Monday, 14 January 2013

Task 16: Elements of game design, part seven: level design

Right lets move briskly on over to the next topic of discussion, level design. I think I can safely assume we're talking about the design of a level, yes?  

Although there is obviously a great deal of concepting, referencing and artwork that does into the visual design and aesthetics of a video game level, all this is not what I really think about when it comes to 'level design'. Reference and artwork can help form the ideas of a level and give a designer something to base their level around but they aren't the true design process.

When I think of level design I see it more as the blocking out of ideas, the planning and basic visualization of an idea. Level designers use basic tools to plan out a level, building it simply and without distractions to see how it plays, feels and to see if it flows. Its easy at this stage to change things if its not working or it doesn't feel right, something that would be much harder down the line if the level was hurriedly put together without thought and consideration. This is designing a level at its core.

Blocking out a level
Now I have a basic understanding of what level design is, I can begin to think about the different ways it can be done to fit a specific style of game and the way in which it is played. For example what works in one game, given its AI, weapons and player interface might not work well in another title of the same genre. Goldeneye N64 levels make poor Doom levels; Doom levels make poor Unreal Tournament levels; Mario levels wouldn’t work for Sonic and Sonic levels wouldn’t work for Mario. This means it is important levels are designed with the game play style and genre in mind, for them to work.

While researching the level design topic, I discovered several different ways of designing levels which upon reflection I can immediately recognize within games I have played. These include;

Architect’s Design

This can be used in games that focus on environmental realism. For these games, most of rooms, hallways, and open areas feel like they were laid out to feel as realistic as possible without emphasis for the player start, ammo/health boxes, or enemy placement locations. It provides a strong sense of immersion when it’s done well, as the buildings aren’t laid out linearly for mission objectives, but it can make for awkward flow that confuses first time action players.

Crysis is an example of this method.

Fireman’s Design
Halo is an example of this method.

Other titles focus on flow of action. The player is rarely left wondering where to go next, since there are typically shots, yelling, and action taking place where he/she should go. This has been called the “Fireman’s Design,” since it results in the player rushing from point to point to “put out fires.” This requires a considerable amount of event scripting, and doesn’t leave much of an opportunity for the player to rest. This type of design can give the opportunity of a fantastic cinematic experience.

Curiosity Lure

Some games lure the player around via exploration. Tomb Raider and Descent both relied at least in part on this “Curiosity Lure” (the player’s left thinking “maybe this pathway leads to the exit?”). Without careful attention to attractive landmarks in the distance, and clear visual distinction between different rooms, it can lend itself to arbitrary map layouts, leaving the player wandering in cycles through corners for the next area to search through. Tomb Raider, for the most part, succeeded in doing this well, whereas Descent did it very poorly.

Tomb Raider is an example of this method.
Reverse Breadcrumb
This method of level design is called such, because "breadcrumbs" are scattered everywhere by the game’s designers, and the player finds their way through the level by picking them all up.
In this method items of low value are placed around the map to guide plays and indicate where they have or havent explored. The level designer uses this as a way to show the player were to go.
This approach constantly rewards the player, and leads to most or all of a map’s areas being explored in turn. Care needs to be taken in a map designed with Reverse Breadcrumb to minimize the depth and number of dead ends, to avoid the player getting bored or stranded without any more items as clues.

Zelda is an example of this method.
Arena Traps

The concept behind “Arena Traps” is to have the player fight battle after battle in isolated architectures. This avoids player’s using kill zones to take advantage of deterministic AI. It implies that the world has an overriding, malicious intelligence manipulating the player’s environment, but that works so long as the story takes the player to an evil dungeon, a trapped temple, or alien den.

Puzzle Based

Jumps, keys, physics engine exploits, and remote switches or time trip wires dominate puzzle based games. It’s rare to see an entirely puzzle based game anymore, but some degree of puzzle is more likely than ever to find its way into every game on the shelf. The Prince of Persia game series is one that uses this design method more than most.

Disguised Linear
When the player is stringed from one location to the next, but they feel like it’s their idea each time, then the level design is Disguised Linear. Done right, this describes a map that plays linear but doesn’t feel linear this can however significantly detract from the games re playability. On the plus side, it typically means the player won’t get lost, and the emphasis of the gameplay is on action or platform/key puzzles rather than exploration.


Most commercial games don’t follow any one formula. The most interesting games use a mixture of different level design methods that work well together, creating an interesting and balanced gaming experience.

Something interesting I found on this subject is a document written by Cliff Bleszinski from Epic Games, entitled "The Art and Science of Level Design", written in 2000, I found it to be an insightful read.

Task 15: Elements of game design, part six: visual composition

Although this is very late coming I should probably get back to the blogs we are meant to be doing.

This time COMPOSITION. Something which I personally don't really understand. Like most people I can sort of see when an image or piece of artwork looks appealing or more interesting than others, something which can be put down to its composition, apparently.

I have a problem with composition in that it seems rather technical, when trying to learn about it I always seem to give up as I get abit lost and confused in the things its trying to explain. For example here is a wonderful looking tutorial from those ImagineFX people.

Despite trying a few times I just can't get past the 3rd point. I loose commitment and interest. *sigh*
So what can I do but go to the very very most basic bit of composition, the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is the simplest rule of composition. All you do is take your frame and overlay a grid of nine equal sections. This means you split the vertical space into three parts and the horizontal space into three parts. Here's what that it looks like:

The idea is to place important elements where the grid intersects as this is where the eye tends to go first. Here are a few fantastic examples stolen straight from Google.

Something else which can affect the composition and bring feeling to an image or piece of artwork is perspective. Used in the right ways it can have different visual impacts. When you're beneath the subject it often makes them/it appear more powerful to the viewer. Conversely, when you're above the subject it makes them/it appear more diminutive. You can use this to an extreme for a powerful impact, but it's also a very good subtle technique for portraits. Slight positioning above or below the subject can subconsciously imply aggressiveness or passivity. Additionally, left and right positioning isn't as direct and can often make a photograph feel more honest and candid. When capturing a moment, whether it's staged or not, photographing the subject head-on can often seem a little awkward and end up being less-effective.

Basically composition is a powerful tool that can be used by photographers and artists, to improve the look of their work. Its not necessarily the most important part of a piece, but great composition is something that immediately separates the amateurs from the pros and enthusiasts.

Right now I am definitely an amateur.

A building or something...

Despite being in an awful state of mind I did manage to get my 3D done just before Xmas. *insert sarcastic whoop*.

It took a much larger amount of effort to get started than it should of, but at least I got there in the end. Once started it wasn't too difficult using 3DSMAX, but I guess it has always been my strongest subject (ish), so making the building didn't take that long. Texturing was a pain, mainly due to lack of reference images I could use for textures, given the building I was making was in New York that was to be expected. The worst part of the project, UDK. It was fairly simple to get my head round the process used to import stuff and set it up, I just honestly didn't really enjoy it that much. That and it managed to make my building look like crap.

I would now show some pictures of my project, but I have completely forgot where my project files are and how to use both Max and UDK *briskly bangs head on desk* Give me a moment.

- 20 mins later -

Right OK here they are. I would write something about why I chose the building and the choices I made while designing/making it but given I made it in November I actually can't remember.

Anyhow, here is my hideous building in 3Dsmax.

And here it is again in UDK, joined by the Blitz buildings and a rather familiar looking pile of rubbish.

Big decisions are not easy.

Right so its 14/01/2013 and to be honest I am hopelessly far behind on work. I'm not even going to bother with excuses because I know exactly why that's the case. Me.
Basically a few months before Xmas I decided I didn't want to continue with the course, for various reasons. At the time I was up to date on work and doing ok, but this was a massive decision I had to make and I put alot of thought into it. It wasn't an easy choice to make and I took alot of time over it but in the end I made my mind up. So I stopped doing my course work, 3D, drawings and blogs included and started looking for a job. Unfortunately I didn't make my feelings known to everyone else until the Xmas assessment, which was a big mistake, but basically I didn't want to feel like a complete waste of space by telling people I wanted to 'give up' which is what it felt like.

What I wasn't expecting was being encouraged to stay on the course and at least getting year 2 finished. So I was given the chance to catch up on work over the Xmas break. I completely understand that finishing the 2nd year is a good idea, the sensible idea, but I just can't get that through to my brain. I made a huge decision to leave and my brain made its mind up and now I'm finding it incredibly difficult to swing that back round and getting myself to do work. Over the Xmas break I have been working, pretty much 10 - 16 hours Mon-Fri at Royal Mail, which turns out is an extremely tiring job, especially on the night shifts. So I just didnt have the energy to get any coursework done.
Which leaves me in the position I am in right now. I would stay on the course and at least get this year done and dusted before leaving, but how do I pull it back after getting nothing done for almost 4 months? I think about all the work I am behind on and just feel like dieing. There doesn't feel like anyway I could possibly get everything done, (especially as I am still working occasionally). Even if I did just get on with it, what do I focus on, the new work we have just been given or catching up on the weeks of work I'm behind on. I just have no idea.

To make matters even worse, my brain is still just going "no, no, no, no f**k it. K thanks"

Just shoot me now.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

3D Trash

 Our first 3D project of the 2nd year....trash! Yes, that pile of rubbish that most people would take no notice of. We have been asked to model and texture some in 3D, meaning we all get to go outside photographing rubbish looking like complete weirdos. The last time I used 3DSMAX was around April, so it isnt hard to imagine how horribly out of practice I am.  *sigh*

Unfortunately my lack of practice in recent months affected my entusiasm to start the project and I left it till the last week of the project to even get started. I was confident I could get the project done within a week but it still wasn't a great idea to leave it and then stress over being able to get it done in time.

Thankfully using the software came back to me quite easily after I got started and once I got stuck into the project I was able to complete the modelling and unwrapping within a few hours. I was really pleased I hadn't completely forgot how to do 3D and wouldnt have to teach it to myself all over again! Texturing was more problematic however, and very very tedious. I lost steam when I got this far and ended up taking a few days to get it done.

Last year I used to really enjoy Game Production and doing 3D, I would feel excited and interested when we were given a new project to do and couldnt wait to get stuck in. This year however I feel somewhat overwhelmed and uninspired. This is likely down to the large space I time I didnt do any, but also down to all the new things we need to learn to do, and the things that I dont know that I probably already should *cough* lighting *cough*. With all the new things like Zbrush and UDK that are looming I'm not confident at all about my work and what I cant produce. I feel I can always do better in 3D, better ways to model or texture but I don't know what these ways are and I dont think I'll learn them in time and my 3D work will always end up looking a bit rubbish.

With that being said here is my rubbish rubbish! yay...


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Task 14: Elements of game design, part five: planning and concepting

Concept Art, those big old buzz words that everyone seems to love. Just stick them into google and your eyes will melt with all the pretty pictures. Here is just two examples of results on the first page of google image search...

The Internet is FULL of websites where you can go to glare at awesome looking digi paints that people call concept art, such as the well know "" Concepting is however, a largely misunderstood idea, and I will admit I was one of those people who thought concepting was just about drawing those pretty pictures. I come to realise now however how much more than that it really is. If for example you goggle image search 'concepting' you get a much duller set of imagery...
 That doesn't look very interesting does it? Where are the awesome characters kitted out in armour or the stunning environment vistas?
Elsewhere I guess.

This is what concepting is really about. Its about the basics, thoughts, references and ideas. Concepts are born from ideas and take them a step further. They aren't the glossy well polished artwork that probably took hours to create. 
I think people think being a concept artist means just producing nice pictures all day and they don't realise just how much really goes into it and whats involved. But who can blame them, that's all we, the public, every really get to see.

Companies release concept art books but it seems limited to showcasing the top quality well worked art. The sheer amount of artwork produced for a game must be massive and I understand that what can be included in art books is limited, so the best is chosen, I get that. But it would be really nice to see a collection of the art in progress. The real concepting of the game. The initial stages of ideas, planning and experimenting with the brief before everything is nailed down. This would really give an insight into how the game came to be, how people think and work together and what artwork really kick starts the gears of the imagination.

Throughout recent years I have lost my interest for stunning pieces of concept art, and this is generally why. I don't feel the artwork really shows me anything about how the game was designed or truly concepted. I'm just looking at someone who is really good at digi-painting showing off their skills, and that has become quite boring.

So now we get to the 'planning' stage. The idea of which I find quite dull. I just get an image of sitting around all day planning to do something but then never actually getting anything done. It gives me the sense of talking rather than doing and I'm more of a 'doing' person. But I'm overlooking the real importance of planning. Without planning nothing would get done in the first place. There would be no point to randomly starting to do things if they weren't following a plan that had a desired and planned outcome.

We need and use plans in everyday life, in order to make sure we get done everything that needs doing. I can't even imagine how many times I must have said "So whats the plan for today?' throughout my life. It might not be something I write down and strictly stick to, but it is basically the same as what companies and other people do all over the world. Why would game companies be any different? They need to plan their games. They set up teams, objectives, limitations and deadlines. They plan everything out, even if they don't know what the end result might be exactly, they still know when it needs doing by and how much it has to cost.

Planning is a large part of what makes games happen, granted they can often be pushed back and released at a later date or sometimes even completely redesigned but without a basic plan they wouldn't happen at all. An unfortunate example of this is Valve. They have released several good games but often release them years later than predicted or not released at all. Of course I have no real idea of what causes this to happen but from what I have read in the past a lack of good planning could be a leading cause.

Getting back into the swing...

We've been back at Uni for just under 3 weeks now and I've had an 'interesting' mix of feelings. I wasn't thrilled to be back to begin with, if I'm honest. I wasn't really looking forward to the endless hours outside drawing in god knows what weather conditions or spending hours staring at my screen trying to figure out how to get 3Dmax to play nice.
But it hasn't been all that bad I guess.
The first week we spent out drawing at Abbey park, the weather wasn't great but at least better than last year! I really struggled to get into drawing and it took alot of effort and visits back before I really started to get anything done. I felt I had a very strong block, perhaps just my stubbornness to get started again. I guess I was just afraid I would be terrible after not drawing for so long and suck at it again, and nobody wants to suck.
I made the decision pretty much straight away that I was going to stay well away from digital work. At least for the first few weeks. I don't personally enjoy doing it and don't find it all that impressive either. I decided that if I was going to get back into drawing and do it well I would need to do just that, draw. Not use Fancy programs to get fancy results., I'm sure there will plenty of time for that in the future.
So I stuck to traditional work for the first two weeks, mainly inks and water colour washes and I actually really enjoyed it. I find not worrying about having to produce really pretty digital masterpieces to compare with everyone else very liberating. I've been able to just focus on what I'm doing and what I'm learning and how I can improve. Its been alot of fun rather than alot of stress. which is nice.

Just in these two weeks I feel I have developed a way of using ink and washes that I no idea about before. I've been able to produce interesting, (mostly) accurate sketches quickly that don't look half bad. So I'm happy.
So here's a small sample of work from the 1st week at Abbey Park.

By the end of the first week I felt more confident with my drawing again and interestingly found it much easier to sketch confidently with a pen rather than a pencil. I continued this technique throughout the 2nd week at Loughborough Great Central Railway.

I felt confident enough drawing in this way that I used it to do my final piece for the Train station and I think it shows a marked improvement from my Abbey park final.

I still haven't done any digital painting *sigh*. I don't really want to but everyone else is churning out some amazing looking digi paints so I guess I'm going to have to start soon just to keep up. But maybe I can keep doing traditional for a while longer, its so much more enjoyable.