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  1. Below is the only available YouTube link to this presentation which we've been able to locate. It focuses primarily on the presenter, rather than on the slides. Scott has hosted the slide show on his website, so you can follow along by having this open also: http://mrbossdesign.blogspot.com/2009/03/everything-i-learned-about-game-design.html Alternatively, the presentation is hosted by the GDC Vault. This cannot be embedded here on the Next Level Design forums, but it provides a good view of both the presenter and the slides. Watch the GDC Vault presentation here: https://twvideo01.ubm-us.net/o1/vault/gdc09/Videos/8662_1238169435968WZHR-1000.mp4 Follow Scott Twitter: https://twitter.com/mightybedbug Website: http://mrbossdesign.blogspot.com/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  2. Follow Neutronized Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHZkLi-4lIASVlMP-Edq1jg Twitter: https://twitter.com/neutronized Website: http://www.neutronized.com/ Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  3. Level design is something you almost always have to go through when making a game, but it’s one of the most overlooked segments of game production, especially on small/indie production teams. Here I’ll try to give some advice on how to make a good level design, by using examples from my own experience. I’ll mostly use recurring games as references (Bad Company 2 and Mirror’s Edge), because they are games I played a lot and feel comfortable mentioning, and because they have fairly different gameplays.WHERE TO START ? Mirror’s Edge The first step before making any “real” level design, is to put everything in perspective before going blindly in any direction. Define what actions are allowed (and what aren’t) by the game design of your specific game, then what intentions or constraints you want on your level. Focus on what makes your game unique. What can the player(s) do in the game? What elements of my game can harm, kill or put the player(s) close to the losing conditions? Is there a theme, or a particular focus I want to put in this level/area of a level? What mechanic stands out in my game? USE GUIDELINES TO TEST & CREATE YOUR LEVEL When making MAZE’s safe zone, we put some clear guidelines down: “We want the safe zone to be square-shaped, with one door on each side of this square, and it should not take more than 30 seconds to run from one side to the other. The safezone is also a “vegetation backup” so it should contain… vegetation.” From these precise directions, we made a huge, square shaped forest, with all the liberty to put any type of vegetation, terrain modifications, little landmarks… Editor view of the safe zone (the train wreckage at the left can be used for scale) Before asking a playtester, or just other people to give you feedback on your level, you must be able to clear your own mistakes and correct your level accordingly. To do so, define key points to help you create your level. It can also help you when testing the level on your own. Having precise constraints allows you to take more liberty to design around them. In my opinion, it’s better to have some rock-hard, definite constraints than no constraints at all, especially when making a game aimed at someone other than just yourself. It gives you directions, and you can be as free as you want on every other part of your level when creating it. DESIGN LEVELS SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR GAMEThe more you design your level while keeping in mind your game design, the better it will be. An example of this can be seen clearly on Source games. When playing Counter Strike, try to play 2Fort (a Team Fortress 2 map) on a community server. You can also find any classic CS map on a custom TF2 server. If the map has not been altered, you’ll see that most of the depth of each map loses its value. It’s not as fun playing de_dust2 on TF2 as it is on CS. This is because dust2 was (brilliantly) designed with Counter Strike’s gameplay in mind, which is very different from Team Fortress 2’s. 2Fort — Team Fortress 2 Try to do the same for your levels: If your environments are imported in other games, they should not be as equally rewarding to experience than in their original game. If your level seems really classic, well, you fucked up. No harm done, but my advice at this point would be to delete completely the faulty level, erase its dullness from existence and start again, from scratch.USE REFERENCES FOR YOUR FUTURE LEVEL The most obvious references when designing a level are the visual ones. Find architectural drawings or photos who capture well what you want to implement in your environment. If you have some references & concept art used in your art direction, be sure to include them. Your artist(s) will be happy to see their work was not only used to be put on the studio walls to look cool. A reference for a level I’m working on(Photo by Asia Chmielewska) Here’s an easy trick that often pays off when I’m looking for references: If you find an image that you want to use as a reference, try to find the author of the picture. The artist’s style, eye, whatever you want to call it, will not be in the one picture you randomly found on Pinterest. Use it to your advantage. This is what I did with the photo above, and looked at other photos from Asia Chmielewska (check her out if you like architectural/urban photos she makes awesome photos). The main problem I had when making a paper level design (I’ll talk about it in literally one paragraph), is that slopes are cool, but they need to lead somewhere. So I found other references I can use to create what’s at the summit of the slope, and it will probably be super coherent because it was in the same photo collection. Neat.DESIGNING ON PAPER Once you have all this preparation part down, you can start actually designing the level… on paper. It’s way faster to iterate on paper than recreate your level digitally.  My point here is that you should find a "way" allowing you to design your level quickly, so you can iterate swiftly and easily change layouts, details etc. Most people would use paper, but if you prefer using Photoshop, Paint or woodworking, go for what is best for you. From this point on, I’ll drop different points and things I use to design levels, without any ranking. Once you are designing your level, iterating over and over again, you can use or focus on these points to help you enhance your design: VERTICALITY The intro cinematic of The Shard, Mirror’s Edge’s last level. The Shard is the tallest building in Mirror’s Edge’s city, and also the last level of the game. The introduction cinematic of the level gives you the feeling that you are against your biggest challenge, like if the building itself is the final boss. How? By making you enter from the parking underneath the overwhelmingly tall building. You haven’t even started playing this level, but you already know the stakes are high. One of the simplest elements that often separates a good level design from a bad one is verticality. Verticality creates, vantage points, Landmarks, Occlusion and Focal Points (see the other points below). Vantage points are really important to give exposition to your players. They are probably best used when creating a multiplayer map, as they can be fully utilized by players, whereas AIs usually aren’t advanced enough in games to use vantage points at their fullest. It still is important in single player games to give exposition to your players, give them a better view of what challenges will come next. It’s also a really easy way to give your player a powerful feeling. Anyone standing on top of something will tell you: you’re better here than if you were standing at ground level. Anatomically accurate representation of Verticality In MAZE, we use verticality to convey the aggressiveness and strength of the maze itself: The walls stand tall, trapping the players. The maze walls would look inoffensive if they were just too high for the player to vault over. In Mirror’s Edge, verticality is also used as an “enemy”: You have the cool, powerful feeling I described before when you are on top of a building, but you also know that if you slip, you’ll die. In short: Verticality is easy to use because it’s a natural feeling. Utilize it and don’t overthink too much.LANDMARKS Screenshots from the 3rd and 7th level, located at different places in Mirror’s Edge’s city The Shard (the big rectangular building) and the “multiple white tips” building are visible throughout the game and help players locate themselves inside the city. Valparaiso’s lighthouse (Bad Company 2) Most of Bad Company 2’s maps have a singular building, or setting, to help player differentiate the maps and also give them more personality. For example, Valparaiso’s landmark is its lighthouse. It’s probable that most players refer to Valparaiso as “the lighthouse map”. Landmarks are unique and memorable locations in your level. They help players locate themselves, in the level but also inside the whole game, and will make your area/level stand out.FOCAL POINTS The clear focal points (and landmarks) of Heavy Metal are the wind turbines. Heavy Metal is the biggest map in Bad Company 2. Heavy tanks fight each other while infantry tries to escape the firefight and go from one flag to another through areas with little to no cover, all while being careful about the choppers hovering over them. Wind turbines are scattered all along the area. Apart of being a memorable landmark, they are a really practical focal point: by looking at them, players watch the sky, and thus are reminded to be careful about the choppers in the area, as well as the many snipers who are waiting on top of the mountains on the edges of the map (and sometimes on the wind turbines). A simple focal point can change a lot on how people will experience a level. Put focal points wherever you want to guide the player’s eyes. From that point, you just have to choose how to make your focal point stand out. Going to extremes is the easiest way to go: Big, bright, colored.COVER/OCCLUSION Panama Canal — Bad Company 2 The Bad Company series offered a new way of designing cover, with a fully destructible environment. As you’re playing, walls explode, leaving players more and more vulnerable. Shootmania grids In Shootmania, you’ll often find grids in levels. You can’t shoot through them but can watch your opponents movements and give the info to your team. These grids offer cover, but no occlusion. Cover is about providing… cover (yay!) to the player(s), but can also be used to hide informations from them. It’s called occlusion. Cover and occlusion naturally happen whenever you put some solid object on your map, like a wall. You can’t shoot or see through them. You can create cover/occlusion with verticality (like the canal in the Bad Company 2 screenshot above), but also less tangible ones with lights, shadows, sounds, etc. Just think about providing interesting situations to your players. The more cover and less occlusion they’ll have, the safer they’ll feel. A simple situation involving cover in Mirror’s Edge: Players must take cover to the right to avoid being shot by the cops in the main hallway WORLD COHERENCE This industrial area seems functional. (Mirror’s Edge) Buildings in Bad Company 2 lack coherence. You can’t imagine that someone was living here. Make sure your environment is coherent with the game’s reality. To hem your level in the game world, it should always stay coherent: If your enemies are supposed to exist (as in “living THE LIFE”) inside a level, make sure the hallways are wide enough for them to use, that they have toilets and stuff like that. In the photo above, you can see that Bad Company 2 lacks coherence in its building interiors. It was probably done on purpose to offer better situations in mutliplayer. You sometimes have to sacrifice coherence to offer a better experience, but try to avoid finding yourself in these position. DESIGN COHERENCE Red is used to suggest a way to go to the player. The cop is in red too, so you know you’ll have to deal with him at some point. (Mirror’s Edge) In Mirror’s Edge, the red color is associated with Faith, the character embodied by the player, contrary to usual game codes with red being the color of negative stuff (enemies, traps…). Some areas are highlighted in red too guide the player in case he doubts what he should do. You’ll never see red used for something not related to Faith/the player. If the player is used to shooting red barrels every time he sees them because it has always given him some kind of reward, DO NOT create a new situation in the same level / area of the game where he might kill himself if he shoots a red barrel. It is important to be aware of the “codes” you put down on your game. Players are used to playing this way. Their behavior in games are heavily influenced by other games they previously played before trying yours. They will then confront these global video game codes to the first situations of your game, to try and figure what codes are applying to your game. You must be aware of the messages you convey, especially in your first levels, as they will be the bases the player relies on while experiencing the rest of the game. Think of your player as a child, with your game being his upbringing. If you send mixed messages to your kid early on, he’ll be really confused later. Be clear about your messages. Have great kids. One way to fix our red barrel problem, could be to change the color of the new barrel, so the player is aware that he should approach the situation a bit differently.CHOICES “Arland”: The first part Mirror’s Edge’s first level There are at least 4 possible routes to go over the electric fence: 1. Use the easy, suggested route and use a springboard (the red pipe) 2. Jump over on the right from the little chimney-thing 3. Wallrun then walljump from the wall on the left 4. Go to the middle roof on the left and jump over the fence from there These 4 choices are presented to the player in a smooth, binary way: you first have to choose whether you want to go to the right (1. and 2.), or to the left (3. and 4.). Then another binary choice is presented. It adds a lot of value to the level, while still leading to the same place. The player doesn’t feel trapped, or lost, when seeing this situation. Games are mostly about making choices, and Risk/Reward situations. Be sure to offer your players multiple approaches to the same situation. It adds replayability, and gives the player a better sense of freedom. Putting minor choices such as the one in Arland is also an easy way to prevent boredom for the players. Side note: Arland is at a point in the level where the player can take the time to choose his approach. On a chase scene later in the level the player shouldn’t, and doesn’t want to stop running: a unique & clear route is presented. ASSET LIST/ PRODUCTION LIST The same building is used all over the same area. And it’s not really a problem: people just want to shoot at each other. At some point you’ll have to start listing what props, sounds, effects and whatever other thingies you want to use on your level. That way, you can ask the qualified people if they can make these assets for you, or not. In this case, you’ll have to think about optimization, and modularity. Your assets should fit well with other assets, in order to have as many combinations as possible among them. FLOW Flow is a very important part of game and level design. I recommend that you check Jenova Chen’s thesis on flow. I can’t explain it better than him. Flow is mostly about making a level challenging enough for the player , without it feeling too hard to overcome. It is also about making sure the player doesn’t experience any snag: You have to make sure your player doesn’t get stuck on corners, or fails to interact with something etc. RHYTHM Rhythm is something I really like to focus on. It’s very close to the Flow and the Game Design itself. And just like Flow, it’s kinda hard to explain, as it’s really about feeling it. One way to feel it for me is to think about the inputs the Player will most likely do. Mirror’s Edge is very good for this. Most of the game revolves around muscle memory, and being in rhythm when doing runs over and over. Putting rhythm in your game will help players get into the Flow. CHOKE POINTS Isla Innocentes’ 2nd base — Bad Company 2 To arm the two objectives from Isla Innocentes’ 2nd base, infantry has to go through a narrow road, heavily defended by the opposite team. They can also try to attack by sea or land, but time has shown that the victory for this base is almost always determined inside the yellow zone on the image above. Whoever controls it wins the round. Choke points are the areas of your level where your opponents will most likely meet, and a big part of the fight will go there, with restrained movement. Counter Strike maps are all designed with choke points in mind. I would suggest you study these maps if you want to learn more about it. MULTIPLE I wrote “MULTIPLE”, all caps and everything, on my draft. It must have seemed very crucial at the time. So it’s staying here until I find what important piece of knowledge MULTIPLE refers to.CONTRAST — OUTSIDE INSPIRATION Mirror’s Edge Contrast is something vital in black & white photography. In order to have a more pleasing photo, and add depth, you have to think about alternating between dark and white zones. It’s a really precise thing, but a good segway to talk about using other medium’s rules. If you know rules used in photography, painting, cinema, or something else (gardening or sports for example), put them to use when designing your level! Of course every medium has its own rules and it’s better to design with them, but some of these rules may overlap, and it probably won’t have been done before.COLOR THEORY, COLOR HARMONY Same game, different areas, different moods, different colors. (Mirror’s Edge) The same level (Isla Innocentes) can relay a drastically different mood when changing atmospheric colors (Bad Company 2) Colors convey different emotions, and can be used to transcribe a specific mood you want to emphasize on your level. Having the same palette used in similar areas of your world is a good thing to do. You don’t need to use extremely different colors by level like in Mirror’s Edge, nuances always are a good option, and better than just throwing random colors around.BALANCE Balance is more important in multiplayer games than in solo ones. It’s about providing a fair encounter for all the players. The easiest way to balance your level is to use symmetry. But it’s been used over and over since the beginning of level design, so now we’re kinda forced to get more creative, and it’s for the best. If you give an advantage at one area of the map, using verticality or cover for example, be sure the other side also has the same kind of area somewhere else. N.B.: Most Counter Strike maps are not balanced (and mostly CT-sided), but the halftime alternation in the game design provides some sort of balance to the whole game. Seeing the big picture is important. Visual balance is also important in levels. Just like composition in other visual arts, most of the time you want to present balanced images to your player, and sometimes surprise him with a very harsh composition. Here again, symmetry is always the easy and sure way, but getting more creative to find balance is way more interesting for you and your players. DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING AT ONCE Side note: During this scene, walls are left naked to encourage the player to use powerful wallrun kicks instead of pick a gun and shoot his way out. Mirror’s Edge run & gun gameplay is shitty: it lacks feedback, slows you down and is overall very limited and boring. It’s like the designer didn’t want you to use guns. And it’s the case. They made a design decision, and it payed off. The game distanced himself from other FPSs, by emphasizing the lightweight running and hand-to-hand combat. Your level and your game don’t need to be the best at every possible thing you can find in games.MENTAL MAPPING Arica Harbor — Bad Company 2 Arica Harbor is one of the most played map in Bad Company 2. There are many reasons to that, and one of them is the depth and various situations it offers, while staying simple. Players can locate themselves really easily. They have a mini-map, the A,B,Cflags appear at all times on the screen. Flags are aligned along the main road. There are different heights in the map (to add verticality), but it is painless to remember: It goes down like a stair, from the mountain to the sea. You should always be careful about your players mentally mapping your layouts, especially when making a game aimed at a large audience. The easier it is for a player to remember where he went, how the level is arranged, the better his experience will be. To facilitate mental mapping you can provide unique props or details to help differentiate between two almost identical hallways, put floor numbers in stairs, vantage points, landmarks, focal points etc. Keeping the same logic throughout a level also helps a lot. If your game involves backtracking, mental mapping goes from important to REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT. No-one wants to get lost in a game, trying to find an exit. Make sure you are helping the players as much as possible to avoid frustration.CUT THE NOISE As fun and tempting as it can be for a level designer, you shouldn’t add too much to your environment. Having dull and empty areas is not a good thing, but over-saturating it with props everywhere will just make it worse. Details in your map must not come in the way of playability. DO WHAT YOU ARE “Leper Squint” At the end of the day, you should still feel that the level you designed comes from you. These points are important, but it’s the only one you should always respect. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to make your level/game feel different, or look like a particular style, it will never feel unique unless you invest a part of yourself in what you create. . . . . . Alright, that was my advice on level design. I’m a piece of shit, so some of these points might seem wrong to other gamedevs, or wrongly named etc. But hey, feel free to call me out on it, or write your own advice piece. I like talking about LD in general so whether you have a different opinion, or are a beginner seeking advice, drop me a DM, a comment, a mail, shout my name really loud… be original, I’m not going to list all your options. Although they’re here. - Niels . . . . . *This article has been posted in its entirety with permission from the author Original Source: medium.com/ironequal/practical-guide-on-first-person-level-design-e187e45c744c Follow Niels: Website: fuckgamedev.itch.io/ Twitter: twitter.com/fuckgamedev
  4. In this article, Mike Stout shares his learnings from experience designing levels for Ratchet & Clank, Skylanders, and Resistance: Fall of Man. What follows is only a portion of the full article, which offers a high level overview of Mike's process for designing levels. Follow the link at the end for the full article. Introduction I'll walk you through an example level I'm creating from scratch, so you can see typical results from each stage of the process. In Step 1: Understanding Constraints, I'll walk you through common limitations I always look out for while designing levels. In Step 2: Brainstorming and Structure, I'll show you how I decide what goes into a level. In Step 3: Bubble Diagrams, I'll introduce you to a visual method for outlining what goes into each area of your level. In Step 4: Rough Maps, I'll talk about how I flesh out each bubble from a Bubble Diagram to figure out what goes into each area. I could write an entire series of tutorials about how to do this, so we'll only go over the basic outline here. In Step 5: Finishing the Design, I'll talk about moving on from your basic design to create final spaces. This is also a huge topic that could be further explored in a series of tutorials, so for scope I'll keep this very basic. 1. Understanding Constraints At the beginning of a design, the hardest part is figuring out what is going to be in a level. As a designer, you get to decide a lot, but you don't always get to decide everything—especially if you're working in a large team. On a large team, most of your constraints are going to come from other people. There will be business constraints, franchise constraints, audience constraints, legal constraints, engine constraints, and so forth. Most of the time, these restrictions come from far away up the chain. Closer to you will be the constraints applied by the vision of the creative director, art director, and anyone else involved making decisions at that level. If you're working on your own as an indie, you're the one who will be making these decisions, so you still need to understand your constraints very well. General Constraints There are a few general constraints I try keep in mind whenever I design a level; I find that these apply to most games I've ever worked on. I've provided example answers to the questions about these constraints below to show you the level of detail you need to get started, and I'll use these example constraints to construct an example level design in this tutorial. How Long Should This Level Be? This is a short level, about 30 minutes long at most. Are We Trying to Show off Any New Tech, Art, Audio, or Similar? Our imaginary game engine has cool indoor lighting effects, so I want to have lots of cool indoor spaces. How Much Time Do I Have to Design It? This article was written over the course of several months, but the level design aspect itself took about two or three days to complete. *Note: I'd expect this process to take about 5 weeks for a full-sized level on a real game. If Someone is Paying For This Game, What Are Their Requirements? For a game not made as a tutorial example, these requirements usually come from the publisher, the investors, the marketing department, and so on. What Platform is It On? The platform you make the game for imposes constraints. A game for a phone can't use as much processing power as, say, a game for PS4 or PC. A virtual reality game imposes restraints on camera movement to avoid causing motion sickness. Mobile games have length restrictions because people play in short bursts. Know your limitations. For the sake of this example, let's say the game is targeted at last-gen consoles (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) and PC. Where Does This Level Fit Into the Level Progression? This is the third level of the game, and, as such, the challenges won't be too hard. Who is the Audience? This game is a sci-fi game, fairly violent. It will likely get an M (or 18+) rating. We're aiming this at hardcore gamers over the age of 18. The Most Critical Constraints If you find yourself in the fortunate situation that someone is paying you to design a level, remember that they want this level/game for a reason. If the stuff you make doesn't satisfy that reason, they will not (and should not) pay you, or the development studio you work for, for it. Satisfying clients is the best way to make sure they hire you or your studio again, so make sure to ask questions about what that reason is. Those critical questions vary from project to project, but regardless of whether I'm designing a level for myself or for others, I find that there are four questions that are almost always the most important to ask first: What is required by the level's story, theme, and plot? What are my set-pieces? What metrics am I constrained by? What does the game's "Macro design" require from this level? Let's look at each of these, in turn: What is Required by the Story, Theme, or Plot? The goal of the example level is to rescue a VIP who is trapped in a military facility, then leave the area in a helicopter. What Are My Set-Pieces? For the sake of this example: Dark hallways and stairwells show our lighting off to good effect. Employ surprise to prompt weapon firing, which will cast cool shadows. Fight a huge monster in a destroyed barracks near the middle. A Control Tower where the VIP is located. What Metrics Am I Bound By? Each area that you design needs to take into account things like the player's movement speed, the size of the player, the size of the monsters, jump heights, and so on. Each of these informs how large your corridors and spaces need to be, and what heights and lengths are available to be used as jumps. What Does the Game's Macro Design Require From This Level? Early in the development of a game, a short document is usually developed that decides what goes on in each level in very vague terms. (Watch this D.I.C.E. 2002 speech by Mark Cerny for more information on Macro designs.) A Macro document specifies which puzzles and enemies go in each level, how many usages of each are expected per-level, what rewards you get, and things of that nature. This puts further constraints on your design. For the sake of our example, here are our Macro constraints: First: this is a simple first-person combat game. No puzzles, and simple combat with four enemy types: Ranged: An enemy that stands still and shoots at the player. Melee: An enemy that runs up close and attacks the player with a weapon. Swarmer: A small, close-range enemy with a single hit point. Good in swarms. Heavy: A large enemy that stands still, takes lots of hits to kill, does lots of damage, and has both a ranged attack and a melee attack. Second: once the player has rescued the VIP, there needs to be a shortcut back to the start of the level, so the player doesn't have to re-traverse the whole thing. Third: the VIP is located in the final combat room. She is being held prisoner by elite soldiers. 2. Brainstorming and Structure - Follow the link at the end to read this section 3. Bubble Diagrams - Follow the link at the end to read this section 4. Rough Maps Flesh out Each Bubble Once I've got the Bubble Diagram finished, we know what's going into this level, and we know how each area is connected each other area. The next step is to run down the list and create a rough design for each bubble. I almost always do this on paper or in Illustrator, because that's how I learned, but I know a number of great designers who do this kind of thing in-engine to get a better sense of the space. Whatever makes you work fastest is best here. Below, see an example of what one of the bubbles (specifically Bubble 3: Tight Corridors) looks like after I've designed it out on paper (top-down): The player starts at the top of this area and proceeds to the bottom. This area makes use of right angles to introduce enemies as a surprise to the player I'll break this down: Player comes south and fights 3 Swarmers. After player rounds the corner, four more Swarmers run out from an alcove. After rounding the second corner, the player is face-to-face with a Melee enemy. This enemy will need to close distance before attacking, so having it around the corner isn't cheap. Rounding the third corner, the player fights a horde of Swarmers, along with a single Melee enemy that runs from behind cover to attack. The Swarmers come from inside the alcove close to the player, and from around the next corner. The player passes the fourth corner and turns the fifth corner to be confronted by three Ranged enemies, each using the wall as cover, while five Swarmers run at the player. Rounding the last corner, the player proceeds to the area in Bubble 4. Note how this area is designed in isolation from the others, and scale is considered, but not called out. Note how the distances and heights are still not well defined. In this rough stage, it's really helpful to be able to change things quickly, so I don't finalize those details until I'm ready to finish the design. I do try to keep the scale relatively consistent between all the areas, though, as this will make my job easier in the next step when we connect the areas together. Don't get too hung up on accuracy or small details. Things about this design will change constantly from now until the game ships (even after we "finalize" the design). Nothing is being set in stone Connect the Areas Together After taking each bubble and designing them in rough, on paper, I link them together (roughly). For readability, I've done it here in Adobe Illustrator, but this can be done on paper as well. Note how the areas are all laid out end to end, so I know how they'll connect, but I haven't finalized anything yet. Try to ramp the intensity up, area by area. Make sure you're combining your enemy types well, and that in general the difficulty, complexity, and intensity of your enemy encounters or puzzles increases over the course of the level. Make sure to add plenty of rest spots between combats or challenges to lower intensity from time to time. If you keep the intensity at 10 all the time, 10 will become the new 5. The end product (as appears in the image above) is what I call a rough map. 5. Finishing the Design - Follow the link at the end to read this section Review I begin the process by understanding all the constraints and restrictions that surround the level. Having a solid handle on my requirements prevents the need for re-work to fix the lack later. Next, I brainstorm ideas and get together a rough structure for what the level will be like: how many areas I'll need, and what will basically be in them. This usually ends up being a simple numbered list, especially for linear levels like the one we've been working on in this article. Then, I create a Bubble Diagram so that I can understand how all my areas fit together. It gives me a foundation for understanding the basic flow of my new level at a glance. After that, I create a rough map. I usually design each area separately, on paper, and then later figure out how to string them together. Once I've got them where I want them, I can see if any changes need to be made to anything I've designed to accommodate the areas fitting together. Once I've got a rough map, I either start working in-engine or finish the map. When I'm working on my own projects, I go in-engine. When I'm working for others, I usually make a map. A map is a very effective communication tool, and if you keep it relatively up to date it can be useful for people to look at during meetings. We hope you've learned something from this. To read the remaining portions of this article, follow this link: https://gamedevelopment.tutsplus.com/tutorials/a-beginners-guide-to-designing-video-game-levels--cms-25662 Follow Mike Website: www.ongamedesign.net/ Website: http://www.chaoticstupid.com/ Twitter: twitter.com/MikeDodgerStout 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 .galleria, .galleria-container { height:480px !important }
  5. Introduction The purpose of this document is to provide guidance and insight for designers who are creating or working on a multiplayer level. I will address such topics as Flow, Item Placement, Initial Design, Architecture, and Testing. Although Capture the Flag and other team games are rarely addressed specifically throughout this document, because they are typically for a minimum of four players (two teams of two), with a higher number more often being the case (e.g. 4 on 4, 6 on 6). That being said, many of these guidelines will apply to those types of games as well. (The major new issue in a cooperative/team game is how the new goals will affect gameplay. For example, if capturing the flag and returning to your base is more important than killing your opponents, then a speed power-up may become more important than a better weapon. For another example, consider a location in the map that might be very difficult to hold in free-for-all play, but would become very easy to control for two teammates.) There are many accepted design principles that apply to level design in general. These will not be discussed in depth in this document, and include such things as: Attention to detail. Use of a consistent theme. Effective use of sound and lighting to convey an atmosphere. Sufficient time on either end of the design curve (i.e. planning and testing). However, there are many aspects of the multiplayer experience that can be handled incorrectly if approached from a single-player point of view. This will often result in the production of lower quality, unbalanced, poorly planned levels that will provide a disappointing multiplayer experience. For emphasis: You cannot reliably design good multiplayer levels from a single player point of view. Since overall level flow and item placement are two of the ways in which multiplayer level design differs most dramatically from single player level design, these two aspects will be mentioned first, then followed by more general design principles. Important: The following design guidelines in this document are general rules. As with all general rules, there are always exceptions and special cases. Sometimes good level designers can ignore some of these guidelines and produce excellent levels... but it's not the way to bet. Flow For purposes of this document, flow is defined as a combination of direction of movement, speed of movement, and pace of movement through a level. In a level with an extremely high degree of flow, a player will be able to move at a relatively consistent pace from any area of the level to another with a minimum of dramatic changes in direction and speed. In a level with poor flow, there will be starts and stops, awkward geometry to navigate, edges and corners to get stuck on, and many dead-end areas. Multiple entrances and exits Ideally, any major area in a level should have at least two (and preferably at least three) ways in or out (e.g. a room might have two hallways leading into it, a ledge above it that the player can drop from, and hole in the floor that a player can jump into to get to another area (three ways in, three ways out). To explore the idea of multiple entrances and exits, and the resulting effects on gameplay a bit further, imagine a room like the one below. "W" is a powerful weapon, and "H" is a health kit, and the room has exits/entrances on the north and east walls, and is somewhat flat and unremarkable: It's relatively simple in this particular example for a player to "camp" the weapon by standing in the corner and keeping a sharp eye on both doorways, attacking any player who tries to enter, and using the health kit to counterbalance any damage he or she might have received. Keep in mind that this "camper" does not have quite the same advantage that he would in a typical first person shooter (i.e. It's much more difficult to be sneaky in a game where the other player can easily look at your part of the split screen to see where you are), but it's still a tactic that can have a significant effect on gameplay. Consider the change below: Another door has been added on the west, the health has been moved to the NW corner, and the weapon has been moved to the south wall. Three doorways across a much wider field of view are more difficult to watch than two, and if the player still tries to camp the weapon, he or she has to move back and forth a bit more to obtain the health. This also leaves the camper open to attack by two or more other players from radically different directions (and it's much more difficult to watch what two or three people are doing on the split screen than it is to watch what one person is doing). For another approach, consider the following: The weapon has been moved to a spot between the two doorways where any player who moves through that corner of the room can quickly grab it, and the health is now by itself in the SW corner. Above the health is a shaft from the room above--impossible to travel up, but easy to see down and jump down. This produces some interesting gameplay possibilities and tactics. If a player is camping the weapon, he can be attacked easily through either doorway, and will find it difficult to watch both doorways at once. Suppose he decides to wait in the far corner, picking up health if he needs it, and ambush a player trying to get the weapon? It may work once or twice, but when his opponent catches on, the player will be attacked from a position of relative safety above, or his opponent will simply pay more attention to the player's position via the split screen. Relatively simple changes in room design and item placement can produce much more complex and flexible gaming situations. Note that teleporters, which instantly whisk a player from place to place, can serve to increase connectivity and flow within a level if the level geometry itself is uncooperative. However, teleporters are also easily abused by being used as a quick fix for substandard level design that shouldn't have seen the light of day in the first place. Clipping Geometry "Invisible boxes", "clip brushes", "see-through walls"--different terms for unseen geometry that aids the player in navigating through the level with minimal difficulty. Ideally, this aid should be of the subtle variety--anything that is too intrusive might distract the player from any immersion in the game world that has been created. For example, if there is a slightly protruding arch in a hallway that players tend to get caught on when moving down the hallway, the designer could place an invisible box along the length of the hallway on both sides with the inner plane of the box flush with the inner edge of the arch. What if the arch sides didn't protrude slightly, but instead stuck quite far into the hallway? A box that kept the player from getting anywhere near the wall would be an obvious and blatant "fix", but the designer could place a wedge-shaped brush on the near and far edges of both sides of the arch to gently force the player out and around the arch as they passed by. *Note: The use of clipping geometry will differ somewhat depending on whether the game in question is first person or third person. Something that might work well, and feel relatively unobtrusive from a first person point of view, might be very obvious and clumsy when experienced from a third-person perspective (and vice versa). This is just one area where a great deal of playtesting and feedback is essential. Dead ends In general, dead ends are a bad idea in any multiplayer level for a number of reasons: Dead ends promote poor flow. If a player has to stop or do a U-turn at the end of a dead end passage, then that area is somewhat awkward and clumsy. Dead ends are boring and/or frustrating. The player has to travel back through an area that he or she has just seen. Dead ends can easily result in "no-win" situations for a player. If he or she is trapped in a dead-end, there is no option for a tactical retreat. However, although the preceding points are generally true, in specific situations dead-ends can be useful (e.g. a powerful weapon or item can be placed in a dangerous dead-end in order to properly balance the value of the item with the risk involved in obtaining it). Summary: Have two (and preferably three) ways in and out. Think "outside the box". There are always multiple solutions to a level design problem. Use clipping geometry to aid flow and navigation. Use dead ends sparingly and for very specific reasons. Keep lines of sight in mind, and be aware that different camera views can produce unusual situations. Item Placement Poor item placement can turn an otherwise solid multiplayer level into an unbalanced and irritating gaming environment and can interfere dramatically with flow. Excellent item placement can add much-needed spice to an otherwise forgettable level, and accentuate the architecture and environment that has been created. The items in a multiplayer environment can be divided into four basic types: Offensive Items (e.g. weapons, ammo) There is generally a maximum amount of damage that a player is able to inflict in a given period of time in a given situation. Offensive items increase that amount. Defensive Items (e.g. health, armor) Defensive items increase the amount of damage that a player is able to endure, make that damage have less effect on the player, or allow the player to avoid those effects. Special/Other Items (e.g. binoculars, mine sweeper, jet pack) These are items that can somehow change the balance of the game in a way that isn't purely offensive or defensive (but could strengthen offense or defense for a player, depending on the player's particular situation). Team Items These are items that somehow affect game goals in cooperative play. The best-known example would be the flags in traditional two-team Capture the Flag. Flags are traditionally placed in two opposing bases that often have the same layout, geometry, and item placement (to more easily avoid giving one team a subtle advantage over the other). As a side note: As previously mentioned, this document does not focus on capture the flag (and similar games) to any great degree. However, one of the simplest ways to introduce a CTF-like element into a map for fewer players is to have some single power item or power spot on the map that a player gets points for holding or capturing. Item Quantity and Placement There is a fine balance to item quantity. There should be enough items to make it relatively easy to get the most basic necessities (e.g. basic weapons, some degree of health/protection), but not so many items that the challenge is eliminated and the player is stumbling over some new item every few steps. Generally, there should be fewer of the more powerful items in a level. There would be no reason to pick up the weaker items if there was a better item nearby. The more rare and powerful items can also be placed in locations that are more difficult and/or more dangerous to reach. There is nothing necessarily wrong with placing a powerful item in plain sight in the middle of the level where it is easily reachable by all the players. This placement in itself can add an element of danger as players wait nearby, simply watching the item, and attack other players as they approach. Just realize that much of the action will occur around that powerful item, and that there should be sufficient incentive for players to travel to other parts of the level. Powerful items can also be used to "balance" the level. In other words, if there is a powerful item or weapon at a certain location within a level, a good designer will be likely to put a similarly powerful item or weapon in another area of the level. This accomplishes three things: It makes it less effective to try to "camp" either item. It encourages players to move gameplay around the level. It makes it harder for a player to continually have both items and more easily control the game. Finally, some weapons can be placed in such a way that they are not only balanced to some extent, but also encourage more game flow and movement through a level. One simple example would be to place a sniper rifle in an enclosed area in the depths of a level--in order to make the best use of it, a player would have to get the item, and then travel up to the top of a high tower to get the best vantage point from which to snipe at other players. Ammunition and Minor Item Placement The placement of ammunition (if it exists in the game separately from the weapons), and the placement of minor items can be a much more subtle process then the placement of powerful items, and can be approached in different ways. Furthermore, many of the fine points will be very dependent on specific game mechanics. For example, a game with differing levels of health (or healing potion, or whatever generic "more life" item it happens to have) can have a much more complicated and "fine-tuned" item layout than a game with only one type of healing item. If a game has multiple weapon types and multiple ammo types (or even multiple ammo types for each weapon), this will result in more fine-tuning and more complicated decisions for the designer. A good general rule to remember is that if a player has everything he/she needs in one area, then there's little reason (gameplay-wise) to leave that area and explore the rest of the map. Item Setting It can add significant atmosphere and "feel" to a level if the items are placed in appropriate settings, and not just strewn about in relatively equidistant spots. One good (albeit subjective) rule of thumb: Every area of a level should be attractive enough for a player to want to visit it. Creating a proper item setting is a much more subjective process than some of the ideas that have been mentioned previously, as it deals with artistry and aesthetics rather than easily quantifiable factors such as damage and movement. Items, especially powerful items, are best placed like a gemstone placed in a ring. Impressive and/or detailed geometry, eye-catching lighting, or even props and other items can all be combined to create a memorable setting for items. Camping Revisited As was touched on above, it is very easy to create a situation in a multiplayer level wherein a powerful item (or even a not-so-powerful item) is placed in such a way that it is very easy to defend once it's obtained, and a player can "camp-out" at that location and dominate others who attack that position or try to get that item. For example, a machine-gun with a large supply of ammo and a health kit are placed at the end of a long corridor, behind a pillbox with a small "gunner slot" to shoot through. A player can stay there for a long time racking up victories with relative ease. While this example is an extreme one for illustrative purposes, it is easy to make this mistake in more subtle ways. This mistake becomes less likely if the designer uses the "at least two ways out" guideline, and incorporates some sort of vulnerability into every major item placement. Item Placement and Player Start Locations There seem to be two schools of thought on placement of player start locations relative to weapons and items, the first being: "Players should have to work to get good items/weapons. Gameplay becomes boring when players always have access to all the good items immediately upon starting a level." The opposing point of view goes something like: "When it's a difficult process to get good items and weapons, then the player who wins any particular skirmish always has the advantage, since he/she already has all the good stuff, and the defeated player has to restart, recollect items, and possibly fight off a beefed-up opponent while doing so." There is no clear answer or definitive formula to resolving this issue. Both points have some validity, and it will usually be safest to try to place your player spawn points while keeping both these points in mind. This is an issue that is usually resolved best with a great deal of playtesting. Ideally, player start locations should be placed with the following additional things in mind: Player starts should not be in a direct line of sight with each other. If they are, this potentially eliminates a major part of a good multiplayer game: maneuvering and responding based on where your opponent is (or where you think he is), and reacting to his movements with appropriate strategy or tactics. Player starts should be placed in places that are "off the beaten path" to some extent. It can put a player at an unfair disadvantage if he/she appears in the middle of a central combat area in the level, and can be frustrating if he/she is immediately defeated before gaining any real momentum. There should always be at least two nearby exits from any player start location. A player spawning into the game in a no-win situation (because a beefed-up opponent has them trapped in a dead end) is simply a result of poor level design. Secrets Finally, placing items in "secret" locations is generally a bad idea in multiplayer levels, since there will often be one or more players who don't know how to obtain the item (bad enough), but may be unaware that it even exists (worse). This sets up a dynamic wherein one player can easily dominate another player or players, only because of the "insider" knowledge that he or she possesses, and results in a blatantly unfair situation which can frustrate and anger players. (Note that I am not referring to items that are simply very difficult to obtain. If everyone knows where it is, it isn't a secret.) Again, although the preceding is generally true, there are some ways to make secrets work in a limited way in multiplayer games: The secret shouldn't be a "game-winner". A secret that gives someone an overwhelming advantage in a game = bad idea. A secret that helps a player slightly, or that simply gives some background color, or information of some kind about the game world = good idea. Secrets that are a relative "one-shot" (i.e. once the secret is discovered, pretty much all the players will know about it) are much less unbalancing. Secrets that have a random factor can work. These can be fun without being too unbalancing. For example, suppose there's a somewhat out-of-the-way spot where a powerful weapon will appear 5% of the time instead of the regular health that appears the rest of the time. Further suppose that there is no additional ammo for the weapon, and that there is no other weapon of this type in the level. This results in a player randomly finding this weapon on rare occasion and only using it for a very short time (thus being likely to establish no serious advantage). In a situation like this, "insider" information can be fun and can produce some interesting gameplay situations (as players begin to shadow the other player trying to find out where the "odd" weapon came from). Summary: • Balance item quantity carefully--enough items, but not too many. • Use powerful items sparingly and in a balanced way. • Spread minor items out, and avoid all-in-one locations. • Place items in a setting to be more aesthetically pleasing. • Make locations of powerful items dangerous or vulnerable. • Handle secrets with care to avoid unbalanced gameplay. Initial Design The initial design process can be a dramatically different one for different designers. Some individuals greatly enjoy it, because it allows them to visualize the level in broad strokes and come up with various ideas without necessarily needing to address some of the more "tedious" or "exacting" details that will appear near the end of the construction process. Other designers struggle to come up with a new and creative idea, or a broad outline, but excel in providing the fine points of a level's look and feel. Some level architects plan out their levels in exacting detail on grid paper beforehand, or work from detailed concept sketches, while others simply start from scratch, allowing ideas to evolve as they work. Both approaches have their pros and cons: A high level of preplanning assures that the designer won't wander off down the wrong track and possibly waste a great deal of time and energy, but can also stifle creativity and force a designer into "mental blinders" that reduce his or her potential. Summary: Everyone has their own way of working... but don't be afraid to think "outside the box" of your own habits, and possibly discover methods that will work better for you. Also, don't assume that work habits that were effective with one set of tools/one game/one design process will work well all the time. General Testing and Game Mechanics Testing is at least as important in multiplayer levels as it is in single player levels, and some would say that it's more important because the actions of a group of players are more unpredictable than the actions of a single player. While multiplayer levels are simpler in some ways than single player levels, players in a multiplayer setting can try new things (and find new problems) that might not have occurred if they were playing alone. Some design questions become exponentially more complicated when designing levels with a multiplayer focus. A few of the basic points to consider in testing and game mechanics: Testing Start Locations If you are one person testing a multiplayer level, it's easy to overlook non-functional or flawed start locations, especially if the start location is not always randomized, and if you do not have any sort of artificial opponents. Always make sure all start locations work consistently and correctly. Gameplay habits We all have a tendency to do things in a certain way, and repeat habits. The only way to be sure that the gameplay in a level isn't broken in some major way is to have the level playtested by someone (preferably many players) other than the designer. That being understood, you can at least playtest better as a designer by doing everything you can to break up your habits--if you find yourself always following a particular path in a level, then consciously go another way. Pretend that you haven't memorized every nook and cranny, and try to play like a new player: "Gee, I wonder what's over here..." Try to look at your map with new eyes, and you will often find problems or possibilities that you didn't realize were there. Gameplay mechanics Be aware that all games--even all multiplayer combat games--have different (sometimes radically different) gameplay mechanics. A couple of notable examples: Camera Angle Lines of sight are as important in multiplayer level design as they are in single player level design. Being able to see an enemy, or be seen by an enemy, is a key factor to victory. When playing from a third-person perspective (again, depending to some extent on camera movement) it's relatively easy to see where players are in relation to one another, and, if you are in a relatively high position, to potentially get a bird's-eye perspective on the entire field of play. In addition, when you are in a low position in a third-person game, it can be quite difficult to see what is above you when compared with a first-person game. When playing a first-person game, your field of view is limited horizontally to approximately 90 degrees, so losing track of your opponent can happen in the literal blink of an eye. In a first-person game, it's pretty much impossible to see anything that your in-game character wouldn't be able to see (i.e. you see through the character's eyes). In a third-person game, the circumstances involved in having a third-person camera view that doesn't necessarily change consistently with player movement can result in a variety of unusual possibilities at any given moment: If it's a console game, no players can see the others directly, but everyone still knows where all the players are by looking at split screens. No players can see the others directly, but players can shoot the other players (e.g. with a weapon like the grenade launcher or mortar that can shoot in an ascending-descending arc). Players can see each other directly, but players can't shoot each other. (This can happen if the players are positioned in such a way that the camera sees around a corner or over an obstacle for each player.) One player can see and shoot at another player without it being possible for the other player to see him directly, or hit him with return fire. (This could happen if, for instance, a player had a high vantage point, and was behind an obstacle of some sort. Direct fire from the other player would hit the obstacle, and arcing fire would either overshoot or collide with other geometry.) Line of sight issues are further complicated by the fact that any player might be able to kneel or drop prone at any time, which could change any of the above situations. It is also possible in some third-person games for a player to change the camera angle without actually moving (by rotating the camera in place). This makes it possible to stand facing in one direction, but keep a 360-degree watch. This would, of course, only provide an advantage in certain situations, and if you have the control skills to make it useful. Also, consider the effect of ground cover on combat. In a first-person game, the heavy use of ground cover (e.g. bushes, low walls, obstacles) can easily obscure the field of play and add a hide-and-sneak element, emphasizing the importance of accurate prediction of an opponent's tactics. In a third person game with any sort of height to the camera angle, this sort of ground cover is more of a simple obstruction to movement than a serious influence on tactics and strategy. These issues become very important to a level designer when questions about gameplay, balance, and tactics arise. Auto-Aiming For another example, consider the subject of auto-aiming. Auto-aiming (when the computer/game system does some of the work of aiming for the player), gives a very different feel to a skirmish, and a player must concentrate more on positioning, movement, and any other ways in which he or she can help the auto-aiming system along, and less on accurate crosshair positioning and shot-timing. Summary: Test extensively with real gameplay. Break up habits. Get another point of view. Alter your design to best utilize the specific gameplay mechanics and tactics that will be involved. Research To make good multiplayer levels, and to continue to grow in his or her skills, a designer needs to play lots of good multiplayer levels, and, unfortunately, the only way to play lots of good levels is to wade through even more levels that aren't so good. While you're playing a particular level, analyze what is working in that particular level--very simply, what makes that level good and not bad? If you don't know quite specific answers to that question, then you may not be able to create the same great gameplay and fun experience in your levels, and if you do, it may be by accident rather than by design. Finally, write things down. That may sound obvious and slightly juvenile, but you will not remember important things if you don't. I have a simple text file called "tips" that I just copy and paste tidbits of various kinds into--technical tips, design tips, interesting gaming anecdotes, "here's a great idea for a level" bits, obscure design facts, and so forth. If you have any doubt if you should put something in, go ahead and put it in, then review the file periodically and weed out things that are outdated, have lost their usefulness, or were just never quite as useful as you thought they might be. Summary: • Keep looking. • Keep learning. Source: http://www.robotrenegade.com/articles/multiplayer-level-design-guide.html *Note: This article is shared in full on Next Level Design in accordance with the Creative Commons Guidelines noted on the source site. Follow Patrick Website: http://www.pjwnex.us/ lvlworld: https://lvlworld.com/author/pjw 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 .galleria, .galleria-container { height:480px !important }
  6. Too “blue”, throw it out, start again. My level creation process is something that is constantly being adapted and tweaked. I wanted to jot down the process I tend to use when building a new level from scratch, and this process is usually the same if it’s in a professional or personal pursuit. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be using an example of a single player environment in a story driven action game. A few things change between third and first person, but not so much as the below process needs to be completely reconsidered. 1. The Concept Without some kind of boundaries and guidelines I’d probably spend forever rebuilding a space. Like a blank piece of paper ready to be drawn on, a new level has infinite possibilities to start with. We need to know a few things: Location Where is the level set? E.g. A comms station in the Franklin Mountains, El Paso, Texas. Premise/Theme Otherwise known as the “razor”. What is this level all about? E.g. “Broadcasting an SOS using an old comms tower.” Major Goals What are the players primary objectives and goals? E.g. Reach the comms tower and start the signal. Affects Gameplay How does the theme affect the gameplay? Is it a chaotic level or quiet? What’s the expected tempo? E.g. Urgent dash to the comms tower battling heavy resistance. Mechanics Introduction [If required] What mechanics are introduced to the player in this level? Exotic Gameplay [If required] What non-standard gameplay sections are included in this level? E.g. Battling an enemy chopper at the top of the mountain. We can do more with less sometimes, and we don’t want to be too prescribed early on but the above list is something that should take the smallest amount of time (usually most of it is already handed down by a senior team of directors, writers and designers). Another caveat, hopefully you’re doing this with an already banked “vertical slice” or core experience ready. It can be incredibly difficult to develop a level while you’re also developing the mechanics of the game. Constant changes to your core flow will require retroactively adapting levels being built concurrently with a “vertical slice”. With this knowledge in mind we can move to the next step. 2. The Mood Board Not a huge amount of time spent here either but grabbing concepts and images of locations to help guide the tone/architecture of your level can help massively. If you’re building something in a real-world location (remember, you need permission to use some landmarks/buildings in a product!) then google images/maps is your best friend. I like to base some parts of levels off of actual locations I have visited or artwork I have enjoyed. Get yourself to a gallery or go exploring with a camera sometimes instead of playing a game for inspiration, it will improve your work dramatically! 3. Blockout You may have noticed I skipped 2D sketch. What I’ve found is that years of blocking out levels in 3D packages has made me much more proficient at quickly modelling a level than trying to draw it on paper. I don’t always skip 2D but I’d say for 90% of my levels I just jump straight into blockout phase. With the portfolio of games I’ve worked on as well, verticality has been a large factor in the spaces I build. It’s just far more efficient to express these ideas in a 3D blockout than on paper. Also, the fact that you spend all your time for the rest of the project working in 3D, you might as well start getting good at blocking out a concept of acceptable quality, quickly. Built in Maya In a professional environment, at all stages of the above steps, key stakeholders will be involved ranging from environment art and production to narrative and design. I like to pitch ideas to members of the team and begin collaborating as early as possible to find awesome ideas. The best ideas can come from anywhere in the team, so collaboration is an integral part to level creation in a studio. After the blockout phase, at least on the last project I worked on, we pass blockouts to concept artists for any areas we feel will help assist the environment artists who ultimately model the level. It has also been common for environment artists to step in early, during blockout phases, so we can tweak areas early and get compositions, transitions and structures believable and correct. The blockout phase is THE time to adjust the level. I have never shipped a level that looked exactly the same as the first blockout. During this phase I will be testing, tweaking and throwing out huge chunks of space. That’s why this phase exists! The best bit of advice that was ever given to me regarding blockouts was “if you feel like you’ve done so much work that it would pain you to throw it all away, then you’ve gone too far“. Keep your blockouts light, a good lead or director will see past the untextured, rough shapes and see the ideas that need to be evaluated. (The space still needs to make sense however! Don’t take that as an excuse to become contrived). 4. Greybox I’ve traditionally worked with two “blockout” phases. The first I’ve actually called “whitebox”, which is to evaluate the size and scale of volumes, objects and get some early composition, framing and high level beats. This is made out of mostly primitive shapes and can give a good indication of where the level is heading. After only a couple of iterations it can look close to the image above. As a level designer, I start to lock down areas I think work over the course of several weeks and iterate, iterate, iterate. Throwing away bad ideas, keeping new ones. The next phase, known as greybox, is when we, the team, decide the level is sound from a design standpoint and can begin a more thorough art pass. My role here becomes more producer focused, while still building and testing gameplay. It’s important to ensure the key design ideas don’t get “lost in translation” as the level becomes more fully formed. Greybox is harder to tweak and iterate, so we’d prefer to be in a place of confidence when this phase begins (but honestly it doesn’t always work that way). Changes can still be made in this stage, but they need to be meaningful and for the good of the game. 5. Final This almost makes it sound too easy, but ideally after greybox we start to harden the level and bring it to final. Not all levels are brought to final at the same time, but at this stage it’s all about the polish. I’d love to say they’re all made this way, but the reality is with conventions, demos, publisher demos, reviews, tutorials and more it’s usually a bit more “seat of your pants” than effortless execution. The best games I’ve worked on were developed by passionate staff who did everything they could for the good of the game and that means juggling the sometimes hectic schedule of level creation. Hopefully in the end it’s worth it (it almost always is). Source: www.mikebarclay.co.uk/pillars-of-creation/ 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  7. This is the second part of a three part series of articles dealing with level design in action adventure games. Part 1 described Level Flow Diagrams, that act as the core of the level brief provided to a team by the Leads. Part 2 describes a process of expanding that brief into a detailed level plan. This stage of the process is most often carried out by a cross-discipline team of designers, artists and coders, who will expand the level brief into a detailed level plan, but this process can equally be the next step that an individual designer takes when designing a level solo. A Note on CollaborationDelegation and teamwork are vital given the scale of modern console development. Without them, leads become bottlenecks that slow development and sap motivation.The current trend is towards agile development whereby scrums are given ownership of individual problems. This has many advantages over the old waterfall methodology, but there is one pitfall to watch out for with peer-only teams.If a group of peers go into a room with the goal of making design decisions, the tendency won't be towards a design that everyone loves, but rather towards the design that everyone least hates.The psychology goes this way:1. Person X suggests a new idea that he thinks might be mint. It's not a complete idea yet, but he believes it has a kernel of goodness that could make for a unique piece of gameplay.2. Persons Y and Z who have not seen anything like this idea before quickly point out all the flaws in the idea.3. Person X, whose idea still needs nurturing, responds defensively, firing off hastily-thought out solutions that people also don't like.4. The idea is shut down and the group moves on. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.5. If person X brings it up again, people are going to think he is beating a dead horse.6. Next, Person Y suggests something that he has seen in a game before.7. Person X and Z both remember that being pretty mint in that other game, and they know it can be done, which means low risk.8. Everyone feels good as they write the tired, overused mechanic/scenario up on the whiteboard.9. Repeat.There is little to no way to get vision from a peer-only group unless they have worked together long enough that they are all on the same wavelength.There are two potential solves to this:1. Separate brainstorm and decision meetings.2. Employ a group design method I tested at Crystal Dynamics called a "The Thunderdome" (as coined by Mr. Ron Rosenburg.)Thunderdome!A "Thunderdome" gives each member of the level team the same deadline to propose a complete, individual solution to the entire design problem (in this case a paper map.) Once that (tight) deadline is up, the whole level team comes together and shows their individual solutions to their teammates, and everyone discusses the pros and cons of each one in a respectful way.Then the team (and the lead) cherry picks the best ideas from all the proposals and merges them into a unified team plan.This is the equivalent of forcing lateral thinking techniques in an individual. Humans naturally solve problems by brainstorming solutions until they find one that works, at which point they generally stop thinking about the problem. Lateral thinking techniques push us to go beyond that first working answer and try to find three to five more, to see if there is a better solution out there before moving on.When each individual in a "Thunderdome" creates their own solution, I guarantee that none of them will be the same, and the group will have multiple working solutions to pick from instead of one compromise solution. Of course this is not in the agile way -- which probably makes me a heretic who must be burned or something.Stage 2, Building Through FictionWith the Level Flow Diagram in hand, the next stage is to fill in the details.Architecting the level through storiesThis is the time to explore the level's stories because from them, the juiciest parts of the level's design will emerge.Regardless of the narrative of the game, each level has the potential to tell many layers of its own background story. Even an empty office has the potential to tell little stories that transform it from a dull set of plain rooms into a real place through artfully placed builder's tools, scrounged furniture, used cups, and discarded rubbish.But the real power of level stories has nothing to do with set dressing; it is in their ability to provide you with context-relevant gameplay scenarios that the story-based method really shines.To make the level real to the player though, first it must be real to you.A Cautionary Aside: Gather and Study ReferenceI would argue that the power to immerse the player, to absorb his attention completely, is the common attribute of the greatest and most successful games.Gathering and studying reference is critical to creating immersion for the player. It is something that the entire team should do, not just the artists.Everyone stores simplified constructions of reality in their mind; schemata that codify the critical features of the world around us. We use our schemata to recognize and interpret everything we experience.We also use those same simplified representations of reality to recreate it through art. Because no two people use precisely the same critical features to build their schemata, every person's art has a unique look, filtered through the lens of their uniquely simplified representations of reality.While schemata allow us to rapidly process the deluge of information we receive each day, they come with the cost of a blindness to data that does not fit with them. That data gets stripped away and left unprocessed. Because we rely on them constantly, we tend to trust them implicitly.But the fact that no two people have precisely the same schemata is all the clue we should need to realize that they cannot be trusted at all.When we are creating worlds in games, immersion is only possible for the player if we can convince the players that the space is authentic (whether stylized or not.) If the critical features on screen don't match up with the critical features of the player's schemata, then he or she will not be fooled by it.So as game makers we must have really precise schemata to convince the widest selection of players.When designers or artists rely on their standard schemata to judge their own creations, they are mistakenly assuming that others will judge their work using similar standards as they do. This can be particularly egregious when people from one country try to reproduce locations from another. American dumpsters sitting in the back streets of Paris or French road signs on the streets of Chicago might seem acceptable to the developers because they do not mismatch with their very simple schemata of those distant locations, but these contextually inappropriate placements will be laughably inaccurate to people really familiar with those places.Given that games are released worldwide, it is difficult to overestimate the damage to audience immersion and perception done by poorly researched levels for a large percentage of your audience. Remember, it's your worldwide reputation on the line.Case Study: Kung Fu Zombie Killer!!Blurb: When the living dead smash up his martial arts studio, Wu Shu master Ken Kong must punch, kick and chop his way through the zombie apocalypse while gathering humanity's remaining survivors on his quest to save the You Tube celeb of his dreams. Style:'70s exploitation movie visual themes mixed with a Japanese anime-inspired visual language. Highly stylized over-the-top combat, unrealistic physics, fun gaming conventions reign over realistic game rules. Street Fighter meets Pikmin in this zombie-filled romance beat 'em-up. Game Pillars:Fluid Environmental Kung FuThink Jackie Chan: Ken Kong picks up and uses everything around him to dispatch his zombie foes.Whether he is slamming doors into their faces, or ripping off one zombie's arm to bludgeon another to death, Ken Kong's simple multi-lock, rhythmic fighting system turns combat into a bloody storm of body parts and flailing fists.Protect the survivors!As Ken Kong saves the living from the living dead, they join the crowd that follows him, urging him on to greater feats of martial prowess. Different types of survivors can either bolster Ken Kong's abilities or can be applied to tasks throughout the game:Police - Shoot any zombies they see.Nurses - boost to Ken's health recovery.Martial artists - increased survivor resilience.Workmen - repairs.Geeks - hacking.Civilians - Cheering (boosts Ken's damage) and fortification building.Etc.The more there are of a given type of survivor, the better the crowd's abilities become. The crowd will stay together and can be ordered around by Ken, but they must be protected from being bitten by the zombies or the whole crowd could become infected.Secure each levelKen must shepherd the survivors to a location that can be fortified so that they will be safe.This could mean securing the entire level, or just one section of it. The crowd itself does the fortification, barring doors and boarding up windows. The more survivors there are, the faster repairs are done. Essentially they are closing enemy spawn points, and Ken must stem the flow of enemies while the fortifications are in progress or the crowd will be eaten by zombies.ThemeWhile the film Planet Terror is a good starting point for the mock '70s horror exploitation movie feel, Kung Fu Zombie Killer has a more lighthearted Viewtiful Joe feel at the same time.MotivationKen is in love with the YouTube vlogger jenna126xyz. In fact, he is her only fan. Throughout the game, Ken forces everyone he saves from the zombies to sign up as fans of jenna126xyz in an attempt to win her heart.Given the ludicrous nature of this game concept, it might at first seem that there would be little point in rigorous research or fictional development, but I contest that there still is.Even a world with a silly premise will resonate more fully when effort is made to realize it in its entirety.Example Level: Hospital Second FloorAfter watching jenna126xyz's most recent tearful videocast, Ken Kong is now trying to rescue Jenna's grandmother from a hospital overrun by the undead. The idea is that you see Grandma almost immediately, but can't get to her without the Hospital Director's keys, found near the end of the level, giving you an objective and a goal. The Hospital Director, on the bottom floor, will not come out of his secure office until the building is secure, forcing your secondary goal (save the survivors) before you can open the way to grandma.A Boss fight is worked into Grandma's room, and once that is done the level can pretty much end -- a fairly bog standard level flow.The section of the level we are going to focus on is the Second Floor, highlighted in red on the Level Flow Diagram above.A hospital is hardly an original setting, especially in this context. Hospitals are obligatory whenever there are zombies around: Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, and Planet Terror are just the tip of the iceberg. So the challenge is to walk this well-trodden ground and still make something somewhat fresh. The key to that is to look around you.Preparation: Designing from lifeWhen deciding how to tackle this hospital level, it would be tempting to begin by looking at the many other examples of hospitals in competing games, and while it is useful to learn what has already been done, it wouldn't help us get original ideas for this particular level.You are likely to be able to rattle off a list of areas from your head that you would expect to find in a hospital, from waiting rooms and restrooms to operating theaters and canteens. Most likely the overriding impression you will have in your mind will be long, seemingly endless hallways with single or multi-bed wards off them.But when you actually go to a hospital, there is so much more to see. There are gift shops, libraries, kitchens, rehabilitation areas with gyms or pools.There are auditoriums, children's play areas, janitorial closets, elevators and their associated maintenance areas. There are courtyards, roof gardens, underground parking lots, and changing rooms for the doctors and nurses, with lockers and showers.You also see just how many more off-limit areas there are than public ones. Some are secured with passkeys, others with ordinary locks.These locked doors lead to record rooms, office spaces, drug and equipment storage rooms and all manner of other administrative areas. Their doors are either solid or have very small reinforced glass windows. A great deal of research can be done from books, movies, and the internet but nothing can replace personal experience. While not everyone can go to the pyramids or an abandoned space station whenever they feel like it (unless you're Richard Garriott, of course), most people could visit an abandoned or ruined place near them (as long as is safe to do so) that will evoke a similar mood and mystery on a smaller scale. For our purposes that means there are many places where people could potentially survive a zombie attack, along with lots of opportunities for us to realistically gate the player. The key is you must look, in order to find inspiration. The trap of arbitrary spaces There is nothing more amateurish than arbitrary architecture, by which I mean spaces obviously only built for the player by the game designer. Whether it is a city street or an ancient ruin, it is the designer's job to build spaces with a fictional purpose as well as a gameplay purpose. When a player enters a temple that has no space for worship, or a tomb with no burial chamber nor rhyme nor reason behind its layout, he or she will not be convinced that they are exploring a real place. The worst starting point for a level is a series of featureless, functionless boxes joined by corridors into which gameplay is inserted from a list of gameplay goals. Levels built that way may as well be randomly generated. Even if you are creating an outside space, studying ordinance survey maps to see how real world topology looks and going for a stroll in the hills will let you turn a bland height map into a believable outside space. The difference between a height map that has been pulled up and down randomly, and one that appears to have simulated real weathering is enormous. Looking at real spaces for inspiration will bring the physical rules of building construction to the forefront of your mind, it will inevitably bring truth to your work and give you ideas that you would not otherwise have thought of. You must design the spaces of your level primarily for the people living in the game world and then adapt it for the player. Starting Point: Floor Plan I'm going to use this section of a hospital floorplan, based on a general admissions unit from a real hospital, to show how one floor of the level might be constructed through fiction. First off you can see that while the majority of the areas are not designed for the public to wander around, access to them is relatively easy. For instance, the admin area is easily accessible by climbing over the reception desks from the waiting room, even if the two doors were closed and locked. The only rooms that are likely to be kept locked at all times are the workrooms, the records room, and the storage room. They would most likely have keycard or combination locks so that staff could relatively easily get in and out but patients couldn't wander in willy nilly. The examination rooms would most likely have been unlocked when the zombies arrived, but along with the nurses room, the manager's office and the W.C, they could have been locked by survivors trying to escape the living dead. Red and Blue Keys There have been an untold number of physical key card puzzles in games, and almost as many broken-down elevators. The hardest challenge in design is avoiding the clichés when trying to disguise the keys and locks in the levels. Kung Fu Zombie Killer is a beat em up, so most rooms on this floorplan are probably too small to fight effectively in. The rooms can be scaled up to an extent without becoming ludicrously oversized, but it is general note that as games lean towards more believable spaces there is a greater need for better camera and animation systems to cope with confined spaces. The reality is that without unique abilities, there is little that hasn't already been done a hundred times when it comes to player gating. The standard options have been so thoroughly explored, re-dressed and reskinned, that many games these days have simply begun to do away with them altogether. Games like GTA let you go almost anywhere and attack problems from any angle. Their gates are metagame gates; the beginning and end of missions, the opening of new city areas. They don't struggle to mask the opening of the game world in fiction -- they make it very clear. I'm not arguing for one way or the other; both can be done well or poorly. In this game, I'm using NPCs as keys; they are keys that can be eaten by your enemies. If your keys die, then you won't be able to achieve some (or potentially any) of your goals. Populating the level Now that we have a better understanding of our location, it is time to look to any ramping documents and decide what sorts of scenarios have to be fit into the level. Kung Fu Zombie Killer's NPCs are also used as the game's help system, pickups, power-ups, quest givers, quest items, achievements, secret items, traps and puzzles. They are ultimately flexible from a gameplay point of view, but even better, they add life and narrative to the game. We want to place the following in this section of the level based on a ramping plan: NPC's to save: • A security guard - who shoots zombies and has a security pass • ~2 doctors - who heal the crowd and lower chance of crowd infection • ~4 nurses - who increase Ken's health • ~18 civilians - who contributes to Ken's damage bonus by cheering Items to use: • toilet • letter openers • sinks • heavy swinging lamps • dishes of scalpels • table lamps • windows • flower pots • wooden chairs • head-height glass cabinet doors Zombies to Kill: • Tons of them. Sculpting the play path When working into realistic spaces the first thing to do is work out how much you want to modify the physical flow from room to room. This comes down to how linear or open you want a level to be. For the sake of this example we are going to funnel the player fairly heavy handedly just to illustrate some of the ways it can be done. In this case I used two standard techniques; the permanently blocked door and the hole in the wall. The fiction for these changes is fortifications that are so drastic that they can't be undone, and walls that a large number of zombies have burst through. These two types of permanent changes to the floor plan can dramatically change the way you move around a realistic space. The first step is to define the primarily play path. I have funneled the player in a big circle all the way round to the storage closet above the entrance, where the security guard is hiding with a nurse. The security guard is necessary to unlock the door on the east wall, the only way through which you can reach the staircase and exit this floor. The barricades can be disassembled by any survivors if you approach from the side where the crosses are. The fortification point is this floor's zombie spawner. Ken has to fight on the patio while the survivors build the barricade, before jumping back into the building at the last second. The more survivors Ken has released, the faster that the barricade can be built, but the player needs to make sure that there are no (or few) zombies left inside the building because the survivors are vulnerable while fortifying. Everything else is fairly self-explanatory; there are four bonus civilians and a nurse that can be unlocked from the manager's office if the player backtracks with the security guard, lots of zombies to kill, and a second barricade that can be dismantled to create a shortcut if backtracking is necessary through this space. Set dressing The simplest examples of level stories are told through the "forensic" placement of art; bloody hand prints on the walls, discarded children's toys, and overturned tables and chairs. They don't affect gameplay, but they provide mood and richness to the level. For masterful use of storytelling through set dressing, look at Fallout 3. Every area had its own stories to tell from depravity through to insanity, all laid out in the artful placement of everyday objects. Those small forensic clues can be expanded to full narratives describing the fates of characters you may never meet in the game. For instance, you might find graffiti scrawled in blood on the walls describing somebody's final moments, but finding a room with its doors off its hinges, a toppled pile of tables and chairs just behind it and a fat, satisfied-looking zombie sitting in a puddle of blood, tells a similar story while also offering you the chance to respond. This level is filled with possibilities for those details and they can all be pulled out of the backstory of these survivors. The Backstory As I sculpted the play path I wanted, I was coming up with the following back story: Zombies first came into the waiting room from the stairwell. The security guards managed to fight them off and managed to permanently block that door. Meanwhile, two patients ran and locked themselves in the toilet. Next, zombies started coming in through the entrance. The hospital staff moved everyone out of the waiting room and barricades were set up trying to secure the admin area. Meanwhile, the zombies in the stairwell manage to smash through a wall into one of the examination room. Another permanent barricade was set up, and just to be sure, a security guard locked the next examination room's door as well, just to be safe. By this point zombies have started climbing over the reception desk and break through the right hand door into the admin area. Everyone evacuated further back into the offices except one doctor who hides under a desk. A nurse was already hiding in the manager's office, and she let four patients in as the zombies swarmed the admin area. The rest of the survivors ran towards the patio, but a mass of zombies smash their way in through the patio door and the survivors find themselves surrounded. Groups crush into any nearby room and lock the doors behind them, leaving some unlucky people locked out in the corridor. Almost the entirety of this story -- plus the stories of the other humans that didn't survive this attack -- can be carefully laid out in the artwork. The more questions you ask, the more stories can be hinted at: • Is there a reason that the security guard ends up with that particular nurse in the storage room? • Is there a reason why one nurse has access to the securely locked manager's office? • Who shut the door of the North East workroom, shutting the zombies in there with a group of (now dead) nurses? The upshot of using this method will be a sense of authenticity during play that you cannot achieve any other way. While players may not consciously pick up even half of the detail you are putting in, they will feel it. They will be drawn into your world in a way that more laissez-faire methods simply cannot achieve. Thunderdome Part 2 Now, were I a member of a level building team, the map I've created above and the back story that goes with it would be presented along with all the others: one from each team member. They would be reviewed by the whole level team, who having all thought it through deeply, are now informed critics, under the watchful eye of the lead that wrote the Flow Diagram. Each design would be unique and all would have their plusses and minuses. No one design will be so perfect that it will be better than everyone else's in every respect. I know there would be better ideas on the table than mine because I work with talented people. But perhaps some of my ideas would be end up being selected and they would go into a final level layout that would be better than anything any one of us could do alone. Fact. And that's magic. Summary • Research thoroughly; there are many people who will know if you skimp. • Always visit a real location for inspiration. • Always start from an architecturally sound floor plan. • Sculpt the play space with events that occurred before the player arrived. • Define the back story through the design and let them feed each other. • Write down the back story so that as the design is realized on screen; all departments can express it through art, animation, and sound. *Note: This article is posted on Next Level Design with permission from the author Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132801/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
  8. Next Level Design has been given permission from the author to host this entire book in PDF format. Download the attached PDF at the bottom of this article for the entire book, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70zStill not sure? Read through this section on lighting that was recently posted on Next Level Design: In addition, we've included another small section of the book right here: pg. 25 INTRODUCTION Due to games’ ever-increasing complexity and the expanding nature of levels in general, it can certainly be said that levels are not easy to design. Levels, as said before, are combinations of dozens of different aspects, the conglomeration of which render them complex by nature. This combination of complex systems itself requires good design from the start in order to avoid an inconsistent and downright messy result. Because the different aspects are so interdependent, it’s very important not to lose sight of a level’s ‘big picture’. This chapter highlights some of the issues that can pop up when designing a level, as well as some more minor aspects to keep in mind. The overall design is the foundation for a level. Without a clear, strong design, there is no solid base on which to build the level. THE CREATION OF A NEW WORLDThe most important part of a successful level is its beginning. The way a level starts will determine a great deal about how the rest of the level will evolve and how quickly. In these days of growing complexity, efficiency and speed are valued highly. Getting off to a bad start or using bad work methods can cost time which is usually at a premium to begin with. Part of starting a good design is foreseeing potential problems before anything is created. By doing this early in the process, a good level designer can quickly and easily modify the design to better fit the available time, workload, difficulty, technical limits, or all of the above.How one begins a new level is different for every person. One designer may write everything down in a design document while another, like me, just plans it out in their head. The method used also depends upon if one is working in a team environment. Working with a team means that the level’s design must be communicated throughout the team which usually means some sort of written, drawn, or quickly modeled design that can be passed around and/or presented. How it’s done isn’t important as long as several key aspects are kept in mind and the end product is of a sufficient quality. If the technology used cannot create lush jungles, for example, then this must be recognized before starting.A design should progress only when exactly what is wanted and how to accomplish it is known. Exact information is the key to this. Again using the jungle example, one must know what the jungle will look like, the colors it uses, the overall style, how the player will move through it, if the engine can render thick vegetation, what kind of physics will be involved, and too many more to list here.To assist in this task, I have developed a type of checklist that is at the base of everything I design. The list compares several key values against each other to see if they are possible and if they should be modified. It also helps define the values better. The list checks to see if the rules of, for example, lighting and composition are contrary to each other and if the goal is possible and what direction to take. This extensive chapter will mostly be about the latter.A level is complex and it takes increasingly more time and effort to successfully complete one; thus failure is not an option. All the areas that could potentially cause a problem should be identified before starting any work. Once the design process starts it should go smoothly; design dilemmas should not occur or, if they do, should be easily overcome with few modifications to the overall plan. Getting stuck can be very demoralizing and time consuming. pg. 26THE CHECKLISTA level always begins with a goal, a theme, or both. The goal may be that the game requires a medieval castle, or that it’s missing an ominous environment, or that the level is to be the central hub of the game.After identifying the basic idea, certain key information needs to be pinned down before starting the level. This ‘key information’ will be referred to as ‘the keys’. The keys communicate important properties about the level. They are the key words the level is built around and provide more information on the level’s requirements.The following are questions to determine the key information for the level-to-be: • (1-Time) How much time is there available? Is there a deadline? • (2-Tech) What tools and game engine will be used? • (3-Limitations) What limitations are there? Is there a shortage of art assets or staff/personal skill limit? Can anything be made or are some aspects beyond the scope of the project because of their complexity? • (4-Requirements) What kind of requirements are there? Are there any specific elements, for example, special buildings or areas that have to be in the level? When compared to the rest of the game what visual style or theme must the level adhere to? • (5-Purpose) What is the overall purpose? For example, is it a multiplayer practice level or a singleplayer boss arena? • (6-Gameplay) What should the gameplay be like? How should it be played? Should there be enough room for a large boss encounter? Or does it need to be large enough to contain a large number of enemies attacking the player? Perhaps it’s a vehicle level? Or it is a stealth level? And so on. • (7-Theme) What theme and/or style will the level have? Will it be a castle or a jungle? Will the style be cartoonish or realistic?This is all essential information for a level. The order of the list is not as important as the answers. Once the essential elements of the level have been identified it can be run through a checklist to see if it holds up. Will it work? Look right? Play right?The keys provide the information while the checklist determines if it is possible or not. The checklist combines two or more keys in order to determine if they fit together or not. If the desired theme is a jungle, but the engine can’t handle rendering dense vegetation, then these are two keys that do not fit together and the design will need to be adjusted accordingly. This is the type of information the keys provide: essential information that design decisions can be based on before actually starting work on a level. Thinking ahead is the key to success.The checklist itself is a system for asking questions and making comparisons. The questions are different each time, but the comparisons remain the same. Verify that the individual elements compliment each other.Here's the entire Table of Contents: Download the attached PDF below, or view it here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uB3pUjPkHuWWOYEc70nkVjVlR09ua70z *The Hows and Whys of Level Design is hosted on Next Level Design with permission from the authorFollow Sjoerd De JongWebsite: http://www.hourences.com/Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/Twitter: https://twitter.com/HourencesYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed The Hows and Whys of Level Design.pdf
  9. Lighting: The theory behind lighting out your levels. How to create an interesting setup and what to watch out for. IntroductionLighting is one of the most important and influential elements in environments. It has the power to make or break the visuals, theme and atmosphere.Lighting is often forgotten or underestimated. Designers often add it quickly and without much love. While in the past that was partially excusable by the weak hardware and game engines, these excuses just won't hold up anymore. Lighting is just as important as geometry. Without lighting there is no environment but just a group of 3 dimensional objects. Lighting has the capacity to bring life to a group of objects and take them to the next level of quality. Its purpose goes further than just giving the players the ability to see where they are going.It creates atmosphere. It makes places look scary/cozy or warm/cold. It augments the three dimensional feel of objects and it creates composition and balance to lead the player's eyes around. Yet considering all of that there is a very large group of games and levels out there which use nothing more than white ambient lighting everywhere.The SourceThe most basic rule of lighting is that it always needs a lightsource. Even more important, and this is the second rule; the light should appear to be cast by a source. It is impossible to have lighting in an area with no source, like in this bad example. Info P083: UT2004 level DM Rankin – Personal work – Owned by Epic Games – Modified version to fit the example While there is plenty of lighting in this corridor it's impossible to tell where the light is coming from. This completely breaks the illusion and looks fake.Also to be avoided is lighting that is out of balance with the size of the source. For example, a small light source that somehow manages to illuminate an entire room or corridor, like in this bad example. Info P084: UT level CTF Ortican – Personal work – Owned by myself and textures by Epic Games – Modified version to fit the example Keep things in proportion!Light sources can be anything: small or large lamps hanging on walls or from ceilings, the moon or the sun, crystals, lasers and other type of high tech beams, fire, mirrors, magical effects, water surfaces that bounce back light, lava or radioactive slime and so on. Everything is possible as long as there is a noticeable source.The same goes for the brightness of the source itself. If the lighting is very bright the source itself should not be dim. It should be just as bright and, if possible, have effects like a glow to enhance the brightness. Info P085: UT level DM Sion – Personal work – Owned by myself – Modified version to fit the example The left example is bad because the lamp appears to be disabled even while the environment does seem to receive lighting of it. The brightness of the light source and the brightness of the lighting in an area must be balanced and appear equal.Related to this is the next important aspect. Show the player where exactly the light is coming from. The area near a source should look the brightest. A logical thought. Info P086: UT level CTF Raid – Personal work – Owned by myself – Modified version to fit the example The first example is bad, the second one is good. The first one is bad because the entire area has an equal brightness which is strange. It doesn't feel as if the lighting is really coming from the lamp. The lighting should be considerably brighter near the source than ten meters further away in a corner. It should fade out as it travels further and further away from the source. It should show variation and that's not only more realistic but it also helps the lighting composition. Show a direct influence from one element on the other!ColorsThe most complex rule of lighting is that colored lighting is a must and absolute requirement in almost every situation. Colors can make or break a composition; they shape the atmosphere and emotions associated with an area and they simply make environments more interesting and lively to look at.Most light sources in the world cast lighting that, in one way or another, have color. Therefore it is not very realistic to place white lighting in the environment. For example, a lamp might cast yellow light because it is surrounded by yellow glass. Or perhaps it is an old lamp and the glass is beginning to change color due to the wet environment it is in. Or perhaps the light is shining on a yellow wall thus causing the light rays to bounce off and carry the yellow color to another surface which results in the seemingly yellow lighting.That bouncing is the radiosity effect and as up to now there still aren’t any games which can offer correct and complex radiosity lighting.Therefore, until there is such technology available, one must color the lights oneself instead of relying on how the atmosphere or materials might enhance the lighting. They won't because of the limited technology. If color isn't added, the result will be very bland and fake.Another aspect of lighting is the light temperature. There is a theory that says light is energy and the stronger the light the more energy it has and thus the warmer it is. The temperature influences the strength. Info P091a: lighting temperatures – Owned by myself 1600K is sunset and sunrise and 1800K is a candle. 2800K is a regular light, 5000K is midday sun and so on. Thus the chance that the light in the game environment would cast pure white lighting is rather small.Also notice that red is actually colder than blue. Arc welding or lightning are blue because they are much hotter and stronger compared to a pretty weak, regular, orange fire.A warm blue and a cold red contradict what you will read in a few pages about the warmth of a color. Remember that blue is only warmer than red in a scientific perspective. Emotionally, on the other hand, red probably feels warmer than blue. Common color associations are at the base of that feeling. When something is hot it will glow red while cold things like water and ice are blue. They influence our perspective toward colors. These are very powerful clichés.Another reason to use colors is the composition. In fact one color is not enough most of the time; at least two colors are needed or else creating contrast will be impossible. If only one lighting color is used, that very important color contrast is lost and the result would again be very bland. Info P091: UT level DM Sion – Personal work – Owned by myself – Modified version to fit the example Change is also necessary in order to form a composition and one color can not offer the necessary changes. The colors used need to be balanced. They need to strike the right balance between providing enough contrast yet still complement each other. Harmony is the word to remember well when dealing with lighting.Before being able to work with lighting colors one must understand how colors work. There is a huge difference between the regular colors used to create textures and the colors used to light an area with. Lighting is made of RGB, which stands for Red, Green and Blue. CRT monitors and TV's use this system as well.On the other hand paintings, pencils, prints and so on are CMY. They operate on three totally different primary base colors: Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Or, in very simplified terms, blue, red, and yellow; the primary colors - which are often learned about when one is very young.The real difference between the two systems lies in how they create colors; or how they mix. CMY colors will end up as a brown black mess when mixed together. Think about what happened to all the colors when someone mixed all the paint together back in grade school.RGB on the other hand will end up as white when mixed. Shine multiple colored lights at one spot and they will end up creating a white spot.The important difference for us is that certain color combinations which work great in a painting will never work out in lighting! And the other way around. It is impossible to use a color combination that works in CMY for lighting because of two reasons.First off, any color viewed is a mix of the three primary colors. RGB mixes differently so the colors it creates simply will look different than those created by CMY. This is especially a problem when one color accidentally mixes with another in spots, something that is bound to happen when working with lighting. Mixing blue and red in CMY might look nice in paint but when red and blue are used in lighting they will create purple spots. Certain variations and mixes of colors are not the same in both types.Secondly, lighting RGB (notice the word lighting in front of it as what's about to be explained is only true for lighting) simply doesn't have all the colors CMY has. Converting color combinations is therefore not always possible. RGB does not have dark yellow, dark red and so on. It can't create dark colors because lighting cannot be dark - it is always light. It can however be more or less saturated or intense but not dark. Black light doesn't exist. And thus neither does gray or brown light exist.One could say that lighting uses simpler colors and has more limitations. There are fewer colors and less subtle changes to use because of the lack of dark colors. Lighting is constrained to a relatively small set of colors that can be used.What makes this even more difficult is that half of those available colors almost never work out well in most themes and subtle changes in hue or saturation are barely noticeable. Colors like purple or pink are almost impossible to use in most themes and styles because they simply do not fit in nor look natural. Using them will most likely result in some weird and unrealistic disco style rather than anything else. The palette of colors to use is very small and mainly consists of yellow, orange, blue, cyan, red and a tiny bit of green.Never use painter logic and rely on mixing brighter lights with darker lights to create changes in your environment. Dark colors do not exist! One can only see a difference when a light's color or saturation radically changes so subtle changes won't be noticeable. Here's why: Light is always a gradient. It always creates a lighter area and a darker area. Lighting simply starts somewhere and then fades out as it travels further away from its source. If one attempts to create contrast by using darker and brighter lights of the same color then the result wouldn't show a contrast at all but would look weird because some lights would appear too weak to be possible.Now that the theory of color has been explained, it is time to apply this knowledge to light application in a level. The idea behind colors is to allow them to add to the theme and atmosphere and to let them create a composition to aid the eyes and to keep things interesting.Colors continued: composition and choicesColors offer various types of contrasts and feelings. It is essential to understand them and use them correctly in order to create interesting and fitting lighting for the level.One should almost always use more than one light color in the level. As mentioned before, the key to create an interesting look and composition is to create well balanced contrasts. Too little or too much contrast is bad. Info P092: UT level DM Sion – Personal work – Owned by myself – Modified version to fit the example Neither looks good. The first picture is very repetitive and thus boring because everything has the same lighting color. The second picture has so many different lighting colors that there's no harmony and it looks completely random. This is undesirable.Avoid weak compositions or very harsh ones. When transformed into the flow charts, previously seen in the composition chapter, the above two pictures show clear problems. Info P093a and P093b: Scanlines The line either has very little change or the change is so hard and sudden that the eyes hit several steep walls when they follow the line.The line should show changes that are quite noticeable yet flow enough to not hurt the eyes. Info P094: Scanline It is for this reason that the right combinations and placement of the lighting colors are needed. I personally always use two main light colors such as blue and yellow and then a third color, like orange, to give extra contrast and difference to a few special elements.The third color is to prevent the two main colors from becoming repetitive. Too much of the same combination can also become boring. The third color's purpose is to occasionally break up that combination.I refrain from using four colors because too many colors can make things look random. It should never look like a mess; unity is the goal.Composition-wise, lighting colors should follow the same rules as highlights. Their composition must be evenly spread out so there are no large spots of the same color which could unbalance the visuals in that area! If the entire right side of a room only has blue lights and the left side has blue and yellow lights it might appear unbalanced. This also depends on the composition of other elements such as the architecture and any moving geometry though.Now one may wonder what colors to use and combine. Combining colors in lighting is about more than just finding a random combination that looks cool. There are systems and arguments that help create the right combination. The lighting colors should not only enhance the visuals and the composition but they should also enhance the theme and atmosphere. The choice of what colors to use depends, for a large part, on the theme and desired atmosphere. A scary theme requires cold colors for example.There are different types of color combinations and each one of them offers another type of contrast.First of all there are cold and warm colors. Some colors feel cold, such as blue, while others feel warm, like orange. Cold colors are blue, green and purple. Warm colors are yellow, red and orange. It is logical that combining a warm and a cold color can give nice results.Another type is the strong and easy color combination. Some colors are very aggressive and powerful while others are very easy and relaxed. Strong colors grab a lot of attention even if they are used in small amounts. Red is the best example of this. It is such a powerful color that even a small spot in an environment can be dominating. Info P095: TCOS Carnyx – Personal work – Owned by Spellborn NV – Modified version to fit the example In this picture the one thing that stands out the most is the red light. Red is incredibly aggressive and thus should be used with caution since it can make the player forget everything else in the scene. That might not be the desired effect.Other aggressive colors are orange and then yellow. Easy colors are the colors that invoke comfort and calm. They rest the eyes. Easy colors are blue, green, and purple.The last type of color combination is the light and dark one. Is the color closer to white or closer to black? The simplest way of checking if a color is light or dark is to think what would happen if it was converted to grayscale. Think of what a copy machine would do to it. Red is a dark color. It becomes almost black when converted to grayscale. The same is true for blue and purple. On the other hand green, and especially yellow, are bright colors.Choosing the right color is not just a random choice. The better the choice the better the contrast will be and therefore the better it will look. Two cold colors should not be chosen as the main light colors, for example. One is better off combining different types of colors together like a warm orange with a cold blue.The best combination of colors to use in lighting is yellow with blue and all the variations on it (for example orange-blue and yellow-turquoise).Yellow is a bright, aggressive, and warm color while blue is a dark, easy, and cold color. It is the only combination that manages to use the opposites of all three types, which is also the reason why it is used in so many games. The yellow also is subtle enough to not draw all the attention to itself like red would. And next to all that it is also the most natural combination. More on that later.To complicate things more, there is one element which can make the effects of each of these different types stronger of weaker and that is saturation. White is a special color that feels neither cold nor warm, aggressive or easy. Apart from being a bright color, it is very neutral so lowering the saturation of a color can neutralize the effects a little and that can be useful. In order to achieve a balanced look it's necessary to find the right saturation for the colors. If all the colors are one hundred percent saturated the result would probably be a very harsh look with very strong colors. Info P096: UT level DM Sion – Personal work – Owned by myself and textures by Epic Games – Modified version to fit the example While creating contrast, unity should not be forgotten. In the example above the contrast is way too harsh resulting in an ugly, unbalanced, and unrealistic situation. It is the balance between the two that forms the key to success. I usually pick colors that are only fifty percent saturated but whatever works for the particular situation is good.Slightly desaturating your main colors is, in most cases, the way to go although there are always exceptions. For example, colors like red will turn pink when desaturated. There are also a couple of light sources that always need very saturated light; fire for example.The amount of saturation something has can greatly alter its look or feel. A very white blue feels colder than a very saturated blue. This is important when one is after a cold feel.And that brings us to another very important point: theme. As mentioned before colors are not randomly chosen. 'Because it looks nice' should never be the sole argument about why color X is being used. The color combination should not only fit together but it should also enhance the theme and atmosphere. For example, if the theme is an ice environment, then lots of warm colors, like orange, shouldn't be used. Info P097: Example – Personal work – Owned by Spellborn NV The first example is bad, the second one is good as it feels colder. A cold environment needs cold colors; blue for example.People associate colors with feelings. The whiter the color is the cleaner or colder the area will appear while darkness is experienced as scary or depressing. When I design a new level I always ask myself the question 'What color do people associate with the theme I have in mind?' If I design a lava environment it's very clear I will need a lot of red and orange lighting.After I have my first main color I always try to find the second main color. The second main color has to create a contrast yet look nice in combination with the first color. When my theme involves lots of water or a sea my first main color will be blue and my second color yellow. A dawn environment asks for yellow or perhaps even a deep orange as the first main color and blue as the second main color. Humid environmentsfeel better with some green and so on.As mentioned in other chapters it is about clichés. People need to quickly recognize something and they can do that through clichés.Sunlight is perhaps the best example of how radiosity and contrasting colors work and how the atmosphere affects the color. Unless it is noon, direct sunlight is always slightly colored. Think of what color the sun has in the evening or at dawn. It will appear as orange or yellow most of the times. Indirect sunlight has a color as well. It is usually a blue/slightly purple color. Info P098: Examples – Personal work – Owned by myself In these evening beach photos the color of the sun and ambient lighting is readily apparent. The direct sunlight is orange while the ambient light is blue. White lighting is, in almost all situations, unrealistic; just as coloring an entire outdoor area with the same color is. In most situations there should always be two colors around. One for the direct sunlight, which is likely a type of yellow, and one for the indirect sunlight, which is usually a type of blue. Not only is this realistic but it will also look much better.Texturing and lightingTexturing can make or break your lighting. Textures are the base for the lighting. The texturing of the world carries a large responsibility. While I already explained this theory in the texture chapter I would like to give a few common mistakes extra focus.If a texture is too dark it cannot be lit well. The same goes for overly bright or white textures. They will look very bright when lit. Info P099: Examples – Personal work – Owned by myself A solution could be to up or downscale the intensity of the lights but that is not the best way to go. In the end the fault lies in the texturing and not in the lighting so it is the texturing that has to be fixed. Fix the cause, not the result.Changing the light intensity will also cause trouble if the level uses a combination of dark and bright textures (a snow level with dark buildings for example). Downscaling the light intensity would make the darker textures appear even darker and if one were to upscale it the bright textures would look way too bright. Therefore the textures used in an environment should be balanced and have roughly the same level of brightness!The same is true for colors in textures. The colors used in textures can influence the look and feel of the lighting and they will. It is essential to foresee which lighting colors to use while texturing the level. If the textures in an area are, for example, very orange and yellow it might end up weird when they are later lit with blue lighting. Info P100: Examples – Personal work – Owned by myself If the design is to light the environment with many blue lights for whatever reason, then, during texturing, it should be ensured that the textures are desaturated enough or have roughly the same color as most of the lighting.The point is that the texture choice can heavily influence the lighting. Textures and materials are the base for lighting, and if the texturing isn't in harmony with the lighting, then one of the two is going to suffer. All elements in a world are connected and influence each other.Article Source: https://www.moddb.com/tutorials/lighting-in-game-environments-the-hows-and-whys*This article is posted in its entirety with permission from the authorFollow Sjoerd De JongWebsite: http://www.hourences.com/Portfolio: http://www.hourences.com/portfolio/Twitter: https://twitter.com/HourencesYoutube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Hourences/feed
  10. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying either a game that they are making or one that they are playing! I have been thinking about what to write about, what deep design philosophies can I share with my fellow devs? So many wise thoughts and the one I landed on is “Where is the Toilet?” Now you may be thinking “What the F*** does this have to with Level Design” and I am glad you asked, even though I did not like your sass there. When I ask this question I am asking about the research you have done before building this level and also where is the toilet in your level. (The ‘where is the toilet part’ may not apply to all games or levels) In case you hadn't guessed this post is going to be about Level Designers needing to do more research before starting work on their levels. I know this sounds like an obvious part of level design but I see a lot of young level designers go in and making the level instantly without much thought. I too was guilty of this when I was younger as well. Now when creating anything, the blank screen can be the most intimidating thing ever! We have all been there staring at the screen thinking, “where to begin?” well the answer should always and I mean always…….. No back chat here sonny Jim. Research! So what research am I referring to for level design then? First think of the theme of your level, such as Victorian, utility, native, and also the location of your level as well. A house out in the mountains of Alaska will be designed different to a house in London’s city centre. Gather as many reference pictures as possible for your research. One of my leads (Daniel Molnar, great guy and very intelligent level designer) said to me, “Only when you have 100 pictures, do you start to understand the space” And true to his word he would not let me touch the editor until I had enough pictures, an understanding of the space and how it worked. Thanks to Dan I made a great sewer level and now know the stages of the sewage processing system. So ever since that I ALWAYS try to make sure I make time to do my research, sadly I do not always get as long as I want but I do make sure I have enough pictures to help me create a picture in my head. Now that you understand the location of your level and the theme you want to start looking into the architecture of these buildings and areas. As level designers, we should be looking at architecture regularly. (A cool article on what it was like for architects to work on video games: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DeannaVanBuren/20151012/254238/Architecture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php). Look around the room you are sat in now, and see how many indents, angled corners and other shapes there are which make your room Not a box. Once you start to research these things you will start to pick this stuff up. One thing which is noticeable with inexperienced LDs work is all the rooms are boxes. Architecture is where we see a lot of real level design work every day. How their structures of these buildings affects how we move through them, the layout of rooms, what rooms they have in these buildings, space certain rooms may need and how the flow from one room to another works. One of my favourite things to research is floor plans of buildings. Each of these layouts will be different depending on the theme and will obtain different items as well due to the theme. These will not only help influence your design but also help your artist (or artistic side depending on how you are working) understand how to decorate your level and may possibly help you guys come up with interesting methods to signpost. Another reason is you never know what you might see, which could inspire your design and provide you with something even more incredible. Now for example look at this power plant, which in my opinion is super cool, this top catwalk is interesting as instead of the bridges connected maybe the player has to rotate them from the ground floor to get them to join. With all these layers and sections, it looks like a great area for traversal. Being able to go up, around and under this area is amazing. When it comes to white boxing your level you will be able to show these images to your artist and they will be able to understand what you mean by those giant boxes. “Pictures speak a thousand words”. If you were to put a twist on this power plant and to make it feel like a maze, then now you want to start researching what? Mazes! 10 gold stars (Sounded way more patronizing than I meant it to be). So now we can see that there dead ends but also viewpoints to allow players to find their bearings. When designing this level we can add vantage points for players to scan the area for clues, maybe even have loot/collectibles in certain dead ends to reduce player frustration and reward exploration. Summary on why research/reference is important: - Give you a better understanding of what is believable in this theme. - Provide an idea for your artist on what you want. - Inspire your design choices Where is the toilet? Now onto the second part of the blog (I swear readers are going to get sick of that question) of where is the toilet? Dan had now let me work in the editor it now came time for his reviews on my work, and what was the question he asked me for each of my levels! Yeah you know what it is, now we working together on Tom Clancy’s The Division – Underground which in case you do not know is a procedurally generated dungeon expansion in which players travel through the underground areas of New York, from the subway system to the sewers to clear out the threat brewing underneath the civilians feet. Overall the review was going well, the flow was good, it had good landmarks for players to orientate themselves in case they were lost. But Dan felt some of these areas were not believable because there were no toilets. Because the Division is based on reality I had skipped one thought process when doing my research and that was “How would these spaces of been used before chaos struck?” Boom mind blown, I had created these thrilling and high octane areas but not grounded them in reality or the law of my game’s world. Dan then showed me one of the Senior LDs work who was working on a subway level and what did he have….toilets. His space felt not only good to play through but also was grounded by reality. (Some playthroughs of the expansion HERE) These critics’ could have been avoided had I done my research on these areas I was making and thought about how they are originally used and not just how I would use them for good combat or traversal. If you go back and look at those pictures of the floor plans I have in this blog. You will see how all of them have bathrooms laid out on them. The floor plans are mainly residential or commercial buildings so they will. When making your level, (again will not apply to every game or level) think about how was this spaced use before the player reached it and more than likely how did the people inhabiting this space use it? Because if they are bipedal human-like creatures I think we all know that they will need to use the bathroom at some point or another. Next time you are in a realistic gaming setting, try and find the bathroom, as it will most likely be there. Hope this helps guys and “Where is the bathroom?” is a question I keep asking myself when creating my levels as well as researching the buildings, themes, environments etc, for my game. I hope it makes you think about carrying out your research before starting work on your level. Which trust me will make your level much better and more believable. *This article is posted on Next Level Design with the author's permission Source: https://www.gamesfounder.com/articles/do-your-research-wheres-the-toilet-level-design/ 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://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  11. About Ben Burkart I initially became interested in level design as a full time career at the age of 12 when somebody gave me a copy of the original Unreal Tournament. I do not recall exactly how it happened but I ended up stumbling upon the level editor and quickly became fascinated with it. Above all the thing that stood out to me and fascinated me the most was the idea of creating my own levels. The authors names were under the properties of each level in the game and because I was so interested in level design these people in a very large way became my role models even though I had no idea who they were. One name that appeared on several of my favorite maps was Cliff Bleszinski. I knew nothing about him other than that he made a lot of my favorite maps and that I also wanted to become a level designer so I set out to contact him. I sent an email with one single question “How much money do you make a year?” I was not aware that this was rude to ask, I was just a clueless kid in the country who wanted to make video games… I received a response that simply said “3 billion“. I do not remember if I actually believed him at the time but it was enough to make me excited to push forward with making levels. After making levels for a couple of years I got my first phone interview at Nintendo at the age of 15. I do not know what they saw in my work but I was told that my work stood out to them and it was all I needed to hear to push myself to getting my first job in the industry which eventually happened in 2007 at Gearbox Software. At Gearbox Software I worked as a level designer on Brothers in Arms Hell’s Highway. They had an amazing cog program that really helped me get my foot in the door initially. After Gearbox Software I worked at a studio named Blue Omega Entertainment where I worked on a game called Damnation. I came in towards the end of the production of Damnation so my responsibilities were more in the direction of polishing the levels and improving upon the multiplayer maps in terms of both layout and visuals. Lake Scene by Ben Burkart After Blue Omega I started at a small indie studio named Trendy Entertainment working on Dungeon Defenders1/firstwave/second wave, and Dungeon Defenders 2. I stayed at Trendy Entertainment for 4 1/2 years and then got a job at Empire Studios working on an unannounced Unreal Engine 4 title. Overall my responsibilities in each studio were generally the same with the exception that I was given more responsibilities as I became more experienced and I eventually took a lead level designer position at Trendy Entertainment. Responsibilities at each studio generally came down to creating the level layouts and bringing them to final visual polish, including gameplay passes, decoing the levels, lighting them, and in many situations optimizing and finalizing them.The Best Tools for the Level Designer Forest Scene by Ben Burkart I use Unreal Engine 4 for one very important reason, it empowers its users. One of the most important advantages I believe Unreal Engine has always had over other engines is a superior workflow. Tools are always robust and empower the developers to save hundreds of hours of development time even over the previous Unreal Engine 3. In Unreal Engine 1 and 2 if a level designer or artist wanted to do some fun scripted stuff that the code didn’t currently support they would need the help of a programmer. With the additions of kismet and Blueprint the engine has basically upped the possibilities that a developer can pull off allowing for not only quick prototyping but also quick implementation, bug fixing, and overall just general production. The most important thing when it comes to game engines is that they allow the developers to do what they want. The less time you spend fighting technical stuff and trying to get buggy software to work the quicker you can get an amazing project finished. And for this reason I have stuck with Unreal Engine since 2001 through all of its iterations. Generally a level designer can get away with knowing nothing more than the Unreal Editor and still be an amazing level designer. However several level design job positions will require some knowledge of 3D modeling software such as 3ds Max, or Maya so I would suggest learning one of these as a secondary skill to at least an intermediate level. If you are just starting out I would definitely suggest putting all of your time and effort into only learning UE4 to start off as it can easily be daunting all by itself. Companies will prefer somebody extremely efficient in UE4 vs somebody who is mediocre in both UE4 and 3D modeling.The Tricks of Building Levels in 3D Daoist - Unreal Tournament 3 Level from Ben Every project should be approached differently when it comes to planning out your level but generally there are a lot of points that remain the same. Spending a few days worth of planning out your level can save you weeks or headaches and reworking later on. There are a few main things you need to get down before you even begin thinking out your layout. It is always important to have a goal and purpose for your level, deciding this early on should influence how you make decisions regarding layout/visuals/balancing through every step of your levels creation. When preparing to design your level you should have a clear indication as to what kind of visual theme you are going for as it should influence your layout as well as allow you to get the right assets together or to get a better idea of what kind of assets you are going to need.Multiplayer Maps: The Main Staples of Level Design Vicinity - Unreal Tournament 3 Level from Ben The way you approach multiplayer maps depends very heavily on what type of multiplayer map it is going to be and what game it is being developed. Let’s imagine you’re building a DeathMatch level for an arena game such as Unreal Tournament.Flow: Flow is above and beyond the most important thing in any multiplayer map, while the other things on this list have a possibility of not breaking the map if they are done somewhat poorly your map will always fail if your flow is bad.Item Placement: As with most of the things on this list the Item placement in a map can make or break your layout.Vertical Spaces: Any good Death Match level will have multiple floors/stories. Having several overlapping floors makes the gameplay a lot more interesting as well as exciting.Spawn Points: Spawn points should never be obvious to other players or be marked visually to allow players to camp and spawn kill players. Level Designers should place a minimum of 2-3 times more spawn points throughout the level than the player count its designed for, for instance if your level is designed for 4 players you should be placing a minimum of 8-12 spawn points in your level. Make sure spawn points are set so that players are spawned facing in an interesting direction or towards a nearby weapon. The sooner you can get the player back into the action the better!Using Sound: One often times overlooked feature most newer level designers overlook is using sound cues to trigger at specific spots in a level when a player runs over them. This allows players to hear where other players are at and react to the sounds they hear. A few simple ways to do this are, placing water puddles, creaking boards, clanging metal, etc.. In the case of games such as Unreal Tournament you should also use some of the health pickups in this way such as a health vial that makes a very unique sounds when picked up. Also if you have a level with several lifts/elevators it helps giving each a unique sound effect.Visual Clarity: Any competitive multiplayer game should have two things in common, good frame rates, and a very good visual clarity. Levels should be lit very well and player pathways should be extremely obvious and clear. Overall maps should be mostly devoid of noisy details as you want the players to stand out from the environment. Generally when it comes to making multiplayer maps it pays to under deco vs over deco your maps. As much as a lot of people enjoy making their levels a visual masterpiece players will often times pick the more simple maps with a better layout.Utilizing Gameplay Mechanics: Most games will have something that makes them unique. As a level designer it is your job to ensure that players are made to use these unique abilities often. For instance, in Unreal Tournament 4 players have the ability to dodge off walls, climb ledges, lift jumping, piston jumping etc… So giving players areas cool areas they can only reach by jumping at the right time at the top of a lift would be a good example of taking advantage of the gameplay mechanics.Size: The overall size of a map doesn’t always play into the final deciding factor on if it is easier or harder to create as it all depends on what the overall goal of the map is and how detailed each will be but generally a larger map will come with more challenges. For instance, making a giant MMO style map that is mostly open spaces with very little detail will for the most part be easier to create than a full city block that’s 10X smaller with 100X the detail. However, creating very large maps will have their own unique challenges, such as performance and memory restrictions. Things that are generally easier to maintain in a smaller map. However in some instances creating larger environments may be easier, but they are also easier to mess up and generally take a lot more experience from both the level designers and artists to get right. Original Source: https://80.lv/articles/8-secrets-of-a-great-multiplayer-map/ *This article has been posted in its entirely with permission from the author Ben's Website: http://www.evilmrfrank.com/ Ben's Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/evilmrfrank/videos Ben's Twitter: https://twitter.com/evilmrfrank
  12. The story behind Dust 2 - the map that was never meant to happen and at best, I thought, would be a foolish attempt to repeat the success of Dust. I gave it a go anyway.IntroductionDespite the success and overwhelming popularity of Dust, the thought of making a sequel took a long time to cross my mind. Although considered by some to be it’s spiritual successor, Cobble failed to find the same audience, and there was clear demand for a ‘real’ sequel. Dust 2 didn’t arrive until March 2001 - nearly 2 years after the original.It was never going to be easy creating a successor to the most-played FPS map in the world. Even with the benefit of the same texture set, an established theme and innumerable number of salivating CS players, it was an incredibly daunting task. I didn’t want to call it “Dust 2” for this very reason. Instead, on the basis that the third installment of any movie trilogy is typically never as good as the first one, I decided to call it “Dust 3”, and hoped no-one would notice. My assumption was that everyone would just carry on playing the original.So, I opened up Hammer, and started laying out “Dust 3”.Sticking to a ThemeFirst things first, I had to ensure that this new map had everything in common with Dust, without actually being Dust. I had to identify the elements that defined a Dust map.The ArchesPerhaps the most iconic aspect of Dust are the arches that separate main gameplay areas. Aesthetically they neatly compartmentalise the map, framing entrances and exits between areas and helping players create a mental picture of the layout. From a gameplay perspective, they produce tight choke-points between objectives, and block out unwanted lines-of-sight. Consider how Dust would have looked without the arches: Lose the arches and you get a deathmatch arena It’s worth reading the original Making of Dust if you haven’t already, as you’ll see the arches (amongst many other elements) were lifted directly from Team Fortress 2.The RoadThe stone roads through Dust were like arteries, giving players clear paths to follow towards the main objective areas. The sequel would do the same, connecting spawn points to the primary objectives.As an example of the importance of these paths, here’s what Dust would have looked like without them: Where we're going, we really do need 'roads' The TrimThe much-abused ‘trim’ along all the walls and ceilings of Dust was perhaps the single element that gave the world a hint of relief and purpose, and helped separate distinct geometric elements. It was incredibly important in a world that was almost otherwise entirely made of the same colour stone.I therefore tried to use the trim very carefully, only exactly where needed, and not just as filler. I didn’t want to repeat the mistake of many Dust-alikes where it had been peppered everywhere it fitted, flooding the visual cortex of players with the excessive complexity. Neither did I want to under-employ it, and end up with a world looking flat and barren.I tried to formalise the rules I’d employed. The trim would never appear on a floor or ceiling, or anywhere a player could stand on it. It would never be striped or tiled vertically across a surface. Finally, for any given flat wall, it would never appear more than twice (e.g. at the top, and at the bottom, but never in the middle as well.)The SunThis was perhaps the element of Dust that underwent the most tweaking - every BETA release of Counter-Strike saw it moved ever so slightly, lengthening the shadows each time. It was key to making Dust distinct amongst the other maps in rotation, and keeping it accessible and pleasant to play in. I considered giving the sequel a night setting, but in doing so would have removed a vital element of the Dust theme. The best I could do was make it exactly the same.The DesignThis new Dust had to bear resemblance to the original beyond the texture set and sunlight. It had to copy important design elements that players had become accustomed to: the ‘Dust doors’, simple structures, ramps, crates and arbitrarily raised concrete areas. In fact, I’d have to copy some areas nearly verbatim to ensure the lineage was present.At the same time, while trying to differentiate the sequel from the original, I’d have to be conservative about any new elements I was introducing. These came in the form of the half-spiral staircase, and the rock face adjoining the two bomb spot areas.There were also two distinct boxes that Dust 3 needed to tick - a place for close-quarters battles, and a place for long, drawn-out AWP fights. Dust had the central corridor and the underpass to fulfill these requirements, and I’d have to create something similar in the sequel to cater for both types of player.It was a lot to juggle.Keeping It SimpleOf course, the most important element that would make or break the sequel was the overall map layout. It had to be Dust-ish, without being Dust, different enough to give players a fresh challenge, but maintaining the balance and pace of the original.I had already spent a long time trying to work out what vital layout ingredients had Dust tick, and reached the conclusion that the simplicity and concise connectivity were key. In it’s most basic form, Dust was little more than a figure-of-eight that had grown a pair of arms and legs, centralising the battles but providing tactical wiggle room.To maximise the sequel’s chances, to make it feel like Dust and play as well as Dust, I’d have to adopt this same structure.Starting OutUnusually, I opted to draw out some doodles, rather than just diving in as I typically would. This sequel was important - it deserved careful, considered, detailed and thorough planning, a long and arduous process that would eventually span literally minutes.One of the most peculiar decisions I took at this stage was to add rock to the Dust theme. The textures had always been there, but I had never used them. It was a (miniscule) risk to adopt them now, knowing the challenges of creating believable rockery with the Half-Life engine, but I took it anyway. I needn’t have worried.The Early Dust 3It took a couple of days to convert the paper design into a playable map, although thankfully was a relatively straightforward process. Through habit, I strayed a bit from the paper designs, but maintained the overall layout that I intended, correcting the scale as I went along.The biggest problem was dealing the relative proportions of gameplay areas. I had inadvertently built the map and filled in the details in such a way that I was now hitting the very edge of the permitted space allowed by Worldcraft. But, rather than just moving the entire map a few thousand units in the opposite direction, I stuck with it, and that’s how the Terrorist spawn area ended up so long in the final revision.AlphaThe alpha version of Dust 3 was pretty close to the paper design, but lacked any character. While it was clearly a Dust map, and had both old and new Dust elements, it was far from being finished. Much like Dust, Dust 2 briefly had a cavern You can see in the shots below that the area I was most unhappy about was the second bomb spot. It only had a couple of entrances and a few crates for cover (just like the original), but clearly needed something more. The road leading from it was also a straightforward junction. All these elements were clearly derived from Dust, but detrimentally so.Around this time I invited Gearbox’s Brian Martel to offer some feedback and advice. He suggested adding arrows pointing toward bomb locations to support the existing floor markings, features that would radically improve the accessibility of the map (and were later introduced into the original Dust and indeed all other official maps.) Bomb site B Bomb site B BetaHeading to beta, I massaged the bomb site with Dust’s bomb site B in mind, adding a raised platform and shuffling more crates in to break the space up and offer more gameplay opportunities.In the process, I managed to find a way to open it up by creating a hole in the wall connecting it to the junction to bomb site A. I considered this risky - Dust had no such elements, and I wasn’t sure quite how it would look or indeed play, but it ‘felt’ right, and the objective became a far more comfortable area to navigate. I pictured how much fun I’d have armed with a Steyr Scout perched as lookout for enemies trying to breach the gates.I also took some liberties with the crates, which were sitting nervously at awkward angles, as if the laws of physics had tumbled them around a little. Again, I was wary that this was a break from the rigid, grid-like nature of Dust’s crate arrangements, such was my concern that such minor elements had been what made Dust a success. While primitive by today's standards, I was still unsure about introducing irregular shapes and a rounded staircase to the Dust theme The staircase was also unnerving. Dust never had stairs of more than a couple of steps, and this map was set to have a half-circular staircase, and in a tight area too. However, I needed some passage between those two areas, and the staircase seemed to fit and provide some interesting conflict.Despite these changes, this map had some familiar elements too. In fact, some elements were ripped nearly verbatim from the original. Dust 2's Terrorist spawn echoes the CT spawn in Dust The ramp pictured above always seemed particularly ‘Dusty’ to me, perhaps because it harked back to the TF2 screenshots that inspired Dust. The CT-side entrance to the underpass in Dust 2 bears similiarities to the T-side entrance to the underpass in Dust Again, notice the similarity - two ramps which both head down into darkness. In Dust 3, the T’s would have started at the higher end of the ramp. This later changed to the CT’s in the underpass in Dust 2.ReleaseThis had all been happening in relative secrecy. I had been intentionally keeping it quiet, not wanting to raise expectations, assuming that once it launched on a new website called GameHelper that would be the end of it. I was convinced that compared to Dust, “Dust 3” would be a failure, despite my efforts.Alas, it was not to be. Jess insisted it became part of the official Counter-Strike rotation, except under the far more sensible name of “Dust 2”. As with Dust, Jess was vital to getting the final balance of the map just right, suggesting new spawn and bomb locations.Dust 2 was released in March 2001, as part of Counter-Strike 1.1. Unlike Dust, it received no further layout tweaks after that. Dust 2's overview image from CS 1.6 Just like Dust, Dust 2 excused itself from my pessimism and became incredibly popular, not just on public servers, but in clan matches too, which Dust had become ill-suited for. Dust 2 later also stole the “most-played map” crown, sharing it only occasionally with Aztec as Dust fell down the charts to newer and better maps. I had never expected Dust 2 to compete with Dust for longer than a few weeks, but like Dust, “Dust 2 24⁄7” servers sprang up everywhere and it’s popularity meant it earned places in later versions and ports of Counter-Strike.Counter-Strike: Condition ZeroLike Dust 1, this version of Dust 2 shares much in common with the original, and is largely based on the original brushwork. The map is notably more vivid and strong in its appearance, with an overall more colourful appearance helped by the additional detail. A few changes have been sneaked in, such as crate placement around bomb sites, but otherwise the map serves as a nicer updated version of the original. Dust 2's received a fresh lick of paint in Counter-Strike: Condition Zero This version was primarily worked on by Ritual, although some finishing touches were added by Valve just before release of the game.Counter-Strike: SourceThis Dust featured a whole host of improvements, from the improved skybox (it really does feel like the middle of a desert now), improved building structures, additional detail, village clutter, as well as slight changes in the layout of the bomb sites to improve the game. Dust in CS 1.6 vs CS:Source From the overview above it’s clear that there were a number of small changes to map proportions versus the one that shipped in CS 1.1. Various passageways have been widened and made more accessible, while others have been lengthened or squared off to improve gameplay and rendering performance. The additional detail also cuts of some lines-of-sight and adds cover where there was none before, but otherwise it’s reasonably faithful to the original. Dust 2's overhaul in Counter-Strike: Source This renovation of Dust 2 was performed by Valve following the renovation of the original Dust.Counter-Strike: Global OffensiveFar and away the most beautiful version of the map ever created courtesy of Valve’s crack team of artists and designers. You can almost feel the breeze brushing around these parts This version was developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment and evidently based on the proportions set by the CS:S version of the map (many CS:S assets can be seen around the map, albeit in updated forms). It’s absolutely stunning.ElsewhereDust 2 has also made appearances in other games, courtesy of the modding community. One of my favourites is the Dust 2 conversion for Far Cry 3, showing the mapping process from start to finish: There’s also the obligatory Minecraft version.ThanksAs with Dust, none of this would have been possible without the help of Joe Markert of GameHelper, Jess Cliffe, Minh Le, Chris Ashton, Brian Martel, Richard Gray, Kristen Perry, Ido Magal, and all sorts of other people.Also, of course, ultimately I have to thank Valve Software for the idea I stole in the first place… erm, twice.Source: https://www.johnsto.co.uk/design/making-dust2/Follow DaveWebsite: https://www.johnsto.co.uk/Twitter: https://twitter.com/johnsto*This article has been posted with the permission of the author, and in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
  13. For a long while Dust was the world's most-played Counter-Strike map and it's still the one for which I am best known. Yet few players realise it was the product of thievery and luck... For many FPS players Dust - and the later Dust 2 - are the quintessential Counter-Strike maps. They’ve been featured in nearly every major Counter-Strike tournament, and been responsible for countless millions virtual deaths, bomb detonations and defusals. But these maps actually owe their existence to Team Fortress 2 - a game that was released eight years after Dust became a staple of the Counter-Strike map rotation. Time Travelling It started in the summer of 1999, Suffolk, England. I was 16 years old, recuperating from end-of-year exams and enjoying my newfound freedom from school work. Half-Life was only a few months old, yet was scooping up more ‘Game of the Year’ awards than there were game magazines, leaving gamers desperate to know what Valve Software were going to make next. Thankfully, news broke that Valve had hired the team behind ‘Team Fortress’, a free mod for Quake that added class-based team multiplayer to the game. Like any responsible teenager, I’d spent more hours sat staring into a screen zooming around dodging rockets, slinging grenades and capturing the flag than I had with my head stuck in schoolwork, much to the chagrin of my parents. Their next project? A sequel, excitingly titled ‘Team Fortress 2’. It seemed that whilst I had been busy ambushing my future educational prospects, behind closed doors Valve had been hammering away at updating and upgrading Team Fortress for a new generation of hardware. News of Team Fortress 2 was rare and sporadic, but occasionally a tidbit here or a screenshot there would nervously peer out to an excited but nervous audience of TF fans. Before too long, a handful of screenshots started their steady journey around the gaming websites of the late nineties. Two particular screenshots leapt out at me: Two early screenshots of Team Fortress 2 The seed had been sown. Meanwhile, a new Half-Life modification known as ‘Counter-Strike’ had been picking up a steady stream of players. In the autumn of 1999, Minh ‘gooseman’ Le and Jess Cliffe released its second beta - and it supplanted Team Fortress to become my new addiction. It came with a texture pack of urban textures (‘cstrike.wad’) that, upon discovery, I set about making a map with - this became ‘cs_tire’, a hostage rescue map set in (of all places) a retirement home. Surprisingly, this map was deemed good enough to be included in the third beta release of Counter-Strike, and Jess subsequently asked me if I’d be interested in making a map for the fourth beta. He was very keen to hook me up with their texture artist to help me make something absolutely and completely original. Jess introduced me to artist Chris ‘MacMan’ Ashton - the same artist behind the urban texture set used in my retirement home map - and we got to work creating a new, totally original Counter-Strike map. Unfortunately it was too late to save me from TF2’s influence and I asked for these instead: Team Fortress 2 screenshots were used to create a core texture set Undeterred by my complete lack of originality, Chris quickly got back to me with beautiful lookalikes. While not exact replicas, I selfishly became completely infatuated with them, just like I had the screenshots they were based on . I quickly bundled them all together into my own texture pack and called it “cs_dest.wad” - shorthand for “Destiny”. With these TF2-alike textures I could finally make a map and pretend I was playing Team Fortress 2, but something was wrong. I felt guilt - TF2 wasn’t even out yet and I was already trying to sap all the effort Valve had been putting into it. It was akin to snatching a duckling from under its mothers beak. “But surely”, I thought, “Valve wouldn’t mind one me making one small map for one small mod for their one and only published game? A map that maybe only a handful of people would ever play?” I marched on. Copy and Paste Starting the map was the easy bit - the first area boasted a long road flanked by buildings, leading to an archway and a wall dividing it in two, just like I’d seen in the screenshots. I decorated every building and wall with ornate trims along the top or bottom, again aping TF2, as I tried my hardest to evoke the same sense of place, desolation, and scale. These features would go on to define the underlying architectural style of Dust. My effort wasn’t quite identical to the map featured in those coveted TF2 screenshots, but it was close enough, and - somewhat more importantly - it was a start. The arched doorways became a hallmark of the Dust theme - a Dust map is simply not Dust without at least two or three arches dividing the map into distinct zones. Creating the first one was at the time a great test of my technical mapping ability, and I struggled for a little while before landing on a technique that worked. My design eschewed the Reuleaux triangle shape of the TF2 arches for a simpler semi-circle, partly because it was simpler, but primarily to ease player passage through them. I extruded the arches from their adjoining wall - lifted straight from the screenshots. The first incarnation of what became the CT spawn I considered against copying the screenshots verbatim for fear of upsetting Valve, and so started guessing how the rest of the area should look. I’d already created a raised platform, and had decided that this could be the area that the Counter-Terrorist team would spawn in at the start of the match. This necessitated defensive measures to protect their spawn area, so I made some windows: The view from inside a building next to the CT spawn Not only did they look hideous, but the windows didn’t give the defensively-advantageous views I wanted the CT team to have. Nor did they fit with the intended gameplay. I didn’t want to encourage the CTs to hold back, and removed them - although in all honestly, at this point I really didn’t know where the map was going. Under the Influence Side-by-side, the TF2 ‘influence’ is plain to see: Side-by-side, the influence of TF2 on the design of the CT spawn area is apparent TF directly influenced building placement and the design of the arches In many respects, the TF2 screenshot looks nicer to me - smoother and softer than the harsh edges of the Dust buildings. I was far more comfortable working with standard geometric shapes, 90 degree corners and 45 degree angles, which is why Dust looks far boxier in comparison to the TF2 screenshot it was based on. That was the easy part done - after all, Valve had already created this much of the map for me and all I’d had to do was copy it. But what I had wasn’t much - it was barely enough for a one-on-one deathmatch, let alone two teams of eight players gunning it out. Worse still, there were no more screenshots to use for ‘inspiration’ - I had to make the rest of the map off my own back and imagination. Extrapolation Having nailed down the design of the first area, producing the rest of the map was merely a case of extrapolating it into a complete, playable environment. However this was much easier said than done - the next section of the map proved rather more challenging. I had created a T-junction out of the CT spawn, but struggled to know what to do with it. My past mapping experience was mostly creating tight interiors rather than not vast exteriors, and so I was feeling very lost. Desperate, I shoe-horned a bend in the road leading to a downward slope, and at the end of it - an underground cavern. The underpass originally descended into a vast underground facility, but this was scrapped the moment I played it It didn’t work, of course. While the CT spawn area was light and airy, this giant room was gloomy, boxy and felt dead compared to the sunny exterior I’d already made. Observing it also lacked any gameplay potential, I swiftly deleted it. Dust would be an outdoor map. I was still stuck. It’s at times like these where working without an initial design can prove extremely difficult. You look at what you’ve got, and struggle to see where to take it, knowing that a step in one direction is a step away from a solution in another direction - and you don’t know which will turn out better. It can be very tough and incredibly tempting to just scrap everything and start again. I’d made all my previous maps one room at a time, making it up as I go along with precious little pre-planning, and they had gone reasonably well. I had to hope I could do the same again. Mercifully, that’s exactly what happened. The Terrorist spawn area, and shallow decline into the underpass Within just a few hours - and seemingly out of nowhere - the Terrorist spawn area was complete. I was far happier with this side of the map, perhaps a product of becoming comfortable with the visual and architectural style. The shallow decline into the underpass is perhaps one of my favourite aspects, both aesthetically and as a player who spent many hours armed with a Steyr Scout at the crest popping off opponents’ heads. At one point I planned an alleyway from the Terrorist side of the underpass that fed around to the CT ‘sniper nest’, but this path seemed like it would be too long, too linear, and simply too dull. I just blocked it up with crates instead, still visible in the original version of the map (and the screenshot above.) Dust’s central hallway was pivotal in tying all these pieces together. Unfortunately, I can recollect very little about its creation, bar my explicit efforts to ensure players couldn’t see all the way through it from one end to the other. Every crate found in the intersection was strategically positioned to cut off lines-of-sight and improve performance. It was in this corridor that each team would typically meet, and so it needed to be fair, and balanced, with a slight defensive bias. The central corridor, Terrorists approached from the top, Counter-Terrorists from the bottom. Note the stack of crates opposite the doorway in the bottom-right corner blocking the long sightline In retrospect, it’s clear the upturned ’T’ shape of this corridor - which gave the CT team two points from which to defend against the single Terrorist entrance point - played an important role pacing each team. A good CT team would hold steady in these locations, forcing Terrorists to check both corners before advancing. However, the Terrorist team had a similar advantage if CT’s became over-confident and tried advancing too far. Getting this balance of opportunity right came down to timing. The aim was to ensure both teams caught first sight of each other in this corridor. Knowing that most players will start running the second the match begins, I did the same, timing how long it took to go from each team’s spawn area to the central corridor. By making sure each team had exactly the same distance to run I could dictate exactly where first contact would be most likely to happen. Bomb Planted Despite the map layout being largely complete, I’d paid very little attention to the core gameplay. Dust would be one of the very first ‘Bomb Defusal’ maps, a new gmetype that was due to be introduced at the same time as the map itself (all previous CS maps had featured hostage rescue.) No one had played a Defusal map before - least of all me - and so I had to rely on guesswork and logic to place the spawns and bomb locations. Bomb Spot A was easy to place - the courtyard area had no purpose otherwise - but Bomb Spot B proved more difficult. I thought about putting it the underpass. This suited better - it was equidistant between the two spawns, and I thought offered a reasonable amount of cover. So it went there. Bomb location decided, I zipped up the map and fired it towards Cliffe for the first round of playtesting. He immediately suggested that the bomb spot below the underpass should be moved directly in the CT spawn - a change that was undoubtedly crucial to the map’s success. The problem was I’d been treating this brand-new ‘Defusal’ gametype as if it was one I knew already - Capture the Flag - except in this CTF mode the flag (the bomb) started at the Terrorist spawn. But Defusal wasn’t Capture the Flag. In fact, it was so utterly different that hardly a comparison could be drawn. Placing the bomb in the CT spawn hadn’t even crossed my mind. I made the change, and sent it back for playtests. Playtesting is an important stage of any map’s development cycle. While thoughtful logic and engineering are incredibly important to help ensure a map’s success, player feedback is critical. There’s little way of knowing exactly how a map will play when faced with real people. It’s playtests that uncover deep and subtle-but-damaging flaws that need fixing before release - if the map is even fit to be released at all. The map overview from CS 1.6 I didn’t get to play in the playtests (by virtue of being in a different timezone) but I heard that they went well enough to be included in BETA 4. To have one map (‘cs_tire’) already in the official map rotation was great, but to have two? The pressure was mounting. What if it didn’t live up to people’s expectations? Would people even take to this new ‘Bomb Defusal’ mode? What if players didn’t like the sunny golden demeanor of Dust, and really did prefer dark, gritty urban maps? A few days later, on the 5th November of 1999 - a Friday - I got my answer. BETA 4 was released as I slept. Saturday morning arrived, and I - skipping breakfast - rushed to download the new beta, just like everyone else had done hours before. There were already hundreds of servers and on them thousands of people were already planting and defusing bombs on the map I’d designed, and I’d not even got to play it myself yet. It seemed as though Bomb Defusal mode was a hit, and thousands of players were already enjoying the change of pace from hostage rescue maps. But how about Dust? Well, this was the day that the first “Dust 24/7” server appeared… …and players seemed to like it. Getting BETA Dust underwent changes in almost every subsequent release of CS during the BETA phase. These changes were frequently somewhat speculative, more often they were aesthetic, and sometimes they changed the game play entirely. BETA 4 Comparing the first version of Dust to CS 1.6’s shows the major differences that were made in its lifetime. BETA 4 Dust had far fewer crates and cover than in CS 1.6 - all added to help balance the map and embellish defensive/offensive strategies. Aesthetically, CS 1.6’s Dust is also far cleaner and warmer, having benefited from a custom skybox and tweaked sunlight. Between CS BETA 4 and CS 1.6 the sun shifted slightly, elongating the shadows and upping the contrast to match the new skybox Between CS BETA 4 and CS 1.6 the Terrorist spawn also had a minor facelift with additional graffiti. The source of the sunlight and the shadows it created helped draw Terrorist players towards the bomb spots BETA 5 The BETA 5 version of Dust consisted of both aesthetic and gameplay changes. One seemingly small gameplay change was introduced in the form of a crack in the wall of the CT sniper nest overlooking the underpass. The intention was to expose CT snipers, making it easier for Terrorists to advance through the underpass. I reinforced this principle by adding more crates in the underpass as cover, strategically placed to let them get close enough to toss a grenade into the sniper nest. The underpass in BETA 5 had a distinct CT bias, with a crack in the wall and very little cover making it hard for Terrorists to get through The crack in the wall backfired. Rather than hinder CT snipers it had helped them by offering a wider, unobscured view of Terrorists entering the underpass. Miraculously, the full wall was restored in BETA 6. BETA 6.1 and 6.5 BETA 6.1 contained a small change to spawns that had big consequences. I thought the map had become unbalanced in the favour of the Terrorist team, and wanted to find a way to address this advantage. My fix involved moving the CT spawns forward by a few metres to push back the first line of contact between the two teams. The exact placement of Dust’s player spawns had always been crucial in ensuring balance, so I knew that tweaking them could have large repercussions. However, this was one tweak too far - once 6.1 was released it was clear the change the balance had become worse, not better. What happened? The change had made it easier for CTs to hold down the hallway, and harder for the Terrorists to rush the bomb site - all exactly as intended. However, the balance was now slightly too far in the CTs favour, and while some players welcomed this change, it was an overall worse experience for most. In BETA 6.5 the CT spawns were reverted back to their original positions. (BETA 6.5 also introduced my third Counter-Strike map, ‘de_cbble’. It was very nearly a castle.) Retail 1.0 In April 2000, Valve bought Counter-Strike and secured the right to include Dust in a physical, boxed retail version of the game. It was hard to believe this small map I’d made in my spare time less than a year before would be appearing on store shelves. Yet, on the 1st November 2000 - days before Dust turned one-year-old - that’s where it was. I was now 17, and Dust was now my first published work. (A few months later my fourth CS map - the inventively titled ‘de_dust2’ - was added in CS 1.1.) Rejected Ideas Dust didn’t see any further changes after 1.0. The map was about as good as I could make it without the risk of alienating players who were fans of the map, and I really didn’t want to rock the boat. However, that’s not to say I didn’t toy with a few ideas… The major change that I almost made at CS 1.1 time would have changed the dynamics of the entire map destroyed many proven strategies. I thought a new route directly from the underpass to the very centre of the hallway would help Terrorists form a firmer front-line, and encourage a more defensive strategy. Rejected: a staircase joining the underpass to the central hallway In retrospect, I think it would have just become the fastest route for Terrorists to reach the underpass, undermining and deprecating a large area of the map in the process. It would have removed one of the dynamics that made the underpass so fun. (Note this is not the same as the staircase added to Dust in CS:GO, which connects the platform above the underpass directly to the bottom. I believe the CS:GO solution is far better suited to Dust than my original plan was.) 24/7 Dust was once the most-played FPS map in the world, both in terms of the number of concurrent players, and the amount of time those players spent in the map. There were thousands of “Dust 24/7” servers, and the map became particularly popular amongst newbies, despite falling out of favour from clan matches. Dust turned out to be the perfect place for new players to learn the rules of the game, without being distracted by map complexity. There is no way to know how well the map would have done if some of the changes mentioned in this article remained - for example, the bomb site in the underpass, the sniper house, or the stairs between the underpass and the hallway. I expect they wouldn’t have worked in the maps favour. Ultimately, it’s hard for me to claim I knew what I was doing as I pieced Dust together. I attribute its success more to incredible luck and lack of imagination more than any skill I possess. If anything, I learnt more from Dust post-release (and in writing up these memories!) than I knew when I was making it. Counter-Strike: Condition Zero In March 2004 Valve released Condition Zero, an updated version of Counter-Strike that included a single-player mode and updated versions of all the popular maps from the main game. Its version of Dust shared much in common with the original, being largely based on the original brushwork. The map notably featured more pronounced structural detail supported by an expanded and more colourful palette. Dust got a fresh lick of paint in Counter-Strike: Condition Zero This version of the map was the product of Ritual, although some finishing touches were added by Valve just before release of the game. The Levelord played a hand in the renovation. Counter-Strike: Source Dust in CS 1.6 vs CS:Source In November 2004 - mere months after the release of Condition Zero - Valve released Counter-Strike: Source, a completely refreshed and revamped version of Counter-Strike based on the Source engine. Counter-Strike: Source introduced the biggest changes to Dust in its history, with more realistic proportions and the introduction of physics objects This renovation of Dust was done at Valve by Kristen Perry and Ido Magal who were given the unenviable job of determining appropriate architectural references for Dust based upon the Condition Zero version. I think they nailed the look completely - maintaining the golden tones everyone was used to, embellishing the few details that were there and giving Dust the kind of ambience that it had always lacked. My reaction when I first saw what they had done was nothing short of complete astonishment and amazement. I was proud of what Dust had become and ever grateful to those who had helped get it there. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive The CS:S version of Dust caused my jaw to drop, but the iteration in CS:GO floored me. Easily the most detailed, intricate and life-like version of Dust ever created This version was developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment and evidently based on the proportions set by the CS:S version of the map (many CS:S assets can be seen around the map, albeit in updated forms). This version heralded the most major layout changes to the map since the original release, featuring a bridge across CT side of the underpass, and a staircase by the underpass, refreshing Dust for competitive play and bringing it in line with more recent maps. The underpass has a side passage leading directly to the central corridor At a glance these changes bear a resemblance to one of my “rejected ideas” above, but only in concept. The underpass’s linearity always posed a problem due to its length, and Valve clearly agreed that a third exit right underneath the platform was necessary. But unlike my solution, which would have drawn players right into the centre hallway, Valve opted to put the underpass passage on the opposite side, directing players up to the far end of the platform. It’s clearly the better design and one I wish I had thought of when I still had the chance! Meat-Space Dust has also manifested itself in real, physical forms… Dust manifests itself in real life I still don’t know who was responsible for the sand castle, but the real-life crates were by Aram Bartholl, a Berlin-based artist who is also planning to create a life-size Dust replica. And then, of course, there’s Minecraft: Minecraft This Minecraft version of Dust was made by users of the cdg.net forums, who have also been recreating other popular CS maps. In Closing To this day I am still amazed that Dust was as successful as it has been, and I have a hard time believing that I actually created it at all. But, looking back, its success is hardly surprising given those who helped it along the way, from Minh Le and Jess Cliffe’s invitation and support, to Chris Ashton’s painterly skills, the feedback from players, through to Brian Martel, Richard Gray, Kristen Perry, Ido Magal, and a whole plethora of talented behind-the-scenes clever clogs who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, but deserve far more credit than I could ever give. Also, of course, ultimately I have to thank Valve Software for the idea I stole in the first place, and without which none of this would have ever happened. I hope they didn’t mind. Source: www.johnsto.co.uk/design/making-dust/ *Note: This article has been posted with the permission of the author, and in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License Follow Dave Website: https://www.johnsto.co.uk/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/johnsto 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