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  1. 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://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  2. 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://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  3. 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://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  4. 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://discord.gg/RqEy7rg
  5. PRIMER One of the most important, though perhaps less considered, aspects of art is negative space. In traditional fine art spaces this refers to any space not taken up by the focal point or main subject of an image.Let’s illustrate this with a painting by Rene Magritte: Georgette Magritte, by Rene Magritte. 1934 In this portrait of his wife, Georgette, the negative space is marked by the cloud pattern. The positive space is, of course, the portrait itself. While the negative space might not initially seem as worthy of attention, it is as important to the composition as the portrait. In fact, Magritte was very aware of this fact, and plenty of his more cheeky paintings intentionally play with the relationship between negative and positive space. Let’s take a look at The Flash, also by Magritte: The Flash, Rene Magritte, 1959 In this painting Magritte takes what would generally be the focal point, the still life of the flowers, and gives it the properties of negative space by rendering it in silhouette, and then creates a second focal point within that space.Here’s another example of playing with negative space, this time from surrealist graphic designer Shigeo Fukuda: UCC Coffee Ad, Shigeo Fukuda 1984 Due to the large contrast and outlines, the initial shape that appears are the black hands holding coffee and large black space in the center. Cleverly, these hands also coordinate with the negative space to form a second set of hands, creating an illusion where both the dark and light spaces can both be considered negative space.Negative space is the reason why cropping a photograph can improve its quality. It’s also part of the reason image services like Instagram default to a square format, which makes it easier to frame an image and see what parts of a composition feel correct in the frame.Negative space applies to more than images as well. Think of music and rhythm, about the space between notes. Those notes you don’t play are as important as the ones that are heard. The same concept can also be applied to fiction and cinema, where the space in between events gives time for those events to “breathe” and can frame them with contrasting moments.These are concepts, I’d argue, that are also useful when talking about videogames.OCCUPIED SPACE Another way to think about negative space is space that is “unoccupied”. While the multimedia nature of games makes it easy to apply ideas of negative space from other media upon it, thinking about it in terms of unoccupied space allows us to consider the way designers shape our interactions in a different way. Take a look at what the fighting game community commonly refers to as “zoning”. In simple terms zoning is the act of controlling the space between characters. This can be done by approaching and retreating, using low risk attacks to deny movement, and a variety of other techniques. This is important because the amount of space between characters will determine what options are available. At particular distances a character might be able to hit the other safely from a certain range, or pull off special move without fear of retaliation. So while the space in between characters may be considered “unoccupied”, the possibilities implied by it is just as important to the game.The specific considerations of zoning and space control are unique to the genre, but plenty of other games and genres apply similar concepts. Games frequently challenge you to consider unoccupied spaces as both opportunities and danger zones, and to act on moment to moment changes in them. Consider the way scrolling shooters create “lanes” of bullets that delineate danger and safety. By using certain patterns of bullets, shooters can force players into certain positions, or let them push back and clear out spaces to give them room to breathe.Let’s apply a similar logic to a videogame staple, the platformer. While there’s been a thousand thinkpieces on Super Mario World’s level 1–1, or the specific considerations of a singular game level, it’s useful to also think about them in terms of not only how the elements that are there encourage a specific behavior, but how unoccupied space contributes to those levels. I’m going to illustrate this with some screenshots from They Bleed Pixels, a game focused on tough platforming and combat that encourages the use of the environment. They Bleed Pixels is a game that’s filled with spikes, saw blades and other very sharp objects. You’re never more than a few seconds away from an impaling. Even with the constant threat of pointed death looming over you, the way these obstacles are used can present a very different mood. In the screenshot on the left, the only unoccupied spaces are narrow corridors that snake throughout the space. Spikes decorate the walls while saw blades close in form behind. There are small dips and holes in the platforms that lend it a precarious feeling. Even the open spaces below and above the stage are filled with saw blades. These can’t hurt you, but they contribute to the mental stress of the situation. There’s a brief opening near the end, with three narrow slats of open space, drawing you in its direction and encouraging you to jump.Now consider the screenshot on the right. There’s still plenty of sharp objects, but the footing is solid and there’s plenty of open space above and below you. There’s actually more enemies, but it feels less threatening because there’s more space to maneuver around in. It gives you more space to breathe. For a real world comparison, think about how you would feel about the room you’re in if the ceiling was five, ten, or twenty five feet higher. Even if practically there isn’t much use for higher vertical space, it would give the room a much different vibe.PEAKS AND VALLEYS Negative space is primarily thought of as a visual concept, and is easier to visualize in terms of imagery, but it can also be thought of even more abstractly, in the terms of pacing and moments of downtime.This is part of what makes games like Life is Strange work. In LiS, there are moments where the game prompts you to take a break, to sit down, or lay in bed and take a moment to reflect and listen to the world around you. As Jessica Lachenal points out in On Life is Strange’s Empty Spaces and Quiet Moments, games are constantly asking you constantly more forward, to expose ourselves to continuous stimuli and to keep track of tons of different factors. By asking you to take a break it cuts into the tension and provides a temporary reprieve from the stress of both school and the larger oncoming disasters. The interaction here is more passive, but it’s just as important to establishing the mood and pacing as more active moments. for a killer of Greek gods Kratos spends a lot of time pushing blocks This need for downtime, for negative space, is also why action games feel the need to break up the game with puzzles. It might be hamfisted, but it breaks up the stress of constant stimulus. It’s also why some genres, such first-person shooters, can often feel so overwhelming and suffer at longer run times. There’s a trend toward filling every moment with action, but without a moment to breathe you can often create something that’s fatiguing to play. The best shooters know how to use negative space, not only within their environments and play, but within their pacing.Consider the snaking corridors and J-Horror interludes of F.E.A.R., the open spaces and staccato gunfights of Halo or the rebel hideout in Wolfenstein: The New Order. All of these give breathing room to games that are otherwise very intense experiences. Instead of constantly attempting to fill every empty space, this downtime creates a more even experience. Wolfenstein: The New Order concept art By understanding Negative Space, in terms of visual concepts and moments of reprieve, we can gain a better understand of how both what exists in a space, and what’s left out, contributes to the experience. It gives us different vectors to approach and understand existing ideas. It can let us understand the value of cutting out what’s unnecessary, and give us let us understand games by looking at the way other media deal with negative space. So let’s take a look at what’s not there and think about in terms of the negative, for once. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: https://medium.com/@siegarettes/the-art-of-nothing-a-look-at-negative-space-within-videogames-b92cf950cb73Follow AmrWebsite: https://medium.com/@siegarettesTwitter: https://twitter.com/siegarettesPatreon: https://www.patreon.com/siegarettesYoutube: https://t.co/2CQL0fbeXx
  6. Follow JimTwitter: https://twitter.com/entropicdev
  7. In this video, Jonas Tykesson shares his thoughts on RCR (Room - Corridor - Room) Syndrome, and Massive Building Syndrome. He ties these nicely into his discussion of positive and negative space, which is the main subject of the video. Using a variety of Team Fortress 2 maps as his guinea pigs, Jonas provides great examples and explanations of why a balance of positive and negative spaces is important, and how you can achieve it. Follow Jonas Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChxL7hxrtG9wa3bmu4xkznw Website: http://jonastykesson.blogspot.com/
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