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

Final Fantasy 9 – Initial Design Impressions

Steams recent winter sale had Final Fantasy 9 on discount. Since I’ve been meaning to play FF9 for awhile now, that and a good price made for a match made in heaven!

Whilst playing these are ‘designery’ thoughts I had during the first several hours of it:

Like

  • FF9 starts you off in a dark room where it easy to focus on your player and understand movement. It then lights up the wider environment.
  • Narrative reinforcement – One moment where you have to remember and mention the princess name when they are going over kidnapping plan.
  • Level Exploration – In the scene below your character enters the scene from the bottom of the screen. Once you have control of the character the world fulfills the expectation of continuity by providing an area that’s the opposite way the player is encouraged to go (using the crowd who moves forward).

Lots of and easy to find initial pick ups from environment to quickly establish and encourage exploring the environment for rewards.

  • Storytelling Moments – Initial area showcases poverty/class differences through characters in the scene.
  • Lots of encouragement to explore through cutscenes. For example Steiner locked in room and the cutscene shows you are treasure chest which encourages you to go there.
  • Love the variation of activities right from the start such as finding the knights of pluto, and a scene of quick time events of sword fighting.
Continue reading Final Fantasy 9 – Initial Design Impressions

An Architectural Approach to Level Design – Chapter 1, Exercise 1

Writing Prompt: Name a game with fictional architecture that is based on real-world architecture. What does the use of that style convey about the in-game builders of that architecture? What mood does it create?

The subject for this prompt is the city of Lindblum from Final Fantasy 9.

After studying a number of architectural styles. I believe a major architectural influence on this cities style is the Gothic style. In particular the Gothic Revival and Gothic Victorian style on its civilian structures.

What does the style convey?

In the world of Final Fantasy 9, Lindblum is regarded as the most technologically advanced nation who is making amazing progress. Their architecture seemingly melds a colorful Victorian Gothic style with sophisticated metal work in a high density of buildings. In addition sections of the city we see in the background are mind defying steep leaving on in wonder of how this is even possible? Additionally:

  • Clocks appear several times often embedded into buildings. This could imply a ‘precise society’.
  • The Gothic style is popular in the fantasy game genre. Given this is such a game the combination make for an interesting style to create the sense of a technologically advanced fantasy city.

So given the contrast of comparatively less ‘technologically advanced’ architecture styles the player has encountered before. The result I feel creates a mood of ‘wonder’ and ‘buzzing progress’, and leaves an impression that the builders are highly advanced.

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, Enemy Design Document

Overview

Mercenary: Foreign mercenaries hired by Doctor UptoNoGood who carry AK-47’s, and wear body armor. Their purpose is to act as obstacles to the players progress that are moderately difficult to kill. 

In terms of general properties:

  • Agents can perform the standard 3rd person mechanics as outlined in the tests moveset.
  • Agents are controlled by the game using a predictable finite state machine.
  • Headshots deal critical damage to agents.
  • Shots to body armour deal reduced damage to agents.

The player should deal with these mercenaries swiftly, focusing on hitting their weak points, performing flanks on their positions, and doing so with minimal ammo usage.

Behavior

A basic FSM (finite state machine) to convey conceptually how an enemy agent might work.

  • The agent is spawned and initially set to one of three High-Level behaviors (HLB) e.g. Patrol.
  • Each HLB has Sub-Behaviors (SB) which the agent can enact while set to a HLB e.g. Patrol Start.
  • An agent can transition to different SB’s and HLB’s under certain conditions e.g:
    • If Spotted Player
    • Begin Alert-Search
  • If the agent is killed, it goes into a dead state and is then despawned.

Attack Patterns

When attacking, the enemy agent will alternate between seeking cover, and shooting at the player. 

  • When in groups the agents should coordinate their placement to provide varied positions ahead of the player.
  • Enemy agents who are behind the player for sometime should refrain from attacking, and move to cover ahead of the player.

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!

Sketching Practice – 1

Since about over a month now I’ve started making sketching a common activity. Here are some that I’ve done.

Disclaimer: This is copy pasta art made for personal enjoyment/starting out!

One Piece

Samurai Jack

Misc

Also I’ve begun a course on Udemy to develop my drawing skills! This was the result of my first exercise!

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.

Tutorial Exercise – Warhammer Total War 2

Lately I’ve been itching to practice my level design skills. I’ve found such an opportunity with Total War Warhammer 2 where Creative Assembly has made their battle map editor Terry available for public use.

Therefore to practice my level design skills I’ve decided to take my love of Total War, my design skills, and support from the existing map making community to try my hand at creating maps for Warhammer 2.

Paper Mapping

First I tried some paper mapping for an existing Warhammer map called Atldorf.

Map Remake

Next I thought it would be good to remake a map. The map I chose to copy was a tutorial map from the map community. My intent was to make a bare bones version so I can focus on practicing using the tool. I began with studying the tutorial map.

For me the development process was loosely:

  1. First pass at terrain, textures, and water.
  2. Setup of deployment zones & playable area.
  3. Test.
  4. Second pass at terrain and textures (more detail work).
  5. Test.
  6. Rinse and repeat steps 4-5.

Some In-Editor Shots

Some In-game Shots

Next I plan to practice creating a map, this time with an imported height map!

Some Useful Resources:

Some Tips:

  • Have Warhammer 2: Total War Running in windowless so you easily use it, and Terry together.
  • Have the Go-Region totally eclipse the playable area and close up areas with no-go regions
  • Sample Map Object Hierachy Structure:
  • Buildings (File Layer)
  • Cliffs (File Layer)
  • Default (File Layer)
    • Scale Reference (Object)
  • Logic (File Layer)
    • Deployments (Logic Layer)
      • AI Hints (Objects)
      • Deployment Zones (Object)
    • No-Go Regions (Logic Layer)
      • No-Go Regions (Objects)
    • Playable Area (Object)
    • Go Region (Object)
  • Water (File Layer)
    • Water (Objects)

Last of Us – Bill’s Town Notes

1 – Drawing Attention to a Building

  • Use of light texture.
  • Billboard with red striking sign.
  • Blue awning.
  • Depth of side of building.
Drawing Attention

2 – Affordances

  • We encounter a door that can be opened with a shiv. This in my mind established an accordance that doors that looked like this could be opened.
Openable Door
  • Later on we may encounter another door that looks like that same shiv door from before, but this one doesn’t open (affordance confusion)!
Non-openable Door

3 – Drawing Attention to Areas of Interest

  • Like the contrast on the left side, draws my eye to the area where the safe is located.
    • Sign as well as red car.
  • Like the depth on the right side, draws my eye.
    • Depth and blue police car.
Areas of Interest

4 – Lock Before The Key

In this section the player finds a safer that requires a numerical combination to be opened.

The Lock

Further down the street the player sees the glint of a note against a dark junk wall, and finds the combination to the safe written on the note. I have an issue with this!

The player does need to do backtracking which isn’t ideal, but it isn’t much, my issue relates to getting the combination. When the player gets the combination it would be an additional plus to underscore receiving this important information with a touch of VO that hinted the relationship between the safe and note e.g “hmm wasn’t there a safe back there?”.

The Key
Continue reading Last of Us – Bill’s Town Notes

Mafia 3 – Briar Patch Interior Blockout

In an effort to continue building on my 2D Layouts, and 3D blockouts skills I thought I’d try a short exercise of creating an area in a game that I am playing. The subject of this exercise was ground floor of the Briar Patch diner in Mafia 3.

2D Top Down

I began with a very rough to scale-ish 2D top down to get a general shape.

3D Blockouts

Next I began 3d work which involved taking in game pictures as reference from various, and areas of the ground floor. Using these ‘references’ I created approximate blockouts. The following is the results of this exercise.

Diner Eating Area

Reference

Blockouts

Office

Reference

Mafia III_20190504191326

Blockouts

Kitchen

Reference

Blockouts

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.

Jedi Challenges: Darkside Expansion Duels

Platform: iOS, Android Time: 12 weeks |  RoleGame Designer | Team Size: 7

Design Goals:

  • Create a functional and effective game tutorial.
  • Design and implement a unique and enjoyable Rey lightsaber battle across three difficulties.

My Contributions:

  • Contributed to team and design focused brainstorming sessions.
  • Implemented, and iterated the games tutorial, and Rey lightsaber battle using behavior trees.
  • Designed a differentiated Rey battle experience through layering mechanics and developing combat sequences.