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  1. Follow Chris Website: http://www.pfbstudios.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/Totter87 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. 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
  3. This article from Pluralsight aims to teach designers how to create levels that keep players engaged. The article is organized into the following 5 sections: Plan out your levels Lead the player Vary the scenery Reward the player Test the level What follows is a brief portion of the article. Follow the link at the end to read the full article. Plan out Your Levels Lead the Player Vary the Scenery Reward the Player Test the Level Source: https://www.pluralsight.com/blog/film-games/keeping-players-engaged-tips-great-game-level-design Follow Pluralsight Website: https://www.pluralsight.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/pluralsight?ref_src=twsrc^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/pluralsight 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. I’ve been constantly updating and tweaking this “bible” for years. Some of it is informed from previous games I worked on, talks, articles but mostly just experience building levels. I’m constantly learning about the world of level design, and what is detailed below may one day be outdated, irrelevant or otherwise but, for now, consider this a small compendium of terminology we use day-to-day in level design and game development. Themes Themes help define a level and give it an identity within the context of the game. A level should be comprised of a dominant theme which drives its development but may contain several sub-themes within the environment to help define key locations or events. Dominant Themes The dominant theme is the key element driving the player’s emotional investment in the level. It helps inform all elements of a level from environment and atmosphere to game mechanics and audio. A great theme can be described in a single sentence e.g. “Oh that level with the exploding planet!”, “The level with the Scorpion boss fight!” etc. In Uncharted 2, “Mission 16 – Where Am I?” is often referred to as “The village level”. In this case, the unique experience is that you spend a lot of time stuck in a Tibetan village, slowly walking around interacting with civilians. In an action game like Uncharted 2, this really stuck out and became a memorable experience. Some examples of results derived from level themes might be: I want the player to feel like a hero! I want the player to feel anxious and tense. I want the player to feel terrified! I want the player to feel clever. Sub-Themes While dominant themes are used to define entire levels, sub-themes are used to define areas and events within the individual levels themselves. In multiplayer levels, sub-themes are used to define key areas of the level and create spacial-awareness for players. E.g. “I’m in the refinery”, “The enemy is in the lightning nebula”. By defining each space uniquely, players can derive a better understanding of the level more quickly. While sub-themes can be reused across levels, a poor dominant theme is exemplified by levels that can share the same description e.g. “The space level”. In a space-sim like Star Citizen for example, this is not a good use of theming. It’s perfectly acceptable for ten levels to all be set in space, but they must each have another unique theme that separates them from one another. Pacing Narrative driven games all exhibit some sense of pacing. The goal for teams developing narrative games is to ensure that that pacing “graph” is understood and utilised to effectively hold the players attention, accentuate moods and deliver engaging experiences. A basic example of pacing might be: an exciting, action packed sequence such as a vehicle chase being followed by some downtime, such as a puzzle or exploration sequence, before ramping up into a combat sequence. The two “high tempo” moments (chase and combat) are emphasised thanks to the “low tempo” break in between them. In single player levels, themes are used to help craft the sense of pacing. If your chapter ends with a massive, exciting boss fight, you might want to start the chapter slowly. Tight, narrow corridors and claustrophobic environments would help deliver that slow experience, and would really contrast against the exciting battle at the end, emphasising the action. Signposting Levels should be set up to allow the player to quickly orient themselves within the environment. This can be achieved through signposting, which involves setting up structures around the level that act as landmarks for the player. In multiplayer levels signposting is crucial, as players will want to learn layouts as quickly as possible so they can focus fully on fighting other players without worrying about getting lost or confused. It also improves communication between players when they have points of reference to describe to one another. In single player levels, the player’s next goal or destination should be signposted to help guide the player. It should be visible enough to reduce frustration but shouldn’t remove the sense of exploration and challenge. If the player is challenged with uncovering the route, then the steps to achieve this can be signposted through lighting, audio or clever game mechanics. “Show Don’t Tell”: This concept should apply to any challenge placed before the player, including exploration. The player should always be aware of their current objective and have an understanding of what they need to achieve, but the steps involved in achieving it are theirs to discover. We help the player to solve these challenges through aids such as signposting. By placing unique structures at key locations around a level we can introduce a basic concept of “signposting”. “Weenies” are distant landmarks that indicate the direction and composition of a goal. The term was coined by engineers working on Walt Disney World, and was used to refer to buildings that stand above all the others and draw the eye of visitors, enticing them to new areas of the park. “Denial spaces” are an architectural concept where the distant goal or “weenie” is lost to the player or obscured. These make reaching the goal more rewarding and the route there more interesting. “Hero Props” are the key structures within a level and can often also be “Weenies”. These usually involve the most work to get right from both art and design. A “Hero Prop” is typically budgeted higher than other structures in a level. Examples include the Mammoth vehicle in Halo 4’s “Reclaimer” mission or the dam generator in Crysis 3’s “Dam” level. Other points of interest in a level can even be developed solely through unique use of lighting and audio. Use these to draw the player’s attention by combining them with scene composition to indicate waypoints and goals. Changing the lighting and atmosphere of a familiar area can also make it distinct and unique within a level, which helps asset reuse and budgets. Level Boundaries Level boundaries are split into two types: Hard Boundaries and Soft Boundaries. Hard Boundaries Hard Boundaries are physical walls or obstructions that prevent the player from leaving the level. They are easier to understand from a player’s perspective but they add to a levels sense of confinement and restrictiveness. Soft Boundaries Soft Boundaries are traditionally found in open levels such as in space-sims or multiplayer levels in games such “Battlefield”. When the player steps over an invisible boundary they are presented with a message informing them to return to the playable area. Vistas Vistas are observation points in a level that give the player a sprawling view of an interesting landscape. These landscapes can be inside or outside the playable area Inside Playable Area A vista that looks out across a playable area may help the player see gameplay opportunities, story events or objectives. These are empowering moments for players and allow them the opportunity to obtain foresight of new encounters and develop tactical strategies ahead of time. They can also be considered “vantage” points. Playable area vistas should also show the player multiple route options through a space while also hiding areas you want the player to uncover and explore. Vistas within the gameplay space can also be used to compose moments of narrative storytelling for the player to observe without having to force the player camera out of the player’s control. Outside Playable Area Vistas that look out to non-playable space are usually intended to create a spectacular moment or “wow” moment within a level. These can be utilised to enhance moments of “downtime” within a level. A vista that looks out to non-playable areas can also give levels a sense of scale and openness while keeping the actual playable area quite restricted. Visual Language We can enhance the players understanding of an environment by developing a clear visual language that is consistent across our levels. This will assist players in understanding such things as; what areas of a level they can access? What objects can they interact with? etc. Readability Readable environments are ideally devoid of clutter and have reduced visual noise. That is not to say they are not complex or interesting, but they should present gameplay opportunities and routes clearly without frustrating the player. Consistency Consistent environment rules such as attributing a specific light colour for “usable” equipment (blue LED’s or illuminated monitor screens) and colour coding environmental mechanics (red barrels = explosive barrels or yellow = climbable ledges in Uncharted) can give the player familiar elements to help them more quickly understand any new environments. Telegraphing Some environmental features will have components that may cover even larger areas of the level. These can be used to guide the player toward an object or event. Examples include wires leading to a generator, literal signs that warn of dangers such as mines or narrative elements that foreshadow a specific environment. Games such as The Last of Us have good usage of foreshadowing in environments. Usually you are given a hint of what’s in store later in the level by finding survivor notes or environmental storytelling early on. Wow Moments/Set Pieces Wow moments/set pieces are a kind of in game cinematic. They are any take-away moments of spectacle that happen in a level and should literally leave the player thinking (or shouting!) “wow!”. Some “wow moments” can be completely player generated (see Battlefield MP), however most often these will be scripted sequences developed for a particular level. They are infrequent in order to preserve their impact as well as the fact that they are usually expensive to create. Gates Within the context of level design, gates are methods by which a designer controls the linear progression through what would seem to the player to be non-linear worlds. Hard Gates Hard Gates are used to halt the player from progressing any further until they complete an objective or similar criteria. A classic example of a gate in a level is the “keycard” which is required to open a sealed door. Soft Gates Soft Gates are similar in principal to standard Gates, except they can be completed at any time and only serve to slow the player down. A Soft Gate will slow the players progress down through a map, but the criteria to bypass it is not particularly challenging. Examples of soft gating might be a corridor blocked by steam escaping from a pipe, with a valve nearby to turn it off. The gate has succeeded in preventing the player from charging ahead but the means by which they bypass the gate are simple, if not time consuming. Objectives and Rewards Objectives Objectives should be immediately obvious to a player in terms of what they must accomplish. Trial and error should be kept to a minimum. If a player has a solution that makes sense to them, the game should accommodate it. How to accomplish an objective is for the player to discover, however hints and signposting of objectives will be crucial to resolve frustration. Rewards Players should be rewarded frequently with items, story snippets, currency or even a new vista to observe. This is crucial feedback to keep the player feeling invested in a level. Compulsion Loops A compulsion loop is a process whereby the player is rewarded for completing a task and wishes to repeat the action for a similar reward. Repeating the action several times accumulates several rewards, which can be used to accomplish an even tougher task. Each “compulsion loop” can feed another in this way, generating minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour goals. E.g. I want to collect 10 relics in Far Cry 3 tonight (short task requiring exploration) OR I want to unlock 2 new signature weapons (longer task requiring 100 relics). Players can set the scope of their goal for differing play sessions this way. Levels should accommodate immediate goals for players as well as long term goals. Level Design Practice Arena The term “arena” refers to a specific area within a level where the player will encounter some kind of challenge, event or obstacle. Arenas are non-linear spaces, meaning they offer players multiple options in combat and opportunities to explore the environment. They can also include sandbox elements that allow players to formulate unique, tactical opportunities and multiple ways to complete objectives. Arenas can be quite large but have well-defined perimeter borders. Players should always have a decent sense of the scope of the arena upon entering it, even if some parts are obscured from sight. Arenas are generally pro-active gameplay spaces. The player will have an opportunity to choose when to enter combat and can dictate the pacing and flow more than a reactive space. Fronts A “front” is generally a location in a level where an individual or group of faction members establish a foothold. Usually this is in direct defense of the players primary goal, but it is advisable to change up the fronts of battle (or battlefronts!) during a combat sequence to keep the encounter fresh and keep the player moving. Directed Sequence A “Directed Sequence” is a linear space that usually includes a moment of scripted gameplay that the player must engage in. These can include set pieces, forced combat encounters, cinematics or on-rails sections. Directed Sequences are reactive and can be used to control the pacing and flow of key moments in the campaign more tightly than arenas. Exotic Gameplay Exotic Gameplay describes any sequence of gameplay that is not part of the core mechanics set. These might be sections developed exclusively for a single level or section of a level. Exotic Gameplay can provide an immersive, cinematic setpiece to the player within a controlled environment that does not hamper or imbalance existing core gameplay mechanics. Non-Linear Design Illusion of Non-Linearity Sometimes even splitting a single corridor in two can give a space the illusion of non-linearity. Simple decisions such as this keep the player engaged with the level and exploring new options. Verticality Arenas are not restricted to a single plane and vertical routes can be used to gain strategic advantages in combat. These routes are empowering and keep the play space interesting and dynamic, but can also introduce imbalance to an encounter quickly. If a level features a vertical route, AI should be able to reach any area the player can reach. Even slight variations in terrain height can keep a level interesting. Any pathways leading to higher sections must be readable however, as multi-tier levels can quickly become noisy. Vantage Points Vantage Points are elevated locations in an arena that give players key, tactical advantages by providing an overview of the area. Example of vantage point in Far Cry 3 Overview – The player can get a good initial idea of the arena, its scope and its contents. Observe – The player can see any AI in the scene doing something. (Patrolling, talking, working). They can also see their objective. (The next doorway, the switch, the kill target, the kill targets room etc). Also observable are sandbox elements the player can harness within the arena. Plan – The player can formulate a plan of action based on the intel they gathered from a vantage point. Execute – The player leaves the vantage point to execute their plan. Execution does not always go according to plan, however, and so the arena is designed for dynamic play styles instead of a strict execution method. Reward – The player is rewarded. Rewards can take the form of equipment and currency OR story information, a cool cutscene or wow moment! Linear Design When is it ok to be linear? There are occasions where linear design is preferred for gameplay, pacing or technical reasons. Directed Sequences See above. Exotic Gameplay See above. Valves Valves are corridors that connect two areas of a level. They can be used to stream one area out and the next one in. Backgating Backgating is the process of disallowing a player to return to the area they just left. g. forcing the player to fall down a steep drop. Closing and locking a door behind them etc. Exposition A linear section of a level is useful for delivering key story information that is pertinent to the player. Composition Linear sections can ensure the player is facing a certain direction if the designer wants to frame an event or vista for the player to observe. Experiential When it enriches the gameplay experience designers may want to include a linear path through an area. g. shimmying across a ledge, walking through a crowd, crawling through a tunnel. Cover Cover for FPS battles is generally split into two categories: Hard Cover and Soft Cover. Hard Cover Hard Cover is any solid object in the gameplay area that the player can use to block incoming fire and break line of sight. It offers complete protection from projectiles. Examples include concrete barriers, walls and pillars. Soft Cover Soft Cover is any object that obscures the player’s profile and can be used to hide from enemies or distort their perception of the player. This cover does not protect the player from projectiles however. Examples include cloth, vegetation, wood and glass. When a player enters a combat scenario they must be able to immediately identify the cover available to them in the area. Consistency in cover through metrics will play a huge role in being able to identify what will protect the player and what won’t. Cover should ideally sit around half-height or full-height. Players become frustrated when attempting to take cover behind an object that still leaves part of their profile exposed to incoming fire, especially if it results in death! If something looks like it should offer cover, then it should be the correct height. Spaces should have interesting cover layouts that include a mix of this full and half-height cover. Cover should be used to block long lines of sight in a level and promote “flow”. Soft cover can also be used to this effect, but players will sometimes expect to move through soft cover (if it’s tall grass, a bush or a breakable wooden crate) instead of around it. This can open up more risky/stealthy routes for players to utilise. Cover should never be scattered around a level at repetitious, consistent intervals. Not only does this create too much visual noise and chaos, it also hinders pathfinding for AI and causes a lot of snagging for players, restricting flow. Cover should instead be “clustered” into interesting groups and placed strategically. The space between cover is as important as the cover itself. Players should be forced to make risk/reward decisions about moving between cover locations. A dash between two cover objects can be an exciting choice as opposed to a monotonous chore. The cover should promote tactical, risk/reward movements across the battlefield and should not just be laid out in a column down the level. The term “rope swinging” is sometimes used to describe how the player moves between cover. Cover layouts should introduce opportunities for flanking tactics. No single cover object should be so overpowered that all attackers must attack it from the same direction. Players should require battlefield awareness to stay alive, as AI should be able to flank cover from multiple directions. Cover layouts should give players a chance to fall back or retreat when overextended. Players are still susceptible to death if they make poor choices, but a little leeway in the form of retreat routes helps keep the pace and flow of combat fluid. This also adds to the sandbox feeling of an arena, as challenges change over time and are never static. In an arena, cover layouts should promote non-linearity within a confined space. If the player only has a limited amount of cover to use, the space will feel very restrictive regardless of how large the environment might be. By planning multiple routes and vantage points through a space, these areas feel less linear and much more open. Cover should be used to guide players around the level, much like a multiplayer level, and promote traversal and exploration. However, in this way cover layouts can also be used to create a specific narrative experience, so knowing how to utilise the mechanics of your game to create these moments is important. Sandbox Gameplay Player Agency In level design, a sandbox space is one which provides players with a greater extent of player agency. The player should have many tools available to them to make meaningful choices with regards to combat and objectives. There should rarely be one, singlular, scripted method to completing an objective and instead the player should utilise emergent game rules to accomplish objectives however they want. Delivering this level of player agency requires a holistic design where game mechanics never have a singular bespoke purpose, and instead can be used in as many ways as the player can imagine. The properties of a mechanic should be modelled to interact with as many other mechanics as the player expects. E.g. A blow torch can be contextually restricted to only open sealed doors OR it can be used to open any sealed doors AND burn paper AND burn wood AND damage enemies etc Readable, Consistent Mechanics By creating consistent rules within levels, players will learn the language of the game through repeated interactions with each mechanic. By modelling realistic properties within each asset/mechanic, players can utilise them however they want and expect each asset/mechanic to react accordingly (affordance). Players entering a new space will recognize familiar mechanics, allowing them to make more informed tactical decisions and formulate unique strategies. Players will be able to personalize their play styles, which is why it is crucial to develop features that work within a holistic environment. Any elements in a play space that are too bespoke will deny players the ability to personalize their experience. Levels should try to accommodate a high first-try success rate for player actions. This doesn’t mean the game should be easy! The challenge for players is formulating a tactic or solution, but executing the tactic once they’ve figured it out should not be frustrating. For example, if the player needs to drag a crate from one end of a level to another, the crate should fit down the corridor without having to snag over objects or frustratingly snag on walls. This could lead the player to believe the solution they thought they had figured out isn’t actually the correct one. Interior Spaces Flanking Any combat spaces should enable the player AND AI to flank one another. Interiors are a great way to accomplish this. Interiors should ideally have more than two entry points to keep players on their toes and watching their corners. Crossfire Crossfire keeps action interesting. Plan for areas where players and AI can establish “fronts” or bunkers. Height variation and verticality can be used to keep these spaces diverse. Cover Interiors are one of the most obvious areas of cover for players. Take advantage of this by rewarding players for exploring interiors with ammo or new routes inside. AI should always be able to flank, ambush or flush a player out of an interior. This will keep the action flowing around the level and keep combat feeling diverse as well as emergent. Exploration Interiors can hold rewards inside them that benefit players who explore each environment. New sandbox toys could be hidden inside or telegraphed with exterior geometry, enticing players to venture in. Break Up Linear Spaces Interiors are a great way to break up an environment. Ensure players who enter an interior space have two or more ways to exit it. Source: www.mikebarclay.co.uk/my-level-design-guidelines/ Follow Michael Website: www.mikebarclay.co.uk/ Twitter: twitter.com/MotleyGrue 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. In this blog post I’m going to elaborate on a selection of tips and tricks that I’ve tweeted over the last few months from my account @TomPugh1112 These tips are methods that Level Designers use to move players, encourage progression and create areas of immersive gameplay. The tips I’m going to share are general bits of advice that work in different ways for different games. As a Level Designer these tips should be interpreted in a way that is relevant to your level designs. Every game is different so every game requires a different approach. This selection of tips are in no way “rules” of level design. As far as I’m concerned there are no rules, only guidelines that help create the best experiences possible. Every designer has their own approach to creating levels and solving problems so please take these tips and tricks as just that, and not some gospel of level design. Each one of these “tips” could easily have a whole blog dedicated to it, and in the future I may write some. But for now I’ve tried to give as much detail in as few words as possible. Tip 1: Have clear and consistent Affordances An affordance is a rule that is created through your games level design. For example in “Tomb Raider” the player learns that if they see a piece of wood or a old cart which is angled in the air, they know that they are able to use it as a launch pad to make longer jumps. A simple real life example of an affordance is a door handle. A pull bar or a push pad on a door informs you what action you should take to open the door. It is very important to have clear and consistent affordances (rules) in your levels. You need to build a trust contract with the player so that they clearly understand what they can and can’t do in the game. You should avoid breaking this contract. If you do you’ll cause confusion and frustration for the player. How annoying is it in real life when a door says push but really means pull? There are times when your game may require you to break this contract with the player. In a survival horror game breaking affordances is a good way to create stress and put the player under pressure. Even this can be risky and may ultimately irritate some players. Tip 2: Use Leading Lines Leading lines are a technique that helps to guide the player’s eye towards a specific location, item or event. Use leading lines to subtly move players in the right direction without the need for additional prompts or breadcrumbing. Leading lines can range from pipes on the ceiling, hedge rows or different textures on the floors and walls. Leading lines can draw the players eye to an important gameplay moment. These should be used in combination with lighting and other techniques. For example you might have a new enemy you want to reveal to the player. Pipes along the roof and walls could be used to make sure players are looking in the right direction, while the area where the new enemy appears is nicely lit. These techniques in combination should control where the player looks. Tip 3: Make use of the Architecture to shape the play space You should always be looking at real life spaces and how their architecture can translate to level design. Architects have been doing the same thing as level designers for hundreds of years so it makes sense to examine and gain an understanding of architectural elements. Architectural elements should be used to shape your level designs. Structural components are tools for organising and shaping a space. Think about what your architecture can do before filling a level with crates as obstacles. For example, rather than placing crates in an open area why not position pillars that can still be used as cover but create a more believable space. By looking at real life spaces you can find ways of creating more believable levels with intuitive architectural elements. Tip 4: Learn to Teach Mechanics One of the jobs of level design is to introduce, pace and teach the player new mechanics when they become available. This is something designers new to the field often get wrong (and sometimes more experienced designers too). You’re very knowledgeable of your game mechanics which means that it’s very easy to make a difficult challenge. Making an introductory challenge is often where mechanic teaching falls down. You can use pacing techniques to plan mechanic introductions and the difficulty of skill gates. Get the pacing right and you shouldn’t have too much trouble with players understanding and trusting mechanics. The rough sketch below gives an additional idea of how this works. An improvement to the sketch would be to make sure that when the player picks up their new weapon they have some targets to shoot at in the area, such as some tin cans for example. This gives them an opportunity to learn the shooting mechanics without have to be concerned about enemies. Tip 5: Use Denial and Reward Denial and reward is an architectural technique that is primarily used to enrich a person’s passage through a built environment. Architects do this by giving people a view of their target and then momentarily screening it from view. This same technique can be used for progression in level design to enhance a players sense of progression. Give players a view of their objective, send them on a route where they can no longer see it, and then emerge them closer to the objective with a new angle of visibility. This image shows how you might start a level using denial and reward. The player can see the objective clearly, they can see the path is blocked and are given an alternative route to take towards the objective. In the following image the player will have a new angle of visibility and the objective being closer will reward them with a real sense of progression. The Last Of Us uses denial and reward in the Pittsburgh chapter. The player is given a glimpse of the yellow bridge (their objective location) and then loses sight of it for a while until it comes back into view. This chapter shows how denial and reward can be used to make a journey much more interesting. Tip 6: Give players a good starting point How players arrive in an area will influence their first move. Start players facing the right direction and be sure their start position gives them visual cues and options on how to proceed. The image above from Uncharted 4 demonstrates how you can craft the players starting position by giving them a clear view of the path ahead, leading lines and framing from the surrounding environment give a clear view of the objective location and the player can see openings and other options. This example uses multiple techniques but it is key to understand how all of these methods combine with the start location to give players a clear understanding of what they have to do. Sometimes this tip can be twisted, but in a cool way. For example the players path or exit could be positioned behind or above them. As long as the player has clear messaging of this it can encourage map exploration and discovery which can create a very rewarding experience. Games like Uncharted have instances of this. This can become a problem when you can’t control the players start position. In linear games it is easy to determine where the player is when a level starts and making sure they have clear cues can be done. But in an open world it’s much harder to be sure of where the players is. One way this can be done is to create areas of linearity within an open world. A recent example of this is Horizon: Zero Dawn. Guerrilla have done a great job of funneling players towards mission areas and creating linear experiences during story missions. In some cases this has been done by creating two or three different entrances to a location. Horizon: Zero Dawn is an excellent study on open worlds for more on this I recommend watching the GDC talk Level Design Workshop: Balancing Action and RPG in Horizon Zero Dawn Quests where Blake Rebouche goes into more detail on their process. Tip 7: Set up some boundaries Boundaries are a way of showing players when they are transitioning between areas. There are two types of boundary - soft boundaries and solid boundaries. Solid boundaries can be used to mark an area of surprise or enemy activity. You don’t want players to know what’s inside and you want them to clearly understand they are changing location. Soft boundaries should be used to entice the player into an area. You want the player to be able to see what’s inside and this should draw them into the area. Tip 8: Bread-crumbing If you’re struggling to get players to go where you want you could try using breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbing can come in many different forms including; a different texture on the floor, gold coins that put the player back on track and collectibles dotted along a path. In the above example you can see the gems in Spyro are placed in this area so as to draw the player to a higher location I find this and the example below to be two subtle ways of breadcrumbing the player without breaking immersion. Tip 9: Lighting You can use lighting to draw attention to exits, points of interest and enemy locations and it can be used as an effective way to guide players through a level. Lighting in levels should be used to highlight the following; exits, path guiding, enemy introductions and points of interest. In the images above you can see that exits, paths and enemies are clearly lit and visible to the players. These examples also show how lighting can help set a tone for your levels. Tip 10: Iteration is key The key to a good level is iteration and constant play testing. The sooner you can get a blockout of your level into the hands of someone the better. It’s through this initial play test that you’ll see the problems, find the solutions and make a start on improving your level. Don't be afraid to let people play your levels, after all that is why we make them. Conclusion: Well thanks for reading this two part blog! I hope you found some tips and guidance that will help you with your own level designs. Remember these are guidelines, not rules. I tried to go into as much detail as I could in as few words as I could. So if you want to talk more about a subject covered here, or not covered here then please feel free to leave a comment and start a discussion. Thanks for Reading, Tom Pugh. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: https://www.tompughdesigner.com/single-post/2018/10/20/Level-Design-Tips-and-Tricks-Part-1 Follow Tom Website: https://www.tompughdesigner.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/TomPugh1112 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
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