Category Archives: Level Design

Cult Villian – Level Design Exercise

A level design exercise that includes a narrative element.

Setting: Located in the bustling heart of a metropolis, a church sits atop a hill with an adjoining graveyard. Tonight the church is abuzz with attendants as it is the cult’s former leaders funeral.

Initial 2D Sketches

Final 3D

Walkthrough

Approach

  • The players mission is to investigate the new cult leader, and so has been provided a cult uniform. Given the setup, we would expect player to enter the gate ahead. 
    • Gate is lit.
    • Crowds block both side entrances.
  • Arriving at the gate the player is allowed access by the guards as they recognize the uniform.
Continue reading Cult Villian – Level Design Exercise

Tower Trouble – The Last of Us Exercise

The following is a level design exercise where I made a level pitch for a sequence in The Last of Us.

Beat 1 – Linear Narrative

Beat 1 Top Down

Beat 1 – Sequence

Overview: Joel and Ellie traverse through a hotel towards their objective, a bank where Tommy is being held.

  • Party drops down from a hole in the wall into the hotel storage room.
  • In front of them is a pool of dried blood and something written on the wall which can’t be made out.
    1. Dev note: Visual storytelling elements to heighten tension. 
      1. Who died? 
      2. Am I in danger?
  • Turning the party catches a glimpse of the bank. Their goal.
    1. Dev note: Use of a weenie.
  • Completing their left turn before them is a T-junction.
    1. Dev note: Option to explore.
  • Turning left the party sees the rest of the storeroom and find supplies on the shelves. 
    1. Dev note: Items are 1 duct tape, 1 blade and 1 part.
  • Turning 180 degrees the party sees an elevator opposite them. 
    1. Dev note: Blood is continued tension breadcrumb.
  • Approaching they see the elevator is tightly sealed leaving them with no option but to take the blood stained path to the right. 
  • The party proceeds down the partially collapsed hallway.
Continue reading Tower Trouble – The Last of Us Exercise

Al-Hambra Fortress – Uncharted Exercise

The following is a pitch for a section of a level set in the Uncharted franchise, inspired by the Al-Hambra fortress in Granada Spain.

Level Pitch

Hot on the trail of a big find, Nathan Drake’s destination is Al-Hambra’s Alcazaba (fortress) in search of a vital clue. Unfortunately for him, his arch-nemesis Doctor UptoNoGood and his mercenaries are already on the scene! Now our plucky adventurer must contend with them in-order to reach his goal!

Objective

Traverse the layout to the indicated door, and defeat any enemies encountered along the way.

Characters

Main Character

Nathan Drake: The player is Nathan Drake.

Enemies

Mercenaries: Foreign mercenaries hired by Doctor UptoNoGood. 

Please refer to the enemy design doc for behavior details.

Look and Feel

The layout is inspired by the Al-Hambra Alcazaba in Granada. Accordingly the look and feel should reflect as such.

The playable area should be derived from the Al-Hambra complex.

The layouts background should be a mix of the Spanish countryside and the city that surrounds the Alcazaba.

Continue reading Al-Hambra Fortress – Uncharted Exercise

Skadi’s Ice Temple – God of War Exercise

The following is Skadi’s Ice Temple, a level pitch for God of War (2018).

Overview

Atreus has been kidnapped by Skadi the Goddess of Winter in the previous level. With Atreus in tow Skadi has fled to her Temple in the snowy mountains. Kratos, chasing the Goddess, has finally arrived at Skadi’s Temple and now must ascend it to save his son.

Throne Room Reference Image

Beat 1 – Temple Entrance

Kratos storms into Skadi’s Temple. He is awestruck not only by the scale of the Temple, but by the great statue that is carved into the side of the Temples tower. Unfortunately Kratos has no time to dwell on such thoughts as he is not alone.

Dev Note – The view of the statue is foreshadowing Beat 3.

1.1. Skadi was well aware that Kratos was coming, but is overconfident. Standing atop a pyramid of stairs in front of an elevator, Skadi summons a massive ice wall across the room to block Kratos’s way forward. Commanding her minions to attack, Skadi proceeds up the elevator. Kratos’s goal is to reach the elevator.

1.2. Following Skadi’s command a weak group of Temple Priests attack Kratos at the entrance.

Dev Note – The overall theme of the level is desecration. So having Kratos kill the Temple’s Priests feeds into that.

1.3. Kratos notices a huge chandelier above the ice wall with giant chains that hold it in place. Kratos decides to destroy the chains that hold up the chandelier to create a hole in the ice wall.

1.4. On approaching the first chain a stronger group of Temple Priests appear. They are more difficult because they have a height advantage and ranged units.

A partial view of one side of the room

1.5. Once they have been dispensed with Kratos proceeds to destroy the chandelier chain, and collect the nearby loot.

Cinematic Moment – Kratos tears the chain out of the wall. On doing so the chandelier drops violently. Cracks can be heard, the room shakes.

1.6. Noting the chain on the other side of the room Kratos heads towards it.

1.7. After defeating a more difficult group of enemies Kratos destroys the other chain (and again collects loot).

Cinematic Moment – Kratos tears the chain out of the wall causing one side of the massive chandelier to slam into the ice wall which destroys a large section of it, and
causes structural damage to the Temple Entrance.

Dev Note – Foreshadow the major structural collapse of Beat 3.

1.8. Kratos climbs the fallen chandelier, using it to proceed to the elevator.

Continue reading Skadi’s Ice Temple – God of War Exercise

Pocket Circuit Track Design – Yakuza 0

Recently I’ve been playing Yakuza 0. Though there were a couple of things I didn’t like (the occasional unskippable cut scene!), in general I loved it. As well as an absolutely world class story with fantastic voice acting, the game provides a wealth of content. Content that includes making a custom Pocket Circuit Track in a RC car racing mini-game. As a design exercise I thought this would be fun to do!

The track creation tool is fairly straightforward to use, and making tracks was fairly simple. Saying that I failed on my first attempt as I maxed the route length!

Slope City

For my first Pocket Circuit Track I started with an image in my mind which I drew.

First I made the basic shape. Seeing it in 3D I felt a desire to add lots of slopes to emphasize the windy nature of the track.

Continue reading Pocket Circuit Track Design – Yakuza 0

Bretonnia Hills

Using Warhammar 2’s Map Tool Terry I’ve recently published Bretonnia Hills V1, a map for Warhammer Total War 2. I did this to practice my map development skills of using height maps, sculpting terrain, painting textures, and placing meshes. It’s on the Steam Workshop – so check it out here!

Development

The bones of this kind of map is its terrain. To start with a solid foundation I began by finding a height map to apply to the terrain. Ultimately I chose data from a location near Trout River in Vermont.

Next I obtained the height map data, processed, and imported into the map editor tool Terry.

Following this I smoothed out some areas, and did a first pass on painting.

Next I found some areas I thought to be interesting and added some meshes from Warhammer 2’s library to add some points of interest. Meanwhile I playtest the map, and made iterative changes to the configuration of the start point, and geographical features.

After a number of iterations I then posted the map on the Steam Workshop, and presented it to the map makers at the Warhammer Map Makers Discord Channel. The Warhammer Map makers gave me some great feedback, and rightly pointed out the map needs more polish work.

I released the bones of the map, which in itself needs more work having very little work in terms of detailing, and extensive playtesting. The detail work will make some good practice so I intend to do more on that side, and post some updated screenshots!

Mavericks Proving Grounds

Introduction: Whilst at Automaton I worked as a Level Designer, where I iterated and developed world content for Mavericks a next-gen Open-World MMO FPS developed in CryEngine using SpatialOS.

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Time: 2 months |  Role: Level DesignerTeam Size: ~40

Design Goal: Deliver a 1.8km battle royale play space for the alpha release of Automaton Games’s original IP‘Mavericks’, a next-gen Open-World MMO FPS developed in CryEngine using SpatialOS.

Paper Maps

Papers map concepts.

Natural World/Minor Points of Interest (POI’s)

Iterated and developed the natural world whilst distributing minor points of interest for further iteration by art. Major tasks for this included:

  • Reference gathering.
  • Terrain sculpting.
  • Texture painting.
  • Foliage placement.
  • Blockout, and iteration of POI’s.

Mid Size POI’s

Blocked out, and iterated a number of mid sized points of interest.

Iterated on flow, and cover of existing mid sized points of interest.

Large POI’s

Enhanced existing major points of interest, as well as blocking out significant areas of the Sawmill, and Biomass POI.

Battlefield 5

Introduction: I once again had the opportunity to work for DICE LA. This time round I was given additional ownership, and made contributions in Battlefield 5’s content Chapter’s 3 and 4.

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Time: 1 year |  Role: Multiplayer DesignerTeam Size: ~100

Design Goal: Support Battlefield 5’s live service pipeline with high quality content for players.

My Contributions

Chapter 3: Trial by Fire

Firestorm

  • Augmented EA Criterion’s design of Lake Village a major point of interest in Battlefield 5’s Firestorm game mode.
    • Using Confluence I created level design notes for implementation by level artists of natural areas, major and minor POI’s in a several 1km areas of the Firestorm launch map.
    • The note format prepared in confluence was set by EA Criterion as a standard for level designers on the project.

Mercury

  • Initial fortification design, then iteration with a senior designer.
  • Level design feedback – cover, sightlines, layout.
  • Map maintenance assistance.

Chapter 4: Defying the Odds

Marita

  • Level design feedback.
  • Squad conquest layout proposals, and implementation.

Provence

  • Iteration of the Provence map.
  • Scheduling playtests and conducting post playtest feedback discussions.
  • Map maintenance – spawn points, floating objects, blocking off areas.
  • Supported level design with visual scripting efforts implementing:
    • Fortification prefab clusters that were used in multiple levels.
    • A means of blocking off second story floors.

General

  • Gathering telemetry to present to senior and lead designers.
  • Writing and iterating documentation to improve work processes.
  • Fixed bugs reported by QA on JIRA.

Battlefield 1

Introduction: Over the summer of 2017 I interned at DICE LA, a studio of Electronic Arts. My time was spent working with DICE LA to ship the downloadable content In the Name of The Tsar for Battlefield 1.

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Time: 12 weeks |  RoleGame Designer | Team Size: ~90

Design Goal:

  • Deliver high quality level content through iteration.
  • Develop my ability to analyze and critique level design in a professional environment.
  • Practice supporting the efforts and vision of senior designers on the team.

My Contributions:

  • Bolstered Battlefield 1’s DLC content with map analysis. This took the form of:
    • Collecting, processing, and documenting Battlefield 1 level data for use by senior level designers.
    • Offering map feedback on flow, map features, cover, spawn placement, and play space volumes.
  • Used Frostbite’s visual scripting language to implement:
    • Content bug fixes from JIRA tickets.
    • Then iterate based on feedback of game modes such as Supply Drop, Team Death Match, War Pigeons, and Domination for multiple levels in the DLC pack.

Angle Jungle

Introduction: Angle Jungle is an award winning puzzle game built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit 1. Angle Jungle has value to first graders and above, its primary purpose though is as a supplement for 4th to 6th graders learning basic geometry.

Awards: Serious Play 2017 Gold Award Winner, CHI Play 2017 Jury Award Winner, Finalist for 50th Carnegie Mellon University Founders Award

Publications:

  1. Angle Jungle: An Educational Game About Angles
  2. Carnegie Mellon News Article
  3. Angle Jungle Gamasutra Article

Platform: iOS | Time: 15 weeks | RoleGame Designer | Team Size: 4

Design Goal: The goal of the project was to achieve the following transformations in our target demographic:

  • Primary Transformation: Build familiarity with the angle by having players solve puzzles that use a mechanic that encodes the numeric and spatial representations of angles
  • Secondary Transformations:
    • Introduce positive and negative angles
    • Introduce clockwise and anticlockwise rotation
    • Introduce angles greater than 180 degrees
    • Build familiarity with the protractor tool

Design Challenges: We faced a number of design challenges during this project:

  • Protractor tool introduction
  • Finding an mechanic which made angles essential
  • Crafting fun and engaging puzzles
  • Crafting additional sources of motivation

My Contributions: As the game designer on the project I took the lead on directing our creative efforts. My efforts helped create a well received, fun, and engaging experience which made a good attempt to achieve our transformational goals. Other areas I made significant contributions in were:

  • An ideation process that created the main mechanic of the game
  • Crafting and refining transformational/puzzle complexity (game complexity that serves a transformational goal) within the experience
  • Design of the motivational elements within the experience
  • Conducting and interpreting playtests

Download: Angle Jungle has been released on iOS and can be downloaded here

Development Process: Post

Source Code: GitHub 

Presentation: