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.