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  1. Hello all of you fantastic and wonderful people, I am BACK! I just want to say thank you all so much for the support and kind words from part 1 of my article. Great to see that many of you enjoyed it and feel like you have learnt something from it, but we can not linger in the past, instead we must look forward to the second part of what makes good level design for combat. Introduction In the first part, I discussed how important it is for you to understand your metrics, scale, weapon, etc. All this planning helps you to create great levels, now that we have an understanding of these crucial elements, it is on us as LDs to crafts spaces that players can have a great amount of fun and enjoyment with. In this article I will be breaking down the next steps of the process of the 2d design, then looking at a level I created and breaking down what I think made it a good level for combat. Pre-production - Research Now that we have gathered all the useful information to help us we need to move through to the research stage of our level design. This stage can not and should not be skipped, it is crucial to not only making a good level but also a believable level (A quick side tangent, always keep in mind and to quote my friend Stuart Scott we are creating ‘Believable not realistic spaces’ meaning we do have creative freedom within our levels) Now you will be set a location for your level, this could be a castle, maybe a hotel or even a space station. Regardless of what that location may be you will need to make sure that you have an understanding of how these spaces work such as: What rooms do this area normally contain? Where is the toilet? How do people interact with this location before the player arrives? How does it connect to other spaces? What is its architectural style? Where can you find this location? Which country is this location located? And other such questions, in order to answer these then you must first do research. You can do this by googling pictures, then entering google maps to find a real life example, you can start to see how the location looks in real life. Videos are also a great help, or there might even be an example in other games. I strongly recommend of gathering not just images of the location but also floor plans as well. The reason for this is it helps you see the overall picture of a location as well as how some typically look. Not only that but this is a great starting point for your own level, as you can use this as a basis for your level. Even better with this, you can not start to see which rooms in a floor plan can be kept, removed or altered. Maybe there are too many rooms that are dead ends which do not give a good loop for combat, or there are not enough spaces for hidden loot, well now you can tweak these in your floor plan but still keep that location based in reality. From doing your research not only will you have a basic understanding of how the locations flows together but you can grasp the theme of location, how it looks at certain times of days, How it will look if it is abandoned or when it is fully functional. Now the gathering resources is in full motion, you can use many different cool tools to store them, from it either being a folder on your computer or Pinterest or Google Docs as long as you have easy ways to access your files that is the most important thing. It is important because you will need to make sure you have access to them while creating your level to constantly reference. Yet it is not only important for your beautiful LD eyes but it will come in handy in reviews, so that when leads or directors are checking your work they can see why it looks the way it does but also helps them understand how you got to this layout and why, also this will really help your teammates in Enviro Art so they can get a much more vivid vision of how the location should look. As for example you may be asked to build a level set in a church, but this church is built in a Latin community. Yet when I think of a church I visualize a huge Gothic church in the shape of a cross, but that would never fit inside a Latin community. By doing your research you can see how different areas and communities view the same space, making sure you create more authentic and believable spaces. Once you have gathered enough references (50 images minimum in my opinion) you can start to move to the next step. Pre-production - 2d Map One of the most commonly asked questions I receive is “Max should I do 2d maps, is that the right way?” now for me the answer is yes. I used to do them and then stopped and just jumped straight into the blockout, but I noticed that my quality of my work decrease as well as it taking longer when staring at that ominous blank screen. There are many reasons I believe 2d sketches to be important, such as: Quicker to start work on blockout Easier to address feedback Allows you to see the flaws quicker Helps you go through multiple iterations before choosing and starting a blockout Now I know some of my other friends and other designers I have met use Google Sketch-Up before creating their blockout as it helps get a better sense of scale. Honestly both are great, the point you should take away from this section is that you need to plan before your blockout. People also feel that when they do a 2d map or a form of planning they feel that they are trapped? I put a ‘?’ because you should not. This is a plan meaning this can and should change, this is your starting point! Meaning that you can and must make changes as you see fit, I even did this in a recent level I made, do not be afraid to change from your plan if it does not feel right. Now with these points added to your pipeline of level creation we are going to do a break down of a combat level I created and break it down. (Before we do this though, do make sure to check out this great article which is fantastic for what to think about when creating your levels and brings forth some additional points on things to consider when making your levels) Case Study - Part 1 Okay, you now know how important pre-production is to your level, we are now going to get to the sexy part, which is the level itself. I created a small combat level for a task, now we will be breaking down the level and showing what I believe helps make this level good for combat. Quick side note, all of those documents in part one were my design rules and metrics and those were what I was referring to when I created my level. This level was not built or set on any particular location, we had a week to create Three combat spaces, so there is no reference images, just more of me creating a space that felt right. With no research I had my restrictions for space of 30x30m as well I could only use five enemies, with cover spacing of 2m and with that I created my 2d map. As you can see, it is not the prettiest of sketches but it gets the job done. It is very important when you do a sketch that you do use grid paper. The reason for this that you can get a sense of scale as well when it comes to putting it in the editor it you can translate the cube on the paper for 1m and use that to block out your level in the editor. When creating the level (and hopefully you can see this) that I wanted essentially split the space into quarters, so that the player could feel a difference in each section, but also feel a sense of progression. Quartering the level allowed me to reveal information to the player slowly, not just throwing them into the middle of a battle ground. It allows the player to focus on the task at hand, before showing more slowly, also by hiding certain information from the player it also plays to their disadvantage making the challenge feel even stronger. Another reason I was splitting up the space is the fact that it can and will reduce Long lines of sight. This way it forces players to move through the space in order to engage in combat, while also making them move to get an understanding of how the space is connected. Part of how I quarter the level is by dividing the space between interior and exterior spaces, most of the right hand side is set in the interior space, while the left hand space is kept in the open space to the exterior. This is handy for combat as players will have a different feel in each of the spaces. Exterior - players will have bigger spaces to engage in combat, having flanking opportunities, as well as having a larger line of sight to deal with and keep an eye on as enemies progress. Interior - players will be kept in a much more narrow space forcing them to focus on the front of combat as they battle with the enemies to move forward. Not only is this designed to have a visual separation but also designed like this to provide a number of ways in which players have to deal with the different encounters as well, making the space feel different too. You have now seen why I have decided to quarter the layout but it would not be much of a plan if I did not think about how the enemies occupy this space. Here is the plan I had for my enemies in the space as well: (The enemies are the Red Diamonds with the giant E, inside them. While the player is the Green Circle, with the P inside it) Before I jump to why I have placed the enemies in this position I want to talk about the players position first. This is sometimes an oversight when designing a level but trust me when I say, how the player first sees the level will inform how they play your level. One of the biggest/basic mistakes I see in beginners work is that the designer places the player facing the wrong direction, so make sure you place the players avatar facing the direction you want them to move towards. Look at how Mario always faces the right as players must move right. With that same context I have it so my player faces forward leading them towards the window and to the turning on the left (we will break down why that is important later) but a big reason why I have placed the player a bit away from enemies is for safety. Players can start my level without feeling pressure right away. Allowing them to find their bearing before entering combat. Switching gears now, we will look at enemy placement, now I have only showed you their starting off placement not their patrol route. We will talk about their route when it comes to the blockout phase. One of the key things I have tried to do here is that I have tried to hide enemies from the players initial view. If you look at both the top right and bottom left, there are two enemies in each section, yet only one is visible in the players initial LoS. The reason behind this is: To surprise the player, this way it keeps the engagement interesting Reward the players who do not go in guns blazing, those who strategize and truly take in the level will be able to not be caught off guard. Conclusion From this article I hope you have understood the importance of research and planning, this is a necessary stage to make great levels, as well as seeing some questions you should as yourself as you start working on your level. Always make sure to build up a library of references because the more you know the more authentic and believable your space will become. Floor plans are a great place to start when it comes to creating your own 2d maps, as you can use them to help ground your level or even the foundation of your own level. 2d maps don’t need to be art, as long as it is understandable and makes sense then that is the most important thing. Plan the position of your player and your enemies as that will help you get an even better understanding of how the level will actually flow with your objectives. I was planning for us to start looking over the blockout of the level but honestly I think it has turned out better that we have focused solely on the planning phase of development. Because now you can understand how important it is, as well as see my thought process when creating this level. Next will be the concluding part of this mini-series on making a combat level. I did not want to explain all of my design choices in this post as you will see in the next part that some of changed, but also I believe it will be better to see them within the level I have built. Please Support Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this, hope you have found it useful. If you do want to hear more about my thoughts on level design, then please checkout my podcast: iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K Read Part 3 Here: Follow Max Level Design Lobby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCncCrL2AVwpp7NJEG2lhG9Q Website: http://www.maxpears.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxPears 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. In this article, Toby Gard introduces the fundamentals behind the design of story-driven levels. While consideration of the gameplay is axiomatic to any successful level design, the inclusion of story elements - characters, objects, pacing, emotional tone, and narrative theme, to name a few - adds a whole new dimension to the process, specifically in the form of cross-team collaboration. Artists, composers, writers, coders, designers all have a hand in the design process, a little bit like the making of a film. Of course, anyone who has worked collaboratively knows that this type of situation can go south, quickly - Gard is aware, and provides creative solutions with solid reasoning. He also blocks out a simple, yet detailed approach to the psychological buttons a good story-driven level will be pushing (and why), while providing useful concretes, in the form of a Street Fighter-esque Zombie escape level, to help the reader imagine how the principles discussed might affect similar areas in their own endeavors.Intro: DelegationDifferent people have different approaches to delegating design responsibilities.I have seen creative directors who seem to have no vision of their own but merely act as filters through which their team's ideas are strained.I have also seen creative directors who form a rough image of what they want in their heads and then delegate the design to their team after loosely describing it to them. Inevitably the team then repeatedly fail to deliver his expected "right" solution. A better approach than searching for mind-reading designers, is for the creative leads to express clearly both what they want and where the flexibility is, so that their team can know how to take ownership without getting lost in the creative wilds.I believe that balance is achieved when an unwavering core vision is delivered to the team (based on the whole team's input and feedback) and then responsibilities are delegated with clearly defined parameters for success.This first article describes stage 1 of a process that does just that, based on the methods that I have found the most successful.The process attempts to balance to a healthy amount of creative freedom and ownership for a level team, while keeping a structured vision in place by defining what details are essential to work out first and communicate to the team and what parts are better to be delegated with success criteria.The steps that the entire process describes can be just as useful for an individual designer regardless of the level of delegation expected to occur.Since every project has its own needs and team structure, this process is unlikely to translate exactly for you. However, many of the concepts can be adapted for just about any story-centric game.Stage 1: Level Flow DiagramsThe first step in the clear communication of vision for level design is delivering the Level Flow Diagram.There are four sources from which the high level design plan should be drawn: Motivation - What am I doing here?Like any good scene or chapter from a book, the conflict and resolution of a level should be born from the main character's motivations. This is why the character's motivations should always be clear to the player or they will feel lost and directionless.These motivations translate into game objectives such as "find the man who killed your lover" or more simply, "kill Boss 5 of 10". The strongest objectives are ones where character and player motivations are in alignment.It is not enough to simply state the objective or motivation of a character if you want to create alignment. You also need to make it matter to the player if you want them to become invested in it.For instance, showing through cut scenes that the main character hates a boss enemy, while letting the player know they must kill that boss to progress, results in a much weaker alignment than giving the player reason to hate that boss enemy. If that boss enemy betrays the player after the player has come to trust him or if he takes something from the player (for instance by killing an NPC that the player has come to care about) then the player and the character will both have a real reason to hate him.The time it takes to setup player motivation is why it is so hard to align player motivation and character motivation in an opening cut scene.Often you have no choice but to state the character motivations right at the beginning, in which case the player will only have an intellectual rather than emotional alignment with him or her.To strengthen that alignment through the game, the motivation "I want to bring my girlfriend back to life" must be completely linked to the player objective "Kill the Colossus."If the objectives are not directly related to the motivation (for example, if you spend most of your time being waylaid by endless rat killing quests) then the player will lose sight of the meaning behind their experience and their alignment with the main character's motivation will erode along with their interest in continuing to play.Emotional / Experiential themesIt is during this first phase of the level design that you must choose which of the powerful and interesting set pieces and emotional events that came from the whole team during preproduction brainstorms will make it into the game.These are the high points around which you will fill in the rest of the level design. They are the moments that will define your game in the player's mind and it is crucial that they support or drive your story. The set pieces are high-concept action-oriented ideas such as "escape the burning building" or "find and defuse the four bombs." Set pieces are the basic building blocks for an action heavy game, just as they are for action movies. The challenge is in creating set pieces that haven't been done a dozen times before.The emotionally charged events are the heart of your game -- i.e. looking for survivors of a deserted village, only to find a shocking and disturbing answer to their fates as you enter the town hall.Emotional events have the potential to be more memorable than a set pieces if handled well, but they too require the building of player and character alignment, which makes them harder to pull off.PillarsThe game pillars define the basic things the player can do, so to integrate the cool set pieces and emotional scenes into the level, they must be compatible with the player abilities or they will feel anachronous.The most flexibility will come if the game pillars aren't considered final until all the Level Flow Diagrams have been completed. It is only during the process of picking the things that will actually happen to the player, that you will learn what the player abilities really ought to be and how flexibly you will need to implement them.For instance, if the game is about a jet skiing hacker, then it would be inappropriate to build a set piece around horseback crocheting. Doing so would have to rely heavily either on cutscenes and (shudder) quicktime events or would require specific controls, interface elements and abilities. Apart from being inefficient from a development standpoint to create new abilities for each set piece, they would be also be un-ramped for the player unless you included several such horse riding and crocheting sections, in which case those abilities should have been in the pillars in the first place.FictionRegardless what sort of game you are making there is a story that is almost as important to consider as the main character's; that of the level itself. Whether the player is experiencing an alien invasion, or trying to solve a murder mystery, their level of immersion is almost entirely dependent on your commitment to preserving fiction.The most common mistake made in level design is defining a set of challenges loosely based on a manufactured set of parameters and then trying to set dress them to look like something. This inevitably results in unconvincing, bland and forgettable levels.Despite many protestations from designers who feel shackled by a fiction-heavy approach, the reality is that when you resolve to respect the fiction of a level you inevitably find yourself designing spaces and events that surprise not just the player, but often yourself as well.I will go into this in detail in the second stage of level development called "Building Through Fiction" but for now, all we need is the commitment to ensure that our overall level flow is being defined in a context that can be made fictionally consistent.So no windsurfing on the moon -- however much fun that may sound. Level Flow ElementsSome people make full flow charts of their levels, but I tend to think that's excessively restrictive and not informative at all regarding basic spacial layout.I prefer a level flow that resembles hybrid between a schematic diagram and a simple beat sheet. Tube Map Beat Sheet The goal is not to be exhaustive, but to define the skeleton of the level; the core of it.On average I find that at least half of the final level goals will actually be added by the team during the next stage, so it's important to keep these simple because the level will at least double in complexity from here. If you can't fit the flow on one page, then it is probably too long.The types of elements that you would include will be different depending on the type of game you are making, but the goal is always the same; keep it simple.In this example I used the following:Level StimulusI use these to call out the player's arrival at an area. They serve as the locations on my schematic but also the critical information pieces given to player, during scripted events etc. Player ResponseThe things the player does. These are generally objectives that have been clearly communicated to the player. LocksLocks are the "hard gates" that restrict forward progress in the level until a certain set of criteria are met. (I'm lumping "soft gates" into Player Response for the purposes of this.) KeysThese are status changes either of the world or of the player character that will lead to opening a 'lock' somewhere.Example - Halo: Combat Evolved - Campaign 2, Flawless Cowboy and Reunion TourThis single page schematic actually describes two levels (one campaign) that takes about an hour to complete. Along with this diagram you would include notes that describe the intention behind each element and directly references the four sources from which they were derived. (This is how you define the success criteria for the level team.)MotivationKill the Covenant. Seeing the human fleet and the Pillar of Autumn being shredded in Campaign 1 gives the player enough animosity to last for a game's worth of Covenant killing.PillarsThis would include the focus on introducing the player their first experience with the three-man driving / gunning Warthog gameplay, and the cooperation with AI troops.ThemesReferencing films and other games is a good way to quickly communicate theme. Starship Troopers might be a good example to evoke the feeling of soldiers being overwhelmed by an alien enemy on an alien world.FictionThe level is teaming with touches that infer a great deal about both the larger story and the smaller scale individual stories of the ongoing war:Destroyed escape pods and the bodies of those that did not survive the landing litter the landscape, while debris from the space battle overhead fall through the sky. Each of the pod crash sites suggests the short desperate survival stories of the soldiers Master Chief meets there.*Note: I am in no way suggesting that Halo levels were developed using a method that bears any resemblance to this process. I have no idea how Bungie goes about its level building process. I used this Halo level as an example because it was both well-designed and well-known. I'm using this Halo level as an example because it was well designed and well known.Finishing upOnce a Level Flow Diagram is done, you are still a long way from moving onto the next stage, the handoff to the team.To evaluate a Level Flow Diagram you need to have done the whole game's worth. Only when they are all side by side can you can see how well they fit with each other and how the ebb and flow of gameplay will move from the start to the end of the game.Put them all up on a wall, and you will see where the player is being sidetracked, where a different order of events would make for a better rhythm and where emotional events are happening too early in a game for player and character alignment to have occurred.The secret to making a great story based game is to make the actions of the player be the engine that drives the story, not the other way around.Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are among the most successful stories in video games, yet many say the story elements were minimal. That's not true. The story was everywhere, because the player lives it.Ico was about escape and protection. Every time you managed to coax Yorda closer to escaping from the castle, the story of your struggle for freedom progressed. In Shadow of the Colossus, throughout the game the hero slowly sacrifices not just his own life but the lives of each colossi, in his mad quest to resurrect his love. Protecting a girl and Killing Colossi. The player actions are shaping the story taking the burden off the cutscenes and making the story matter to the player.SummaryLevel Flow Diagrams are the first key communication of Level Design intent to the team.Build Level Flow Diagrams from:• Character motivations• Emotional and experiential set pieces• Player actions as defined in the game pillars• The environment's own fictionUse minimal elements to draw the diagram, and represent only the main events.Keep it to one page.Ensure you are driving story through player action. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132714/action_adventure_level_design_.php Follow TobyWebsite: www.focalpointgames.comTwitter: https://twitter.com/mechabadger Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  3. So begins an interview between MP1st and Niclas Astrand, the desiger of Canals. The initial questions seek to understand how and why the map made it into the game. Next comes a question on the general approach to level development that was used. Was the popularity of Canals expected? And some final thoughts from Niclas: Source: https://mp1st.com/features/battlefield-best-tdm-map-and-how-it-was-made
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