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  1. Special thanks to Ivan Buchta from Bohemia Interactive for his help. Introduction According to Cambridge Dictionary: “Landforms are natural shapes on the earth’s surface”. It’s logical to see how important landforms can be for any outdoor video game map. The way those landforms are incorporated can, as we will see, result in interesting situations depending on how and how much they are used in the game. During this presentation, we will use war games of different genres: battle royals, war simulations, and traditional fps such as Battlefield. During this analysis, we will ask ourselves a simple, but important, question: “What is the relationship to the reality of war games with landforms?”. With this question, we will look into games such as Arma 3, Apex Legends or Battlefield 4, 1 and 5. We will analyze what their links are with realism, their vision of realism, and how they adapt that vision of game design according to their vision of realism and what is the legacy of their predecessors: the Wargames. We will conclude by reviewing the impacts of this vision on our modern vision of war with microtopography and the lack of humans. Analysis of the topography in shooters games Mountains and terrain morphology The hills and mountains constitute the most significant type of topography in reality and in video games. Furthermore, they constitute, as we will see, an elegant way to balance levels and put more challenge into games. This is accomplished thanks to the natural obstacle and challenge that hills and mountains present. What do we mean? We'll explain. With this really interesting landform, we'll see how a mountain can create interesting situations in different types of shooter games. First, let’s focus on war simulations such as the Arma series. This series, well known for its commitment to realism and its realistic environments, used mountains as a way to balance play, just as they balance real battles. In real battles, mountains create a really good way to defend an area, or just to keep an eye on it. Also, they give a good advantage to artillery that has a higher range thanks to the altitude. Moreover, it will make it difficult for tanks and other land-based vehicles to access the top of the mountain. Finally, perhaps the most important bonus provided by this landform is the increase to a sniper’s range. This means they can detect and eliminate enemies much easiler than would be possible on flat ground. These bonuses, which are common for all war simulations because they try to mimic reality, are important to balance a battlefield, and these landforms can completely change a game. For example, a poorly placed mountain could create a mismatch between teams. One team could always have an advantage over the other thanks to a mountain that becomes their stronghold. But a well placed hill or mountain can create a true challenge for teams. For example in Red Orchestra 2 Rising Storm, in the map “Hanto”, the attacking team will have to face off a hill as a first obstacle. This hill, protected by machine-guns and flame-throwers, is difficult to take. However, the map is quite easy to go through as an attacker. This means that, during very first seconds of the battle, the attackers and the defenders go through a tense moment because the faster the enemies take that hill the easier they will win. We can see that, in shooter games, hills and mountains are a symbol of dominance and of difficulty. But the Arma series succeeded in putting drawbacks to that landform for the defenders. First of all, the mountains in Arma are sometimes surrounded by dense forests, and so a good commando can sneak into the camp and create a mess, providing an opportunity of attack. In Arma 3, the gameplays and modes are made to encourage good teamwork. And so it motivates players to work together efficiently, rewarding them with a higher probability of breaking through defences. Additionally, if defenders depend too much on the hill, an imbalance in their defences can result in chaos. Errors such as that, which are inherent to the strategic flaws of hills, are also linked to the way that Arma designs war. As we mentioned earlier, Arma tries to be the closest to reality, which means every flaw or bonus of a landform is translated in the game as the same flaw or bonus, meaning that the level design of Arma, as we will see later, is actually inspired by real battles. However, terrain morphologies could be used in ways other than just a military way; they can be used to do proper level design. In smaller maps, edges can be used to set the map’s borders. It can be also used to restrict access to specific areas to allow some levels to load and not others (such as in Firewatch). Mountains can also be used as Landmarks; they're something symbolic that catches the eye of any human. So a mountain can be used as a landmark to give a geographical point of orientation for the player. One example of this can bee seen in Fortnite, where the player can use the mountain as a way to see where the player is. Terrain morphology is a really interesting way to create symbols in level design. It can also be used to enhance the environmental design or narrative design (such as the mountain of Journey which is a narrative symbol and an important landmark). These uses, in addition to the strategic uses, help a lot in creating a coherent and interesting topography for game design. But also the use of terrain morphology can be used for more abstract level design, or for game’s production. Plains Plains look like the most simplistic landform that exists on Earth. They are just plain, flat, as simple as a line. But, correctly used, it can be a good way to design landscapes and include elegant level design into maps. Moreover, going through a simple plain can create thrills or strike fear into the hearts of players. To continue with our thought process, let’s first focus on the flaws and keys strengths of the plain. The first, and most obvious, key strength of the plain is the ease with which vehicles/squads can be transported, which means the players won’t have difficulty transporting vehicles such as trucks or tanks. It’s also provides a space to easily land a helicopter or airplane, for example. This key strength makes a plain a good way to gather units, even to build camps. And of course, it’s quite easy to go through a plain in comparison to rough terrain. There’s another key strength, which is also a flaw: it’s easy to aim with artillery on a plain. Despite the fact that targets are more mobile, the lack of natural protection (trees, landforms) makes aiming at them easier. This means if someone has to mount an attack on a plain, the attackers can pound the area to exsanguinate the besieged. This also means that anyone who is in a plain is an easy target, and this doesn’t only apply for artillery, but also for snipers or anti-vehicle/infantry weapons. This flaw has a major influence in the UX of the Arma series. Going down to the plains isn’t just walking straight like nothing will happen to the player. It’s clearly the opposite: Arma’s players are afraid of the plains. Because the danger can be everywhere for them. It can be from the sides by rivals trying to ambush them. It can be from in front of them in the form of a sniper. Or worse, it can be from above them by the artillery or aviation pounding them. This creates real stress for players. Each minute in a plain creates tension in the group because they become paranoid at every noise. They need to be extremely vigilant to survive. A single moment of inattention can lead to the death of the whole group. Also, as stated earlier, plains are a good place to create an ambush because it’s easy to flank and contain a squad with motorized infantry. The plains lend some freedom to the player to choose a path to complete an objective, the cover and the vegetation have their specifics and allow the player to choose which path is the better in his situation. So putting a plain in a map is useful if we want to create a meeting point of players or to create tension into a game by making plains the only way to reach the enemy. That makes the plain a good element to create an elegant and dynamic level design. The Forest Forests are often seen in video games, but their use can be very different from one game to another. Some games don’t have huge forests because of performance issues. They can, for example, create a specific atmosphere to a game, create hiding places, be a focal point etc... In an FPS, the forest can serve as a hiding place and/or be used as a tool to change the gameplay. In Arma 3, the jungle is ever present in the Tanoa map, especially in the middle of isles. It forces players to play as infantry (it’s too hard to control vehicles in the jungle) and challenges them on that particular fight situation (close combat). The jungle also limits visual information, which can be stressful if danger was teased before. This technique can be very useful for solo or coop levels. The camouflage has high importance in the forest, the player can hardly see enemies so the environment becomes very stressful for him. In Battle royal games, the forests are used to hide and collect information, which gives players a feeling of security and control of the situation. It’s also a place where the gameplay combat changes, and players are forced into close quarters combat like in FPS. In Fortnite, another use of the forest is to hold resources. Players are pushed to play in forests to take advantage of and use resources during the game. This kind of area becomes attractive to players, providing an area for them to prepare for an upcoming fight. The resulting decrease to the pacing gives players a break before the inevitable rush of adrenaline that will happen in the upcoming battle. In real life, a forest is a place where it’s difficult to walk because of mud, brambles, roots etc.. Like some real forests, in video games the player often has to zig-zag between rocks and trees. It has different atmospheres, depending on the hour of the day, the season, and various other parameters. Contrary to the forests in video games, where the gameplay is the primary atmospheric influence, a real forest’s atmosphere is influenced by the weather. However, the weather is used a lot in video games as well, to provoke a more realistic setting. Watercourses In video games, watercourses are mostly used as obstacles or as communication routes. In Fortnite, the watercourses have two goals. The first is to give a pleasant way to move across the map, watercourses provide a fast and easy way to reach the next “safe zone”. This goal is linked to the second goal, have a place to fight and break the monotony of some games. People are attracted by the advantages of having boats, and the level design encourages boats to go to the middle of the map, so some fights happen to take advantage of other players. In Heroes and Generals, the players can swim to cross watercourses, but can’t use their weapons. So it’s a dangerous move which can be rewarding if the player succeeds, allowing them to access a new situation. This kind of moment is highlighted when the objective is on a bridge, or on the opposite shore. When attempting to cross the watercourse, the player feels mainly stress because of the danger, but if he succeeds and kills other players the feeling of satisfaction and pride will be very high, which helps to balance out frustration resulting from previous deaths. Real watercourses are a way to exchange, to move or to communicate. But in wartime, they becomes an obstacle, and bridges become strategic points. The watercourse’s goals in video games are very close to the uses of rivers in real life. Origins, context and construction Large water areas Large water areas are in the majority of the open world games (The Witcher, GTA V, Just Cause etc…). Often, they are used as a border, but sometimes they serve the gameplay. Like in Metro Exodus, where the goal is to put pressure on the player, and to do that they include some water areas with aggressive monsters inhabiting them. You can see when they go underwater, but you don’t know when and where they will attack you. These monsters produce a sensation of insecurity and pressure. Combined with the poor maneuverability of the boat, the player feels like he can’t control the situation and must adapt to complete his objectives. In Arma the large water areas and watercourses allow players an alternate method of completing objectives. It links to the game design of the game, which aims to give some freedom to players with vehicles and other ways to move. One example of this is the Tanoa map, where islands are separated by the sea and players must use ships, planes... or swim. Seas and oceans are empty, occasionally used to transport goods. We can see a parallel between the games which use the sea as borders and the empty area in the ocean, the two have no interest for the majority of people but can also serve as communication roads. Life and topography We noted previously that games try to be very realistic with their topography and use it to improve their gameplay, but it often lacks something important to make it feel very realistic: life. Some animals are in Arma, such as rabbits and lambs, but there aren’t any civilians living in the cities, mountains, or other landforms. Those games are dedicated to wars, and so the battlefields are just a place to fight, and not to live. Arma and Apex Legends provide a clear vision of “realism” for these games. War isn’t something dirty, with lives or cities destroyed. It’s just a sandbox where you can “play war” with your friends, like when you were a child. And this gives a biased view of war. They tend to make players see “realistic” war games as games that tend to have ballistics, wind, and a huge FOV. Even more, it doesn’t include the uncertainties of war created by civilians: road nails, makeshift roadblocks or sabotage of team sites. This tends to make the players think that a war simulation doesn’t need civilians to be realistic. Nevertheless, the games with the most realistic part about humans are the military simulations. VBS is a good example of this type of game. To train military's, some civilians are in cities. They are autonomous and react to the environment, but their impact on the environment is non-existent. The DLC “Laws of War” from Arma 3 is an exception, Bohemia Interactive tried to put the human in the centre of the game. Despite the last part being very difficult to develop (because it’s requires very complex AI) it could be interesting to add this into games. But to make the environment credible, impacts of life could be visible. For example, in Battlefield 1 blast craters are the result of the actions of humans. Little paths or mines in Arma are created by the action of animals or humans. This produces environmental storytelling which is important to create stories and make the environment credible. As we saw previously, the human (except players and militaries NPCs) is not often represented in shooters and has a limited impact on topography. (Nevertheless, initiatives to represent the human factor exist, like “Spec Ops the Line”...) In Spec Ops: The Line it’s pretty clear to see all the influence of war in the area, building exploded, traces of previous human life which was here to show how terrible the event is. Despite the sand being mostly symbolical in this game, it shows a really good overview of how a cataclysm and war can affect humans in terms of psychology and topology. It could be a bad example because in this game everything is scripted, contrary to Arma 3 (despite the campaigns are scripted it’s still more free than Spec Ops: The Line). Context and history of the topography in-games Video game landscapes are inspired by natural landscapes, but their utility in game-design can come from literature, movies, series etc… For example, in movies like Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, the swamps represent something dangerous and scary, where we can barely walk. and it’s hard to move around. The landing of Luke Skywalker, the creature who eats R2-D2, and the sinking of the vessel enhance this sensation. We can find the same feelings in Metro Exodus, where the boats are hard to handle and there are enemies both in and outside of the dirty water. These reactions can be explained by the dangerous animals we can find in swamps (Snakes, Leopards, Crocodiles etc…), the lack of visibility, and the difficulty for humans to live here. So the natural landscapes and the corresponding reactions are inspirerd by stories created by traditional media, and these stories were converted into gameplay by designers. History is also a great inspiration for topography in games. As said before, battles were mainly influenced by the topography (Waterloo might be a very good example of this, because the French partially lost because of the topology). This explains why the Topology has been a key factor in many strategy games. Many great battles (mainly in the Total War’s series) are represented in games. The point of view is different from one game to another, but the goal is the same: let the player experience the battle as if they were part of the history. And the exactitude of the topology helps a lot in immersing the player into the experience (and also rewarding them if they play the role of the loser, such as for Waterloo’s battle in Total War Napoleon). Making the topology a key factor of immersion also influences the way to maps are designed. Level design is, for sure, heavily impacted by this. The level designers have to make a historically precise battle, meaning that the battle will be unbalanced. This way to design could sound really strange but it’s actually made in a way that players have to use their game’s knowledge. But also, and it makes that kind of games pretty unique: their historical knowledge. Thanks to historically accurate AI behaviour/units. But the relation between topography and Game-Design is not exclusive to video-games. Warhammer games are precursors in the use of the topography, the magic zones, the covers, the dangerous zones etc.. add different elements to play, so each game is unique. The rules help represent what could happen in reality. For example, the more a unit is hidden behind cover, the higher the penalty for shooting at it. Nevertheless, the use of environments is limited by very precise rules which make it difficult to have different ways to play with it. Pipeline creation of realistic map Example of the production pipeline of Bohemia Interactive to create maps. (“Terrain Processor” and “Terrain Builder” are internal tools) To create a huge map inspired by real locations, developers can use the geographic data. The geo data is data of the topography. To obtain it, developers can buy, download or create it. They can buy NASA’s data. They can also ask private companies to get it for them, etc. They then analyse the data with a GIS (Geographic Information System) (which shows where there are mountains, their height, width...where the rivers are...). Data points are adapted to the game, reducing the size of the map, the height of the mountains, etc. as needed. Terrain must also sometimes be adapted to facilitate the job of AI, and the gameplay of players. Finally, the map is implemented in the game and playable content can be made with it. Conclusion During our presentation, we saw that games have two main ways to represent landforms. The first is a non-realistic one, where the gameplay is more important than landforms. In this approach, landforms are adapted depending on the game design, and those landforms are used to enhance the game design. The second way is to use the landforms in a realistic way, which means those games try to represent as close as possible the influences of the landform on the soldiers. This way sounds the closest one to reality, and those games also try to be the closest to reality, as the game design is adapted to the landforms and not the reverse. It could be a quick, logical, and quite a simple answer to say that the scientific approach of war simulations is more realistic than Apex Legends or Fortnite. As mentioned earlier, although there is a huge lack of humans in games, there is more and more of an awareness to develop games so that civilians are included. We can even cite the humanitarian aspect in, for example, the ARMA series. But this awareness is clearly a niche compared to the vast majority of shooters. And many ARMA players won’t play the add-on despite the great sales (more than 300k sales). Even though It's a wonderful initiative and well done (half of the revenues were given to the charity and it respects Geneva laws), it’s very little compared to the very large sales of Red Orchestra, Fortnite, or even Arma 3 itself, which don’t talk of civilians normally. And VBS isn’t accessible to civilians. This tends to make us think that if we want realistic landforms maybe those war simulations need to rethink their vision of war in general despite some of them (and the most famous) trying to get rid of this lifeless vision of war. Follow Remi Twitter: https://twitter.com/RemiDumas Follow Erwann Website: https://pottiererwann6.wixsite.com/erwannpottier Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  2. This article by Deanna Van Buren (who assisted on 'This Witness') makes a compelling case for collaborating with an architect (or learning more about architecture yourself) . What you're about to read below is a recap of the full article, which is linked at the end. The article covers 9 essential areas: Developing architectural narratives Integrating landscape and architecture Building design Deploying materials & textures Scaling, proportion, and style Details Transitions Characters and environment The space in between In this recap, we will be covering 'Developing Architectural Narratives', 'Details', and 'The Space in Between'. The areas not covered here hold a lot of value, so we strongly recommend readying the full article. DESIGNING FOR GRAVITAS: THINGS TO CONSIDER There are 10 basic things that games tend to do that could be avoided with some design knowledge and application. I am going to refer to some games other than The Witness as both successful and less successful because they are popular, diverse, and frankly most of them I really like. It would be nice to see them taken to the next level so that the environments are not distracting and incongruent with the goals they are trying to achieve. Developing Architectural Narratives It is always helpful to remember that landscapes and architecture are based in the temporal, physical, and institutional constraints of the real world. What is the topography of the land? What materials are available to us? What climate are we in? What are the zoning laws? Where is the sun coming from? Therefore, one of our first questions we asked Jonathan’s team (Thekla) was “What direction is north?” They replied, “What difference does that make?” I knew then that we would need to recreate and reframe the real world constraints with which we had been working. In order to design customized environments we would need to develop a narrative and new kinds of constraints that would define it. So how do we create narratives that deliver rich environments? Sometimes in an effort to create a holistic identity or world, video games commit to one style/period, or genre yet this is not how environments exist in reality. Our built environments have history, a story across time. They are layered. In The Witnesswe use this passage of time to create the narrative so the environments are a series of adaptively re-used buildings and landscapes beginning with prehistoric times to the present day and beyond. Each building and landscape is designed in response to the needs of at least one civilization and in some buildings all three civilizations are expressed. For example, at the edge of the island is a concrete factory that sits in a quarry. The environment registers how the Stone Age people (Civilization I) began to quarry stone for tombs through small cuts in the cliff side. Then one can see where the stone was mined at a larger scale for religious structures such as churches and cathedrals in Civilization II. A church is built here both carved and constructed from the stones being quarried around it. As Civilization III developed, even larger stones were mined and used to make concrete, a more contemporary building material. Small stones were also required as aggregate and the church was converted to a factory in order to scale this process and construct other buildings on the island. As a gameplay wayfinding element, the factory exhaust rises up out the old steeple. Inside factory equipment integrated with the religious frieze panels provide the game artists with additional opportunities to tell a deeper lever of narrative. While architectural narratives like these were easy for us to develop, they may not be as easy for gameplay developers. For us the gameplay constraints were more challenging. We were fortunate to have a developer like Jonathan who provided us with what became our primary constraint-game play. The rules of The Witness with regards to gameplay were rigorous and finite in many ways. As architects, we had to learn about what this meant. It is one of the things architects need to understand when working with developers and an aspect that developers can more rigorously apply to environmental design. Integrating landscape and architecture - Follow the link at the end to read this section Building design - Follow the link at the end to read this section Deploying materials & textures - Follow the link at the end to read this section Scaling, proportion, and style - Follow the link at the end to read this section Details Along with understanding scale and proportion comes the proper rendering of details in the architecture. These may be done to avoid abstraction of space if your art style is refined or making them simpler if things are of a looser style. What is most important is being consistent with the level of detail and the scale of these elements. It is something we spent a while on in the witness so that the lighting, stairs, door handles, furniture, or window openings are all developed at the same level of consistent detail and in alignment with our art style. For us, it made doing modern architecture difficult at times and we worked hard to create details that reflected these assemblies in a low poly yet realistic way for the painterly quality we wanted. The Witness: Hub Chapel This scene from Ether One looks great, but making this small change would harmonize the entire space. Mirror's Edge is another game that does a particularly great job of detailing most of its elements. They make strategic use of building systems such as electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems with color to guide gameplay movement and perception. It is visually pleasing due to the lack of noise yet it is rich at the same time just by understanding materials, transitions, details, and assemblies of the built world. Even a game like Relativity that is diverse spatially but simple in its execution has an incredible consistency that makes it wonderful to be in. Another beautiful but quite different game that also makes good use of detail is Relativity. It is diverse spatially, unique in its style and simple and consistent in its palette and details, which I think helps you to feel immersed in this MC Echer-esque world. Detailing contrasting components well is also a great opportunity for good design. For example, the integration of layers of time in The Talos Principle is interesting, and it is these moments that it could have been nice to think about how they would integrate given they are very prominent in the environment. Rather than stick things on the stone, these technological pieces could have been integrated in the tectonic of the old castle wall in a more sophisticated way that would have added some gravitas to the look and feel of the game, supported the narrative and built on the textures that had. Transitions - Follow the link at the end to read this section The Space in Between While the architecture itself is important the relationships between buildings is just as important as the building itself. They are part of an overall scene that you are creating in every moment, and understanding how buildings can create outdoor rooms and a diversity of spatial experiences definitely enhances gameplay. The Talos Principle is an example of a game that has some great spaces that are scaled really well and others that are not so much. In many areas there is a flatness to the experience since there is no strong vertical expression or experience of the architecture that would traditional be found in castles due to their purpose and use as place for protection and surveillance. The open spaces, courtyards or baileys where you are shooting are too large compared to the wall height, and what would have been the interior spaces of the castle. An opportunity would have been to harness the design of castles and the development of the radial form of the medieval city to help with the experience of the game and provide more interest to the experience through spatial variety that reflects the historical narrative of this time. Most buildings prior to the Modernist movement have a hierarchy to them like the church nave or the grand entry. This flattening of the architectural experience in the agency of gameplay goes counter to our experience of this type of architecture and is a missed opportunity. Why not use the logic of these buildings to enhance gameplay? Many games also often have large spaces that have game assets floating in them. An unrealistic building or room density does not provide containment of the events unfolding. Often objects are out of scale to one another or larger than any element might be in reality. For example, the Gone Home entry foyer in plan is massively out of proportion with the height and the scale of any suburban home as viewed from the outside. The assets are floating in the space in ways that feel out of context with the real experience of domestic space pulling us out of the immersive reality. The player is drawn to the objects because they stand out in a bare room but it seems like they would have been more successful by integrating assets into well-scaled environments. They could use the space itself to guide players to these components in a sophisticated way perhaps through light, color, and detail. Gone Home is one of my favorite games to play because it makes use of 3D and 2D representation of this space. It would have been more powerful to create a house or even a compound that had some logical complexity to it and generated a domestic environment that made sense and enhanced the game play experience by drawing on our personal memories of home. CONCLUSION While all these aspects of design are important, the most critical thing that I teach to professionals and students alike is to just wake up and pay attention to the world around you. I hope that these recommendations can help you do that even if you choose not to work with an architect. I would also like to conclude by presenting a bigger vision for this collaboration. I believe that everything we do creatively influences our larger cultural context. As more members of our society begin to play games in well-designed digital environments, we will ultimately improve the visual literacy of our population. In doing so, I believe there is a reverse effect where we will start to expect more from our physical environments rather than ignore them as we often do now. We will start to question the strip mall, the big box stores, suburban landscapes filled with McMansions and the bland colorless panelized architecture we crank out in the United States, at least. Maybe through the immense creativity found in the creation of digital environments we can envision better physical environments that foster imagination, community, sustainability, and well-being. In doing so I also hope that we have moved further down the road of accessing the power of video games to change the world around us for the better. Read the full article here: www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DeannaVanBuren/20151012/254238/Architecture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php Follow Deanna Twitter: twitter.com/deannavanburen?lang=en Website: https://echoinggreen.org/fellow/deanna-van-buren/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  3. The Importance of Planning I think there are a lot of different and often very good ways to start a level and what you should do depends greatly on the kind of game you want to create something for, your own experience, and so forth. So there’s no ready recipe for that. In general the most important thing is to think things through. Properly sit down and think about what it is you want to make. Especially if you are new to this. I do a lot by the flow, because I base what I do on previous experience and I know it will work out anyway, but if you are new to it – plan everything. Whether you plan by just sitting down somewhere and thinking it through, or by drawing a plan, or by using Lego, it doesn’t matter. Just ensure you think it through in detail. Exactly what are you building? What are the potential problems you might face? What will make this special and unique and can you amplify that further? Sculpting The Landscape The Solus Project I’ve used World Machine for one of the sections in The Solus Project but it didn’t help too much. Our landscapes are too specific and small for World Machine. I do use World Machine to generate distant mountains and landscape elements though. Works very well for that. The way you should build the landscape depends so much on exactly what you build. You should of course always take the player’s camera angle into account. A real time strategy game with an overhead camera would see different things than a first person player of course, but other than that it is a very wide question. I personally start out with nothing more than the landscape and sculpt it until it is about what I had in mind. Then I place the biggest rocks on buildings on top, and continue with sculpting the landscape. These objects give me a better understanding of scale, distance, composition and so forth. Style VS Reality A stylized look can be really cool, I love The Walking Dead for example, but it is not my style. I like keeping it realistic, but at the same time I don’t want to make the real world. There is enough of that around us already, and if you do that you need to do it super well because everyone is going to compare you attempt at realism with what they know of the world. That makes it hard to pull off properly. Going more artistic solves that, and it is more fun also. It gives you a lot more possibilities to create something impressive and memorable. Don’t Confuse the Player I tend to place things carefully. Like a tree that fell down can create a line, a kind of border where it fell, so I will deliberately place these kind of things to create subtle barriers and lines where I need them to guide the players in the right direction. Even if people can just step over said fallen tree, you tend to recognize these kind of lines and borders and change your navigation accordingly. Navigation aside there is also visual composition to keep in mind. You don’t want it cluttered with random elements, so I will place things to create balanced and varied yet not too varied areas. In TSP in particular also tend to place stone blocks in rows, statues, or blue ship debris to highlight certain directions or areas. Look At The Sky The skies in The Solus Project are all built by me from scratch. They are not actual skyboxes, but gigantic 3D skies. The planets you see are a million units across and actual 3D objects that orbit the world. The first Unreal taught me that skies are crucial to the experience, so I have always put a lot of emphasis on making good skies. A sky should be varied, have a sense of scale, drama, and give a clear indication of where the light is coming from. The sun in general is crucial. I see a lot of people simply paint in a bright dot in the sky with a lot of bloom and be done with it, but I spend many days making my sun and it consists of many different layers of flares. The great majority of my sun has nothing to do with Bloom or Lightshafts or such at all, it is all done by hand, and I think people greatly underestimate the work you should invest in making the sun and the sky. Do Light Early On I always do basic light early on, after I placed the majority of most important geometry, just to get a sense of space and feel for it, but after that I will hold off doing lighting until texturing and geometry is nearly entirely finished. You cannot do lighting if you don’t know what kind of colors your textures will have, so that must come first for me. Keeps development streamlined also by doing things in clearly divided steps. Lighting has a major impact on gameplay, for example it can help or confuse the navigation of the player by highlighting or darkening the exit. It can make the player careful if it is dark, or it can make the player feel more stressed if there are for example a lot of blinking red lights, and so forth. Everything is Connected In general everything has an impact on everything. If you build games you should always look at the entire picture and never do one thing independently of another. Optimize Your Scene A lot of students hit a problem with optimization for two reasons. First of all they never really get forced to think about it, because a portfolio piece is almost always small in size, plus doesn’t has to run on a wide range of platforms and devices, so they never get to cover the optimization part of the job. And secondly this is also something that just needs a lot of experience, which you don’t have if you start out. I don’t really care if I can make one particular area look nice, that isn’t very hard to do, what I care about is if I can mass produce similar graphics and art throughout dozens if not hundreds of locations in the entire game, and done in such way that I never have to go back in and optimize it. So when I begin building something, I will immediately take into account everything that could potential slow either me, the player, or the hardware down further down the line and I try to cover as much of it as I can right away. Think about the big picture, and think it through what could all end up being slow, and tackle it all before it is a problem. Guide The Player I tend to create pockets of free space, followed by linear sections and bottlenecks. So you can explore freely in certain areas, but there is only one way out of each of those areas. I ensure the way out is always in a way special, for example the top of a hill, or near a large statue. So you can find it back and feel naturally inclined to go there, yet still have the opportunity to go elsewhere also. If you look at a game like GTA 5 which is pretty much entirely about trying stuff out and doing whatever you feel you want to do, that still has a very streamlined singleplayer experience build in as well I would say. So it is perfectly possible to combine the two, but it depends on the type of game on exactly how you are doing it. Technology Does Not Kill Creativity If the technology becomes better you actually have less need for avoiding creative risk because you don’t have the tech to worry about and you can thus go all out on more creative games. I think that that is actually happening in a portion of the market because powerful and free engines like the Unreal Engine create a new kind of niche market. It attracts small teams who don’t need a multi-million dollar hit game to survive, and thus those teams can focus on more creative experiences. That said, there are of course also a lot of run of the mill kind of games being released, but I don’t think the tech is to blame there. What you we are dealing with in general is a games market that has exploded over the past few years. 10 years ago it was very hard to sell a game without a publisher, nowadays there are a 100 different ways of getting your game out there. That attracts a lot of people, and a lot more games get made because of that. That consequently also means you will have a lot more copycats, simply because there are so many more games and because it is so much easier to step into the market. On top we have seen the mid tier developers disappear over the last couple of years, only to begin bouncing back up now. For a couple of years now we have been left with only some of the largest studios around, and those large studios can’t usually take the risk of doing something too new or creative due to the budgets involved. Budgets that are nowadays a lot higher than they were before, and games made for a market that has a million times more competition then 10-15 years ago. Original Article Location: 80.lv/articles/10-rules-of-building-great-games-and-levels/ *This article is posted in its entirety with permission from the author Follow Hourences Website: www.hourences.com/ Twitter: twitter.com/Hourences