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About Me

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  1. 2007 - 2012 was an amazing time for Halo. There was something special, almost undefinable about the introduction of Forge and the File Share in Halo 3 and their expansion in Halo Reach. One of the many things that inspired the creation of this website was the camaraderie found in the exploration of those new tools, both of which have led to more than a handful of amateur-to-professional transitions. However, when Halo 3 was released as part of the Master Chief Collection in 2014, this key element was missing - and has remained missing until this day. Yes, there is now an approximation of the original File Share function within the MCC, but it has floundered and fumbled for 6 years, unsupported by 343i's internal sustain teams. It still does not provide a smooth user experience. That's where today's NLD Feature comes in - in keeping with the purpose of this site, I "sat down" with two French (eh, oui!) Halo fans behind the creation of a fully-functional, third-party File Browser for the MCC Halo 3 port - as well as the rest of the MCC! A truly Next-Level feature, if you ask me. 😉 I hope you enjoy our little chat and remember to take a moment to go check out their site. >>> begin_transmission: icyhot: First off, welcome to the Next Level Design Featured page! Could you two introduce yourselves? TekTek: Hi, thanks for the feature! I'm TekTek, co-founder of Halo Creation and a professional Level Designer. Tepec: Thank you for this! So I'm Tepec, have been admin of the French community Halo Creation for something like 11 years now - am I an old fart already? Halo Creation icyhot: Very cool, and welcome again! OK, everyone knows that Halo has a global appeal, but many of us in the English-speaking world don't really have a concrete grasp of that - so, what is Halo Creation, and what do you do? TekTek: Halo Creation is a French community meant to share and promote creative fanmade content for the Halo franchise. We cover anything from tricks to Forge, fan arts or crafts. We started up with a forum promoting a series of tricking videos called "Projet Alpha" and have been writing down hundreds of tutorials for tricks on every Halo game. Tepec: To answer about "how Halo has a global appeal" and to put it into context, back in the late 2000s Halo was quite a big thing here in France; several communities were striving on the web with forums and all, we even had this "IloveBTB" 8v8 championship and LAN which was kind of avant-garde and unique for console Esports in there (we had nothing remotely close to MLG and such). I remember the old "Projet Alpha" videos, which were just about tricking, easily quickly hitting like 20k or 30k views on DailyMotion (which was at the time a serious alternative to YouTube here, and that feels weird to even just say it nowadays!), and that was incredible for a console exclusive game at the time and on such a "niche" subject. So yeah, the French Halo community was pretty big on Halo, and there were a lot of initiatives, hence Halo Creation came into play. from late 2009 from summer 2011 icyhot: Why did you choose to design your platform around Creation specifically and not, say, competitive play? And why Halo? TekTek: The reason this site was based on Halo is because we all met on Halo (through communities or meeting in game). I personally started playing Halo with Halo 2 and fell in love with it when I discovered out of bounds, superbounces and all those creative, emergent ways of playing it. The first idea for this forum was from Cox, he wanted to build a Halo community outside of news-sharing while working on "Projet Alpha" for Halo 3. At this time, the French Halo sites were mainly focused on news and/or Esports - tricks, Forge maps or art were only a [minor focus for these sites]. We thought they deserved more space and, tada! Tepec: I am not a founding member of Halo Creation, but I think it always revolved around the players and creators just as much as the games themselves, it's not like the "creation" part came after the "Halo" one! But why Halo then? I think Halo 3 started it all because, well, we loved that game, but it also gave us such great tools to be creative, and players kept bringing new content to the game, keeping it fresh. Also I joined the staff of Halo Creation because at that time there was a huge demand for help and advices on tricks, on Forge, on video editing. Our forum (which is still around in a 'dormant' state) became known because we had so many tutorials for everything, and we had passionate and helpful Forgers like TekTek, always welcoming newcomers and providing insights on how to improve their creations. I have always been curious about various things in Halo games, whether it be Forge, tricks, machinimas, montages or even Esports, and that's why Halo Creation was so appealing when I started to play on XBL and joined the online community. I don't know exactly why the 'creative' aspects of Halo grew into me so much, I guess that's partly because back in 2002, Halo: CE struck me with its wide environment that made me dream, and I had so much fun playing multiplayer with my friends [in] stupid 'mini-games' we were imagining, and from there it never got away - to the contrary, it became even better with the online community doing stuff I'd never imagined, and all the features like theater and forge that came into play later. I also happen to run a small web agency, which is always helpful for the kind of projects we'll talk about in a few moments. 😄 icyhot: Now, the reason why we're here. The two of you have developed and released a 3rd-party File Browser for the MCC, which functions like a dream. You can search by Map Name, Base Map, Tags, Gametype, Gamertag... It even looks better than 343i's current Waypoint File Browser! A time capsule in a time capsule - how appropriate! But as we all know, this functionality does not exist native to the MCC. How long has this been in the works? Was the release of Halo 3 on PC a big part of your motivation for developing this File Browser? TekTek: TBH I wasn't involved with this tool! Tepec and Zeny are the real men when going for tools and bot creation, I stepped out of the admin part of Halo Creation some years ago and I'm now only involved in the community as a content lover. Tepec: Actually Zeny (from another French community called Halo Destiny) and I made this. The idea for this website really grew probably a few months after the content migration, so around Fall 2019. I was really frustrated I couldn't find maps or modes, because the MCC does not provide any search feature for the files, and people all around were asking for maps and modes just like me. I mean, there's an entire category just for that on the r/Halo Discord server, so it's not like it's something only 1 or 2 players want! Around the same time, I started to talk a lot with Zeny, founder of Halo Destiny and a website called, who happens to be really skilled at reverse-engineering the sh!t out of everything (like the Xbox Live API). About two months ago, he told me that he was messing around with the MCC PC port, and that's when I decided I should ask him for help on this project. He generously jumped in with enthusiasm and showed me how to do it, so we dug into it together until we found the proper endpoint for file shares. From there we just worked on that until we could get what we needed to make the search and filter features to work. The reverse-engineering part took probably like half a day, and then I developed the website pretty quickly (like 2 days), but I had to pause the development due to IRL work. Last week though, as they announced the release date for Halo 3 MCC PC, I decided that I had to finish this and make it public at that point because I was fairly sure that, like for the release of Reach, many players would be returning to the franchise after a few years of inactivity and would probably be looking for old maps and modes (and be frustrated or disappointed not being able to find them). Luckily I was able to take a few hours to complete things and bring the website online! So yeah, Halo 3 has been a big part of motivating me moving things forward and not keep that to myself. 😛 >>> end_transmission// Well, there you have it! A big thank you to @Tepec Fett (Halo Création) and TekTek for taking the time to answer my very probing questions, and most importantly for proving once more that, in the case of Halo, the fans really do know what the fans like. 😎 Remember to check out all their links below: File Browser Discord HaloCreation YouTube And catch a stream, usually at least once a week on Tuesdays (8pm CEST). Take care! ❤️ icyhot
  2. Hello Everyone! It has been a long, long time since I have written an article but what can I say Inspiration hit me! Before I begin, I want to say the way that inspiration struck all came across by taking part in an online course I recently just finished on CGMA which was ten weeks long. Thank you very much to Em Schatz for putting the course together and to Patrick Haslow for being a great tutor and taking the time to review my work. Introduction: Now I have worked on a range of titles as a Game Dev and Level designer, but as my career has switched over to AAA for the last five years I have noticed a common thread with the projects. That thread is Combat. What you make of combat within games and especially in AAA games is up to you and heck, I hope we get to talk about it in detail in the future but, none of us can deny how popular action is, in all mediums. With the projects that I have been working on, a lot of combat spaces have been designed by myself and by my teammates. So I have seen a lot of AI blood shed, as well as seen some good and bad examples of levels for combat. While working on this course one of the weeks we are asked to design a combat space (Ranged combat with guns). I completed the level and it is not the perfect example of a combat space, but it is one that I am extremely proud of. After this it got me thinking, “What makes a good combat level?” The question yet still haunting me, I decided to try to find out more. Sadly, there is not as many resources as I had thought would be available (If you know some great ones please do send them over to me). This is a great article though so please do read this, it was another inspiration for this article. Past Thoughts: I even went back to think about how I was taught at my University, and how bad my levels then were for combat. For what plays such a massive role in the gaming industry we were not taught anything about this topic: How to design levels for the purpose of Combat. Now with my xp of working in the industry for a while, making different spaces for combat, I finally feel that I can help. Hopefully, someone who reads this will find this useful, and it will also build a topic of discussion for many more and far better designers than me to help us understand Level Design for Combat. (see how I worked the title, into the article? Pretty impressive.) Keep in mind that I will only be talking about Combat involving guns, designing for close quarter combat, or turn based combat will not be mentioned here. (Here is a great article on DMC’s combat design) This article will only be focused on the level design involvement of combat as well, not breaking down anything to with weapon or mechanic design. With that out of the way I am going to be breaking down how to create a level built for gun combat step by step. Let Us Design It! Metrics: One of the first steps to designing a good combat space is first by understanding your Metrics. The subject of metricts I do not feel is mentioned enough when creating a level and how vital it is. Metrics determines the spaces of your levels, how high the cover should be, how wide corridors are, and much more. As for who decides the metrics for your game, that is a task for the level design team. It comes with experimenting in a ‘Gym’ it is tough to decide as you must decide by what feels right. I personally have only been involved with it once in my career and it is a tough thing to figure out. Create spaces for you and your teammates to test (This here is a ruler where I would time the players movement speed and jumping length) (having a range of boxes I used this to test jumping heights, single and double) You get the point that I am making. Once you have these gyms set up, have others test them out to see which they agree feels the best. These numbers and sizes will change depending on the view of your game, TPP, FP, Isometric, etc. Once you have the metrics, make sure that you are constantly checking them. (Side note, make sure that the document is easy to read and people understand it from first glance) Here is an example of what I put together when creating my combat level: From what you can see, the documents are very easy to read and you roughly get a sense of scale when looking at them. (Again these are not perfect documents, as it would be good to have tables listing the numbers on the documents as well so designers can have one place to look quickly without scrolling down several pages to get to the info they need) With these figures you have a great starting point, make sure that you are constantly referring to these documents. This is super important as not only does it allow you to make sure the architecture of your world is to scale. It allows you as a level designer to start understanding how verticality on two floors can play into combat, how to signal to players which rooms are safe while others they must be on their toes. Final point on this is now how you can combine the believability and theme of your architecture with the great feel of your gameplay. “A rule of thumb when creating metrics (Again all depends on your game, in the world of game/level design there are no hard rules only suggestions and what suits your game the best) is to make sure that your differences between a main door vs a side door, a main corridor vs a side corridor. Is that the main is double the size of your side, the reason for this is it is visually different. Increasing your main door size by just 1m is not visually distinct enough, so try to do it by doubling as visually it makes an impact on the players’’ Now you may be thinking that our time working with sexy metrics is over, but oh no no no there is still some fun to be had here sweet child. We have set up the rules for our architeture but now we need to set up rules for the combat spaces themselves. Because we were smart enough to set up the metrics for the architecture before it makes things a little easier for us. With the combat spaces, the elements you want to focus on are: Correct Cover Height & Width Cover Spacing (Buffer Zone) Cover rules on Architecture Weapon Range Enemy Archetypes Cover Height & Width: This is an easy one, for this we are focusing on what dimensions the player can use for cover, from low to high cover. Making sure that it is clear and readable to the player what is cover and what is not. Cover Spacing: Now this one is extremely important and should be one you follow very closely. This here is the distance between covers, we use this to make sure that cover is not just randomly scattered all over the place. That it is clear for players to understand a cover route through the combat, but also that AI can make it’s way towards the player too. There could be other technical reasons too, but this is a very important to follow these rules. Cover Rules on Architecture: As you have seen above we have metrics for say our doors and windows, but in order for us to not just have these set up for traversal we need to think about how to best use them for combat. Making sure that there is always cover on a door so players do not walk into a room and get blasted in the face. How players can use windows as a sniping spot, etc. Weapon Range: In most games that involve guns, there is a whole array of weaponry with some games like Boarderlands having over a Billion Guns! With that in mind it is important to build spaces to help encourage certain styles of play. Thinking about sniper nests or areas for players to flank and use short range weapons like a shotgun to attack the enemy from behind. Before we do all this though we need to understand how far these weapons can shoot, what is the best distance to use said weapons. Enemy Archetypes: In your games there will more than likely be different enemies within your game. Again like the weapon range we as level designers need to make sure that we build spaces that allow these enemies to have the best space to shine, show off their skillset but provide players cool and unique ways to win. By understanding these enemy types, we as LDs can build unique challenges which force players to strategize, who they should take out first or even work together as a team to coordinate an attack. How Players Avatar Holds the Gun: This topic here was not mentioned on the list above as it is not the biggest thing to consider but it is a detail worth knowing. What am I referring to when talking about how the avatar holds the gun? I am referring to will the avatar be right handed or left handed. Small detail but a detail nonetheless as then you must make sure that there is cover with an opening for the weapon. If the avatar holds it more to the right, then on door frames make sure there is cover to the left, and visa versa. (A lot of game though now allow the player to switch the shoulders of which they aim from) Now you can see the amount of planning that goes into creating a good combat space before we even have opened the editor. These steps are vital in creating a great combat space for your game. (Please note these design pages which I have put together are to show you an example of what to plan, when you are putting your design doc together you can do way better, these are just to show you what I mean, use these as a learning point and make fare better documentation team!) Conclusion: This article has become an extremely long article already and there is still more to cover. So this is where I will end part 1, but we will move on to the next step following this, such as paper design and the actual Blockout. We will be breaking down the blockout I mentioned at the beginning of the article, breaking it down. Please Support: If you have enjoyed this then please be sure to check out my podcast (Level Design Lobby): iTunes: Spotify: YouTube: SoundCloud: If you want to reach out to me, to give me some suggestions on good combat spaces or to see my bite size level design tips then please check me out on Twitter Read Part 2 here: Follow Max Level Design Lobby: Website: Twitter: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  3. In the first part of his series on 'MAPS', Westin Koessel lays the groundwork for ongoing discussions by starting at the beginning and defining 'Design'. From there he turns his sights on the subject of predeterministic vs passive design - what degree of creativity should a designer allow a player? *Note: This video has been removed by the creator Follow Westin Youtube: Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  4. What is a videogame landmark, and what is its purpose? Landmarks in video games are unique structures or places that stand out within an environment. In gaming, they’re extremely useful for navigation. They’re often used as central points for large areas, with the purpose of giving the player a way to work out where they are at all times and a chance to gather their bearings. They are purposefully designed to stand out in the environment and draw the player’s attention. Landmarks frequently indicate something of importance, with the area surrounding a landmark holding special items, unique enemies, or progressing the game’s narrative. Various landmarks will be visited by the player during missions or side quests, and many just through free exploration. Other times landmarks are not accessible to the player, but serve as interesting set pieces or background environments. Some video game landmarks are more commonly known as ‘weenies’, a term which was invented by Disney to describe ‘visual magnets’ designed for Disney World. This word is used to describe more building like landmarks which are usually large and take on tower or spire-like appearances, like the various castles dotted around the attraction. In this way, all weenies are landmarks, but not all landmarks are weenies. As ‘weenie’ is more of a specialist term and the definition sometimes varies, I will use ‘landmarks’ in this article for clarity and continuity. Cinderella Castle - Walt Disney World Resort Which games feature landmarks? Landmarks are most often found in large, open world games where the player has the opportunity to explore lots of different places. BioShock Infinite’s Monument Tower is a perfect example of an engaging landmark that draws the player’s attention and fits in well with the game’s narrative. It’s grey complexion and shape stands out amongst the various buildings surrounding it, as shown in the image above. It is also highlighted by the shining light, which both attracts the players attention, and works well with the angel silhouette. It’s sheer size means that it’s visible to the player as they traverse the map, allowing them to explore without concern of getting lost. The landmark is seen close to the start of the game, and is also mentioned various times around Columbia in order to repeatedly draw the player’s awareness to it. Real life landmarks and their videogame counterparts When I began as a level designer, I found myself worrying about using real life environments as inspirations for my creations, often feeling like a fraud for using similar designs. As time went on, I realised the benefit of using familiar references to make realistic levels. In many popular franchises, whole cities and landscapes are used to inspire creative and interesting settings. I believe that real life environments should be taken as a guideline, and then altered to allow for player agency, in alignment with the game’s theme and genre. Seattle, U.S - inFAMOUS: Second Son With this in mind, real life architecture features good examples of structures that stand out and leave a lasting impression, making them good references for creating landmarks. As seen below, Stonehenge in England has a unique layout that would make it stand out among a regular environment in an open world game. It’s size and distinct composition could make it an ideal midpoint in a map, where the player can return to if they are lost. Stonehenge - England The Puzzling Pillar Ruins in Skyrim are a great example of a location possibly inspired by Stonehenge. Notice the similarities in terms of rock colour texture, rock placement and the vast expanse of almost bare surrounding land. Also pay attention to how the landmark is used to draw attention to the locked grate located just below by being a similar colour and contrasting in shape, purposefully informing the player of a hidden location they can explore. Puzzling Pillar Ruins - Skyrim There are innumerable examples of real-life environments which can serve as inspiration, so you should always be looking for references that catch your eye. They can provide hints about where to place your landmarks and how to accentuate them in game. Have a look at this lighthouse shown below: It is blocked by a gate and can be seen a few blocks over from the camera’s location. It is taller than the rest of the surrounding environment, and it’s white main structure stands out against the blue sky, making the area unique and easy to recognise. The colourful trees and tall iron fence draw attention to the lighthouse, practically begging for it to be looked at. If you were to take this into a game engine, it could be made even more obvious as a pivotal landmark by darkening the scene, making the lighthouse taller to ensure that it can be seen from various locations and by adding lights coming from the tower which could perhaps guide the player towards their next location. This is done perfectly in Alan Wake, as shown below, with the gritty, moody atmosphere helping to create a memorable landmark. The Lighthouse - Alan Wake Creating distinctive landmarks UNIQUE VISUALS The easiest way to make landmarks stand out is by making them visually different from the rest of the surrounding environment. Designers should consider landmarks which look different from various angles, allowing the player to have a sense of their location when looking at it from different places on the map. Large landmarks are good, as the player can easily see them at all times, but smaller landmarks such as the Three Dead Trees in Horizon Zero Dawn, are also useful for marking the beginning of a new location. Colours and different size scalings are great for making these stand out. Three Dead Trees - Horizon Zero Dawn Additionally, many videogames feature landmarks with certain shapes, designed to subconsciously inform the player of what they might face upon arriving in the area. Spherical shapes or squares, with lots of symmetry and a solid structure, can suggest that the landmark is a place of safety. Henry’s Watchtower - Firewatch On the other hand, asymmetric places of interest with lots of jagged edges can suggest that an area is hostile and that the player should proceed with caution. This can, of course, be used to subvert player expectations. Ring of Metal - Horizon Zero Dawn FREQUENCY AND PLACEMENT Designers should work hard to find the right balance between frequent and infrequent landmark placement. Too many landmarks can feel tedious and overwhelming for the player, whereas too few landmarks can feel boring and make the game world stale. Placing smaller landmarks near bigger ones can help give the map a more interesting appearance. Mini-map showing smaller landmarks next to bigger landmarks and locations - Skyrim Navigation bars and mini-maps are arguably the easiest way to guide the player towards significant landmarks. Adding small icons to your player’s mini-map can be used to show these, and help them travel without getting lost. Drawing attention to landmarks can also be done through lighting, similar environmental colour schemes and NPC dialogue. Navigation bar - The Sinking City This article is only scratching the surface of the potential uses and methods of implementation of landmarks in videogames. When you next take a trip or vacation, be attentive to your surroundings and take note of both larger and smaller landmarks that you encounter in real life. Ask yourself WHY they are eye catching, and use that to consider HOW you can implement something similar in your game. Don’t forget that each landmark should serve a purpose, so keep this in mind when creating fantastic designs to capture and draw in your player. Thanks for reading my exploration into videogame landmarks and how real architecture can inspire these creations! If you want to discuss this topic further, feel free to leave a comment or message me on Twitter at @SweilousDev. I have also added a few links below that expand more on this topic, for any of you who are keen to learn more. Theory of Theme Parks - Wayfinding in themed Design: The “Weenie”: Landmarks in Level Design - I hope to hear from some of you soon! Courtney Raine Follow Courtney Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  5. // Philosophy and Level Design icyhotspartin // Introduction How is a developer supposed to develop a successful business plan for a video game? How is a Level Designer, amateur or professional, supposed to develop a competitively viable environment for that game? How is the Player of such a game supposed to develop a successful strategy such a level in the game? The principle remains the same for all of them. The person engaged must know what his goal is, the tools in his hands, and the nature of the material or environment at his disposal. All then depends on the limits of the person’s imagination and skill. For the player, one of the first steps in answering their question is provided just by sitting in front of the screen and picking up the controller. The person will know that they are entering a world of completely intelligent (we presume) design, where rules are clear, causes and their effects are consistent, and the experience is fluid and responsive, in order to fulfil some kind of desire, be it for pleasure, entertainment, or training of competitive skill. “Where am I? What am I - and what can I do?”, the player must ask. They’ll have some idea already, if the game’s box art is any indication of its contents. “What should I do?”, the player will then ask. If the game is complete, then the purpose of their quest - their objective - will be conveyed to them in a clear manner. Whether that’s through slick dialogue, voice acting, button prompts, or a badly-animated rap routine is not important; all that matters primarily is that the player is given a goal. These three questions are equally crucial in the realm of level design, and their answers depend entirely on what game - and what player - is at hand. Say, for example, a developer wants to put together a game based around magic, survival/horror, and RPG mechanics in a world inspired by that of Dracula. Depending on the tools available, that could become one of two games: Castlevania, or Dark Souls - or something else entirely. Isn’t it amazing how such little information can lead to such vastly different, though similarly acclaimed products? And yet - these two games share some really interesting parallels beyond their thematic similarities - in particular, the way their worlds are designed and how the player traverses them. Both consist of, in essence, a single, continuous game world that progresses in a linear or semi-linear fashion, tied to the unlocking of new abilities, item hunting, enemy encounters and difficulty modifiers, and which provides replay value through the opening up of alternate routes in old sections with new abilities, or new strategies once enemies have been identified and understood. This style of game is not exactly new - the Metroidvania formula is at the foundation of many successful video game series; push your limits, learn the enemies’ patterns, die a lot, defeat them, level up armor, weapons, and items, save, and repeat until you’re burned a hole in the couch. One might think that such a common formula would be incredibly limiting - if, as I’ll admit, form follows function, will not every game that attempts to use it boil down to the same, boring, repetitive gameplay? No - this formula benefits from a modular flexibility. It not only allows the players to make their own choices without artificially shunting them along a single route, it also allows the designers the most amount of freedom - it also gives them the most rope to hang themselves with. By that I mean the type of mechanics implemented in the final design can be done in all kinds of different ways, all of which require a different style of game, combat/progression and subsequent level design that allow for the player to learn the ropes, evolve his strategy, face challenges, and ultimately win. “Repetition is actually a boon for a designer who knows how to wield its potential. It can create a beautiful dynamic where the meta for any given game or map evolves over time.” Westin Koessel - Creative Allowance, NLD Original Following from this type of gameplay and progression design, it is therefore essential that the levels change the kinds of challenges the player faces based on the equipment/movement upgrades that are collected along the way - a progression which is determined by the kinds of evolving challenges desired by the game designer, and possible within the game’s engine. Indeed, some challenges may even be presented as nothing more than a choice of how to destroy a wall, or enemy - or as thought-provoking as a choice between two wider narrative arcs and level progressions - the possibilities end where your GPU does. It is then the task of the Level Designer, if they are different people, to engrain this loop in the levels a player explores, in an interesting and consistent way. Of course, just because your game implements a basic Metroidvania progression system and a lot of content doesn’t mean that it’ll be successful. Successful variations on this theme don’t throw the kitchen sink at the player, either in the art department, or in the gameplay department. Even such far-reaching takes on the formula as the recent Dead Cells, with its expansive variabilities in weapon combinations and player strategies, provide a severely limited player experience: every playthrough is on the same set of repeated levels, with the same enemies, and generally the same difficulty. But that repetitive structure is exactly why Dead Cells shines. Not only can the levels be completed in whatever order the player chooses, based on the unlocked abilities and re-acquired weapons they have at their disposal (after hours of obsessive replay), but the levels themselves are never quite the same, procedurally generated around the level’s theme, using milestones that the player must remember and actively look for in every new playthrough; there may be a ton of notes to play, but it’s all neatly packed and layered like the overlapping, iterative themes from a Baroque Fugue. With such an approach, the Game Designer and Level Designer force the player to think on his feet, not memorize inputs or formulas; the player must sight-read to the best of his ability. And to that point - in the most successful variations of the Metroidvania genre, each new challenge offered in the gameplay loop is clearly telegraphed by colors/lights, sounds, the type of attacks the enemies use, or just the distance between platforms, all within a clearly-defined and consistent visual language; environmental cues and AI behavior do as much to provide the rules of the game to the player as the controller schematic in the user manual. This principle holds for every kind of game out there, and I hope to show, in greater detail, just how important this is in creating a functional and compelling* level. Think back to the first questions that the player asks when entering a game world . What if the last question was instead: "What the hell am I supposed to do?" This question represents a profound surrender on the part of the player - assuming the player is otherwise intelligent and aware, it's utterance would represent a failure of the Level's Design, if not the Game's Design as a whole, because the player has no apparent choice. Imagine if you were to play a game, and the controller were suddenly ripped from your hands, and your path chosen for you. Is this fun? Is not choice a key component of life as a human being, in general? Why rip that away from an activity based entirely around distilling that facet of the Human experience and existence? So, before moving on, I’ll briefly sum up my premises once more: In a video game, everything ought to be understandable and clear in the context of the game’s universe and purpose, because the whole point of entering the game’s Meta-Reality is to complete the quest, story, or challenge with the tools at hand. Games use Sandboxes - collections of rules, moves, tools, that provide the most basic level of interactivity within game’s world. The Sandbox is the product of the gameplay designers, the writers, artists, and anyone else involved in the game’s conception and development. For the sake of simplicity, we assume this Sandbox is cohesive and well-designed; ‘Sandbox’ can just as easily be used to describe the game world itself, since this contain that set of rules, moves & tools. It is the job of the Level Designer to not only provide an engaging environment for the player to play in, but also to provide options to the player based on the sum of cues and abilities that the Sandbox provides him. So - regardless of genre, by providing a consistent set of rules, moves, reactions/cues, etc... the game designer is not only able to tell the player what they are, but also where they are - and through careful consideration of these rules and moves, the level designer can effectively convey what the player can and/or should do in the pursuit of their objective. In this way, the Level Designer provides not just a pretty experience, or an interesting experience, or even a compelling experience - but a meaningful experience. Please join me next time when I dive deeper into the Metaphysical Projections involved in Level Design! ❤️ icyhot // Just a couple things in addendum: First, I am well aware that a game’s Sandbox and challenges may be dictated by the changing art direction, character, or theme during the development cycle. This is a given - the Sandbox is derivative of the game designer's purpose, just as the Level Designs are derivative of the finalized Sandbox Design. This does not affect my ultimate aim, nor will it change any of the principles I derive - if anything, it will strengthen many of the points I will make. To keep things simple, for the purposes of this series I will rely largely on fully fleshed-out sandboxes, so as to more accurately address the task of the Level Designer within such an environment - in particular, on his role in the Multiplayer FPS. I will, however, address the issue of broken sandboxes, or sandboxes which are incomplete or badly designed, using key examples from Halo 5 Guardians and other Halo titles. Second, I have a particular philosophical idea about what leads to and what makes good gameplay in a competitive FPS, which I will touch on briefly in the coming installments of this series, and will elucidate in a separate piece. Contained in the following footnote is a taste of that. I will also explore some of the reasons why AAA shooter games are being made the way they are today - this will cover business, marketing, art, themes, story, gameplay loops, and fandoms. Who the hell am I, anyway? BA/BA Philosophy / French Intellectual History Portfolio: Forgehub Map Posts: Twitter (don't post, ever): YouTube "presence" - sorry about the low resolution:
  6. Is a game really just a game? Or is it something more? In this thought provoking video, Westin Koessel explores these questions, sharing his thoughts on the true impact of games, and the accompanying responsibility designers have to make games built upon a foundation of integrity. *Note: This video has been removed by the creator Follow Westin Youtube: Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord:
  7. We're overjoyed to bring you our very first Next Level Design interview with Max Pears, a level designer who's been in the gaming industry for several years. Sit down and relax as you read through our conversation with the Level Design Lobby founder, learning about his gaming background from childhood to present day. In the process you'll get to know him, and learn about what has motivated him to share his knowledge and experiences with his fellow level and game designers. NLD: Let's start at the beginning. What was your youth like? What sort of hobbies and activities did you participate in when you were growing up? Max: My life before games was the same as many to be honest. I played games a lot, I did quite a bit of theatre, played basketball but due to the fact that I’m very small the career never kicked off aha. NLD: Sadly, I can relate... Obviously gaming became an interest for you at some point along the way. Do you have any particular memories around gaming from your childhood? Max: Games have always been a big part of my life. My father was a huge gamer before me and he will always tell me this story: When the PlayStation 1 first came out he was unable to reserve the console, but he was put on a list for those who would be notified if any would be spare. He gets a call around lunchtime from a store informing him they have one but he needs to arrive ASAP or it would be sold. With this information he tells his boss that he has to leave early as me and my brother were sick (a total lie) in order to get the PlayStation, ahaha that always makes me laugh but it just shows how they have always been there. NLD: Do you remember when and why you started thinking about game design and level design? Max: I knew I wanted to get into games at a very young age. I used to walk around school with game guides and read them when I got a chance (please kids don't read them during class though). I had part time jobs as a paper boy, shop assistant and kitchen porter, but I knew I always wanted to make video games. The first game which inspired me was Metal Gear Solid. One of my most vivid memories was running up the stairs as a child to see my dad and uncle playing it. At the time, seeing a robot ninja, it blew me away. Not only that, but seeing how my dad pressed a button and then it having an effect, it was incredible. Ever since that game I was hooked, and played as much as I could. What drew me to making games was that feeling I got when playing a game - how it can take you on an emotional roller-coaster. One minute relaxed, as you have a sense of awe when being transported to other worlds you might not have been able to imagine. To then feeling your whole body tense with tension as you try frantically to solve a puzzle or beat a boss. I always felt games were the medium that could truly reach us like no other. Ever since that, I have been trying to make others feel like this, trying to emotionally connect players to the games that I make. NLD: Speaking of the games you make... Eventually you made it, obviously - you got into the gaming industry. What kind of projects have you worked on so far, and has it lived up to your expectations? Max: Yeah, for those who do not know me (which I imagine is quite a lot), I have been making games professionally now for over 5 years, coming up on 6. I have worked on a range of titles from Mobile, Augmented Reality, indie, and now currently AAA. Truly for such a short span of a career it’s been great fun to work and do all of these amazing projects as each one has many things to learn and get better from. The first game I shipped was a game called High Rise - it was for Mobile platform, in which players had a crane that moved left to right and players had to tap the screen in order to time when to stack the blocks to build the highest tower. My last released project was the DLC for Ubisofts The Division called Division Undergorund. As you can see that they are very different games. Funny when you look back as for every game there are many lessons you take away and other things you wish you could add or even finish for those games. NLD: Wow, that IS an interesting mix of games, and it sounds like you've learned a lot from them. Here at Next Level Design, we first became aware of you through your work on the Youtube channel Level Design Lobby. What is the channel all about, and what possessed you to start it? Max: Level design lobby, yes that is the name of my podcast and it’s been going on for over a year now which I’m really proud of, and people seem to be enjoying it which makes me happy. I started the podcast for a couple of reasons. One is because there is so many lessons which I have learnt, and it is hard to keep in my head so it is my own personal journal which I can look back to when I make a game (despite me never really getting comfortable with my own voice aha). The second reason is that I find there is not many resources about level or games design and even less from actual professionals who have worked on games. Which is why I like your site mate, you have a brilliant place for all of us to visit and learn from so thank you for putting it all together my man. But yes, so when I was trying to break into the industry a lot of conferences focused on art and animation, as to be honest they are much easier on the eyes and easier to understand from a visual perspective. So this is my way to give back to those who want to break into the industry. Level Design Lobby - Ep 31: Core Mechanics This has been one of my personal favorite episodes to record so I hope you love it as much as I did creating it. I break down how to make a core mechanic important to your game design. Looking into ways to make it memorable to the players. As I take a deep dive into two fantastic mechanics we can all learn from. NLD: Are there any subjects you’d like to cover on Level Design Lobby that you haven’t had the opportunity to get to yet? Max: Yes, I am excited as I am going to be doing deep dives into levels more in which I select a level from a game and while playing it I will start to deconstruct it. They will be coming to twitch and youtube shortly. NLD: Fantastic! Max, thank you very much letting us get to know you. We can't wait to see what the future brings for Level Design Lobby. Follow Level Design Lobby Youtube: Spotify: Follow Max Website: Twitter:
  8. Introduction Why was your first time in a Destiny raid remarkably more exciting than your last? Some would cite Destiny's 'feel' juxtaposed with the franchises notoriously shallow systems as the culprit for the dopaminergic delta. Some would hearken back to the good ol' days of Destiny, when raids like the Vault of Glass were apparently just 'better' than they are now. Others might even blame our inevitable disappointment on the games so-called 'overreliance' on repetition. Whatever you think the reason is, I'm here to tell you why I probably disagree. Not just about Destiny, but more specifically about the real reason any game stagnates. The best design never makes a choice for the player. Get it? No? Okay. I'll do my best to explain why this is relevant as simply as I can. If there exists an invariably 'correct' way to play a raid, or game, or class, or even map, the player is subsequently robbed of his/her free choice and only needs to acquiesce to succeed. As long as one or even multiple predetermined ideas are forced on a player, the player is not an influential factor. He's just a warm body, on his way to the factory we call 'modern video game design' to pull a lever the very same way he pulled it yesterday. Yes, some are better and more efficient at pulling that lever than others, but that's why things get stale. That's the real reason Destiny raids aren't as fun as they once were. When you load up a raid, and you're killing a big ass knight for the 30'th time, what are the quantifiable differences between this run and your first? Well, for starters, you've already killed this boss. As I stated earlier, Some will likely argue the point of repetition, so I'll preemptively indulge. Repetition is only detrimental if every cycle is the same as the one before it. To quote a famous Romanian level designer, your map only starts to stagnate when it's played the same way over and over. Repetition is actually a boon for a designer who knows how to wield its potential. It can create a beautiful dynamic where the meta for any given game or map evolves over time. It's rare, but I've seen it. Rocket League and Melee come to mind. That's why we can't blame stagnation on reiteration alone. The foundational design theory of an experience is what matters, and I can give some examples. Imagine you're going to play The Vault of Glass. Right off the start, you have to activate and defend 3 spires by standing in them, and deterring enemies from resetting your progress. That's it. There aren't any exceptions. Once your team has figured out what Bungie wanted you to do, that's the end of your neural activity. From then on, it's muscle memory training. In a couple weeks (if that) you will have experienced everything the raid has to offer, because every encounter passed that is designed the exact same way. Even if execution is incredibly hard, you know what to do. There is no more exploration, there is no more theory crafting. You stand here, and if you die, you change nothing and do it again. See what I mean? Good Design doesn't force these choices on people. If these encounters were designed differently, they could potentially evolve and hold replay value over long periods of time as people discover and create new strategies, as well as potentially new areas via similarly open-ended levels. Cooldowns & Systems First of all, cooldowns are a silly way to balance something. You can't give an ability integrity just by slapping on an arbitrary 14 second timer. As far as the grand scheme of a game goes, cooldowns DO balance the overall pacing and predictability of any given title. In that way, a game like Overwatch is balanced. On the other hand, you can't take something that's over-rewarding and make it okay just by making it rare. If it's stupid, it's stupid. Could one consider a tactical nuke 'balanced' if you gave it a 1 minute long cooldown? No? How about 10 minutes? It doesn't matter. If it's better than it is hard, then it's not right. In the very same way, the multitude of 'I win' buttons in games like Overwatch and Destiny aren't balanced. I don't care how long you have to wait between uses. Inversely, If a mechanic has integrity, it doesn't necessarily need a timer. This isn't to say that I think you should be able to spam everything all the time. That's not the point. The point is that you could design abilities in a way that allows the player to choose between them, which is intentionally allocated space for creativity. Systems, on the other hand, are often packaged and communicated by the developer in a way that makes us think we have creative control. A designer will say something like 'you can do x' as if you're being allowed the freedom to do 'x', when in reality, the system was designed in a way that the only choice you have is 'x'. Things like the ability to meat shield in Gears of War 4, the ability to spartan charge in Halo after sprinting, or vaulting in PUBG come to mind. They were designed to seem like you can do more, when in reality, if anything, your options have decreased after implementation. In the same way, the lead level designer for God of War admitted to 'tricking' the player into feeling like he could explore, when in reality he knew you couldn't. Faux design is everywhere, and it all wants to look like the real thing. Is it deep, or convoluted? Let's look at a game like World of Warcraft. I often hear WoW combat referred to as one of the deepest gameplay loops of all time, but is it? I don't really think so anymore. While It took me years of playing the game to realize, WoW eventually fell right under the category of design theory I'll start calling 'predeterminism.' Once you learn every ability, every quirk, and get proficient at every ability and even every class (barring how ridiculously long this takes) it becomes apparent. Especially in the highest level of pvp. The best players literally always know what the other player is about to do. Every pro match could be boiled down to players who are all excellent at their ability 'rotations' and excellent at punishing mistakes in those rotations. That's how players win games. They don't 'make plays' because the game won't allow them to. They simply have to manage what they have better than the other team, and pounce when the opposition makes a mistake. There are no 'surprises' at even the highest level of play, because the game is just that limiting. It still takes a tremendous amount of skill because of just how many things you have to track, but at the end of the day, that's convoluted. It's hard, and impressive, but convoluted. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, there is absolutely no overlap in utility within the sandbox of abilites. For example, every class has an 'interrupt' ability that literally only interrupts casts. Multiply this straightforward utility times 30 or 40 and you have a class in WoW. Some abilites do damage, some are defensive, whatever. This system means that I'm never actually presented with many real choices. If I want to interrupt someone, I press interrupt. Combine this system with a game where there is no aiming, and only an effectively 2d space, and you actually end up with a super shallow and thought discouraging game that usually rewards the person who has put himself through more hours than the other person just to learn how to 'play correctly.' Intentionality & Player Creativity With those many examples in mind, you may be asking yourself how one might go about preventing 'predeterminism' within his/her map or game, and maybe more importantly, how can one design with intent and still allow for individual creativity? To be frank, I'm still trying to figure this one out myself. I have ideas, some even well implemented and successful, but this is an incredibly hard thing to nail down into one sentence, although I am positive that such a sentence could exist. For now, I will try my best to provide pointers and examples. First of all, you need to build your map or game from the ground up with merit serving as your standardized currency. If you want something that's crazy powerful, that's fine, just make sure it's crazy hard. If you commit to this philosophy, you are paving the way for true creativity to shine, because no matter what insane things people eventually come up with, you can bet it will be hard to compensate and that you won't have to touch it. And remember, adding a cooldown to something that isn't balanced doesn't actually mend your design, it just makes that unbalanced ability happen less. Second of all, you do need to design counters within your map or sandbox. This might sound contradictory, but creativity only exists and is only necessary within set limitations. The trick is to just never force a player into using your predetermined and intentionally designed counters. If the only way to succeed in any given situation is to simply obey the design, you've gone too far. Third of all, you need utility overlap. If every part of your map, or every ability, or every weapon in your game only serves one purpose, then the player doesn't really get to think any more than 'this does this.' There's no choice, contemplation, or forward thinking. Imagine a gun that also knocks you backwards when you shoot it, which would overlap movement and offensive utility. Fourth of all, keep it simple. While the phrase 'easy to learn, hard to master' is overused at this point, it still rings true as the ultimate goal. If you design a simple, open ended toolkit that only limits the player by what his own ability allows, then you don't have to worry about adding artificial depth via complications, cooldowns, or gameplay systems. Lastly, always allow for the potential of swift counter-play. People constantly cite the longer kill times in Halo as the reason for the good players ability to turn the tides of a seemingly lost battle through sheer skill, but that idea has been long since debunked. What really allows a good player to turn on an enemy, or even take out multiple enemies, is the potential for brevity. In Halo's case, the magnums perfect time to kill compared to its average time to kill is the source of this potential, along with the ability to dodge bullets. It doesn't matter how long or short fights are, what matters is that I can kill you faster than you can kill me, if I play better than you. Apply this theory to everything, including counter play opportunities in level design. If I'm good enough at something, I should be able to do it quickly, or at least faster than someone else. Conclusion Once players learn the "right" way to play an encounter, a map, a class, or game, there is no longer any room for creative thought. The highest level will revolve around executing the already present and built in "correct" way to play. To avoid this, balance your design with player merit as your proverbial currency, create overlap in utility within your sandbox, and allow for swift counter-play. The best design never makes a choice for the player, but rather presents choice. We are facilitators, not dictators. Follow Westin Youtube: Twitter: Website: Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: Follow us on Twitter: Discuss on Discord: