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About Me

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  1. WAYWO has landed. This is one giant leap for Level Design, one giant leap for Video Games. Or anything else you all deem appropriate to discuss in here, since it is traditional to go way, way, WAY(wo) off topic.... 😉
  2. 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: Follow Erwann Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  3. About Reaching Perfection Missed Chapter 24? Read it here: Advertising Intro Do you have a great map that you designed that got very little attention way back in the day? How about that crazy little prototype layout that you threw together a couple months ago? Do you have goals of being an iconic figure in the level design world and having everyone enjoy your content? Then everything that you worked on will not go to waste. Quite the opposite, everything you make is crucial to your success in the future. Every little thing you do is an investment towards your goals of being a great level designer. Every little thing matters So what exactly is it you are investing? Well any content you make is an investment. Every person that you talk to is an investment. Every minute of every day is an investment in your future. One step leads to another and you are who you are today because of what you have done in your past. Do you want to make that “you” of today famous? Then you have to start thinking in terms of what you did to get to where you are and what you need to do to get to where you want to be. You remember that kid you helped back on Halo 3, Farcry, Unreal, etc? He could be the key to your success. He could be the person that tells Bungie’s Halo: Reach executive producer that your material is worth looking at. You remember that map you made 3 years ago that you thought didn’t get enough attention? Well that may be the map that tells that executive producer that you need to be working on their next game or future downloadable content. Everything is important... including those 10 minutes you spent helping a new level designer with their first map. That new designer may become your next big follower that gets you that lucky break. Time efficiency So now you know that everything you do matters. But now you need to start figuring out and deciding what your best courses of action are. Is building your map more important than helping your new friend with his map? Is responding to a private message for help worth more than trolling the forums? Is taking the time to respond to someone’s thread about their map a better investment than posting your own map in a thread? You want my opinion? Take the least selfish route. Remember the mention of learning to be selfless for advertising purposes and how you are only good to people for what you can provide for them? Well mix that with the concept of investment. That person you just sacrificed your time for just so happens to be best friends with some big shot... who knew? Sometimes you can only do so much for yourself and you need the help of others which is why investing in being helpful and selfless to others will benefit you the most. Trust me on the sunscreen. Time is money Time is money. Giving your time to others is just as or more valuable than giving those people your money. And some will see it as that and be very grateful. Giving that hour of your time to teach them to fish instead of paying $10 for a meal at Applebee’s will definitely be worth more to them in the long run. Use that never ending cash flow that we call time to your advantage. You never know when one of your selfless investments will pay off and win you the lottery. Read Chapter 26: Nurturing Follow Ray Twitter: Mixer: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  4. Create layers over time A classic mistake to make when setting up game encounters is to allow all of the AI to attack at once without any spawn delays. The player will end up just being overrun by AI from all directions and the encounter will quickly descends into chaos. There is a good chance that most players discovering this 'surprise' will not enjoy it. The trick to any encounters is pacing, to stagger the spawning over time and create different waves that are triggered via an event. As the different waves are spawned in, the encounter can eventually build up to a crescendo event and a distinct pause. The break in the flow might seem counter intuitive, but this is the moment to look around, investigate and explore the environment. Limit attack direction Most players approaching an encounter will expect the enemies to be attacking them from one direction and will not expect attacks from multiple angles (side or flank) all at once. This does not mean multiple attack directions should never be used, but wide angle (135+ degrees) attacks should either be linked to a skill level or that the player has plenty of good equipment to cope with the situation. Often players will claim they want enemies to be smart and more intelligent/aggressive with their attacks, but there is a point at which enemy attacks from too many different angles at once can be regarded as cheating or a cheap trick by the level designer. If you are planning to attack the player from multiple angles be aware that this kind of tactic can become tiresome if used too often. Compliment attack types Most game enemies have a couple (1-2) of different types (range, melee, AoE or debuff) of attacks and the level designer is responsible for creating different combinations of the enemies with complimentary attacks to challenge the player in different environments. Each enemy individually should not be much of a threat, but once they are grouped together they should become part of a complex puzzle of different threats which the player has to learn how to prioritize in order to survive. Some group encounters are more difficult than others and that is mainly to do with how many of their abilities overlap and how diverse they are with attack types. A group of enemies which has a single attack (1 melee or 1 range) will be far easier to deal with than a group with a large variety of different attacks because of priority concerns. This is how difficult can be scaled up or down when creating encounters for the beginning or the end of a map. Roller coaster pacing Many games are built with a pacing, a distinct ebb and flow to how events unfold and an intensity to the encounters. Some games vary the rate of pacing by using different activities like using reflexes for encounters and lateral thinking for puzzles. When designing a map try to break it down into zones or bubbles of player activity. Consider each zone being a mixture of different types of encounters and try to vary the pace by having sections where there are puzzles. Remember to keep the combat away from the boundaries to each zone and don't be afraid to create empty spaces to allow players time to breath before the next climb upwards on the roller coaster. Always iterate As encounters become more complex with larger groups, multiple waves, and special events, the testing of the pacing can quickly get time consuming because the order of each new encounter will affect the overall flow. I highly recommend to start the testing at the beginning each time to make sure the encounters are balanced in sequence, otherwise there is a good chance a gameplay difficulty spike will appear due to lack of resources. *Note: This article is published in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines Source: Follow Simon Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  5. *Header Image Credit: Aurore Start With a Small Idea Everyone has grand ideas, projects involving mountains of details with complex gameplay systems. The problem with these ideas is that they are extremely difficult to know exactly where to start. They often involve so many different steps with such complex planning that they can easily be abandoned long before they reach a finished prototype stage. I find creating a small experimental idea using existing or placeholder assets can be the perfect way to gain momentum on starting a larger project. A small idea can also give you immediate feedback and be the perfect moral boast for when working alone or in a small group. Create Prototypes Game design rarely starts with an exact schedules or detailed project plan; it usually starts with a prototype. A short burst of inspiration to see if an idea is worth pursuing and developing into a larger (more organized) project. Never underestimate the power of prototyping or architectural/art style experiments. Inspiration is rarely a factory line or an on demand process and fresh ideas often need space and time to develop. Always set an end date or goal for a prototype so that it does not drift or lack direction and bear in mind what you are trying to achieve. Always Iterate Game design ideas are always shaped by iteration and it is highly unlikely an idea will be perfect first time around. The trick is not to be afraid of change and let ideas flow in several different directions before settling on the final choice. Many game designers rely on feedback from trusted sources or people who can articulate their issues with constructive feedback. Try to find a diverse collection of individuals who can help with quick iteration cycles. Not everyone can separate their emotions from feedback and see the bigger picture of what the idea is trying to be. Try to Avoid Dilution Be careful about 'watering down' an idea if it has gained a strong negative feedback reaction. An idea which creates an extreme reaction does not necessarily mean it is bad; it might be the implementation that is wrong. Always remember that bold ideas can be the defining moment of a game/map and should not be shied away from. The problem with dilution or 'design by committee' is once the core idea is compromised the overall quality of a game/map can lose its edge. The other side of the coin is that bold ideas can also be unpopular and create bipolar feedback. As long as you are happy not to win the popular vote then don't be afraid to pursue uncompromising ideas. Look for Patterns in Feedback There are many different types of feedback to consider when looking for advice on game design. The trick to understanding feedback is being able to filter out the opinions from the constructive advice. It is not easy to divorce emotion from feedback, but allowing time between reaction and response is always a good idea. One way to spot good advice is to look for feedback that forms patterns, advice which is similar or repeated by several different people. If many people are experiencing the same response there is a good chance that the presentation or implementation is wrong for the target audience. Even though feedback can be passionate and destructive it is by no means all bad as people will often only be bothered to create feedback when they care about something. The classic bipolar response of "I hate" or "I love" can be frustrating but this is better than no response at all. Some of the best games are often communicating to us on an emotional level which can generate such strong responses and this is what great games are all about. *Note: This article is published in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines Source: Follow Simon Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
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  7. Level design is its own kind of playful art: part theatre and part architecture, you’re making spaces to challenge and delight other people. With the release of Super Mario Maker, Nintendo wants to encourage fans and players of all ages to try making their own game levels, opening this art to brand-new audiences. But a good level is about more than placing familiar objects on the screen. To help you get started, we asked 7 professional game designers for their best level design tips. Whether you’ve never made a level before or you already have some experience making games, their easy-to-understand advice is sure to help you get on the right track. TRY STRUCTURING YOUR LEVEL LIKE A STORY Many of the best Mario levels rely on narrative beats for structure. Start by drawing the player in with an inciting incident (a thwomp falling out of nowhere?)—it can include a key mechanic or theme that frames the rest of the level. Then, develop it. Think of different ways to use the mechanic or theme, and then challenge the player to get better at dealing with it. (Multiple thwomps, thwomps between pits, thwomps on pipes?) Start simple, and only add complexity after the player has proven they understand. Then, after you've built to the climax, try a third-act twist to cap off the level or turn the idea on its head. Make a joke (Thwomps pestering you all level? Have one fall into a pit!), invert the mechanic (Mario rides on top of the thwomps to the finish!), or try something different to make the last moments memorable. —Lena Chappelle, game designer/composer, ArenaNet PLAYERS SHOULD ALWAYS KNOW WHERE THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO BE TRYING TO GO Try using coins or other pickups as "breadcrumbs" to lead the player toward where you want them to go, or to hint at secret detours. Have people play your level often, so you can see exactly where players are likely to get lost or confused. —Kim McAuliffe, senior designer USE BOTTLENECK MOMENTS (DOOR FRAMES, EXITING A STAIRCASE/ELEVATOR, THIN HALLWAYS, ETC) TO CONSIDER WHAT INFORMATION YOU ARE PRESENTING TO THE PLAYER These are rare moments where you know exactly where the player will be looking, so use it to your advantage to support the narrative and/or the gameplay objective. —Beth Beinke-Schwartz, level designer EVEN IF YOUR LEVEL IS LINEAR, YOU CAN NEVER ERASE THE PLAYER'S FEELING OF BEING LOST Give hints and clues about the paths and choices available using things like color, lighting, or positioning in the frame/space. The goal is to make players feel smart because they chose correctly... even if there actually was only one path forward. —Laralyn McWilliams, senior designer, producer and director THINK ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN OBJECTS, NOT JUST THE OBJECTS THEMSELVES Put some elements near each other, look for a fun interaction, and try to design a way for the player to discover it for themselves. —Erin Robinson, game designer (Puzzlebots, Gravity Ghost) YOUR LEVEL IS PROBABLY TOO HARD You've played it dozens of times and you know the secret to beating it quickly. As you built your level, you might have started getting bored with your puzzles and you tweaked them to make them more interesting to you. By the time you finished designing the level, it's probably gotten too hard for everyone who hasn't already played it 100000000 times. My old boss used to say, "Reduce difficulty by 30%. And if you think you've already done that, reduce difficulty by another 30%." Some frustration in games is needed, but too much frustration makes people quit. Try starting levels with a win or positive moment for the player—let them take on a few easy enemies, or do a couple satisfying hops that lead to a reward. That way, you earn the player’s trust before you start turning up the heat. —Dana Nelson, Kinda Sweet Studios (formerly Lead Game Designer at Popcap and Lead Level Designer at Playfirst) BUILD A LOT, AND THEN CULL YOUR COLLECTION Become a curator for mechanics. Be prepared to trash about 1/3 of your ideas and content. If a puzzle or level doesn't give the player an "aha!" moment, ask yourself why you have kept it. —Molly Proffitt, Ker-Chunk Games (PrinceNapped) Source: *Note: This article is republished in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines Follow Leigh Twitter: Website: YouTube: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
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  9. a Chunk

    Gunplay - Westin Koessel

    Chapter 1: Hear me out Going as far back as the Halo trilogy, and especially in more modern games like Destiny, the aptly named Modern Warfare, and even Apex Legends, it has been commonplace to refer to all facets of the 'shooting' in one of these games as its gunplay. Which, in and of itself, is fine - vague and generalized word use is very helpful, and allows us to get complicated ideas across quickly when we’re trying to touch on larger points. For that reason, I don’t go around grilling people who don’t use perfectly accurate verbiage at every turn. However, more often than not, when I hear someone specifically refer to gunplay, I don’t think they mean what they think they mean. Perfect examples came out of the recent COD Modern Warfare. We all know that game has problems, and we’re not here to discuss them… but in reference to the game, you'll constantly hear “Yeah that game is really campy and the maps have too many windows and doors, and it’s really too bad, because the gunplay is just "so good". This same idea is communicated in and around plenty of other games, and is regular speech for an FPS player. Inevitably, the first thing that shoots into my head is, what do you mean 'good'? Yes, I completely agree that it feels good to shoot in Modern warfare. The hitmarker sounds, the weapons sounds, the animations, the screams of my dying enemy, even the smoke coming from the barrel of my gun contributes to that effect. The score that pops up after a kill, the guitar riff that plays when I level up. There are endless layers of feedback that all make me feel ecstatic, but at the end of the day, that’s just how I feel, not how the gunplay in Modern Warfare functions. And this is important, because how gunplay functions does contribute to how a game feels, but not in the sense we’ve already described. First of all, mechanics, in the long term, can create a meaningful fulfillment and feelings of personal growth as we understand and even master them. Then, these skills become practical, climaxing when we put this to use effectively, which is immediately satisfying. This whole paradigm is NOT as simple as "short term vs. long term satisfaction". Some of that instant gratification does come from mechanics, some comes from sensory stimuli, and the two can be distinguished. The former version of instant gratification, mechanical fulfillment, is one reason why watching great players is so fun. You get to feel some of that sweet second-hand dopamine as you watch them succeed in ways you only wish you could, even if you haven't seen the meaningful journey of practice that went into being able to play like that. While feeling is the word I’ve chosen to use within the context of this effect, as well as the former effect, when I describe them, they are obviously very different. One is pleasurable, and the other is meaningful, that is, earned, and therefore pleasurable. When you refer to a game in the way I described earlier, where our imaginary person attempts to diagnose the pros and cons of Modern Warfare, it seems like what is unknowingly being referred to is mechanical function. Just reflect on that quote from our imaginary MW player. First, he talks about the gameplay, the camping, then he talks about the maps, how they have too many variables, and finally gunplay. Context points to a conversation about mechanical function, but upon further questioning, most I've interacted with are almost always thinking about how the gun looks and 'feels', and not as a result of difficulty or cultivated skill, but as a result of punchy hitmarker sounds and realistic blood splatters. To explain it once more, and perhaps in a simpler way, imagine any shooter, but the gun models were replaced with inanimate bananas, and there were no weapon sounds or effects. Would it 'feel' good to shoot? In one sense, no, because there isn’t any convincing feedback. In another sense, the functional sense, it would feel no different than it does now, because weapon models, animations, and sounds are all just sensory stimuli. The game would play exactly the same way. Same kill times, same recoil patterns, same flinch, same mechanics to master. A game that all too often receives this treatment is Destiny, but it’s understandable. It is so unreasonably satisfying to shoot a hand cannon in that game, that it’s hard to separate how destiny’s gunplay feels and how it works. Which again, how it works does contribute to the feel, just in a different sense. And I’m going to use destiny as an example of why it’s so important to separate in your mind these two facets of shooting as a designer. If we are to look at destiny, on paper, without the seductive visuals of the dreaming city or my homegirl ada-1, you might be surprised of what we actually find. Many times Destiny has been compared to Halo, but when you really look at it, you will see that Destiny, in reality, will reveal itself. The first thing to look at would be your players movement and strafe within Destiny. Yes, there are plenty of advanced movement options, but the lack of mid-air accuracy successfully grounds players for most gunfights, so as far as gunplay is concerned, these are separated. So then, next, we can look at the players strafe. How good is it? Well, it’s not that great. Even with a max mobility build, it’s not very effective. The insanely high bullet magnetism within Destiny can’t help, but I digress. Most combat is grounded, and the strafe is of little effect. Next, we can look at weapons. Almost all weapons are hitscan, and what is projectile usually (99 times out of 100) tracks your target. For the sake of making a point, humor me, how about the maps? Well, with Destiny 2 especially, we see nothing but Treyarch-like 3 lanes, and flat ones at that. This is starting to sound familiar... The last facet to consider would be any system baked into the mechanics, like descope in Halo. Well, Destiny doesn’t have descoping, but it does have hefty flinch, or aim punch as some call it, where enemy bullets cause your aim to jump about and render your gun inaccurate.. Not only is a strong flinch present, but most weapons are also inaccurate when fired from the hip... Okay, so considering all of this, why does it feel like Halo? Well, as far as I can tell, it’s almost exclusively because of the time to kill. This is where Destiny is closest to Halo, with an average TTK of around 1 second. And so, even though we may feel there is a connection to Halo, and there is, when we parse through the mechanics one by one, Destiny isn't "just like Halo". In reality, it's a lot more like a Call of Duty game. I trust you see what I mean, reader. You're a smart guy. You know that there’s usually more than meets the brain when it comes to this stuff, and I'm sure you'll agree it to be extremely important to look under the hood before we make claims about how good or bad a mechanic is. You probably already know this, but this thought process can be applied to anything, in order to separate the superficial from the real, and not just with gunplay. Chapter 2: Shoot me And, while we’re here, I’ll expand on what I personally find to qualify as ‘good’ functional gunplay. Right off the bat, the suffix of gunplay, play, assumes the presence of, well, play. In other words, some sort of give and take. Some sort of interaction. Going back to Modern Warfare, the games functional gunplay consists of very little give and take. You essentially put the crosshair on your opponent, and click. Attachments combined with the mounting mechanic will often completely nullify recoil, and most COD players already know instinctively to aim at center mass to prevent flinch from knocking them off target, because flinch will severely punish you for aiming at the head by making you miss entirely, which means you never really should go for headshots unless someone isn’t looking at you. All of this, by extension, is less opportunity for 'play' within your shooting mechanics by discouraging the player from aiming at the crit spot. Now, with the games near instant kill times in mind, and the distinct lack of any strafe, again, the game is essentially point, click, and move on. Yes, technically, there is some gun play, some give and take, as you still have to do the aiming, with a little bit of recoil to account for. To that I would say, if the only requirement for good gunplay, functionally speaking, is the generalized presence of aiming, then every shooter ever made would qualify as having ‘good’ gunplay. No, this can’t be the bar we set, I think we can do better. The first way we can do better is with projectile based weapons. Projectiles, while harder to use, are just as accurate as hitscan. The obvious difference being that one must aim ahead and utilize his spatial awareness to account for bullet travel time in order to land shots. Many have said that projectiles are "messy", and that hitscan is the cleaner choice, but projectiles, assuming no other factors are involved, are perfectly accurate. There’s no loss of control as to where your bullets land, they’re just harder to land. Instead of aiming here, you aim 'there', in accordance to your projectile speed and how fast the target is moving and in what direction. This introduces a layer of play, not only within yourself as you master spatial awareness, but when considering projectiles on the slower end of the spectrum, like rockets in Quake, this starts to introduce a layer of play with your opponent, as he can preemptively move away from, and sometimes even react to, the projectiles as they travel, which you then have to adjust for in the future. This becomes an adjustment which your opponent can predict, and then play around, and the cycle of 'mind-play' repeats. Not only are projectiles an incredible source of depth in our games, but they also solve what we could call the 'problem of ranges'. Look, every game is made with target ranges in mind, which is why we often see damage fall-off implemented into games like overwatch and Destiny. This is needlessly frustrating, as it’s next to impossible to predict just how much damage my shots will do. And the question does need to be asked, if I’m landing my shots, why are my bullets arbitrarily doing half damage, and when I take a few steps forward, now full damage? What if I only took one step forward? Or half a step? With this system you inevitably run into these thresholds, which can’t really ever be predicted. You have a vague idea of how close you need to be with a hand cannon in Destiny, but It’s not like there’s a ranger meter in my UI telling me how far my enemy is from me, and so even after hundreds of hours of practice, it’s still impossible to always grasp exactly how much damage I can do. I can’t ever really know. Now THIS is what I call messy. On the other hand, projectile weaponry doesn’t require damage fall-off to keep fights within certain ranges, as the travel time of a projectile inherently makes shooting at players who are further away, harder. Once implemented, the developers need only tune how fast the projectiles will travel, until his or her idea of the perfect median encounter range is found, while still allowing for an excellent player to deal full damage if he can land those difficult shots at range. Seriously, God has handed us the perfect design solution via physics, so why are we so apprehensive to utilize it? Moving on, I believe that we can also do better with the player strafe and movement in our shooters. It’s hard to determine how fast is fast enough for base movement speeds, or strafe acceleration. Do not assume that more is always better. In fact, some games will sport such extreme abilities that the rest of the game starts to fall apart. For example, I can spend a year meticulously designing a Titanfall map, just to have someone grapple across it in one go and completely nullify the level design. Now that's frustrating. I think there's a balance to be struck here. Simply put, I just want to be able to avoid damage. My goal is to always allow the player to live and succeed, even with 1 health point. If play is an interaction, I want to be able to interact with my opponent as he shoots at me. Standing in place and seeing who wins as determined by the whims of flinch should not qualify as gunplay (looking at you, PUBG). The way I see it, my own gunplay is only half of the 'play'. The other half is how I am interacting with my opponent with my strafe, and larger scales of strafe like general movement, geometry manipulation, and advanced movement options. This is about as far as I can go within the context of this topic, because I would have to start introducing specific mechanics from specific games into the discussion to take it any further, and I don’t want to go that far. You get it. Next up, we can do much better with the likes of recoil, spread, and bloom. Randomness doesn't work, because any random penalty is incredibly frustrating, as I know it wasn’t merited by the other player and wasn’t a result of an honest mistake on my part. There’s nothing I could do about it. On the other hand, any random benefit is devoid of meaning, as I know I didn’t earn it, and therefore have nothing to be proud of, and nothing to learn from the win. With that in mind, predictability is key when talking about these things. Recoil, you're up. Some games, especially some PC games, are very heavy handed with the recoil. I’m not the biggest fan of recoil, but I would totally respect it, and do totally respect it, if and only if recoil patterns are predictable. Pulling your thumbstick or mouse down at a rate proportionate to your weapon rise, all while tracking your enemy, certainly is a skill. The problem arises (pun intended) when games, often for the sake of realism, introduce random recoil patterns, and especially horizontal recoil. Even the ‘random’ vertical recoil patterns in games aren’t truly random. That is, they have a general direction. A predictable unpredictability. Horizontal recoil, however, is not the same. Unless there exists a weapon with horizontal recoil that tends to only one side of the weapon (which doesn't exist), horizontal bouncing is entirely uncontrollable. It changes directions radically. Even if you knew when the recoil would bounce left or right, we just don’t have the reaction speed as humans to cancel this out on the fly, which means I don’t have control. To put it as simply as I can, that’s why everyone hates the Flatline and Spitfire in Apex Legends. Spread… oh man. Spread is a tricky one. First of all, it should go without saying at this point that random spread is never good. Hitting your shots is not a rewarding experience when you know it’s random, and missing is just annoying, because it's not up to you. So, what then entails a perfectly predictable spread? Honestly, the shotguns in Apex Legends and Gears of war are the only examples I can think of at the moment, and I don’t think there’s a better way of going about it without changing how the weapons themselves fundamentally work. Fixed pellet placement. Hipfire spread on non-shotgun weapons, on the other hand, is a different beast, especially when sustained auto/semiautomatic fire is in question. We all know how annoying it can be to die to someone with a spray weapon in an FPS, hip firing his way to victory. This is true for almost any game, Key word being almost. Think on Call of Duty, where your killcam reminds you of the clueless player that just bested you, as he hipfires and hits all headshots, likely on accident, leaving you saying “ah come on, he just hip fired me!” Let's create our own weapon to use as an example, in the image of all militaristic shooters. We'll call it the… D… the D-78... the D-789 Reaper or something. Nice and boring, just the way developers like it. Now, of course this weapon, while aimed in, is pinpoint accurate. While hipfired, however, the spread becomes a cone. While this cone is no longer pinpoint accurate, all of the bullets will land within the cone, which means, if the cone is about the same size as the enemies hitbox, that all of the bullets within the cone will land. It’s like your bullets become 50 times their normal size, while being just as effective. I know that's not always true, it varies, but bear with me. Now, imagine shooting at someone with this cone vs. aimed down sights. Rather than aiming in, wouldn’t it be easier to hip fire, and always have at least part of the cone on target? Yes, and paired with random spread, this means the chance for perfect accuracy with much less effort required. It’s easier to always be partially on target while using a flashlight instead of a laser pointer, which means you almost always have a chance to hit. In this scenario, hip firing is easier, and potentially just as effective as pinpoint accuracy while aiming in, which is why we get frustrated. It’s inherently easier, partially random, and depending on the game, is almost just as rewarding as aiming. After all, the saying is risk vs. reward, not... less risk, similar reward. The solution to this one of two extremes. Either you can make hip fire on the R-765 Dynasty, or whatever it's called, unusably inaccurate, or make it perfectly accurate. Let's think. Making hip fire spread worse will make it less rewarding, and therefore not as frustrating as often… but at the same time, will crank up the random factor, and make it all the more annoying when someone does get lucky with the hipfire. Not good. The alternative, perfectly accurate hipfire, may just completely solve the issue at hand. No randomness, and hipfire is no longer inherently easier. Hmm… think back, we don’t say “ah, he just hipfired me!” in Halo, do we? In fact, noscopes with certain weapons are considered harder and more impressive! If you then want to incentivize aiming in while keeping hipfire predictable, you could even add something like increased recoil to hipfire. Not random recoil, but increased recoil. We're killing it! Design is easy! Finally, while I hate to say it (that's a lie) we could just do away with bloom. With the recent launch of Halo Reach on PC, this is just in time. With bloom, your shots become increasingly inaccurate if you shoot quickly, which encourages you to pace your shots, and rewards the patient. Or at least, this is what it proposes to do. In reality, it forces you to pace your shots, lest your bullets become forfeit to random spread, while it often rewards the goofball who just spams his trigger and gets lucky. Once again, the problem lies in the unpredictability. The defenders of this mechanic always say “well I like bloom, because you have to pace your shots” and while patience may be worth rewarding generally speaking, it’s not a reward if it’s forced on you. And more than this, the random spread that comes along with this fake patience is just not worth it. Again, I like it when I’m watching a Quake duel, and patience wins out over the other players aggressive play now and again. That can be cool. Bloom, however, especially in reach, is a terrible implementation of that idea. All right! That's all I have to say about Gunplay today. Keep in mind, the scope of most of these arguments will inevitably be limited to what we see in shooter orthodoxy. To many of these questions and proposals, I would personally just get creative, and make entirely new weapon archetypes and entirely new games and systems. But, within the trends that define almost every modern shooter, these were my thoughts. Thanks for reading! 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  11. a Chunk

    Mario Maker Workshop

    We have another learning opportunity from the community to share with you. And community is really the key word here, as this opportunity is heavily focused on community interaction and feedback. It offers a great chance to connect with like minded people, share your work, and learn from one another. What is it? The Mario Maker Workshop (MMW) is a free, online game design school that operates like a community. It uses Super Mario Maker 2 as a platform to rapidly test and share ideas. The workshop will teach level design and game design lessons using a unique communal learning method. Who is it for? Our workshop is is primarily designed for two types of people: Players who aspire to create the best Mario Maker courses. People who are serious about improving their game design skills. Our lessons are a foundational course on Mario level design while also applying to game design in general. What do you do? Any time you play Super Mario Maker 2 you can contribute to the workshop. Whether you play random levels, make levels, or play levels from other participants. Each week focuses on a different design lesson. (20+) Workshoppers play, analyze, and give feedback on each other's levels. Complete fun and challenging assignments designed to teach design concepts. Dig deep into game design reading material (for game designers) Discuss course ideas and game design on our Discord. Interact in our weekly workshop recap twitch streams. Contribute as much or as little as you want. Come and go as you please. There's no long term commitment. Always have fun. Learn more about the workshop here: Access the lessons here: Follow Design Oriented Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
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  13. The more ‘open world’ video game environments get, the more navigational paraphernalia get foisted upon player shoulders. Maps, markers, checkpoints, radars, and HUDs persist on the screen and faithfully point towards where the game intends you to go next. There’s nothing wrong with map-based navigational aids: they streamline gameplay and provide helpful markers for posterity in truly open-world environments. But if we are to look at games as tools that foster exploration, immersion, and pattern identification (and we should), then overt navigational aids carry an air of spoonfeeding, at times disrespecting player intelligence and reducing challenge. One game franchise that doesn’t feature maps is the Uncharted series. Although these games are linear, the levels are still sizable and it’s easy to get lost or take wrong turns. But the players rarely do so. Naughty Dog brilliantly uses environmental cues to guide the player along its levels without them even realizing it half the time. Let’s look at the elements they use… Weenies This term was coined by Walt Disney and is in splendid effect in all Disney theme parks. Weenies are basically architectural or visual magnets that draw people towards them (usually towards where the park designer wants the to go). Magic Kingdom has Cinderella Castle. Epcot Center has Spaceship Earth. The Animal Kingdom has the Tree of Life. And so on and so forth. People can see these structures looming over their line of vision from anywhere in the park. They provide navigational grounding and a ‘place to go to’. They are always situated at the center of the park, so that people visit most of the attractions along the way as they head towards the weenie. All four Uncharted games use weenies regularly. There’s always some temple, castle, tower, or marketplace in the distance that your in-game partners point out at the beginning of the level, and that you spend most of the level traveling towards. French castle in Uncharted 3 Another Uncharted 3 weenie Tower in Uncharted 2 (I don’t know why the lights are still on) Radio tower weenie in Uncharted 3 Blinking light weenie in Uncharted 4 Island weenie in Uncharted 4 Naughty Dog have used weenies in their other magnum opus series, The Last Of Us, as well. Like dependable North Stars, these weenies successfully guide players lost in digital seas. Light In the book ‘100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People’, Susan Weinschenk writes about the importance of central and peripheral vision. As the first thing people see, central vision should ideally encompass the critical elements that the designer wants the player to see. Peripheral vision acts as a context-setter and validator of central vision; if the elements in peripheral vision are dissonant with those in central vision, the player’s mind jars and the designer-player communication link breaks down. The Uncharted games use light and central vision to their advantage. In levels with darkness (and some without), light is strategically placed in the player’s central vision as a marker for progress. For example, when you explore the cavernous London underground in Uncharted 3, floodlit tunnels point you forward. Like so Or when you’re breaking into a Turkish museum to ‘borrow’ a priceless lamp, light splattered on the walls highlight where Flynn plans to use his grapple rope. Naughty Dog definitely thought ahead These light-based markers are even more important in levels where speed is paramount, such as the flashback chase sequence in Uncharted 3. As young Nathan races up the stairs to a locked door, the camera angle brings a small window above the door (with light streaming from it) into focus, and players instinctively jump through it, congratulating themselves for a quick and smart choice. Little do they know of the deliberate design choice that made the choice for them. Color In the ‘100 Things…’ book, Susan Weinschenk also talks about a concept called chromostereopsis, the color combination in two-dimensional pictures that acts as a visual illusion and gives a perception of depth and contrast. Although the Uncharted levels are certainly not two-dimensional, color contrast is cleverly used to bring interactable objects into focus. Naughty Dog seem to be fans of yellow. In detailed levels where objects that can and cannot be ‘grabbed’ are tough to distinguish, yellow is usually a good indicator to take that leap of faith. For example, in the memorable opening sequence of Uncharted 2, yellow rails underneath the hanging train are more often than not the places you need to jump to. The pirate ship levels in Uncharted 3 are a veritable sea of yellow. The bars you’re on are yellow… …and so are the bars you jump to Here’s more… …and more The best place yellow came to my rescue was in these levels. In one particular stage, right after two long fight sequences that involved swimming and ship-jumping, I was stranded on a platform with no idea where to go next. I snooped around an oblong yellow bar, and lo and behold. I just had to push a crate attached to it so that it lowered and made a forward path. The yellow bar showed me… …the way forward Motion The eyes focus where they see motion. The Uncharted games use this trick fairly subtly, both as foreshadowing tools and navigational guides. In the Uncharted 2 opening, Nathan wakes up battered and bloodied on the seat of a train. He looks outside the window and sees snow whipping past it, sideways. Why sideways? Because the train is hanging off a precipice, as he finds out a second later. The motion of the snow is a great touch of detail that adds to the overall awe of this opening. ‘What…?’ is right Or take the previously mentioned flashback chase sequence in Uncharted 3. When young Nathan jumps onto a rooftop, suited goons cut off his path from the left. Where does he go? Barely visible on the first playthrough, a flock of birds take flight as soon as Nathan lands on the rooftop and flee towards the right. The players’ eyes follow instinctively and they turn Nathan right without even thinking about it. And of course that’s where they have to go. Using motion as a navigational aid Pretty neat. Affordances A final word on ramp-shaped aids that Naughty Dog use regularly in chase sequences. Player mental models are well developed enough to know that when they see a ramp, they move towards it and jump off it. Ramp-shaped stairs in Uncharted 4 Jump off the ramp and onto the lampposts Ramp during chase sequence There’s plenty more to dissect from each Uncharted game, but I’ll leave it here for now. Let me know if I’ve missed something out or got something wrong! References (for screenshots and content ideas) Game Maker’s Toolkit: Game Design Conference: MrSkillToKill2: *Note: This article is republished in full on Next Level Design with permission from the author. Source: Follow Abhishek Twitter: Medium: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
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  20. I know I’m late to the Hollow Knight party myself, but if anyone out there still hasn’t played this magical arthropod adventure, do yourself a $14.99 favor and fall into Hallownest — you won’t regret it. And you do fall into it literally and otherwise; over 40 or so hours, as I descended down Hollow Knight’s subterranean realm of rain-soaked cities, cavernous sewers, and verdant gardens, so did my mind sink into perfecting its laser-precise combat system, deciphering its blink-and-miss story moments, and unraveling its interconnected worlds. The premise of Hollow Knight is simple and light on exposition. You’re a small skull-faced wraith armed with a nail and charged with exploring the decaying, sparsely inhabited kingdom of Hallownest where something has clearly gone wrong. And Team Cherry certainly kept the theme of exploration as a guidepost while designing the game. Here’s Ari Gibson, co-director of Team Cherry in an interview with PC Gamer: "A lot of these decisions we’re making, a lot of the scale and the rooms we build, all of it’s built around this sense of discovery. Exploration and discovery." In this article, I’ll be looking at how Hollow Knight crafts a navigation system that stays true to these themes of exploration and discovery by making players earn their progress in areas that are taken for granted in other games. /// Map-rotransactions Plentiful navigational aids are the norm in video games today, almost to a point where they’re counterproductive. It’s a tough tightrope to walk — provide too many map markers, waypoints, and HUDs and risk spoon-feeding players to the point of boredom, or provide too few aids and risk players banging their heads against dead-ends and cul-de-sacs in frustration. Hollow Knight breaks this navigational dilemma into individual components and essentially lets each player walk their own customized tightrope. Hollow Knight’s main navigational aids are a map, a compass to orientate the player, and pins/markers to highlight areas of interest in the map such as benches (which are checkpoints), stagways and tram stations (which are fast travel points), shops to buy and sell items, and so on. Prima facie, this sounds like a lot of navigational help, but they’re a final state that players have to work towards (if they so choose). When the game begins, you have no map, no compass or markers, nothing. Just you and your raggedy nail plummet down into The Forgotten Crossroads, the first big area of Hallownest, and start exploring. After some puttering about, you run into Cornifer, a cheerful cartographer that offers to sell you a map of the area. Find Cornifer in each area to access that area’s (incomplete) map. He mentions that a map alone will mean little and that his wife Iselda has a store in the village above ground that will help you make more sense of your surroundings. Find Iselda in Dirtmouth to fill in your map. It’s in this shop where you can buy a compass that tells you where you are on the map, a quill to fill in parts of the map you explore, and markers for areas of interest that can be placed on the map (either automatically or by the players). Menu of markers and pins that can be purchased for your map. Hollow Knight does a few things right here: It lets players choose the level of navigational support they want. If someone isn’t very skilled at mental models and spatial awareness, they can purchase every marker possible and have their map be a guiding light. If players are more confident of finding their way around (or if they just like the feeling of unforeseen dangers lurking around every corner), then they can choose not to purchase an area’s map from Conifer and go in blind. Even activating many navigational aids doesn’t make the game too easy to explore. The game does this by providing an incomplete ‘fog-of-war’ map from Cornifer every time — it’s up to players to fill it in. Any markers that are bought from the shop also only identify areas of the map where players have already been. So you won’t know bench locations in a new area in advance. Buying the bench pin automatically updates the map with bench locations (that you’ve already been to). Hollow Knight turns basic navigational questions (questions that are usually imperative for game design to answer accurately) such as… Where am I? Where am I? Where do I go from here? …into player-driven choices that require effort and sacrifice. It’s a game about exploration and discovery, after all. Exploration as a gameplay loop Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania, although Team Cherry wouldn’t necessarily apply that label. This roughly means: It has large interconnected areas filled with obstacles and power-ups. The player is able to access new areas by gaining these power-ups and getting stronger in the process. There’s a fair amount of ‘backtracking’ (going through the same areas twice) and getting lost. A simplified version of Hollow Knight’s main gameplay loop is shown below. Once players enter a new area, there’s usually a stiff test to overcome (either a boss battle or a platforming gauntlet) and a new player ability lies at the end of that test. Having gained the new ability, players can now access new areas by using that ability. For example, you enter the Forgotten Crossroads… …to ultimately fight the False Knight (a boss battle). After defeating the False Knight, you gain a new spell-casting ability… …and use this ability to defeat a hitherto invincible enemy… …that was blocking entry into the next area, Greenpath. While loops like this drive the overall narrative, Hollow Knight also has shorter, exploration-focused gameplay loops within each area to help instill a sense of progress as players move towards the end goal of that area. Hollow Knight’s shorter, exploration-focused gameplay loop. When you first enter an area, you don’t have a map for it because you haven’t met Cornifer the map-maker yet. So you explore away, relying on mental models as you succumb to the wonders of the next room and the room after that. All on your own. Hollow Knight never gives you anything for free, but that doesn’t mean finding Cornifer is a completely hit-or-miss exercise. The game provides signifiers of Cornifer’s presence in the form of a paper trail and the sound of him humming a merry tune to guide you along. There you are! Once you have your admittedly rudimentary map, you continue to explore, but this time with a completionist’s itch to turn the rough pencil-strokes of your current map into the high-definition exhibit of penmapship that it’ll undoubtedly become. Turn this… …into this. Apart from the signifiers to Cornifer’s location mentioned earlier, Hollow Knight makes another design choice that, in my opinion, is meant to encourage exploration and map-filling as a gameplay loop. Once you have an area’s map (and your quill), new areas explored will automatically be filled in whenever you save the game or die. This is a game that’s notoriously tough and follows some Dark Souls tenets like taking away all your Geo (currency) whenever you die and forcing you to go back to the location of your death to get it back. But while it takes away some progress as a punishment for dying, it lets you keep your map progress. It’s a stick-and-carrot balance that feels like the game’s telling you, “Yes, this is tough, but now you know what’s around the corner. Try again.” I don’t know what’s real anymore I strongly think that how “real” a game feels doesn’t depend on its graphical fidelity or accurate imitations of real life at all. A game feels “real” when it makes you believe in its setting (however conventionally unrealistic that setting may be) with in-world consistency and a sense of personality. It’s tough to put this exercise into some standardized ten-step process, but executing correct UI choices will usually make the cut. Hollow Knight combines two design considerations, one atmosphere-focused and the other gameplay-focused… Hallownest, a once-vibrant kingdom now swimming in its own detritus, would have had road signs to help travelers find their way. Players will need some guidance when they’re exploring new areas of the map. …by including in-game signs for benches, tram stations, stagways, and more. For example, once you’re in the Royal Waterways, the winding sewers beneath Hallownest’s main city, you soon see a picture of a bench scrawled with chalk on the wall. Time for some well-earned rest. Or if you’re mulling around in the Forgotten Crossroads, you see a sign with a bug and some tracks, leading you to a Stag Station that opens up fast travel to other areas of Hallownest. This sign… …leads to this. These signs are a good example of diegetic UI, which refers to UI elements that are part of the game world and can be seen by both you (the player) and the player-character. It’s not the right UI choice for every game, but usually hits the mark when it simultaneously helps players and builds a sense of consistency and depth in the game world. How Firewatch’s UI enhances immersion Hollow Knight is filled with bits of diegetic UI and signifiers. Almost every bench and fast travel point is earmarked with signs. A swordsmith you can visit near the City of Tears is signified with a sign and a series of failed swords strewn along your path. And your map itself is diegetic, since you physically acquire it within the game and update it with markers and tags that are also real within the game. The game doesn’t pause when you view this map , which is a small but important touch that makes Hallownest feel real. This article is not meant as design truism. Maybe the design choices mentioned above won’t work for your game, and maybe they didn’t work in Hollow Knight for you. But for me, exploring a game’s world has rarely been so organic yet authored, tough yet fair, and mystical yet real. For more stuff on game design, you can visit my Medium profile to read my other articles or follow me on Twitter. Thanks for reading! *Note: This article is republished in full on Next Level Design with permission from the author. Source: Follow Abhishek Twitter: Medium: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  21. Intro This is one in a series of blog posts/articles I’m writing to describe my game design methodology. In the first article, I named the system “Trinity” – but I mentioned that I had to lay a bunch of pipe before I could describe why. I have now laid enough pipe, and in this article I’m going to go over (in the most general terms) why I called it that. There are a lot of “things” that make up a game, and I like to break them down into three categories – like smashing an atom into a proton, a neutron, and an electron. In my method, these three categories are super-important. They apply at every level of my decision making process, so this article is going to be all about the three categories. (Link to Part 8) The “Trinity” There are at least 3 basic categories that everything in a game can be broken down into, which I call “Context,” “Theatrics,” and “Questions.” All three components are equally important. They also depend on each other. Like load-bearing pillars, if one falls the others aren’t going to hold the roof up by themselves. This is so important, I’m going to restate it: Context, Theatrics, and Questions are the building blocks of a game. All three are equally important, and they are all interdependent. “Context” is about the creative agenda (and if you’re selling the game, the business agenda). “Theatrics” is about flashy showiness – audio-visual aids that help the game communicate with players. “Questions” is about interactivity – anything interactive falls into this group. Each adds a different “flavor” to the game soup, as I’ll get into below. Context (Spicy) Context is the game’s “spiciness” – it’s what gives it a certain flavor, or character. Often Context is based on real-world concerns like budget or audience, but also deals with creative or artistic concerns like art style and theme. Context is a patchwork creative agenda comprised of the needs, vision, and craft of everyone who works on a game. It is the harmony of intentions across the entire team – both at the developer and (if applicable) the publisher or money-people. Some examples of Context in a game: The game’s overall art style (grounding Theatrics) The game’s plot The business model Supported platforms The game’s theme/message The game’s genre or intended audience (grounding Questions) The budget Etc… Context provides the spice to a game like Chess. The game could be much more abstract (e.g. the pieces could be colored cubes with names like “piece A,” “piece B,” etc) but instead the game was themed as a medieval war with ranks of pawns, knights, bishops, fortifications, kings, and queens. The medieval war metaphor grounds the game in an idiom that makes it more understandable (and perhaps enjoyable). Books are the most famous Context-based medium out there. Unless you’re talking about a popup or gimmick book, most books don’t use audio-visual Theatrics. The story is not usually interactive so Questions are not an issue either – the medium thrives entirely on things that fall into the group I’m calling Context. Theatrics (Juicy) Theatrics represent the “Juicy” parts of a game — the flashy showiness and clever trickery that often makes the difference between bad, good, or great. Theatrics are audio-visual in nature, and serve to deliver the game’s Context and Questions. Some examples of Theatrics: Visual effects (particles, scrolling textures, etc) Musical stingers Cutscenes (delivering Context) Sound effects Camera shakes Force feedback Stagecraft in Player-VS-Player games Enemy attack telegraph animations (delivering Questions) Etc… Popcap’s Peggle is a great example of theatrics all-around. But check out the video below for my favorite bit — EXTREME FEVER!!! Theatrics provides the juice to a game like “Mouse Trap.” “Mouse Trap” is essentially “Chutes and Ladders” with great Theatrics. Check out the video below to see what I mean. Flip the man in the pan and the ball rolls down into the rub-a-dub-tub and the cage comes down and whaaaaaaa? Not surprisingly, Theatre and Movies are the most famous Theatrics-based medium out there. Unless you’re talking about Improvisation, Experimental Theatre, or Point Break Live, most times you go to see a play it is not interactive – same with movies – so Questions don’t come into play. You’ll notice, though, that Context is still VERY relevant (budget affects what kinds of effects you’ll be able to use, who can write your music, your plot, theme, art style, and so forth). Questions (Crunchy) One of the premises we’ve been building on so far in these articles is that games are fundamentally a conversation between the designer and a player. The designer asks Questions and provides the player with Tools to answer the Question. This idea of Questions – of an interaction between the player and the designer – is central to this third, interactive axis of Trinity. Questions deepen a game. Side note on “Crunchy”: I play a lot of tabletop RPGs – and have since I was in high school. Some of the role playing systems we used were much more complex than others, and generally the more complex they got the “crunchier” they got (referring to the amount of number-crunching you’d have to do to find out what happens). Because of this I have always associated “crunchiness” with the ways players interact with a game. The more rules there are to interact with, the crunchier it gets. One time we played a system so complicated I couldn’t create my character without a complicated Excel spreadsheet. This was not the same game as when my friends used calculus to figure out if they could conjure enough acid to dissolve a dragon trapped inside a hemispherical wall of force, in case you were wondering. Some examples of Questions: What weapon will be most effective against this enemy setup? What Tetris piece will drop next? Which building/unit should I build next? Should I sacrifice my knight to take the bishop? How do all the pieces work? How do I find the programmer’s hidden name in Adventure? Quick-time Events (QTEs) – (deepening Theatrics and Context) (Essentially, “what are the rules” and “how can I apply them creatively.”) Smashing Particles I can’t go into any depth on this for this installment, but I wanted to mention this: I used the metaphor of smashing an atom earlier – but what happens when you smash it down even further? These three pillars of Trinity (Questions, Context, and Theatrics) are fractal in nature. That means if you smash any one of them open, you’ll see all three of them inside. Split a game into these three parts, and any further split will also break down into these three parts – just smaller. No matter what I’m using it for, I view every aspect of a game through this lens. When I design a puzzle, I consider all three. When I write a story, I consider all three. When I decide what technology to use, I consider all three. And so on, forever. No matter how far down I go into a game’s design or production, I see whatever I’m looking at through these three pillars. What do I use it for? Mostly I use it when I’m designing a feature to make sure I consider every angle. As I mentioned above, this doesn’t matter how big or small, meta or micro, the feature is – I try to see how all three parts apply. I sometimes use it to break down games when I’m studying them to see what I can use, but that’s not mainly how I apply it. *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  22. Intro This is the latest in a series of articles I’m writing to describe the way I approach game design. The last installation was on “Ramps” – essentially a tool for scaling intensity over time. This article builds on the last one, so if you haven’t read it yet I’d recommend you do that first. (Link to Part 7) This installation is going to be on a concept I call “Paths.” I’m going to need this concept to explain something else further down the line, so I wanted to outline it now. I’m planning on fleshing the concept out a bit more when I return to it later. Path: One or more Ramps comprising a connection between multiple parts of your game. For example, I often talk about the “Critical Path” – the simplest collection of Ramps and Nodes that connects the beginning of a game to the end (if the game has such a thing). A Path can be very small or very large, depending on how you apply the concept. It can refer to small part of a single level of your game or it could refer to a huge web of ramps spanning the far extents of your game. Note how the Paths contain both Ramps and the “hub areas” before and after Common Path Types This list is not comprehensive, but the three types of Paths I outline below make up what I see in maybe 80% of all games out there, so I wanted to bring them up. They are: Linear Forked Spiderweb Note how the Paths contain both Ramps and the “hub areas” before and after Linear Linear Paths are one contiguous series of Ramps and areas (perhaps with small offshoots for non-Critical Path bonuses). One Ramp leads to another until the level is done. Note that many linear Paths (like the one in the diagram above) have short offshoots for rewards, secrets, sub-missions, or optional objectives, but those almost always return to a hub back on the linear Path after a short time. Note how the areas connect together in a linear fashion The above image is a map of the first level in Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, The Flying Lab on planet Aranos. The player starts at the bottom of the map and has to get to the top. Note how the areas connect together in a linear fashion. Forked Two or more Linear Paths joined by a “hub” area. This is the second level of the same game (Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando), and this level has a forked Path structure. The player starts at the orange star and has a choice of two Paths to go down (A and B). Each loops back to the start hub when it is done, and each one is linear. Path C is grafted onto the end of Path B, and when you finish it you can shortcut back to the hub area. Spiderwebs A spiderweb contains many forked Paths and many hub areas all joined together. This wasn’t a structure we used much in the Ratchet and Clank series – you tend to see it more in games like Skyrim, Fallout, or the Deus Ex franchise. Players are allowed a number of possible solutions to many problems they encounter. Because of its complexity compared to the other two, I don’t have a good way of visually representing this, so let me give you an example. In the Deus Ex franchise, for example, there are often three or more ways to solve a problem: Combat You versus enemies Stealth/Hacking Avoid and find shortcuts Special ability (super-jump, punch through walls, etc) The player has many context-sensitive abilities such as punching through walls. Often problems will allow the use of one of these abilities as a solution. Each of these Paths through a challenge involve separate Ramps. For example, there’s a mission in Deus Ex 1 where the player needs to get into a building. The player can go in through the front door, but then the only option is a bloody fight with the guards. As another option, the player can find a secret passage by hacking a soda machine found in a different part of the level and get in that way without having to fight. As a third option, if the player has purchased enough ranks in the super strength augmentation, the player can lift some heavy boxes blocking a back-way into the building and thus either avoid combat or get the ability to sneak up behind patrols you otherwise couldn’t sneak past. (Link to Part 9 - To be Updated) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  23. Titanfall 2 does so many things well. It has surprisingly robust character-building for a shooter, creating an endearing and believable camaraderie between pilot Jack Cooper and his iron giant buddy BT. Its single-player campaign is short, varied, and intense, packing more into 5 hours than most games do in 15. But perhaps the most impressive feat that Respawn Entertainment’s metal gnashing fun-fest has accomplished is unifying all of the game’s design systems to incentivize one core feeling: speed. For the uninitiated, Titanfall 2’s premise is simple. Militia rifleman Jack Cooper gets a pilot’s life foisted upon him after his mentor dies in battle, leaving Jack and his robot BT-7274 (the thing he ‘pilots’) to go on all manner of death-defying high jinks in an attempt to defeat the evil IMC. The game’s not winning any awards for its story, but you hardly pay attention to the occasionally hackneyed tale when the gameplay is so breathlessly enjoyable. Let’s take a look at how Titanfall 2 uses all the weapons in its game design arsenal to make being a pilot feel so fast. /// Movement For a game built around rapid motion as one of its lodestones, design decisions around player movement are critical, and Titanfall 2 hits it out of the park. The basic move set lays the foundation: the pilot can use his suit to double jump, wall run on vertical surfaces, slide on the ground, and cloak for short periods of time. But the game deliberately subverts industry design norms while implementing these features, incentivizing you to chain these forms of movement into an offensive orchestra during both platforming and combat. Wall runs: When the pilot wall runs, his speed increases with time. This encourages you to chain wall runs with other forms of movement, use wall runs to both attack and evade enemies, and, most importantly, look to start the next wall run as soon as the current one is done. You’re safest when you’re at speed, and wall runs (against conventional logic) help you gain speed. The level environments are also generously sprinkled with surfaces to wall run on, both during scripted story sequences and otherwise, leading you to find creative ways of downing enemies. Definitely more satisfying than a normal knife to the back Slides: Just like wall runs, when the pilot slides, his speed increases with time before coming to a stop. This, coupled with the long duration of a single slide, means that you can use this game mechanic as an offensive maneuver rather than just a retreat to find cover. Again, just like with wall runs, the sine wave of increase-then-decrease of slide speed makes you want to start the next slide that much sooner. The speed of a slide increases with time before coming to a stop Cloak: The pilot can cloak for a vanishingly small amount of time. Titanfall 2 — at least the single player campaign — is not a stealth game, so it was important not to unintentionally hand players a ‘safe’ combination of mechanics that could be used to finish most missions (think MGS Phantom Pain and the silenced pistol). The limited cloak time and the much longer time it takes for the ability to recharge means that you either use it to get out of a jam or to get a drop on unsuspecting enemies. But then the cloak is gone (at least for a while) and you’re back to the usual trapeze artist madness. Cloak in moderation is good for you Other nice touches like being able to change direction in mid-air during double jumps and choosing an ‘always be sprinting’ option from Settings also add to this fast, movement-chain friendly navigation. Enemies Not to diss any other shooters, but you know how enemies in many modern day FPS games are often the same basic unit with more armor and perhaps different weapons? When there’s minimal distinction between the various enemies you encounter, your mind naturally gravitates towards the single optimal way to defeat them. This leads to repetitive combat, which leads to an ultimately monotonous gaming experience. Titanfall 2 circumvents this trope wonderfully through the use of orthogonal unit differentiation. This design principle basically refers to multiple game elements having different functions, forcing you to adopt varying strategies and behaviors while encountering each element. Titanfall 2 has enemies that differ in their speed, damage quantity, and type of attack, and this makes you evolve and adjust with each enemy encounter. This very rudimentary graph highlights Titanfall 2’s enemy variety Grunt: The most basic enemy in the game, this unit is a foot-soldier with limited ability and intelligence. They have a hit scan attack, which means you can’t dodge their bullets when you’re in their sights. The grunt’s hit scan attacks Although individually not that dangerous, Grunts can be formidable in groups, will call for backup, and sometimes have shields that force you to navigate (again, at speed) around them for a hit. A grunt’s shield Stalker: This is a robotic enemy that differs from grunts enough for players to employ new strategies while fighting. They do more damage and are faster than grunts. Rather than just hang around, Stalkers come right at the player, forcing them to get out of cover and showcase that speed. They also have projectile weapons that can be dodged. A stalker comes right at you and hits you with projectiles Drones: These are flying robots that, just like Stalkers, are fast, come right at the player, and fire projectiles that can be dodged. But also, just like Grunts, they attack in groups. By combining bits of other enemies’ behavior, you have a completely new one that must be dealt in a unique manner. Groups of drones can be very frustrating to handle Prowler: Lizard creatures that are insanely fast and rush to bite and maul the player. I’ve categorized them in the graph as CQC or Close Quarters Combat. A different enemy in design and behavior, not just in graphical veneers and name. Prowlers can kill you in seconds if you’re not careful Tick: Robotic arachnids that make a beeline for the player before exploding. They have huge speed and damage, but from a tactical standpoint, their damage hurts other enemies too. If two of these go off in quick succession… I could go on and on, but the central thesis is this: when you’re in a massive arena with all these enemy types, the battle is almost like speed chess on steroids. Because there are enemies that rush directly at you, sniping them all away while sitting behind cover is useless. Because many enemies have projectile attacks that can be dodged, you feel confident jumping and sliding their way around them. And because each enemy has a unique set of attacks and behaviors, your mind (and your character) is whirring at mach speed as you make decisions while bunny hopping your way to victory. Level Design If these core mechanics weren’t enough, Titanfall 2 also has delightfully unique levels that are all geared towards making you take faster decisions and navigate the landscape quickly. So you will be time traveling in one level, taking on different enemy sets in both the past and the present… Best level ever …and jumping from wall to wall while also traveling through time. Ever Another level has you in a manufacturing facility, traipsing your way through the interiors as the level literally moves around you. Factory fun Two levels later, you’re armed with a retrofitted weapon that can move platforms and you basically create the level as your rush to your escape. What does this button do? Two things to note here: Although the themes of these levels are separate, they all feed into the central game feel of breakneck speed by making both navigation and combat faster and more challenging. The themes are abandoned after the levels are complete, preventing any feeling of drudgery or sameness and leaving you wanting more. /// Titanfall 2 is not a perfect game. There still are environments that feel similar and enemy encounters that make you think ‘I did something like this two hours ago’. But these foibles pale in comparison to its most towering success: the conceptualization and execution of a distinct game feel. A game feel of speed. You feel like a maverick pilot with a planet-hopping jumpsuit every second, from initial training to dramatic denouement. And all of the game’s systems — movement, enemies, level design, and more — coalesce with the aim of making you feel that way. Know any other games that have executed game feel successfully? Any other things in Titanfall 2 that I missed out? Let me know in the comments! *Note: This article is republished in full on Next Level Design with permission from the author. Source: Follow Abhishek Twitter: Medium: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  24. Intro This is one in a series of articles I’m writing to describe the way I approach game design. In this article, I’m going to show you a trick I like to use that helps me create good pacing in my designs. I was originally planning on showing and writing about how this kind of pacing looks in a recently-released game (namely The Talos Principle), but it became a bit too much to handle for a one-week article. I’ve put pictures and my notes in the Appendix, so hopefully they will be useful for someone. (Link to Part 6) Ramps A Ramp is a pattern of increases and decreases to Intensity over the course of a game segment, created with the purpose of achieving a desired balance between Intensity and Rest. I talk more about Ramps (which I called Intensity Ramps) in the previous article. As you can see in the diagram below (from Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses), Ramps are not linear slopes, but rather contain many peaks and valleys. As mentioned in the previous article, this is because of Principle #5: “If it’s always ‘turned up to eleven’, eleven becomes the new five.” In other words, if intensity does not vary between parts of a game, you effectively have no intensity. Usually a Ramp increases in intensity over time and contains many small Rests. Not every game will want the same kind of Intensity Ramping. Some will want a steeper overall curve, some will want a shallower one, and some may even want one that trends down in Intensity over time. When I’m designing part of a game, I create Ramps for many different purposes, but always with the goal of balancing Rest and Intensity in a way that best suits the game I’m making. A Trick to Create a Ramp Using Archetypes Learning the ABCs As we’ve talked about before, Archetypes represent the extreme edges of your game’s design. To begin creating a Ramp, first I make a list of all the Archetypes I have available to me in the part of the game I’m currently designing and assign each one a letter. (The order doesn’t really matter that much for now.) For example, let’s say I’m designing an early level of a game that uses the same kind of combat system we’ve been developing over the course of this series, except you can only attack by jumping on an enemy. It’s early-on, so let’s say my available Archetypes are restricted to these three: Swarmer (Small, dies in a single hit, best in large groups) Ranged Enemy (Stands in one place and shoots at you) Terrain Gaps (You can fall in and enemies can shoot over it) To create a Ramp out of these, I combine the letters in such a way that Principle #3 is always followed: Principle #3: Let the player interact with your Questions and their Tools in a simple way before requiring them to interact with them in a complex way. This means that when you combine the letters together, you must introduce each letter to the player in a simple way before increasing complexity. Each group of letters, when you’re done, represents a Setup for you to design the specifics of. And the order of the Setups automatically Ramps in the way we just discussed. Note: Additionally, it’s very important never to re-use a combination of letters within the same Ramp. If the point of this is to ask the player Questions, repeating the Question will get boring for the player very quickly. Fortunately, this method tends to give me more than enough setup ideas than I usually need for a single Ramp. For example: A | B | AB | C | AC | BC | ABC Using this trick allows you to increase the intensity of your setups over time without having to first design all the setups out in their entirety. This tends to save a lot of time. Note: The letter means “one or more of this archetype” – in the above example the first setup could be designed to have either a single enemy of type A, or many, and the pacing still works. Rests Principle #4: An intensity ramp is not a linear increase in intensity, but rather a “lumpy” one. Rest periods are as important as active periods. In the technique I showed above, a good place for a rest is after you’ve combined some archetypes, but before you add a new one. For Example: A | B | AB | REST | C | AC | BC | REST | ABC Designing Setups Based on the Ramp Given the Ramp we’ve just created, I’ll now show you how I’d put it all together to design a Ramped series of Enemy Setups. For simplicity, rather than creating a player and some weapons from scratch, I’m designing these assuming the player is small Mario from Super Mario World. Mario, when small, can run forward and backwards, he can jump, and that’s it. If he jumps on top of (stomps) an enemy, the enemy dies. If Mario is touched by an enemy in any other way, falls in a pit, or is touched by a projectile, Mario dies. To illustrate what a first-pass design using a Ramp might look like, I cobbled together this rough Mario segment design Mario starts on the left side of the image and wants to run all the way to the right side. On the way, he encounters the Ramped Setups we created out of Archetypes. A – Three Swarmers on a flat plane. (Note that it’s not restricted to a single instance of the Archetype.) B – The player must approach the Ranged enemy, wait till there’s a gap in the hammers, and run through. AB – Adding height to this setup allows me to present both the Ranged and the Swarmer at the same time. The player now has to wait for an opening and then time a jump to avoid or stomp the Swarmers. REST – Optional coins and power-up blocks along a segment of nonthreatening flat ground. The player then goes down the green pipe and ends up in the underground section below (the left-most pipe is the segment start). C – Jump over a gap. Since this is the first one, I’ve put blocks below so the player doesn’t die. AC – Swarmers patrol the far side of the gap, so the player has to time a jump to avoid or stomp. BC – The player has to time a jump between the gaps in the hammers, then time a jump over the Ranged (or time a stomp). REST – A large coin “hidden” up off the screen, along with some power-up blocks on flat terrain ABC – All of the challenges are here together. Additionally, players can only stomp the first Ranged if they climb up and get the “Secret” large coin from the rest area. Conclusion In this article we went over a trick that I use to create Ramps. Next article we’ll be combining Ramps into Paths, and Paths into Levels. After that, we should have enough information for us to “zoom out” again (two articles from now) and begin to talk about the reasons why I call this series “Trinity.” Appendix Originally I wanted to write an analysis of the puzzle game The Talos Principle to demonstrate how this kind of pacing shows up out in the real world, but I ran out of time to do a full write-up of it this week. I did, however, make some images and a few notes, so I wanted to include those here in case people can get anything out of them. First Six Puzzles (Training) These first six setups are the first six of the game. You have to go through them in this order. Learn that there are force fields you are allowed to walk through. Learn that there are force fields you can NOT walk through. Learn to use a Jammer to disable the force-field so you can get past it. There are dangerous mines that patrol on a path. The Jammers work on them, too (the circled thing is a Turret). The Jammers work on Turrets TOO! They introduced all the elements in training. When you’re done with that, the next puzzles begin to overlap all the elements (I only finished diagramming the first puzzle) After the training, the game becomes less linear and gives you a pool of puzzles. This is the easiest one / the one with the fewest overlapping elements. Upper: Use the Jammer (cyan) to block the Turret (yellow) so you can turn it off with a switch (red). Lower: Now that the Turret is off, use the same Jammer to jam the Mine (bottom right), then win. (Link to Part 8) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  25. Intro: This is one part in a series of articles that will attempt to explain how I think when I design. The purpose of these articles is not as much to provide a hands-on practical approach – just to explain how I do stuff. Once I finish this series, I’ll focus on some more practical applications of this stuff. (Link to Part 5) Important Points from Previous Articles The Big Principle: A game is fundamentally a conversation between the designer and the player. Principle #1: As a game designer, your job is to ask your players Questions. The players’ job is to answer those questions using the Tools you give them. Archetypes: Very typical examples of one of the extreme boundaries of your game’s design. Setups: Variously-sized groups of Archetypes, all combined together to ask the player a unique Question. Intensity and Ramps This week I’m going to introduce the subjects of “Intensity” and “Ramps,” which I’ll define later on. I’ll be developing these concepts further next week when I talk about how knowing about these helps you decide what Archetypes go in a Setup (see the previous article for more about Archetypes and Setups). Before diving into the guts of this piece, I need to define a couple of terms. Difficulty First off, I’m going to be using the term “Difficulty” a little differently than most people do – and I want to be clear up front that it’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about Intensity. As with everything else in this series, I’m not doing this to imply that my way is somehow better or more correct. It’s just necessary that you understand how I’m using it here to avoid potential confusion. “Difficulty”, as I use it, doesn’t really measure how hard content is for any given player. It measures the difference between players. For example, if you measure, say, how long it takes different players to complete various levels and record how many times they died, you can know whether Level 1 in your game can be said to be objectively harder or easier than Level 1 in another game (at least in terms of those two things you’re measuring). Further, you’d be able to rank the players’ comparative skill in those areas, like with a leaderboard. Difficulty: The objective difference in complexity or required skill between multiple games or players. “Objective difference” is used to mean “the view from outside the player.” It is externally comparative. Difficulty is a very important aspect of game design, and I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring it. In this early-on phase of design, though, I don’t find it particularly useful to think about how objectively hard my content will be. Intensity Early in the design process, I care most about how hard my content will be compared to the content that surrounds it. The word I use for that is “Intensity.” Intensity – The subjective difference in complexity or required skill between different parts of the same game. “Subjective difference” is used to mean “the view from inside the player.” For example, let’s say I created two levels (1 and 2), where the second level was supposed to be more Difficult than the first. A pro gamer, a novice, or my dad would each have different subjective experiences of how hard those levels were, but if I’ve done my job right they would all agree that Level 2 is more Difficult than Level 1. Intensity measures the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 in terms of how hard it was for a given player. Note that Intensity does not compare multiple players or various games to each other – it only takes into account one specific game and one specific player, namely: The player who is currently playing your game. Intensity and Pacing Pacing Pacing is the ratio of Intensity to Rest over the course of a segment of your game. A great example of good pacing can be seen in the recent film Mad Max: Fury Road. Commonly described by reviewers as “a two hour long chase scene” – the movie nonetheless does a masterful job of balancing rest time for the viewers without destroying the forward momentum that makes that movie so great to watch. The two most clever rests I can think of in that movie are: The chase sequence through the crazy tornado storm The part where they get stuck in the mud. Both are action packed and intense, but they mark a clear change of intensity and pace when compared to the surrounding scenes. During the chase through the tornados, the audio fades down and everything seems to move in slow motion. The cars are still moving and getting ripped apart, but the intensity has died down – the viewer gets a rest. The color palette cools down, the action slows,the music ducks itself, and even the carnage shown in this shot feels restful. This keeps the viewers from getting worn out by constant action. In the “stuck in the mud” scene, the color palette changes abruptly to night and the motion of the cars actually stops for a while – but the action goes on. The characters are under threat, need to get out of the mud, and are being chased by an insane person. There’s even a cool explosion during this scene. And nevertheless it acts as a down-pacing moment. It gets you emotionally ready for the action that is to come, and makes that action (when it comes) feel much more intense by comparison. Again the colors cool down. In this scene the main motion of the cars stop while the characters dig it out, but there are still plenty of explosions, cars with tank treads, and gunfire. This is a great example of the application of what I’m going to call “Principle #5”: Principle #5: If it’s always “turned up to eleven,” eleven becomes the new five. (I know I haven’t done Principles 3 and 4 yet, but I HAD to make this one either number 5 or number 11, and 5 was closest. The persons responsible for this decision have been sacked). Intensity is the measure of your content as compared to other content that’s come before or to any future content in your game. This means that if I never change Intensity between the different segments of my game, my game essentially has zero Intensity. Even if objectively the whole game was brutally Difficult, players will not perceive any relative change from one segment to another. Pertaining to games, this teaches us that if you want your players to feel a change in intensity at certain points, you have to let them rest beforehand so the change is noticeable. Going from intensity 5 to intensity 11 is a big jump, but going from 10 to 11 is not. Intensity Ramps Jesse Schell, in his wonderful The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses shares an anecdote about when he learned the importance of pacing. He was working in a performing troupe and had just put on his first show. He went backstage and the head of the troupe, Mark Tripp, told them the show had been good, but not great. Their progression (pacing) had been off: “It’s simple. You need to start with more of a bang — to get their attention. Then you back off, and do something a little smaller, to give them a chance to relax, and get to know you. Then you gradually build up with bigger and bigger routines, until you give them a grand finale that exceeds their expectations.” From this experience, Dr. Schell developed the concept of “Interest Curves:” Since my time at the amusement park, I have found myself using this technique again and again when designing games… The quality of an entertainment experience can be measured by the extent to which its unfolding sequence of events is able to hold a [player’s] interest. The level of interest over the course of the experience can be plotted out in an interest curve. An example graph of what Dr. Schell calls “a successful Interest Curve.” What he calls an “interest curve” I’ve been calling “an intensity ramp” for much of my career. For the purposes of this article series we’ll use my term (to keep it easier for me) but you should know that he’s talking about exactly the same thing I am. Intensity Ramp: The measure of relative intensity and complexity between the beginning of any segment of game content, and the end of it. Intensity ramps commonly start at low intensity and increase over the course of the segment. (Link to Part 7) *Note: This article is published with permission from the author, and in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines. Source: Follow Mike Website: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord: