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  1. Hello all of you fantastic and wonderful people, I am BACK! I just want to say thank you all so much for the support and kind words from part 1 of my article. Great to see that many of you enjoyed it and feel like you have learnt something from it, but we can not linger in the past, instead we must look forward to the second part of what makes good level design for combat. Introduction In the first part, I discussed how important it is for you to understand your metrics, scale, weapon, etc. All this planning helps you to create great levels, now that we have an understanding of these crucial elements, it is on us as LDs to crafts spaces that players can have a great amount of fun and enjoyment with. In this article I will be breaking down the next steps of the process of the 2d design, then looking at a level I created and breaking down what I think made it a good level for combat. Pre-production - Research Now that we have gathered all the useful information to help us we need to move through to the research stage of our level design. This stage can not and should not be skipped, it is crucial to not only making a good level but also a believable level (A quick side tangent, always keep in mind and to quote my friend Stuart Scott we are creating ‘Believable not realistic spaces’ meaning we do have creative freedom within our levels) Now you will be set a location for your level, this could be a castle, maybe a hotel or even a space station. Regardless of what that location may be you will need to make sure that you have an understanding of how these spaces work such as: What rooms do this area normally contain? Where is the toilet? How do people interact with this location before the player arrives? How does it connect to other spaces? What is its architectural style? Where can you find this location? Which country is this location located? And other such questions, in order to answer these then you must first do research. You can do this by googling pictures, then entering google maps to find a real life example, you can start to see how the location looks in real life. Videos are also a great help, or there might even be an example in other games. I strongly recommend of gathering not just images of the location but also floor plans as well. The reason for this is it helps you see the overall picture of a location as well as how some typically look. Not only that but this is a great starting point for your own level, as you can use this as a basis for your level. Even better with this, you can not start to see which rooms in a floor plan can be kept, removed or altered. Maybe there are too many rooms that are dead ends which do not give a good loop for combat, or there are not enough spaces for hidden loot, well now you can tweak these in your floor plan but still keep that location based in reality. From doing your research not only will you have a basic understanding of how the locations flows together but you can grasp the theme of location, how it looks at certain times of days, How it will look if it is abandoned or when it is fully functional. Now the gathering resources is in full motion, you can use many different cool tools to store them, from it either being a folder on your computer or Pinterest or Google Docs as long as you have easy ways to access your files that is the most important thing. It is important because you will need to make sure you have access to them while creating your level to constantly reference. Yet it is not only important for your beautiful LD eyes but it will come in handy in reviews, so that when leads or directors are checking your work they can see why it looks the way it does but also helps them understand how you got to this layout and why, also this will really help your teammates in Enviro Art so they can get a much more vivid vision of how the location should look. As for example you may be asked to build a level set in a church, but this church is built in a Latin community. Yet when I think of a church I visualize a huge Gothic church in the shape of a cross, but that would never fit inside a Latin community. By doing your research you can see how different areas and communities view the same space, making sure you create more authentic and believable spaces. Once you have gathered enough references (50 images minimum in my opinion) you can start to move to the next step. Pre-production - 2d Map One of the most commonly asked questions I receive is “Max should I do 2d maps, is that the right way?” now for me the answer is yes. I used to do them and then stopped and just jumped straight into the blockout, but I noticed that my quality of my work decrease as well as it taking longer when staring at that ominous blank screen. There are many reasons I believe 2d sketches to be important, such as: Quicker to start work on blockout Easier to address feedback Allows you to see the flaws quicker Helps you go through multiple iterations before choosing and starting a blockout Now I know some of my other friends and other designers I have met use Google Sketch-Up before creating their blockout as it helps get a better sense of scale. Honestly both are great, the point you should take away from this section is that you need to plan before your blockout. People also feel that when they do a 2d map or a form of planning they feel that they are trapped? I put a ‘?’ because you should not. This is a plan meaning this can and should change, this is your starting point! Meaning that you can and must make changes as you see fit, I even did this in a recent level I made, do not be afraid to change from your plan if it does not feel right. Now with these points added to your pipeline of level creation we are going to do a break down of a combat level I created and break it down. (Before we do this though, do make sure to check out this great article which is fantastic for what to think about when creating your levels and brings forth some additional points on things to consider when making your levels) Case Study - Part 1 Okay, you now know how important pre-production is to your level, we are now going to get to the sexy part, which is the level itself. I created a small combat level for a task, now we will be breaking down the level and showing what I believe helps make this level good for combat. Quick side note, all of those documents in part one were my design rules and metrics and those were what I was referring to when I created my level. This level was not built or set on any particular location, we had a week to create Three combat spaces, so there is no reference images, just more of me creating a space that felt right. With no research I had my restrictions for space of 30x30m as well I could only use five enemies, with cover spacing of 2m and with that I created my 2d map. As you can see, it is not the prettiest of sketches but it gets the job done. It is very important when you do a sketch that you do use grid paper. The reason for this that you can get a sense of scale as well when it comes to putting it in the editor it you can translate the cube on the paper for 1m and use that to block out your level in the editor. When creating the level (and hopefully you can see this) that I wanted essentially split the space into quarters, so that the player could feel a difference in each section, but also feel a sense of progression. Quartering the level allowed me to reveal information to the player slowly, not just throwing them into the middle of a battle ground. It allows the player to focus on the task at hand, before showing more slowly, also by hiding certain information from the player it also plays to their disadvantage making the challenge feel even stronger. Another reason I was splitting up the space is the fact that it can and will reduce Long lines of sight. This way it forces players to move through the space in order to engage in combat, while also making them move to get an understanding of how the space is connected. Part of how I quarter the level is by dividing the space between interior and exterior spaces, most of the right hand side is set in the interior space, while the left hand space is kept in the open space to the exterior. This is handy for combat as players will have a different feel in each of the spaces. Exterior - players will have bigger spaces to engage in combat, having flanking opportunities, as well as having a larger line of sight to deal with and keep an eye on as enemies progress. Interior - players will be kept in a much more narrow space forcing them to focus on the front of combat as they battle with the enemies to move forward. Not only is this designed to have a visual separation but also designed like this to provide a number of ways in which players have to deal with the different encounters as well, making the space feel different too. You have now seen why I have decided to quarter the layout but it would not be much of a plan if I did not think about how the enemies occupy this space. Here is the plan I had for my enemies in the space as well: (The enemies are the Red Diamonds with the giant E, inside them. While the player is the Green Circle, with the P inside it) Before I jump to why I have placed the enemies in this position I want to talk about the players position first. This is sometimes an oversight when designing a level but trust me when I say, how the player first sees the level will inform how they play your level. One of the biggest/basic mistakes I see in beginners work is that the designer places the player facing the wrong direction, so make sure you place the players avatar facing the direction you want them to move towards. Look at how Mario always faces the right as players must move right. With that same context I have it so my player faces forward leading them towards the window and to the turning on the left (we will break down why that is important later) but a big reason why I have placed the player a bit away from enemies is for safety. Players can start my level without feeling pressure right away. Allowing them to find their bearing before entering combat. Switching gears now, we will look at enemy placement, now I have only showed you their starting off placement not their patrol route. We will talk about their route when it comes to the blockout phase. One of the key things I have tried to do here is that I have tried to hide enemies from the players initial view. If you look at both the top right and bottom left, there are two enemies in each section, yet only one is visible in the players initial LoS. The reason behind this is: To surprise the player, this way it keeps the engagement interesting Reward the players who do not go in guns blazing, those who statergise and truly take in the level will be able to not be caught off guard. Conclusion From this article I hope you have understood the importance of research and planning, this is a necessary stage to make great levels, as well as seeing some questions you should as yourself as you start working on your level. Always make sure to build up a library of references because the more you know the more authentic and believable your space will become. Floor plans are a great place to start when it comes to creating your own 2d maps, as you can use them to help ground your level or even the foundation of your own level. 2d maps don’t need to be art, as long as it is understandable and makes sense then that is the most important thing. Plan the position of your player and your enemies as that will help you get an even better understanding of how the level will actually flow with your objectives. I was planning for us to start looking over the blockout of the level but honestly I think it has turned out better that we have focused solely on the planning phase of development. Because now you can understand how important it is, as well as see my thought process when creating this level. Next will be the concluding part of this mini-series on making a combat level. I did not want to explain all of my design choices in this post as you will see in the next part that some of changed, but also I believe it will be better to see them within the level I have built. Please Support Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this, hope you have found it useful. If you do want to hear more about my thoughts on level design, then please checkout my podcast: iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K Read Part 3 Here: Follow Max Level Design Lobby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCncCrL2AVwpp7NJEG2lhG9Q Website: http://www.maxpears.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  2. This is the second part of a three part series of articles dealing with level design in action adventure games. Part 1 described Level Flow Diagrams, that act as the core of the level brief provided to a team by the Leads. Part 2 describes a process of expanding that brief into a detailed level plan. This stage of the process is most often carried out by a cross-discipline team of designers, artists and coders, who will expand the level brief into a detailed level plan, but this process can equally be the next step that an individual designer takes when designing a level solo. A Note on CollaborationDelegation and teamwork are vital given the scale of modern console development. Without them, leads become bottlenecks that slow development and sap motivation.The current trend is towards agile development whereby scrums are given ownership of individual problems. This has many advantages over the old waterfall methodology, but there is one pitfall to watch out for with peer-only teams.If a group of peers go into a room with the goal of making design decisions, the tendency won't be towards a design that everyone loves, but rather towards the design that everyone least hates.The psychology goes this way:1. Person X suggests a new idea that he thinks might be mint. It's not a complete idea yet, but he believes it has a kernel of goodness that could make for a unique piece of gameplay.2. Persons Y and Z who have not seen anything like this idea before quickly point out all the flaws in the idea.3. Person X, whose idea still needs nurturing, responds defensively, firing off hastily-thought out solutions that people also don't like.4. The idea is shut down and the group moves on. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.5. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.6. Next, Person Y suggests something that he has seen in a game before.7. Person X and Z both remember that being pretty mint in that other game, and they know it can be done, which means low risk.8. Everyone feels good as they write the tired, overused mechanic/scenario up on the whiteboard.9. Repeat.There is little to no way to get vision from a peer-only group unless they have worked together long enough that they are all on the same wavelength.There are two potential solves to this:1. Separate brainstorm and decision meetings.2. Employ a group design method I tested at Crystal Dynamics called a "The Thunderdome" (as coined by Mr. Ron Rosenburg.)Thunderdome!A "Thunderdome" gives each member of the level team the same deadline to propose a complete, individual solution to the entire design problem (in this case a paper map.) Once that (tight) deadline is up, the whole level team comes together and shows their individual solutions to their teammates, and everyone discusses the pros and cons of each one in a respectful way.Then the team (and the lead) cherry picks the best ideas from all the proposals and merges them into a unified team plan.This is the equivalent of forcing lateral thinking techniques in an individual. Humans naturally solve problems by brainstorming solutions until they find one that works, at which point they generally stop thinking about the problem. Lateral thinking techniques push us to go beyond that first working answer and try to find three to five more, to see if there is a better solution out there before moving on.When each individual in a "Thunderdome" creates their own solution, I guarantee that none of them will be the same, and the group will have multiple working solutions to pick from instead of one compromise solution. Of course this is not in the agile way -- which probably makes me a heretic who must be burned or something.Stage 2, Building Through FictionWith the Level Flow Diagram in hand, the next stage is to fill in the details.Architecting the level through storiesThis is the time to explore the level's stories because from them, the juiciest parts of the level's design will emerge.Regardless of the narrative of the game, each level has the potential to tell many layers of its own background story. Even an empty office has the potential to tell little stories that transform it from a dull set of plain rooms into a real place through artfully placed builder's tools, scrounged furniture, used cups, and discarded rubbish.But the real power of level stories has nothing to do with set dressing; it is in their ability to provide you with context-relevant gameplay scenarios that the story-based method really shines.To make the level real to the player though, first it must be real to you.A Cautionary Aside: Gather and Study ReferenceI would argue that the power to immerse the player, to absorb his attention completely, is the common attribute of the greatest and most successful games.Gathering and studying reference is critical to creating immersion for the player. It is something that the entire team should do, not just the artists.Everyone stores simplified constructions of reality in their mind; schemata that codify the critical features of the world around us. We use our schemata to recognize and interpret everything we experience.We also use those same simplified representations of reality to recreate it through art. Because no two people use precisely the same critical features to build their schemata, every person's art has a unique look, filtered through the lens of their uniquely simplified representations of reality.While schemata allow us to rapidly process the deluge of information we receive each day, they come with the cost of a blindness to data that does not fit with them. That data gets stripped away and left unprocessed. Because we rely on them constantly, we tend to trust them implicitly.But the fact that no two people have precisely the same schemata is all the clue we should need to realize that they cannot be trusted at all.When we are creating worlds in games, immersion is only possible for the player if we can convince the players that the space is authentic (whether stylized or not.) If the critical features on screen don't match up with the critical features of the player's schemata, then he or she will not be fooled by it.So as game makers we must have really precise schemata to convince the widest selection of players.When designers or artists rely on their standard schemata to judge their own creations, they are mistakenly assuming that others will judge their work using similar standards as they do. This can be particularly egregious when people from one country try to reproduce locations from another. American dumpsters sitting in the back streets of Paris or French road signs on the streets of Chicago might seem acceptable to the developers because they do not mismatch with their very simple schemata of those distant locations, but these contextually inappropriate placements will be laughably inaccurate to people really familiar with those places.Given that games are released worldwide, it is difficult to overestimate the damage to audience immersion and perception done by poorly researched levels for a large percentage of your audience. Remember, it's your worldwide reputation on the line.Case Study: Kung Fu Zombie Killer!!Blurb: When the living dead smash up his martial arts studio, Wu Shu master Ken Kong must punch, kick and chop his way through the zombie apocalypse while gathering humanity's remaining survivors on his quest to save the You Tube celeb of his dreams. Style:'70s exploitation movie visual themes mixed with a Japanese anime-inspired visual language. Highly stylized over-the-top combat, unrealistic physics, fun gaming conventions reign over realistic game rules. Street Fighter meets Pikmin in this zombie-filled romance beat 'em-up. Game Pillars:Fluid Environmental Kung FuThink Jackie Chan: Ken Kong picks up and uses everything around him to dispatch his zombie foes.Whether he is slamming doors into their faces, or ripping off one zombie's arm to bludgeon another to death, Ken Kong's simple multi-lock, rhythmic fighting system turns combat into a bloody storm of body parts and flailing fists.Protect the survivors!As Ken Kong saves the living from the living dead, they join the crowd that follows him, urging him on to greater feats of martial prowess. Different types of survivors can either bolster Ken Kong's abilities or can be applied to tasks throughout the game:Police - Shoot any zombies they see.Nurses - boost to Ken's health recovery.Martial artists - increased survivor resilience.Workmen - repairs.Geeks - hacking.Civilians - Cheering (boosts Ken's damage) and fortification building.Etc.The more there are of a given type of survivor, the better the crowd's abilities become. The crowd will stay together and can be ordered around by Ken, but they must be protected from being bitten by the zombies or the whole crowd could become infected.Secure each levelKen must shepherd the survivors to a location that can be fortified so that they will be safe.This could mean securing the entire level, or just one section of it. The crowd itself does the fortification, barring doors and boarding up windows. The more survivors there are, the faster repairs are done. Essentially they are closing enemy spawn points, and Ken must stem the flow of enemies while the fortifications are in progress or the crowd will be eaten by zombies.ThemeWhile the film Planet Terror is a good starting point for the mock '70s horror exploitation movie feel, Kung Fu Zombie Killer has a more lighthearted Viewtiful Joe feel at the same time.MotivationKen is in love with the YouTube vlogger jenna126xyz. In fact, he is her only fan. Throughout the game, Ken forces everyone he saves from the zombies to sign up as fans of jenna126xyz in an attempt to win her heart.Given the ludicrous nature of this game concept, it might at first seem that there would be little point in rigorous research or fictional development, but I contest that there still is.Even a world with a silly premise will resonate more fully when effort is made to realize it in its entirety.Example Level: Hospital Second FloorAfter watching jenna126xyz's most recent tearful videocast, Ken Kong is now trying to rescue Jenna's grandmother from a hospital overrun by the undead. The idea is that you see Grandma almost immediately, but can't get to her without the Hospital Director's keys, found near the end of the level, giving you an objective and a goal. The Hospital Director, on the bottom floor, will not come out of his secure office until the building is secure, forcing your secondary goal (save the survivors) before you can open the way to grandma.A Boss fight is worked into Grandma's room, and once that is done the level can pretty much end -- a fairly bog standard level flow.The section of the level we are going to focus on is the Second Floor, highlighted in red on the Level Flow Diagram above.A hospital is hardly an original setting, especially in this context. Hospitals are obligatory whenever there are zombies around: Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, and Planet Terror are just the tip of the iceberg. So the challenge is to walk this well-trodden ground and still make something somewhat fresh. The key to that is to look around you.Preparation: Designing from lifeWhen deciding how to tackle this hospital level, it would be tempting to begin by looking at the many other examples of hospitals in competing games, and while it is useful to learn what has already been done, it wouldn't help us get original ideas for this particular level.You are likely to be able to rattle off a list of areas from your head that you would expect to find in a hospital, from waiting rooms and restrooms to operating theaters and canteens. Most likely the overriding impression you will have in your mind will be long, seemingly endless hallways with single or multi-bed wards off them.But when you actually go to a hospital, there is so much more to see. There are gift shops, libraries, kitchens, rehabilitation areas with gyms or pools.There are auditoriums, children's play areas, janitorial closets, elevators and their associated maintenance areas. There are courtyards, roof gardens, underground parking lots, and changing rooms for the doctors and nurses, with lockers and showers.You also see just how many more off-limit areas there are than public ones. Some are secured with passkeys, others with ordinary locks.These locked doors lead to record rooms, office spaces, drug and equipment storage rooms and all manner of other administrative areas. Their doors are either solid or have very small reinforced glass windows. A great deal of research can be done from books, movies, and the internet but nothing can replace personal experience. While not everyone can go to the pyramids or an abandoned space station whenever they feel like it (unless you're Richard Garriott, of course), most people could visit an abandoned or ruined place near them (as long as is safe to do so) that will evoke a similar mood and mystery on a smaller scale. For our purposes that means there are many places where people could potentially survive a zombie attack, along with lots of opportunities for us to realistically gate the player. The key is you must look, in order to find inspiration. The trap of arbitrary spaces There is nothing more amateurish than arbitrary architecture, by which I mean spaces obviously only built for the player by the game designer. Whether it is a city street or an ancient ruin, it is the designer's job to build spaces with a fictional purpose as well as a gameplay purpose. When a player enters a temple that has no space for worship, or a tomb with no burial chamber nor rhyme nor reason behind its layout, he or she will not be convinced that they are exploring a real place. The worst starting point for a level is a series of featureless, functionless boxes joined by corridors into which gameplay is inserted from a list of gameplay goals. Levels built that way may as well be randomly generated. Even if you are creating an outside space, studying ordinance survey maps to see how real world topology looks and going for a stroll in the hills will let you turn a bland height map into a believable outside space. The difference between a height map that has been pulled up and down randomly, and one that appears to have simulated real weathering is enormous. Looking at real spaces for inspiration will bring the physical rules of building construction to the forefront of your mind, it will inevitably bring truth to your work and give you ideas that you would not otherwise have thought of. You must design the spaces of your level primarily for the people living in the game world and then adapt it for the player. Starting Point: Floor Plan I'm going to use this section of a hospital floorplan, based on a general admissions unit from a real hospital, to show how one floor of the level might be constructed through fiction. First off you can see that while the majority of the areas are not designed for the public to wander around, access to them is relatively easy. For instance, the admin area is easily accessible by climbing over the reception desks from the waiting room, even if the two doors were closed and locked. The only rooms that are likely to be kept locked at all times are the workrooms, the records room, and the storage room. They would most likely have keycard or combination locks so that staff could relatively easily get in and out but patients couldn't wander in willy nilly. The examination rooms would most likely have been unlocked when the zombies arrived, but along with the nurses room, the manager's office and the W.C, they could have been locked by survivors trying to escape the living dead. Red and Blue Keys There have been an untold number of physical key card puzzles in games, and almost as many broken-down elevators. The hardest challenge in design is avoiding the clichés when trying to disguise the keys and locks in the levels. Kung Fu Zombie Killer is a beat em up, so most rooms on this floorplan are probably too small to fight effectively in. The rooms can be scaled up to an extent without becoming ludicrously oversized, but it is general note that as games lean towards more believable spaces there is a greater need for better camera and animation systems to cope with confined spaces. The reality is that without unique abilities, there is little that hasn't already been done a hundred times when it comes to player gating. The standard options have been so thoroughly explored, re-dressed and reskinned, that many games these days have simply begun to do away with them altogether. Games like GTA let you go almost anywhere and attack problems from any angle. Their gates are metagame gates; the beginning and end of missions, the opening of new city areas. They don't struggle to mask the opening of the game world in fiction -- they make it very clear. I'm not arguing for one way or the other; both can be done well or poorly. In this game, I'm using NPCs as keys; they are keys that can be eaten by your enemies. If your keys die, then you won't be able to achieve some (or potentially any) of your goals. Populating the level Now that we have a better understanding of our location, it is time to look to any ramping documents and decide what sorts of scenarios have to be fit into the level. Kung Fu Zombie Killer's NPCs are also used as the game's help system, pickups, power-ups, quest givers, quest items, achievements, secret items, traps and puzzles. They are ultimately flexible from a gameplay point of view, but even better, they add life and narrative to the game. We want to place the following in this section of the level based on a ramping plan: NPC's to save: • A security guard - who shoots zombies and has a security pass • ~2 doctors - who heal the crowd and lower chance of crowd infection • ~4 nurses - who increase Ken's health • ~18 civilians - who contributes to Ken's damage bonus by cheering Items to use: • toilet • letter openers • sinks • heavy swinging lamps • dishes of scalpels • table lamps • windows • flower pots • wooden chairs • head-height glass cabinet doors Zombies to Kill: • Tons of them. Sculpting the play path When working into realistic spaces the first thing to do is work out how much you want to modify the physical flow from room to room. This comes down to how linear or open you want a level to be. For the sake of this example we are going to funnel the player fairly heavy handedly just to illustrate some of the ways it can be done. In this case I used two standard techniques; the permanently blocked door and the hole in the wall. The fiction for these changes is fortifications that are so drastic that they can't be undone, and walls that a large number of zombies have burst through. These two types of permanent changes to the floor plan can dramatically change the way you move around a realistic space. The first step is to define the primarily play path. I have funneled the player in a big circle all the way round to the storage closet above the entrance, where the security guard is hiding with a nurse. The security guard is necessary to unlock the door on the east wall, the only way through which you can reach the staircase and exit this floor. The barricades can be disassembled by any survivors if you approach from the side where the crosses are. The fortification point is this floor's zombie spawner. Ken has to fight on the patio while the survivors build the barricade, before jumping back into the building at the last second. The more survivors Ken has released, the faster that the barricade can be built, but the player needs to make sure that there are no (or few) zombies left inside the building because the survivors are vulnerable while fortifying. Everything else is fairly self-explanatory; there are four bonus civilians and a nurse that can be unlocked from the manager's office if the player backtracks with the security guard, lots of zombies to kill, and a second barricade that can be dismantled to create a shortcut if backtracking is necessary through this space. Set dressing The simplest examples of level stories are told through the "forensic" placement of art; bloody hand prints on the walls, discarded children's toys, and overturned tables and chairs. They don't affect gameplay, but they provide mood and richness to the level. For masterful use of storytelling through set dressing, look at Fallout 3. Every area had its own stories to tell from depravity through to insanity, all laid out in the artful placement of everyday objects. Those small forensic clues can be expanded to full narratives describing the fates of characters you may never meet in the game. For instance, you might find graffiti scrawled in blood on the walls describing somebody's final moments, but finding a room with its doors off its hinges, a toppled pile of tables and chairs just behind it and a fat, satisfied-looking zombie sitting in a puddle of blood, tells a similar story while also offering you the chance to respond. This level is filled with possibilities for those details and they can all be pulled out of the backstory of these survivors. The Backstory As I sculpted the play path I wanted, I was coming up with the following back story: Zombies first came into the waiting room from the stairwell. The security guards managed to fight them off and managed to permanently block that door. Meanwhile, two patients ran and locked themselves in the toilet. Next, zombies started coming in through the entrance. The hospital staff moved everyone out of the waiting room and barricades were set up trying to secure the admin area. Meanwhile, the zombies in the stairwell manage to smash through a wall into one of the examination room. Another permanent barricade was set up, and just to be sure, a security guard locked the next examination room's door as well, just to be safe. By this point zombies have started climbing over the reception desk and break through the right hand door into the admin area. Everyone evacuated further back into the offices except one doctor who hides under a desk. A nurse was already hiding in the manager's office, and she let four patients in as the zombies swarmed the admin area. The rest of the survivors ran towards the patio, but a mass of zombies smash their way in through the patio door and the survivors find themselves surrounded. Groups crush into any nearby room and lock the doors behind them, leaving some unlucky people locked out in the corridor. Almost the entirety of this story -- plus the stories of the other humans that didn't survive this attack -- can be carefully laid out in the artwork. The more questions you ask, the more stories can be hinted at: • Is there a reason that the security guard ends up with that particular nurse in the storage room? • Is there a reason why one nurse has access to the securely locked manager's office? • Who shut the door of the North East workroom, shutting the zombies in there with a group of (now dead) nurses? The upshot of using this method will be a sense of authenticity during play that you cannot achieve any other way. While players may not consciously pick up even half of the detail you are putting in, they will feel it. They will be drawn into your world in a way that more laissez-faire methods simply cannot achieve. Thunderdome Part 2 Now, were I a member of a level building team, the map I've created above and the back story that goes with it would be presented along with all the others: one from each team member. They would be reviewed by the whole level team, who having all thought it through deeply, are now informed critics, under the watchful eye of the lead that wrote the Flow Diagram. Each design would be unique and all would have their plusses and minuses. No one design will be so perfect that it will be better than everyone else's in every respect. I know there would be better ideas on the table than mine because I work with talented people. But perhaps some of my ideas would be end up being selected and they would go into a final level layout that would be better than anything any one of us could do alone. Fact. And that's magic. Summary • Research thoroughly; there are many people who will know if you skimp. • Always visit a real location for inspiration. • Always start from an architecturally sound floor plan. • Sculpt the play space with events that occurred before the player arrived. • Define the back story through the design and let them feed each other. • Write down the back story so that as the design is realized on screen; all departments can express it through art, animation, and sound. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132801/action_adventure_level_design_.php Follow TobyWebsite: www.focalpointgames.comTwitter: https://twitter.com/mechabadger 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. 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
  4. 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