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  1. Level design is something you almost always have to go through when making a game, but it’s one of the most overlooked segments of game production, especially on small/indie production teams. Here I’ll try to give some advice on how to make a good level design, by using examples from my own experience. I’ll mostly use recurring games as references (Bad Company 2 and Mirror’s Edge), because they are games I played a lot and feel comfortable mentioning, and because they have fairly different gameplays.WHERE TO START ? Mirror’s Edge The first step before making any “real” level design, is to put everything in perspective before going blindly in any direction. Define what actions are allowed (and what aren’t) by the game design of your specific game, then what intentions or constraints you want on your level. Focus on what makes your game unique. What can the player(s) do in the game? What elements of my game can harm, kill or put the player(s) close to the losing conditions? Is there a theme, or a particular focus I want to put in this level/area of a level? What mechanic stands out in my game? USE GUIDELINES TO TEST & CREATE YOUR LEVEL When making MAZE’s safe zone, we put some clear guidelines down: “We want the safe zone to be square-shaped, with one door on each side of this square, and it should not take more than 30 seconds to run from one side to the other. The safezone is also a “vegetation backup” so it should contain… vegetation.” From these precise directions, we made a huge, square shaped forest, with all the liberty to put any type of vegetation, terrain modifications, little landmarks… Editor view of the safe zone (the train wreckage at the left can be used for scale) Before asking a playtester, or just other people to give you feedback on your level, you must be able to clear your own mistakes and correct your level accordingly. To do so, define key points to help you create your level. It can also help you when testing the level on your own. Having precise constraints allows you to take more liberty to design around them. In my opinion, it’s better to have some rock-hard, definite constraints than no constraints at all, especially when making a game aimed at someone other than just yourself. It gives you directions, and you can be as free as you want on every other part of your level when creating it. DESIGN LEVELS SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR GAMEThe more you design your level while keeping in mind your game design, the better it will be. An example of this can be seen clearly on Source games. When playing Counter Strike, try to play 2Fort (a Team Fortress 2 map) on a community server. You can also find any classic CS map on a custom TF2 server. If the map has not been altered, you’ll see that most of the depth of each map loses its value. It’s not as fun playing de_dust2 on TF2 as it is on CS. This is because dust2 was (brilliantly) designed with Counter Strike’s gameplay in mind, which is very different from Team Fortress 2’s. 2Fort — Team Fortress 2 Try to do the same for your levels: If your environments are imported in other games, they should not be as equally rewarding to experience than in their original game. If your level seems really classic, well, you fucked up. No harm done, but my advice at this point would be to delete completely the faulty level, erase its dullness from existence and start again, from scratch.USE REFERENCES FOR YOUR FUTURE LEVEL The most obvious references when designing a level are the visual ones. Find architectural drawings or photos who capture well what you want to implement in your environment. If you have some references & concept art used in your art direction, be sure to include them. Your artist(s) will be happy to see their work was not only used to be put on the studio walls to look cool. A reference for a level I’m working on(Photo by Asia Chmielewska) Here’s an easy trick that often pays off when I’m looking for references: If you find an image that you want to use as a reference, try to find the author of the picture. The artist’s style, eye, whatever you want to call it, will not be in the one picture you randomly found on Pinterest. Use it to your advantage. This is what I did with the photo above, and looked at other photos from Asia Chmielewska (check her out if you like architectural/urban photos she makes awesome photos). The main problem I had when making a paper level design (I’ll talk about it in literally one paragraph), is that slopes are cool, but they need to lead somewhere. So I found other references I can use to create what’s at the summit of the slope, and it will probably be super coherent because it was in the same photo collection. Neat.DESIGNING ON PAPER Once you have all this preparation part down, you can start actually designing the level… on paper. It’s way faster to iterate on paper than recreate your level digitally.  My point here is that you should find a "way" allowing you to design your level quickly, so you can iterate swiftly and easily change layouts, details etc. Most people would use paper, but if you prefer using Photoshop, Paint or woodworking, go for what is best for you. From this point on, I’ll drop different points and things I use to design levels, without any ranking. Once you are designing your level, iterating over and over again, you can use or focus on these points to help you enhance your design: VERTICALITY The intro cinematic of The Shard, Mirror’s Edge’s last level. The Shard is the tallest building in Mirror’s Edge’s city, and also the last level of the game. The introduction cinematic of the level gives you the feeling that you are against your biggest challenge, like if the building itself is the final boss. How? By making you enter from the parking underneath the overwhelmingly tall building. You haven’t even started playing this level, but you already know the stakes are high. One of the simplest elements that often separates a good level design from a bad one is verticality. Verticality creates, vantage points, Landmarks, Occlusion and Focal Points (see the other points below). Vantage points are really important to give exposition to your players. They are probably best used when creating a multiplayer map, as they can be fully utilized by players, whereas AIs usually aren’t advanced enough in games to use vantage points at their fullest. It still is important in single player games to give exposition to your players, give them a better view of what challenges will come next. It’s also a really easy way to give your player a powerful feeling. Anyone standing on top of something will tell you: you’re better here than if you were standing at ground level. Anatomically accurate representation of Verticality In MAZE, we use verticality to convey the aggressiveness and strength of the maze itself: The walls stand tall, trapping the players. The maze walls would look inoffensive if they were just too high for the player to vault over. In Mirror’s Edge, verticality is also used as an “enemy”: You have the cool, powerful feeling I described before when you are on top of a building, but you also know that if you slip, you’ll die. In short: Verticality is easy to use because it’s a natural feeling. Utilize it and don’t overthink too much.LANDMARKS Screenshots from the 3rd and 7th level, located at different places in Mirror’s Edge’s city The Shard (the big rectangular building) and the “multiple white tips” building are visible throughout the game and help players locate themselves inside the city. Valparaiso’s lighthouse (Bad Company 2) Most of Bad Company 2’s maps have a singular building, or setting, to help player differentiate the maps and also give them more personality. For example, Valparaiso’s landmark is its lighthouse. It’s probable that most players refer to Valparaiso as “the lighthouse map”. Landmarks are unique and memorable locations in your level. They help players locate themselves, in the level but also inside the whole game, and will make your area/level stand out.FOCAL POINTS The clear focal points (and landmarks) of Heavy Metal are the wind turbines. Heavy Metal is the biggest map in Bad Company 2. Heavy tanks fight each other while infantry tries to escape the firefight and go from one flag to another through areas with little to no cover, all while being careful about the choppers hovering over them. Wind turbines are scattered all along the area. Apart of being a memorable landmark, they are a really practical focal point: by looking at them, players watch the sky, and thus are reminded to be careful about the choppers in the area, as well as the many snipers who are waiting on top of the mountains on the edges of the map (and sometimes on the wind turbines). A simple focal point can change a lot on how people will experience a level. Put focal points wherever you want to guide the player’s eyes. From that point, you just have to choose how to make your focal point stand out. Going to extremes is the easiest way to go: Big, bright, colored.COVER/OCCLUSION Panama Canal — Bad Company 2 The Bad Company series offered a new way of designing cover, with a fully destructible environment. As you’re playing, walls explode, leaving players more and more vulnerable. Shootmania grids In Shootmania, you’ll often find grids in levels. You can’t shoot through them but can watch your opponents movements and give the info to your team. These grids offer cover, but no occlusion. Cover is about providing… cover (yay!) to the player(s), but can also be used to hide informations from them. It’s called occlusion. Cover and occlusion naturally happen whenever you put some solid object on your map, like a wall. You can’t shoot or see through them. You can create cover/occlusion with verticality (like the canal in the Bad Company 2 screenshot above), but also less tangible ones with lights, shadows, sounds, etc. Just think about providing interesting situations to your players. The more cover and less occlusion they’ll have, the safer they’ll feel. A simple situation involving cover in Mirror’s Edge: Players must take cover to the right to avoid being shot by the cops in the main hallway WORLD COHERENCE This industrial area seems functional. (Mirror’s Edge) Buildings in Bad Company 2 lack coherence. You can’t imagine that someone was living here. Make sure your environment is coherent with the game’s reality. To hem your level in the game world, it should always stay coherent: If your enemies are supposed to exist (as in “living THE LIFE”) inside a level, make sure the hallways are wide enough for them to use, that they have toilets and stuff like that. In the photo above, you can see that Bad Company 2 lacks coherence in its building interiors. It was probably done on purpose to offer better situations in mutliplayer. You sometimes have to sacrifice coherence to offer a better experience, but try to avoid finding yourself in these position. DESIGN COHERENCE Red is used to suggest a way to go to the player. The cop is in red too, so you know you’ll have to deal with him at some point. (Mirror’s Edge) In Mirror’s Edge, the red color is associated with Faith, the character embodied by the player, contrary to usual game codes with red being the color of negative stuff (enemies, traps…). Some areas are highlighted in red too guide the player in case he doubts what he should do. You’ll never see red used for something not related to Faith/the player. If the player is used to shooting red barrels every time he sees them because it has always given him some kind of reward, DO NOT create a new situation in the same level / area of the game where he might kill himself if he shoots a red barrel. It is important to be aware of the “codes” you put down on your game. Players are used to playing this way. Their behavior in games are heavily influenced by other games they previously played before trying yours. They will then confront these global video game codes to the first situations of your game, to try and figure what codes are applying to your game. You must be aware of the messages you convey, especially in your first levels, as they will be the bases the player relies on while experiencing the rest of the game. Think of your player as a child, with your game being his upbringing. If you send mixed messages to your kid early on, he’ll be really confused later. Be clear about your messages. Have great kids. One way to fix our red barrel problem, could be to change the color of the new barrel, so the player is aware that he should approach the situation a bit differently.CHOICES “Arland”: The first part Mirror’s Edge’s first level There are at least 4 possible routes to go over the electric fence: 1. Use the easy, suggested route and use a springboard (the red pipe) 2. Jump over on the right from the little chimney-thing 3. Wallrun then walljump from the wall on the left 4. Go to the middle roof on the left and jump over the fence from there These 4 choices are presented to the player in a smooth, binary way: you first have to choose whether you want to go to the right (1. and 2.), or to the left (3. and 4.). Then another binary choice is presented. It adds a lot of value to the level, while still leading to the same place. The player doesn’t feel trapped, or lost, when seeing this situation. Games are mostly about making choices, and Risk/Reward situations. Be sure to offer your players multiple approaches to the same situation. It adds replayability, and gives the player a better sense of freedom. Putting minor choices such as the one in Arland is also an easy way to prevent boredom for the players. Side note: Arland is at a point in the level where the player can take the time to choose his approach. On a chase scene later in the level the player shouldn’t, and doesn’t want to stop running: a unique & clear route is presented. ASSET LIST/ PRODUCTION LIST The same building is used all over the same area. And it’s not really a problem: people just want to shoot at each other. At some point you’ll have to start listing what props, sounds, effects and whatever other thingies you want to use on your level. That way, you can ask the qualified people if they can make these assets for you, or not. In this case, you’ll have to think about optimization, and modularity. Your assets should fit well with other assets, in order to have as many combinations as possible among them. FLOW Flow is a very important part of game and level design. I recommend that you check Jenova Chen’s thesis on flow. I can’t explain it better than him. Flow is mostly about making a level challenging enough for the player , without it feeling too hard to overcome. It is also about making sure the player doesn’t experience any snag: You have to make sure your player doesn’t get stuck on corners, or fails to interact with something etc. RHYTHM Rhythm is something I really like to focus on. It’s very close to the Flow and the Game Design itself. And just like Flow, it’s kinda hard to explain, as it’s really about feeling it. One way to feel it for me is to think about the inputs the Player will most likely do. Mirror’s Edge is very good for this. Most of the game revolves around muscle memory, and being in rhythm when doing runs over and over. Putting rhythm in your game will help players get into the Flow. CHOKE POINTS Isla Innocentes’ 2nd base — Bad Company 2 To arm the two objectives from Isla Innocentes’ 2nd base, infantry has to go through a narrow road, heavily defended by the opposite team. They can also try to attack by sea or land, but time has shown that the victory for this base is almost always determined inside the yellow zone on the image above. Whoever controls it wins the round. Choke points are the areas of your level where your opponents will most likely meet, and a big part of the fight will go there, with restrained movement. Counter Strike maps are all designed with choke points in mind. I would suggest you study these maps if you want to learn more about it. MULTIPLE I wrote “MULTIPLE”, all caps and everything, on my draft. It must have seemed very crucial at the time. So it’s staying here until I find what important piece of knowledge MULTIPLE refers to.CONTRAST — OUTSIDE INSPIRATION Mirror’s Edge Contrast is something vital in black & white photography. In order to have a more pleasing photo, and add depth, you have to think about alternating between dark and white zones. It’s a really precise thing, but a good segway to talk about using other medium’s rules. If you know rules used in photography, painting, cinema, or something else (gardening or sports for example), put them to use when designing your level! Of course every medium has its own rules and it’s better to design with them, but some of these rules may overlap, and it probably won’t have been done before.COLOR THEORY, COLOR HARMONY Same game, different areas, different moods, different colors. (Mirror’s Edge) The same level (Isla Innocentes) can relay a drastically different mood when changing atmospheric colors (Bad Company 2) Colors convey different emotions, and can be used to transcribe a specific mood you want to emphasize on your level. Having the same palette used in similar areas of your world is a good thing to do. You don’t need to use extremely different colors by level like in Mirror’s Edge, nuances always are a good option, and better than just throwing random colors around.BALANCE Balance is more important in multiplayer games than in solo ones. It’s about providing a fair encounter for all the players. The easiest way to balance your level is to use symmetry. But it’s been used over and over since the beginning of level design, so now we’re kinda forced to get more creative, and it’s for the best. If you give an advantage at one area of the map, using verticality or cover for example, be sure the other side also has the same kind of area somewhere else. N.B.: Most Counter Strike maps are not balanced (and mostly CT-sided), but the halftime alternation in the game design provides some sort of balance to the whole game. Seeing the big picture is important. Visual balance is also important in levels. Just like composition in other visual arts, most of the time you want to present balanced images to your player, and sometimes surprise him with a very harsh composition. Here again, symmetry is always the easy and sure way, but getting more creative to find balance is way more interesting for you and your players. DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING AT ONCE Side note: During this scene, walls are left naked to encourage the player to use powerful wallrun kicks instead of pick a gun and shoot his way out. Mirror’s Edge run & gun gameplay is shitty: it lacks feedback, slows you down and is overall very limited and boring. It’s like the designer didn’t want you to use guns. And it’s the case. They made a design decision, and it payed off. The game distanced himself from other FPSs, by emphasizing the lightweight running and hand-to-hand combat. Your level and your game don’t need to be the best at every possible thing you can find in games.MENTAL MAPPING Arica Harbor — Bad Company 2 Arica Harbor is one of the most played map in Bad Company 2. There are many reasons to that, and one of them is the depth and various situations it offers, while staying simple. Players can locate themselves really easily. They have a mini-map, the A,B,Cflags appear at all times on the screen. Flags are aligned along the main road. There are different heights in the map (to add verticality), but it is painless to remember: It goes down like a stair, from the mountain to the sea. You should always be careful about your players mentally mapping your layouts, especially when making a game aimed at a large audience. The easier it is for a player to remember where he went, how the level is arranged, the better his experience will be. To facilitate mental mapping you can provide unique props or details to help differentiate between two almost identical hallways, put floor numbers in stairs, vantage points, landmarks, focal points etc. Keeping the same logic throughout a level also helps a lot. If your game involves backtracking, mental mapping goes from important to REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT. No-one wants to get lost in a game, trying to find an exit. Make sure you are helping the players as much as possible to avoid frustration.CUT THE NOISE As fun and tempting as it can be for a level designer, you shouldn’t add too much to your environment. Having dull and empty areas is not a good thing, but over-saturating it with props everywhere will just make it worse. Details in your map must not come in the way of playability. DO WHAT YOU ARE “Leper Squint” At the end of the day, you should still feel that the level you designed comes from you. These points are important, but it’s the only one you should always respect. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to make your level/game feel different, or look like a particular style, it will never feel unique unless you invest a part of yourself in what you create. . . . . . Alright, that was my advice on level design. I’m a piece of shit, so some of these points might seem wrong to other gamedevs, or wrongly named etc. But hey, feel free to call me out on it, or write your own advice piece. I like talking about LD in general so whether you have a different opinion, or are a beginner seeking advice, drop me a DM, a comment, a mail, shout my name really loud… be original, I’m not going to list all your options. Although they’re here. - Niels . . . . . *This article has been posted in its entirety with permission from the author Original Source: medium.com/ironequal/practical-guide-on-first-person-level-design-e187e45c744c Follow Niels: Website: fuckgamedev.itch.io/ Twitter: twitter.com/fuckgamedev
  2. 'Map Design Theory' comes from the heyday of Halo 3's Forge Mode. This one holds a special place in my heart because it's one of the first articles that got me thinking seriously about level design. It covers all of the essentials of level design, and use examples to support the discussion points. This article was written exclusively with Halo 3 in mind, but is most definitely applicable to Level Design in other FPS games as well. Understanding map design can be a daunting task for anyone, but with a little perseverance and open mind it should be relatively easy to grasp. To start, design is all about having the right sets of mentalities and understanding, and three over-arching categories drive successful map design; Gameplay Knowledge, Vision, and Creativity. These three elements need to come together in unison for a map to work well on various levels. If you focus too heavily upon creativity and vision, the map may end up more aesthetically pleasing than it would have, but won’t necessarily play well. If you know gameplay and have a vision for map design, your map may come out a little dull even though it might be fun. I had a third point, but it left me, and now I have to pay alimony every month. Balance between the three separates the novice from the exceptional. There are no simple tricks to suddenly finding the balance; as with everything, it requires practice and mental familiarity.Knowledge:"Knowledge is power"Sir Francis Bacon said thatHe didn't work out.Knowledge boils down to understanding the various mechanics in Halo 3 in both general terms and specific ways such as; anti-camping concepts, getting a feel for the spawn system to encourage routes and flow, recognizing and preventing choke points (sometimes even effectively implementing them) and much more. However, the point isn't to be rehash previous ideas, rather to know WHY things are and WHY they are subsequently successful or not in their attempts. There's really no limit to what you can learn about map design. It’s just about taking the time to understand how each each aspect works in principle and how to use it effectively. Vision:Psychic map builder?That makes it sound difficult.Just think your map through.In a few words, vision can be described as being able to mentally visualize the next step like some sort of psychic map-builder. This can be difficult for people as not everyone is able to imagine in 3D, and the good news is, this isn’t always necessary for proper map design. Basic questions you should ask: What will the player movement be like? How do you want it to look and what are the major points of interest? Is it going to be mostly flat (too easy a joke) What of elevation changes? Will there be rooms, and if so how will you prevent camping? These are all things that you should think about while designing a map. Knowing what devices to envision results from a solid understanding of gameplay and design fundamentals. Essentially, the key to it all is trying to imagine how your idea will actually play out as a map within Halo 3, translating the physical form of the map you're imagining in to an actual gameplay environment, and determining whether or not it will work effectively. Creativity:Creativity, like any other expressive medium, is an important part of any effective map design. It determines uniqueness, flow, supported playstyles, weapon use, and key areas, if any. These should be minimally addressed in your design before you even start building.Thousands of downloadsfor a pallet conveyorCreative. 'Nuff said.It’s difficult to describe how to be creative or what spurs a design. Sometimes it’s a quick flash of inspiration; other times it’s a focal point that it is built off of. It varies on its creator, and from an ironically objective standpoint, it's luck. What complicates it even more is it can be often difficult to tie everything together, so having a clear vision of what you want to create before focusing on specifics is very important. A Haiku:Forge guides are fun, butdisclaimers are important.Please, please don't sue us.First, a few disclaimers before we start: the focus of this Forging 201 will not be to show you some new Forge tips or a solid set of information, in fact probably nothing will be particularly new. Everything that we'll be saying here you should think critically about; in other words, map design mentality.Second, while we'll try to leave things vague and open for you to think about, we'll be making our own assumptions and assertions throughout the piece. It's a guide, not a law, if you can give good reason for anything, supportive, contradictory or unrelated to the topics presented, and it helps your design, it's perfectly fine. Our assumptions are not necessarily fact, just keep that in mind.Map design is a puzzle; everything fits together to form one final product. All of the following topics are important interrelated factors in defining the resulting gameplay. Much as map design is being broken down in to various aspects and considerations for the purposes of this article, the real point of map design is understanding them not only in distinct terms, but most importantly how they interact to form the greater whole of a successful map.In no way is this discussion close to complete, nor can it ever really be. Map design is a constant learning and innovative process. There's no limit to what you can learn and do with it. As a whole, this guide has been a collaboration between Insane54 and MickRaider.Knowledge Player movement, often known as "flow" (and what it will henceforth be referred to as) is the base for map design. Player movement is how the players progress through your map in relation to the various objects in it, or in simpler terms, how players prefer to move about the map. There's no good or bad flow. Your map starts with a vision and the flow is the result. Different people have different ways of approaching obstacles in the environment, but as the map creator you can streamline (or expand) routes to better suit certain approaches. Flow is invariably affected by the map itself, so the design process should bring about the following questions: What's the ideal amount of players? How big is the map? What playstyles do you want to encourage? What weapons do you want players to use, and how often? i.e. weapon balance In Halo, players do not traverse the map on a cover-to-cover basis like Gears of War, nor do they move between random structures; open-area combat is a significant, if not defining, aspect of Halo 3's gameplay mechanic. Therefore, your map design should never be based off of cover or structures themselves, rather any cover provided should be a part of the larger scheme of things. In essence, the cover defines player flow (or choice of route) as opposed to giving them set paths to follow in order to remain behind cover. This will be expanded upon later.In general, every area on the map should be accessible by at least 2 paths. The more paths you put into an area, the more it will turn into a transitory area (as opposed to a camp spot). For example, players will more often traverse through Guardian's sniper area via the middle level than on the bottom, simply because it has four paths instead of two. Simple enough. That being said, you don't necessarily want to put many different paths for the sake of having them, just understand which areas call for it, and address them to prevent camping. After all, Halo is about movement, not "tactical waiting" as Sarge would say. Furthermore, your paths should have purpose as opposed to just diversifying routes, that is, they should affect gameplay in some way. Example: Guardian. A person is shooting from sniper spawn. Regardless of position, there are various ways to take him out, such as tactical BR shots or providing a distraction while teammates sneak from behind, among other avenues of attack. The point is, the map affords plenty of options, and each has a different level and type of risk associated with it, a balance of advantage and disadvantage. To summarize map flow (and subsequent player movement options) for a given situation should not only be suited to this situation, but also balanced with one another so that situations don't arise where one route is overplayed and the other, underused. Lines of Sight: What you can see at any given point, or rather, the damage you can inflict within your field of vision. In quantitative terms, it is your entire 360 degree viewing angle, adjusted by obstructions in your view (walls, barriers, etc).This can be accomplished due to a variety of weapon and grenades. However, the concept of 'good LoS' is somewhat misguided and inefficient in practical terms. In fact, lines of sight aren't particularly important in the first place. A player doesn't look directly at one point the entire game. Games are dynamic and have more to do with field of vision than lines of sight. Let's do away with the lines of sight idea (again, we'll continue to use the name for simplicity), and think about a very similar but much more important definition:Field of Vision is the angle at which the user can see enemy players. In normal circumstances, this angle is approximately 90 degrees. Unaffected "Field of Vision" Field of vision is, of course, different depending on the situation you're in, such as being in a tunnel with a shotgun or atop an open ledge with a sniper-rifle. Thus, determining what players will be able to see, and where, will have a significant effect on the routes they will use. In general, if the player can see the enemy at long range, a direct run is inadvisable by common sense. This changes at close range, especially with the use of the shotguns or assault rifles, as bullet spray is lessened. With this in mind, as a map builder, you can guide gameplay to preference in your map. On that note, you still want to include enough routes for escape, flanking, and other maneuvers.Height is important to lines of sight. People on towers have the advantage of cover from people below, and can use that to their advantage. Balancing power points with path and line of sight options is important and can be accomplished through clever grenade bounces and alternative paths.Players are dynamic and adjust to the situations they are in, and though you can't control their specific responses, you can set the stimulus that provokes those responses. In other words, you can't control the bee and its honey, but you can determine what flowers it has access to.Here are some of the generic comments you'll often see by forger and other players; "Cool structures", "needs more cover", "too open". A well designed map is not comprised of any of the above, or rather trying to understand map design in these simple terms is essentially flawed and misses the point of how larger design works in Halo 3. Structures, cover, and open areas are a part of map design, sure, but they are nowhere near the major focus of a map, they're more the result of design than an actual part of the design process. If you are ever finding yourself designing a map around random structures or cover, you should be going back to the drawing board and figure out how you are going to tie everything together.We've all encountered plenty of awesome structures out there. Structures are capable of defining a map, such as "Relic". You must be careful to have the map tie together though. Structures can be beneficial to a map design by directing players where you want them on a map. An interesting central structure that also has a tactical advantage can direct attention towards that structure and create interesting hot spots and gameplay opportunities. Let me take this moment to say that the goal for map design is not always to create some perfectly designed map that plays exactly evenly or balanced. Your goal should be to create a fun and unique experience that's balanced enough for both teams to have fun. Most importantly your design should offer different options to the player and allowing each of these to have a variety of possibilities. Therefore, there is plenty of room for structures to be a big part of your map design, but don't let that overshadow the overall design, any structure should instead be thought of in terms of whether or not it compliments the overall design. The most notable problem you'll find in structure-based maps is that they are reliant on players to run around in those structures. There should always be advantages and disadvantages to various flow routes, as explained before. Forcing players to be on some kind of structure to do well should be avoided at all costs. Players on the ground should be able to have fun, and people playing on structures should have some sort of advantage and disadvantage against those players.Cover can be thought of in the same regard. A map should never be defined by it's cover. Though at some point you will likely be giving players a chance to get out of a line of fire. Never, ever randomly place cover in a "middle" areas to make it "less open". When players make a decision, such as to go one route versus another, there should be another driving force. Throwing down a block in the middle that he can hide behind turns that into bland and repetitive game. In a good design the natural cover is often more than adequate. Though chances are at some point you'll need some kind of additional cover. Specific cover objects should be used as a last resort if a natural approach could not be found. Keep in mind that what you build should be what players will use to move around the map. In general, objects should be used to compliment lines of sight and flow. If you find that players are getting cut down in an undesirable crossfire, cover might then be necessary to break up the action. An area you designed should never be "too open". The amount of an open area varies depending on several factors, and quite often an open run might be desirable as opposed to the same area littered with unnecessary structures and cover. If you find that players are not using your routes as you had originally planned, cover can be used to help solve this issue if nothing else will work.Though spawns and objectives are generally placed once your map is already built, it is still good practice to keep them in mind when designing. This foresight can make the difference between a good map or a great map, and if you build a whole map without considering how you want spawning to work, then when you come to placing spawns you may find it hard to implement an effective spawning system.In general, it is important to have, at a minimum, two major areas for each team to spawn at. Applying what we learned before, try and visualize what the players will think once they spawn. How many route options do they have? Do they encompass the necessary possibilities that will allow the player to make proper use of this life? Will they be aware which direction they need to travel without taking the time to analyze their surroundings?While planning spawn points in advance can be difficult; it is important to remember that the way spawn points are placed is vital to how the map will flow. A player should have options straight off of his spawn, thus it is important to make sure that there is at least two paths from every spawn. Also it is important to check each and every spawn. Stand directly over the spawn, exactly copying what it will look like when the player spawns, and then consider exactly what a player could do with the spawn you have given them against various scenarios. Alternatively, you could kill yourself repeatedly. Things to keep in mind when placing spawn points. You should be pointed towards a possible path; you should be able to run straight forwards for 2-3 seconds without turning at all. In addition, put yourself in the shoes of a player who doesn't know the map. What options do you have? The player should never be completely hopeless. In general a spawn point should point towards a point of interest, such as an objective or a power weapon. It is bad form to point a player towards their own base and will often confuse and frustrate a player by doing so. Always give them an objective when they spawn. This can be especially useful in situations where players are not finding your weapons, having a spawn pointed at them will almost guarantee that they will happen upon it. The counter to this is that if a power weapon is over used, don't have spawn points directed at it or too close to it and it's use will decrease. Objective planning is similar. Make sure attacking and defending teams both have at least three options, and that each of these options have varying pros and cons. Often this fits directly into flow, but objectives offer some variations on the normal flow. A flag can be thrown down a higher area into a more open run, or can sneak around. The defense should have options as well. Once a flag is taken or a bomb is armed, what possibilities do they have? Again, make sure they are all different. There should rarely be a case where the defense has very little chances of success of returning or disarming. And of course, neutral objectives should be even for both sides. One last point we'd like to make: in most cases, don't put your objectives in corners! It's amazing how many maps make this mistake, not only does it limit flow possibilities for both teams, it turns the corners into camping areas and renders them highly susceptible to grenades. Some map designs require it, but this a rare occasion and should be avoided unless you've really thought about making this decision.Aesthetics often play a major role in the player's decision on where they choose to go. If we look at typical play styles, a player is generally reluctant to move from a normal hot spot of the map, even if it means getting to a higher point. This tends to only happen if they have a long ranged weapon. There are some important points to think about here also. Players want roam to run around, even if only in a small area. A cramped tower is much less likely to be used than one that is well spaced and flows well with the rest of the map. Never throw a random sniper tower to the side of a map, assuming that people will want to use it because it's a high tower. Expanding on this; a bland, basic area of the map will often be used less than a nice looking one, particularly by new players. The designer can use these visual cues to direct players to places they want. One mistake often made is "mounting" weapons on walls. Though this looks great and can often work wonderfully for more basic items, if the weapon or equipment is poking out sideways it can get in the way, and if the item is pushed to the wall (as it normally is), it can be hard to find if the player does not know the map. Therefore, if you want players to go to your power weapons, make them obvious to find. Exhibit them to the whole map, not just those who are standing right next to it. Consider the Rockets on The Pit, for example. They can't be seen from a large amount of the map's area, but as long as you are on the long hall/needler area you can see when they have respawned without being right next to them.Continuity is an "uninterrupted connection or union", and should not be confused with our earlier discussions on cover and structures or flow. Continuity means players make choices based on the choices available on the map. Good continuity lets players choose routes that will always lead to the destination they had in mind. Whether the destination is to flank an enemy position or a route to the opposing team’s high ground. Every part of the map the player can walk on has a specific purpose and eventually leads to a specific place on the map. A path/tunnel or corridor that appears, in terms of its direction, to lead to a given area of the map, but actually curves around and leads to a different area, can be confusing to players.The Pit is truly one of the greatest Halo maps of all time. There has never been a design that uses so many staple Halo weapons and play styles and combines them so well. You could spend a week looking at every part of it and appreciating it for how great of a map it really is. For this example we'll try and analyze what the designers were thinking and how this great map came about. FlowThe Pit generally plays towards BRs and Snipers, or mid to long range weapons. That doesn't exclude anything else, like the Sword, but close range is obviously not the main gameplay focus. There is enough variety of close, medium, and long range routes to keep the player on their toes. Let's take a look at some closer examples. How many times have you been rushing through the long hallway and just get demolished by grenades? Wouldn’t it make sense for Bungie to have put a block there so that wouldn’t happen? We realize that this aspect is built in to the design. By having the longest and straightest path to the enemy base, this encourages the player to subconsciously try to get there as fast as possible, although they know the risk. This is made fair and fun due to the fact that you’re rewarded by getting there faster than anyone else with the rockets, but with a high risk of dying. This is bluntly called "risk vs. reward." When looking at The Pit there are either 3 or 4 main routes. Each route should have a different advantage and disadvantage, height advantages, weapon spawns, line of sight to popular areas, etc. The hard part is not just balancing these, not to encourage even use, but so that each one has a different and interesting playstyle that all come together for a fun experience. A great example of this is "Runway" on The Pit (where the overshield is); it obviously is not a place that's good for slaying, being it has few lines of sight and field of vision to anything important, however it is an excellent flank, most particularly to the sniper tower. A sniper usually has his field of vision trained on the more traffic-heavy parts of the map on the opposite side. Another interesting point is that routes to an area have an effect on how it’s used. For example, let's examine the shotgun cave or sniper tower from The Pit. It is obvious that these places encourage players to use their respective weapons. These only have two main routes to them thus the foot traffic is naturally low, but increases due to the power weapons effect. If you want players to be moving to other areas of the map, they tend to have more paths such as each sides "Training" on The Pit). Knowing where you want players moving is what player movement is all about. Lines of SightWe can see how The Pit has a wide variety of sight lines. Though the cross map sniper battles from the tower, to the narrow and dangerous sword room. Each of these sight lines allow for a good variety of gameplay and excitement. We can learn a lot about the effect the sniper has on the map by examining one point in particular, the sniper tower. From the sniper tower the player can have a view of essentially their entire side, though the view of the oppositions base is drastically limited. This accomplishes two things, the first being so that the player is not able to dominate the entire map from one spot the entire game, which lends itself to the second, that the player is forced to leave his perch to find the enemy when they become wise and avoid his position. By providing a series of safe routes for the players to use the sniper tower's power is severely limited. This encourages map flow by directing players to certain areas to both prevent and defend against snipers. The sword room also provides an interesting assortment of lines of sight. The first and most obvious is the back hallway where a sword can dominate. This is cleverly countered by a long line of sight from training and green box where players can throw grenades and shoot in at a safe distance. This balance allows the area to be both powerful and vulnerable in a way that makes the gameplay fun. CoverThe Pit is a great example of a map that uses natural cover very effectively and in a way that works well throughout. Only in a few notable places do we see the addition of cover. The first obvious point is training's "Corner." This simple design allows for a safety area from the sniper tower or sword room, but as it has opening it is very easy to detect when a player is there. This makes it so the player must move from the area quickly or risk being spotted and grenaded out. The natural cover of The Pit shows us how important elevation changes are in a map. Simply by lowering the middle parts of The Pit it allows the player an alternate route to move around without being easily detected from other areas on the map. The height of the sniper is countered by the elevated height of the rocket tunnel entrance. This use of high and low areas allows The Pit to play dynamically and uniquely every time. Spawns and ObjectivesThe spawns on The Pit are well laid out to encourage the flow of the map. In general the spawns are weighted such that the players will spawn at the higher portion near green box or the shotgun tunnel. This is by design as this area is intended to be the highest trafficked area. The designers knew that as most battles would take place in this are they want to allow players the quickest routes back upon respawn. In order to prevent spawn trapping the second alternate spawn area is below the sniper tower. This area is less used, though serves important functions to separate the base into two distinct spawn zones. If we analyze the spawns further we'd notice how they always point towards a main route or looking at a power weapon/equipment. Even in some cases spawning directly on the overshield. The objectives on The Pit were obviously something the designers had in mind from the start. Getting the iconic callout, "The Pit," describes the room in which the objective will spawn. If we look closer at this we can see how the objective is located in the center of the room with two main routes in or out. The third route is through the front but requires a teammate to catch the objective or a box to jump out on. This balance makes it a challenge to get the objective both in an out, but not an impossible one. Points of Interest and ContinuityThere are a few main points of interest on this map. The first plays a crucial role in the map design even though it could be argued it was added as an afterthought, "The Green Box." This point on the map plays a very crucial role. It offers a safety zone from the sniper tower while still providing a variety of routes. The player could choose to continue through green tunnel to acquire the Active Camo, continue to the long hallway to get the rockets, or move down the map towards Training to flank the opponents. This point is something that the player is naturally drawn to due to it's color and size. This simple use of aesthetics plays a huge role in how the map ultimately plays. Continuity on The Pit is rather obvious. A friend said it best when he described a map as being "Wheel Chair Accessible". Every point is walkable by more than one route, even though every route is not necessarily connected. If we look again at the "Runway" we can see how this route connects both sniper towers through a safety route, while still having a connection to the middle of the map. If that middle route was not there this route would have been dangerous to the point where it would rarely or never be used. Guardian is a spiritual successor to Lockout of sorts. Being primarily designed around a center "circle" the map itself plays very uniquely to even it's predecessor and is definitely amongst the top ranking halo maps.FlowIf we look at an overview of Guardian we can see how the major player movement is designed to move in a counterclockwise circle. Now this doesn’t mean that it’s the only way people will go, but it’s actually the basis on which the map runs. The uniqueness of Guardian - it's counterclockwise movement, use of low and high routes, and successful mancannons - is what makes it so intriguing and fun to play. From this we can see an emergence of 4 major "bases". The sniper tower, Green platform, Gold room, and blue room. Each of these areas plays a major role in how Guardian flows. In general the play tends to focus heavily around controlling sniper tower or gold lift, but as Guardian has a tendency to support close range combat this is not it's only function. There is plenty of opportunities for flanking due to the assortment of low and high routes. Lines of SightBeing a room-based map the lines of sight on Guardian are broken up well and efficiently. There is a good assortment of long line of sights from the sniper tower and bottom of sniper tower to gold. The number of long lines are contrasted by the increased number of short ones such as green platform, blue room, and gold room. These short sight lines help to encourage the use of short range weaponry, which outnumbers the long/medium range weapons. The shotgun, hammer, and mauler play a critical role in how the map ultimately plays out. However, controlling the sniper rifle is very important as essentially the entire upper portion of the map can be controlled with it. CoverGuardian is another example of a map that relies on it's natural cover without the need for extra cover in most cases. Only in a few points do we see the addition of cover which is cleverly blended into the map itself. The first of which being the cover around the hammer.This cover is useful in a number of ways. The first being that it slightly breaks up the lines of sight between the bottom of sniper tower and the bottom of gold room. The second being that it provides cover in the likely event that a battle takes place between green platform and hammer. This cover is definitely an important element of the map design and without it the map would play very differently in these areas.The second use of cover is the trees on green platform. Again a very important use of cover to break up the sight lines between elbow and green platform. This makes it more difficult for a sniper to control the map from elbow and thus forces him to a higher location, where everyone on the map can easily see him. Without this cover it would be possible for a sniper to control elbow very easily and make a flank extremely difficult. The third use of cover is the glass window that protects blue room from the sniper tower. Without this critical piece of cover the sniper would be able to dominate the entirety of the upper portion of the map. By using this glass window a player could place shots on a sniper in the tower while still having a safety zone to retreat to when the situation turns against them. This window is very vulnerable from the green tree thus has a good balance of power and weakness that forces players to act fast and move on. Spawns and ObjectivesAs Guardian is an asymmetric map, spawning and objective balance is much more difficult. One team should not feel at a disadvantage by spawning at one side versus another. It is also important to have a good spawn spread so that predicting the spawns is difficult. Each of the main area on the map has a balanced assortment of spawns, with the main rooms having a higher weighting than the connecting walkways. This means that players will tend to spawn in one of four critical areas, while still having backup spawns in the event that each of these rooms is compromised. The objectives on Guardian are definitely something to take notice of. If we look at the transition between Lockout and Guardian we can see why they chose to take it in a different direction. In Lockout the flag spawned on the elbow, which made it difficult to move it away from. This played well due to the emphasis on short range combat. In Halo 3, the emphasis is more on medium to long range and if the flag was placed on the elbow then the player would have had an incredibly hard time moving it to a safer location. To help fix this problem they made the elbow the return point and placed the flag underneath blue room. By doing this they accomplished a balanced location that provides the player with a multitude of possibilities. The player could choose to run it towards the lift, which would take them to sniper and a short safe route to the flag. The downside of this being that that they would be very vulnerable while traveling through the man cannon. The second alternative is to take it up the ramp to blue window and run across the middle. Another short route but this requires that the attacking team controls the upper portion of the map. The final possibility is to take it back down towards gold room. This is the "safest" of all the routes as the flag runner is well covered, though the danger being that they will be running into the defense's major spawn areas. Points of Interest and ContinuityThe two main points of interest on Guardian are the sniper tower and gold room. The sniper tower is a very important location as it houses the sniper rifle and a sort of sniper perch. With the right skill set a player could control a large portion of the map from this location. This makes it very important to either control or prevent the other team from controlling this area. The gold lift is also an important point of interest as it provides a good variety of close and medium range combat and houses the active camouflage. The camo plays an important role in balancing the sniper's power so it is important that the player controls one or the other of these power items. It is also easy to defend gold room as they are somewhat protected from the sniper tower and can monitor 2 of the 4 main routes in by listening for the lift sounds. Being a circular flow map, the continuity is easy to identify. As the player could walk in a complete circle around the map it is important to connect routes together to provide enough variety so that they don't. The middle platform is an obvious connection point that connects the four main rooms with the quickest routes. As these routes are vulnerable from the sniper tower another combination of lower routes help to connect the map together without being too vulnerable. This combination of quick and dangerous, and slow and protected is one of the reasons that Guardian plays so well for almost all gametypes. While map design is of course an abstract business, designing of your own maps is even more so. We'll go through the process that the authors go through, and it should be noted that any way works fine if it works for you.Designing your map requires an understanding not just of what we've put above, but of the mentality that it gives you. You should be able to take any given map and break it down to it's core elements, and say what parts are what, why, and how it works. Depending on the person, this will often take anywhere from a day or two to weeks or months to truly understand. Once you've got that under your belt, you're ready to start designing your own maps.The first thing you want to envision is how the players will move through the map, or path planning. This can be done as simply as a 2D sketch with major path lines planned. The idea is that it's vague, but shows where I want my players to be moving around, and shows the basis of map movement. It's quite simple, but without one of these at least in your head, your map can be significantly worse. Your basic paths should be simple and well-thought out, from our example, The Pit has 3 or 4 major paths. All of these offer wildly different possibilities. Alternative paths are wonderful, and you're free to work with those, but for now we're only talking about major flow.Once you've got your flow down, you'll want to think about how people will interact with each other by lines of sight, field of vision, and height differences. Try to envision yourself in this kind of blocky, empty map, and what kind of gameplay you'd like to see yourself playing. Then, just think about how that gameplay can be encouraged by your design. Lines of sight, field of vision, and height differences can help that enormously.Well, we hope you've enjoyed our Forging 201 on the knowledge portion of map design. Remember that the point of this isn't to give you a set of information, but to start you in the right mindset. There's no way to ever know everything in map design; it's a constant learning and thinking process that we're hoping this may possibly spark.If it's clear you've got the drive and enough smarts to think through all the stuff above, that's all you'll need to be great at map design. 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  3. This is the second part of a three part series of articles dealing with level design in action adventure games. Part 1 described Level Flow Diagrams, that act as the core of the level brief provided to a team by the Leads. Part 2 describes a process of expanding that brief into a detailed level plan. This stage of the process is most often carried out by a cross-discipline team of designers, artists and coders, who will expand the level brief into a detailed level plan, but this process can equally be the next step that an individual designer takes when designing a level solo. A Note on CollaborationDelegation and teamwork are vital given the scale of modern console development. Without them, leads become bottlenecks that slow development and sap motivation.The current trend is towards agile development whereby scrums are given ownership of individual problems. This has many advantages over the old waterfall methodology, but there is one pitfall to watch out for with peer-only teams.If a group of peers go into a room with the goal of making design decisions, the tendency won't be towards a design that everyone loves, but rather towards the design that everyone least hates.The psychology goes this way:1. Person X suggests a new idea that he thinks might be mint. It's not a complete idea yet, but he believes it has a kernel of goodness that could make for a unique piece of gameplay.2. Persons Y and Z who have not seen anything like this idea before quickly point out all the flaws in the idea.3. Person X, whose idea still needs nurturing, responds defensively, firing off hastily-thought out solutions that people also don't like.4. The idea is shut down and the group moves on. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.5. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.6. Next, Person Y suggests something that he has seen in a game before.7. Person X and Z both remember that being pretty mint in that other game, and they know it can be done, which means low risk.8. Everyone feels good as they write the tired, overused mechanic/scenario up on the whiteboard.9. Repeat.There is little to no way to get vision from a peer-only group unless they have worked together long enough that they are all on the same wavelength.There are two potential solves to this:1. Separate brainstorm and decision meetings.2. Employ a group design method I tested at Crystal Dynamics called a "The Thunderdome" (as coined by Mr. Ron Rosenburg.)Thunderdome!A "Thunderdome" gives each member of the level team the same deadline to propose a complete, individual solution to the entire design problem (in this case a paper map.) Once that (tight) deadline is up, the whole level team comes together and shows their individual solutions to their teammates, and everyone discusses the pros and cons of each one in a respectful way.Then the team (and the lead) cherry picks the best ideas from all the proposals and merges them into a unified team plan.This is the equivalent of forcing lateral thinking techniques in an individual. Humans naturally solve problems by brainstorming solutions until they find one that works, at which point they generally stop thinking about the problem. Lateral thinking techniques push us to go beyond that first working answer and try to find three to five more, to see if there is a better solution out there before moving on.When each individual in a "Thunderdome" creates their own solution, I guarantee that none of them will be the same, and the group will have multiple working solutions to pick from instead of one compromise solution. Of course this is not in the agile way -- which probably makes me a heretic who must be burned or something.Stage 2, Building Through FictionWith the Level Flow Diagram in hand, the next stage is to fill in the details.Architecting the level through storiesThis is the time to explore the level's stories because from them, the juiciest parts of the level's design will emerge.Regardless of the narrative of the game, each level has the potential to tell many layers of its own background story. Even an empty office has the potential to tell little stories that transform it from a dull set of plain rooms into a real place through artfully placed builder's tools, scrounged furniture, used cups, and discarded rubbish.But the real power of level stories has nothing to do with set dressing; it is in their ability to provide you with context-relevant gameplay scenarios that the story-based method really shines.To make the level real to the player though, first it must be real to you.A Cautionary Aside: Gather and Study ReferenceI would argue that the power to immerse the player, to absorb his attention completely, is the common attribute of the greatest and most successful games.Gathering and studying reference is critical to creating immersion for the player. It is something that the entire team should do, not just the artists.Everyone stores simplified constructions of reality in their mind; schemata that codify the critical features of the world around us. We use our schemata to recognize and interpret everything we experience.We also use those same simplified representations of reality to recreate it through art. Because no two people use precisely the same critical features to build their schemata, every person's art has a unique look, filtered through the lens of their uniquely simplified representations of reality.While schemata allow us to rapidly process the deluge of information we receive each day, they come with the cost of a blindness to data that does not fit with them. That data gets stripped away and left unprocessed. Because we rely on them constantly, we tend to trust them implicitly.But the fact that no two people have precisely the same schemata is all the clue we should need to realize that they cannot be trusted at all.When we are creating worlds in games, immersion is only possible for the player if we can convince the players that the space is authentic (whether stylized or not.) If the critical features on screen don't match up with the critical features of the player's schemata, then he or she will not be fooled by it.So as game makers we must have really precise schemata to convince the widest selection of players.When designers or artists rely on their standard schemata to judge their own creations, they are mistakenly assuming that others will judge their work using similar standards as they do. This can be particularly egregious when people from one country try to reproduce locations from another. American dumpsters sitting in the back streets of Paris or French road signs on the streets of Chicago might seem acceptable to the developers because they do not mismatch with their very simple schemata of those distant locations, but these contextually inappropriate placements will be laughably inaccurate to people really familiar with those places.Given that games are released worldwide, it is difficult to overestimate the damage to audience immersion and perception done by poorly researched levels for a large percentage of your audience. Remember, it's your worldwide reputation on the line.Case Study: Kung Fu Zombie Killer!!Blurb: When the living dead smash up his martial arts studio, Wu Shu master Ken Kong must punch, kick and chop his way through the zombie apocalypse while gathering humanity's remaining survivors on his quest to save the You Tube celeb of his dreams. Style:'70s exploitation movie visual themes mixed with a Japanese anime-inspired visual language. Highly stylized over-the-top combat, unrealistic physics, fun gaming conventions reign over realistic game rules. Street Fighter meets Pikmin in this zombie-filled romance beat 'em-up. Game Pillars:Fluid Environmental Kung FuThink Jackie Chan: Ken Kong picks up and uses everything around him to dispatch his zombie foes.Whether he is slamming doors into their faces, or ripping off one zombie's arm to bludgeon another to death, Ken Kong's simple multi-lock, rhythmic fighting system turns combat into a bloody storm of body parts and flailing fists.Protect the survivors!As Ken Kong saves the living from the living dead, they join the crowd that follows him, urging him on to greater feats of martial prowess. Different types of survivors can either bolster Ken Kong's abilities or can be applied to tasks throughout the game:Police - Shoot any zombies they see.Nurses - boost to Ken's health recovery.Martial artists - increased survivor resilience.Workmen - repairs.Geeks - hacking.Civilians - Cheering (boosts Ken's damage) and fortification building.Etc.The more there are of a given type of survivor, the better the crowd's abilities become. The crowd will stay together and can be ordered around by Ken, but they must be protected from being bitten by the zombies or the whole crowd could become infected.Secure each levelKen must shepherd the survivors to a location that can be fortified so that they will be safe.This could mean securing the entire level, or just one section of it. The crowd itself does the fortification, barring doors and boarding up windows. The more survivors there are, the faster repairs are done. Essentially they are closing enemy spawn points, and Ken must stem the flow of enemies while the fortifications are in progress or the crowd will be eaten by zombies.ThemeWhile the film Planet Terror is a good starting point for the mock '70s horror exploitation movie feel, Kung Fu Zombie Killer has a more lighthearted Viewtiful Joe feel at the same time.MotivationKen is in love with the YouTube vlogger jenna126xyz. In fact, he is her only fan. Throughout the game, Ken forces everyone he saves from the zombies to sign up as fans of jenna126xyz in an attempt to win her heart.Given the ludicrous nature of this game concept, it might at first seem that there would be little point in rigorous research or fictional development, but I contest that there still is.Even a world with a silly premise will resonate more fully when effort is made to realize it in its entirety.Example Level: Hospital Second FloorAfter watching jenna126xyz's most recent tearful videocast, Ken Kong is now trying to rescue Jenna's grandmother from a hospital overrun by the undead. The idea is that you see Grandma almost immediately, but can't get to her without the Hospital Director's keys, found near the end of the level, giving you an objective and a goal. The Hospital Director, on the bottom floor, will not come out of his secure office until the building is secure, forcing your secondary goal (save the survivors) before you can open the way to grandma.A Boss fight is worked into Grandma's room, and once that is done the level can pretty much end -- a fairly bog standard level flow.The section of the level we are going to focus on is the Second Floor, highlighted in red on the Level Flow Diagram above.A hospital is hardly an original setting, especially in this context. Hospitals are obligatory whenever there are zombies around: Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, and Planet Terror are just the tip of the iceberg. So the challenge is to walk this well-trodden ground and still make something somewhat fresh. The key to that is to look around you.Preparation: Designing from lifeWhen deciding how to tackle this hospital level, it would be tempting to begin by looking at the many other examples of hospitals in competing games, and while it is useful to learn what has already been done, it wouldn't help us get original ideas for this particular level.You are likely to be able to rattle off a list of areas from your head that you would expect to find in a hospital, from waiting rooms and restrooms to operating theaters and canteens. Most likely the overriding impression you will have in your mind will be long, seemingly endless hallways with single or multi-bed wards off them.But when you actually go to a hospital, there is so much more to see. There are gift shops, libraries, kitchens, rehabilitation areas with gyms or pools.There are auditoriums, children's play areas, janitorial closets, elevators and their associated maintenance areas. There are courtyards, roof gardens, underground parking lots, and changing rooms for the doctors and nurses, with lockers and showers.You also see just how many more off-limit areas there are than public ones. Some are secured with passkeys, others with ordinary locks.These locked doors lead to record rooms, office spaces, drug and equipment storage rooms and all manner of other administrative areas. Their doors are either solid or have very small reinforced glass windows. A great deal of research can be done from books, movies, and the internet but nothing can replace personal experience. While not everyone can go to the pyramids or an abandoned space station whenever they feel like it (unless you're Richard Garriott, of course), most people could visit an abandoned or ruined place near them (as long as is safe to do so) that will evoke a similar mood and mystery on a smaller scale. For our purposes that means there are many places where people could potentially survive a zombie attack, along with lots of opportunities for us to realistically gate the player. The key is you must look, in order to find inspiration. The trap of arbitrary spaces There is nothing more amateurish than arbitrary architecture, by which I mean spaces obviously only built for the player by the game designer. Whether it is a city street or an ancient ruin, it is the designer's job to build spaces with a fictional purpose as well as a gameplay purpose. When a player enters a temple that has no space for worship, or a tomb with no burial chamber nor rhyme nor reason behind its layout, he or she will not be convinced that they are exploring a real place. The worst starting point for a level is a series of featureless, functionless boxes joined by corridors into which gameplay is inserted from a list of gameplay goals. Levels built that way may as well be randomly generated. Even if you are creating an outside space, studying ordinance survey maps to see how real world topology looks and going for a stroll in the hills will let you turn a bland height map into a believable outside space. The difference between a height map that has been pulled up and down randomly, and one that appears to have simulated real weathering is enormous. Looking at real spaces for inspiration will bring the physical rules of building construction to the forefront of your mind, it will inevitably bring truth to your work and give you ideas that you would not otherwise have thought of. You must design the spaces of your level primarily for the people living in the game world and then adapt it for the player. Starting Point: Floor Plan I'm going to use this section of a hospital floorplan, based on a general admissions unit from a real hospital, to show how one floor of the level might be constructed through fiction. First off you can see that while the majority of the areas are not designed for the public to wander around, access to them is relatively easy. For instance, the admin area is easily accessible by climbing over the reception desks from the waiting room, even if the two doors were closed and locked. The only rooms that are likely to be kept locked at all times are the workrooms, the records room, and the storage room. They would most likely have keycard or combination locks so that staff could relatively easily get in and out but patients couldn't wander in willy nilly. The examination rooms would most likely have been unlocked when the zombies arrived, but along with the nurses room, the manager's office and the W.C, they could have been locked by survivors trying to escape the living dead. Red and Blue Keys There have been an untold number of physical key card puzzles in games, and almost as many broken-down elevators. The hardest challenge in design is avoiding the clichés when trying to disguise the keys and locks in the levels. Kung Fu Zombie Killer is a beat em up, so most rooms on this floorplan are probably too small to fight effectively in. The rooms can be scaled up to an extent without becoming ludicrously oversized, but it is general note that as games lean towards more believable spaces there is a greater need for better camera and animation systems to cope with confined spaces. The reality is that without unique abilities, there is little that hasn't already been done a hundred times when it comes to player gating. The standard options have been so thoroughly explored, re-dressed and reskinned, that many games these days have simply begun to do away with them altogether. Games like GTA let you go almost anywhere and attack problems from any angle. Their gates are metagame gates; the beginning and end of missions, the opening of new city areas. They don't struggle to mask the opening of the game world in fiction -- they make it very clear. I'm not arguing for one way or the other; both can be done well or poorly. In this game, I'm using NPCs as keys; they are keys that can be eaten by your enemies. If your keys die, then you won't be able to achieve some (or potentially any) of your goals. Populating the level Now that we have a better understanding of our location, it is time to look to any ramping documents and decide what sorts of scenarios have to be fit into the level. Kung Fu Zombie Killer's NPCs are also used as the game's help system, pickups, power-ups, quest givers, quest items, achievements, secret items, traps and puzzles. They are ultimately flexible from a gameplay point of view, but even better, they add life and narrative to the game. We want to place the following in this section of the level based on a ramping plan: NPC's to save: • A security guard - who shoots zombies and has a security pass • ~2 doctors - who heal the crowd and lower chance of crowd infection • ~4 nurses - who increase Ken's health • ~18 civilians - who contributes to Ken's damage bonus by cheering Items to use: • toilet • letter openers • sinks • heavy swinging lamps • dishes of scalpels • table lamps • windows • flower pots • wooden chairs • head-height glass cabinet doors Zombies to Kill: • Tons of them. Sculpting the play path When working into realistic spaces the first thing to do is work out how much you want to modify the physical flow from room to room. This comes down to how linear or open you want a level to be. For the sake of this example we are going to funnel the player fairly heavy handedly just to illustrate some of the ways it can be done. In this case I used two standard techniques; the permanently blocked door and the hole in the wall. The fiction for these changes is fortifications that are so drastic that they can't be undone, and walls that a large number of zombies have burst through. These two types of permanent changes to the floor plan can dramatically change the way you move around a realistic space. The first step is to define the primarily play path. I have funneled the player in a big circle all the way round to the storage closet above the entrance, where the security guard is hiding with a nurse. The security guard is necessary to unlock the door on the east wall, the only way through which you can reach the staircase and exit this floor. The barricades can be disassembled by any survivors if you approach from the side where the crosses are. The fortification point is this floor's zombie spawner. Ken has to fight on the patio while the survivors build the barricade, before jumping back into the building at the last second. The more survivors Ken has released, the faster that the barricade can be built, but the player needs to make sure that there are no (or few) zombies left inside the building because the survivors are vulnerable while fortifying. Everything else is fairly self-explanatory; there are four bonus civilians and a nurse that can be unlocked from the manager's office if the player backtracks with the security guard, lots of zombies to kill, and a second barricade that can be dismantled to create a shortcut if backtracking is necessary through this space. Set dressing The simplest examples of level stories are told through the "forensic" placement of art; bloody hand prints on the walls, discarded children's toys, and overturned tables and chairs. They don't affect gameplay, but they provide mood and richness to the level. For masterful use of storytelling through set dressing, look at Fallout 3. Every area had its own stories to tell from depravity through to insanity, all laid out in the artful placement of everyday objects. Those small forensic clues can be expanded to full narratives describing the fates of characters you may never meet in the game. For instance, you might find graffiti scrawled in blood on the walls describing somebody's final moments, but finding a room with its doors off its hinges, a toppled pile of tables and chairs just behind it and a fat, satisfied-looking zombie sitting in a puddle of blood, tells a similar story while also offering you the chance to respond. This level is filled with possibilities for those details and they can all be pulled out of the backstory of these survivors. The Backstory As I sculpted the play path I wanted, I was coming up with the following back story: Zombies first came into the waiting room from the stairwell. The security guards managed to fight them off and managed to permanently block that door. Meanwhile, two patients ran and locked themselves in the toilet. Next, zombies started coming in through the entrance. The hospital staff moved everyone out of the waiting room and barricades were set up trying to secure the admin area. Meanwhile, the zombies in the stairwell manage to smash through a wall into one of the examination room. Another permanent barricade was set up, and just to be sure, a security guard locked the next examination room's door as well, just to be safe. By this point zombies have started climbing over the reception desk and break through the right hand door into the admin area. Everyone evacuated further back into the offices except one doctor who hides under a desk. A nurse was already hiding in the manager's office, and she let four patients in as the zombies swarmed the admin area. The rest of the survivors ran towards the patio, but a mass of zombies smash their way in through the patio door and the survivors find themselves surrounded. Groups crush into any nearby room and lock the doors behind them, leaving some unlucky people locked out in the corridor. Almost the entirety of this story -- plus the stories of the other humans that didn't survive this attack -- can be carefully laid out in the artwork. The more questions you ask, the more stories can be hinted at: • Is there a reason that the security guard ends up with that particular nurse in the storage room? • Is there a reason why one nurse has access to the securely locked manager's office? • Who shut the door of the North East workroom, shutting the zombies in there with a group of (now dead) nurses? The upshot of using this method will be a sense of authenticity during play that you cannot achieve any other way. While players may not consciously pick up even half of the detail you are putting in, they will feel it. They will be drawn into your world in a way that more laissez-faire methods simply cannot achieve. Thunderdome Part 2 Now, were I a member of a level building team, the map I've created above and the back story that goes with it would be presented along with all the others: one from each team member. They would be reviewed by the whole level team, who having all thought it through deeply, are now informed critics, under the watchful eye of the lead that wrote the Flow Diagram. Each design would be unique and all would have their plusses and minuses. No one design will be so perfect that it will be better than everyone else's in every respect. I know there would be better ideas on the table than mine because I work with talented people. But perhaps some of my ideas would be end up being selected and they would go into a final level layout that would be better than anything any one of us could do alone. Fact. And that's magic. Summary • Research thoroughly; there are many people who will know if you skimp. • Always visit a real location for inspiration. • Always start from an architecturally sound floor plan. • Sculpt the play space with events that occurred before the player arrived. • Define the back story through the design and let them feed each other. • Write down the back story so that as the design is realized on screen; all departments can express it through art, animation, and sound. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132801/action_adventure_level_design_.php Follow Toby Website: www.focalpointgames.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/mechabadger
  4. Who is Hardy?Hardy LeBel has been in the game industry for over 20 years, with stints working as the lead designer of ONI and Halo, and as Design Director of Microsoft Game Studios. He's the founder of The Video Game Career Academy. Series IntroIn this Youtube series, Hardy offers an introduction to Level Design. The series is broken into 5 parts as follows: Building Game Levels - Part 1 Building Game Levels - Part 2 Level Design Inspiration and Concept - Part 1 Level Design Inspiration and Concept - Part 2 Game Development Career Questions The Video Series Intro to Level Design: Building Game Levels (Parts 1 & 2) Intro to Level Design: Level Design Inspiration and Concept (Parts 1 & 2) Intro to Level Design: Game Development Career Questions Follow HardyYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRTexStRSiHNR21y4hdx4Yw/videosTwitter: https://twitter.com/RazdByBears Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  5. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying either a game that they are making or one that they are playing! I have been thinking about what to write about, what deep design philosophies can I share with my fellow devs? So many wise thoughts and the one I landed on is “Where is the Toilet?” Now you may be thinking “What the F*** does this have to with Level Design” and I am glad you asked, even though I did not like your sass there. When I ask this question I am asking about the research you have done before building this level and also where is the toilet in your level. (The ‘where is the toilet part’ may not apply to all games or levels) In case you hadn't guessed this post is going to be about Level Designers needing to do more research before starting work on their levels. I know this sounds like an obvious part of level design but I see a lot of young level designers go in and making the level instantly without much thought. I too was guilty of this when I was younger as well. Now when creating anything, the blank screen can be the most intimidating thing ever! We have all been there staring at the screen thinking, “where to begin?” well the answer should always and I mean always…….. No back chat here sonny Jim. Research! So what research am I referring to for level design then? First think of the theme of your level, such as Victorian, utility, native, and also the location of your level as well. A house out in the mountains of Alaska will be designed different to a house in London’s city centre. Gather as many reference pictures as possible for your research. One of my leads (Daniel Molnar, great guy and very intelligent level designer) said to me, “Only when you have 100 pictures, do you start to understand the space” And true to his word he would not let me touch the editor until I had enough pictures, an understanding of the space and how it worked. Thanks to Dan I made a great sewer level and now know the stages of the sewage processing system. So ever since that I ALWAYS try to make sure I make time to do my research, sadly I do not always get as long as I want but I do make sure I have enough pictures to help me create a picture in my head. Now that you understand the location of your level and the theme you want to start looking into the architecture of these buildings and areas. As level designers, we should be looking at architecture regularly. (A cool article on what it was like for architects to work on video games: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DeannaVanBuren/20151012/254238/Architecture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php). Look around the room you are sat in now, and see how many indents, angled corners and other shapes there are which make your room Not a box. Once you start to research these things you will start to pick this stuff up. One thing which is noticeable with inexperienced LDs work is all the rooms are boxes. Architecture is where we see a lot of real level design work every day. How their structures of these buildings affects how we move through them, the layout of rooms, what rooms they have in these buildings, space certain rooms may need and how the flow from one room to another works. One of my favourite things to research is floor plans of buildings. Each of these layouts will be different depending on the theme and will obtain different items as well due to the theme. These will not only help influence your design but also help your artist (or artistic side depending on how you are working) understand how to decorate your level and may possibly help you guys come up with interesting methods to signpost. Another reason is you never know what you might see, which could inspire your design and provide you with something even more incredible. Now for example look at this power plant, which in my opinion is super cool, this top catwalk is interesting as instead of the bridges connected maybe the player has to rotate them from the ground floor to get them to join. With all these layers and sections, it looks like a great area for traversal. Being able to go up, around and under this area is amazing. When it comes to white boxing your level you will be able to show these images to your artist and they will be able to understand what you mean by those giant boxes. “Pictures speak a thousand words”. If you were to put a twist on this power plant and to make it feel like a maze, then now you want to start researching what? Mazes! 10 gold stars (Sounded way more patronizing than I meant it to be). So now we can see that there dead ends but also viewpoints to allow players to find their bearings. When designing this level we can add vantage points for players to scan the area for clues, maybe even have loot/collectibles in certain dead ends to reduce player frustration and reward exploration. Summary on why research/reference is important: - Give you a better understanding of what is believable in this theme. - Provide an idea for your artist on what you want. - Inspire your design choices Where is the toilet? Now onto the second part of the blog (I swear readers are going to get sick of that question) of where is the toilet? Dan had now let me work in the editor it now came time for his reviews on my work, and what was the question he asked me for each of my levels! Yeah you know what it is, now we working together on Tom Clancy’s The Division – Underground which in case you do not know is a procedurally generated dungeon expansion in which players travel through the underground areas of New York, from the subway system to the sewers to clear out the threat brewing underneath the civilians feet. Overall the review was going well, the flow was good, it had good landmarks for players to orientate themselves in case they were lost. But Dan felt some of these areas were not believable because there were no toilets. Because the Division is based on reality I had skipped one thought process when doing my research and that was “How would these spaces of been used before chaos struck?” Boom mind blown, I had created these thrilling and high octane areas but not grounded them in reality or the law of my game’s world. Dan then showed me one of the Senior LDs work who was working on a subway level and what did he have….toilets. His space felt not only good to play through but also was grounded by reality. (Some playthroughs of the expansion HERE) These critics’ could have been avoided had I done my research on these areas I was making and thought about how they are originally used and not just how I would use them for good combat or traversal. If you go back and look at those pictures of the floor plans I have in this blog. You will see how all of them have bathrooms laid out on them. The floor plans are mainly residential or commercial buildings so they will. When making your level, (again will not apply to every game or level) think about how was this spaced use before the player reached it and more than likely how did the people inhabiting this space use it? Because if they are bipedal human-like creatures I think we all know that they will need to use the bathroom at some point or another. Next time you are in a realistic gaming setting, try and find the bathroom, as it will most likely be there. Hope this helps guys and “Where is the bathroom?” is a question I keep asking myself when creating my levels as well as researching the buildings, themes, environments etc, for my game. I hope it makes you think about carrying out your research before starting work on your level. Which trust me will make your level much better and more believable. *This article is posted on Next Level Design with the author's permission Source: https://www.gamesfounder.com/articles/do-your-research-wheres-the-toilet-level-design/ Follow Max Level Design Lobby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCncCrL2AVwpp7NJEG2lhG9Q Website: http://www.maxpears.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  6. Intro This tutorial will cover where to look for ideas/inspiration and how to put them on paper for current or future reference. Please note that this is not the right way of doing things. This is simply my methods of producing and documenting level design ideas.Looking for Ideas There are lots of ways how you can find ideas. Sources of inspiration are practically endless, but the problem is that some are harder to spot than others. Little things such as a shape of a flower can give an idea for an organic level. It's just a matter of how you look at things. Here's a brief list of where you can find ideas: - Digital and printed photos - Movies - Real life architecture - Concept art - Video games - Nature patterns For me one of the most important parts of the level design is atmosphere. I play games to escape reality, to feel like I am in a different place. The way a level designer can create (visual) atmosphere is by paying attention to shape, space and lighting. What kind of shape is it? How does a space define it? How much does a light reveal of that space? All those questions are important to achieve atmosphere. Sound plays a big role in atmosphere as well, as showed in Doom 3 and Condemned games. If you choose to look at architecture for ideas, then my suggestion would be to take a look at contemporary architecture. The reason it can spark a lot of ideas is because it has interesting looking shapes that are wisely defined in space. Most of the structures don't have a lot of textures or small details on them, therefore you are free to use your imagination. *TIP: German publisher Taschen produces some of the most affordable contemporary architecture books of great printing quality.Sketching Ideas Once you found inspiration or got an idea, it's wise to put it on the paper, so you won't forget it. Plus planning a level on the paper before building it in the level editor, guarantees to save you time and prevent most mistakes that could be encountered later in the design process. I suggest using printer and grid paper. Printer paper is great for rough sketches of shapes. Grid paper is more precise and let's you plan the space more wisely.*TIP: Fine point Sharpie marker is great for putting ideas on paper, because you can apply pressure for rough and solid lines. When I find an interesting shape, I draw several variations of it on the printer paper. Some are top view and some are side view. It's wise to put a little note of that next to the sketch, so in the future you won't be confused. Once I'm happy with the shape, I define the space by cross-hatching with pen outside the shape. Making a small solid rectangle for the player size to show the proportions can be useful. Next step would be to use grid paper or continue on the printer paper and add more notes for the sketch. Here's a list of things you can add notes for: - Item placement - Height level - Direction of stairs/slope surface - Entrance/exit points*TIP: Try not to be too specific when putting ideas on the paper, so you can add and improve them later in the design process. At this point you should have enough information to open up the editor and start blocking the level out. Outro I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any comments or questions you can contact me at the links below. *Note - This article does not represent Yan's current approach, which has evolved during the 10+ years since this article was first published. Source: web.archive.org/web/20090412012908/http:/www.methodonline.com:80/ld_ideas.htmFollow Yan Website: methodonline.com/ Twitter: twitter.com/idMethod