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  1. WAYWO has landed. This is one giant leap for Level Design, one giant leap for Video Games. Or anything else you all deem appropriate to discuss in here, since it is traditional to go way, way, WAY(wo) off topic.... 😉
  2. Preface Architecture theory is a considerably broad subject, an amalgamation of numerous artistic and psychological sensibilities. However, regardless of architectural movement or era, one idea has proved itself a philosophical mainstay. In the words of architect Louis Khan; “architecture is the thoughtful making of space”. For centuries, architects have been concerned with how physical forms shape and manipulate the spatial void they are placed within, exploring how this influences the ways in which human beings interact with space. Even though digital game levels are intangible, players interface with these spaces in a fashion to how their own bodies would interact with the world around them. Hence, level design can be approached through an architectural lens to enrich the player’s experience of digital spaces. In this assignment, I shall explore how level designers have utilized architecture theory in their craft. Throughout, I will introduce and explain several spatial principles and present a curated range of game spaces that employ them. This will display the ways in which level designers have utilized, subverted or otherwise re-purposed architectural theory to enrich player experience, but may also show how genre affects these decisions. Emotionally-guided Planning of Space A ‘parti pris’¸ often shortened to ‘parti’, is a planning technique that some architects use early in their design process to identify their project’s layout and spatial qualities. Usually a sketch of the site’s overhead layout, the parti can be informed by external ideas which often transcend the physicality of architectural form. Through this approach, an architectural piece can become a physical manifestation of the philosophical concept it was founded upon. Meaning ‘spirit of place’, the Roman concept of genius loci has been adapted by architects to describe when a place is recognized for a remarkable or memorable quality. For some level designers, the genius loci may exist through an intended gameplay experience that is shaped by their game genre. In horror game Dead Space 2, hostile enemies were omitted from the chapter ‘Déjà Vu on the Ishimura’ which subverted player expectation and placed it among the most memorable moments of the game’s campaign. The genius loci here can be considered as being the elevation of dramatic tension throughout the level’s spatial atmosphere. Place and Space Figure-ground Theory Generally, it can be assumed that both architects and level designers must possess a fundamental understanding of how shapes and spaces are visually organised. A way for this to be achieved is application of gestalt theory; the psychological study of human perception. Level designer Christopher W. Totten refers to level design as “an art of contrasts”, in which the gestalt component of figure-ground theory can be applied. Figure-ground theory states that all components within a person’s visual field can be separated into two contrasting elements: ‘figures’ and ‘ground’. For Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts”. Through the lens of architectural design, this idea is present; form and space must be considered equally to be distinguishable and understood. Architect Francis D. K. Ching defines the relationship between figure and ground as “a unity of opposites”, alluding to both elements having equal significance to a visual composition. There are two ways in which the placement of figures will determine how the surrounding ground is visually processed: Positive space is created when figures are arranged to imply shape within them. The ground itself can be perceived as a figure. Negative space occurs when Figures are placed distantly from one another, making the ground appear shapeless and uncontained. Ching reinforces how the base principles behind figure-ground theory remain significant when applied to Architecture, claiming that “architectural form occurs at the juncture between mass and space”. This perspective echoes throughout the application of spatial theory in both architecture and level design. Here, mass and space are the tangible equivalents to figure and ground. There must be always be a perceivable contrast between form and space to retain visual clarity. The contrast between figure and ground has numerous was of being achieved, including colour, value, and texture. N++, as a two-dimensional platformer, does not adhere to many architectural sensibilities. Despite this, the game’s minimalistic level design highlights the symbiotic dichotomy between mass and space. The figures and ground are easily identifiable from each other due to their heavily contrasting colours and values (see Figure 1). Fig. 1: N++ 2016. 'Parkour Park Prototype' level. [screenshot by the author]. Here, the white masses shown are physical structures, and the navy-coloured void is the space in which players navigate through. The placement of obstacles and enemies within the playable space help to prevent the player from alternating their perspective of the game’s figures and ground, a problem that occurs when both elements of a visual composition have roughly equal presence. Some levels in N++ are prone to this problem, where their masses and spaces dominating equal space and disrupting the distinction between figure and ground. This is exacerbated when the level’s masses appear to be extensions of the surrounding game border (see Figure 2). Highlighting the shortcomings of a minimalistic colour palette, scenarios like these have potential to confuse the player, as the game environment consequently becomes more difficult to read. However, these abstract visual compositions could be considered a positive or otherwise intriguing quality, contributing to the level’s genius loci. Fig. 2: N++ 2016. 'Learning Process' level. [screenshot by the author]. Landmarks Urban designer Kevin Lynch proposed that urban city environments are comprised of five key elements. One of these elements, landmarks, can be considered a significant level design tool to enrich a game’s environment. At an urban scale, landmarks are typically physical structures like towers, distinctive buildings, or statues, that serve as spatial anchors or reference points for pedestrians. Furthermore, landmarks have potential to contribute to a space’s genius loci. Lynch believed that the “principal factor” for an object to be considered a landmark was its visual contrast to a background, which could be achieved through application of figure-ground theory. The Eiffel Tower is perhaps one of the most renowned examples of a landmark utilizing figure-ground effectively. Here, the sky itself is the ground in which the figure is placed upon (see Figure 3). This grants Paris a landmark of immense scale that can be observed and referenced several kilometres from its origin. Fig. 3: Gustave Eiffel 1889. The Eiffel Tower. Landmarks as World-enriching Figures Naturally, Level Designers can use skyboxes in outdoor environments to similar effect. The skybox can also be made visually distinguishable from the game’s horizon, resulting in a significant amount of negative space to be used as the ground for landmark figures. In World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, players are immediately greeted by a monolithic structure upon their arrival to the fictional city of Dazar’alor (see Figure 4). This structure is a gilded, Mesoamerican-influenced pyramid that houses the upper echelons of the native society and their seat of power. Visually, the pyramid contrasts its background to a similar magnitude of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. Fig. 4: World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. 2018. Pyramid landmark in Dazar'alor. [screenshot by the author]. The placement of Dazar’alor’s pyramid echoes architectural conventions of spatial elevation. Ching identifies how the physical elevation of a structure is often a culturally informed decision, venerating the site’s religious or social importance to the area it has risen above. The pyramid itself is among the tallest locations on the entire continent of Zandalar, indicating its significance to the city’s cultural identity. Home to the Zandalari Trolls, the races’ occupation of the structure symbolises their dominance and mastery over the land. This notion continues through the bold, triangular shape of the pyramid, which mimics the surrounding mountains. Similarly, the Citadel in Half Life 2 carries a similar theme of dominance over the surrounding landscape, but in such a way that it appears overwhelmingly oppressive. The Citadel’s futuristic, muted features and monstrous size have a discordant but contrasting presence among the dated, brick-and-mortar apartment blocks of City 17. The tower evokes a sense of dread or unease, which is fitting, as Totten explains how the game establishes very early that the Citadel is the location of the game’s primary antagonist. Using Landmarks as Diegetic Pathfinding Devices Additionally, level designers can place landmarks throughout game levels as physical goals or locations that the player must reach. The impact of using waypoints in this manner can be augmented by an architectural technique that Frederick describes as “denial and reward”. Generally, the intention behind this is to make arrival to a landmark or destination feel more satisfying. In the context of level design, denial and reward is used during the player’s passage to a landmark. Landmarks become temporarily obscured from view, only to be revealed later from a new distance or perspective. Revealing the landmark from increasingly closer distances can indicate the passage of time to player in a natural and unobtrusive way, compelling the player to proceed. Journey utilizes this technique well. The game’s primary objective is to reach the mountain, a distant landmark that is introduced almost immediately after the game begins. The mountain often leaves the player’s field of view as they complete puzzles and traverse the abandoned landscape, but will occasionally resurface, appearing closer to the player. The physical qualities of the mountain are layered; new details are made apparent to the player as they get closer to the summit. These details include changes in weather, as well as the addition of small ruins and structures that would have been impossible to see from a greater distance. Further Exploration of Positive and Negative Spaces Positive Spaces in Urban Environments In urban environments, architectural figures are often placed in such a way that shapes the within them, implying spaces without using form. These positive spaces act as “dwelling” zones where people are typically found to socialise. The Nolli Map demonstrates the use of these spaces throughout the entire city of Rome, Italy (see Figure 5). Fig. 5: Nolli 1748. Segment of the 'Nolli Map'. Major cities in World of Warcraft, social environments using the same considerations of positive space. Like many urban environments, the positive spaces in the city of Stormwind are shaped by the placement of architectural figures. Overhead, the city is shown to have its districts separated by rooftop colour. This is the primary way in which each district’s visual identity can be distinguished. Characteristics like these, although simple, reflect urban planner Kevin Lynch’s criteria used to define ‘districts’ in urban cities, another one of his five urban city elements. Additionally, Stormwind’s layout uses canals to further separate these spaces, resulting in the transition between the city’s district a being very apparent to players navigating through the city. In Stormwind City, the Trade District is typically where social interactions between players’ game avatars are concentrated. By observing a figure-ground plan of the area, (see Figure 6), these hotspots are shown to be within the district’s positive spaces. Fig. 6: Tancock 2018. Stormwind Trade District Figure-ground Diagram. The high number of players in this zone can be attributed to the clustering of character services that are otherwise sparsely located in the game world, namely the Bank and Auction House. Like many dwelling spaces in urban architecture, the high player activity can be taken for the Trade District’s landmark. This mirrors the findings of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, that designer Claire Hosking references in her exploration of positive spaces. The positive spaces in the Trade District can be considered a ‘social canvas’, where the high concentration of players has increased potential interaction. These spaces can be utilized by level designers to create memorable social gathering places. Negative Spaces in Multiplayer Shooters Like positive space, negative space in urban design is defined by the spatial relationship between architectural figures. Here, negative space occurs when the arrangement of figures does not imply space, making the ground appear uncontained and shapeless. The use of negative space can be further considered from a three-dimensional perspective. Like landmarks, playable spaces can be visually identified by contrasting the negative space surrounding them. The rampant popularity of the Unreal Tournament map Facing Worlds (see Figure 7) is often attributed to its use of negative space. For arena shooters, the use of negative space allows players to distinguish other players, both hostile and friendly, from great distances. Additionally, negative space aids in the identification of power weapons and game mode objectives. Fig. 7: Unreal Tournament 1999. ‘Facing Worlds' multiplayer map. Level designer Jim Brown compares the use of negative space of Facing Worlds to the lack thereof in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 map Favela. Here, the environment’s negative space is more difficult to distinguish from the playable space, leading to confusion and frustration from players. Despite this, Brown admits that the map’s environmental design was faithful to its architectural source material; the favelas of Brazil. The primary threat in competitive shooters comes from the presence of hostile players. Therefore, level designers must emphasize negative spaces to make all players identifiable from the game environment. This approach should reduce external factors, outside of the individual skill of the player, that reduces the frustration from failure. In this context, the ‘failure’ comes from being killed by an enemy player. In Modern Warfare 2, the single-player mission ‘Takedown’ is also set within a Brazilian favela, utilizing the same level design language and lack of visual clarity as its multiplayer equivalent. Level designer Dan Taylor uses this level to justify that “confusion is cool” but admits that these situations should be carefully and sparingly implemented. It can be argued that using negative space to a similar extent of Facing Worlds would have detracted from the level’s experiential qualities. Repurposing Architectural Conventions for Level Design Although many spatial considerations of level design are analogous to their architectural roots, the ways in which people and players experience these spaces are inherently different. Totten manipulates architect Le-Corbusier’s philosophy towards modern architecture, as he states how Level design is often constructed around challenges or situations that must be overcome by the player; “the game level should be the machine for living, dying, and creating tension by exploiting everything in between”. Some principles of architecture must be subverted or otherwise manipulated to achieve said intended experience. Spatial Considerations of Multiplayer Map Design First introduced in Call of Duty: Black Ops, the multiplayer map Nuketown has been embraced by game modding communities and has since appeared in later Call of Duty titles. Nuketown’s popularity, like many other renowned competitive multiplayer maps, could be partially attributed to its use of synergy between positive and negative spaces. The spatial organisation of Nuketown (see Figure-8) is based on a suburban living space. Positive and negative spaces are combined in order to separate to allow for both dwelling and movement spaces. Similar layouts can be found on various College and University campuses. Fig. 8: Tancock 2018. Nuketown Figure-ground Diagram. Although multiplayer maps like Nuketown follow the same spatial arrangement of real suburban spaces, the purpose of these spaces is manipulated to better serve the shooter genre. The outdoor positive spaces of Nuketown are located on either side of the level’s layout and contain the initial player spawn points. These areas are safe from enemy fire unless encroached upon. To encounter members of the opposing team, players must make the conscious decision to venture from the safety afforded by these spaces into the central space, where lines of sight are opened. The map uses vehicles as figures to define this negative space. In level design, the aspects of prospect and refuge spaces can be considered. These spaces share some of the architectural considerations of positive and negative space, where Nuketown’s central area can be considered a prospect space, as the space is an open area that exposes the player to potential threats. The large suburban houses that dominate each team’s side of the map are, alternatively, refuge spaces by way of their positive space being used break enemy sightlines and protect the player from gunfire. The dichotomy between prospect and refuge spaces in multiplayer level design should inform a player’s spatial experience by exploiting their survival instincts; players within prospect spaces are likely to subconsciously seek the shelter and protection of a refuge space. From here, the player may once again venture into the prospect space to engage enemies. Additionally, players can use the houses’ balconies to gain a vertical advantage to the centrally-contested prospect space, although this requires sacrificing the safety granted by the houses’ refuge spaces. As a final consideration of Nuketown’s level design, the level’s layout is comparably small to other maps found in the genre. Naturally, this means that the transition between positive and negative spaces are more frequent, raising the frequency in which players will encounter each other. The genius loci of this level could be attributed as a high-paced, thrilling multiplayer experience. Conclusion Architecture has long been concerned with spatial theory. Over time, this philosophy has guided and established design principles that remain considered even today by contemporary architects. From my research of architecture theory, it is apparent that the medium’s spatial lessons have been embraced by level designers. Where contemporary architects are guided by the virtues of human comfort and efficiency, level designers can craft virtual social environments by adhering to similar rules. Alternatively, level designers can use the implications of game genres to repurpose architectural theory entirely, allowing players to be subjected to numerous emotional experiences. From overwhelming dramatic tension, to the empowerment from claiming a tactical advantage over a contested space, level designers have been shown to achieve genius loci that are unique to digital games. Exploiting the relationship between positive and negative space can foster a competitive atmosphere in what would otherwise be a safe and social space. Video games provide virtual experiences that are meant to be interacted with, where levels act as the stage on which those experiences are presented. *Note: This article is re-published in full, with permission from the author. References can be found at the source, linked below. Source: https://charlietancock.com/third-year-written-assignment Follow Charlie Twitter: https://twitter.com/tancoque Portfolio: https://charlietancock.com/portfolio 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. Reaching Perfection consists of a series of short articles on Level Design, written by Ray Benefield over the course of several years. The articles were originally published on his website (www.reachingperfection.com), and are republished here on Next Level Design with permission from the author. The subject matter is wide ranging, covering everything from Threat Zones, to Peer Review, to Cohesion, and many, many other aspects of level design. *Note: These articles are a snapshot of the authors viewpoint at the time they were written, and should not be interpreted as 'truth' - take them as food for thought, and an impetus for discussion on the various topics.) The website these articles were published on was focused exclusively on the Forge mode within Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, so there will be many references to Forge and these games. Missed Chapter 2? Read it here: Knowledge is Power Intro What is path manipulation, you say? Well obviously it is the way of manipulating paths. More specifically it is learning how to control a player’s movement throughout your map. While players are free to choose how they travel around a map the designer has the ability to completely influence their decisions through various techniques. Some of the more obvious techniques being weapon placement and objective placement, but there is much more to path manipulation than just that. What does Path Manipulation consist of? What makes players move the way they do? If a player sees a Rocket Launcher are they going to head straight for it? If a player sees a bunch of explosions are they going to go near them? If a player finds an optimal sniper perch are they ever going to move? Path manipulation is a good majority of level design. Everything in level design works together to create a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience. Placing spawn points around a map is important to Path Manipulation as they decide which direction and where a player begins their journey around the map. By placing weapons on the map you encourage players to move around the map trying to gain an edge over their opponents. By adjusting lighting and color contrast you can encourage players to look towards and explore various areas of the map. By placing a turret in one spot and fusion coils in another spot you force players to work around their area of effects. Controlling your audience Why is controlling player movement so important to us? One of the main reasons is to show off the various parts of a map that we have put our time and effort into. Why build a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing room if players rarely take the time to traverse it? Another good reason is to “teach” the players about the important parts of your maps like power weapons, landmarks, and objectives. Knowledge is power, right? Designers also use path manipulation to ensure that certain parts of the map don’t get congested with combat. It ensures that players do not end up fighting in a huge chaotic mess and allows them to utilize their skills in more organized encounters. By controlling player movement we craft their experience to our liking. The golden rule The golden rule of path manipulation is to remember that players are most inclined to take the shortest path possible to their current goal until their goal changes. When learning to control player movement this must always be kept in mind. It is your job as a designer to know what persuades players to want to wander from their current goal. By default the player’s long term goal is to win the game and will first do what it takes to win the game, and as time progresses and as players explore the map they will change their short term goal to achieve that long term goal of winning the match. There are various techniques that exist all of which will be covered in extensive detail in future lessons. We build maps to offer players a particular experience. Path manipulation is just one of the many tools at our disposal that we can use to share our dreams. If we want players to circle around a map in a warthog, path manipulation allows us to give players that experience. It is not something to be taken lightly. Read Chapter 4: (to be updated) Follow Ray Twitter: https://twitter.com/RayBenefield Mixer: https://mixer.com/RayBenefield Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  4. Follow Christopher Twitter: https://twitter.com/MisterSoupy 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/hkxwVml0D
  5. This article is a portion of a dissertation by Kenneth Hullet. The source writing is over 250 pages in length. We share this in hopes that it will further the learning of level designers. The Table of Contents is listed directly below, within a spoiler. The parts marked in Orange are included here. Follow the link at the end of this article to read the full writing, as it contains much value. TABLE OF CONTENTS - In Spoiler ABSTRACT Level designers create gameplay through geometry, AI scripting, and item placement. There is little formal understanding of this process, but rather a large body of design lore and rules of thumb. As a result, there is no accepted common language for describing the building blocks of level design and the gameplay they create. This dissertation presents a set of level design patterns for first-person shooter (FPS) games, providing cause-effect relationships between level design patterns and gameplay. These relationships are explored through analysis of data gathered in an extensive user study. This work is the first scientific study of level design, laying the foundation for further work in this area. Data driven approaches to understand gameplay have been attempted in the past, but this work takes it to a new level by showing specific cause-effect relationships between the design of the level and player behavior. The result of this dissertation is a resource for designers to help them understand how they are creating gameplay through their art. The pattern collection allows them to explore design space more fully and create richer and more varied experiences. INTRODUCTION Level designers create gameplay through geometry, AI scripting, and item placement. There is little formal understanding of this process, but rather a large body of design lore and rules of thumb. As a result, there is no accepted common language for describing the building blocks of level design and the gameplay they create. This research creates a science of level design based on design patterns for first-person shooter (FPS) levels and data analysis to show cause-effect relationships between level design patterns and gameplay. Level design is often viewed as an artistic endeavor, so the applicability of purely scientific approach may be considered controversial. This research argues that level designers employ design patterns while creating FPS levels, whether advertently or inadvertently. Furthermore, analysis of gameplay data can show distinct patterns of behavior in different situations. If we control for all factors besides the design of the level, we can claim that significant observed differences are due to the level design. To show these cause-effect relationships, we conducted a user study and performed analyses of the collected data. The user study explores what effects the patterns, and variations within the patterns, have on players’ in-game behavior. Based on deviations from the expected results, we are able to adjust the theory, improving our understanding of the relationships, and increasing the usefulness of the taxonomy as a tool for level designers. For each pattern explored in depth, we created multiple instances of the pattern, each with a different set of affordances – for example, with a sniper location, some instances were high, some low, some with good cover, some without, etc. Based on our surveys of existing FPS level design, we expect a lower sniper location to have less of an effect on the level’s pacing; we should observe less of an effect than we would when subjects encounter a higher sniper location. These instances are placed in the user test levels played by the subjects. From the data collected during the user study we can determine how gameplay is affected by the pattern, and if this is different from what we expect. This research is necessarily reductionist in its approach. In practice, design patterns are rarely distinct, instead overlapping with other patterns or elements to create varied effects. Nonetheless we will argue that design patterns provide a useful analytic framework for thinking about level design in a scientific way. The lowest possible segmentation of level design elements, the actual placement of individual walls, floors, items, and entities, is far too granular to elicit any understanding of designer intent or to observe an effect on player behavior. The highest level, a complete level, is far too coarse, as FPS levels generally contain multiple subareas with different gameplay objectives. Design patterns are a small enough unit that a clear distinct purpose can be elicited, but not so small as to be overwhelmed with details of pixel by pixel placement of objects and geometry. THE FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GENRE FPS games are combat-oriented games where the player engages other characters with a variety of projectile and melee weapons. The player navigates a 3D world while looking through the eyes of the main character (i.e., a first-person point of view), though some games where the camera follows the player character (third person shooter or TPS) have similar gameplay and are generally considered to be in the same genre. FPS games are one of the most popular genres of commercial digital games, with many published titles on multiple platforms. Seven of the top-ten all-time best-selling games for the Xbox 360 are FPS games. Due to the processing power needed to render realistic-looking 3D environments, FPS games are often credited as a driving force behind technological advancement in personal computers and gaming consoles. Beyond entertainment, FPS games have been used for a variety of training and other serious game applications. One of the most notable is America’s Army, a training and recruitment game released by the US Army. Its intent is to provide a realistic simulation to familiarize recruits with modern Army combat procedures. The platform has been used as the basis for more advanced Army training programs. As a popular and broadly relevant genre, any research that improves our understanding of FPS games is likely to have significant impact. There is also a large body of in-depth analysis which can be drawn upon, including books and articles on FPS design in general and level design specifically. While the results of this study are specific to FPS games, the techniques we propose are generalizable to other game genres. FPS games are also a desirable genre for this study as the level design is a major component of the game and has a significant impact on the player's experience. Levels in commercial games are designed largely by hand and play tested extensively by designers to create specific gameplay effects. It would be difficult to conduct research of this nature on a genre of games where the level design was not as impactful. Furthermore, while the player's experience is by the level design, the mechanics of the game allow for enough variation in individual choice that these impacts are apparent. For this research, we have chosen to focus on single-player levels, though multiplayer is increasingly becoming the dominant gameplay mode. In multiplayer, players are generally playing against other players, rather than environmental challenges created by the designer. For this reason, it would be more difficult to conduct an experiment like the one described here for multiplayer levels. However, it is likely that level design does have an impact on gameplay in multiplayer FPS. Early exploration of patterns specific to multiplayer level design is described in Appendix A. LEVEL DESIGN The precise definition of a level varies by game and genre, but it is generally thought of as a subdivision of a game. Specifically, it is a space where gameplay occurs. While the mechanics of the game define the choices available to the player, the design of a level defines what the player experiences at any given point. It is through level design that level designers craft gameplay experiences for players. Levels for FPS games are generally designed for single- or multi-player play, but not both. Single player levels tend to be a linear sequence of challenges the player must overcome to reach the final goal, whereas multi-player levels are designed to create areas for player-vs.-player combat to occur. While level geometry is the most noticeable aspect of the level designer’s work, other considerations are important in the creation of gameplay. Level designers place objects in the world, including weapons, ammunition, and power-ups. They must be sure to provide enough so the player can complete the level, but not so much as to remove all challenge. They also place Non-Player Characters (NPCs), both friendly and enemy, and use AI scripting to control their behavior. When designing an FPS level, there are many factors the designer must consider, including challenge, pacing, and ease of navigation. Though many FPS games have been made, and numerous books have been written on the subject, there is little formal understanding of their level design. The existing literature conveys design lore and industry practice without exploring how levels create gameplay. Experienced level designers draw from their extensive knowledge of existing games when they create a level. They have an intuitive feel for what features they should include in a level to create different types of gameplay. They may imitate and adapt elements they’ve observed in other levels. Presently, there is no structured way for experienced designers to pass on this knowledge to less experienced designers. A more formal framework would improve designers’ abilities to communicate design ideas as well as provide a reference for possible features to incorporate into levels. For example, one of the design patterns identified is a sniper location. This is an elevated position from which a character can engage other characters in relative safety. There are numerous variations on sniper locations, including their height, amount of cover available, and whether it is intended for use by either the player or an enemy NPC. The effect of an enemy NPC-occupied sniper location is to slow the pace of the level – the player must move slowly and be more cautious to avoid taking fire. While we can predict this behavior based on our understanding of FPS gameplay, it is unknown if the effect is consistent in all cases, or how it is affected by variation within the pattern. Would the effect be less if the sniper location was lower, as it would be easier for the player to engage the enemy NPC? User tests where a number of subjects play levels with different instances of sniper locations will provide empirical evidence of these relationships. The taxonomy of design patterns is a useful tool for improving designers’ abilities to communicate design ideas and as a reference for possible features to incorporate into levels. However, the process by which it was created is necessarily subjective. Designers’ intentions in using certain features may vary, and how players react to the patterns may vary. DESIGN PATTERNS As described above, our user studies are focused on single player levels. While we have explored design patterns in both multi- and single player levels, level design necessarily has a greater impact on single player gameplay, as the players' only interaction is with the environment, rather than with other players. As such, this research is primarily focused on the design patterns developed from analysis of single player levels. The patterns are described in terms of their intended use, effect on gameplay, and variations within the pattern. Examples from popular commercial games are given. The use of design patterns to describe levels is inspired by design patterns used in both software engineering and architecture (the latter of which also inspired the former). A set of design patterns form a language for describing design practices in the domain. Duffy et al. characterize patterns in software engineering by the following: “Noticing and naming the common problems in a field of interest, Describing the key characteristics of effective solutions for meeting some stated goal, Helping the designer move from problem to problem in a logical way, and Allowing for many different paths through the design process.” This research adapts these characteristics to the domain of level design in FPS games. For level designers the problem is creating an entertaining and engaging experience for the player, and the solution is in how they design the level. We adapt the above to define characteristics of a pattern language for the domain of level design, described in detail below: Noticing and naming common structures that produce specific types of gameplay The taxonomy presented in this dissertation was created by identifying design patterns in levels and the gameplay they produce. Examining existing levels and inferring the intended gameplay is the most common means of identifying design patterns, but other methods were employed, including interviewing designers about how they design to elicit certain types of gameplay and reading books and articles that describe common practices. Describing the key characteristics of these structures and how they affect gameplay In identifying the patterns, we noticed that significant variations exist within any given pattern, and those variations have an impact on the gameplay produced. As examples of patterns are identified, variations and their effects are noted, resulting in a more complete detailed view of the pattern and its parameters. Helping the designer address level design concerns in a logical way Armed with knowledge of level design patterns, the designer can tailor a level to the desired gameplay. For example, if a designer wants to change the pace of a level, they can add or alter instances of patterns that are known to affect pacing. If, during gameplay tuning, they discover a problem in a level, they can use the taxonomy to modify existing patterns to address the issues. Allowing for different approaches to create the desired gameplay The taxonomy identifies different design patterns that will affect gameplay in similar ways. If the designer wants to create a certain type of gameplay, they can identify multiple elements in the taxonomy that would be suitable, and pick one that is appropriate for that instance. They are not limited to repeatedly using the same patterns in the same ways; they can use different patterns, or variations with patterns. RESEARCH QUESTIONS The goal of this research is to use data analysis to develop the science of level design through a deeper understanding of FPS level design and how it creates gameplay. The research questions can be broken down into questions about design patterns, player behavior, and the applicability of the work. RQ1: Are level design patterns useful for developing levels, communicating ideas, and teaching about level design? We have already identified level design patterns to create a language for describing levels. The application of design patterns to FPS levels and the patterns themselves are described in Chapter 3. These descriptions provide insight into the designer’s intent and the gameplay that will result. It should be possible to take an existing level and describe it extensively in terms of design patterns. We give an example with a level from Bioshock, a popular commercial FPS. Such description often reveals sections of a level that are not describable with the existing taxonomy, leading to the elicitation of a previously undescribed pattern. Through study of FPS levels we can improve and expand the pattern collection. Besides expanding the pattern collection, it is important to validate the effects of the patterns. The results of this study have helped close the loop and improve the descriptions of the patterns and their gameplay effects. The end result of the study is a set of patterns that has been shown to create specific behavior in the player. RQ2: Can we use data analysis to understand player behavior in FPS levels? To test the cause-effect relationship of the patterns and their variants on gameplay, it is necessary to understand player behavior. What exactly does it mean, for example, when the tension of a level is increased? How is this reflected by the player’s in-game actions? Can this be observed and reported? While previous user studies provide some guidance, it was necessary to develop methods for identifying and classifying player behavior. How this was done in this research is described in Chapter 5. Subjects’ in-game behavior was studied in the video recordings of their level play-throughs and the logged gameplay data. This was correlated with the pattern variants that the subjects encounter to see what the effects are. RQ3: Do the identified design patterns and their variants create the intended gameplay effects? Patterns are used in levels to affect gameplay – for example, when a player encounters a choke point where they have an advantage over enemy NPCs, the expectation is for increased pace and reduced challenge. This should be reflected in the player’s behavior by traits such as engaging enemy NPCs more aggressively, using weapons more frequently, making less use of cover, and moving more quickly. In validating these relationships, we are developing the science of level design. Chapter 5 describes the user study we ran to explore these cause-effect relationships and Chapter 6 explains the results of the analysis. If the expected behavior occurs when a player encounters a design pattern variant in a level, then the theory is validated. In the example above, when the player encounters the choke point, their behavior should be close to our expectations. If for some variation of the choke point, they instead begin moving more slowly and playing cautiously, then there is something about that instance that is creating different gameplay. We can identify what affordances of the pattern vary from other instances and adapt the pattern description to match the observed results. To fully explain the impact of this research, this document is broken into multiple chapters. Chapter 2 covers related work in the existing literature on level design and data analysis in games. Chapter 3 presents the taxonomy of design patterns that we have developed for this research. Chapter 4 explains the major sources of data in games and their impact on game development. Chapter 5 describes the user tests performed, and Chapter 6 details the results. Chapter 7 summarizes the findings and the contributions of the research. RELATED WORK There are three broad streams of work related to this research. First, previous work on applying design patterns to games in general and level design specifically. Second, previous work on exploring, understanding, and communicating about level design in general, mostly from an industry perspective. Third, previous work on understanding player behavior and how data analysis can be used to identify such behavior. These three areas are described below. DESIGN PATTERNS The use of design patterns to better understand levels is inspired by their use in software engineering, which were in turn inspired by design patterns in architecture. Kreimeier was among the first to adapt the concept of design patterns to the domain of digital games by identifying game design patterns. Björk et al. extend this work by studying how players interact with games and how entities in a game interact with each other. They identify over 200 patterns in game design ranging from the basic building blocks of games, such as the game world, to abstract concepts like player collaboration and immersion. The patterns are organized in broad categories such as “Patterns for Goals” and “Patterns for Narrative Structure.” Patterns are described in terms of how they are used, the choices a designer must make when using them, their consequences and relationships to other patterns. These patterns do not specifically deal with level design, but do relate to some level design concerns, such as balancing, goals, locations, and objects. For example, one pattern identified by Björk et al. is Pick-ups, described as “elements that exist in the game world and can be collected by players.” They go on to describe how pick-ups are used in a variety of games and the considerations a designer must make when choosing whether to include them or not. They describe general consequences of pick-ups, but they do not describe the immediate effects they have on a player’s behavior or the flow of a game. The level design patterns presented in this dissertation address these considerations. Björk et al. suggest four ways patterns can be used to support game design: idea generation, structured development, solving design problems, and communication. The level design patterns identified in this dissertation support these same uses. Another application of design patterns to games is Plass et al.’s study of educational games. They identify common patterns in educational games that increase enjoyment and engagement in players. These are high-level conceptual goals for designers to pursue, not patterns of mechanics as in Björk et al.’s work, or patterns of level design as presented in this dissertation. Examples include “Constructing things is fun and helps learning” and “Time and resource constraints make games fun and can improve learning.” These patterns were discovered through observational studies and interviews with children playing educational games. LEVEL DESIGN There are many books on level design written from an industry perspective. They discuss common practices and provide instruction on tools for aspiring level designers. In his book, Co takes the reader through the process of designing an FPS level, from brainstorming initial ideas, building the level using Unreal Editor, to testing and improving the level [6]. While useful references, neither this work, nor similar books by Bryne, Clayton, or Feil et al. present deep analysis of how level design creates gameplay. For example, Feil et al. describe the importance of overall pacing in a level. They discuss how a rhythm of rising and falling tension can contribute to the overall flow of a level without providing methods for creating these effects. Similarly, they discuss strategic considerations of terrain, such as access and height advantage, but do not discuss how they create gameplay. In contrast, the work presented in this dissertation provides specific, concrete idioms of level design described in terms of their direct impact on gameplay. Several shorter works examine single aspects of level design, from both academic and industry perspectives. The aspects examined can be broadly categorized as relating to gameplay – pacing, tension, and challenge – or space – spatial configurations and how the player navigates. PACING Pacing is the density of actions taken by the player in a level. Coulianos proposes methods to analyze and improve level pacing. Designers can plot the expected pacing as a sequence of gameplay elements. Playtesting can then be used to see how closely the player’s experience matches the designer’s expectations, leading to a series of iterative changes until the designer is satisfied. Davies also explores aspects of level pacing and suggests techniques designers can use to control pacing. For example, the player’s impetus to move is a key aspect of game pace, which the designer may want to increase or decrease. Movement impetus can be increased by elements such as a time limit or a threat from behind, or decreased by an obstacle or NPC interaction. TENSION Tension is the mental strain a game can create in the player as they struggle to survive or complete objectives. Level designers use tension to affect pacing. For example, NPCs can create tension by urging the player to move through the level faster. Its use is examined in depth by Wright, who conducted a study with subjects playing one of three levels that used NPCs to create tension differently. Completion times as well as the subject’s subjective impressions were compared to evaluate the methods. He found that urgency imparted from a friendly NPC was the most effective method, while chasing or being chased by enemy NPCs were less effective. CHALLENGE In his study of what makes games fun, Malone identified three main elements: challenge, fantasy, and curiosity [18]. All three of these are useful to level designers, but challenge is the most critical. Malone found the best way to create challenge is to provide clear goals whose attainment is uncertain. If the goal is unclear, the player will become frustrated. If the goal is too easy to attain, the player will become bored. Furthermore, if the goal is long range, there should be feedback given to the player that communicates progress towards the goal. SEGMENTATION Segmentation is a broad concept that can be applied to the examination of levels both in terms of gameplay and space. It refers to methods for breaking down aspects of the game into smaller elements. Zagal et al. describe three types of segmentation: temporal, spatial, and challenge. Temporal segmentation is closely related to pacing, as increasing or decreasing the length of time allowed for gameplay can affect tension and challenge. In terms of spatial segmentation, levels themselves are a form of this, but they can be segmented internally as well. As a player moves into a distinct section of a level, their behavior may be affected. For example, moving into a large arena with enemy NPCs will increase tension and difficulty. The third type of segmentation, challenge, also relates to pacing. Breaking up the challenges presented to the player allows the designer to control the level pace. SPATIAL CONFIGURATIONS Within spatial segmentations, the configuration of the environment is also a key concept in level design. Chen et al. compares level design to the architectural design that is used in real world buildings. When designing a building, the architect includes architectural devices to create specific effects, such as customizing a space to a particular use. The authors identify some architectural principles that level designers can apply to create spaces for gameplay, including having a clear path through the level, how to use different spatial organizations such as linear or hub and spoke, or including unique elements to break up the design. An examination of how space is used in team-based multi-player FPS levels was presented by Güttler et al. They identified common spatial configurations and how they contribute to gameplay. The key elements they studied are collision points and tactical choice. In a team multi-player level, the designer provides multiple routes through the level, allowing players the chance to make a strategic decision. The choice of route determines where in the level the two teams will eventually clash; these collision points are the major contested spaces where the game is played. There are some significant empirical studies that evaluate the effects of level design on gameplay. Gee studied the use of dead-ends in FPS levels. He identified ways in which dead ends are used and built example levels that included them or not. Subjects were observed playing levels and their preferences and playing time were reported. Results indicated that dead ends did not negatively impact FPS levels. An empirical study by Gonzales explored directional choices in FPS levels. Similar to the Gee study, they identified different techniques for presenting alternate routes and performed user studies on a set of representative levels. Survey responses and subject observations contributed to their conclusion that choice improves player immersion, as the lack of choice in a linear level can break the illusion of being in large, dynamic world. NAVIGATION A key use of spatial configuration in levels is in providing navigational cues to the player. This is particularly true in FPS levels as they are generally large, complex environments. Nerurkar examines some means level designers use to aid player navigation. Some, such as maps and navigation markers, are separate from the level design, but many are a function of the level design. Examples include features that attract the player’s attention, use of light and contrast, and directions from NPCs. Hoeg performed an empirical study of player navigation and player types in FPS levels. He identified elements that designers use to influence pathing decisions, including lighting, sound, and resistance, and formed a theory about how Bartle’s player types would react in each case. He constructed a level with multiple decision points, using different navigation cues. Subjects’ player types were determined by a survey, and their routing choices were recorded while playing the level. The results were compared to see if the theory was consistent with the player’s behavior. They found that some elements, such as placement of doors and motion, had strong correlation, whereas other factors had weak or no correlation. DESIGN PATTERNS While our user study is primarily focused on the effects of design patterns in single player levels, we explored design patterns in multiple aspects of FPS games. Of particular relevance are the patterns for combat NPCs and for weapons. Weapon and NPC design in FPS games fall into a grey area between game design and level design. While they are aspects of the game mechanics, and therefore game design elements, they are greatly influenced by the work of the level designer. Tuning of weapons and NPCs generally occurs late in the development process, and is a function of the constructed levels. As the final tuning of these elements are dependent upon their placement and use by level designers, they can be considered an aspect of level design. As such, patterns for these elements are described here along with the single player patterns. Other pattern collections are presented in Appendix A. SINGLE PLAYER FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER LEVELS The descriptions of the patterns explain how they can be used, the concerns designers must address, and the gameplay created. The fields are listed below: Description – A high level description of the pattern and the major design considerations. Affordances – Aspects of the pattern that can be varied by the designer. Consequences – A description of the gameplay the pattern creates. Relationships – Some examples from popular commercial games that illustrate the pattern. The use of the term "affordances" in this research is a bit idiosyncratic. In the field of design, the word typically means "the perceived or actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used." For example, the presence of a doorknob is an affordance that signals that a door may be opened. For this research we modify this definition slightly, so affordances are aspects of a pattern that can be varied by the designer ("perceived or actual properties") to alter the effect on gameplay ("how the thing could possibly be used"). Essentially, affordances are the knobs a designer can twist within a pattern to dial in different gameplay effects. The patterns are grouped into one of four following categories based on the type of gameplay produced. The categories are Positional Advantage, Large-scale Combat, Alternate Gameplay, and Alternate Routes. These distinctions are not mutually exclusive, a pattern might be perceived as being in one category or another based on its affordances. Furthermore, specific patterns may overlap, resulting in different effects and described in the relationships sections of each pattern. Positional Advantage – Spaces where one entity has an advantage over another. Sniper Location – A protected, elevated location that overlooks some portion of the level. Gallery – An elevated area parallel and adjacent to a narrow passageway. Choke Point – A narrow area with no alternate routes, causing entities to be exposed to engagement as they move through. Large-scale Combat – Areas designed to facilitate combat involving large numbers of entities. Arena – An open area or wide corridor. Stronghold – A confined area with good cover and limited access points. Alternate Gameplay – Introduce new elements that break from the established mechanics of the game. Turret – An area with a high-powered weapon where one side has a clear advantage. Vehicle Section – Sections of alternate gameplay where the player drives or rides in a vehicle. Alternate Routes – Create alternatives for the player in how they approach the level. Split Level – A corridor with an upper and lower section, where those on the upper section can attack those on the lower section. Hidden Area – A small area off the main route that contains items for the player. Flanking Route – An alternate path that allows characters to gain positional advantage. PATTERNS FOR POSITIONAL ADVANTAGE These patterns all result in one entity gaining an advantage in position over another entity. A positional advantage usually affords opportunities to attack other entities without being exposed to counter attack. SNIPER LOCATION Description: Sniper locations are one of the most common patterns. A character in a sniper location can attack other characters with long-range weapons while remaining protected. Any elevated position that overlooks some portion of the level is potentially a sniper location. They may be intended for use by either players, NPCs, or both. Creating a sniper location for use by an enemy rather than the player requires additional consideration. Enemies positioned in the sniper location may require special scripting to create the desired behavior; they should remain in place, using cover if available, and engage the player with long range weapons. Affordances: The height of the sniper location over the main part of the level How large of an area is available for the sniper The amount of cover available for the sniper The size of the area that the sniper can cover from the sniper location How accessible the sniper location is from the area overlooked Consequences: When confronted with an enemy sniper location, the player is forced to make careful use of cover or seek alternate routes to avoid being exposed to fire. This can increase the tension and slow the pace of a level while creating a challenge for the player. A player sniper location generally slows the pace of a level while lowering tension as the player is able to engage enemy NPCs without being exposed to enemy fire. However, if the sniper location is not isolated from the rest of the level, the player will have to defend the access point as well, increasing tension. Relationships: Sniper locations interact with many other patterns. They may be placed to cover an arena or a choke point. Most stationary turrets are also sniper locations. A shooting gallery is specialized type of sniper location. A sniper location with access may be a type of stronghold. Examples: In the level “Route Kanal” of Half-Life 2, the player encounters an enemy sniper location, shown in Figure 1. It is high above the player’s position, but has very little cover. The player can engage the enemy NPCs, but is exposed and needs to be cautious. Figure 1: Sniper location in Half-Life 2 There is a sniper location in the level “Corinth River” of Killzone 2. The player is on an elevated walkway overlooking a medium-sized area containing enemy NPCs. Both the player and enemy NPCs have cover, but by looking down from above, the player is able to locate the enemy NPCs and engage them. PATTERNS FOR LARGE-SCALE COMBAT These patterns provide areas for combat gameplay, with the player either engaging large numbers of enemy NPCs or a single powerful enemy NPC (a boss fight). STRONGHOLD Description: A stronghold is a confined area, generally with good cover. Characters in a stronghold can defend against attackers while remaining protected. A stronghold has limited access points so the defending characters can cover them easily. Affordances: The size of the stronghold The amount of cover available in the stronghold The number and type of access points If defending/capturing the stronghold is a level objective Consequences: Generally a stronghold would be designed as a defensible location for the player. The effect is usually to reduce the pace of the level, but in some cases, a large number of entrances or advancing enemy NPCs can have the effect of increasing tension and challenge. Relationships: A stronghold can be considered a specialized type of arena or sniper location. Entrances to the stronghold may be choke points. Examples: The Halo 3 level “The Covenant” contains a stronghold. The player is in a large open area and engages enemy NPCs entering through multiple entrances. These entrances are choke points that help keep the player from being swarmed by enemy NPCs, but it is challenging to cover them all at once. There is an instance of a stronghold in the level “Fish in a Barrel” of Gears of War, shown in Figure 2. The player and friendly NPCs are in a central area with minimal amounts of cover while being engaged by enemy NPCs from multiple directions. The effect is challenging and high tension combat. Figure 2: Stronghold in Gears of War PATTERNS FOR ALTERNATE ROUTES These patterns provide players with choices about how they want to engage the level. SPLIT LEVEL Description: A split level is a corridor with an upper and a lower section. Characters on the upper section can attack characters on the lower level. Players can choose the upper or lower route, or switch between them. Affordances: The difference in height between the levels The degree of openness between the levels, in terms of empty space The number of paths between the levels Consequences: Allows for different strategies and can increase the pace of a level as the player moves back and forth between levels. Relationships: If the corridor is narrow, the upper section could be a gallery. Using one section to avoid enemy NPCs in the other section makes it a type of flanking route. Examples: There is a split level in the “Lowlife” level of Half-Life 2: Episode 1, shown in Figure 3. The player is moving through a large open area with elevated passageways. The player must switch back and forth between the two paths to avoid the most powerful enemy NPCs. Figure 3: Split level in Half-Life 2: Episode 1 The Halo 3 level “Crow’s Nest” features a long split level section. The player may stay on the upper level and engage enemies on the lower level, or use the lower section and engage them directly. COMBAT NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS IN FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GAMES - The work presented in this section is based on material originally developed in collaboration with Gabe Rivera. The patterns presented in this section are for the enemy NPCs in FPS games. Enemy NPCs are controlled by the game engine and are the main source of conflict during gameplay. While they could be considered aspects of game design rather than level design, they are placed by designers and their tuning and behavior are highly dependent on how they are used. Designers can control not only where the NPC is placed but also the NPC’s scripted behavior, how they are equipped, their level of health, their level of armor, and other variables. For this research we explored elements that pertain to all NPCs within the shooter genre and then analyzed various games to see if NPCs consistently fell into patterns. Patterns were identified by observing NPC behavior and discerning which elements were combined in the same way within a number of games. Each pattern is accompanied by our observations about how it’s used by designers to create gameplay, as well as a list of elements that define the pattern. ELEMENTS OF A NON-PLAYER CHARACTER Below is a list of elements that make up a NPC as well as a brief description of how they can be used by a designer to create gameplay during combat. These will be used in the pattern collection to categorize the specific patterns. Movement Type – This describes the way the NPC will typically move in a combat situation. Many NPCs employ multiple Movement Types and can switch between them depending on the situation. Flanking Intensive – The NPC will move to attack from unexpected directions, i.e. the NPC tries to approach the player from a different side than where the player’s attention is directed. Passive – The NPC will not move when attacking. Never straying too far from that location and available cover. Slow Push – The NPC will slowly advance on the position of the opposing force, usually in a straight line. This can be without the need for cover, but it is possible for the NPC to utilize cover while making its way forward. This main difference between this and Cautious is that it will constantly try to close the distance from its target and not try to stay away. Rush – The NPC will make a dash at a specific target without any regard for their safety, typically in a straight line. However, the main aspect of this movement type is that they will attack very fast and often try to close the distance between themselves and their target as fast as possible Cautious – When used, it means that the NPC is opting to move around the battlefield but tries to maintain a distance from its target. Often trying to utilize cover when possible and not closing the distance when possible. This is different from a slow push because this NPC tries to maintain a specific radius around its target, without advancing. Movement Range – This is how far the NPC will move during an engagement. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Movement Frequency – This is how often the NPC will change their position during an engagement. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Attack Frequency – This describes how often the NPC will initiate an attack. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Weapon Type – The patterns include the following. They are described in more detail in the following section: Sniping Weapon Close Blast Assault Weapon Projectile Power Weapon Melee Weapon Weapon Damage – A general indicator on how much damage the NPC will do to the player’s Health, Shields, or Armor. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Armor/Health – This denotes how much damage the NPC can take before being killed. This will typically be linked to how hard the NPC is to defeat. This can be Low, Medium, or High. Motive – This is an indicator of what type of combat encounter the NPC would create and shows its purpose to the designer. This hinges on three main factors that an NPC can affect: Challenge – The degree of difficulty within a combat encounter. Tension – The degree of mental stress the player experiences during a combat encounter. Pacing – The degree of movement that the player will engage in during a combat encounter A pattern can affect each of these three factors by creating a situation where they can be at Low, Medium, or High. PATTERN COLLECTION Below is a list of all the patterns that we have collected during our research. Each base pattern specifies the primary function of that general type, while each sub pattern denotes how that function is carried out. Soldier – An NPC that pressures the player from range. Grunt – A weak enemy that attacks from a medium distance, often in groups. Elite – A strong enemy that works to contain the player from a medium distance. Grenadier – A weaker enemy that maintains long distance to encourage players to move forwards. Sniper – An enemy that deals high damage from a long distance to force players to move carefully. Aggressive – An NPC that attempts to close the distance between itself and its target in order to increase pressure. Suicide – An enemy that immediately rushes at the player, at the cost of its own life. Swarm – An enemy that rushes the player in groups, but deals low damage individually. Berserker – A strong NPC that deals a high amount of damage over a prolonged amount of time. Carrier – An NPC that will spawn more NPCs during an encounter. Sacrifice – An NPC that creates more NPCs in the case of its own death. Summoner – An enemy that spawns more NPCs at a distance Tank – An NPC that poses a significant singular threat and prevents the player from proceeding Stationary Tank – A slow-moving NPC that deals high damage at a long range. Shield – An NPC with a large amount of armor, but only in a single direction. The following sections detail all of the base patterns and at least one of their sub patterns. SOLDIER Soldier is a NPC that will pressure the player from long range. Its main strategy is to control the available space in the encounter. NPCs of this type make up the majority of units during an encounter. They are primarily used to control pacing by forcing the player to take particular paths through the environment. These NPCs will have a weapon type that is an Assault, Close Blast, Sniping, or Projectile. Grunt Description: The Grunt is a weak NPC that will try to maintain a medium distance away when attacking. The main function this serves is to draw the player to forward through the level and increase the player's confidence. This pattern is distinguished by always having medium movement range, medium movement frequency, and light armor. The motive of the Grunt pattern is to create a situation with low tension and low challenge. Affordances: Movement type can be Slow Push, Flanking Intensive, or Cautious. Attack frequency can be either Low or Medium. Weapon damage can be either Low or Medium. NPC Relationships: The grunt has a special relationship with the Suicide pattern, because sometimes a grunt may change to the suicide pattern in the middle of an encounter. Examples: Halo: Combat Evolved - The Grunt is a small unit that appears in every game within the Halo franchise. It has a low amount of Armor and is usually to be equipped with an assault weapon that does a low (Plasma Pistol) or medium (Needler) amount of damage. They exhibit the special relationship with the Suicide pattern in that they will self-destruct in times of desperation. The range it keeps is either short or medium but tries to pester the player by implementing the Cautious movement type. During the campaign they primarily occur within encounters to create a lower challenge but increase the pace of the encounter. As a consequence, the player feels more empowered and will pursue a route that contains a higher ratio of grunts compared to any other path. This occurs in the level The Pillar of Autumn; often the designers put grunts down a particular corridor to encourage the player to move in that direction. This signals to the player that it is the correct route to follow while lowering challenge, increasing the pace, and lowering player tension. Figure 4: A Group of Grunts in Halo: Reach Half-Life 2 - The Metro Police Officer utilizes a Slow Push or Cautious Movement Type and primarily is equipped with an assault weapon, typically a sidearm. They will shift between the movement types in an effort to move a player forward. Typically this means that they will begin in a cautious movement type and, if they player doesn’t pursue them, will move toward the player in order to get the player to move. This doesn’t occur in any particular instance but can be seen where there are Metro Police Officers in levels such as Route Kanal or Water Hazard. In the game, they basically act as bait to simply pull the player forward. They are primarily seen as the main enemy in the early game and are increasingly used as bait in the latter half of the game. Figure 5: Two Metro police officers in Half-Life 2 EXAMPLE ANALYSIS To show the usefulness of NPC design patterns we will use them to analyze a short encounter and generate a new enemy type. The level Winter Contingency in the game Halo: Reach contains an encounter in which the group is tasked with bringing a communications outpost back online. This sequence starts with the team landing in front of the communications outpost in order to secure the location. After starting the level, the player encounters their first group of enemy NPCs in an Arena with Flanking Routes to the left and right. The NPCs that populate the arena are a small force of Grunts and Jackals. This encounter has a low amount of challenge and allows the player to gain a foothold without much effort. It is fairly easy for the player to move forward and incapacitate the Grunts, which fall under the Grunt NPC pattern. However, it is much harder kill the Jackals in a head on attack since they are a part of the Shield NPC pattern. The interplay between the Grunt and Shield patterns help to create a much easier encounter for the player by driving them to explore the area and flank the Jackals. The player goes into the encounter and immediately recognizes that most of the Jackals were located in the Arena, where the player is at a disadvantage. Since that place is the hardest to break through, the player is drawn to the left because the Grunts offer a lower level of resistance. The Grunts signal to the player this path is safer and encourages them to move through the Flanking Route. The player can now flank the exposed back of the Jackals, which has a pattern specific weakness of only being able to withstand a large amount of damage from one direction. We can analyze this encounter and explain it through the enemy NPC patterns that we have created. The designers used Shield NPCs in order to bar the player’s way from one direction and give the illusion of a higher degree of challenge. However, by adding in the Grunt NPCs it allowed them to encourage the player to move into an advantageous position. The interplay between these two types helped to create an encounter with a low amount of challenge but high amount of tension. WEAPONS IN FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER GAMES *Note: The work presented in this section is based on material originally developed in collaboration with Rob Giusti. To define and discuss weapons, game and level designers have re-purposed an existing classification system: the terminology used to refer to real-life weapons, terms such as “Sub-machine Gun” and “Sniper Rifle.” Though these classifications do easily explain the mechanics of the weapon, the use of such terminology fails to accurately describe gameplay behaviors and to encompass the fictional aspects of digital games. Knowing how a particular weapon functions in real life does not actually give an accurate depiction of how the weapon functions within a game. For example, the shotgun in Halo has a much shorter effective range than its real-life counterpart. Many similar weapons fall into different weapon patterns depending on how designers implement them. Though many action and adventure games use weapons, shooter games are affected by this lack of terminology more than others due to the fact that weapons are at the core of gameplay. In the vast majority of first-person shooters, the player's weapon never even leaves their view. In addition, weapons are the central method through which players interact with the world in these games. With this pattern collection we hope to create a language that can be used to describe weapons in a way that encapsulates the gameplay behaviors that each pattern elicits. Each pattern is named in a way that aims to be inclusive of all weapons, fictional or nonfictional, that elicits similar player behavior. We accumulated these patterns through analyzing weapons in popular and historically significant first- and third-person shooter games. ASPECTS OF WEAPON PATTERNS To provide a basis for defining patterns in weapon design, the following template will be used: Name – A descriptive identifier used to refer to the pattern that is recognizable and imparts the core functionality of the pattern. Description – A brief explanation of the typical features of a weapon derived from this pattern. Affordances – Aspects of the pattern that can be varied between different weapons within the pattern. Consequences – How use of the weapon pattern affects gameplay. Level Patterns – Relationships between the weapon pattern and patterns in level design. NPC's – Relationships between the weapon pattern and patterns in non-player character design. Examples – Uses of the weapon design pattern from popular commercial shooter games. Patterns contained within another are considered to be super- or sub-patterns of each other. Patterns are not mutually exclusive from each other; a weapon can fit multiple weapon patterns. A large number of affordances can be considered universal among weapon patterns, including: How much damage the weapon deals The range of the weapon The area of effect of the weapon How often the weapon can be used ("Cooldown") How many times the weapon can be used before needing to be reloaded (“Capacity”) How much ammunition a player can carry How carrying the weapon affects the player’s movement How the weapon imparts damage to the enemy (On hit, delayed, continuous, etc.) Any special effects that the weapon has on the enemy Any special abilities that the weapon bestows Repetition of a Universal Affordance within a particular pattern description signifies that pattern differs significantly within the pattern in that aspect. PATTERN COLLECTION PROJECTILE Description: Objects thrown or fired in a physics-defined arch. Most often, Projectiles are explosives that deal damage in a large area of effect. Projectiles are also associated with long reload times and small capacities. Projectiles also often have a low amount of maximum ammunition. Affordances: The range of the weapon If the effect is immediate or delayed The area of effect of the weapon Any special effects of the weapon Consequences: Projectile weapons are useful for circumventing cover. Also, they heighten the challenge through being more difficult to aim than other weapons. Level Patterns: Projectiles can be used to harm enemies in Sniper Locations or guarding Choke Points without directly engaging them. Players using Projectiles are often vulnerable to Split Levels and Galleries, due to ammunition limitations and a lack of sufficient cover. NPCs: Grenadiers, Elites, and sometimes Tanks use Projectiles to force the player out of cover and impose a greater threat. Projectiles allow players to take on large groups of enemies, such as Swarms and Carriers, and fight against heavy enemies, such as Tanks and Snipers, without engaging them directly. The long recharge times and tendency for Projectiles to have large areas of effect make them less effective against Berserkers and Suicidals. Examples: The Demoman class from Team Fortress 2 [54] has a Grenade Launcher that allows the player to fire pipe bombs at enemies. These pipe bombs explode on impact with an enemy; otherwise the bombs roll for a few seconds before exploding. In the Halo series, the rocket launcher is a weapon that is both a Launched Projectile and Power Weapon. The weapon launches a rocket at high velocity, creating a large explosion that can instantly kill targets, both those on foot and those in vehicles. However, the weapon carries very limited ammunition and takes up space in the player’s limited arsenal. A player firing Projectiles in Team Fortress 2 Thrown Projectile Description: A non-bullet object thrown by the hand of the player's character and categorized by short range and highly affected by gravity. Thrown Projectiles often have high damage or severe special effects, balanced by scarce ammunition. Affordances: Special effects associated with the physical object of the projectile Consequences: The player is able to attack opponents who are behind cover, however they are forced to keep in mind their ammunition and range limitations. Level Patterns: Thrown Projectiles allow players to defeat an enemy guarding a Choke Point, or players on another level of a Split Level. In areas with long distances, such as Sniper Positions, or with enemies at multiple angles, such as Arenas and Flanking Routes, Thrown Projectiles are not very effective. NPCs: Elites utilize Thrown Projectiles in order to pressure players who are taking cover. Some Summoners use their spawned units as a sort of Thrown Projectile as a way of deploying them. A player can use Thrown Projectiles much like normal Projectiles to attack heavy Tanks from behind cover. Thrown Projectiles are often more effective against solitary, close-range targets and less effective against loosely grouped Swarm and Grunt enemies. Examples: In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 [52], the throwing knife is a powerful Thrown Projectile with harsh limitations. The weapon has a short range, however a hit with the knife immediately kills the enemy. A player also may only carry one knife at a time. Halo 3 offers players a handful of varied thrown projectiles. Fragmentation grenades can be thrown a good distance and rebound off any obstacles until they detonate after a set amount of time. Players also have the option of using plasma grenades instead, which attach themselves to level geometry and players on contact, but have a shorter range and smaller blast radius EFFECTS OF WEAPON PATTERNS ON LEVEL DESIGN By forcing the player to use particular weapons in certain parts of a level, the level designer utilizes the relationships between the weapon and level to best control the experience and gameplay. For example, in the Ravenholm section of Half-Life 2, the player begins the level with a weak Melee Weapon, Sidearm, and Assault Weapon. The player progresses through Arenas and Chokepoints with a numerous number of Grunt and Swarm enemies, resulting in high tension and challenge. Later, the player fights Berserker and Carrier enemies, but acquires a Close Blast weapon and moves into Choke Points where the player has the advantage. The tension and challenge drop to give the player a respite and allow them to learn how to utilize the weapon. As the player proceeds, the level patterns become more Arenas and Split Levels, forcing the player to use weapons accordingly, bringing the challenge and tension back up for the climax of the level. In multiplayer levels, weapon placement allows the level designer to direct players. The designer can hint at what weapons are best suited for a certain area, force players to carry an unsuitable weapon across an area to get somewhere where that weapon is more useful, or even make it more difficult to use a particular weapon from a particular location. The multiplayer level Blood Gulch in Halo has Sniping Weapons atop each base at the ends of the map, overlooking large amount of the level and subtly hinting at the advantageous Sniper Position. A Power Weapon, the rocket launcher, is placed in the center of the map, forcing players to travel a long distance and expose themselves in order to procure the weapon. The multiplayer level Blood Gulch in Halo APPENDIX A - ADDITIONAL DESIGN PATTERN COLLECTIONS MULTIPLAYER FIRST-PERSON SHOOTER LEVELS *Note: The work presented in this section is based on material originally developed in collaboration with Chris Ueda. In our examination of multiplayer levels, we will be paying particular attention to their relationship to single-player levels and their associated patterns. Certain elements of multiplayer design patterns have parallels to their single-player counterparts. While these parallels suggest a large overlap in design principles for the design of levels in a (FPS) game, there is a difference in design goals between single and multiplayer levels. The goal of the level designer is to provide a specific gameplay experience to the player. Experiences such as a distinct gameplay experience or narrative diegetic effect can be produced by designers through the use of level geometry, item placement, scripted events, and other level design elements. A single-player level is designed as a linear space, segmented into rooms separated by corridors. This allows the designer to create highs and lows in player tension, pacing the gameplay and giving the player opportunities to experience moments of intensity without tiring themselves out. For example, Half-Life 2, a single-player FPS, often makes extensive use of open spaces in which the player is guided through the level while being given visual cues tying narrative and world space together. The level tells the story rather than large blocks of text or cutscenes, adding to a sense of immersion. The difference in player count between single-player and multiplayer affects the way in which the designer needs to approach level design. When crafting a single-player level, the designer aims to tailor an experience to one player, but in designing multiplayer levels, the game state is now based on the inputs of other players, whose game-playing experiences the designer must all consider. An example of the differences between single-player and multiplayer levels is apparent in spawning points for players versus spawning points for NPCs (non-player character). While they have similar purposes (introducing new entities into the level), in multiplayer levels additional players are spawned in place of NPCs. In a singleplayer level a NPC can be created whenever the designer chooses, but in a multiplayer level, the designer must equally consider all players when designing spawning points in a level. As the spawn points of each player affects the encounter rate, and therefore the pacing of the game. If too high, a player may get exhausted by constant action, or get bored between respawns if it's too low. Level design patterns are employed by designers to explore design choices and craft the desired gameplay for a level. These patterns vary based on the requirements of the game. For example, FPS gameplay involves the use of space and resources in real-time in a way that makes cover or item pickups useful. Therefore, patterns emerge that relate to the placement and frequency of these objects, and these patterns differ according to the unique features that distinguish multiplayer from single-player gameplay. KEY CONCEPTS CONFLICT POINTS A conflict point is a location in a level which is designed to bring opposing forces into an encounter. These locations are key in managing rhythm and flow in multiplayer levels. By designing a level with conflict points in mind, the intensity and pacing that a given player experiences can be adjusted. To do this, designers can utilize elements of a conflict point such as chokepoints, strongholds, pickups, and objectives. Chokepoints and strongholds change the movement of players in and about a conflict point, while pickups and objectives provide players a focal point for encounters. A powerful weapon or a bunker may motivate players to prioritize combat in that area, increasing the overall intensity of the location over others. Examples include the flag's location in a CTF game of Halo: Combat Evolved, Control Points in Team Fortress 2, or the Farsight XR-20 (an extremely powerful weapon) in Perfect Dark. These are objectives that players can obtain to get an advantage, and naturally conflict will occur in their vicinity. Use of conflict points is critical to many design patterns, as multiplayer FPS levels depend on them for creating player encounters. For example, bomb sites in CounterStrike serve as the objective destination for the Terrorist forces. The objective of the Counter-Terrorist forces is to prevent the Terrorist demolition mission, and both teams are aware of the state of the bomb sites through in-game HUD cues. These areas are often camped, with one team lying in wait to ambush the other team. The expected combat in the conflict point reinforces player planning and coordination followed by a burst of high-intensity combat. To support this style of gameplay, these bomb sites often contain various types of cover and are connected to the rest of the level via small, easily ambushed entryways serving as chokepoints. PATTERNS IN MULTIPLAYER GAME TYPES Multiplayer FPS games require a different set of game rules and objectives from single-player. Sets of rules collectively known as game types are defined in order to provide specific gameplay experiences. These may include rules such as a priority object or location, or a score objective. Level designers apply key concepts of multiplayer level design in the context of a specific game type in order to create a playable level. CAPTURE THE FLAG (CTF) This game type has both teams simultaneously on offense and defense, trying to claim the other team's flag and bringing it back to their own base while protecting their own flag. The game type is similar to Control Point, especially when the flag is located at a team's base. The flag's starting location serves as a point of conflict, and is often a strongly fortified location, making defense easy and requiring coordinated offense to capture. After claiming the flag, a player must bring the flag to their team's own base. The enemy team must prevent the flag from being delivered by attacking the carrier. Flag carriers are encouraged to use alternate paths and shortcuts in order to evade the opposing team. Levels are often symmetric to ensure balance. Respawn times are long, allowing a team to press their advantage after defeating opposing forces. Examples include Unreal Tournament - Facing Worlds (symmetrical) and CTF4 in Quake 3 Arena. Blood Gulch in Halo: CE is a classic example, set in a wide, open canyon with rolling hills. On the two far ends, a single bunker houses each team's flag. Teleporters quickly move players from a base to the middle of the stage, but not the other way, allowing respawned players to return to the action. Team Fortress 2's Payload maps are a variation of the CTF format. In this game type the offensive team moves a cart forward by standing besides it, while the defense sets up fortifications to prevent progress. The linear path of the cart and the respawn system of TF2 distinguishes this game type as being closer to CTF rather than Delivery, described further below. Team Fortress 2's Goldrush, a Payload map where the blue team moves the cart along to its destination PATTERNS IN MULTIPLAYER LEVELS Multiplayer level design strives to create a level playing field. To provide gameplay options while maintaining this balance, beneficial structures such as sniper locations and alternate routes need to be viable, while the opposing players are provided with a valid counterstrategy. In Halo: Combat Evolved single-player, a sniper location provided a significant advantage to the player. In the multiplayer game, players in sniper locations must also be wary of counter attack from the complementary sniper location on the other side of the level, or rely on their teammates to protect a poorly defensible position. Team strategy may be required to make the most of a given pattern's potential, often reflected in a strong offensive or defensive feature of a location. ARENA Description: Open areas with good sight ranges. Promotes encounters as a result of visibility or traffic – arenas are often conflict points Affordances: Can contain a Control Point. Pickups will increase traffic and conflict in the area. Can include features such as battlements and alternate paths to prevent overcongestion. Consequences: If surrounding area is confusing or congested, adding arena features may improve traffic flow. Has sporadic cover, providing good defense but not concealment. Examples: de_aztec (Counter-strike) - The terrorist force cross an open, unprotected area and take cover behind the crates located at demolition point A. A ramp up from a lower floor and a hallway with clear view of the bomb point threaten the terrorist force's objective. Hang em' High (Halo: Combat Evolved) - An extremely open map, with small blocks for cover, and ramps leading up to a second level which surrounds the map. Catwalks crisscrossing the level can be accessed from the second level. These lead to powerful weapons, but players are vulnerable to attacks from below. Halo: Combat Evolved, Hang em' High: Many catwalks cross the length of the map Follow this link for the full writing: https://users.soe.ucsc.edu/~ejw/dissertations/Ken-Hullett-dissertation.pdf Follow Ken Linkedin: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/khullett 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. Reaching Perfection consists of a series of short articles on Level Design, written by Ray Benefield over the course of several years. The articles were originally published on his website (www.reachingperfection.com), and are republished here on Next Level Design with permission from the author. The subject matter is wide ranging, covering everything from Threat Zones, to Peer Review, to Cohesion, and many, many other aspects of level design. *Note: These articles are a snapshot of the authors viewpoint at the time they were written, and should not be interpreted as 'truth' - take them as food for thought, and an impetus for discussion on the various topics.) The website these articles were published on was focused exclusively on the Forge mode within Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, so there will be many references to Forge and these games. Missed Chapter 1? Read it here: First Impressions Intro You ever play a map in which you felt like you were at a disadvantage because you didn’t know where a particular weapon was? Where is that rocket launcher when you need it for that warthog racing around the map? Isn’t there a sniper rifle on this map to get rid of that guy chilling on the turret racking up kills? And where the hell does that guy keep getting the sword, cuz I’m tired of dying to it? Why the hell am I playing this map if it doesn’t give me the tools I need to succeed? An accurate assessment... So I have witnessed many times where a player reviews a map and says something along the lines of “This map needs a sniper rifle on it”. The response they get back; “There IS a sniper on it, it is at the sniper tower.” However the player never comes back to see the response and hence never feels that the map was balanced enough and hence not worth their time. Anything that you feel is important to enjoying the experience on the map you need to have your map show the player where it is on their first run through. If they can’t find it then it might as well not be on the map. As a result the player receives a bad first impression due to an inaccurate review and you lose that player forever. Obviously, we do not want that. Why is it your job? Why do I have to teach them where the key weapons are? Why not just let the players explore the map and find it eventually? Because it is not a player’s job to learn the map... it is a player’s job to play it and enjoy it. The average joe does not have time to study your map, they have tons of other maps to play. So teach them while they play, or else they start to question your map. Where is that rocket launcher when you need it for that warthog racing around the map? Imagine feeling like this the whole time you play the map... is the average person going to go back to playing something that just causes them frustration? Isn’t there a sniper rifle on the map to get rid of that guy chilling on the turret racking up kills? Here’s another example of “if they can’t find it then it might as well not be on the map.” And where the hell does that guy keep getting the sword, cuz I’m tired of dying to it? How many times have you played on a new map and got destroyed because you didn’t know where the power weapons were? Not everyone has the persistence to go back through the map and find all the weapons. Remember that it is your job to teach them while they play. They didn’t download your map to learn, they downloaded your map to have fun. So my goal is to teach, but how? In later sections I will teach you techniques I utilize to be successful. Now that you are informed, try going back to some of the maps that you have designed yourself. Will players be able to find the anti-vehicle items on the map? Will they be able to memorize the layout fairly easily? Will I be able to give them the tools they need on their first run through to be on even ground against players who have played this map before? Read Chapter 3: (to be updated) Follow Ray Twitter: https://twitter.com/RayBenefield Mixer: https://mixer.com/RayBenefield 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/hkxwVml0D
  7. Backtracking in a game is boring - there's just no denying this fact. In this featured video, Extra Credits addresses this issue, pointing out pitfalls to avoid, and providing numerous methods of designing levels so that backtracking isn't a necessity. Follow Extra Credits Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCODtTcd5M1JavPCOr_Uydg Twitter: https://twitter.com/extracreditz Website: https://becausegamesmatter.com/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  8. I love watching Conan O’Brien’s ‘Clueless Gamer’ series. The lovable talk-show host plays the role of video game troglodyte to perfection as he ribs on the needlessly complex pretentiousness of many best-selling games. He rolls his eyes through long cutscenes, chuckles at often juvenile storylines, and hilariously struggles with the game controls. And he kind of has a point. Although not a problem for gaming enthusiasts, the litany of games with high production values, sequels-to-prequels, and story-heavy RPGs are difficult for casual gamers to just pick up and play. The tutorials comprise of walls of text or entire levels that teach you the button combinations and timing needed to conquer that dungeon or find that lost city. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But it’s just not conducive to casual play. In this post, we’ll look at a level that serves as a game tutorial with understated brilliance: Level 1–1 in Super Mario Bros. This game is from a time where console wars and Let’s Plays were definitely not part of everyday life. It thus had to be very easy to pick up and play while also being challenging and hard to master. Super Mario Bros. walked that tightrope with elan. Without further ado, letsa go... /// The Opening Screen As soon as you start the game, this is what you see: Pretty standard stuff, right? While it seems quite simple, a deeper look reveals the beads of design sweat poured into this screen: Firstly, the opening screen is devoid of any danger, allowing the player to experiment with Mario’s basic controls and get a feel of what the game is about. This is far removed from, say, the Uncharted games where Nathan Drake usually starts the game hanging from a derailed train, battling pirates on boats, or in bar fights. Awesome as these games are, there’s something calming about starting the game simply and allowing players the freedom to mess around. Secondly, the screen positions Mario on the left with lots of empty space on the right. These design choices help create an affordance and subtly tell the player to move right. Note: Affordance refers to the possibility of an action on an object or the environment. For example, a sidewalk presents the affordance of standing, walking, and running. The fact that Mario stays on the center of the screen for the rest of the game makes his opening positioning on the left even more pronounced. Mario stays in the center of the screen for most of the game… …except in the opening screen It should also be noted that video game budgets weren’t the bottomless pits they are now, and the common elements used for both the bushes and the clouds speaks to Nintendo’s resourcefulness. Boxes and Goombas As Mario plows forward, he is greeted by things both intriguing and intimidating: Once again, there’s much more going on beneath the surface. The properties assigned to each element help differentiate friend from foe in the player’s mind: Let’s look at the box first. It’s stationery and suspended in the air, piquing curiosity rather than raising haunches. It’s also glowing and emblazoned with a huge question mark. These are signifiers that scream: interact with me, I have a surprise for you. And since the player has already used the left and right touch pad controls, the next logical control to use is the up button to make Mario jump into the box and reveal a coin. Note: Signifiers are signals that communicate the methods of interaction possible with an object or the environment. In a way, affordances are assumptions (stemming both from our past experiences and the object’s design) of what interactions are possible, and signifiers are explicit clues that either validate, invalidate, or enhance those assumptions. From the sidewalk example, a sign reading ‘No Running’ is a signifier indicating that the sidewalk is only for standing and walking. Signifiers are also majorly at play when we look at the Goomba. Unlike the stationery box, the Goomba is traveling towards the player. Unlike the glowing question mark that generates curiosity, the Goomba has an angry face that marks it as a potential threat. And just like with the box, the most obvious mode of interaction to vanquish the Goomba is to jump on it. And if the player doesn’t get this, runs into the Goomba, and dies: not much of a problem. The game is restarted to a point just a few screens before, and this time the player is wiser about the course of action. This short cycle of engagement allows the player to learn the basic controls quickly without inducing frustration. And don’t get me wrong, Mario can be a frustrating game at times. But the player has already learned the basic mechanics by that time. It’s as if the game is saying: okay, now that you know what I’m about, show me what you can do. It’s a frustration that makes the player more eager to beat the game, as opposed to making the player rage quit. The joy and inevitability of mushrooms Once the Goomba has been dispensed with and the player knows what to do with boxes, the game delivers its next surprise: Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto said that he chose a ‘suspicious mushroom’ to make Mario bigger as he thought it was a symbol that would be globally understood. While the signifiers here are a bit more muddled, there are still enough teaching points for the player to imbibe. First, unlike the Goomba that moved towards the player, the mushroom goes right, perhaps giving the impression of getting away from the player and automatically making it more attractive. Second, it falls down from the platform, teaching the player that gravity affects some objects (like Mario and the mushroom) and doesn’t affect others (the boxes and platforms). Third, it hits the green pipe and comes towards Mario, an early lesson in how objects interact with each other in this world. If the player learns this quickly, he/she won’t be surprised to see enemy patrols bookended by pipes later on in the level. This is an early lesson… …to teach this Now, as the mushroom comes towards Mario, the players have two choices, right? Either read the signifiers and run into the mushroom, or give into distrust and jump over the mushroom. But no, the game only gives the illusion of choice here. Whatever the player’s feelings about the mushroom, Mario will run into it. If the player tries to jump over the mushroom, Mario will still bounce off the underside of the platforms and fall into the mushroom. Every single time. If Mario tries to jump over the mushroom… …he will fail And once Mario falls into the mushroom and becomes bigger, the player knows for sure that these particular mushrooms are friends, not foes. The level design here makes up for the questionable signifiers and ensures that players get the benefit of mushrooms and experience the joy of powering up. Teaching through safe training The last point we’ll look at in this post is how Super Mario Bros. teaches players its mechanics by first having them practice it in a safe environment before upping the ante. This is a recurring trend in many levels, and indeed many future Mario games. For example, there’s a series of pipes of increasing length in the first level. This section teaches the player that holding the jump button for longer makes Mario jump higher. And if the player takes time to learn this, fine. There’s solid ground between the three pipes instead of the gaping ravines that follow. There’s minimal punishment for taking time in learning the controls. Teaching Mario how to jump higher Almost immediately afterwards, there are two pyramid-like objects that Mario has to jump over. If the player fails, there’s solid ground between the objects and the exercise can be repeated. Once the player learns this skill, the two pyramid-like objects are repeated, but this time with a pit in between them. Failure will be costlier now, and that’s okay. The rules are on the table and skills are being tested now. That’s what makes the game fun but not frustrating. Learn here… …before applying it here There’s so much more to learn from each Mario level, but this post is already prohibitively long so I’ll end it here. Let me know if I’ve gotten anything wrong (I’m learning too, after all) and share any other examples of great game tutorials that you can think of! References (for some screenshots as well as content ideas): Extra Credits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH2wGpEZVgE Eurogamer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRGRJRUWafY nesplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ia8bhFoqkVE Source: https://medium.com/@abhishekiyer_25378/the-perfect-game-tutorial-analyzing-super-marios-level-design-92f08c28bdf7 Follow Abhishek Twitter: https://twitter.com/Nickspinkboots Medium: https://medium.com/@abhishekiyer_25378 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
  9. Pascal works as a freelance game designer and creative director since 1995. He was commissioned by major studios and publishers including Activision, SCEE, Ubisoft and DICE. In particular, he was Lead Level Designer on the multiplayer versions of both Splinter Cell - Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, lead game designer on Alone In The Dark - The New Nightmare and Creative Director on Wanted – Weapons of Fate. Leveraging his console design experience, he is also working on mobile games, including freemium ones. His first game for mobile platforms, The One Hope, was published in 2007 by the publishers Gmedia and received the Best In Gaming award at the 2009 Digital Media Awards of Dublin. Proximity, responsiveness, relevance... these are the watchwords of efficient playtests. In the previous installment of this article, I had explored the reasons for the rising importance of playtests in game development. In an industry where games represent increasingly high financial risks for publishers, playtests have come to function as a strong guarantee for quality gameplay. I will share with you today my experience regarding the methodology employed in preparing and conducting them. Heeding the Clients: The Design Teams Foremost, one must be aware of a fundamental say: the role of playtests is not to redo the design in place of the design teams -- for either game or level design. They are instead conducted to help them. This observation is crucial, because it drives the entire approach to playtests. Firstly, we must respect the hard work of the design teams. Having had my own responsibilities in game and level design, I know how difficult it is to make "a good game". We must respect those who put their whole hearts into building the best game possible; we must not scorn or undervalue their work. Secondly, playtests must adapt to the needs of the design teams. Good tuning for maps or gameplay mechanics is often the result of trial and error. Knowing this, designers should require experimentation; playtests can afford them the opportunity to test out their hypotheses regarding design issues, and must therefore adapt to particular needs as they arise. Lastly, playtest results must be made available to the concerned parties as soon as possible, as time allotted for game development is always short. Preparing a Playtest Campaign A playtest campaign generally requires around one month of preparation. We must first define its objectives, because they will determine what types of playtesters we shall have to recruit, the scale of the sessions (1, 2, 4, 8, 12 players), and their duration (from half a day to a full week). We will also have to attend to the logistics as well as the legal framework (non-disclosure agreement, eventual monetary compensation for playtesters when sessions last over a half-day, etc.) And we must, of course, prepare the design teams to effectively utilize the playtests. One does not grow the best crops in dry land; a playtest's effectiveness is rooted in the playtesters themselves. Half the battle in running an effective playtest campaign lies in wisely choosing playtesters, which requires investment of time, energy, and perhaps a bit of money and patience. Recruiting takes time: we must not only hire as many candidates as possible (in order to have a solid pool of playtesters). We must also evaluate them. The purpose of evaluation is obviously to judge the candidate's gaming competence, but also his ability for analysis and self-expression. Evaluation may take several forms. An initial selection can be done through a more or less thorough questionnaire, to be completed by the candidate. The true evaluation, however, must be done during the sessions themselves, where we can observe the candidates at play. We must establish a protocol for obtaining the most consistent results possible. There is no "all-purpose" evaluation protocol; we must also be able to adapt to specific circumstances as the situation mandates. When I built a playtest structure at the Bucarest Ubisoft office, I encountered an interesting problem: we needed playtests for console games, but all the players we could find locally were exclusively PC gamers. I had to set up a specific protocol to evaluate the ease with which our Romanian candidates could adapt to console gaming. Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory The protocol consisted of briefly explaining the gameplay controls of a complex game (the multi-player mode in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory), and then setting them loose in the game in order to gauge the speed at which they adapted to the gameplay. This selection method proved to be quite efficient. Candidate selection must therefore be done according to a given playtest campaign's objectives. We may have need of only extremely skilled players who have already mastered the genre, or we may require novices, if the objective is to playtest the accessibility of the game. Communication regarding playtests also takes time. Before candidates can turn up on your doorstep, they must first be made aware of your need. In my experience, while recruiting through generic classified ads will yield a high number of candidates, many will be too young (careful of those labor laws!), and most will be only casual gamers. A good way to recruit experienced players is to make use of forums, gaming clans or specialized stores. It takes much more time but I always got great playtesters this way. In playtesting, quality matters more than quantity! Organizing the Sessions I shall address three aspects of playtest organization: the composition of the team, the preparation of the playtest protocol, and its logistics. Recruiting must start at least four or five days before the session itself. At this stage, the playtest manager already has access to a database of candidates that have already been evaluated or, at least, identified. He can thereby choose his playtesters according to the session's theme. Invites are sent by e-mail. At this point, we realize the importance of having a great number of candidates, since most are not available at will. We must therefore engage in mass-mailing to ensure sufficient availability of playtesters come session day. It is also best to invite at least one more playtester than necessary, since last minute withdrawals are commonplace. It is also usually a good idea to ask playtesters to confirm their presence via e-mail. Protocol setup is an important part of session preparation. Some playtests are organized near the end of the development cycle, to tune up maps or the game system. The protocol for this type of playtest is often straightforward: we must allow the playtesters to play for a maximum of time, note game statistics, and organize open Q&A sessions. The time when playtests are most useful, however, is during earlier stages of the development cycle, when the game system and maps are still in gestation. Let us not forget that the earlier we detect any issues, the easier and cheaper it will be to correct them. During the development of maps for the multiplayer version of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, I had organized playtests to evaluate the structure of the then still-embryonic maps. I specifically remember the Aquarius map: By having it tested by highly experienced playtesters, we -- including the level designer who had built the map -- quickly realized that the map was far too large. Having noticed this problem, he immediately rebuilt his map, which took little time as the map was still just a prototype. It took him a few iterations to downsize his map to the optimal size. In the end, Aquarius became one of the game's most popular maps. Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow Playtests allow us to shed light on many problems and to validate (or invalidate) hypotheses set by the design team. During the development of the multiplayer version of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, specific playtests were undertaken with the purpose of tweaking the characteristics of certain pieces of equipment, such as the smoke grenade. The latter is one of the most-used accessories by the spies, since its cloud slows down the spy's opponents (the mercenaries), and it can even put them to sleep if they stay too long in its area of effect. Tuning the smoke grenade's parameters was not so simple -- if its range was too wide, it would be an unstoppable weapon for the attackers (they would simply need to employ a single grenade in a corridor to block any access by their opponents). On the other hand, if the grenade's effect zone were too small, the weapon would be completely useless (defenders have vision modes allowing them partial visibility through the cloud). Finding the right values took us a lot of time. Lastly, to be relevant, protocols must adapt to problems encountered in previous sessions as well as to the test requests put forth by the design team. This commensurability with the development team's needs is one of the hallmarks of a successful playtest. I shall address this point later on. Let us now talk about logistics. Good playtests require a stable build of the game without too many bugs. When directing playtests in the middle of the development cycle, this may be easier said than done. Regardless, the game must be sufficiently stable, and maps must be rid of the most detrimental bugs (such as the inability to climb a ladder, for example). A game delivery protocol must be set up with the development team. The latter must deliver a playtest-ready version of the game to the internal debug team, which will rapidly review the game to ensure that the version is playtestable. When issues arise, cooperation between the debug and development teams will allow for swift corrections of issues, and subsequently the production of a stable version suitable for playtests. Such organizational finesse requires a lot of discipline from all of the teams involved. Another good practice is to prepare a checklist for the level and graphic designers, so that they can make sure that their own maps are free of blocker bugs. Finally, the playtest session manager himself must make sure that the version is indeed playable. Playtest Sessions Playtests are especially instructive when design team personnel attend the sessions; indeed, a game or level designer will base his work on ideas he will formulate upon observing the behavior of the players. However, players do not always react as expected, and we must take their diversity into account. By seeing with his own eyes how real players use equipment or navigate a map's topology, and by asking them the reasons for their behavior at the end of the session, the designer can rapidly make optimizing adjustments -- a demonstration is always more efficient than a long speech! It is thus highly recommended to encourage the designers to attend the playtests. That's why I strongly recommend that playtests should be conducted on the premises of the development studio itself. Remote playtests are valuable for tweaking map and system settings, but less so for playtests on an embryonic game. Obviously, playtest observers must follow certain rules: they must not voice their comments or ask any questions until they are authorized by the playtest session manager, in order to preclude influencing the game session or the playtesters' judgement. If it is desirable for designers to attend the playtests, it is simply essential that the playtest session manager does so. He must not simply organize the session and ask his questions at the end; he must actually watch the playtesters at play. The reason is as follows: early playtests often have a limited number of playtesters, and the problems found are liable to be numerous. This fact is likely to affect the relevancy of feedback received, rendering it inconsistent at best and flat-out contradictory at worst. The manager must take all of this into account, evaluating the relevance of the feedback himself. Note, however, that the involvement of the playtest manager can be cause for controversy. In some cases, a playtest manager must simply behave as a mere observer; in fact, this is generally the best attitude to have during playtests occurring later in the game development, when it is time to fine-tune game system settings. The objective at this point is to collect a maximum of statistical data from a high number of playtesters. By contrast, during early playtesting meant to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of embryonic maps or game systems, the comparatively low quantity and greater heterogeneity of the collected data require a more aggressive, reactive, and direct involvement on the part of the manager. At this point, he must necessarily "get his hands dirty", as he'll be working with incomplete data. While there is a risk of error here, my experience has shown me that playtest results are actually more concrete at this stage, and thus more useful. My experience amidst one of the best development studios in France has taught me that the playtest manager must be wholly invested in the final quality of the game, and must not be content with being a mere observer. This conclusion once again indicates the need for a close relationship between the playtest and the development teams. Debriefing We thus arrive at the final result of a playtest session. The general idea is to bring the playtest conclusions as quickly as possible to those who most need it -- generally the designers and project leaders. Debriefing may take several forms. First, design team members who observed the playtests may put their most pressing or immediate questions to the playtesters. They often leave the playtesting room with some strong ideas burning in their mind. Then comes the report, which must make a clear distinction between the facts (statistics etc.), opinions from the playtesters, and the manager's own observations and conclusions. Raw data must be provided so that the designers know on which bases the manager drew his conclusions. Putting all the cards on the table is a good way to establish trust with the ones who will read the report. Let us not forget that the purpose of playtests is to improve the game, and not to settle scores. A full-fledged report takes time to compile and to write so a shorter, intermediary debriefing might be needed if the needs for crucial feedbacks is urgent. As a final note, I'll mention that I had begun to experiment at the Milan Ubisoft studio with a protocol allowing a remote office (in another city or even another country) to obtain a hot report on a map playtest. Named D3 for "Debrief Dynamique à Distance" (Remote Dynamic Debrief), this protocol consists in quickly establishing a list of the main open issues, and organizing an online session where the concerned designers (at the development office) and the playtest session managers (at the playtest office) can log on. They can then explore the maps while the playtest team explains the issues with much precision, and all can work together in developing possible solutions. A playtester may even join them, contributing further to the dialogue. Source: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132377/the_silent_revolution_of_.php Follow Pascal Website: https://www.gamedesignstudio.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/pascal_luban?lang=en Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  10. Reaching Perfection consists of a series of short articles on Level Design, written by Ray Benefield over the course of several years. The articles were originally published on his website (www.reachingperfection.com), and are republished here on Next Level Design with permission from the author. The subject matter is wide ranging, covering everything from Threat Zones, to Peer Review, to Cohesion, and many, many other aspects of level design. *Note: These articles are a snapshot of the authors viewpoint at the time they were written, and should not be interpreted as 'truth' - take them as food for thought, and an impetus for discussion on the various topics.) The website these articles were published on was focused exclusively on the Forge mode within Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, so there will be many references to Forge, and to these specific games. Chapter 1: First Impressions Do you know how powerful a first impression is in everyday life? Sure it can’t make someone love you right out, but a good first impression will encourage them to give you a second date at least. On the flip side a bad first impression can make someone not want to see you ever again. As harsh as that may seem, it is very true. So your first goal in presenting your map to the community...encourage your players to go on that second date. When it’s bad... it hurts So I can tell you that a bad first impression can mean the difference between life and death for your map, but I don’t think that will hit home unless I give you an example. Have you ever looked at a map’s screenshots in its published thread and decided “That map doesn’t really look that great, let me go look at a new one.”? The author of that map just lost a potential fan that could help support the map all because his screenshots weren’t appealing. That one person could have shown his 3 main forge friends and they could have shared it with their other 10 custom game friends and so on and so on. But no... those extra fans of the map have now been lost because the first impression just wasn’t up to par. Think about the hundreds of maps that you scroll past everyday. Quite a bit, eh? Every little piece counts There are SOOO many things that could make a first impression go wrong. The map name could be offending, unoriginal, or just not that interesting. POOF! There goes a bunch of fans. The screenshots could be entirely unsatisfying and uninformative. POOF! And there goes the next 20 or so fans. The format of the map thread could be completely unorganized. POOF! And away those next 30+ potential fans go. And all of that is just the map thread, what about when they first play your map? Some player may be swarmed by warthog turrets and not be able to find any of the three spartan lasers on your map. POOF! You’ll never see that guy again. Some guy could be spawn camped on his first play-through by someone else who knows the map like the back of his hand. POOF! No fun equals no more playing this map. Some pro may be repeatedly rocked by some random with a sword because the sword is too hidden to be found on the first time through unless you know beforehand. POOF! The pro goes to play some of his favorite MLG maps instead. Why is looking good so important again? Some may argue that a bad first impression won’t always lose you that player for good. Sure I can agree with that. However have you seen the amount of maps that are pushed out every day? It is more important than ever to give players that good first impression to stand out in the crowd. And it is only going to get worse with the ease of Halo: Reach’s Forge World. Everything you do for a map has to be considered as a potential risk for making a bad first impression. Even just one good impression will earn you some sort of credibility. So if that spartan laser ain’t easy to find on the first playthrough, you may want to rethink its placement because it could be the difference between two replies/comments and getting on the new Bungie Favorites. Read Chapter 2: Knowledge is Power Follow Ray Twitter: https://twitter.com/RayBenefield Mixer: https://mixer.com/RayBenefield 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
  11. Follow Chubzdoomer Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaDTauiGdnvTwG_CFmSIOoQ Twitter: https://twitter.com/Chubzdoomer Website: https://chubzdoomer.com/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  12. For years I’ve been taking a pretty standardized approach to designing each new map in Cogmind, and although we have dozens of them now, it’s one of the few topics I’ve never covered on the blog. This is essentially because a serious in-depth look at the entire process would require spoiling a lot of content, considering that all the most interesting maps have been located beyond the early game. But with the recent release of Beta 8, which adds a very interesting map right to the early game, we now have a good opportunity to discuss map design without worrying too much about spoilers, since for the most part it’s easily accessible content anyway. This article will walk through every stage of the design and implementation process, from start to finish. I took a lot of notes about the process itself as I was building Beta 8, specifically so I could share them here and to ensure that what I write is an accurate representation of what actually went down. Note that unlike the majority of maps in Cogmind, due to its nature this particular map has a mostly static layout and content rather than drawing heavily on procedural methods. As such the process is missing a few steps, but I’ll cover those separately in an addendum. A mostly static map, on the other hand, provides some unique discussion opportunities of its own. Conception Before even starting, each map idea needs one or more concepts to build around, and in this case we have several goals: add more potential variety, especially to the early game provide more early plot hooks help new players For a very long time my notes for potential Cogmind features contained the concept of “derelict labs,” a way to access strange and fun technology, so when I started feeling we’d need a new area of the game to achieve all those goals, this concept seemed particularly fitting. Once I’d decided this was likely to happen (several months before actually doing it), I began intermittently revisiting that section of my notes to expand it with new ideas and considerations. On each new visit to add more ideas, I’d intentionally avoid rereading previous notes on that topic, instead just appending any new thoughts at the bottom. This keeps me in the unique frame of mind I’m in at the time, allowing me to come up with potentially very different ideas, or even perhaps the exact same ideas again without realizing it 😛 (this because usually days or even weeks have passed and I’ve forgotten the details of my earlier ideas). Note that coincidentally repeating notes on the same ideas can actually be valuable, because it validates them, perhaps with different reasoning, or even fleshes them out in different directions I hadn’t thought of in previous note-taking sessions! This process resulted in a total of about 2,600 words of rough notes on the topic, which like all of my notes are organized as nested lists in a TXT file. The entirety of rough notes on the new map, as seen in my editor Normally I just delete rough notes once their contents have been implemented or converted to more permanent notes elsewhere, but this time I saved them to share with you. Download/read the original notes here (you’ll need line wrapping off to view them properly!). Since the notes are a top-to-bottom process, you can see how they kept getting longer and longer with each extension as I apparently went back and forth on various points. There’s even “final summary” followed by the typical “final final notes” followed by “no wait, final final reverses that” xD In short, a new mini-faction of “Exiles” from another community has their own lab, offering the player both a new sensor ability (dubbed “FarCom”) and access to prototype gear from among a pool of possible items. Story-wise, they become the player’s earliest significant exposure to the world’s lore. As such, it’s good that I’ve circled back around to add this map after the rest of the world is already completed, so they can hook into it properly based on my knowledge of how everything can play out both in terms of story and gameplay. The alternative, trying to build this map from the start, would’ve likely meant repeatedly updating or changing its contents as the rest of the world was built. (Cogmind’s world was almost entirely built from beginning to end, rather than skipping around.) I’m not a fan of ripping out or making significant changes to old content, preferring to get it right the first time. So back in late October when it came time to add the Exiles, the first task was to reorganize those rough notes. This normally means reading back over them to remove the stupid ideas, refine rough ideas, and generally consolidate the notes while expanding on any unclear points, making sure it all fits together in support of my vision for the map. I didn’t spend very long in this phase, though, because there were simply too many notes this time around, and more importantly they were just going to be converted to a new form shortly afterward anyway. After just deleting some unnecessary chunks and making a few modifications, I quickly started on the proper map design doc. Map Design Doc The last planning stage before actually working on a map is to finalize all its relevant notes into a basic format I’ve been using since the beginning of Cogmind Alpha. Each map generally has its own text file describing its design. I call these text files “supplements,” since the idea originated when I started using these external files to supplement Cogmind’s original design doc, a massive file which started to get a little unwieldy by the time the first public Alpha was released after two years (plus I didn’t like the format/program that was used to create the original doc and wanted to start moving away from that, and by then the entire primary design doc had been implemented anyway). Supplements for various maps added over the years. “EXI” is the code for Exiles--note its size relative to the others. It happens to be one of the more complex maps, with a lot of possible content and various scenarios. Map design docs break down their contents into a number of common sections, including at the very least the following: goal: Main purpose(s) behind adding the map to begin with layout: An overview of environmental factors including the terrain and any props the player will see inhabitants: Descriptions of all the entities (in Cogmind’s case, essentially robots) found on that map gameplay: Primary interactive elements of the map, including any cause and effect related to dynamic content These are the main four, but some maps have one or two additional note categories applicable to that map in particular. For example the Exiles design doc adds a “location” section, because unlike most maps there are a number of important comments to make regarding how to access this map in the first place, and its general position in the world. There’s also a large “part concepts” section for collecting ideas for their stash of prototypes. You can read the entirety of the Exiles map design doc here (again, turn off line wrapping). If you checked out the rough notes earlier, you can see how they evolved into the proper design doc, which weighs in at three times the size (about 7,500 words). Some of the minor details in this doc may not be the same in the final implementation since I sometimes make last-minute changes that aren’t necessarily reflected back in the notes, but it’s mostly accurate. High-level Design It’s extremely important to expand the initial map design process to include considerations beyond the map itself. How that map fits into the bigger picture with regard to overall player strategy should be determined in advance, since it can have a broad impact on a map’s content, and if not careful a poorly planned map could end up needing more significant changes later on if players find that it’s either not very interesting or useful to them in the long run.* (*There is currently one optional map in Cogmind which unfortunately fits this description: Recycling. It’s a relatively simple, small map with some unique mechanics of its own, but its advantages aren’t really as enticing for players as I had first envisioned them when it was created early in Cogmind Alpha. Back then I was just getting started adding optional maps, and have learned a lot since then, including by way of the player community as it’s matured. I have plans to improve it one day, but it’s not a pre-1.0 priority since it’s rather out of the way anyway.) I wouldn’t want to waste player time, or my own, so the Exiles map in particular has a number of long-term strategic implications, and properly building them into the experience as a whole involved addressing different kinds of player needs, goals, and… um, craftiness 😉 Like pretty much all of the many optional branch maps in Cogmind’s world, the Exiles offer tradeoffs, making certain areas easier while increasing the challenge level in others. Primary long-term strategic decisions related to the Exiles. Note that some “drawbacks” may even be seen as good (or at least neutral) by certain players, so there are alternative interpretations to this graph as far as coloring goes. (I’ve chosen the most common view.) There are other random Exiles scenarios which can affect the available options, but I’m covering just the most common one here. Also, graphed above are only the major strategic considerations--individual prototypes can change a player’s potential route or even suggest builds depending on what they are, because they’re selected randomly from a pool of possibilities. Overall this one map has really opened up a lot of new options! I’ll talk about these options in more detail later. As designed, the standard Exiles benefits (one free prototype + FarCom) are especially noticeable in the short-term, at the expense of long-term drawbacks, making them a great choice for new or inexperienced players. That’s not to say they can’t be useful for experienced players as well--already one player won an extended run despite using FarCom, which essentially makes late-game Research branches off limits, even though that’s where one normally accesses a lot of the most effective tools for tackling extended game challenges. Having tradeoffs makes visiting the Exiles much more interesting, and they’re essential, too, because without tradeoffs it would be easy for a player to become overpowered, and a no-brainer to route a run through this map. Naturally not every map needs such explicit drawbacks, since in a lot of cases the drawback is the inherent cost of reaching and/or fighting whatever is in the given map, but here I should emphasized that the inhabitants of this particular map are all friendly, and reaching it is quite easy, so stronger measures were required. Okay, planning is over, time to start doing. Building Blocks As we already have our high-level analysis and relatively complete plans to guide construction of the new map, the first stage is to put together its entities and items, basically any individual objects that can be created in isolation. This would be the “pieces before the puzzle” approach, breaking down a large project into its smallest parts and working on each of the latter first. But I’m not even adding them to the new map at this point--it doesn’t even exist yet. Since there’s a lot of work to do for such a giant chunk of content, trying to add each new element to the map as it’s finished would often involve thinking at multiple levels (local area, map-wide, game-wide…), which is a lot less efficient than focusing on as few aspects as possible without constantly bouncing around. Working efficiently is not only faster, but also gives better results. So the plan here is to get all the pieces in order, then put them together all at once. Personally I like to start with the pieces that require the most time to implement, which for me includes most importantly anything that I think would be fun and interesting but is ultimately “optional” when it comes down to it, such as certain rare special events, items, etc. Stuff like Beta 8′s time travel-enabling “Chronowheel” item took forever, one of those things where I’d say “okay I’m going to tackle this one today,” then at the end of the day it’s “okay, I’ll just have to finish this tomorrow…,” and then a couple days later I’m like “uh, really gotta finish this thing up today!” (and maybe still don’t xD) But this is the type of content that really makes the project feel more like what it really is, a world built out of passion rather than just a “good enough game to sell and keep the lights on.” If I leave this tough optional stuff until later in the release cycle, it’s more and more likely to get dropped as I see the deadline approaching and there’s still so many other necessary tasks left to do, not to mention the fatigue of what it took to get near the end of the release cycle in the first place. In the end I’m always glad I’ve done these parts of the content, but I have to essentially force it through proper planning to make sure it actually happens 😛 Items Items are the smallest building blocks of a map, so we start there. The notes and design doc originally listed them in completely random order, but again in the interest of efficiency I somewhat reorganized the list to keep certain categories together. For example all projectile weapons should be worked on in succession, since they would all involve similar parts of the data and code. This makes working down the list flow more naturally, without having to jump between too many different areas throughout the source/data, mentally loading extra scopes. Before starting on any code or data at all, however, I worked with a completely different scope: art. All the art for the new items (more than 30 of them) was done together over a several day period, since again it makes sense to tackle like tasks in bulk. It can be harder to bear when a process like this stretches on for weeks or more, but as a solo dev who can only do one thing at a time, despite game development being a huge long-term undertaking, the efficiency gains are pretty vital. Art for some EX-tech prototypes found in Beta 8. Each of the new primary NPCs I’d planned for the new map have “signed” their prototypes with their name. Immediately after the art came the lore. Each of the new items has some lore text associated with it, and seeing how that would in some cases help define or refine the item capabilities themselves, I wanted to make sure they were all accurate and consistent. So all of those entries were written at once, also important here since because they’re generally meant for the player to discover/read them in a particular order. And finally it was time to create the dozens of items themselves--adding the data, balancing their stats, etc., which altogether took a couple weeks. Some items can be added in as little as 30 minutes or so, while others like the Chronowheel mentioned earlier could take several days. The “Latent Energy Streamer” weapon adds a whole new resource in the form of “latent energy” which could potentially be more widely used later, but for now the entire thing was added specifically for just that one weapon, despite taking several days to complete xD Latent energy is found throughout the environment, more often concentrated around stationary props like machines and doors. Activating the LES, which also reveals latent energy nearby. The LES draws on that energy and focuses it for devastating amounts of electromagnetic damage over an area, but also has side effects such as destabilizing nearby explosive machines, breaking automatic doors, and even corrupting the user. In fact, a number of the Exiles prototypes have negative side effects, which is what makes it possible to give the player such powerful parts early on in the game. Firing the LES. The firing animation took a while to perfect, too, being different from normal weapons in that it more closely ties into the surrounding environment, tracing lines through the latent energy that it’s actually using to fire. The LES itself also has a unique tag which displays the amount of nearby accessible energy in number terms, as well as shows the actual range of damage it can convert that energy to, values which change as the local energy naturally ebbs and flows, or is used up and slowly rebuilds. I’m really glad the LES is in game (and can’t wait to get a chance to use it myself during a regular run :D), though if I’d waited until late in the dev cycle to add it I’m not sure it would be a thing. NPCs After items comes another basic building block: NPCs. Some of these bots make use of the new items so they couldn’t come first, but once the items are ready we’ve got everything we need to put bots together, and an entity (robot) is a pretty self-contained little unit of development that doesn’t rely on the map itself (but will become a part of it), so they’re a good candidate for getting out of the way early. They take a while to build and balance, but focusing on them individually now means it will be easy to drop them all in on short notice when and where we need them later. The Exiles map includes four new core NPCs, each of which has a line of data defining their properties. It’s a fairly long line! As a demonstration, here’s the data for one of the new NPCs, 8R-AWN. (I’ve wrapped the line a couple times here so as not to force quite that much horizontal scrolling :P) When their data is complete, I run them through a separate program that can analyze robot designs and tell whether they’ll be overweight, have resource problems, overheat in combat, or any number of other issues. Their stats can be adjusted as necessary before moving on to the actual map 😛 Actually no… At this point I also decided that before the map itself I’d implement the FarCom sensor ability they can give you. This, too, could be worked on as an isolated system since I could test it explicitly rather than immediately developing the proper method of obtaining it in game. It could be hooked in as a piece of the puzzle later. FarCom in action, showing a faint circle within which hostile 0b10 combat bots are detected. (The circle has a slow pulse to it, but the gif doesn’t capture that well.) From an overall design perspective, there are enough types of differences between FarCom and normal attachable Sensors that there is no clearly superior form of detection in all scenarios. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks. A comparison of standard Sensors vs. FarCom. Green cells are a positive, red are negative. That said, FarCom is definitely a clear boon for new players, who get a free way to locate threats from afar without relying on any items for that knowledge. New players don’t have an easy time finding (and knowing to use!) Sensors, and parts can be destroyed, while FarCom cannot. The unquestionably most significant benefit from FarCom, one that’s quite attractive even to non-beginners, is that it doesn’t occupy any part slots at all. This is especially true in the early game where two slots is a larger relative portion of Cogmind’s available slots. Sensor users can try to get away with one slot (just the array without an interpreter), but getting the same level of detail that FarCom offers requires two slots devoted to sensor data. Freeing up a slot or two means extra armor, more storage, better targeting, and/or any number of other utility options, and this is a benefit that extends throughout much of the run, wherever FarCom is active. Of course, using FarCom is still not something everyone will always want to do, as per the earlier chart showing the serious late-game drawbacks. Overall I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out. Layout and Integration Time to build a map! Sort of 🙂 I always start on blank sheets of loose paper since I find it the most natural, fast, and free-form. Exiles map general layout, content, and world connection planning. Most of that page is actually occupied by graphs considering how to connect this new map to the rest of the world. The route the player has to take to reach a map, and return to other areas, are important factors in setting the related rewards and challenge level. The Exiles are accessible from either -10 (essentially the lowest/earliest depth!) or -9, by the way of the Mines at that depth. They will only appear at one depth, though, and as the entrance is somewhat tucked away inside the Mines, I added a special indicator that lets observant players know when they’re at the same depth as the Exiles. I didn’t want players potentially wasting their time scouring an entire Mines depth for an entrance that might not even be there, so I drew on so-called “level feelings,” a mechanic found in a number of classic roguelikes such as NetHack, ADOM, and Angband whereby on entering a new map you get a log message reflecting a special aspect of that map. Cogmind’s first application of “level feeling,” added to save players time when searching for the Exiles. Players can also read lore in the Exiles Terminals which explains the scanning. As for the return trip after visiting the Exiles, I had thought to maybe send the player back to the main path through the Lower Caves, but that was when I was initially trying to restrict the design to existing options. Instead I ended up deciding to add a new Mines depth at -8, one that can only be reached while returning from the Exiles. This is both better gameplay (Mines are the smallest and easiest maps, suitable for weaker players) and more logical (the Exiles shouldn’t feel quite that close to the Complex, hence no immediate return to it from their map). In-game world map showing a player route having visited the Exiles and come back to -8/Materials through -8/Mines. That Mines depth is not normally directly accessible in the reverse direction, from -8/Materials, to avoid adding unnecessary exits in that map. The little nondescript blob at the top right of the note paper is actually quite important, determining the general locations of entrances/exits for the map itself, which in turn can affect the whole map design (terrain layout, content positioning, event timings…). These most vital points determine the flow of the experience. The player enters from the lower-right, and almost immediately there’s a junction leading to an exit out (mainly necessary to provide an avenue for other robots to enter the map from this side--more on that later), then the main content area would be in the middle, and further to the left is a second “back exit” from the map. Lastly, on the left* of the notes is a list of ideas for things I’d need to add to the actual map layout, which I’d sketch out next… *I’m left-handed and tend to orient my paper horizontally and fill pages of notes from right to left 😛 Confident in the connections, it was time to sketch the map layout in more detail! First pass on a reference sketch for Exiles map layout. As a static map with important NPC interactions, the layout really had to take into consideration the flow of a new player coming in and experiencing it for the first time--who will they see first and what will they say so that the order of everything makes sense? So after doing the quick tentative sketch above (based on the earlier general list), I had to take a break from this and jump ahead a bit to work on content for a day, specifically dialogue. True, the NPCs haven’t been placed yet, nor is there even a map to place them in, but by writing out the dialogue in advance I could make sure no single NPC was saying too much or otherwise needed to offload some lines onto another, which might affect the layout. (It did.) After the dialogue detour, I did another pass on the map sketch, creating this second more specific iteration to match it: Second pass on a reference sketch for Exiles map layout. The player enters from the bottom right, sees another corridor leading to an exit but no hostiles in view so it’s safe to continue exploring. Also there are some “rigged” power sources in the tunnel forward, a mechanic only made available via Exiles tech and therefore will be new to the player--anyone curious will want to check them and out and continue exploring, first meeting 8R-AWN in the corridor there for a friendly welcome/intro chat. Then they’ll move into the central area and spot the second main NPC, EX-HEX, who introduces a bit more of the lore and invites the player to seek out EX-BIN to help with a project. From there they can go anywhere, either learning more about the place from prototype tester NPCs in the south area, or head north to get the main benefits of the map, FarCom and the prototype(s). Either direction is fine for a first experience. Then they can leave by heading back to the east side, but are more likely to take the rear exit. At this point I went ahead and put together all the extra terminal lore and minor NPC dialogue as well, since there might be something in there which could affect the map layout as well (there wasn’t, but anyway having just finished the dialogue it was good to keep up the pace while still in “writing mode”--efficiency!). Then comes time to break out my next tool: REXPaint. I turn the reference sketch into a general layout in REXPaint, measuring out cell distances to make sure everything will fit just right--not too squished and not too open, and that the average player FOV from a given position will reveal the right amount of content. Exiles map taking shape in REXPaint. For now it’s just a single layer containing the general layout, entrance, and exits, still no objects or other details yet. It’s also lacking some layout details that might emerge/become necessary as objects are added. And with that file saved it’s ready to drop into the game! (This map happens to have a fully static layout, so it skips some steps here that many other maps might require. I’ll cover those in an addendum.) Content It’s now time to build the actual experience, starting… outside the map 😛 As a beginner-friendly map which is still kind of out of the way, I wanted there to be some ways to help funnel new players in that direction. So before working on the map itself, I again wanted to develop along the flow of the experience by beginning with how players are most likely to find it the first time. 8R-AWN, the brawn to the Exiles’ brains and the first NPC players meet on entering their lab/cave, is sometimes out running errands for them, and the player might meet him while on one of these errands. In one of the first Materials floors, whichever matches the Exiles depth, 8R-AWN can be found making his way across the floor towards an exit the Mines. The chance he’ll be around is higher for new players who’ve never met the Exiles before (unless they’re using a seed, since seeded content should be consistent, irrelevant of player history). On spotting the player, 8R-AWN invites them to follow, and proceeds to trash hostiles all along the route to the exit. (Or if the player is on the far side of the map, they may simply find a trail of destruction left in his wake from earlier, and 8R-AWN is long gone.) He’ll take the exit himself, and if he spoke with the player earlier will be waiting there when the player arrives before some more dialogue and continuing to lead on to the Exiles’ hidden entrance. Another possible encounter with 8R-AWN occurs during the Mines infestation. Assembled suddenly swarming into the area is a pretty deadly encounter for the unprepared, so it’s nice that 8R-AWN might show up to save the day, using special tech to shut them all down remotely. In this case if he spots the player he’ll also lead them back to the hidden entrance. This hidden entrance actually took a few attempts to design, since there needs to be a wall that opens up automatically for a friendly player, but I didn’t want the player to see a wall from a distance, conclude that it was a dead end, and never bother approaching, so the trigger was placed such that the walls would open immediately as they came into view. Exiles entrance layout design in Mines. To the player it will appear as if the corridor continues forward until they round the corner, at which point the hidden doors open automatically to reveal the exit as long as the player is friendly. This entrance is placed as a guaranteed prefab using the pre-mapgen method described here. Exiles That same post describes the data/scripting methods used to define the contents of Exiles, which as a static map is simply one giant prefab 🙂 At this point we can start dropping in all the objects that were created earlier--items, NPCs, dialogue, lore, etc. So it’s a relatively quick process since the objects are all ready, which is better than having to repeatedly stop what I’m doing to implement them. Instead I can focus on how everything is fitting together at the macro level, rather than worrying about low-level details. Once again we’re following the flow of the experience into the map from the right side, only this time using additional layers of the REXPaint to draw machines (gray lines) and mark entity and item positions (green letters and green numbers, respectively). Machines and other props, including invisible triggers, are identified using uppercase green letters. Final Exiles prefab in REXPaint with all data layers visible. The corresponding data goes into a text file, the features of which I’ve provided a breakdown before in “Map Prefabs, in Depth.” Complete Exiles prefab data in image form, since it’s easier to read with syntax highlighting enabled. (Some of the lines are really long but not worth extending the image for, so they’re just cut off.) The file is also available in text form. As I’m going through adding the objects, I make a list of all the related explicit tests that will be necessary to confirm the content is working as intended. I’m also constantly thinking of all the things that could go wrong and need to be looked into once everything is in motion. This list will be quite important later, and is better put together while each element is on my mind rather than trying to remember these points later, or coming up with tests from scratch. Despite my best efforts at the initial implementation, usually a number of things don’t work as intended, and it’s certainly better to work through it all systematically rather than wait for a stream of bug reports from players 😛 This is a fairly large map so I didn’t wait until everything was placed before testing, instead stopping a few times to test in batches, generally clearing out the list in the process. Bling With most of the main content done, I moved on to more superficial elements of the kind that can be tacked on. The FarCom mechanics were already implement much earlier, but it was still missing the animation played when you first receive the ability from the Exiles. There are a number of full-screen animations throughout Cogmind which occur when major abilities are conferred, so FarCom shouldn’t be an exception. EX-BIN using the FarCom Aligner to add you to their system. One element I also always leave for the end of the content phase is audio. Working with sound effects involves concentrating on tasks other than code, including managing a bunch of audio files and messing with them in Audacity. It’s more efficient to do all of them together, so whenever I come across something that needs audio I just leave a placeholder and add it to a list, one that gets taken care of after the rest of the content. Ambient audio visualization of the area around the FarCom Aligner, where brightness indicates volume. For those who want to read more on this, I’ve written about ambient sound before. There were other non-ambient sounds to handle as well. Variants I keep saying the Exiles map is “static,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a little variety! There’s the usual variety created via the prefab data shared above: Common items in store rooms are randomized, as are the prototypes (where there is quite a large amount of variety since the items can change up gameplay significantly, but appear in different combinations each run). There’s also some variety created via the fact that you may or may not meet 8R-AWN before reaching the Exiles, in different situations, so that makes for unique dialogue options. But the most significant variety comes from players not always finding the map in its default state at all. There are actually four different scenarios, the above text describing only the first. As part of the world generation, a random state for the map is chosen from among the following: 51%: The default scenario, as described. This state is also always forced under a number of other world conditions outside the map, so the effective percentage is somewhat higher. 12%: Deserted. The Exiles have already wiped their terminals and abandoned their lab. 12%: Destroyed. Complex 0b10 has already attacked the Exiles, leaving the place scarred from battle. There are no survivors to be found, but the area contains other useful remains. 25%: This is equivalent to the default scenario, except forces from 0b10 will attack while the player is there. I built the base map first, then implemented the 0b10 attack (essentially an event tacked on), then moved on to the other two variants last since they were less complicated. More complicated map variants should come first in case they require changing parts of the map concept itself to work right, whereas doing complicated variants later could mean having to waste time changing a bunch of earlier work! It’s hard to predict all the changes that might be necessary in advance, so prioritizing like this is important. The deserted and destroyed variants were easy to manage since they were basically just modified data and REXPaint maps. “Destroyed” Exiles prefab in REXPaint with all data layers visible. A comparison to the earlier default scenario reveals newly destroyed machinery, randomized (and randomly shifted) debris, exploded areas, and other different procedural content like possible salvageable robots. The attack scenario was the most time-consuming variant, since I had to watch the same battle again and again to see all the possible outcomes and whether they met expectations. I spent a couple hours just watching attacks, repeatedly tweaking various parameters to get the desired results. The Exiles are attacked by 0b10, with the map fully revealed for observation/debugging purposes. 8R-AWN covers the retreat, and EX-DEC drops a sentry turret before taking off. Special Considerations Finally almost done! The “normal” way to play is complete at this point, but there’s one more important stage: anti-cheese measures 🙂 Naturally some players will try to gain every possible advantage they can think of, even those requiring outright thievery or murdering allies, so it’s necessary to balance those possibilities, too. Aside: Not all roguelikes need to be balanced like this--some even revel in being totally unbalanced, but for the most part Cogmind is meant to be a tightly balanced experience. Even though some players do still manage to stretch the limits through extreme cunning, which is fine, I want to be careful about allowing specific actions to be so rewarding over others that players always see it as “the proper way” to do something, to the detriment of all other possibilities. Sure the Exiles are a friendly bunch, but players who see them as a means to an end will likely… try to end them. Handling this was a bit more complex than usual because the Exiles experience isn’t limited to a single map--player hostility could begin wherever they see 8R-AWN, thus behaviors could change during future meetings, including on the map itself. Earlier I charted the strategic decisions a player can make with regard to the Exiles, and the whole reason these are decisions to begin with is that each comes with an associated cost. Players can choose to… 1) Use the default approach, by taking a single prototype from the Exiles vault and using that and FarCom scanning support to just tackle the main areas of the Complex. This is the easiest option, good for new players. They’ll lose the chance to get imprinted in Zion (normally another good crutch for newer players but one that doesn’t appear until the mid-game), and they’d have to avoid the late-game Research branches which are very deadly for players with FarCom. Balance-wise, this is because those branches contain alien tech and many of the most powerful items in the game. FarCom makes many other maps easier, at the cost of not having access to these resources. 2) Take one prototype and FarCom, and enter the Research branches anyway. This is extremely difficult. Entering a Research branch with FarCom triggers “Maximum Security,” the strongest response from the Complex so far, which is essentially like an instantly triggered version of “High Security” with even more assaults (basically endless increasingly strong waves of hostiles entering the map). This mode was added to Cogmind specifically as a response to FarCom, but also made sense to trigger in a few other special scenarios, so I applied it to those as well. You can see in the rough design notes that the original anti-FarCom plan for Research branches was to dispatch Trackers, a new type of fast and deadly prototype bot. Later I decided that Maximum Security was a better solution there (mainly as an even stronger deterrent), but having already done all the preparations for adding Trackers, I decided to at least make them part of a revamped Intercept squad system. Intercept squads are another form of tradeoff in Cogmind, originally intended to be very challenging, but players had gotten so good at strategizing that they weren’t quite challenging enough anymore--now the good players have to think long and hard about whether they really want to risk Intercepts 😛 Ideally like the FarCom sensor mechanic and other building blocks, something as fundamental to the overarching design as MaxSec and new Intercepts should’ve been determined much earlier in the map design process, but I hadn’t yet come up with a good solution and needed to let it sit for a while, and couldn’t wait any longer to start Exiles work for Beta 8, so it had to be postponed and wasn’t even decided until close to this final stage. Some major changes are best left in waiting 🙂 3) Steal all three prototypes from the Exiles vault and add some challenge to the mid-game caves. For those who really want more than one prototype, this is possible albeit with a bit of a drawback. For one, FarCom will no longer work since by stealing all the prototypes you didn’t follow their instructions, although for some players this may be a positive since entering Research branches then becomes a possibility (as does imprinting, if they want to!). The prototypes are quite powerful, so there needs to be a clear cost associated with stealing them. For this scenario I added a new drawback: Master Thieves. Although they’re not too common, Cogmind already has thieves hiding in caves, so I made a special variant which is even more effective and specifically tracks a thieving player any time they’re traveling through caves. If you steal from the derelicts, they steal right back--it’s an “eye for an eye” sort of deal 🙂 (Thieves race up and try to rip a part off their target, then run away and eventually disappear forever once out of sight.) Beta 8 has been out for a little while and the current meta among the better players seems to be preferring this route more often than others. I’m not sure if it’ll be necessary, but if this route is always superior there are other tweaks to consider, such as allowing Master Thieves to rip parts out of the player’s inventory as well ;). That said, I don’t want to make this tradeoff as expensive as the FarCom-Research thing--it should be something that players are willing to face under certain circumstances. 4) Steal all three prototypes but just tackle the main areas of the Complex, avoiding the caves. While not the easiest option, this is still easier than a non-Exiles run. Stealing all the prototypes means losing FarCom, but using sensors instead and avoiding the caves means staying safe from thieves, and still being able to stealthily raid Research branches for the best parts. Avoiding the caves does means losing access to some potential mid-game benefits, but those are optional and there are helpful non-cave branches to consider anyway. 5) Kill the Exiles, specifically 8R-AWN to salvage his own excellent prototype loadout, and also steal all three prototypes. This is basically the strongest result for the player (assuming no need/desire for FarCom), though also the most dangerous option since 8R-AWN is pretty powerful and Cogmind is weak at the beginning. Players are already doing this, though, because of course they are 😛 I did add the possibility of a Hero of Zion attacking the player as a result of their hostilities, but didn’t make it guaranteed since that, too, could be gamed by players for more cheese potential. I’d rather it just happen in some cases as more of a lore-related surprise. As you can see there are quite a few special considerations when adding a new map! Gotta think of how players will react to each possibility, and whether they’ll think certain tradeoffs are worth it. In making these judgements it helps that I play a fair bit of my own, and that I’m also always reading about player experiences. The next pair of articles are addendums to this one, covering steps specific to procedural level design, and a comparison of static vs. procedural maps. Source:https://www.gridsagegames.com/blog/2019/02/level-design-shaping-cogmind-experience/ Source:https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoshGe/20190313/338510/ Follow Josh Website:https://www.gridsagegames.com/blog/ Twitter:https://twitter.com/GridSageGames 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
  13. Pascal works as a freelance game designer and creative director since 1995. He was commissioned by major studios and publishers including Activision, SCEE, Ubisoft and DICE. In particular, he was Lead Level Designer on the multiplayer versions of both Splinter Cell - Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, lead game designer on Alone In The Dark - The New Nightmare and Creative Director on Wanted – Weapons of Fate. Leveraging his console design experience, he is also working on mobile games, including freemium ones. His first game for mobile platforms, The One Hope, was published in 2007 by the publishers Gmedia and received the Best In Gaming award at the 2009 Digital Media Awards of Dublin. There is nothing new about asking testers for their feedback on a game in development. However, the practice of managing playtests by following near-scientific protocols, and of integrating them very early in the development cycle, is a more recent trend. The spread of real playtests in the game development cycle is probably part of this silent revolution; a revolution profoundly affecting the development environment. How? Playtests force game development to center around the players instead of the hopes of the development team. Let's look at the effects of this shifted focus: Playtests allow the identification of gameplay or level design flaws that could elude the grasp of normal testers. After all, testers are always seasoned gamers who are not necessarily representative of the target audience. Who better than a casual gamer to pinpoint issues related to the difficulty curve or the overall understanding of the game? Playtests fulfill a moderator role in situations of disagreement or controversy within the design team. A series of playtests can quickly settle a contested issue by resolving almost any counter-argument or dispute, thereby preventing the disagreement from spiralling into an impasse. Playtesting is also a management tool. The partnership between playtesting and design can be very constructive. For example, it can be quite instructive for game and level designers to observe gameplay during playtesting, allowing them to immediately determine whether or not particular aspects of their design work as planned. Playtests executed on pre-prod mock-ups allow the anticipation of problems very early on, as well as timely corrections of said problems (the faster a problem is corrected in the development cycle, the less expensive it is). Game development can therefore become truly "player-centric". According to the playtest protocol and the selection of playtesters (hardcore, casual, etc.), playtests allow the examination of a specific aspect of the game with heightened acuity: game balance, navigation, understanding of the game objectives, etc. We all have the opportunity to play games that display high production values but nonetheless suffer from obvious flaws: erratic difficulty curve early in the game, navigation issues, overly complex interface, and so on. Such flaws could often have been easily avoided if they had been identified early enough. Major names in the industry understand this quite well, such as Ubisoft, which possesses qualified teams and invest lot of resources in this aspect of game development. What kind of problems might we fix or prevent with playtests? Some examples include: Accessibility and ease of use (interface, navigation within the game, etc.). Identification of sure-fire-wins, i.e. strategies allowing a player to easily overcome any challenge created by the designers and therefore remove any interest in the game or the current mission. This issue is especially sensitive for multiplayer maps. Fine-tuning of the game system: experience has shown me that the intensity of use of game features (weapons, equipment, actions, etc.) tends to vary considerably according to a number of factors. These include player profiles, the time a given player spends on familiarizing himself with the game, and of course the game tuning itself. Only through long-term playtests with relevant samples of players can we ensure that the game tuning maintains its balance and relevance even after long hours of gaming. Analysis of the early reactions of different categories of players during their first session. This will highlight their first impressions and initial frustrations. Some game demos have probably had a negative effect on the marketing of games they were meant to promote because of accessibility and tuning issues that could have easily been spotted during playtesting. For multiplayer games, the robustness of the game system and the potential of maps. I have had several opportunities to delve deeply into playtest management. I built the playtest structure from scratch at the Ubisoft Annecy studio, where the successful multi-player "versus" modes of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory were developed. I set up the recruiting methods, playtest protocols, and the debriefing methods employed in this program. I also set up a playtest cell at the Ubisoft Bucarest office and led playtests there myself. Playtests have changed the way I perceive my job as creative director, so I feel the need to share my experience with everyone. Let us start with a definition. Playtests consist in analyzing the reactions of a representative pool of players toward gameplay in order to improve the final game and to make sure it matches their expectations. Some will argue that game testing is nothing new. True, but real playtests have nothing to do with the debug testing executed at the end of the development cycle. Traditionally, game designers ask testers for their opinions. Testers are often excellent players and are therefore not always representative of the targeted demographic which is often made up of mainstream gamers. Moreover, testers generally get to know a game so deeply that their knowledge of it strengths and weaknesses profoundly influences the way they play. Therefore, they do not play as someone who discovers the game for the first time. Well-executed playtests allow us to evaluate gameplay strengths and weaknesses with great accuracy since they rely on two solid principles: The careful selection of playtesters. The use of ad-hoc protocols. The Selection of Playtesters Just as a peasant needs fertile ground in order to ultimately obtain the best yields, good playtests require a group of carefully-selected playtesters. I could never insist hard enough on the importance of the recruitment and evaluation of the playtest candidates. What are the recruiting criteria? This depends, of course, on what kind of playtests we are planning. We may need hardened gamers, beginners, console-only gamers, multiplayer fans, and so on. The candidate's gaming proficiency and overall game culture represent the first criteria. The second is the candidate's ability for analyzing and drawing conclusions from their gaming experience. Note, however, that it is not mandatory that a playtester should possess a high level of competence on both criteria. Again, the type of playtests will determine the requirements. I have the utmost respect for the playtesters I have worked with. Their good will and enthusiasm are boundless. Many came to Annecy from distant cities like Lyon, Grenoble, or Belfort simply for an unpaid half-day session! This generosity and enthusiasm are characteristics of our industry; let us nurture these characteristics by treating playtesters with the gratitude and respect that they deserve. The Use of Ad-hoc Protocols The protocol is the unifying thread of the playtest session, defining the objectives, allocation of resources, and especially the methods of collecting and parsing information for a given playtest. The playtest protocol needs to adapt to the specifics of the challenge at hand (game system tuning, navigation, map concept, etc.). During the playtest campaigns that I led, I would prepare a different protocol for each session. Indeed, an important part of those playtests involved multiplayer maps under construction or game system tuning. Each session revealed specific problems to be analyzed in the subsequent session. I shall conclude this first part by repeating that a playtest campaign must be directed with a true scientific rigor if it is to be of any use; one does not conduct playtests simply by bringing over one's buddies for a few hours of fun followed by a session of easygoing Q&As. Each aspect of the session must be carefully tailored in order to best realize the objectives at hand. Managing the session itself requires constant attention, not only because one can learn much by watching the playtesters in action, but also because things do not always go as planned! I shall address concrete aspects of playtests in the second part of this article. Source: www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132355/the_silent_revolution_of_.php Follow Pascal Website: https://www.gamedesignstudio.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/pascal_luban?lang=en Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  14. Creating the game space for the player to explore is another aspect of game development that can prove daunting. Despite all the games we’ve played, it can be hard to actually break down what makes a good level or environment. Today, I’m going to try and shed some light on this topic, and explore how there is a difference between level design and environment design. World Building Both terms “level design” and “environment design” may be viewed as interchangeable by developers, but to be able to talk critically about games, I’m going to separate them. Environmental design has become a major part of how game designers treat their game spaces over this decade. Some examples would be crafting decaying cities in the Souls series, to the original environment of Horizon Zero Dawn, and many more. Environmental design is about the aesthetics, architecture, and in some cases the lore of the world. You’re not just building a crazy mix of platforms and rooms, but a coherent world that feels as alive (or dead) as possible. The rise of environmental design has gone hand-in-hand with the popularity of open-world games. Treating your game space this way had lead to some of the best titles released this decade. Enivronmental design establishes the world… With that said, there is one limitation that has reared its head. Games that focus on environmental design may be pretty to look at, but may not offer much in terms of actual content. For that, we turn to level design. Crafting the Challenge Level design, in the context of this article, will refer to the act of creating content with the explicit purpose to test the player. In this case, it’s the act of creating a challenge; be it through enemy placement, traps, or a specific test within the game space. If we’re talking about open-world games, level design also refers to missions that lock the player in a specific area. The purpose of level design is to create interactive situations (or events) within the environment. A popular term for this in open-world games is “points of interest.” Typically, level design is hard-coded by the designer (although there are exceptions, such as Spelunky). As a designer, you’re thinking smaller than the full game space, but deeper in terms of the area that you’re working in. While environmental and level design work in tandem, it’s about two different goals. Architect or Trap Maker? For today’s video games, it’s not about viewing the design of your game strictly from an environmental or level design point of view, but combining them both. The goal is to create a game space that feels alive, but at the same time, there should be challenge within the world. The example I have in mind today would be Blighttown from Dark Souls. From an environmental standpoint, Blighttown is a decaying shanty town with a giant poison lake at the bottom. The place is dirty, disgusting, and a place for the forgotten to live. …and level design is thinking about what the player is going to be doing. From a level design standpoint, Blighttown features several key aspects of challenge. You have moving between the different floors, enemies spitting poison darts, the dreaded elevator, and moving through the poison at the bottom. In this way, Blighttown’s challenge felt like an organic growth from the environment the designers created. Many open-world games tend to treat environmental and level design as two separate entities. You have the wide world where nothing really happens or challenges the player, and then the set missions or challenges that are engaging. There has been a push towards having an “AI Life” system or having the game generate situations to happen; either procedurally or random events. This is not the same as having the game spawn situations around the player, but having them happen organically with or without the player’s involvement. The point is that you need to think about things from both a world view and at the moment to moment layer in order to create an engaging game space. The Best Worlds Games over this past decade have shown just how much thinking about a video game from an environmental and level design standpoint can elevate a game. If you want your game to stand out, you have to deliver on a beautiful-looking world that also has things to do in it. Creating great levels or game spaces takes a lot of work, and we’ll be talking about the key traits of that in an upcoming post. Source: http://game-wisdom.com/critical/environmental-vs-level-design Follow Josh Website: http://game-wisdom.com/author/adminjosh Twitter: https://twitter.com/gwbycer?lang=en Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJPQyAGAbIcXZXfM01oOPOA Discord Channel: https://t.co/WW9k1iVqje?amp=1 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
  15. The following is portion of a massive guide on designing levels for CS:GO, written by Exodus. They represent the current edition of the guide, as of October 30th, 2019. The full contents of the guide are shown in the index directly below. This article consists of portions that should be applicable to many different games and editors. Please follow the link at the end of this article to read through the original guide. Index 1. Prologue 2. Layout 2.1 Meeting points/Battlefronts 2.2 Chokepoints 2.3 Staging Areas 2.4 Bombsite entrances 2.5 Post plant areas 2.6 Simplicity > Complexity 2.7 Unused Space / Areas without serving a purpose 2.8 Negative space 2.9 Support various playstyles 2.10 Allow advanced tactics and teamwork 2.11 Wingman specific chapter 3. Routing 3.1 Avoid obstructions 4. Flow (Chapter written by @oliver_irl) 4.1 Natural guidance 4.2 Decision-making 4.3 Loops 5. Navigation/Intuition 5.1 Landmarks 5.2 Roof detailing/Alignment hints 5.3 Detailing 5.4 Consistency 5.5 Visual indicators for plant zones 6. Timings 6.1 General 6.2 Battlefront timing 6.3 Avoid wasted time 6.4 Rotation time 6.5 “Around the world” 6.6 Measuring timings 7. Risk and Reward 7.1 General 7.2 Risk and Reward via route design 7.3 Risk and Reward via sound design 8. Sightlines 8.1 Long sightlines 8.2 Tight angles 8.3 Pixel angles 8.4 Vertical sightlines at ramps 9. Verticality 10. Auditive Design 10.1 Spatial awareness 10.2 Environmental Audio 10.3 Sounds of interactable Objects / Triggered sounds / Positional hints 10.4 Allow sneaky plays 11. Cover 11.1 Avoid Head peeks 11.2 Natural Cover 11.3 Overpowered Cover 12. Models/Props 12.1 Model shape and model collisions 13. Scale/Dimensions 14. Grid 15. Visibility 15.1 General 15.2 Environmental Lighting 15.2.1 Colouring 16. Spawns 17. Buy zones 18. Clipping 19. Basic Optimization 20. Presenting your map 21. Playtesting 22. Dealing with feedback 23. Further guides and tutorials 1. Prologue Playing multiplayer games on well-designed levels is usually a great experience while playing on flawed maps often leads to frustration. If you’re designing levels, you obviously want people to enjoy the levels you create. However, if you’re new to the scene, it’s hard to start out without prior experience of what’s good and bad. This guide aims to assist you in your design choices by providing ‘good measures’ in moments of uncertainty during map creation. This guide isn’t meant to be a fixed ruleset, rather it’s supposed to be a piece of reference material to lead you in the right direction. Since I joined the mapping community back in 2014, I’ve witnessed a lot of unique and interesting maps – good ones, bad ones and most of them in between. Almost every level can become a good one, if enough time and the right changes are put into it. Iteration is the key for a good layout. Hopefully this paper will assist you in making the correct decisions and adjustments to your current and future projects. It’s designed to help you succeed in mapping and as a paper of facts and tips to revisit later. While this guide is aimed at the classic defuse game mode in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive it can still be beneficial for other game modes and games with a similar style. 3. Routing 3.1 Avoid Obstructions Players in Counter-Strike are always focusing on positioning, crosshair placement and tactics. This implies, that basic movement around the level mostly works on an intuitive level without actually looking where players are going. To allow players concentrate on the greater things, movement should be hindered as little as possible. Main travel routes must be free of obstacles and collisions as smooth as possible. Keep floors in these areas smoothly even and move detailing to the sides to keep paths clean. 4. Flow (Chapter written by @oliver_irl) The kind of flow important in CS:GO level design is about flow of movement and action. 4.1 Natural guidance Examples of flow of movement is when the player is lead forward and not backwards. You want to move towards the opponent and the objective so the level shouldn't be designed in a labyrinth kind of way, but instead one area should flow naturally into the next. You want the player to feel like they are in control and give them the opportunity to make decisions on the go, so the overall goal should be to make the flow of movement smooth so that the player can always be in motion. Examples of flow of action is what options the player has in the event of an encounter. In CS:GO you have to think about the map holistically [/as a whole]. Everything is interconnected, so every area can be an isolated "war zone". If the level has enough cover and options to use utility, then that contributes to good flow. 4.2 Decision-making Flow is about decision-making. Do you let your players play the way they want? Do you feel in control when you enter a bomb-site? You don't really notice when levels have good flow in them. Bad flow can be recognized once certain parts of the map feel uncomfortable for the player and the map doesn’t allow the player to make decisions. You can see that the movement is disrupted in the second example and the player is moving backwards for a moment. Guiding players naturally in the environment contributes to good flow, and players don't have to stop and think about where to go. In addition to that it keeps the movement going forward. 4.3 Loops Loops are especially important for CS:GO, since you can use them to get better positioning on your opponent. They are so elegant they work when you want to take a bombsite as a terrorist, or hold the site as a terrorist. Players use them to fall back if you lose an engagement, and loops give players more than one option at any given time. 5. Navigation/Intuition 5.1 Landmarks Subconsciously, players take in the rough look and shape of their surroundings to find their way through an environment more intuitively. Therefore, many maps rely on landmarks. Landmarks are unique, mostly large, structures which are visible from large portions of a map. Having a large focal point like this available makes it easy for players on a new map to get the grasp of a layout quicker than without such a landmark. A great side effect of landmarks is the possibility to align grenade throws by putting their crosshair somewhere on the structure. A prime example for landmarks is the TV tower on Overpass. 5.2 Roof detailing/Alignment hints Learning how to use utility grenades on many maps can be quite a time intensive task. In order to make the learning process as accessible as possible, make use of detailing above the playable area in a way, that objects help aligning grenade throws. One example how to it, is the placement of antennas on rooftops. 5.3 Detailing Contrast and detailed areas attract players. Use this knowledge to guide players through a level as much as possible. Highlight and detail accessible doors, corridors and other points of interest. Tint usable doors in a certain colour while leaving inaccessible doors in shades of grey or rather muted colours. Keep the detailing and contrast in non-accessible areas at a low level to avoid disorientated players. 5.4 Consistency Players should never be confused by all kinds of aspects in level design. Intuitive navigation through gameplay space requires consistency in design decisions. An example for this is the colour coding of interactable elements such as doors. If you decided that an openable door is tinted in a vibrant colour such as red, all openable doors should be tinted with the same colour. Highlighted accessible door on the community map Thrill 5.5 Visual indicators for plant zones Intuition can be further improved by placing visual indicators on bombsites which show where the C4 can be planted. This indication can be achieved by placing decal sprays around the bomb target trigger or - more elegant – incorporate the indicator into the visual design of the bombsite architecture. Do: Highlighted plant zone on the community map Breach Highlighted plant zone on the community map Iris Don't: Missing plant zone indicators on Mirage 8. Sightlines Lots of fights in Counter-Strike take place around corners, therefore you, the mapper, must pay some special attention to the various angles in the level. 8.1 Long sightlines It’s recommended to avoid super long sightlines, where it’s only possible to make frags with a sniper rifle. The Dust 2 spawn to spawn sightline is ignoring this, but it is working fine there, because early round picks shouldn’t happen with every type of assault rifle. You must own a rifle dedicated for long range battles. The Terrorists also have an option to avoid this sightline and enter the mid through a more central path. The remaining sightline is so long, that you can achieve frags with an assault rifle as well. Since CTs aren’t supposed to get active mid control early in the round, they don’t need the possibility to frag enemies from spawn to spawn with an assault rifle. That being said, I personally do not recommend to create such a spawn-to-spawn sightline. 8.2 Tight angles When blocking out a map, it often happens that tight angles are created by accident and enable long and overpowered sightlines. Luckily they are easy to fix by moving the causing corners a bit. 8.3 Pixel angles Like tight angles, pixel angles are a result of slightly misplaced corners. These types of angles are questionable for multiple reasons including optimization, unintuitive gameplay and unfair advantages. An example for such an angle is in the sightline from the B balcony on Mirage all the way through apartments: 8.4 Vertical sightlines at ramps When creating ramps or elevation changes, it is important to think about the line of sight between players. If the player on the upper part of a ramp is standing behind cover, he might be able to see the player on the lower part, without being seen by the opponent - if it’s done wrong. To show this off more clearly, I found these examples on Dust (1) and Cobblestone. When a Terrorist on Dust is coming straight through the underpass area, the Counter-Terrorist on the upper area is able to see the enemy’s feet without being seen himself. On Cobblestone on the other hand, the underpass area is created in a way that the attacking players are side-peeking towards the upper area of the big ramp. This way both parties have the same chances in a firefight without massively unfair advantages. Don’t: Do: 11. Cover 11.1 Avoid Head peeks When a player is barely able to look over cover, it is called a head peek. If an opponent is encountering a player behind such cover, barely half of the player’s head will be visible to the opponent. As a result, the encounter between these players leads to a frustrating and unfair firefight. Creating head peek cover is one of the most common mistakes mappers do. The reason for this is simple. The default grid size in Hammer is 64 units and the height for head peek cover is 64 units as well. Gameplay, sightlines and firefights around these are very strange and not enjoyable at all. It’s recommended to use below-head cover (~56 units) and above-head cover (~72 units) like on Dust2 A site instead. But not only those classic cubic boxes are enabling them, misplaced ramps and stairs often create head peeks, too. Try keeping them to a minimum. 11.2 Natural Cover Most Counter-Strike maps utilize crates and boxes to create cover. Unfortunately, some of them rely too much on it, which feels unrealistic and repetitive pretty fast. Whenever it seems possible to integrate cover into the architecture of a map, do it. This does not mean using boxes as cover is a bad thing. It just should be balanced out, so the map is looking like a believable space.   11.3 Overpowered Cover When adding cover to a map, it’s important to not overdo things. Some level designers mistakenly create too many powerful spots without playtesting beforehand to see if there’s even the need to do so. A possibility to limit the strength of a hiding spot is to be not covered towards all possible angles. A good example for this is the Dust 2 A site. Most of the common positions offer cover for 2 of the 3 bombsite entrances. This way the defender has enough cover to work with, but not enough cover to always feel safe. A lot of maps prove that some more powerful cover is working as well though. If you really want to add some powerful cover to your map, there are still possibilities to handicap it. These areas could be crafted like a death trap, without an easy way to leave them - shall they be contested with an incendiary grenade for example. This disadvantage will even out the fact, that players hiding there can’t be seen from any of the entrances into the corresponding area. A fitting example for this is the “ninja” corner on Mirage A site. 19. Basic Optimization In the very early stages of prototyping, optimization is not really an important thing. Until the very basic shape of a layout is created, it’s ok to work with no proper skybox, because changes are way faster and easier to apply. This can quickly be achieved by using the cordon tool. However, as soon as the basic brushwork is completed, it’s good to start caring about it. Set small and non LOS (=line of sight) blocking brushes as func_detail and start creating a proper skybox. Another rather simple optimizing technique is to disable collisions on props further outside the playable area. Doing these things will not only improve performance but also reduce the compiling times of a map significantly. A well optimized map can run well on a low-end system while poorly optimized maps often have trouble on medium to high-end systems. A detailed guide on optimization is linked down below since this is not the main goal of this guide. 22. Dealing with feedback Mapping newcomers often crave for feedback, but don’t really know how to deal with it. What you secretly expect, are people saying that your layout is awesome and could be the next Dust 2. Unfortunately, this will most likely never happen. Sometimes feedback will be harsh, but you shouldn’t let yourself be discouraged by that. If people are harsh with their feedback, there must be some reason for it and only shows the urgency of changes and that things can’t stay as they are. Counter-Strike is a competitive game and therefore people might become emotional very quickly. If you ask these people to explain their feedback a bit more detailed, most of them will respond nicely and help you fix the flaws a layout may have. Don’t respond that you feel mistreated. It’s in the nature of CS that players get annoyed by poor design decisions. You, the mapper, must learn to deal with feedback like this. “Feedback” à la “Valve, add this pls” is pretty much useless. Sure, it’s nice to read, but this is no useful feedback at all. Personally, I’d rather see someone complaining that the map’s balance is “crap”, than just telling me “good map”. Level design is very iterative and therefore every mapper should be happy when people showcase the flaws a layout may have. Accept feedback and consider changes. Don’t be ignorant with a mindset, that your layout is already perfect. If all you want to see are compliments, don’t ask for feedback. The above being said obviously only applies, if you actually did receive feedback. This is one of the reasons I created this guide. Aspiring mappers should have some guidelines to work with, while missing feedback from other players. 23. Further guides and tutorials CS:GO 6 Principles of Choke Point Level Design (World of Level Design): GDC Talk about CS:GO level design by Volcano and FMPONE: Follow this link to read the full guide: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1110438811 Follow Exodus Twitter: https://twitter.com/El_Exodus 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
  16. This article is the second of a two-part series that covers theories behind level design and suggests a set of design rules. The intention is to aid gamers who want to design levels for pleasure or pursue a career in level design. Read Part 1 of this series here: Level design is the data entry and layout portion of the computer game development cycle. A level is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a mission, stage, map or other venue of interaction that the player in. As a level designer, you are the presenter of all the labors of the programmers and artists and chiefly responsible for what most believe to be the most important part of a game, the game play. This article will give you insight into developing good levels for any type of game, whether they are military missions for your horde of tanks, aerial encounters for a flight simulator, a dungeon for a role-playing game, a board for a puzzle game, or a map for a world conquest god-sim. In last week’s article, I discussed the theories behind good level design. This article formulates a set of rules for level design and offers some parting advice to aspiring professionals. 20 Rules to Design By 1. Maintain the vision The "vision" is the core idea of the game design. It’s what the producer and lead designer express when selling the game and what they impart in the so-called "concept document." It’s also what they expect you, the level designer, to understand when building your level. It’s very important that this vision is communicated to you very clearly. If the producer and lead designer have not expressed to you what they want, then you need to coax it out of them. It will save you a lot of time and grief in the end. When designing your level, you must maintain the game designers’ vision. If you deviate from it you risk rejection. While designers cannot always describe specifically how to accomplish their vision, you must try to figure out ways to truly express the vision they are looking for. If you cannot maintain and express the vision, then either the vision is imprecise or unpractical, the design tools and palette are insufficient to the task, or your skills are not up to it. In any case, you need to address those problems if you hope to construct a successful level in a timely manner. 2. Learn the design palette Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 3. Have fun while you work – it will show Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 4. A level will only ever be as good as you imagine it A great sculptor doesn’t begin chiseling a block of stone until he envisions in his mind what the completed sculpture will look like. The same is true with level design: there’s no point in beginning to design your map if you can’t truly see what you’re working towards. You might have a vague idea about what you are trying to make, but to start designing away without a clear vision can lead to a lot of wasted time and effort. Bosses aren’t really keen on wasted productivity, so try to get your level nearly right the first time, so you don’t have to toss it all out and start afresh. This isn’t to say that you should leave some time to experiment, but the core idea of the game play for your level should stand on its own. It’s also best to choose a core idea that leaves a lot of room for a variety of game play. When you implement the level, establish the core idea with broad strokes, and just make it work. With that done, decide if the idea has merit and whether you want to go further with the level. If so, fill in the fine details and experiment with subtle game play details. Often it’s the subtler elements and details that make the difference between a good level and a great one. 5. If there’s no difference, what’s the point? Having multiple routes to the same goal is a good way of giving players choices and a sense of freedom while still ensuring they end up at the same point. Yet, if each choice exposes the players to the same types of enemies, the same rewards, and the same risks and costs, then players will only get frustrated and bored when they discover that there is essentially no difference. When presenting choices to the players, there should always be some non-aesthetic difference in game play. The difference might be the introduction of different challenges, a sneakier route, traps, hidden power-ups, higher elevation for better map revelation, or just better tactical position. It’s important not to present the same choices to players multiple times. Otherwise, what’s the point in offering them a choice at all? 6. Cater to different playing styles and abilities Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 7. Reward player imagination and efforts Players like to experiment and explore. The more solutions, secrets, alternate paths, and so on, that you provide in your level, the more satisfied players will be. It’s a great feeling when, as a player, you come up with a not-so-obvious solution that succeeds. Remember that players almost always go off the main route hoping to find shortcuts, hidden caches of goodies, or other unexpected items. When designing a level, try to think about what players may want to try, and give that to them. When they say, "What if…?" your level should respond with, "Yes, you can." Nothing is worse than designing what appears to the player to be a challenge, alternate solution, route or secret place that offers no reward. Players try to interact with everything, and when the interaction is pointless, frustration results. Interactive game play objects (e.g., moveable crates or exploding canisters) which serve no purpose tend to frustrate players. Players may try for minutes, or even hours, to figure out what they are suppose to do with these objects. Don’t let players down in this regard. For example, in a Quake or Unreal level, imagine if a player saw some rafters just at the edge of his jump range from a narrow ledge and said to himself, "Ah, a challenge. I wonder what’s up there." If those rafters served no purpose in the game, the player might spend an hour trying to jump out onto the first rafter, only to repeatedly fail in his efforts. The player might quit and feel let down, or even worse, this might pique his curiosity even more, and his resolve to get out there might harden. If he ultimately made it and realized that there was nothing up there, he’d get annoyed both at himself for wasting time playing the damn level, and at the level designer. So, when designing and testing your levels, look out for these "black holes of interaction" and get rid of them. Or, better yet, give them purpose by rewarding players who expend the effort to figure them out. 8. Pay attention to level pacing Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 9. Reveal assets carefully Keeping the player interested in the game requires careful asset revelation. Assets are the game’s eye candy, such as terrain objects, enemy and friendly units, upgrades, puzzles, and so on. All but the simplest games try to reveal these assets gradually to players, so as not to overload them on the first level, and to keep them interested in going on to the next level. The lead designer will usually have guidelines for what new assets your level will introduce. Try to make these new assets a centerpiece to your level, somehow associated with the core game play. Their introduction should be dramatic or significant, and ought to portray the uniqueness of the asset. For example, if you are introducing a new power-up that makes the player invisible, then make that invisibility a pivotal part of the solution to the level. If you are introducing a new enemy that flies, set up an encounter where this creature alone attacks the player in an environment that demonstrates the benefit of flying. If you are introducing a scattergun, make the gun available somewhere in the middle of the encounter with the flying enemy, so the player can see the dramatic difference in the effectiveness between his rifle and the scattergun against flyers. The position of assets within the level is extremely important. Positioning power-ups, booty, and other loot – commonly called "gimmes" – establishes goals for players to move towards. Gimmes are often the reward for the challenges you put between them and the player. Careful spacing of enemy encounters and game play objects, such as turrets, bridges, fuel drums, and so on, keeps the player interested in exploring and completing the entire level. A lull in the introduction of assets can encourage the player to turn the game off. A good example of careful asset revelation within a level is shown in Heroes of Might and Magic II. At every turn, your heroes reveal a little more terrain and more assets to investigate, acquire or conquer. This revelation is what some call an "event horizon," because it triggers and inspires players. New assets that appear on the event horizon keep players interested. Heroes of Might and Magic II Unfortunately, an example of bad asset revelation can be seen in the same game. Heroes of Might and Magic II sacrificed its diversity of assets to make an individual level interesting, but in so doing, nothing new was left to be revealed in subsequent levels. With nothing new to reveal in later levels, the designers merely tinkered with the quantity and alliances of enemy players. This scenario raises a very good question: Is it okay for a level designer to ignore the other levels in a game and use any and all of the assets he wants in order to make his level better? The answer is no. If the natural progression of asset revelation from level to level gets broken by one particular level, then the other levels seem weak in contrast. It also forces other designers on the project to redo their levels, and that causes havoc and wastes time. The next thing you know, that one level has set a precedent that the lead designer did not intend. Having just finished a game project on which this happened, I can vouch for how much a level that breaks the asset revelation can screw everything up. 10. Challenge the player Your job as level designer is to challenge the player. A level isn’t truly satisfying unless victory is at times uncertain. So you have to present challenges to players that really test their mettle and make them uncertain of their victory. When doing so, you have to cater to different player abilities (see rule #6) and to increasingly skilled and equipped players. Where your level is positioned in the game timeline or "level progression" should indicate how difficult it needs to be. In the first few levels, players learn how to play the game, so these levels should be a little forgiving. Levels at the end should be the most difficult to coincide with the increased skill and player resources. There will be times when you find that your level, although it plays really well, doesn’t quite fit into the progression. It may make the levels before it or after it seem too easy or too hard. There are a number of solutions to this problem. You can scale up or down the difficulty in your level without grossly changing the game play or the fun factor. You can ask to reposition your level in the game. This isn’t always an option if you have a tight story line, however. You can make your level a sort of "change-of-pace" level. Change-of-pace levels are usually easier than the previous level but subject the player to an unusual limitation, so they remain difficult in the fact that the player is using untested skills. An example is the "Tanya" mission in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, where you no longer control a large number of tanks and troops, but instead one super "Rambo" soldier. In some games, levels are grouped together into modules, like missions within an operation, floors in a dungeon, or regions on a planet. While the subsequent modules should generally increase in difficulty, the last level within a module may be more difficult than the first level in the next module. This is because there’s a natural pause and release of tension that players experience when they’ve achieved very important objectives in the last level of a module. Players are not ready to jump right into the intensity again and often appreciate an easier mission to catch their breath. 11. Make it unique Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 12. If the player didn’t see it, it didn’t happen Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 13. See through the player’s eyes Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 14. Fulfill player expectations Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 15. Balance the difficulty for the median skill level Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 16. Know the players’ bag of tricks Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 17. Learn what players may bring to the fray Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article 18. Be the adversary To a certain extent you have to be sadistic to the players. You should enjoy being the adversary, and think from the AI’s perspective. This will help you make much more realistic opponents that a player can understand. Players naturally put a human face on the AI, and so they expect the AI to behave like a human. When you script the AI to behave in a human fashion, it helps players successfully strategize and often draws them deeper into the game. It also evokes a little fear in players, as they don’t expect a game AI to recognize their weaknesses. As the adversary, you need to provoke fear in players and prey on their weaknesses. It’s what makes the game more challenging, fun and fulfilling. 19. Play test, play test, and play test some more Nothing surpasses play testing when it comes to ensuring quality level design. Although I’ve listed it as the19th rule, play-testing should be an ongoing process. You need to test your levels as you make them. It will save you a lot of time reworking your level if you can identify a significant bug or flaw in your thinking early in the design process. Plus, play testing is often where many level designers come up with some of their best improvements to levels. And don’t forget that only through rigorous play-testing you can spare yourself the embarrassment of your boss or your coworkers finding some really heinous and obvious bugs in your level. Testing your level is part of your job. One of the most rewarding activities in level design is watching other people play your level. Not only do you get an opportunity to see their reactions (both positive and negative), but you can gauge how close they come to the experience you strove for. You can observe their play styles, see how they explore and discover the various tricks, puzzles, traps and rewards. It helps you see how difficult your level is to people who don’t already know the solutions and don’t necessarily have your play skills. You can identify where your level is too boring or difficult, observe solutions to puzzles that you didn’t expect and thereby make them easier, or harder. There’s always a player who will do the unexpected, and when you come across this situation, don’t be afraid to ask them questions like, "Why did you go there?" The player may provide you with a great idea for improving your level. Watching a player test your level is definitely an opportunity you should never pass up. Always remember that play-testers are never wrong, though they may not be able to clearly explain the basis for their opinions or offer good suggestions for improving your level. Take their advice with a grain of salt, because they are not always the target market or the target skill level. Some of your testers may not be big fans of your type of game, or they might have played the game so much that they’re no longer good sources of advice when it comes to the game’s difficulty. You should get input from as many play testers as you can before you change your level, so that you can see if there’s consensus in the feedback. Reacting to only one player’s response, whether positive or negative, can spoil your level for the other players. 20. Take the time to make it better Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article The Myth of the "Every-Man" Designer The "Every-Man" designer is the person who thinks that he or she knows what every person wants in a game. Being human and of only one mind and heart, this is a very pretentious assumption. You should have the humility to recognize that your tastes differ from others and that you are not always right. Keep your mind open to feedback and fresh ideas, and consult with people who may have more experience than you. If you do not, your games will miss their intended market. Game design is a very hard skill to judge, being intangible, evolving, and not taught in any school. The "Every-Man" designers take advantage of this by putting on airs of great skill to put themselves into positions of power. Unfortunately, our industry is full of such people and they are often in a position to judge and change your work. I hope that by mentioning this here, early in your career, that you will not become one of them, because it can be a very unpleasant realization for you and your company that you don’t know what every player wants. Developing Level Design Instincts Level design instincts are what employers look for when they interview you. To a certain extent, employers assume you have some of these instincts if you have designed any levels at all, for they only come from practice. They are what you take from game to game and project to project, and they’re what make your job so special. It’s these instincts that let you immediately apply design theories and rules on the first pass of designing a level. You’ll know when you have developed good instincts when you can look at someone else’s level, or an early level of your own, and the mistakes will glare at you. All of the rules in this series of articles came from my own instincts which I developed over years of making games, making plenty of mistakes, and having plenty of realizations. You, as a beginning designer, will make plenty of mistakes. However, hopefully you will learn from these experiences and you will stick with it. Hopefully these level design theories and rules will get you a head start on a satisfying hobby or career in level design. Follow the link for the full article: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131739/beginning_level_design_part_2_.php Follow Tim Twitter: https://twitter.com/firemuse 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
  17. Game Maker's Toolkit, with the assistance of designers Jakob Mikkelsen & Eskil Mohl, breaks down the level 'The Finish Line' from Hitman 2. Learn about both the overall approach IO Interactive uses to develop levels, along with a relatively detailed discussion on the idiosyncrasies of this specific level. Follow Game Makers Toolkit Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqJ-Xo29CKyLTjn6z2XwYAw Twitter: https://twitter.com/gamemakerstk Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/GameMakersToolkit 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/hkxwVml0D
  18. Chris, of Purposeless Rabbitholes, swears a Fu**ing lot. You've been warned. Listen in, if your ears aren't too tender, as he breaks down the fantastic level design of Dishonored 2, and what he believes makes it special. Follow Purposeless Rabbitholes Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCK0_aNgcZI_PrJIUiqedHA/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/PRabbitholes 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
  19. This article is the first of a two-part series covering theories behind level design, establishing some rules for level creation. The intention is to aid those new to the field who want to design levels for pleasure or pursue a career in level design. Introduction Level design is the data entry and layout portion of the game development cycle. A level is, for all intents and purposes, the same as a mission, stage, map or other venue of player interaction. As a level designer, you are chiefly responsible for the gameplay. This article will give you insight into developing good levels for any type of game, whether they are military missions for your horde of tanks, aerial encounters for a flight simulator, a dungeon for a role-playing game, a board for a puzzle game, or a map for a world conquest god-simulator. I will present some theories behind level design, starting with an exploration of what good level design means. Then it delves into the non-electronic roots of computer game design from chess to GI Joe action figures, and how we can learn from their success. Finally it takes a thorough look into the theories behind storytelling and how we can apply them to level design. Escapism A player buys a game to escape from his or her reality. Good levels and hence good games will immerse the player and suspend their disbelief. From the moment the title screen comes up, you have their full attention. From that point on, they should see and do nothing that reminds them that they are anywhere but in the world you have them in. You must furnish a setting and actors that meet the players’ expectations. That is, you need to design a map that not only looks like it could fit inside the world they are playing in, but contains elements that help to draw that reality in the players’ heads. A player’s sense of escapism and suspension of disbelief can be ruined by a variety of common errors. These include bugs such as graphics glitches or crashes, but from a design standpoint, these also include inappropriate content. For example, a McDonald’s Golden Arches on the skyline of a medieval town is obviously out of context. Similarly, if a player is told by a character to hit control-T on his keyboard to teleport, then it would remind him that he’s typing at a computer and not in some fantasy realm. Generally, to maintain the players’ sense of escapism all content should be appropriate to what would be seen, said or done in the game setting. Challenge – Testing the Players’ Mettle Players buy games to be challenged. If there is no challenge, they might as well be interacting with their word processor or spreadsheet software. Challenge should always come in the form of testing the players’ skills at the core gameplay. A shooter should test their aim and reflexes. A wargame should test their tactics. A strategy game should test their strategic sense. Some games successfully combine forms of gameplay to offer a variety of challenges, such as Command & Conquer, which has both planning/building and tactical gameplay. Command & Conquer Challenge comes from difficulty. The trick to good level design is to present challenges that are difficult enough to merit the players’ attention and make their heart or mind race, but not so difficult as to always leave them failing and disappointed. It’s a delicate balance based on what is perceived as the median player skill, and it is a variable constantly adjusted up until the game ships. Entertainment Like a good television show or book, the game must maintain a player’s interest. The introduction of conflict, the revelation of the setting or back-story, the acquisition of new assets, the display of new art, and the increase in difficulty must all be deliberately spaced to keep the player interested and looking forward to the next level. One boring level can be the kiss of death to a game, especially if it’s one of the first few levels. Game reviewers and most players only give a game that much time before they praise or trash it. Good level designers have learned to be objective about their own creations and when asking themselves, "Is this fun?" The hard part for many designers is that what they find fun may not be what the target market finds fun. As a level designer you need to understand the core gameplay, which is part of the vision expressed by the producers and lead designers. You need to try to understand and become that target market. Something that helps designers tremendously is to play competitors’ games. Often producers and lead designers will name successful games that they are trying to emulate. Play and study those titles. Make sure your levels entertain, thrill and excite you as well or better than the competition’s levels. Frustration can also kill a game. Players stop being entertained when they encounter technical problems like slowdowns or graphics glitches. The level designer can avoid a lot of these bugs if they pay attention to technical limitations and to the instructions of the artists on how to place the art. Designers can, of course, create their very own frustrating bugs, like broken AI scripts or door triggers that never trigger, or missions that don’t always end when they are supposed to. Even worse, designers can create what are commonly called "show stoppers". Show stoppers are unbeatable missions or unsolvable challenges or unavoidable traps that frustrate players. A good level designer can spot these problems and resolve them with careful and rigorous play testing before consumers get their hands on it. Uniqueness Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article The Roots Of Computer Game Design Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Board, Paper & Dice Games Games predate civilization. Some of our oldest games still survive to this day, like mangala (or stones), dice, checkers, tic-tac-toe and chess. What gives them their lasting power? What can we gain from them as designers of complex computer games? Simplicity and elegance. These games keep the gameplay and the rules simple. Almost anyone can grasp them and quickly perceive the strategies and skills necessary to achieve victory. Elegance comes from years of refining the rules and components to maximize and balance the gameplay, and provides lasting entertainment value. Simplicity and elegance should be your goal in level design. So many designers (I being one of them), have fallen into the trap of creating complex games and levels that make it difficult for players to grasp the rules, objectives, strategies and indeed the fun. Designers often fail to play test their level enough to uncover any unbalancing factors and make improvements. So keep it simple, and submit your level to a lot of play testing so you can polish it. There’s a lot more that can be learned from non-computer games, such as the value of symbolism, statistics, and role-playing, but this goes beyond the scope of level design and should be left for a future article on computer game design. Toys – Train Sets, GI Joe and Barbie Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Storytelling Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Understanding and Developing the Thesis in Level Design Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Introducing and Refining the Antithesis in Your Level Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Synthesis – Making Your Levels End in a Satisfying Tone Follow the link at the end to read this portion of the article Worthwhile Content Stories maintain your interest by presenting worthwhile content. People don’t buy a book or see a movie just to hear characters talk about the weather, unless the weather itself is the villain (as in disaster movies like Twister). All the details that a well-written story contains are those that render the setting, develop the characters or move the plot. While books can get away with including an awful lot of detail, films cannot. Films are aimed at short-attention span people who want to experience the whole story in 90 minutes or less. Films try to focus on the most important details and these usually are the ones involving character interaction. The same can be said with level design, except that you have an even shorter amount of time to tell your story. As a result, you must focus even harder on character interaction details, especially those that involve the player. Everything the player sees or does must further the story. All of the players’ accomplishments should move them toward the completion of the story or pull them further into the conflict with the villain. As the game is played, players should discover more about themselves and their opponents. This can be achieved when players develop new talents, find new weapons or upgrades, gain insight into strategy, or encounter new enemy tactics and new enemy types. All of these suggestions may sound obvious to you, but you would be surprised how often designers make the mistake of spending a lot if time working on setting details that are rarely, if ever, seen by the players. Spending a lot of time working on non-interactive details can be a waste of time and resources, although it’s important to put some effort into it because the player will pay some attention to it. For example, it’s ludicrous to spend a day creating the details of a farm that a player will pass in three seconds on his way to a tank battle. It’s better to just take a minute to sprinkle a few objects that give the player the feel of a farm, like a farmhouse, barn, silo and a few cows. Even if you have all the time in the world to create all sorts of non-interactive details, it’s still not a good idea. Players get distracted and suffer sensory overload from too many details. They also can get frustrated as they try in vain to interact with non-interactive details. Duke Nukem: "Come get some" It would be even better to make all the details of the setting interactive somehow. Duke Nukem did an excellent job of this. Even the toilets had some purpose, if only to give a little humor. The bar had a working pool table and the arcade had a Duke Nukem machine that prompted you to say, "Hmm, I don’t have time to play with myself." The extra effort it took was well worth it. The interactive setting created a great allure and set this game apart from all the other Doom clones. Verisimilitude – When to Stay within the Realm of Probability Verisimilitude is the technical term used by writers to describe the readers’ acceptance of the facts and events within the story. When the story steps out of the realm of probability, the readers get frustrated. Works of fiction must suspend the readers’ disbelief if they want to keep the reader. Readers are only willing to accept so much. How much varies with the reader, which often separates the readers of classical fiction and literature from those of fantasy and science fiction. Computer games have it easy because their target market is much more likely to be readers of science fiction and fantasy. Though the so-called "break through" titles which establish new genres of games often go beyond the sci-fi and fantasy market. Titles like Sim City, Tetris, Civilization, Deer Hunter, and sports games of all types don’t make any grand leaps of logic or fantasy, and they entice players who’ve never shot a single alien. Even so, sci-fi and fantasy oriented games are the vast majority of games made today. Sim City So assuming you are working on a sci-fi or fantasy game, you do have certain latitude (or indeed, a certain obligation) to extend the realm of possibility for the players. But it’s important to know when and where and how far to stretch reality. Players like the realm of possibility extended more for themselves than for other characters. While this seems one-sided, it’s what players want. Players feel cheated if the AI enemy kicks their ass by doing something amazing and beyond their capabilities. They prefer to have their butt kicked by an opponent who’s limited to what they can do. Then they can at least be impressed and comprehend that it is just a skill issue. On the other hand, players enjoy pulling off amazing feats beyond the scope of the AI capabilities and romping the AI for a spell. So give the players what they want. Let them enjoy themselves with a little god-like power. But be aware that giving that ability to players all the time can lead to a dull, unchallenging game. The trick is to balance it so that players don’t always have that edge, either by limiting the use of the ability or by countering it with enemy powers. In an ideal level, the players will face overwhelming odds and overcome them by leaping beyond the apparent realm of possibility. That way they can feel like they have done the impossible and that they’re real heroes. Armed with this understanding of level design theories, you can begin creating your own levels with greater confidence and a clearer insight into what will make them successful. Read the full article here: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131736/beginning_level_design_part_1.php Read Part 2 of this series next here: Follow Tim Twitter: https://twitter.com/firemuse 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
  20. 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
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  22. This article is a portion of the thesis titled "What Level Design Elements Determine Flow? How Light and Objects Guide the Player in Overwatch and Doom" by David Eliasson. The 'Results' and 'Analysis' portions for Doom have been left out of this posting, along with several other sections. Please follow the link at the end to read the full thesis. We hope that you'll find something of value in this piece, and would love to hear what you've learned from it in the comments below. Happy reading! Abstract This thesis presents a comparative study between Overwatch (2016) and Doom (2016) to determine how these fast-paced games facilitate flow in their gameplay. The second chapter looks at formal definitions of flow and level design to establish a vocabulary for following chapters. Through formal analysis the level designs of both games are then examined to establish what elements in them guide players and keep the flow in gameplay. The thesis also examines how the initial gameplay design principles, which are rooted in the older shooter genre, have impacted the level design. The author uses screenshots from both games, interviews with the design teams and published literature on game design for the study. It was found that the architectural design of a level in hero-based gameplay (Overwatch (2016)) could control the pacing by changing the elements that enable certain types of movement such as climbing or creating setups that favor one team over the other. On an individual player level, flow is kept with intentional placement of light and bright colors to guide the player. While Doom (2016) uses different abilities and movement sets for its hero, the tools of guiding the player proved to be very similar but with heavier focus on environmental markings and lights. In both cases the look of these guiding tools was adapted to fit into the game world without breaking the player’s immersion. Introduction Immersive gameplay is vital to all aspects of game design but how do developers design gameplay which causes the least amount of immersion breakage. How is level design affected by the playable characters’ abilities to maneuver and interact with the environment within the level? If a player’s abilities to explore and traverse are being hindered, or if their current abilities are inadequate to overcome the challenges they face, the players risk losing immersion in the game. So, how are levels designed to reduce this? “Heroes” and “Doom-guy” are references to different player avatars from the two games this study is based on. “Heroes” comes from the online fps multiplayer game Overwatch (2016) where players control one of several heroes, all with their unique abilities and means to traverse and interact with the environment. “Doom-guy” is the space-marine protagonist of the Doom (2016) single player campaign. The first part of this thesis’s title “What level design elements determine flow? How Light and Objects Guide the Player in Overwatch and Doom.” addresses two theoretical parts of level design; principles and flow. To establish what principles exist in a field which is heavily dependent on which genre it is and as its own individual game. What principles determine which elements should exist and their placement so they enhance flow and do not disrupt it. In turn provides immersion by catering to players’ suspension of disbelief. The second part of the thesis consists of a practical examination of the two games to pinpoint these elements within their levels to determine if they create and continue to enable flow. The purpose of this thesis is to examine what level design principles exist to curate flow and then to compare two games with different mechanics and player abilities to examine how those principles are applied in each game to support the intended experience. Background These two games were chosen since they were both nominated for the same awards during 2016’s Game Awards. They were nominated for: Game of the Year, which Overwatch (2016) won. Best Studio/Game Direction, which Overwatch (2016) won Best Action Game, which Doom (2016) won Both games are also grounded in the old-school fast-paced FPS shooter genre. Jeff Kaplan game designer on Overwatch addresses this in the GameSpot video interview (GameSpot 2016) The Story of Overwatch: Return of the 90s Shooter (which refers to Doom (1996), Quake 2 (1997), Team Fortress Classic (1999) & Team Fortress 2 (2007)) and how these games have influenced the Overwatch (2016) development. In the interview Kaplan talks about how they want to bring back fast-paced gameplay with free-flowing movement abilities. In his opinion, this has been lost over the past decade as the design philosophy in the fps genre at large has moved closer toward mimicking reality. The goal of Overwatch (2016) was to bring back intuitive gameplay where players compete to get to alternative vantage points and use unique abilities to maneuver as well as neutralize enemies. With focus on the player’s ability to control how they traverse through a level. Kaplan continues to explain their level designs guiding goals and how they work to facilitate this. These are: Heroes First - Levels are meant to support the heroes’ differences and so they are built to create different opportunities for each hero’s movement abilities and skills. Maps should feel intuitive enough to navigate that they do not draw away attention from the heroes. Diversity of Experience - Levels should be playgrounds for different playstyles and skill levels, with built-in vantage points to climb and chokepoints for close combat. Environments should be diverse enough for all hero types to shine. Clarity of Space - Players should be able to smoothly navigate levels even if it is their first time playing them. They should have enough affordances to clearly direct them and distinguish between travel areas and locked areas. Every playthrough, players should find new, alternative ways to maneuver through the level. The environment should be visually clean, with clear points of interest. Immersive World Fantasy - Each level should be a fantasy-rich and inspiring version of real-world locations to further immerse the player in being the hero. Environments should also provide a clear view of distant areas to make the levels feel as a part of a larger, surrounding world. Doom (2016) is heavily influenced by its predecessor from 1996 in terms of level layout and how they make speed into a key element for more intuitive gameplay. In an interview (Graft 2017) Marty Stratton game director on Doom (2016) talks about this and how the team aimed to recapture the original game’s essence of fast-paced, agile combat. Creating a fundamental core design principle of gameplay resulting in a constant push-forward combat tactic. Stratton defines this as combat chess, consisting of: Speed of movement. Players’ ability to in an agile way move around in the environment. Individuality of demons. Prioritize enemies based on their unique traits and how they work in unison, variation of demons presents different challenges. Distinctiveness of the weapons. Like distinctive enemies determine which weapon best deals with facing various kinds of demons as well how they feel to interact with. Overall power of the player. Players’ health, weapon damage, reload speed and how well they are equipped overall to face various kinds of demons and obstacles. “Make me think, make me move”. This concept refers to a style of gameplay where, due to the player’s fast movement speed, challenges must be solved as they move through the environment. So, all information needed to solve those challenges must be clearly visible and easy to understand as the player maneuvers the environment. In the same interview Stratton also states: “The right size arena, with just the right amount of space, actually made the players feel even faster, … Your top-end speed is good but you’re more agile than you are fast. If you’re in the right space, it can just feel perfect. We spent a lot of time during development finding exactly what the rightsized spaces are for Doom to make you feel quick and agile, but still under control.” Here both Stratton’s and Kaplan’s design principles match, both are looking back into what now could be called classics. Striving for gameplay where a player’s control over their avatar determines how good they are at the game, as long the game provide enough feedback and has mechanics that are in tune with the levels they traverse. To summarize, there are similarities in both design philosophies, showing that they strive for: Core gameplay centered around player avatars and their abilities. An immersive world with plenty of affordances for varied playstyles Simple but stylized environments which clearly show that the avatar belongs in them as well clearly showing how to traverse them. So, what have these games done to facilitate these design goals and how does these it affect the flow within the games. What elements do their levels contain and what principles have they used to guide their players? Previous Work This section explains the fundamentals and guiding principles of level design to provide a vocabulary for the methodology. What is a Level? Game development terminology describes the term “level” as multifaceted. Scott Rogers writes in Level Design: Processes and Practices (2017:102) that a game level can be the environment the player is currently traveling/performing actions within. As well as a numeric sense of how far they have progressed within the game or as a representation of an avatar’s power. In his book, Level Up: The Guide to Great Video Games Second Edition (2014:225) he defines four different variations for this term, Rogers states that this is due to a limited professional vocabulary within the industry. These are: Level: Environment/location where gameplay occurs. Level: Physical (in-game) space based upon specific gameplay experience. Level: Unit of counting player’s overall game progression. Level: Term for marking character progression and improvement. The first two definitions are aimed toward environmental aspects where the first encompasses the larger play space and the second definition refers to the smaller sections within the space. For example, the desert in Diablo 3 (Blizzard Entertainment 2012) represents a large level that the player can travel through and at various places there exists explorable caves. The caves are parts of the desert level but each cave is their own level and would be broken down to more levels if the caves would contain various locations. Anna Anthropy (Anthropy, 2014:40) explains this divide further by defining and breaking down levels as scenes which in themselves are built by various scenes, “A scene is a more atomic, fundamental unit of gameplay than a level, or a world, or a region in a game world.” To continue the previous example from Diablo 3 the various rooms within the cave are independent scenes connected by traversal scenes. A traversal scene would be a bridge presenting a challenge the player must clear to proceed, Anthropy means that if any form of progression occurs it is a scene of its own. For the scope of this thesis levels are defined as Rogers described them as a main level containing certain sublevels instead of the in-depth definition which Anthropy talks about. Instead Anthropy’s definition of scenes, especially traversal scenes is being used to examine how levels facilitate flow. What is Level Design? Ernest W. Adams in his book Fundamentals of Game Design, explains it as “The level designer creates not only the space in which the game takes place—its furnishing and backgrounds—but also the player’s moment-by-moment experience of the game and much of its emotional context.” He also notes that level design is “…the process of constructing the experience that will be offered directly to the player using components provided by the game designer.” Christopher W. Totten in his book Level Design: Processes and Experiences makes the distinction between level design is neither art nor game design even though it is dependent on both, just as they are dependent on it. Level design is not about the creation of assets or definition of game mechanics but a middle point of both as the level should work to facilitate core mechanics and thus shape its landscape accordingly. To make use of assets so they enhance, rather than hinder flow in the game. Ernest W. Adams argues as well that it is the level designer who puts it all into practice as they design the challenges and set the mood in the levels. Huaxin Wei and Chaoguang Wang also state that level design is its own position, apart from that of game designers and environmental artists. It is the role of the level designer to guide players through the game and so they must work in close tandem with programmers and artists as “In the actual design process, it is important to communicate with artists and programmers to get their attention on the functionality of a game level, which is realized in both the operational and the presentational structures.” They write how the levels are more than their design and visuals, they embody the player’s possibilities to navigate through and interact with the level. Jess Schell states in his book Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses: “All a level designer does is arrange the architecture, props, and challenges in a game in ways that are fun and interesting — that is, making sure there is the right level of challenge, the right amount of reward, the right amount of meaningful choice, and all the other things that make a good game. Level design is just game design exercised in detail — and it isn’t easy, for the devil is in the details. Level design is different for every game, because every game is different.” This thesis will view the position and work of a level designer as one who builds the player experience based on a design goal with the tools made available from programmers and artists alike. What is Flow? One of the challenges with level design is to determine how the dramatic curve is shaped throughout the level so as to produce a balance between action sequences and rest areas. A generalized term for this is called “flow”. The vision for each level is for players to flow seamlessly through them without breaking the game’s immersion. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about flow from a general perspective of everyday life and the different obstacles people face, although these are applicable on games as well. Csikszentmihalyi suggests three conditions which must be met to produce flow. Firstly, when the activity shows “…a clear set of goals”. These goals are intended to provide a purpose to the intended activity and keep channeling the player’s attention for the duration of the game and so keep them immersed. Secondly, flow is “…a balance between perceived challenges and perceived skills.” If the challenge is greater than the players’ current skillset it risks becoming frustrating as the odds for them to overcome the challenge diminish. If the player’s skillset is greater than the challenges it risks becoming dull, the balance between these two should allow the players to face and complete challenges equal to their skill. Third and final is “…clear and immediate feedback.” Players should not doubt where they are going given what their goal is and so levels should always inform the player how they progress. These three conditions of clear directional goals, clear understanding of skill versus challenge and constant feedback will be the lens this thesis examines the games through. What is the Goal of a Level Designer? Ernest W. Adams lists certain principles regarding level design and explains briefly what is essential about them. These principles are: “The space in which the game takes place.” It’s the game designer job to create the games features but it is the level designer who determines when, where and how those are presented. “The initial conditions of the level.” Here Adams refers to expendable resources within the level such as number of enemies the player faces or resources they either gain or lose” Here Adams refers to expendable resources within the level such as number of enemies the player faces or resources they either gain or lose. “The set challenges the player will face within the level.” What challenges the level produces, either environmental obstacles or enemies as well as in what sequence they appear. “The termination conditions of the level.” What must the player accomplish in order to complete the level and in what ways can they fail? “The interplay between the gameplay and the game’s story, if any.” If the level has a narrative its design must present it accordingly to the player. “The aesthetic and mood of the level.” How the player experiences the intended aesthetics is up to the level designer. They are given a tone and then decide at what pace it is revealed. “Atmosphere.” This connects with the aesthetics of the level although in a larger sense as it encompasses lightning, colors, visual effects as well audio to produce the intended experience. “Pacing and progress.” This ties into what conditions and challenges exist in the level, as it determines how frequently the players are challenged and when they have a moment to rest. “Tutorial levels.” They are separate from the main game levels and are a safe-zone where the player can learn new abilities and where new challenges are presented in a set order. Out of these principles, this study looks foremost at the architectural space within the level and how it is designed to form paths and how the atmospheric effects provide visual guiding tools. It also looks at environments from two aspects. What challenges the layout presents based on the limitations of character movement and how players overcome these challenges. Also, how environmental markings are placed to direct players. Purpose The purpose of this thesis is to gain an understanding of which elements and principles determine flow. Then see how these are used to guide players in fast paced games such as Overwatch (2016) and Doom (2016). This will be accomplished by firstly conducting a comparative study of these two games to analyze their flow based upon knowledge of what guides a level designer and which goals they strive towards. This study emphasizes the importance of designing a seamless flow throughout the level, allowing players to become immersed in the way they travel and interact with levels through gameplay. Secondly by conducting a formal analysis of the levels from these games to determine how their architectural layout is designed. How do these environmental elements work with how players traverse throughout the level? The focus is on gaining an understanding of how these game levels are executed to constantly guide the players forward with minimal risk of breaking immersion. The underlying question is: What in these environments subconsciously guides the player during play? Analysis Procedure Elements of flow are for example architecture layout, environmental objects/markings and various visual effects. Examples of these might be how a building is designed to open/close a line of sight or how objects and environmental markings form directional arrows. How lights and sounds draw players’ attention. These are the most commonly used ways to guide players but it is sometimes difficult to make them feel integrated within the level. Both games are analyzed in three steps. These are: During gameplay distinguish the following elements: Architecture: How buildings and paths provide moment-by-moment information as players traverse. How they are shaped based upon the avatar’s mobility and do these affect the line of sight. Objects: How objects such as crates, ladders, ledges etc. either become hindrances and blocks paths or provide alternative traversal routes. Markings: How environmental markings such as signs, scrapes, blood etc. form directional arrows. Visuals: How visual effects such as wind, light and sounds are meant to draw the player’s attention to them and guide them further along. Do these elements fit into the three flow categories? Clear directional goals: Are players always aware of where they need to be going by following these elements. Skill vs Obstacle: Are players able to overcome obstacles while moving or do they have to stop. Clear Feedback: Do they provide clear visual feedback before and while players interact with them or as they pass them. Do these elements and flow categories support their initial design principles? Avatar based gameplay. World created for various playstyles. Clean world for quick reading. This approach is looking at how the landscape and objects in the environment allow the players to either traverse the level or stop them. Does the background continuously telegraph where players should go next and is it all in coherence with the game’s overall aesthetic and design? A different approach to this study would have been to conduct interviews with the design team behind both games about their process and the principles they have followed. This would have given concrete data on their work, how they chose their elements and most importantly why they chose these. However, this would not have been possible given the scope of this thesis. Results Overwatch Overwatch is a multiplayer online fps game developed and released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2016. Each player controls one of a variety of heroes in a competitive six versus six-person teams. The goal of each match is to capture an objective through one of several game modes, and in doing so defeat the enemy team (Blizzard 2016a). At launch the game featured a roster of twenty-one unique heroes and twelve maps based on real world locations. The game is set 60 years into the future and Jeff Kaplan talks about their vision during development. The aim for these levels was to create an imaginary reflection of what our current world could come to be in a society with heroes. Rather than a realistic translation of what exists today, they strived to build a better future for the world. Show something more than war torn cities and grim gray environments, something we could strive towards and hope for. Kaplan goes on to talk about how each area should be a place their players would want to visit. Levels should be a place where they would want to spend a long time, they should allure players to explore them and try to traverse them in as many ways as possible. Avatar Mobility For this thesis Overwatch’s hero roster is divided into three categories based on their mobility, high, medium and low. High mobility heroes can climb walls or have an ability which allows them to reach high vantage points, alternatively use this ability to find other routes to the objective. Hanzo (see Figure 1) is one of the heroes with high mobility. He is a ranged attack hero with the ability to, for a short duration climb walls, both in a vertical and horizontal direction. Hanzo can also leap off in any direction can while climbing. Figure 1: Overwatch character Hanzo climbing the wall towards the right. His direction is shown by the dust cloud left behind him. Hanzo’s climbing ability depends on his distance from the wall. For Hanzo to climb walls they must be relatively clean from any sort of bumps or extensions, and to climb over edges they can not extend too far out from the wall. During the climb players are facing the wall, removing any possibility to respond should an enemy player appear which makes Hanzo an easy target for the duration of the climb. This risk of being ambushed has the potential of a high reward, should players reach a high vantage point from which they can utilize their long-ranged attacks. Medium mobility heroes have abilities that allow them to either temporarily fly or teleport, which can be used to gain an advantage during fights or avoid areas by passing over them. Pharah (see Figure 2) is one of the heroes with medium mobility. She is a ranged attack hero equipped with a jetpack that allows her to leap into the air to either to levitate for a short duration or fly short distances. In addition to her jetpack she has an ability that allows her to burst short distances. When this ability is used midair, Pharah can reach higher areas, alternatively cover more distance in a shorter amount of time. Figure 2: Overwatch character Pharah levitating midair while activating her ultimate ability. While Pharah is airborne she has limited movement speed, making her slower in the air than she is on foot. With no option for cover she risks becoming an easy target since players must look in the direction they are flying. She also requires open outdoor areas to fully utilize her flight potential which restricts her indoors. It also allows her to reach high vantage points with the tradeoff of being more easily spotted by enemy players. Low mobility heroes are restricted to the ground and have no abilities for either exploring alternative routes or reaching advantage points. Reinhardt (see Figure 3) is one of the heroes with low mobility. He is a melee range attack hero with the ability to charge towards enemy players in a straight line and pin them against obstacles. Figure 3: Overwatch Character Reinhardt using his charge ability. Being restricted to the ground has no actual disadvantages since each level offers various rooms and other passages which offer protection from any attacks from above. At key points in each level, heroes with high mobility are forced to descend to proceed further or clear an objective. Although that is not to say that medium and high mobility heroes cannot use the ground to the same extent as low mobility heroes. Rather they are suited for an agile playstyle which uses the environment to their advantage if they can traverse freely and be used to their full potential. To support the different kinds of mobility as well as to increase the attraction for players to explore and seek alternative routes, Blizzard has removed drawbacks such as fall damage. Players falling from great heights take no damage upon landing, as long as they fall inside the level’s perimeter. This makes exploration risk free, so players do not need to hurt their avatar should they fall down into a group of enemy players. Instead they should be given the element of surprise and rewarded for their interest in exploring the levels in detail. The strength of a hero’s abilities is therefore dependent on the player’s expertise. This feeds into players having to become more observant of their surroundings since enemy players could potentially come from various directions, creating an active gameplay. Level Layout The level layout in Overwatch maps changes throughout the game to give advantage to different teams, attackers/defenders and different mobility heroes. Early in maps advantage is often given to high and medium mobility heroes through open spaces with alternative route options. This can be seen in both the Hanamura (see Figure 4) and Kings Row (see Figure 5) map. In both maps their first objective of two is displayed, these are capture points where one team is defending and one is attacking. In Hanamura attackers come through the gates on the right side and despite those being the main point of entry there are four different openings surrounding the door. There is open sky for flying heroes to enter and navigate and on the right of the gates there is an entrance into the little house providing cover for low mobility heroes. This open space and short distance between covers favor low and medium mobility heroes since most walls have larger extensions and most roofs are leaning downward making it difficult to climb and find a vantage point. Figure 4: In-game screenshot taken from the Hanamura map, Overwatch. The first objective is located inside the house to the avatars left. Figure 5: In-game screenshot taken from the Kings Row map, Overwatch. The first objective is located behind the trees and car to the avatar’s right. For King’s Row attackers come in from the left and just like in Hanamura there is plenty of open sky and the statue in the middle offers a two-way split. Just like Hanamura, this location provides an open space with some cover options for low mobility heroes. This location is favorable for low and high mobility heroes due to it containing more objects which block teleportation and force flying heroes to expose themselves. This puts medium mobility heroes at a disadvantage. The walls of the buildings are cleaner than in Hanamura so they support climbing to vantage points, most noticeably the opening on the second floor in the upper right corner. The statue and the house behind it contain doors which offer cover suitable for quick ground movement. There are some covers present in both locations for the defending team heroes to take cover in but due to the capture points being exposed, the odds of being overrun are great. In Hanamura the first point is located within the house to the left. Inside is an open space with bare walls and multiple entering points. In Kings Row defenders are pushed to the walls of the building behind the trees and car, leaving them out in the open if they wish to hold it. There are options to cover it from afar but this leaves the point open to be captured if there are no defenders on site. These points are located a short distance from the attacking teams spawn points which are placed beyond the walls in both maps, whereas defenders must traverse the entire map to reach it. Because of these facts attackers have the advantage on capturing it early on. This advantage disappears when the attacking team reaches the second objective point. Hanamura’s (see Figure 6) second point is indoors, now openly exposed in the middle of the room. The layout of the room and the lack of cover forces the heroes to move close to the center, leaving them exposed to defenders on either side. There are three entrances leading straight to the middle and two more on each side of the capture points, all converging toward the middle. To the avatar’s left, there are stairs visibly connected to a plateau which goes along sides and ends where the avatar is standing. The porch has pillars, like those directly opposite of the avatar, surrounding it and granting protection to defending players. Now the attacking team must traverse the entire map whereas the defending team’s spawn point is in an adjacent room behind the avatar. Because of this, the defending team has the advantage on protecting the objective. Figure 6: In-game screenshot taken from the Hanamura map, Overwatch. Second objective point is the open area in the middle of the room, lit by sunshine coming in from the roof. It is the same in King’s Row (see Figure 7) where there is a narrow, crooked path containing multiple smaller rooms leading up to the second objective. This gives defending heroes the possibility to set up hidden defenses. To the left of the avatar there are concealed plateaus, surrounding the objective point. Defending low mobility heroes has the advantage as players are forced into the same space, restricting agile high and medium mobility heroes. Figure 7: In-game screenshot taken from the Kings Row map, Overwatch. The second objective, an open platform at the end of a crooked path, is located in the bottom left corner. One factor which differs in King’s Row compared to Hanamura is the second objective which is transporting a vehicle (the car seen Figure 6) onto the platform. In order to transport the car, players must be near it. This restricts high and medium mobility heroes on the attacking team but favors high and medium mobility heroes on the defending team since their abilities allow them to outmaneuver the heroes transporting the car and launch surprise attacks from various vantage points. Such vantage points include the roof directly opposing the avatar as well the smaller room on its right. A third example of this level design is the Volskaya Industries map (see Figure 8). As in the previous two maps the map’s first objective point is an open area located outside. A short distance away is the attacking team’s spawn point which is located inside the building past the wall in the right-side corner. The map’s second objective point is located inside, with various smaller rooms and passages surrounding it. What differs between Volskaya Industries and the previous two maps is the fact that this level caters to all mobility categories. High mobility heroes can make use of the smooth walls and various entrance points without risking to much exposure. Medium mobility heroes can use their abilities to reach the same places high mobility heroes as well make us of the open skies, passages and rooms to move around the map. Low mobility heroes are offered the same routes as other heroes since the same openings and possibilities of cover exist on all levels. Closed-in openings at ground-level offer protection from other low mobility heroes as well as offering cover against flying heroes. Open areas on the second floors are accessible to various heroes and while they offer high vantage points, those points leave the heroes exposed due to a lack of cover options. Figure 8: In-game screenshots taken from the Volskaya Industries map, Overwatch. First objective point (left) and second objective (right). Both points are the square areas in front of the avatar. In these three maps, the game’s designers have catered to all three mobility types as players can choose to traverse these levels in various ways. Their layout provides players with alternative passages and invites them to explore them to reach new vantage points. There is a shifting advantage between the teams where attackers benefit from being aggressive early on while defenders must be tactical. These early parts are also more suited for medium/high mobility heroes. The later parts of the maps tend to favor the defending team and low mobility heroes. The levels facilitate this by having the first stage of the map be an open environment which, as the attacking team advances, narrows down. In coherence with how the distance of each team’s spawn point changes so does the time required for each team’s heroes to respawn and reach the rest of their team. Analysis Overwatch Below follows an examination of Overwatch’s levels to determine how they facilitate flow. Environment By studying the architecture, objects, marking and visuals in Hanamura (see Figure 14) it is determined that this level primarily uses objects as well as lights to guide players. This view is the first players on the attacking team see, with five locations where the environment draws the players’ attention. From left to right, the first circle shows traffic signs where one is an arrow pointed inwards toward the street and the other is a warning sign placed above the arrow in such a way that it lets players notice it first and then the arrow. The second two circles show traffic lights which are natural objects for people to look towards while traveling. Below the middle traffic light is a huge wooden door with an emblem upon it, marking its importance and letting the attacking team players know they are targeting an area of importance. The last two bubbles contain a parked car and a restaurant icon, displaying a humanoid creature. What makes them noticeable are their size and recognizability. They are both facing toward the street, same as the arrow sign and them being relatable objects with a clear front and back end, makes them natural arrows. Figure 14: In-game screenshot taken outside the attacking team’s spawnpoint on the Hanamura map, Overwatch. White circles indicate environmental elements. The house provides a two-way split but the path on the right side is almost concealed by what looks to be a small crane apparatus, as well as being concealed in shadow by the surrounding houses. The left path meanwhile is partly lit by the sun as well as containing several objects forming directional signs, guiding players toward this path. Outside the defenders’ spawn point (see Figure 15) there are less objects but instead light which indicates which way players could take or where potential enemies might enter from. Both circles on the left show dim lights near door openings while the circles on the right show glimpses of a large cherry blossom tree. These two circles are also placed near the massive sunlight shining in from the roof, which subconsciously draws the players attention if only for a moment so the next objects they see are the cherry tree’s pink color and the three openings leading out. The house provides a two-way split but the path on the right side is almost concealed by what looks to be a small crane apparatus, as well as being concealed in shadow by the surrounding houses. The left path meanwhile is partly lit by the sun as well as containing several objects forming directional signs, guiding players toward this path. Outside the defenders’ spawn point (see Figure 15) there are less objects but instead light which indicates which way players could take or where potential enemies might enter from. Both circles on the left show dim lights near door openings while the circles on the right show glimpses of a large cherry blossom tree. These two circles are also placed near the massive sunlight shining in from the roof, which subconsciously draws the players attention if only for a moment so the next objects they see are the cherry tree’s pink color and the three openings leading out. Figure 15: In-game screenshot taken outside the defending team’s spawnpoint on the Hanamura map, Overwatch. White circles indicate environmental elements. King’s Row (see Figure 16) also uses lights to guide its defending players outward and luring the attacking team inward. The first object both teams see as they enter is the large orange lamp hanging from the ceiling. With its bright light and size, it points out a place of importance. The dark orange lights along the floor show the path and like the large lamp signals importance, the floor lights invite players to follow them. The blue lights inside the rooms set a cold, rather saddening tone, making them less inviting to follow. The start zone of the attacking team on King’s Row (see Figure 17) uses light and the architecture to guide the players. The lights within the left circles start at street level and slowly move diagonally upward and inward to the screen center, almost blending in with the roof above. The roof is pointing diagonally downwards into the middle, in the same manner as the bus in front of the avatar and theater sign on the right do. These guide the player’s vision toward the middle and into the large, blue lit tower, hovering behind the bus which seems to hold an open area for players to explore. Figure 16: In-game screenshot taken outside the defending team’s spawnpoint on the Kings Row map, Overwatch. White circles indicate environmental elements. Figure 17: In-game screenshot taken outside the attacking team’s spawnpoint on the Kings Row map, Overwatch. White circles and arrows indicate environmental elements Both the attacking and defending teams’ spawnpoints in Volskaya industries (see Figure 18) use lights and buildings to create directional arrows. The lights catch the players’ attention and guide them as the building points downward into the center of the screen where a light blue light indicates that the map continues further in that direction. In these maps, the sides surrounding the critical path are purposefully made dull and important by comparison to funnel players toward certain areas. These elements guide both teams, pulling both the defending and the attacking team inward. Figure 18: In-game screenshot outside attacking (left) and defending (right) teams spawn point on the Volskaya Industries map, Overwatch. White circles and arrows indicate environmental elements. Flow So, do these level design elements found within these three levels support flow? Clear directional goals? Yes, as players traverse the level, elements within the level keep telegraphing to the players where the next objective lies and which path leads them toward it. The layouts contain plenty of open space in the first half and narrows down around the second objective where the players are guided more strictly Skill vs obstacle? Yes, each hero, regardless of their mobility category are shown available routes and these are visible as players approach them. Players must not stop and search for a way in as the open level design is clearly guiding them. While there is a main road to any objective, there are always various alternative routes if players control a hero with more mobility. Clear feedback? o Yes, every important building, object and sign are created so they can always be spotted and reached if possible. All heroes have passages they can take and if the player knows the limitations of their hero they do not need to wonder if they can reach them, unless they are looking for more original routes. Design Principles Overwatch has an avatar based gameplay where the player’s expertise and control over their hero determine their success in each match. It also has a level design which allows for all three mobility types to traverse in more ways than one. Its visual design makes it easy to tell what can be interacted with and which paths lead where. Based upon this analysis it can be said that Overwatch has successfully achieved their initial design goals. Reflections The purpose of this thesis is to examine level design to determine what within the design enables flow. First off, this is a broad topic addressing the subject of level design which by itself lacks a unified meaning. The meaning of level design changes depending on developers and genre and most have their own level design principles. Even flow has a different meaning and implementation, depending on the genre and intention of the game. However, there are commonly used principles and a vocabulary which helps game developers in different genres to find common ground. Looking at Doom (2016) and Overwatch (2016), despite their similarities the dramatic curve in both games differs a great deal. This is partially due to the size of their maps. Overwatch (2016) has short maps made for bursts of gameplay with certain points focusing on combat. In Doom (2016) levels are longer, contain more content and most areas are a mixture of combat and travel area. Leaving their different artstyle aside and focusing on key elements, they can be broken down into the same objects and elements. Looking at these elements as basic building blocks there are lights and arrows. Regardless of their size and aesthetics, the leaning buildings in Overwatch (2016) and the pools of blood in Doom (2016) fill the same function. Street lights or fires, they are given a meaning once they have aesthetics which are in coherence with the overall environment. Objects found in one game would become immersion-breaking if put into the other. The games use the same building blocks, just re-skinned to suit their own game’s aesthetic. This brings into focus how much of the flow in the games is dependent upon the assets graphical styles as well as their location. Compare the environment outside of both teams spawning points in Volskaya Industries with the first outdoor level the Doom-guy experiences. Both contain environmental elements (houses in Overwatch (2016), mountains in Doom (2016)), that are leaning toward the left. Even replacing their narrative-specific models and textures and replacing them with untextured primitive objects, these elements would still point players in the right direction. The same principles applies to the lights, as the value contrast they provide would still catch the players’ attention. However disguising them in appropriate graphics feeds into the overall immersion of the game, making them fulfill their purpose and enabling flow. Both these games have succeeded in creating aesthetically appropriate elements for each map which serve to subconsciously guide players. Conclusion Immersive gameplay is vital to all aspects of game design but how do developers design gameplay which causes the least amount of immersion breakage. How is level design affected by the playable characters’ abilities to maneuver and interact with the environment within the level? If a player’s abilities to explore and traverse are being hindered, or if their current abilities are inadequate to overcome the challenges they face, the players risk losing immersion in the game. So, how are levels designed to reduce this? To conclude, the elements found in these games facilitating flow are simple elements of light and direction. Simple in this case means basic building blocks which have been created, with a specific function in mind for a specific location. Dark areas exist to enhance spots of light and make them more alluring for players. The lights are then placed and given specific colors and intensities to create a specific feeling. Each opening has a specific purpose, either to create a vantage point for the player of lead to an alternative path. In Overwatch (2016) levels are changing as they progress to cater to the various heroes and their different mobilities. All heroes can always find a route best suited for their hero, either by using an alternative path to reach objectives or finding an area where their hero’s abilities offer them an advantage over those of the enemy team. Ability-based gameplay is the key to this game and the levels does nothing but enhances this. Read the full paper here: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1146250/FULLTEXT01.pdf Follow David Website: https://davideliasson.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/eliasson_david?lang=en Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  23. The following is a recap of an article which is shared on 80 Level. It captures Jon Michael Hickenbottom's experience of the Level Design for Games course offered by CG Master Academy. Jon is currently a Level Designer at New World Interactive, and has worked on games such as Insurgency and Day of Infamy. Getting Started Off the bat, this was my first time using both Unity and Maya to block out levels. Challenge accepted! Coming from a background of Source Engine and Unreal Editor, I had never used a modeling package to create layouts in this fashion. While nervous on how I’d adapt, I quickly discovered the speedy back and forth between Maya and Unity to be very helpful with making iteration and refinement of shapes in the scene painless. Furthermore, Unity was quickly generating collision automatically to help me get from blockout to playtesting within seconds. With Unity and Maya synced up, I was ready to get started! Using Reference An important first step for me is to find reference and inspiration. Google Images, Flickr, and Pinterest are always solid sources for image inspiration and direction. I enjoy discovering supplemental inspiration from art history books, cinematography and “art of” books from various games. Assembling images into a mood board for assignments in either Pinterest or Photoshop kept me focused, and became a catalyst for creativity when encountering mental blocks along the way. The found images began to spark new ideas that may not have otherwise been considered. For a section of the course, the theme was centered around the Wild West. I wanted to create a sense of scale, beauty, and risk within each of my levels. I tried to focus my reference search on shapes and spaces that could communicate this to the player. Inspiration was found in the remarkable art by William Henry Holmes, the thoughtful cinematography of Roger Deakins, the detailed environments in the Desperados series, the splendor of Westworld, and childhood memories of Back to the Future 3. One exciting discovery was remembering the photos I had taken on a summer trip to Zion National Park. These became great references for the shapes and aesthetic of the blockouts. Carrying around a camera or camera phone is a perfect way to easily build a personal reference library that you never know when will come in handy. It also serves in sharpening one’s eye for composition and framing! Scale Follow the link at the end to read this section of the article. Painting with Shapes Emilia Schatz redefined my understanding of how to paint with shapes. I started a rough idea of my layout on graph paper, but I quickly jumped into Maya to get started. Throughout the course, I challenged myself in these projects to be more comfortable off the grid and break from symmetry. With a background of level editors that encouraged the use of the grid for either organization or optimization, it was a refreshing endeavor to live comfortably off the grid, while still maintaining the use of metrics and proper scale. Living off the grid allowed me to thoughtfully paint shapes without restriction and limitation, thus focusing more on the artistic aspects of level design. This focus was freeing, and I could foresee the creative synergy that would occur between designers and artists as we move to understand the disciplines of one another. Within the past few years, I’ve sought to become a better artist in my pursuit to become a better designer. This course strengthened that pursuit. Through Emilia’s lessons, I began to appreciate the thoughtfulness required of each shape I created and each object I placed; not just from a level designer’s perspective but in how my choices could, in turn, affect a fellow collaborative artist’s workflow. One wonderfully valuable tip was the power of the cube. I had always struggled to understand how complicated terrain and landscapes were created in games like Uncharted. Emilia introduced us to her use of the almighty cube. By squashing, stretching, and slicing a cube, the forms of various terrain elements begin to take shape. In moving these manipulated cubes within one another, it became clearer as to how to craft natural, seismic formations. The idea at this stage was not to worry about optimizing and welding vertices; it was more important to paint shapes, compose compositions, and create interesting spaces. Composition Follow the link at the end to read this section of the article. Landmarks & Internal Compass Follow the link at the end to read this section of the article. Crafting Districts & Nodes As we moved from singular areas to large spaces, Emilia introduced us to the idea of nodes, edges, and districts. As I began to map out my level, I began to discover the points of intersection— these are considered nodes. Nodes can be described as intersections and decision points within your paths. They also become great positions to form your compositions around. We can be certain the player will circulate through these points, and therefore be perfect for framing your compositions. Emilia encouraged us to set up various cameras to keep our focus on shaping and refining strong compositions at these points. Edges help communicate that you are entering into a new space. These can be thought of as linear elements that help divide one area from another. I tried to place these around various districts within the level. For example, a grand wall and gate at the entrance help communicate the borders of the town, a small fence shows where a graveyard starts, and a large archway was placed to divide the market area from a military camp. Finally, building your spaces to include identifiable districts helps promote identity and contrast within your levels. It also allows for interesting points of connection between spaces. Bringing all the elements together, the following image shows some of the various district identities I tried to communicate: a marketplace, jagged graveyard, elevated upper class, separated lower class, and the nature surrounding all of these. By employing compositions at these nodes, structuring identifiable edges, and creating distinct districts, I hoped to implement a spatial composition the player found interesting to explore, discover, and inhabit. Bringing It All Together Follow the link at the end to read this section of the article. Conclusion This course provided me with a masterclass of knowledge that I’ve only scratched the surface on here. I’ve found a renewed outlook on crafting levels with intentional shapes and heightened shape language. It continually stretched and challenged me as a designer, and helped me build a sturdy confidence in tools, perspectives, and genres I had never explored before. I learned how to trust myself more, and free myself to create designs that expressed what was true to my heart. I count myself fortunate to have learned from Emilia Schatz. Her constructive feedback never wavered, and what she shared was always what I and the class needed to hear most. I encourage anyone—at any experience level—to take this course. It has fundamentally changed how I will approach level design. I highly recommend CG Master Academy and especially Level Design for Games with Emilia Schatz. For the full article, follow this link: https://80.lv/articles/introduction-to-level-design-for-games/ Follow John Twitter: https://twitter.com/jonmichael Website: https://www.jonmichaelcreations.com/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  24. This article is intended to be an introduction to a paper written by Simon Lund Larsen, called simply "Level Design Patterns". What's contained here is only a portion of the full writing. There are 6 primary Patterns addressed in this piece: Multiple paths Local Fights Collision Points Reference Points Defense Areas Risk Incentive Only the section on Collision Points and Defense Areas are included here. *Credit to Michael How for the thumbnail image Introduction The idea for this paper came about when I first heard about design patterns in an object oriented programming class at the IT-University of Copenhagen in the fall of 2004. It occurred to me that many different fields use design patterns, but very few call them what they really are; patterns. Creativity is guided by formal design tools in many fields, such as movie making, music, literature and comics. Even the art of computer game design is much focused on “common practices”, “good advices” and the paradigm of “why-fix-it-it-aren’t-broken”. Never before has the process of creating games been so complex and time consuming. The time for formal design tools is now. By using design patterns as a design tool when creating levels multiplayer games you ensure that the players can seamlessly navigate through your game world. At the same time it will greatly reduce the scope of the design process as you apply tried and tested solutions to your current problem domain. There is no need for reinventing the wheel every time you plan and design a new level. The question that I will try to answer in this paper is; how can formalized design patterns be used for creating interesting choices in level design? What are design patterns? Design patterns are formal tools used for solving known problems. Said in another way; it is a design toolbox. In many fields, ranging from architecture, over software development to creative fields such as literature and movies, people are using some form of formal design tools to help create their work. Some call them design patterns others call them “tools-of-the-trade”, but they are essentially the same; formal tools that describe problems (or problematic areas) and proven ways to solve them. If we take movies as example, try to count how many movies you have seen lately that followed a storyline similar to this one: the main character of the story sets out on a quest to undo the wrongdoings that has fallen upon him/her. During this quest, the main character faces many perils and is close to giving up near the ending, but somehow he/she prevails in the end. I would dare say that the large majority of the movies present on IMDb.com’s Top 250 list of the greatest movies ever made follow a storyline very similar to the above. Looking at how movies like Indiana Jones, the Star Wars movies and The Matrix trilogy is using the Hero’s Journey way of storytelling and then comparing it to the way David Lynch told the story of Lost Highway it is easy to spot the difference. Filmmakers such David Lynch, whom is truly artists in their field, makes movies that are not easily understandable. Ask anyone who have seen Lost Highway (1997) or Mulholland Drive (2001) of what the movie is about and you will properly end up with as many answers as people you ask. The popular movies all revolve around the same story outline. They do it because it works. It is easy to understand for the viewers, because of the familiarity of the storyline. You can argue that this type of storyline is a design pattern. Are they works of art? No, by no means! But they are all using a collection of very effective tools for creating entertainment that is easily recognizable for everyone. The question then is; do these tools hinder the creative workflow and merely created assembly line produced entertainment that all look the same? When doing level design for multiplayer FPS, the aim is not that the player must play against the environment and solve its architectural puzzles embedded within. They must be able to instantly recognize the navigational patterns and move fluidly through the level. The architecture must be created in such a way that the players are working with the environment and it is not becoming an obstacle that the player also has to overcome. More Indiana Jones and less David Lynch, so to speak. Level design patterns "Few things are harder to put up with than a good example" - Mark Twain In the following section I will present a small collection of design patterns applicable for multiplayer FPS level design. The collection is by no means exhaustive but should provide you with a starting point as to what design patterns could look like in connection with level design. The design patterns have come about from analyzing several levels looking for common ways of solving problematic elements of level design. The design patterns themselves will abide loosely by the Game Design Pattern Template as set forth by Björk & Holopainen (2005, p. 38-39); Multiple paths - Each path must be supplemented by one or more paths in order to overcome bottlenecks. *Follow the link at the end to read this section Local fights - Break up the level in smaller areas that are more or less closed of the rest of the level. *Follow the link at the end to read this section Collision points - The paths of opposing players must cross at some point to create tension in the level. General description: When playing multiplayer games one of the key elements is meeting other players and playing against them. The paths that lead from one team’s area to another, or to and from an important objective in the level, must cross so that members from both teams will face each other at some time. The overview map for the Kalt level from Day of Defeat (Image 10) clearly marks the Collision Points. At least two places (center) the routes for both teams will collide head on. This provides some very interesting gameplay as both teams try to push the other back and conquer the objectives that are located on both sides just beyond these collisions points. The collision points in the Kalt level are clearly visible Another way of creating interesting collision points it by make the only way to enter the opposing teams base go through some very narrow spots as in the Maul level from Unreal Tournament 2004 (image below). Here two rather small holes in the dividing wall serves as clear collisions points that makes up for most of the battle in this level. The two holes in the wall create unsurpassable collisions points Using the pattern: If you are making a Capture the Flag level, construct the level in such a way that all players must go through a central area (be that either a room or a specific outdoor area). By doing that you ensure that the players will eventually run into each other at some point. Making the main paths cross produces interesting situations for the players If used correctly the level can rise from being confusing and mediocre to being a tension filled experience. This is also one of the best design patterns for accentuate to the players that they are playing in a multiplayer environment, since they are hereby guarantee to run into other players. Consequence: If the map only contains one collision point, it is imperative that the “time-to contact” for each team reaching these points is the same. Locating the collision point too close to one of the teams’ main defense objectives renders the level unbalanced, hence unplayable. Relations: There is a relationship between this patterns and the Local Fights pattern, the Collision Points patterns being a sub-pattern of the latter. Using the Collision Points pattern is one way of ensuring that at least one Local Fight will be present if implemented correctly. Reference: Christopher Alexander talked about adjusting the layout in city planning so that you would create areas of the community that would concentrate the activity in so-called nodes (1977): Pattern #30: Activity Nodes: Create nodes of activity throughout the community […]. First identify those existing spots in the community where action seems to concentrate itself. Then modify the layout of the paths in the community to bring as many of them through these spots as possible. This makes each spot function as a ‘node’ in the path network. (p. 166) But the most vigorous analysis of collision point in level design comes from Güttler & Johansson (2005) in their article on the topic: The play patterns are formed on the foundation of the spatial design of the level and the behavior of the players. […] These tactics are all based around the collision points of the level; points, that are noted by the two teams mission oriented paths verge on or cross each other on one or more locations through the level. (Own translation, p. 156) Reference points - Always provide reference points in your level to help navigation. *Follow the link at the end to read this section Defense areas - Aide the players or team defending objects by making the architectural layout of the level work to their advantage. General description: Most levels for multiplayer action oriented games revolve around one team attacking another team’s location or skirmish over specific control points. In either case team-members frequently needs to defend these areas or objectives. Because the defenders do not know when or where the attackers might come from they have a disadvantage. This can be counter by giving them objects that can help them defend. In the Anzio level from Day of Defeat the defense of the bridge can be done from a ruin located nearby (image below). Here the defenders can partly unseen watch all the traffic crossing the bridge and can quickly duck for cover if under enemy fire. The defense of the bridge, as seen from the attacker’s point of view (left) and the defenders (right) More open areas, as in the Avalanche level from Day of Defeat (image below) and the Iwo Jima level from Battlefield 1942 (following image) can be aided with the addition of sandbags or sandbag-like structures that the defenders can cover behind. The sandbags defense of the German flag Defense of the hill in the Iwo Jima level Alternatively the defenders can be given extra hardware to help with the defense. This can be either stationary guns or special buttons that can close of areas or shut doors. In the case of the El Alamein level from Battlefield 1942 (Image 20) the defenders have been provided with a heavy anti-aircraft gun and a high powered stationary machine gun with unlimited ammunition. The upper image shows an anti-aircraft gun and to the lower is a mounted machine gun Using the pattern: Create areas surrounding important objective in the level with elements that can help the defenders of the object defend. That being either providing elements that they can seek cover behind or adding hardware that aide in the defense. Consequence: If the defense area becomes too powerful it will effectively bring the level to a standstill with the attacker having no way of overrunning the defense area. So this is one pattern that should be used with a lot of thought. A good way of using this is to combine it with the Multiple Paths pattern, making the defense only cover one entrance to the objective and then have one or more alterative paths leading into the area surpassing the defense. Relations: There should be a relation between the use of Defense Areas and the Reference Points patterns. For both the attackers and the defenders using the Defense Area it is important that it is easily recognizable so that communication about events taking place at these areas can be easy conveyed to follow team members. Risk Incentive - Access to wanted objects in a level must be connected with some element of risk. *Follow the link at the end to read this section Conclusion and future research "It's all very well in practice, but will never work in theory". - Anonymous The craft of designing levels have in the resent decade, along with the rise of FPS, become a fullfledged profession comparable to programming and art direction. All professions need formal design tools and it is time that level design got its. The presentation of the level design patterns herein merely scratches the surface. There are many more patterns waiting to be formalized and many more to discover. My aim with this paper was show the usefulness of design patterns both in connection with design levels but also in connection with analyzing them. They can provide a much needed vocabulary to the discussion. You could easily state “This level is boring… add more Multiple Paths” or “This area is too open and wide, add some more Local Fights”. It is the same with movies (and other non-interactive narratives); if the main character seems dull or unbelievable you give him an inner conflict. That is an established way of making him much more interesting. The same goes with music. Keep the lyrics but changes the beat or add another verse. If the players of your level complain about it being monotonous to play then go back through these pages and try and add one or more of the design patterns offered. It will most certainly enhance your level. It is not about streamlining all levels and only creating levels after the same template. That would result in indistinguishable generic levels a looks and play alike. The level design patterns presented herein should instead be looked upon at as tools. As paint brushes to help you paint you canvas. There is no silver bullet to be found for designing levels. The work ahead is now to look for additional and more complex patterns that can be used in the analysis and design of future levels. There is a need for level design patterns for single player games as well. My hope is just that the level design patterns can remain as abstract as possible so they do not become watered down iteration of the same patterns presenting the same solution to the same problem domain in different ways. Increasing the sheer number of patterns achieves nothing. The aim is to keep them as hands-on and relevant as possible. Read the full paper here: http://simonlundlarsen.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Level-design-patterns.pdf Follow Simon Website: http://simonlundlarsen.com/ Website: https://medium.com/@simonlundlarsen Twitter: https://twitter.com/SimonLundLarsen
  25. a Chunk

    The Architectural Imagination

    edX is once again offering "The Architectural Imagination" What is it? The Architectural Imagination is a free online course that aims to help you "learn fundamental principles of architecture — as an academic subject or a professional career — by studying some of history’s most important buildings." What will you learn? How to read, analyze, and understand different forms of architectural representation Social and historical contexts behind major works of architecture Basic principles to produce your own architectural drawings and models Pertinent content for academic study or a professional career as an architect Why should I care? Architecture is inextricably tied to level design and environmental design. In this course, you'll learn foundational concepts that will allow you to build visually pleasing and believable game environments. Click on the link below for a full description of this fantastic FREE course on architecture from Harvard Professors, a full course syllabus, and of course to Enroll in the class. Read More and Enroll: https://www.edx.org/course/the-architectural-imagination-2 Check the thread in our Design Discussion Forum to access some of the content from the course: