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  1. Always be creating...New content! It is easy to stop or pause after finishing a project and not move on to something else. If the last project was too stressful or demanding, then try something with less detail or scope, start experimenting with new brushwork building methods or different gameplay setups. Stop the dust from settling and dive right back into your next masterpiece! There are many ways to keep momentum going between projects. Experiment with new themes or texture styles, try to build some architecture at an odd angle like at 30, 45 or 60 degrees or find some concept art you like and recreate it to scale! Set yourself deadlines It's easy to get distracted adding details and being absorbed with tangent ideas when you should be focusing on the end goal, finishing and releasing your map! Setting yourself goals will focus your time on what is really needed and make you think twice about adding stuff that is not really necessary for the final outcome. A series of short deadlines are especially good if you are working with a limited time frame project because you can see progress much quicker and be more motivated to finish. Deadlines help to break a map down into smaller steps and more manageable tasks which can create a much better focused and rewarding map making experience. Never stop iterating I was once asked to create three different versions of the same encounter and at the time I could not understand why. It is impossible to know if your first version is going to be the best iteration if there is nothing for comparison. What may seem like a waste of time with duplication of work can be a useful validation of what design you have finally picked. Always consider the iteration process if what you are creating is nothing special or remarkable. Some might say the downside to the iteration process is that you can create more work than is required, but that does not mean the process is worthless. Don't be afraid to iterate because of the extra work involved, just save the different versions as prefabs. A real world example of iteration is city architecture, which often changes as people adapt places to suit their current needs. Expansions, extensions, extra routes and different styles of details can all work towards creating a better visual tapestry. Be inspired by others Hardly anyone can be creative in isolation without being influenced by something else around them. There are countless images, films and books that swim around our subconscious allowing us to come up with fresh ideas. If you are suffering from a creative block or not sure what to do next then search for concept art, go to the library or buy a coffee in a bookshop and browse some architecture books. The Internet has a vast collection of concept images, architectural photos and plenty of other types of artwork (sculptures, videos etc.) that can be used as sources of inspiration. Even if you take a concept image literally and create something similar, it will still be your interpretation and be a useful exercise for building new content with the editor. Try to avoid symmetry It is so tempting to create symmetry in architecture or gameplay setups because we see mirrored structures around us all the time and think it is the right thing to do. You can easily find a church or modern day building with identical sides and matching facade features. Symmetry is something you should be aware of at all times and actively trying to break. Try to use 90 degree rotation steps instead of mirroring functions when copying and pasting architecture (especially floor layouts) Move various facade elements vertically up or down to create an imbalance. Look for obvious vertical or horizontal lines and move elements around to break the pattern. Change the size of matching (size of flames) objects and change the style of identical pairs by removing/adding (boarding up windows with wood) something. *Note: This article is published in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines Source: http://www.simonoc.com/pages/articles/gamedev_advice.htm Follow Simon Twitter: https://twitter.com/SimsOCallaghan Website: http://www.simonoc.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
  2. We here at Next Level Design love being able to learn from other disciplines and interfaces, and apply them to game design and level design. We hope you'll find something within this article that you can use in your own designs. If you do, please share by commenting below. Happy learning! *Note: The following is a portion of an article which was shared on canva.com. It capture some of the main points, but there are detailed examples provided within the source article which are not included here. Please follow the link at the end for the full article. As consumers of design, we’ve all likely experienced this scenario at some point. But as designers, we want to make sure we’re not creating design layouts that might cause viewers to hurry to hit that back button in their browser or trash a flyer in frustration. So what’s the key to a design that’s well organized and easy to navigate? Starting with the foundation of a strong composition and good flow will get your project on the right track. Composition: A Definition for Designers Composition refers to the way all the elements of your design are arranged to create a cohesive whole. It considers actual elements you might add to a design, like typography, photos, or graphics — but it also takes into account “invisible” elements that contribute to the overall visual effect of a layout, like white or blank space, alignment and margins, or any framework you might use to arrange your design (such as a grid, the golden ratio, or the rule of thirds). A careful composition should visually lead viewers through the design in a way that makes sense and happens naturally without a lot of thought on the part of the viewer (otherwise known as “flow”). This act of composing, of being thoughtful and intentional about how you piece together a layout, is a skill that applies to many different types of visual arts, from painting to photography. The nice thing is that once you learn the basics of strong composition, you’ll find that they’re useful for all sorts of creative endeavors. Now let’s look at some of the tools and techniques traditionally used to create effective, visually engaging compositions. Visual Weight & Balance: Create a Clear Hierarchy A good composition isn’t just a neatly arranged collection of shapes, colors, and text. Every design has a purpose and communicates a message to its viewers, and a well-planned composition helps prioritize the design’s most important information and reinforce its message in a way that makes sense. This process of arranging information by its importance is often referred to as establishing a hierarchy. No hierarchy (or an inadequate one) makes for a confusing design that has no visual flow, and we don’t want that. Let’s look at two key elements of a clear hierarchy, focal points and balanced organization: Choose a Focal Point A focal point pulls people into your design and gives them a place to start looking at your composition. If viewers only had a couple seconds to glance at your design and take away one impression or piece of information, what would that be? That important element should be your main focal point, and to ensure it’s what people see first, you’ll want to find a way to emphasize that piece and make it the most visible part of the layout. Keep reading to see this concept at work in actual design projects. (Via Dribbble. Design by Mara Dawn Dockery.) How to do that? Through giving your focal point visual weight. When a design element has visual weight, it’s what stands out the most at first glance. It’s visually “heavy” because it makes its presence felt in the layout — you can immediately tell that it’s important, and it attracts your attention through something about its appearance, often by contrasting with the rest of the design. There are a lot of techniques to choose from to give your focal point visual weight, including but not limited to: Size Shape Color Texture Position Let’s walk through some examples: Follow the link at the end to read these sections of the article Make It Big Attract Attention with Unusual Shapes Choose Stand-Out Colors Add Texture for Visual Interest Position for Maximum Visual Impact Balance and Organize the Rest of the Design After a focal point gives viewers an entrance into your design, then it needs to be organized in such a way that they can navigate the rest of the layout easily. This is where the hierarchy really comes into play to give viewers a clear pathway to travel through the composition. Should their eyes move down the page? Across? From one section to another? How the rest of the design flows from the focal point will be key to a successful composition. You can guide viewers through your layout with some of the techniques we’ve already discussed, but most designs will benefit from an overall structure or organizing principle. Instead of just randomly throwing elements into your design and hoping it turn outs ok, being thoughtful and intentional about building your composition will always create a more usable and visually appealing experience for your audience. Let’s look at some common techniques: Follow the link at the end to read these sections of the article Use a Grid Try the “Rule of Thirds” Consider Symmetry Leave Some White Space Leading Lines: Create Movement to Lead the Eye Leading lines are literal or implied lines that lead viewers’ eyes where you want them to go — usually to the focal point of your design, but sometimes just from one section or element of the layout to another. Leading lines can take a number of different forms, including: Diagonal Lines Diagonal lines create movement or imply direction across the design, often from top to bottom and left to right, like with reading. Another common technique is to use two diagonal lines coming from opposite directions to direct users’ focus to a single point. If you’ve ever taken an art class during your school days, a common exercise is to draw a road or pathway extending into the distance: two diagonal lines coming from opposite directions, starting out wide but narrowing until they meet at a spot on the horizon known as the “vanishing point.” This is diagonal leading lines in action, and one of the most basic ways to create depth and perspective in a composition. The following website design uses this concept to organize its product image gallery. Notice how the diagonal lines created by the yellow shape in the background (along with selective blurring) create a sense of depth in the design. Via Dribbble. Design by Cosmin Capitanu Z Shapes & S Curves: Follow the link at the end to read these sections of the article Repeating Lines and Patterns Repetition can act as a leading line, guiding your gaze in a certain direction. It may take the form of repeating lines, shapes, or other elements arranged in a directional way. Repetition can also be a great way to reinforce a visual theme and add a sense of rhythm to your design. Even in-text elements that repeat, like bullet points or numbered lists, can help organize a design and give it a sense of flow. The following magazine layout repeats a visual theme of diagonal lines and triangular shapes in two ways: on individual pages or spreads (to guide readers through the content) and throughout the issue (to create consistency and a sense of rhythm through the whole publication). *Note: Click on the Image for a larger version Via Behance. Design by Bartosz Kwiecień. The Human Gaze: Follow the link at the end to read these sections of the article Learning some effective techniques for composing designs can really help level up your projects in terms of both aesthetics and function. We hope this introduction to some of the design principles of good composition will prove useful. As always, happy designing! Over to You Learning some effective techniques for composing designs can really help level up your projects in terms of both aesthetics and function. We hope this introduction to some of the design principles of good composition will prove useful. As always, happy designing! Read the full article here: https://www.canva.com/learn/flow-and-rhythm/ Follow Janie Twitter: https://twitter.com/janiecreates Website: https://janiekliever.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
  3. 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