Level design is just game design exercised in detail — and it isn’t easy, for the devil is in the details. Level design is different for every game, because every game is different.” This thesis will view the position and work of a level designer as one who builds the player experience based on a design goal with the tools made available from programmers and artists alike. What is Flow? One of the challenges with level design is to determine how the dramatic curve is shaped throughout the level so as to produce a balance between action sequences and rest areas. A generalized term for this is called “flow”. The vision for each level is for players to flow seamlessly through them without breaking the game’s immersion. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about flow from a general perspective of everyday life and the different obstacles people face, although these are applicable on games as well. Csikszentmihalyi suggests three conditions which must be met to produce flow. Firstly, when the activity shows “…a clear set of goals”. These goals are intended to provide a purpose to the intended activity and keep channeling the player’s attention for the duration of the game and so keep them immersed. Secondly, flow is “…a balance between perceived challenges and perceived skills.” If the challenge is greater than the players’ current skillset it risks becoming frustrating as the odds for them to overcome the challenge diminish. If the player’s skillset is greater than the challenges it risks becoming dull, the balance between these two should allow the players to face and complete challenges equal to their skill. Third and final is “…clear and immediate feedback.” Players should not doubt where they are going given what their goal is and so levels should always inform the player how they progress. These three conditions of clear directional goals, clear understanding of skill versus challenge and constant feedback will be the lens this thesis examines the games through. What is the Goal of a Level Designer? Ernest W. Adams lists certain principles regarding level design and explains briefly what is essential about them. These principles are: “The space in which the game takes place.” It’s the game designer job to create the games features but it is the level designer who determines when, where and how those are presented. “The initial conditions of the level.” Here Adams refers to expendable resources within the level such as number of enemies the player faces or resources they either gain or lose” Here Adams refers to expendable resources within the level such as number of enemies the player faces or resources they either gain or lose. “The set challenges the player will face within the level.” What challenges the level produces, either environmental obstacles or enemies as well as in what sequence they appear. “The termination conditions of the level.” What must the player accomplish in order to complete the level and in what ways can they fail? “The interplay between the gameplay and the game’s story, if any.” If the level has a narrative its design must present it accordingly to the player. “The aesthetic and mood of the level.” How the player experiences the intended aesthetics is up to the level designer. They are given a tone and then decide at what pace it is revealed. “Atmosphere.” This connects with the aesthetics of the level although in a larger sense as it encompasses lightning, colors, visual effects as well audio to produce the intended experience. “Pacing and progress.” This ties into what conditions and challenges exist in the level, as it determines how frequently the players are challenged and when they have a moment to rest. “Tutorial levels.” They are separate from the main game levels and are a safe-zone where the player can learn new abilities and where new challenges are presented in a set order. Out of these principles, this study looks foremost at the architectural space within the level and how it is designed to form paths and how the atmospheric effects provide visual guiding tools. It also looks at environments from two aspects. What challenges the layout presents based on the limitations of character movement and how players overcome these challenges. Also, how environmental markings are placed to direct players. Purpose The purpose of this thesis is to gain an understanding of which elements and principles determine flow. Then see how these are used to guide players in fast paced games such as Overwatch (2016) and Doom (2016). This will be accomplished by firstly conducting a comparative study of these two games to analyze their flow based upon knowledge of what guides a level designer and which goals they strive towards. This study emphasizes the importance of designing a seamless flow throughout the level, allowing players to become immersed in the way they travel and interact with levels through gameplay. Secondly by conducting a formal analysis of the levels from these games to determine how their architectural layout is designed. How do these environmental elements work with how players traverse throughout the level? The focus is on gaining an understanding of how these game levels are executed to constantly guide the players forward with minimal risk of breaking immersion. The underlying question is: What in these environments subconsciously guides the player during play? Analysis Procedure Elements of flow are for example architecture layout, environmental objects/markings and various visual effects. Examples of these might be how a building is designed to open/close a line of sight or how objects and environmental markings form directional arrows. How lights and sounds draw players’ attention. These are the most commonly used ways to guide players but it is sometimes difficult to make them feel integrated within the level. Both games are analyzed in three steps. These are: During gameplay distinguish the following elements: Architecture: How buildings and paths provide moment-by-moment information as players traverse. How they are shaped based upon the avatar’s mobility and do these affect the line of sight. Objects: How objects such as crates, ladders, ledges etc. either become hindrances and blocks paths or provide alternative traversal routes. Markings: How environmental markings such as signs, scrapes, blood etc. form directional arrows. Visuals: How visual effects such as wind, light and sounds are meant to draw the player’s attention to them and guide them further along. Do these elements fit into the three flow categories? Clear directional goals: Are players always aware of where they need to be going by following these elements. Skill vs Obstacle: Are players able to overcome obstacles while moving or do they have to stop. Clear Feedback: Do they provide clear visual feedback before and while players interact with them or as they pass them. Do these elements and flow categories support their initial design principles? Avatar based gameplay. World created for various playstyles. Clean world for quick reading. This approach is looking at how the landscape and objects in the environment allow the players to either traverse the level or stop them. Does the background continuously telegraph where players should go next and is it all in coherence with the game’s overall aesthetic and design? A different approach to this study would have been to conduct interviews with the design team behind both games about their process and the principles they have followed. This would have given concrete data on their work, how they chose their elements and most importantly why they chose these. However, this would not have been possible given the scope of this thesis. Results Overwatch Overwatch is a multiplayer online fps game developed and released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2016. Each player controls one of a variety of heroes in a competitive six versus six-person teams. The goal of each match is to capture an objective through one of several game modes, and in doing so defeat the enemy team (Blizzard 2016a). At launch the game featured a roster of twenty-one unique heroes and twelve maps based on real world locations. The game is set 60 years into the future and Jeff Kaplan talks about their vision during development. The aim for these levels was to create an imaginary reflection of what our current world could come to be in a society with heroes. Rather than a realistic translation of what exists today, they strived to build a better future for the world. Show something more than war torn cities and grim gray environments, something we could strive towards and hope for. Kaplan goes on to talk about how each area should be a place their players would want to visit. Levels should be a place where they would want to spend a long time, they should allure players to explore them and try to traverse them in as many ways as possible. Avatar Mobility For this thesis Overwatch’s hero roster is divided into three categories based on their mobility, high, medium and low. High mobility heroes can climb walls or have an ability which allows them to reach high vantage points, alternatively use this ability to find other routes to the objective. Hanzo (see Figure 1) is one of the heroes with high mobility. He is a ranged attack hero with the ability to, for a short duration climb walls, both in a vertical and horizontal direction. Hanzo can also leap off in any direction can while climbing. Figure 1: Overwatch character Hanzo climbing the wall towards the right. His direction is shown by the dust cloud left behind him. Hanzo’s climbing ability depends on his distance from the wall. For Hanzo to climb walls they must be relatively clean from any sort of bumps or extensions, and to climb over edges they can not extend too far out from the wall. During the climb players are facing the wall, removing any possibility to respond should an enemy player appear which makes Hanzo an easy target for the duration of the climb. This risk of being ambushed has the potential of a high reward, should players reach a high vantage point from which they can utilize their long-ranged attacks. Medium mobility heroes have abilities that allow them to either temporarily fly or teleport, which can be used to gain an advantage during fights or avoid areas by passing over them. Pharah (see Figure 2) is one of the heroes with medium mobility. She is a ranged attack hero equipped with a jetpack that allows her to leap into the air to either to levitate for a short duration or fly short distances. In addition to her jetpack she has an ability that allows her to burst short distances. When this ability is used midair, Pharah can reach higher areas, alternatively cover more distance in a shorter amount of time. Figure 2: Overwatch character Pharah levitating midair while activating her ultimate ability. While Pharah is airborne she has limited movement speed, making her slower in the air than she is on foot. With no option for cover she risks becoming an easy target since players must look in the direction they are flying. She also requires open outdoor areas to fully utilize her flight potential which restricts her indoors. It also allows her to reach high vantage points with the tradeoff of being more easily spotted by enemy players. Low mobility heroes are restricted to the ground and have no abilities for either exploring alternative routes or reaching advantage points. Reinhardt (see Figure 3) is one of the heroes with low mobility. He is a melee range attack hero with the ability to charge towards enemy players in a straight line and pin them against obstacles. Figure 3: Overwatch Character Reinhardt using his charge ability. Being restricted to the ground has no actual disadvantages since each level offers various rooms and other passages which offer protection from any attacks from above. At key points in each level, heroes with high mobility are forced to descend to proceed further or clear an objective. Although that is not to say that medium and high mobility heroes cannot use the ground to the same extent as low mobility heroes. Rather they are suited for an agile playstyle which uses the environment to their advantage if they can traverse freely and be used to their full potential. To support the different kinds of mobility as well as to increase the attraction for players to explore and seek alternative routes, Blizzard has removed drawbacks such as fall damage. Players falling from great heights take no damage upon landing, as long as they fall inside the level’s perimeter. This makes exploration risk free, so players do not need to hurt their avatar should they fall down into a group of enemy players. Instead they should be given the element of surprise and rewarded for their interest in exploring the levels in detail. The strength of a hero’s abilities is therefore dependent on the player’s expertise. This feeds into players having to become more observant of their surroundings since enemy players could potentially come from various directions, creating an active gameplay. Level Layout The level layout in Overwatch maps changes throughout the game to give advantage to different teams, attackers/defenders and different mobility heroes. Early in maps advantage is often given to high and medium mobility heroes through open spaces with alternative route options. This can be seen in both the Hanamura (see Figure 4) and Kings Row (see Figure 5) map. In both maps their first objective of two is displayed, these are capture points where one team is defending and one is attacking. In Hanamura attackers come through the gates on the right side and despite those being the main point of entry there are four different openings surrounding the door. There is open sky for flying heroes to enter and navigate and on the right of the gates there is an entrance into the little house providing cover for low mobility heroes. This open space and short distance between covers favor low and medium mobility heroes since most walls have larger extensions and most roofs are leaning downward making it difficult to climb and find a vantage point. Figure 4: In-game screenshot taken from the Hanamura map, Overwatch. The first objective is located inside the house to the avatars left. Figure 5: In-game screenshot taken from the Kings Row map, Overwatch. The first objective is located behind the trees and car to the avatar’s right. For King’s Row attackers come in from the left and just like in Hanamura there is plenty of open sky and the statue in the middle offers a two-way split. Just like Hanamura, this location provides an open space with some cover options for low mobility heroes. This location is favorable for low and high mobility heroes due to it containing more objects which block teleportation and force flying heroes to expose themselves. This puts medium mobility heroes at a disadvantage. The walls of the buildings are cleaner than in Hanamura so they support climbing to vantage points, most noticeably the opening on the second floor in the upper right corner. The statue and the house behind it contain doors which offer cover suitable for quick ground movement. There are some covers present in both locations for the defending team heroes to take cover in but due to the capture points being exposed, the odds of being overrun are great. In Hanamura the first point is located within the house to the left. Inside is an open space with bare walls and multiple entering points. In Kings Row defenders are pushed to the walls of the building behind the trees and car, leaving them out in the open if they wish to hold it. There are options to cover it from afar but this leaves the point open to be captured if there are no defenders on site. These points are located a short distance from the attacking teams spawn points which are placed beyond the walls in both maps, whereas defenders must traverse the entire map to reach it. Because of these facts attackers have the advantage on capturing it early on. This advantage disappears when the attacking team reaches the second objective point. Hanamura’s (see Figure 6) second point is indoors, now openly exposed in the middle of the room. The layout of the room and the lack of cover forces the heroes to move close to the center, leaving them exposed to defenders on either side. There are three entrances leading straight to the middle and two more on each side of the capture points, all converging toward the middle. To the avatar’s left, there are stairs visibly connected to a plateau which goes along sides and ends where the avatar is standing. The porch has pillars, like those directly opposite of the avatar, surrounding it and granting protection to defending players. Now the attacking team must traverse the entire map whereas the defending team’s spawn point is in an adjacent room behind the avatar. Because of this, the defending team has the advantage on protecting the objective. Figure 6: In-game screenshot taken from the Hanamura map, Overwatch. Second objective point is the open area in the middle of the room, lit by sunshine coming in from the roof. It is the same in King’s Row (see Figure 7) where there is a narrow, crooked path containing multiple smaller rooms leading up to the second objective. This gives defending heroes the possibility to set up hidden defenses. To the left of the avatar there are concealed plateaus, surrounding the objective point. Defending low mobility heroes has the advantage as players are forced into the same space, restricting agile high and medium mobility heroes. Figure 7: In-game screenshot taken from the Kings Row map, Overwatch. The second objective, an open platform at the end of a crooked path, is located in the bottom left corner. One factor which differs in King’s Row compared to Hanamura is the second objective which is transporting a vehicle (the car seen Figure 6) onto the platform. In order to transport the car, players must be near it. This restricts high and medium mobility heroes on the attacking team but favors high and medium mobility heroes on the defending team since their abilities allow them to outmaneuver the heroes transporting the car and launch surprise attacks from various vantage points. Such vantage points include the roof directly opposing the avatar as well the smaller room on its right. A third example of this level design is the Volskaya Industries map (see Figure 8). As in the previous two maps the map’s first objective point is an open area located outside. A short distance away is the attacking team’s spawn point which is located inside the building past the wall in the right-side corner. The map’s second objective point is located inside, with various smaller rooms and passages surrounding it. What differs between Volskaya Industries and the previous two maps is the fact that this level caters to all mobility categories. High mobility heroes can make use of the smooth walls and various entrance points without risking to much exposure. Medium mobility heroes can use their abilities to reach the same places high mobility heroes as well make us of the open skies, passages and rooms to move around the map. Low mobility heroes are offered the same routes as other heroes since the same openings and possibilities of cover exist on all levels. Closed-in openings at ground-level offer protection from other low mobility heroes as well as offering cover against flying heroes. Open areas on the second floors are accessible to various heroes and while they offer high vantage points, those points leave the heroes exposed due to a lack of cover options. Figure 8: In-game screenshots taken from the Volskaya Industries map, Overwatch. First objective point (left) and second objective (right). Both points are the square areas in front of the avatar. In these three maps, the game’s designers have catered to all three mobility types as players can choose to traverse these levels in various ways. Their layout provides players with alternative passages and invites them to explore them to reach new vantage points. There is a shifting advantage between the teams where attackers benefit from being aggressive early on while defenders must be tactical. These early parts are also more suited for medium/high mobility heroes. The later parts of the maps tend to favor the defending team and low mobility heroes. The levels facilitate this by having the first stage of the map be an open environment which, as the attacking team advances, narrows down. In coherence with how the distance of each team’s spawn point changes so does the time required for each team’s heroes to respawn and reach the rest of their team. Analysis Overwatch Below follows an examination of Overwatch’s levels to determine how they facilitate flow. Environment By studying the architecture, objects, marking and visuals in Hanamura (see Figure 14) it is determined that this level primarily uses objects as well as lights to guide players. This view is the first players on the attacking team see, with five locations where the environment draws the players’ attention. From left to right, the first circle shows traffic signs where one is an arrow pointed inwards toward the street and the other is a warning sign placed above the arrow in such a way that it lets players notice it first and then the arrow. The second two circles show traffic lights which are natural objects for people to look towards while traveling. Below the middle traffic light is a huge wooden door with an emblem upon it, marking its importance and letting the attacking team players know they are targeting an area of importance. The last two bubbles contain a parked car and a restaurant icon, displaying a humanoid creature. What makes them noticeable are their size and recognizability. They are both facing toward the street, same as the arrow sign and them being relatable objects with a clear front and back end, makes them natural arrows. Figure 14: In-game screenshot taken outside the attacking team’s spawnpoint on the Hanamura map, Overwatch. White circles indicate environmental elements. The house provides a two-way split but the path on the right side is almost concealed by what looks to be a small crane apparatus, as well as being concealed in shadow by the surrounding houses. The left path meanwhile is partly lit by the sun as well as containing several objects forming directional signs, guiding players toward this path. Outside the defenders’ spawn point (see Figure 15) there are less objects but instead light which indicates which way players could take or where potential enemies might enter from. Both circles on the left show dim lights near door openings while the circles on the right show glimpses of a large cherry blossom tree. These two circles are also placed near the massive sunlight shining in from the roof, which subconsciously draws the players attention if only for a moment so the next objects they see are the cherry tree’s pink color and the three openings leading out. The house provides a two-way split but the path on the right side is almost concealed by what looks to be a small crane apparatus, as well as being concealed in shadow by the surrounding houses. The left path meanwhile is partly lit by the sun as well as containing several objects forming directional signs, guiding players toward this path. Outside the defenders’ spawn point (see Figure 15) there are less objects but instead light which indicates which way players could take or where potential enemies might enter from. Both circles on the left show dim lights near door openings while the circles on the right show glimpses of a large cherry blossom tree. These two circles are also placed near the massive sunlight shining in from the roof, which subconsciously draws the players attention if only for a moment so the next objects they see are the cherry tree’s pink color and the three openings leading out. Figure 15: In-game screenshot taken outside the defending team’s spawnpoint on the Hanamura map, Overwatch. White circles indicate environmental elements. King’s Row (see Figure 16) also uses lights to guide its defending players outward and luring the attacking team inward. The first object both teams see as they enter is the large orange lamp hanging from the ceiling. With its bright light and size, it points out a place of importance. The dark orange lights along the floor show the path and like the large lamp signals importance, the floor lights invite players to follow them. The blue lights inside the rooms set a cold, rather saddening tone, making them less inviting to follow. The start zone of the attacking team on King’s Row (see Figure 17) uses light and the architecture to guide the players. The lights within the left circles start at street level and slowly move diagonally upward and inward to the screen center, almost blending in with the roof above. The roof is pointing diagonally downwards into the middle, in the same manner as the bus in front of the avatar and theater sign on the right do. These guide the player’s vision toward the middle and into the large, blue lit tower, hovering behind the bus which seems to hold an open area for players to explore. Figure 16: In-game screenshot taken outside the defending team’s spawnpoint on the Kings Row map, Overwatch. White circles indicate environmental elements. Figure 17: In-game screenshot taken outside the attacking team’s spawnpoint on the Kings Row map, Overwatch. White circles and arrows indicate environmental elements Both the attacking and defending teams’ spawnpoints in Volskaya industries (see Figure 18) use lights and buildings to create directional arrows. The lights catch the players’ attention and guide them as the building points downward into the center of the screen where a light blue light indicates that the map continues further in that direction. In these maps, the sides surrounding the critical path are purposefully made dull and important by comparison to funnel players toward certain areas. These elements guide both teams, pulling both the defending and the attacking team inward. Figure 18: In-game screenshot outside attacking (left) and defending (right) teams spawn point on the Volskaya Industries map, Overwatch. White circles and arrows indicate environmental elements. Flow So, do these level design elements found within these three levels support flow? Clear directional goals? Yes, as players traverse the level, elements within the level keep telegraphing to the players where the next objective lies and which path leads them toward it. The layouts contain plenty of open space in the first half and narrows down around the second objective where the players are guided more strictly Skill vs obstacle? Yes, each hero, regardless of their mobility category are shown available routes and these are visible as players approach them. Players must not stop and search for a way in as the open level design is clearly guiding them. While there is a main road to any objective, there are always various alternative routes if players control a hero with more mobility. Clear feedback? o Yes, every important building, object and sign are created so they can always be spotted and reached if possible. All heroes have passages they can take and if the player knows the limitations of their hero they do not need to wonder if they can reach them, unless they are looking for more original routes. Design Principles Overwatch has an avatar based gameplay where the player’s expertise and control over their hero determine their success in each match. It also has a level design which allows for all three mobility types to traverse in more ways than one. Its visual design makes it easy to tell what can be interacted with and which paths lead where. Based upon this analysis it can be said that Overwatch has successfully achieved their initial design goals. Reflections The purpose of this thesis is to examine level design to determine what within the design enables flow. First off, this is a broad topic addressing the subject of level design which by itself lacks a unified meaning. The meaning of level design changes depending on developers and genre and most have their own level design principles. Even flow has a different meaning and implementation, depending on the genre and intention of the game. However, there are commonly used principles and a vocabulary which helps game developers in different genres to find common ground. Looking at Doom (2016) and Overwatch (2016), despite their similarities the dramatic curve in both games differs a great deal. This is partially due to the size of their maps. Overwatch (2016) has short maps made for bursts of gameplay with certain points focusing on combat. In Doom (2016) levels are longer, contain more content and most areas are a mixture of combat and travel area. Leaving their different artstyle aside and focusing on key elements, they can be broken down into the same objects and elements. Looking at these elements as basic building blocks there are lights and arrows. Regardless of their size and aesthetics, the leaning buildings in Overwatch (2016) and the pools of blood in Doom (2016) fill the same function. Street lights or fires, they are given a meaning once they have aesthetics which are in coherence with the overall environment. Objects found in one game would become immersion-breaking if put into the other. The games use the same building blocks, just re-skinned to suit their own game’s aesthetic. This brings into focus how much of the flow in the games is dependent upon the assets graphical styles as well as their location. Compare the environment outside of both teams spawning points in Volskaya Industries with the first outdoor level the Doom-guy experiences. Both contain environmental elements (houses in Overwatch (2016), mountains in Doom (2016)), that are leaning toward the left. Even replacing their narrative-specific models and textures and replacing them with untextured primitive objects, these elements would still point players in the right direction. The same principles applies to the lights, as the value contrast they provide would still catch the players’ attention. However disguising them in appropriate graphics feeds into the overall immersion of the game, making them fulfill their purpose and enabling flow. Both these games have succeeded in creating aesthetically appropriate elements for each map which serve to subconsciously guide players. Conclusion Immersive gameplay is vital to all aspects of game design but how do developers design gameplay which causes the least amount of immersion breakage. How is level design affected by the playable characters’ abilities to maneuver and interact with the environment within the level? If a player’s abilities to explore and traverse are being hindered, or if their current abilities are inadequate to overcome the challenges they face, the players risk losing immersion in the game. So, how are levels designed to reduce this? To conclude, the elements found in these games facilitating flow are simple elements of light and direction. Simple in this case means basic building blocks which have been created, with a specific function in mind for a specific location. Dark areas exist to enhance spots of light and make them more alluring for players. The lights are then placed and given specific colors and intensities to create a specific feeling. Each opening has a specific purpose, either to create a vantage point for the player of lead to an alternative path. In Overwatch (2016) levels are changing as they progress to cater to the various heroes and their different mobilities. All heroes can always find a route best suited for their hero, either by using an alternative path to reach objectives or finding an area where their hero’s abilities offer them an advantage over those of the enemy team. Ability-based gameplay is the key to this game and the levels does nothing but enhances this. Read the full paper here: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1146250/FULLTEXT01.pdf Follow David Website: https://davideliasson.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/eliasson_david?lang=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
  4. This article by Deanna Van Buren (who assisted on 'This Witness') makes a compelling case for collaborating with an architect (or learning more about architecture yourself) . What you're about to read below is a recap of the full article, which is linked at the end. The article covers 9 essential areas: Developing architectural narratives Integrating landscape and architecture Building design Deploying materials & textures Scaling, proportion, and style Details Transitions Characters and environment The space in between In this recap, we will be covering 'Developing Architectural Narratives', 'Details', and 'The Space in Between'. The areas not covered here hold a lot of value, so we strongly recommend readying the full article. DESIGNING FOR GRAVITAS: THINGS TO CONSIDER There are 10 basic things that games tend to do that could be avoided with some design knowledge and application. I am going to refer to some games other than The Witness as both successful and less successful because they are popular, diverse, and frankly most of them I really like. It would be nice to see them taken to the next level so that the environments are not distracting and incongruent with the goals they are trying to achieve. Developing Architectural Narratives It is always helpful to remember that landscapes and architecture are based in the temporal, physical, and institutional constraints of the real world. What is the topography of the land? What materials are available to us? What climate are we in? What are the zoning laws? Where is the sun coming from? Therefore, one of our first questions we asked Jonathan’s team (Thekla) was “What direction is north?” They replied, “What difference does that make?” I knew then that we would need to recreate and reframe the real world constraints with which we had been working. In order to design customized environments we would need to develop a narrative and new kinds of constraints that would define it. So how do we create narratives that deliver rich environments? Sometimes in an effort to create a holistic identity or world, video games commit to one style/period, or genre yet this is not how environments exist in reality. Our built environments have history, a story across time. They are layered. In The Witnesswe use this passage of time to create the narrative so the environments are a series of adaptively re-used buildings and landscapes beginning with prehistoric times to the present day and beyond. Each building and landscape is designed in response to the needs of at least one civilization and in some buildings all three civilizations are expressed. For example, at the edge of the island is a concrete factory that sits in a quarry. The environment registers how the Stone Age people (Civilization I) began to quarry stone for tombs through small cuts in the cliff side. Then one can see where the stone was mined at a larger scale for religious structures such as churches and cathedrals in Civilization II. A church is built here both carved and constructed from the stones being quarried around it. As Civilization III developed, even larger stones were mined and used to make concrete, a more contemporary building material. Small stones were also required as aggregate and the church was converted to a factory in order to scale this process and construct other buildings on the island. As a gameplay wayfinding element, the factory exhaust rises up out the old steeple. Inside factory equipment integrated with the religious frieze panels provide the game artists with additional opportunities to tell a deeper lever of narrative. While architectural narratives like these were easy for us to develop, they may not be as easy for gameplay developers. For us the gameplay constraints were more challenging. We were fortunate to have a developer like Jonathan who provided us with what became our primary constraint-game play. The rules of The Witness with regards to gameplay were rigorous and finite in many ways. As architects, we had to learn about what this meant. It is one of the things architects need to understand when working with developers and an aspect that developers can more rigorously apply to environmental design. Integrating landscape and architecture - Follow the link at the end to read this section Building design - Follow the link at the end to read this section Deploying materials & textures - Follow the link at the end to read this section Scaling, proportion, and style - Follow the link at the end to read this section Details Along with understanding scale and proportion comes the proper rendering of details in the architecture. These may be done to avoid abstraction of space if your art style is refined or making them simpler if things are of a looser style. What is most important is being consistent with the level of detail and the scale of these elements. It is something we spent a while on in the witness so that the lighting, stairs, door handles, furniture, or window openings are all developed at the same level of consistent detail and in alignment with our art style. For us, it made doing modern architecture difficult at times and we worked hard to create details that reflected these assemblies in a low poly yet realistic way for the painterly quality we wanted. The Witness: Hub Chapel This scene from Ether One looks great, but making this small change would harmonize the entire space. Mirror's Edge is another game that does a particularly great job of detailing most of its elements. They make strategic use of building systems such as electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems with color to guide gameplay movement and perception. It is visually pleasing due to the lack of noise yet it is rich at the same time just by understanding materials, transitions, details, and assemblies of the built world. Even a game like Relativity that is diverse spatially but simple in its execution has an incredible consistency that makes it wonderful to be in. Another beautiful but quite different game that also makes good use of detail is Relativity. It is diverse spatially, unique in its style and simple and consistent in its palette and details, which I think helps you to feel immersed in this MC Echer-esque world. Detailing contrasting components well is also a great opportunity for good design. For example, the integration of layers of time in The Talos Principle is interesting, and it is these moments that it could have been nice to think about how they would integrate given they are very prominent in the environment. Rather than stick things on the stone, these technological pieces could have been integrated in the tectonic of the old castle wall in a more sophisticated way that would have added some gravitas to the look and feel of the game, supported the narrative and built on the textures that had. Transitions - Follow the link at the end to read this section The Space in Between While the architecture itself is important the relationships between buildings is just as important as the building itself. They are part of an overall scene that you are creating in every moment, and understanding how buildings can create outdoor rooms and a diversity of spatial experiences definitely enhances gameplay. The Talos Principle is an example of a game that has some great spaces that are scaled really well and others that are not so much. In many areas there is a flatness to the experience since there is no strong vertical expression or experience of the architecture that would traditional be found in castles due to their purpose and use as place for protection and surveillance. The open spaces, courtyards or baileys where you are shooting are too large compared to the wall height, and what would have been the interior spaces of the castle. An opportunity would have been to harness the design of castles and the development of the radial form of the medieval city to help with the experience of the game and provide more interest to the experience through spatial variety that reflects the historical narrative of this time. Most buildings prior to the Modernist movement have a hierarchy to them like the church nave or the grand entry. This flattening of the architectural experience in the agency of gameplay goes counter to our experience of this type of architecture and is a missed opportunity. Why not use the logic of these buildings to enhance gameplay? Many games also often have large spaces that have game assets floating in them. An unrealistic building or room density does not provide containment of the events unfolding. Often objects are out of scale to one another or larger than any element might be in reality. For example, the Gone Home entry foyer in plan is massively out of proportion with the height and the scale of any suburban home as viewed from the outside. The assets are floating in the space in ways that feel out of context with the real experience of domestic space pulling us out of the immersive reality. The player is drawn to the objects because they stand out in a bare room but it seems like they would have been more successful by integrating assets into well-scaled environments. They could use the space itself to guide players to these components in a sophisticated way perhaps through light, color, and detail. Gone Home is one of my favorite games to play because it makes use of 3D and 2D representation of this space. It would have been more powerful to create a house or even a compound that had some logical complexity to it and generated a domestic environment that made sense and enhanced the game play experience by drawing on our personal memories of home. CONCLUSION While all these aspects of design are important, the most critical thing that I teach to professionals and students alike is to just wake up and pay attention to the world around you. I hope that these recommendations can help you do that even if you choose not to work with an architect. I would also like to conclude by presenting a bigger vision for this collaboration. I believe that everything we do creatively influences our larger cultural context. As more members of our society begin to play games in well-designed digital environments, we will ultimately improve the visual literacy of our population. In doing so, I believe there is a reverse effect where we will start to expect more from our physical environments rather than ignore them as we often do now. We will start to question the strip mall, the big box stores, suburban landscapes filled with McMansions and the bland colorless panelized architecture we crank out in the United States, at least. Maybe through the immense creativity found in the creation of digital environments we can envision better physical environments that foster imagination, community, sustainability, and well-being. In doing so I also hope that we have moved further down the road of accessing the power of video games to change the world around us for the better. Read the full article here: www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DeannaVanBuren/20151012/254238/Architecture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php Follow Deanna Twitter: twitter.com/deannavanburen?lang=en Website: https://echoinggreen.org/fellow/deanna-van-buren/ 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. IntroductionThe following is a recap of an article from David Ballard that was posted on 80 Level. Follow the link at the end of this post for the full article. In this article, David walks us through his multiplayer level design process. David explains that he had originally build for co-op play. Representation of the PlayerIn order to be able to understand the players will feel and interact inside a play space, it's critical to put yourself in digital shoes. From there, you must understand and support the overall conceptual goals and approach of the game you're designing for. Blocking Out the General SpaceAt the Blockout stage, David worked on things like geometrical focal points, movement options, and scaling. He started off with a drawing, and made adjustments as needed as he transitioned it into a 3D world. Making AdjustmentsAs is always the case in a collaborative environment, it's critical to be flexible, and able to develop creative alternatives quickly. Adding Assets to the LevelIt's time to get fancy. After plenty of playtesting and iterating, David's next step was to begin adding assets. ConclusionFinally, the level is complete. David looks back at the rewards and lessons that came of it. Source: https://80.lv/articles/the-last-of-us-multiplayer-level-design-process/Follow DavidSite: http://www.davidgballard.com/Twitter: https://twitter.com/DBalArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/dbal
  6. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying either a game that they are making or one that they are playing! I have been thinking about what to write about, what deep design philosophies can I share with my fellow devs? So many wise thoughts and the one I landed on is “Where is the Toilet?” Now you may be thinking “What the F*** does this have to with Level Design” and I am glad you asked, even though I did not like your sass there. When I ask this question I am asking about the research you have done before building this level and also where is the toilet in your level. (The ‘where is the toilet part’ may not apply to all games or levels) In case you hadn't guessed this post is going to be about Level Designers needing to do more research before starting work on their levels. I know this sounds like an obvious part of level design but I see a lot of young level designers go in and making the level instantly without much thought. I too was guilty of this when I was younger as well. Now when creating anything, the blank screen can be the most intimidating thing ever! We have all been there staring at the screen thinking, “where to begin?” well the answer should always and I mean always…….. No back chat here sonny Jim. Research! So what research am I referring to for level design then? First think of the theme of your level, such as Victorian, utility, native, and also the location of your level as well. A house out in the mountains of Alaska will be designed different to a house in London’s city centre. Gather as many reference pictures as possible for your research. One of my leads (Daniel Molnar, great guy and very intelligent level designer) said to me, “Only when you have 100 pictures, do you start to understand the space” And true to his word he would not let me touch the editor until I had enough pictures, an understanding of the space and how it worked. Thanks to Dan I made a great sewer level and now know the stages of the sewage processing system. So ever since that I ALWAYS try to make sure I make time to do my research, sadly I do not always get as long as I want but I do make sure I have enough pictures to help me create a picture in my head. Now that you understand the location of your level and the theme you want to start looking into the architecture of these buildings and areas. As level designers, we should be looking at architecture regularly. (A cool article on what it was like for architects to work on video games: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DeannaVanBuren/20151012/254238/Architecture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php). Look around the room you are sat in now, and see how many indents, angled corners and other shapes there are which make your room Not a box. Once you start to research these things you will start to pick this stuff up. One thing which is noticeable with inexperienced LDs work is all the rooms are boxes. Architecture is where we see a lot of real level design work every day. How their structures of these buildings affects how we move through them, the layout of rooms, what rooms they have in these buildings, space certain rooms may need and how the flow from one room to another works. One of my favourite things to research is floor plans of buildings. Each of these layouts will be different depending on the theme and will obtain different items as well due to the theme. These will not only help influence your design but also help your artist (or artistic side depending on how you are working) understand how to decorate your level and may possibly help you guys come up with interesting methods to signpost. Another reason is you never know what you might see, which could inspire your design and provide you with something even more incredible. Now for example look at this power plant, which in my opinion is super cool, this top catwalk is interesting as instead of the bridges connected maybe the player has to rotate them from the ground floor to get them to join. With all these layers and sections, it looks like a great area for traversal. Being able to go up, around and under this area is amazing. When it comes to white boxing your level you will be able to show these images to your artist and they will be able to understand what you mean by those giant boxes. “Pictures speak a thousand words”. If you were to put a twist on this power plant and to make it feel like a maze, then now you want to start researching what? Mazes! 10 gold stars (Sounded way more patronizing than I meant it to be). So now we can see that there dead ends but also viewpoints to allow players to find their bearings. When designing this level we can add vantage points for players to scan the area for clues, maybe even have loot/collectibles in certain dead ends to reduce player frustration and reward exploration. Summary on why research/reference is important: - Give you a better understanding of what is believable in this theme. - Provide an idea for your artist on what you want. - Inspire your design choices Where is the toilet? Now onto the second part of the blog (I swear readers are going to get sick of that question) of where is the toilet? Dan had now let me work in the editor it now came time for his reviews on my work, and what was the question he asked me for each of my levels! Yeah you know what it is, now we working together on Tom Clancy’s The Division – Underground which in case you do not know is a procedurally generated dungeon expansion in which players travel through the underground areas of New York, from the subway system to the sewers to clear out the threat brewing underneath the civilians feet. Overall the review was going well, the flow was good, it had good landmarks for players to orientate themselves in case they were lost. But Dan felt some of these areas were not believable because there were no toilets. Because the Division is based on reality I had skipped one thought process when doing my research and that was “How would these spaces of been used before chaos struck?” Boom mind blown, I had created these thrilling and high octane areas but not grounded them in reality or the law of my game’s world. Dan then showed me one of the Senior LDs work who was working on a subway level and what did he have….toilets. His space felt not only good to play through but also was grounded by reality. (Some playthroughs of the expansion HERE) These critics’ could have been avoided had I done my research on these areas I was making and thought about how they are originally used and not just how I would use them for good combat or traversal. If you go back and look at those pictures of the floor plans I have in this blog. You will see how all of them have bathrooms laid out on them. The floor plans are mainly residential or commercial buildings so they will. When making your level, (again will not apply to every game or level) think about how was this spaced use before the player reached it and more than likely how did the people inhabiting this space use it? Because if they are bipedal human-like creatures I think we all know that they will need to use the bathroom at some point or another. Next time you are in a realistic gaming setting, try and find the bathroom, as it will most likely be there. Hope this helps guys and “Where is the bathroom?” is a question I keep asking myself when creating my levels as well as researching the buildings, themes, environments etc, for my game. I hope it makes you think about carrying out your research before starting work on your level. Which trust me will make your level much better and more believable. *This article is posted on Next Level Design with the author's permission Source: https://www.gamesfounder.com/articles/do-your-research-wheres-the-toilet-level-design/ 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