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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. About Reaching Perfection Missed Chapter 8? Read it here: Eye Catching Intro Well I have taught you the concept of drawing attention to important parts of your map by using Eye Catching techniques. And before I teach you these various techniques I must first introduce you to the concept of Perspective Variance. What good are eye catching techniques if a player only sees them for a split second in time? In order to draw attention to something you must give the player the chance and time to notice it. Perspectives over time The concept of a perspective is just a single moment in time. One play through of a map consists of millions of perspectives. While taking the time to study single important perspectives it is important to study them in batches or groups as well. To simplify this concept imagine watching a replay of a game and taking a single screenshot of the player’s perspective every second or half-second. The idea behind perspective variance is observing the changes between perspectives that occur one after the other. The player’s perspective is always changing and this must always be taken into account. Just because you use eye catching in one perspective doesn’t mean that it will catch the player’s attention in that instance in time. Your eye catching techniques must exist in multiple perspectives over time in order to give the player a chance to notice what you have laid out before them. Repetition is key Once again... anything you want your player to notice has to exist from one perspective to another in order to have more effect. A simplified real life example is when you are trying to read subtitles or captions for a movie but they do not stay on screen long enough for you to read. What’s the point of those subtitles or captions if you never get their full meaning? The same case is true here. If that light in the corner is only visible by the player for a split second then it will most likely never catch his eye. Remember that the player is always alert and always moving and looking around and constantly changing his perspective. All of the things around him are fighting for his attention and he is observing everything that he notices. Humans always overlook things when they have a goal like capturing the flag ahead of them. How are you going to show them that the rocket launcher in the corner is going to help them if it just barely passes them by as they turn the corner? Tying it to movement So while eye catching is an extremely important aspect when thinking about perspective variance, it is not the only factor. Path Manipulation is also very important in that moving a player around changes the player’s perspective. Consider how perspectives vary from each other when a player is traveling in a straight line. Things that are close will eventually disappear from the perspective while things farther away stay for longer. What about when a player is rounding a corner? The things that are on the side of the perspective that the player is turning away from will disappear sooner than those on the side that the player is turning towards. The sharper the turn is the faster objects disappear from a player’s perspective. Meaning sharp turns result in a massive amount of variance between perspectives. Is this good or bad? Well that is up to you as a designer. Read Chapter 10: (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
  3. About Reaching Perfection Missed Chapter 7? Read it here: Combat Congestion and Traffic Intro So I have introduced you to perspectives, which in short are screenshots of the player’s view; everything that a player sees, all of his options, any incentives in his view, or anything else of interest all in one screenshot that can be observed as a picture. Now I’m going to teach you how to move that perspective so that you can control exactly what your players see. The funny thing about humans is that we are curious and we love shiny things or anything that points out of a given scene. Using this knowledge to our advantage is something that I like to call Eye Catching. The basics Eye catching is a pretty self explanatory term. It is using various techniques to “catch” the human eye. This technique is used in millions of pieces of artwork, so why not utilize it in a perspective if a perspective can be seen as a picture? The human eye can be drawn by a ton of different things; like light differences, color contrast, size, distance, shapes, etc. It is your job as the designer to decide which type of attention grabber you want to use on your map. Pick something that fits with what you are doing anyways. Making a dark map for some sort of zombie gameplay? Then use lit objects to attract attention. Maybe your map is quite purple from the covenant theme you’ve created. Well yellow stands out quite well in a purple background, and is sure to grab your player’s attention. The results In a picture when you grab the viewer’s attention they move their eyes towards the designated “eye catcher”. When in a game players do the same thing; moving their eyes towards the “eye catcher”. However in a game moving a player’s eyes causes a change of perspective and makes a new picture for us to use and analyze. Learning to transition between new perspectives is a powerful skill allowing you to fine tune not only the player’s movement, but also exactly where your player is looking and when. Remember that if a player is in the middle of traversing a map, typically changing the direction their eyes are looking will tend to make them gravitate towards that area. So not only do you get to control the direction the player is facing, but you also control where they decide to move. Not bad for applying art theory to a video game, eh? Applying the technique So now you’ve got this basic understanding of changing the player’s perspective, but how should one use it for level design? How about using eye catching techniques to attract players towards incentives? Or maybe you can use eye catching to warn players of a deterrent ahead. How about just introducing a new area of the map? Eye catching is part of the major concept that is Path Manipulation. Controlling your player allows you to tweak what they feel, what they see, the decisions that they can make, and overall the true experience that they have while playing your map. This is a technique that can be used everywhere in your map and knowing when to use eye catching and when not to is a delicate decision. You know those papers that say “Turn the page to see how to keep a blonde busy”? The same concept is applied in this situation, eventually the player will catch on. Meaning that eventually you have to vary your techniques and use eye catching only up to certain point. Pick your uses carefully and use this powerful technique wisely. Read Chapter 9: (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. About Reaching Perfection Missed Chapter 6? Read it here: Incentives Intro Have you ever taken the time to wonder why most maps are designed to have multiple paths? Most people just blindly build their maps to have multiple paths because it has become a simple standard base rule that everyone follows. I feel that it is important to completely understand why standard practices exist in the industry. Take the time to imagine a Halo map with only one path between two flag points. Everyone just ends up clashing over and over again in the center right? This is a phenomenon that I like to call Combat Congestion. What’s wrong with it? So what’s wrong with everyone running into each other and just shooting to try to kill someone? Nothing if that is what you want. It creates simplistic gameplay because it removes the skill of out-smarting your opponent based on path selection and cutting him off. Not only that, but there is no order to 8 people running at each other at once. It is hard for players to choose their target so it ends up being chance that you only get shot by one person or the whole other team at once. Dying to 4 people at once happens a lot faster than just 1 or 2 guys. You end up having no time at all to plan out your attack and if you don’t have any time at all to use skill or strategy then what fun is that? The concept of Traffic The basic concept of traffic is an observance of how players are spread out on your map. If you have too many players traversing one area then maybe you should spread them out a little more. The more players that go through an area the higher chance of combat congestion happening. And as discussed, this is something that we need to avoid as it is no fun to the player. Avoiding the chaos So having one path can cause combat congestion, that’s pretty simple to understand. Well having multiple paths around the map isn’t magically going to solve this problem. You have to use a variety of Path Manipulation techniques in order to get your players to spread out and to reduce the chance of combat congestion happening on your map. A ton of tricks exist for what I call controlling traffic, and you’ve already learned some of them. Incentives can be used to force players to take paths that players normally wouldn’t. Deterrents can be used to discourage players from taking commonly traversed paths. But Incentives and Deterrents can’t just exist on the map. They end up having no effects on a player if the player is unaware of them being on the map. Remember that talk on Knowledge is Power? You have to use techniques like Eye Catching, Area Introduction, Color Contrast, and Screen Real Estate. But in order to understand those techniques and fully apply them you have to be able to think in Perspectives and observe Perspective Variance. So again why do all of these things? Because combat congestion is one of those things that will cause a poor First Impression for your map, and we already learned how bad that can be. It is one of those things that is frustrating to experience because nobody enjoys just running in and dying. They enjoy using their skills. This was your first combination lesson where I tie everything that you’ve learned so far and everything that you will learn together to help you grasp the bigger picture. Hope you enjoyed it. Read Chapter 8: Eye Catching 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
  5. About Reaching Perfection Missed Chapter 5? Read it here: Deterrents Intro So sometimes just having the will is not enough to complete the objective at hand. Sometimes you need new weapons, or sometimes powerups will make winning easier. And now that there is danger at hand that wall to your right looks quite appetizing as cover. As you strive to win the game at hand there are many things around a map that encourage you to detour away from your main objective. These things that encourage us to move around... we call them Incentives. More than the obvious Most people understand a base concept of incentives when they think about weapon placement. If you place a rocket launcher here people are going to want to head to it to pick it up, right? Well a sniper rifle or spartan laser isn’t the only thing that can get you to move. Maybe ahead of you there is a turret acting as a deterrent on the main objective path. You see a bunker slightly ahead so instead of being discouraged by the turret’s threat zone, the cover acts as an incentive to continue moving forward. An incentive isn’t always an item, sometimes it is an area or some other type of advantage. The height advantage is definitely seen by many as an incentive to travel up a ramp. Items are just the obvious incentives. Non-existent incentives Now while incentives are great for moving players around a map, some may not be there forever. Most incentives only exist until they are used up. If the only incentive on a path is the sniper rifle, when it is not there then there is no use in going down that path anymore is there? Sure you have the rocket launcher off on the side but that rocket launcher isn’t always going to be there. Using the previous turret example, if no one is on the turret then that bunker is not much of an incentive any more and you can just continue down the center path. A key skill to master when utilizing incentives is taking the time to realize when incentives are turned on and when they are turned off. After mastering that you can follow that up with learning how to effectively control that trait of an incentive by moving players down a path when you want them to go down there and then stopping them from going down there whenever you want. It is a very handy skill to have and one that is well worth the investment in time. That skill alone can fully control the traffic on the map. Taking account for the advantage Something that designers tend to forget is what effect that particular advantage has on the player. When a player picks up active camouflage, do you take the time to consider that he can now travel for a certain distance without being seen? Do you consider that when a player picks up a feather in Mario that they can now fly through the whole level with no opposition? Do you consider that if they gain the high ground that they have full control of this half of the map? It is one thing to offer an advantage to the player. It is another to account for that advantage and make sure that you don’t give the player too much of what they want. Always keep a good balance - any time you give the player an advantage make sure to compensate. If you don’t find that balance then you will end up pulling away from other incentives on the map and pushing too many players to that one incentive. You ever fight over one piece of cake? It’s not pretty. Read Chapter 7: Combat Congestion and Traffic 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
  6. How much thought have you given to the level design in top-down games? This video from Game Soup provides some great food for thought, looking at the attributes of CrossCode's level design that set it apart from other top-down games. Follow Game Soup Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGPMrF9AN_D9BrmSmMeV3hA Twitter: https://twitter.com/gamesouplp 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
  7. Follow Neutronized Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHZkLi-4lIASVlMP-Edq1jg Twitter: https://twitter.com/neutronized Website: http://www.neutronized.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. Titanfall 2 does so many things well. It has surprisingly robust character-building for a shooter, creating an endearing and believable camaraderie between pilot Jack Cooper and his iron giant buddy BT. Its single-player campaign is short, varied, and intense, packing more into 5 hours than most games do in 15. But perhaps the most impressive feat that Respawn Entertainment’s metal gnashing fun-fest has accomplished is unifying all of the game’s design systems to incentivize one core feeling: speed. For the uninitiated, Titanfall 2’s premise is simple. Militia rifleman Jack Cooper gets a pilot’s life foisted upon him after his mentor dies in battle, leaving Jack and his robot BT-7274 (the thing he ‘pilots’) to go on all manner of death-defying high jinks in an attempt to defeat the evil IMC. The game’s not winning any awards for its story, but you hardly pay attention to the occasionally hackneyed tale when the gameplay is so breathlessly enjoyable. Let’s take a look at how Titanfall 2 uses all the weapons in its game design arsenal to make being a pilot feel so fast. /// Movement For a game built around rapid motion as one of its lodestones, design decisions around player movement are critical, and Titanfall 2 hits it out of the park. The basic move set lays the foundation: the pilot can use his suit to double jump, wall run on vertical surfaces, slide on the ground, and cloak for short periods of time. But the game deliberately subverts industry design norms while implementing these features, incentivizing you to chain these forms of movement into an offensive orchestra during both platforming and combat. Wall runs: When the pilot wall runs, his speed increases with time. This encourages you to chain wall runs with other forms of movement, use wall runs to both attack and evade enemies, and, most importantly, look to start the next wall run as soon as the current one is done. You’re safest when you’re at speed, and wall runs (against conventional logic) help you gain speed. The level environments are also generously sprinkled with surfaces to wall run on, both during scripted story sequences and otherwise, leading you to find creative ways of downing enemies. Definitely more satisfying than a normal knife to the back Slides: Just like wall runs, when the pilot slides, his speed increases with time before coming to a stop. This, coupled with the long duration of a single slide, means that you can use this game mechanic as an offensive maneuver rather than just a retreat to find cover. Again, just like with wall runs, the sine wave of increase-then-decrease of slide speed makes you want to start the next slide that much sooner. The speed of a slide increases with time before coming to a stop Cloak: The pilot can cloak for a vanishingly small amount of time. Titanfall 2 — at least the single player campaign — is not a stealth game, so it was important not to unintentionally hand players a ‘safe’ combination of mechanics that could be used to finish most missions (think MGS Phantom Pain and the silenced pistol). The limited cloak time and the much longer time it takes for the ability to recharge means that you either use it to get out of a jam or to get a drop on unsuspecting enemies. But then the cloak is gone (at least for a while) and you’re back to the usual trapeze artist madness. Cloak in moderation is good for you Other nice touches like being able to change direction in mid-air during double jumps and choosing an ‘always be sprinting’ option from Settings also add to this fast, movement-chain friendly navigation. Enemies Not to diss any other shooters, but you know how enemies in many modern day FPS games are often the same basic unit with more armor and perhaps different weapons? When there’s minimal distinction between the various enemies you encounter, your mind naturally gravitates towards the single optimal way to defeat them. This leads to repetitive combat, which leads to an ultimately monotonous gaming experience. Titanfall 2 circumvents this trope wonderfully through the use of orthogonal unit differentiation. This design principle basically refers to multiple game elements having different functions, forcing you to adopt varying strategies and behaviors while encountering each element. Titanfall 2 has enemies that differ in their speed, damage quantity, and type of attack, and this makes you evolve and adjust with each enemy encounter. This very rudimentary graph highlights Titanfall 2’s enemy variety Grunt: The most basic enemy in the game, this unit is a foot-soldier with limited ability and intelligence. They have a hit scan attack, which means you can’t dodge their bullets when you’re in their sights. The grunt’s hit scan attacks Although individually not that dangerous, Grunts can be formidable in groups, will call for backup, and sometimes have shields that force you to navigate (again, at speed) around them for a hit. A grunt’s shield Stalker: This is a robotic enemy that differs from grunts enough for players to employ new strategies while fighting. They do more damage and are faster than grunts. Rather than just hang around, Stalkers come right at the player, forcing them to get out of cover and showcase that speed. They also have projectile weapons that can be dodged. A stalker comes right at you and hits you with projectiles Drones: These are flying robots that, just like Stalkers, are fast, come right at the player, and fire projectiles that can be dodged. But also, just like Grunts, they attack in groups. By combining bits of other enemies’ behavior, you have a completely new one that must be dealt in a unique manner. Groups of drones can be very frustrating to handle Prowler: Lizard creatures that are insanely fast and rush to bite and maul the player. I’ve categorized them in the graph as CQC or Close Quarters Combat. A different enemy in design and behavior, not just in graphical veneers and name. Prowlers can kill you in seconds if you’re not careful Tick: Robotic arachnids that make a beeline for the player before exploding. They have huge speed and damage, but from a tactical standpoint, their damage hurts other enemies too. If two of these go off in quick succession… I could go on and on, but the central thesis is this: when you’re in a massive arena with all these enemy types, the battle is almost like speed chess on steroids. Because there are enemies that rush directly at you, sniping them all away while sitting behind cover is useless. Because many enemies have projectile attacks that can be dodged, you feel confident jumping and sliding their way around them. And because each enemy has a unique set of attacks and behaviors, your mind (and your character) is whirring at mach speed as you make decisions while bunny hopping your way to victory. Level Design If these core mechanics weren’t enough, Titanfall 2 also has delightfully unique levels that are all geared towards making you take faster decisions and navigate the landscape quickly. So you will be time traveling in one level, taking on different enemy sets in both the past and the present… Best level ever …and jumping from wall to wall while also traveling through time. Ever Another level has you in a manufacturing facility, traipsing your way through the interiors as the level literally moves around you. Factory fun Two levels later, you’re armed with a retrofitted weapon that can move platforms and you basically create the level as your rush to your escape. What does this button do? Two things to note here: Although the themes of these levels are separate, they all feed into the central game feel of breakneck speed by making both navigation and combat faster and more challenging. The themes are abandoned after the levels are complete, preventing any feeling of drudgery or sameness and leaving you wanting more. /// Titanfall 2 is not a perfect game. There still are environments that feel similar and enemy encounters that make you think ‘I did something like this two hours ago’. But these foibles pale in comparison to its most towering success: the conceptualization and execution of a distinct game feel. A game feel of speed. You feel like a maverick pilot with a planet-hopping jumpsuit every second, from initial training to dramatic denouement. And all of the game’s systems — movement, enemies, level design, and more — coalesce with the aim of making you feel that way. Know any other games that have executed game feel successfully? Any other things in Titanfall 2 that I missed out? Let me know in the comments! *Note: This article is republished in full on Next Level Design with permission from the author. Source: https://medium.com/the-cube/titanfall-2-how-design-informs-speed-f14998d7f470 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. 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 4? Read it here: Perpectives Intro What makes players move around the map the way that they do? If their goal is straight ahead, what makes them detour to the right? What delays them from having the chance to win the game? There are a couple answers to this question, but there is one answer in particular that is more prominent than the simple placement of a Rocket Launcher or the Sniper Rifle. It exists in a higher quantity than weapons, power ups, armor abilities, and cover combined. Yup... you guessed it based on the title of today’s lesson; Deterrents. The definition By definition a Deterrent is something that discourages something else from proceeding. Several synonyms exist that may help you better understand what a deterrent might be; impediment, hindrance, disincentive, etc. Deterrents are the most prominent tools of Path Manipulation, however they are one of the least bit utilized and researched tools. A deterrent can be many things. If you see your opponent straight ahead, you change your short term goal to account for him by moving to cover, or preparing an ambush, or simply avoiding the confrontation. If you know the location of the sniper on the opposite team you maneuver in order to stay out of line of sight. If several fusion coils are in your direct path, you cautiously work your way around them in fear of the opposition killing you with one shot. Anything that threatens your chance of winning can be considered a deterrent. Limitations of “discouraging” The word discourage is one that suggests that deterrents do not always work, which is true. Maybe the main reason why deterrents are not talked about much is because they are not always a sure fire way to get players to move around the map. Some players are stubborn and seek to fight against the odds. Some players are just too skillful to allow such a hindrance stop them from moving forward. Do not fully rely on deterrents to move players around when you start to fully understand them. However do not completely disregard them as useless either. With the right adjustments and tweaks to the map a turret or other deterrent can be a force to be reckoned with and will become a true path manipulator. Learning to control planted deterrents as well as dynamic deterrents is a skill that cannot be overlooked when trying to perfect one’s level design theories. Learning when and when not to use deterrents or any theory for that matter is what makes perfection so impossible to achieve. However the more you learn the closer you can step towards the unreachable goal of no flaws. Just the beginning There is so much to deterrents that one can analyze. Everything will be covered over time. Deterrents are a big part of controlling a player’s movement around your map and can serve to be quite useful if utilized properly. Studying deterrents will require that you understand that while you have the ability to add deterrents around your map such as fusion coils and turrets, deterrents are created and destroyed constantly throughout the playtime of your map. Dynamic deterrents are a difficult concept to grasp, so learning the basics first are important. Once you do that you will have the power to completely weave the situations that your players encounter. Read Chapter 6: (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
  10. Josh Foreman, 20 year gaming industry veteran, shares what he considers to be the pillars of PvP level design, then demonstrates how he's used these pillars in the making of actual levels. Prefer reading? Check Josh's Blog for an article that largely covers the same info: https://joshforeman.artstation.com/blog/PrbL/level-design-for-pvp-fps Follow Josh Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpGvqKfhZF4ipJ7kWFDt0Mg Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoshuaForeman Website: https://breathoflifedev.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
  11. Hey everyone, it has been too long and I am sorry about that, I meant to finish up this final section of the topic last month but got distracted. Regardless, I am here now to give you my final article of the year, and thank all of you for reading my articles and wishing you all a Merry Christmas & Happy holidays. Now what could be more Jolly and Christmasy than that of how best to defeat your enemies in ranged combat. If you have not read my previous entries in the series I do recommend that you check Part 1 and Part 2 out before continuing with the finale. Recap In previous entries we spoke about how important it is that you understand your metrics for the weapons, cover, avatar and much more. We next discussed the importance of 2d maps and research. With all of that in motion I can now go forward and show you my blockout. To give some context as well, as I mentioned in the previous articles the layout we will be looking at today was from my time on the CGMA Course I took part in earlier this year. This challenge was to create a combat layout of a certain size (30m x 30m). There was no theme, no story, etc, just pure focus on making a great combat layout. We were given a set of LD Kits that we could use as well for these blockouts. Now with this in mind lets see the magic. Level This was the 2d map of the level, a 30x30 map: Here is a top down shot of the blockout: I wanted to share these just because I have seen people talk online about not doing a 2d plan or google sketch up before starting a level as they “do not want to constrain themselves”. I am writing to say that is not true, they are tools to help you plan your level. When you look at the two images you can see that there are differences, as I needed to make some to help the level improve. Just showing you how planning does not restrict you, these planning tools are there to help you, then you can go to adjust accordingly. A 2d map helps you create a footprint of your level, it can not and will not represent how it will feel with the overall camera, mechanics etc. Changes With me mentioning how it is important for you to make changes from your plan to your blockout, let us talk about some of my changes. The biggest one for sure is my mix up with the height. I have raised the back section of the level. In the previous article I mentioned that I wanted to section off my level, and I divided it into quarters like so: With having some combat take place within interiors and other combat areas take place out in exterior areas. Yet when I was running through my level I noticed that although you can feel differences in sections they do not feel so different, so by raising up parts of the level you would feel a difference, a transition. Not only this but it would help divide the space up even more, one half would be raised while the other would be lowered, one half is in an interior space while another would be exterior, again helping the space feel memorable and helping players build a mental map. This was not the only reason I wanted to raise up the space, it was to put players at a disadvantage, to increase the challenge. Something to memorise “It is easier to shoot down, than up” so by dividing the space and having players start on the lower section, it would make them feel as if they were charging into enemy territory. Second biggest change you can see between the map and top down shot was that of the cover placement. That one for sure is always going to change, as you can plan but for sure that is always subject to change, as until you understand how the enemies will move, which archetype of enemy you will use, etc., these are always ideas at best. I did not get functioning enemies in this level working, but I did place down placeholders and routes for the enemies to still help me shape the encounter. From this I was able to help picture the cover and plan the combat fronts for my level. Now these are some of the changes, I do not wish to go into too much detail here as there is still so much to talk about and we are almost 1000 words into this blog. As mentioned previously it is okay to make changes, as iteration is how we as level designers make better levels. We do not accomplish it in the planning stage. We do not ace it in our first blockout. We make it slowly with each iteration. Walkthrough After discussing these changes, let’s break down the level step by step to show you my design choices and why I made them. First up, is the players starting position: As you can see in the blue circle, the player starts in the bottom right corner, in almost a corridor like space. So there are a few things to break down in why I chose this starting position: I did not want the player to start exactly in the corner so later on the level can open up and feel bigger, so by manipulating the space and eating it up I can make it feel larger as the player progresses The starting position is a safe space for the player, allowing them to gather their bearings without feeling threatened. From this position I can slowly feed information to the player, when they turn left they can see another section of the level and a challenge, making sure players do not get overwhelmed with everything going on. I wanted to slowly give information to players. You can see this slowly happen so that players can tackle certain challenges one at a time, and it is also a way to encourage exploration. With the fact that players do not know the whole space, nor can they see it, they will want to go and explore. The space opens up more and more, so the player can start to see more and take in more information. Something to remember is “How we interact with the world, comes from how we see it” If you want players to plan and stick to more of one area, show more of the level, if however you want players to go and explore, then slowly feed them information. 4. Presenting the player with knowledge and options. From this position the first thing players can see are windows, this informs the player that there is an interior space in front of them. This is crucial for a later choice, as it is foreshadowing how the space is divided. (These windows would be blocked by glass as well, hinting to my second point) Next is the opening on the left, by having that negative space as well as the cover there as well it peaks the players curiosity, and with the fact that in the west we read left to right it is the first thing players can possibly help pull players in that direction. As players turn the corner, we move on to their next view: (Before we break this next step down, I just want a huge shout out to a truly amazing Dev Miriam Bellard, Miriam has such a phenomenal mind for design. In her superb talk Environmental Design in Spacial Cinematography Miriam talks about how each view of the level should contain vital info for the player. I really enjoyed that and tried to think of it as I blocked out this level, anyway side note over, do check out Miriam’s talk and follow her on twitter if you have it) In this shot I wanted players to have a decision point, this space allows players to See the Challenge and then allows them to Plan for said Challenge. In this shot we would be able to see one enemy: From here players can decide if they should engage in combat, or move closer. To help pull in the player I have done a few things. Number one is having the enemy have a patrol path, so the enemy won’t be static so the lineup for the perfect shot is there, but only for a limited window. Number two is through cover placement, if we look at the cover it is a stepped position to help players move through the space. By staggering the cover like this it still allows the player to feel safe as they move through. giving them an advantage. Now I do this because this is the first enemy encounter, so I want players to feel safe and still decide as they move through the space. Another choice that will be noticed from earlier is that there are more windows hinting to the player that there is still an interior space to be explored. As the player gets closer they see an option to enter the building. Now this entrance not only works because it is an extra option for the player so that the player can strategize, but also it helps to add loops to the combat. (With combat loops, the aim is to make sure that players or enemies do not run into dead-ends, or out of choices (over simplified explanation)) From this position players can possibly see the other enemy as well, alerting them that they are outnumbered. If players chose to enter the interior space, one of things is that I wanted it to feel different than the exterior space. I did this in two ways. First is with the ceiling, it instantly feels a lot more claustrophobic as well as feels limiting in where to shoot, as now players will only aim on the X & Y axis vs that of when outside where they have more freedom to aim higher. Secondly is through lack of cover, compared to where we were, there was a lot more cover close by, while here there is a lot less. Most of the cover comes from the architecture itself. Once the player has picked their path they can then start to engage the enemies in combat. In order to make sure that space helps players know best how to tackle this encounter is by making sure that the Fronts are clear to the player. (Fronts - mean a clear line of combat, knowing where your cover is and knowing where the enemies line is. We all see those games where we are walking around and suddenly see a lot of crates in an area, we as players know that combat will take place here) EF = Enemy’s Front PF = Player’s Front In this space there are actually two Fronts of combat, in the picture above we will be engaging in combat from this direction to start as we take on our two starting enemies, however there are two enemies up the stairs that the player is not aware of. For pacing, the encounter would go along the line where players would engage with the first two enemies, after one has died then an enemy from uptop the stairs would start attacking the player so the Combat Fronts would change. A reason for doing this, is to keep the encounter engaging and challenging. By moving the fronts, it means players will have to move as well, making it so they do not camp at certain spots. Creating movement in the fronts allows players to see more of the space and master it. Gears of War were great at this, as they would have sections of the level where players had to fight their way up to take down an enemy using a turret, only for the enemy waves to attack the player while the player had the turret, making re-use of the level as well as allowing the player to see the level from a different angle. By also switching the front as well, I am now changing the difficulty of the encounter. During the first Front players and enemies are both on the same level of height, while when it changes the enemy is now higher than the player. In order for players to get on the same height as the enemy, it means that they have to cover more ground and expose themselves before they can get up the stairs. What I have done to help the player, but also another way to help encourage movement within this combat space, is by mixing up the cover height. In these pictures you can see that some cover are 1m Low cover and while high covers are 2m tall. Now we could go into how the different sizes of cover impacts players, but we are already pushing the word limit here, so I will say that by having some High Cover it blocks Line of Sight so players will have to move around in order to line up the shot that they want. By using Low Cover as well, it may not always be the safest option for the player, again forcing them to move. This will also help players strategize as they chose which cover to move to. We could continue you on with the level, as this so far is only just one quarter of the level. However, during the time of writing this it is getting closer to xmas, so I am going to cut things short around here. Also, go enjoy your time as well with the ones that you love. Learning Points Although I have only showed you a section of my level, let us talk about what you should take away from this article and apply to your own combat encounters: Starting Point - When choosing how or where to start the player, think about a safe space in which players can get their bearings first (unless it is an ambush situation) Revealing Information - Depending on the situation will dictate how much you will want to show your player. Just remember that the amount you show will impact how players move, as well to make sure you do not overload your player too much. Provide choices for the player - this can just be as simple as which cover to use, but by providing a choice it helps players feel that they are in control. Provide Combat Loops - It is simple but will help reduce frustration for players, by making sure that they do not end up in dead ends, it helps keep the flow of combat engaging. Establish your Fronts - Make it clear where the fight will take place so players can best prepare themselves Change the Fronts - It is great to have your fronts, but by changing it part way through combat, it encourages movement and allows the player to see and understand more of your space Mix Up Cover Height - Mixing up cover height is great for variety, as well as having players interact with the space differently Height Level Changes - Are a great way to break up line of sight, change up the difficulty as well as a nice way to break up the traversal and process of aiming. You can do it by making your space two floors, but also just by raising an area by 1m. Every game, combat encounter, and level is different so these are not hard rules, more of suggestions. It is about knowing when to apply them as well. I do hope they help you when you create your future levels. Improvements This small encounter space may be something I am proud of considering the time constraints I made it in. Yet that does not mean it is a perfect space, I know that there are some things I need to adjust and change in order to make this a more memorable level. I am going to mention a few of them here, so you can make even better levels than myself. Help make each section more memorable - I spoke about how I tried to divide this level into quarters, which I think I did okay, but I should have experimented with local and global landmarks so players would instantly recognize the sections a little better. I tried with the architecture of the space, however I should have looked at more propage ideas as well. Less Cover - Now that is not a sweeping statement for the overall level, just in certain sections I should have reduced the amount of cover, that way it would encourage more long range combat forcing the players to hold their ground in certain sections. Tweaked metric guideline - For this space it may not seem like a huge deal but my cover buffer was 2m, I think I should have pushed it for 3m to have more space and not have certain areas feel as tight as they did in the level. Have actual enemies - Now these red boxes helped me for sure, but nothing is better than having actual AI inside your level, as that would give me far better feedback for my level. For sure there is more than this, but these are the bigger issues at hand when I go through this level. As I said before, we do not get everything right the first time we do it. Our levels get better with each iteration. With that said, if you have enjoyed this article and level, then maybe you want to see another level I did this year, which has objectives, a theme and a location to show you how I applied these rules to a new space. Check it out here: Please Support If you want more Level Design tips then please follow me on twitter. If you want more quality LD content and want to imagine how my silky voice sounds, then please come check out my podcast. iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K 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. 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 3? Read it here: Path Manipulation Intro You know what the best part about design is? Observing something from the smallest units possible and understanding what changes to those small units can do. By observing the smallest unit of an idea you can tweak the idea from a smaller setting. You can essentially take a larger problem and break it down into the smallest chunks possible and find the chunk or chunks that are causing the problem. Learning to keep track of all of these small chunks is essential to being adept at any sort of design. So what is one of the most significant and smallest observable chunks that I have discovered so far in level design? That chunk is the same as any media relating to a TV or monitor or any display similar... a single frame of relay to the user. In essence a screenshot in time of what the user is seeing. In this case I call those screenshots, Perspectives... One moment, in time Yes I am saying exactly what you think I’m saying. This topic is about the importance of a screenshot of a player’s current perspective, whether it be in 1st person or in 3rd person (in the case of driving vehicles). Analyzing a screenshot in time can tell you a lot of things and learning to modify that screenshot is essential to controlling your player’s decisions. A perspective will tell you what the player’s current visible options are. A perspective will tell you what the player has their attention on. A perspective is worth a thousand words... Drawing a perspective It is important to note that a perspective requires; a focus point or position, a point of view, and a direction. Point of view in a first person shooter is almost always going to be first person. The main focus point is going to be the player. After those two, the direction (a three dimensional direction) will define the perspective. The focus point is based on the player’s movement around the map utilizing path manipulation to move the focus point around, essentially the player. The direction is based on the player’s current eye focus and where their attention lies. Learning to control the direction of a future perspective is vital to having full control over a player’s decisions, movement, and feelings. Learning to mix the power of manipulating perspectives as well as manipulating the position of the focus point is crucial to any true level designer. Worth a thousand words While analyzing perspectives, analyze them as a picture... as a piece of artwork. We will be utilizing various art theories to analyze perspectives. In the thousand words that perspectives give us you can find the general sense of feeling (fear, excitement, etc), where the main attention lies (and thus where the eye is drawn to), and what is being noticed and how much. Understanding a split second in time makes for a lot of little chunks to analyze. I will teach you the important perspectives to keep an eye on. I will teach you what you need to analyze in the pictures presented to your player. And always keep in mind that the designer’s perspective is in no way the same as the player’s perspective. That is essential to being a good designer. Being able to see what your player sees. If you can’t do that then you are crafting the wrong experience. You are crafting the experience from what you see way up in the sky. Not from what the player sees right in front of them on the bottom floor. Don’t make it fun for you... make it fun for them. Read Chapter 5: (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
  13. https://jakestegmeier.wixsite.com/portfolio Hey guys I'm planning on applying for level design work soon and if like to get some feedback on my level design portfolio. Lemme know how good or shit it is and what to fix It's also meant to work on mobile AND desktop so tech bugs are also useful to know
  14. What happens when you remove objective indicators, minimap, and other user interfaces that tell players where they are and where they need to go? Brendon Chung talks about ways to approach solving this problem. Follow Brendon Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlendoGames Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/BlendoGames/videos Website: http://blendogames.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
  15. For the past few months I have been researching several different games. During that time I have been researching games like "Uncharted 4" and "The Last of Us" (made by Naughty Dog). With this article I want to share my knowledge with my fellow peers, in the hope of empowering and motivating them to learn more about level design. This will be a crash course on the different elements of level flow, that level designers can use to make informed decisions about their level design. 1 - Introduction: What is level flow My definition of level flow: "When the player knows what to do, where to go. But not always know how to achieve/get towards that goal." (keyword: Spatial Awareness) It is a state where the player has a pleasant experience, traversing through the level. It goes hand in hand with game flow. This definition is quite vague and that is because level flow is a broad subject. For simplicity I will split up "level flow" into four smaller pieces. In high-level terms, these are some of the elements we level designers use to guide the player(s).. "I need to know about geometry and composition? But I am not an artist?!" Yes, I am also not an artist but I do believe that everything is in some way intertwined with level design. Mastering small bits about these subjects will allow you to make more informed design decisions. Geometry Think about collision, physical interactive objects, shape design. Composition A) Focal points. Funneling the player with use of Geometry/Assets. B) Contrast (positive & negative space): Between, Space, Lighting or Color. Scripted Events Companions, Enemies (AI), Moving/Patrolling around. Other events that makes the player move: such as an explosion or a fallen tree trunk. Storytelling Text/Signs (direct) Assets placed in a particular order, like pickups scattered across the map or barrels in a corner (indirect) Geometry, Composition and Scripted Events can be combined to create Storytelling elements. Being able to master these sections will allow you to guide/move the player to where ever you desire them to go. /// Here are some examples of flow elements that can be used to guide the player through the level: 2.1 - Examples: The use of lines Lines, Arrows Shape Silhouettes, Pathways... Lines have two points, a begin and an endpoint. A line affords direction. It is a 2D object that moves in a direction. We can see lines as arrows and arrows afford direction. In this example, multiple objects in the scene will hint towards this focal point, the mega structure. Nathan Drake points at the landmark. (not in this picture, but in game he does) The pathway underneath them, leads towards the landmark. The shape of the mountains. The shape of the houses (especially the roofs) The contrast between the mountains and the forest. As you can see lines are powerful tools to indicate direction. They help to guide the players eye from A to B and visa versa. 2.2 - Examples: Landmark Visibility Landmark definition: An object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognized from a distance, especially one that enables the player to establish their location on the map. Landmarks can be used to determine someone's location, approximately from the landmark. Therefore it is a method to improve flow in the level. An exceptional level designer would work together with the environment artists, to make sure that each area is recognizable. They should work together to determine the line of sight and the visual language of the area. In this example, Joel will be able to see the bridge from multiple angles. This allows the level designer to create a level that doesn't go into a linear/straight direction. As walking straight towards the objective is boring and no fun. The high buildings on the side also helps to frame the bridge, funneling the player towards the objective. The only indication the player needs to know is how far away they are from the bridge. If they are approaching closer to the bridge, they can assume that they are going towards the right direction. 2.3 - Examples: The use of Color Using Color as Affordance: Color can be used to indicate the player, that a certain object is able to afford something. It can be used to contrast the scene, shifting the focal point. In this example, all reachable & climbable ledges have these "light yellowish" color casted on them. Informing the player that those afford to be grabbed/climbed. This is a clever way to indicate something to the player, without it breaking the immersion. By blending in with the cliffs, using the same "earthly" tones. You can also use color to invoke an emotion from the player. Bright shades of red and yellow might indicate danger , while a blue color let them think about water, the sky, calmness or peace. 2.4 - Examples: Repetition, good or bad? Repetition is beautiful as humans can see patterns. Nature is build up out of patterns and we love it. But when you repeat it too often, it becomes boring. You can compare it to listening to the same song for 100x times. At first you might like the song, although after repeatedly listening to it, you might come to hate it. This problem is also true in level/environment design. Do not let the player(s) traverse through areas that all look the same. What is the point of exploring if everything looks the same? You can keep it look coherent, but be sure to have a bit of variation. As mentioned in the previous point: Color is a nice way to break up the monotone feel of a scene and to attract the players attention. 3.1 - Examples: Movement in a Static World In a static scene, movement will catch the players eyes. When characters or objects move from one position to another position, they create a line. (See example 2.1) As I mentioned previously, a line indicates direction. We can use a dynamic element to guide the player through the level, creating flow. Video by: Dops Gaming Do you know the way? In this example, Nathan breaks out of prison with two of his comrades. In this action packed scene, your goal is to escape the prison. The player can experience this scene as stressful and rushed. You aren't prepared for this. You don't even know the layout of the prison and now you have to make a break for it! During this moment, the player doesn't want to constantly think about where they need to go and accidently get lost. This is where the two side characters take it over and guide you through the scene. 3.2 - Examples: Movement, Following the Crowd I don't know where to go, guess I follow everyone else. This is another example of movement being used. Similar to the previous example, the player is confronted with a high intensive experience. Where "yet again" the goal is to escape from the mess you're in. Video by: theRadBrad (fragment: 10:30 - 13:30) In all the chaos you don't know where to go, so you follow the crowd. Where ever they go, you will follow. Your only goal is to get out and keep Sarah safe. The crowd is moved by "seemingly" uncontrollable events in the scene. An exploding car would drive the crowd to the opposite direction, towards safety. 3.3 - Examples: Movement, Subtle environmental hints It doesn't have to be complicated. The previous two examples requires the developers to create AI with a behavior system. Although that could be really cool, it's also complicated. Video by: IFreeMz (fragment: 42:18 - 42:30) A subtle tumble weed rolling in a certain direction or in this example; a swan flying away into the distance. It tells you to keep moving in "that" direction. 4.1 - Examples: Flow through Storytelling elements The easiest noticeable storytelling elements are: Text, signs Decals Meshes placed in a deliberate order You can make patterns or create contrast to highlight an object. Due to how the tank is angled 45 degrees, it naturally guides the player towards the left side. The tank is used as a physical barrier/obstacle to guide the player to the left. Signs will tell you where to go. The left billboard reads: "Medical Evacuation, Use Tunnel" while the right billboard reads "Salt Lake City, Military Zone Ahead". Given that the theme of the game is about survival, the player wants to avoid danger. Another example is to use breadcrumbs to assist your player through the level. It can be a way to indicate the player that they are on the right path. 5.1 - Why everything I mentioned about composition is wrong (kind of...) Well, 3D levels are created in...3D. Cool 2D -> 3D street art from talented artist: Julian Beever It is easier to make a 2D picture look nice from one view. But in games where the player can freely roam around and explore, they usually have multiple views on an object. You and the environment artists can make everything look nice, but you probably don't have all the time of the world to make it perfect. However, as a level designer you can plan ahead and make sure to get the most out of the level, by setting up rules for yourself. Limit the views the player can have. Pay detail to the more important aspects. What do you want the player to see? Try out different lighting setups. Guide the player through the map with use of flow elements! Make the chances that the player wants to go off-track unlikely! Don't place landmarks at spots where you don't want the player to go to. Uncharted 4 levels feel very open. But secretly their levels are linear, with a golden path. There is no point in going off road, there is nothing there anyway... oh look a cool mountain! (road 66) 5.2 - How Naughty Dog makes sure you still see their cool views! A dedicated button! With a press on a button (L3), they allow the camera to momentarily reposition itself, aiming at the focal point. Using this method, the developers have total control on what they want the player to see. 6.1 - Demonstration: Flow Gone Wrong, how to recognize the designers intentions. The good, the bad. To demonstrate on how you can used your now new profound knowledge to recognize flow elements in other games, I will dissect a level section in Uncharted 4. (Chapter 2: Infernal Place) Something to keep in mind: Nathan doesn't have a map, he doesn't use a compass. What a badass. Video by: Moghi plays (fragment: 8.49 - 10:50) Steps performed by the player: The player sees a tower and grapple hook his way towards it. He proceeds to climb up the tower with use of the grooves. Climbs inside of the tower. Walks around the plateau. Falls in the ocean, trying to find a pathway. Re-spawn Can you recognize what goes "wrong" in this small section? What do you think caused the confusion by the player to suddenly fall off the map, into the ocean? Was the player misinformed, weren't there enough flow elements? To my observation, they placed a lot of flow elements to guide the player but because of a few poorly placed assets. It unintentionally outweighed the other flow elements placed by the designers. The cues that should have helped the player Direction This wooden bar seemed to afford to be hooked. It doesn't, but it does points towards the objective. Direction & Shape Language A pointy triangular rock. Points & triangles can be seen as arrows, arrows indicate direction. In this case this rock is telling us to go upwards. Color These grooves have a light yellow rim. In example 2.3, I explained that Uncharted 4 likes to use color to indicate towards the player, that it affords something. Text & Speech Nathan knows something you don't know. "Onward and Upward" he says. He hints to keep going up. This is a critical cue that gets triggered a bit late. Summarized With so many flow elements, the player shouldn't had to be confused right? The reason for the confusion was likely because of two elements. The doorway The wooden balcony When we convert the picture to black and white, we can see that the difference in contrast makes your eyes focused on the doorway and the wooden plateau. The doorway affords to be walked through, gates are strong methods of guiding the player. They have a strong attraction to them. You want to walk through it to see whats on the other side. The imbalance between the contrast in shape, lighting and color made the doorway and wooden board pop out more than intended. A solution? A potential solution to this problem would be to highlight the grooves a bit more. With use of decals, color or by perhaps destroying part of the construction. Any kind of additional indication that tells the player that they can climb the tower. But nonetheless, without applying my potential solution. You can also jump of the cliff and the game would re-spawn you on a spot with a nice view of the wooden bar. It almost seems like they intended you to struggle. Is this the real reason? It almost seems like they intended you to struggle. Another theory of mine is that the designers at Naughty Dog planned this all along and this part was supposed to play out like this, to slow down the pacing of the player. Showing them that it is important to look around the environment to find clues. There are really uncountable ways to guide your players. We might never know the truth. 😉 *Note: This article is shared in its entirely on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: https://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/1792/how_level_flow_works_in_uncharted_.php Follow Trinh Website: https://www.trinhleveldesigner.com/index.html Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trinhleveldesigner/ 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. "Are you a game designer, struggling to improve your map/level creation skills? Wanna know how to make better maps? BenderWaffles is here to give you his top 5 tips for designing better maps and levels." *Header image credit: Andre Santos Follow BenderWaffles Twitter: https://twitter.com/BenderWaffles Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm7mo1AIEitghtR54TjzQjQ 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. 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
  18. 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: (Perspectives) 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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