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  1. Landmarks Are Signposts If a play tester is getting lost then it may be due to the map architecture or colour scheme being too similar. Bold unique details or colours can make a big difference with helping players build up a mental picture quicker in their head for navigation. A landmark does not need to be something ginormous or even visually impressive, but it does need to be something visually unique with regards to the rest of the map. A way to see if this approach is working is trying to describe every location to a friend using 5 words or less. For example, the lake of lava, the giant waterfall, the blue tile room etc. If a location cannot be easily described with something unique then it is unlikely to be memorable or a good sign. Once every location in a map has an unique architectural feature or colour style, the player is much more likely to be able to move around the map quickly and spend more time exploring instead of wondering where they have been already. Materials Have Weight When a game location is built using materials like wood or stone they will come with preconceptions about their weight. Building materials often look and feel better when they are a certain shape relative to their weight. The player is unconsciously expecting them to be a certain look relative to their surroundings. For example a giant undamaged stone pillar should look like it can support its own weight and stand upright. The thickness, angle and shape are often derived from the material used and if the pillar has odd proportions then the presence is diminished. The same could be said for a stone wall between rooms that is too thin for the material used and the structural weight looks wrong. Regardless of how much a game may want to surprise a player with unbelievable structures and scale, the weight of real world materials has a great impact on the players impression of a scene and how believable it looks. Always Iterate This should be a mantra muttered every morning before breakfast! I cannot stress this enough that most tasks associated with game design rarely work first time, they are often tweaked, updated or changed over time. Architecture will often have more detail added, existing routes moved around and even silhouettes manipulated once the lighting is done! Always allow extra time for this by learning to build architecture over time in layers. Create Prefabs Not everything in a map has to be unique, interactive objects especially should be visually consistent. A classic use of prefabs is where an object (button/door) needs to be easily recognizable by the player for its functions and pop out from its surroundings as something important. Some projects like jam or speed creation events do not have the luxury of endless time and prefabs can be used to fill in details quickly. If there is enough time left after gameplay and lighting has been completed then the prefabs can easily be replaced with better unique detail. Embrace Vertical Designs When walking down the street most people will be looking forward and rarely will they be looking up at the top of buildings or down at their feet. People look forward because of their eye position and do not notice the details in their peripheral vision. This is why many games take advantage of this by hiding objects above or below player height. The trick to vertical designs is to find the right gradient angle, the right balance by which a player will be willing to look up or down to notice details and consider it a relevant path to explore. The first type of vertical design is varied floor heights that have obvious connections via steps or moveable objects. These types of designs create better spaces for exploration and encounters while challenging the player to be spatially aware. The second type of vertical design are generally isolated or areas high above the players movement/vision height and not obvious how they are reachable. These ledges, routes or secret places should be reusable spaces and offer the player an alternative viewpoint, a chance to enjoy the previous location but this time from a height advantage. A classic mistake that anyone new to level design makes is create a single floor height room with very little Z axis interaction. The best way to think about vertical design is like a Celtic knot, where floors weave up and down, over and under and create the surprise of an interconnected location to explore and take advantage of! *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. This article by Deanna Van Buren (who assisted on 'This Witness') makes a compelling case for collaborating with an architect (or learning more about architecture yourself) . What you're about to read below is a recap of the full article, which is linked at the end. The article covers 9 essential areas: Developing architectural narratives Integrating landscape and architecture Building design Deploying materials & textures Scaling, proportion, and style Details Transitions Characters and environment The space in between In this recap, we will be covering 'Developing Architectural Narratives', 'Details', and 'The Space in Between'. The areas not covered here hold a lot of value, so we strongly recommend readying the full article. DESIGNING FOR GRAVITAS: THINGS TO CONSIDER There are 10 basic things that games tend to do that could be avoided with some design knowledge and application. I am going to refer to some games other than The Witness as both successful and less successful because they are popular, diverse, and frankly most of them I really like. It would be nice to see them taken to the next level so that the environments are not distracting and incongruent with the goals they are trying to achieve. Developing Architectural Narratives It is always helpful to remember that landscapes and architecture are based in the temporal, physical, and institutional constraints of the real world. What is the topography of the land? What materials are available to us? What climate are we in? What are the zoning laws? Where is the sun coming from? Therefore, one of our first questions we asked Jonathan’s team (Thekla) was “What direction is north?” They replied, “What difference does that make?” I knew then that we would need to recreate and reframe the real world constraints with which we had been working. In order to design customized environments we would need to develop a narrative and new kinds of constraints that would define it. So how do we create narratives that deliver rich environments? Sometimes in an effort to create a holistic identity or world, video games commit to one style/period, or genre yet this is not how environments exist in reality. Our built environments have history, a story across time. They are layered. In The Witnesswe use this passage of time to create the narrative so the environments are a series of adaptively re-used buildings and landscapes beginning with prehistoric times to the present day and beyond. Each building and landscape is designed in response to the needs of at least one civilization and in some buildings all three civilizations are expressed. For example, at the edge of the island is a concrete factory that sits in a quarry. The environment registers how the Stone Age people (Civilization I) began to quarry stone for tombs through small cuts in the cliff side. Then one can see where the stone was mined at a larger scale for religious structures such as churches and cathedrals in Civilization II. A church is built here both carved and constructed from the stones being quarried around it. As Civilization III developed, even larger stones were mined and used to make concrete, a more contemporary building material. Small stones were also required as aggregate and the church was converted to a factory in order to scale this process and construct other buildings on the island. As a gameplay wayfinding element, the factory exhaust rises up out the old steeple. Inside factory equipment integrated with the religious frieze panels provide the game artists with additional opportunities to tell a deeper lever of narrative. While architectural narratives like these were easy for us to develop, they may not be as easy for gameplay developers. For us the gameplay constraints were more challenging. We were fortunate to have a developer like Jonathan who provided us with what became our primary constraint-game play. The rules of The Witness with regards to gameplay were rigorous and finite in many ways. As architects, we had to learn about what this meant. It is one of the things architects need to understand when working with developers and an aspect that developers can more rigorously apply to environmental design. Integrating landscape and architecture - Follow the link at the end to read this section Building design - Follow the link at the end to read this section Deploying materials & textures - Follow the link at the end to read this section Scaling, proportion, and style - Follow the link at the end to read this section Details Along with understanding scale and proportion comes the proper rendering of details in the architecture. These may be done to avoid abstraction of space if your art style is refined or making them simpler if things are of a looser style. What is most important is being consistent with the level of detail and the scale of these elements. It is something we spent a while on in the witness so that the lighting, stairs, door handles, furniture, or window openings are all developed at the same level of consistent detail and in alignment with our art style. For us, it made doing modern architecture difficult at times and we worked hard to create details that reflected these assemblies in a low poly yet realistic way for the painterly quality we wanted. The Witness: Hub Chapel This scene from Ether One looks great, but making this small change would harmonize the entire space. Mirror's Edge is another game that does a particularly great job of detailing most of its elements. They make strategic use of building systems such as electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems with color to guide gameplay movement and perception. It is visually pleasing due to the lack of noise yet it is rich at the same time just by understanding materials, transitions, details, and assemblies of the built world. Even a game like Relativity that is diverse spatially but simple in its execution has an incredible consistency that makes it wonderful to be in. Another beautiful but quite different game that also makes good use of detail is Relativity. It is diverse spatially, unique in its style and simple and consistent in its palette and details, which I think helps you to feel immersed in this MC Echer-esque world. Detailing contrasting components well is also a great opportunity for good design. For example, the integration of layers of time in The Talos Principle is interesting, and it is these moments that it could have been nice to think about how they would integrate given they are very prominent in the environment. Rather than stick things on the stone, these technological pieces could have been integrated in the tectonic of the old castle wall in a more sophisticated way that would have added some gravitas to the look and feel of the game, supported the narrative and built on the textures that had. Transitions - Follow the link at the end to read this section The Space in Between While the architecture itself is important the relationships between buildings is just as important as the building itself. They are part of an overall scene that you are creating in every moment, and understanding how buildings can create outdoor rooms and a diversity of spatial experiences definitely enhances gameplay. The Talos Principle is an example of a game that has some great spaces that are scaled really well and others that are not so much. In many areas there is a flatness to the experience since there is no strong vertical expression or experience of the architecture that would traditional be found in castles due to their purpose and use as place for protection and surveillance. The open spaces, courtyards or baileys where you are shooting are too large compared to the wall height, and what would have been the interior spaces of the castle. An opportunity would have been to harness the design of castles and the development of the radial form of the medieval city to help with the experience of the game and provide more interest to the experience through spatial variety that reflects the historical narrative of this time. Most buildings prior to the Modernist movement have a hierarchy to them like the church nave or the grand entry. This flattening of the architectural experience in the agency of gameplay goes counter to our experience of this type of architecture and is a missed opportunity. Why not use the logic of these buildings to enhance gameplay? Many games also often have large spaces that have game assets floating in them. An unrealistic building or room density does not provide containment of the events unfolding. Often objects are out of scale to one another or larger than any element might be in reality. For example, the Gone Home entry foyer in plan is massively out of proportion with the height and the scale of any suburban home as viewed from the outside. The assets are floating in the space in ways that feel out of context with the real experience of domestic space pulling us out of the immersive reality. The player is drawn to the objects because they stand out in a bare room but it seems like they would have been more successful by integrating assets into well-scaled environments. They could use the space itself to guide players to these components in a sophisticated way perhaps through light, color, and detail. Gone Home is one of my favorite games to play because it makes use of 3D and 2D representation of this space. It would have been more powerful to create a house or even a compound that had some logical complexity to it and generated a domestic environment that made sense and enhanced the game play experience by drawing on our personal memories of home. CONCLUSION While all these aspects of design are important, the most critical thing that I teach to professionals and students alike is to just wake up and pay attention to the world around you. I hope that these recommendations can help you do that even if you choose not to work with an architect. I would also like to conclude by presenting a bigger vision for this collaboration. I believe that everything we do creatively influences our larger cultural context. As more members of our society begin to play games in well-designed digital environments, we will ultimately improve the visual literacy of our population. In doing so, I believe there is a reverse effect where we will start to expect more from our physical environments rather than ignore them as we often do now. We will start to question the strip mall, the big box stores, suburban landscapes filled with McMansions and the bland colorless panelized architecture we crank out in the United States, at least. Maybe through the immense creativity found in the creation of digital environments we can envision better physical environments that foster imagination, community, sustainability, and well-being. In doing so I also hope that we have moved further down the road of accessing the power of video games to change the world around us for the better. Read the full article here: www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DeannaVanBuren/20151012/254238/Architecture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php Follow Deanna Twitter: twitter.com/deannavanburen?lang=en Website: https://echoinggreen.org/fellow/deanna-van-buren/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  3. Legend has it that it's possible to build a level for the Source Engine within 3ds Max. We've had no concrete evidence of this alleged possibility...until now! Shawn Olson provides video proof, along with a fantastic demonstration. Seeing is believing, my friends. I am now a believer, and this video will turn you into believer as well. 😉 Follow Shawn Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG88MBHdmCudBrYETGdCOeg Website: http://www.wallworm.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/shawnmolson 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. Next Level Design has been given permission from the author to host this entire book in PDF format. Download the attached PDF at the bottom of this article for the entire book, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70zStill not sure? Read through this section on lighting that was recently posted on Next Level Design: In addition, we've included another small section of the book right here: pg. 25 INTRODUCTION Due to games’ ever-increasing complexity and the expanding nature of levels in general, it can certainly be said that levels are not easy to design. Levels, as said before, are combinations of dozens of different aspects, the conglomeration of which render them complex by nature. This combination of complex systems itself requires good design from the start in order to avoid an inconsistent and downright messy result. Because the different aspects are so interdependent, it’s very important not to lose sight of a level’s ‘big picture’. This chapter highlights some of the issues that can pop up when designing a level, as well as some more minor aspects to keep in mind. The overall design is the foundation for a level. Without a clear, strong design, there is no solid base on which to build the level. THE CREATION OF A NEW WORLDThe most important part of a successful level is its beginning. The way a level starts will determine a great deal about how the rest of the level will evolve and how quickly. In these days of growing complexity, efficiency and speed are valued highly. Getting off to a bad start or using bad work methods can cost time which is usually at a premium to begin with. Part of starting a good design is foreseeing potential problems before anything is created. By doing this early in the process, a good level designer can quickly and easily modify the design to better fit the available time, workload, difficulty, technical limits, or all of the above.How one begins a new level is different for every person. One designer may write everything down in a design document while another, like me, just plans it out in their head. The method used also depends upon if one is working in a team environment. Working with a team means that the level’s design must be communicated throughout the team which usually means some sort of written, drawn, or quickly modeled design that can be passed around and/or presented. How it’s done isn’t important as long as several key aspects are kept in mind and the end product is of a sufficient quality. If the technology used cannot create lush jungles, for example, then this must be recognized before starting.A design should progress only when exactly what is wanted and how to accomplish it is known. Exact information is the key to this. Again using the jungle example, one must know what the jungle will look like, the colors it uses, the overall style, how the player will move through it, if the engine can render thick vegetation, what kind of physics will be involved, and too many more to list here.To assist in this task, I have developed a type of checklist that is at the base of everything I design. The list compares several key values against each other to see if they are possible and if they should be modified. It also helps define the values better. The list checks to see if the rules of, for example, lighting and composition are contrary to each other and if the goal is possible and what direction to take. This extensive chapter will mostly be about the latter.A level is complex and it takes increasingly more time and effort to successfully complete one; thus failure is not an option. All the areas that could potentially cause a problem should be identified before starting any work. Once the design process starts it should go smoothly; design dilemmas should not occur or, if they do, should be easily overcome with few modifications to the overall plan. Getting stuck can be very demoralizing and time consuming. pg. 26THE CHECKLISTA level always begins with a goal, a theme, or both. The goal may be that the game requires a medieval castle, or that it’s missing an ominous environment, or that the level is to be the central hub of the game.After identifying the basic idea, certain key information needs to be pinned down before starting the level. This ‘key information’ will be referred to as ‘the keys’. The keys communicate important properties about the level. They are the key words the level is built around and provide more information on the level’s requirements.The following are questions to determine the key information for the level-to-be: • (1-Time) How much time is there available? Is there a deadline? • (2-Tech) What tools and game engine will be used? • (3-Limitations) What limitations are there? Is there a shortage of art assets or staff/personal skill limit? Can anything be made or are some aspects beyond the scope of the project because of their complexity? • (4-Requirements) What kind of requirements are there? Are there any specific elements, for example, special buildings or areas that have to be in the level? When compared to the rest of the game what visual style or theme must the level adhere to? • (5-Purpose) What is the overall purpose? For example, is it a multiplayer practice level or a singleplayer boss arena? • (6-Gameplay) What should the gameplay be like? How should it be played? Should there be enough room for a large boss encounter? Or does it need to be large enough to contain a large number of enemies attacking the player? Perhaps it’s a vehicle level? Or it is a stealth level? And so on. • (7-Theme) What theme and/or style will the level have? Will it be a castle or a jungle? Will the style be cartoonish or realistic?This is all essential information for a level. The order of the list is not as important as the answers. Once the essential elements of the level have been identified it can be run through a checklist to see if it holds up. Will it work? Look right? Play right?The keys provide the information while the checklist determines if it is possible or not. The checklist combines two or more keys in order to determine if they fit together or not. If the desired theme is a jungle, but the engine can’t handle rendering dense vegetation, then these are two keys that do not fit together and the design will need to be adjusted accordingly. This is the type of information the keys provide: essential information that design decisions can be based on before actually starting work on a level. Thinking ahead is the key to success.The checklist itself is a system for asking questions and making comparisons. The questions are different each time, but the comparisons remain the same. Verify that the individual elements compliment each other.Here's the entire Table of Contents: Download the attached PDF below, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z *The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted on Next Level Design with permission from the authorFollow Sjoerd De JongWebsite: http://www.hourences.com/Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/Twitter: https://twitter.com/HourencesYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed The Hows and Whys of Level Design.pdf