Category Archives: Activities

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!

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

GDC 2018

I had the fortune of attending The Game Developers Conference 2018 in San Francisco this year.

Throughout the conference I took the following notes which I thought to share!

Day 1 – 3/19/2018

My first day at GDC involved visiting a number of sponsored talks as well as a great talk on the game Mortician’s Tale.

Google Dev Day

In this event Google was presenting a number of new features. One in particular was Google Instant. The concept is that developers would create partial builds that would act as a lite version of the experience used to give a demo of the experience. One interesting concept they proposed was that as speed increases, consumption increases.

Amazon – Gameon

This session was a demo for introducing Amazons Gameon feature. In the talk the speaker went through how to implement the Gameon system providing diagrams and code samples.

Gameon, as I understood it, is a service that allows deliveries leveraging the Amazon delivery service. The example the speaker spoke at length about was integrating real world prizes into a game system using Amazon’s delivery service e.g. a player wins a game and a real prize is delivered to them by Amazon.

Amazon – Future of E-Sports

In this panel hosted by Amazon the speakers gave their opinion on the future of E-Sports and made a number of interesting points including:

  • What was driving the increase in size of esport was not something in mobile applications, but the increase in the number of devices, and increase in speed of infrastructure.
  • The best e-sport is easy to pickup but hard to master.
  • The perceived skill gap of mobile vs PC is good for the e-sports as its about accessibility having mobile in the e-sports scene.
  • When you have a hit one challenge is to sustain the momentum. There are several ways to do so. Two ways are building a brand or building a community.
  • Games that are good for broadcasting are surprising, unpredictable, and easy to watch.
  • E-Sports has a structure like that of regular sports. Blizzard for example has franchises all over the world, and the owners of E-Sports teams are like the owners of traditional sports teams.

Mortician’s Tale – A Different View on How Games Treat Death

This talk was about the concept of death in a game called Mortician’s Tale. As described by the creator Morticians Tale is ‘a job simulator game’ about being a Mortician.

During the talk the speaker made a number of interesting points including:

  • Death systems in games have endured. In Mortician’s tale they wanted to explore ways of displaying it.
  • It was important that death in the game should relate to narrative and mechanics of game.
  • One book that was influential to the development was ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ by Caitlin Doughty.
  • The purple color in the game was used to hide the ugliness of death and reflects melancholy.
  • The game removes the ability to fail during preparation of the body as the creators felt it would disrespect the bodies.
  • The protagonist of the game was made silent as a silent protagonist can act as a vessel for players.
  • A silent protagonist also underscores the importance of listening in the grieving process.
  • Post release the feedback was positive and the creator believed there was some evidence of a transformative effect due to the design decisions made while making the game.

At the end of the conference the speaker made recommendations of a number of other games to look at that explore the topic of death:

Finally the speaker made four major recommendations for how to do death in games better:

  1. Make it meaningful.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Be understanding with your players.
  4. Asses your own feelings.

Talk Link

Continue reading GDC 2018

How to Play – Trash Traders

Do you have four iPads and a wireless network? If so you can operate Trash Traders! Trash Traders is an experience developed at Carnegie Mellons Entertainment Technology Center, that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life. The following is footage collected from playtests of Trash Traders.

The following is additional footage of discussions about living a green life:

About

In Trash Traders players take the roles of four recycling centers, where each iPad is a recycling center, whose objective is to clean up the pollution in their city. They do this by fulfilling the needs of the city by creating green products using eco-items that are produced at the recycling centers. The recycling centers face a challenge though.

Each recycling can produce only one type of eco-item and more than one type of eco-item is often required to create a green product. Therefore the recycling centers must work together otherwise their city is doomed to be ruined by over pollution!

Continue reading How to Play – Trash Traders

CHI Play 2017

Angle Jungle was a great project and on completion we wanted to expose our work to the wider community for more feedback and potentially even to explore possibilities of formal assessment of the game actually being effective in its transformational objectives. Therefore we wrote up a paper and submitted it to CHI Play. Fortunately it was accepted and we were invited to present the game. My intention at the conference was then to connect with people who were able to help formally assess Angle Jungle as well as keep an eye out for good connections.

Top Presentations

My top two presentations were definitely:

Diegetic ConnectivityPaper here

Why I loved this was that by the end of the work they had a playable deliverable that made engaging with language an essential part of the experience, not at all like the typical chocolate broccoli that tends to happen. I definitely connected with the speaker and will remain in touch with them.

Bibles and BioshockPaper here

Religion is a hot button issue (as usual) and I loved this talk because it opened my mind to the actual academic consideration of religious discussions in video games. Particularly interesting was how it attempted to categorize people into behavior categories.

Other interesting papers I found interesting:

All papers accepted at conferences main program can be found at the following link:

https://chiplay.acm.org/2017/program/

Continue reading CHI Play 2017

To Ireland

Before I started my Masters of Entertainment Technology I visited an old friend in Northern Ireland. The following are a collection of photos taken during my trip.

Carrickfergus Castle

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Belfast City Hall

Tesco Belfast

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading To Ireland

Tiny – Spring Break

During Spring break we had the chance to playtest a digital prototype of our game. The game consisted of five puzzles, and the intention of the playtest was to see if our target demographic and client (Colonial School) liked the game, and their thoughts. Feedback from both the teacher, and our target demographic was as follows:

Kids

  • Kids like the game
  • Thought it was easy, wanted more challenge
  • Understood the mechanic immediately
  • Completed the game within 5 minutes
  • When asked about characters they wanted they mentioned all kinds of animals they saw in the jungle
  • Again asked for a wrestler
  • Understood story
  • Had no major complaints about art or mechanic or story
  • One kid wanted dragons
  • One kid recognized it was a maths game but kept playing
  • Asked for more levels!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Teacher

  • Teacher liked the game
  • Said reverse angle gems (move in opposite direction) would be fine but only on advanced levels
  • Wanted some source of competition so star rating system should have a total for students to compete against each other
  • Teacher said using games to teach angle of shapes would be fine
  • Teacher said students are not taught physics at their level (leaving physics out is a good idea)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tiny – Week 13

This week was spent working on UX changes as well as polish to the game.

UX Changes

A number of UX changes were made .

One Gem Solutions

One gem solutions are The changes this work consisted of solving a number of one gem solutions that appeared during playtesting.

Tutorial

Changed protractor tool tutorial to an earlier level, then introduced it again in a later level to hopefully increase the probability that players will use it.

Anti-Cheat

During our playtest it was revealed that slotting and removing a gem constantly could be used as a cheat to beat a level. We solved this issue technically by having a check for slotting, and not allowing a win to occur if a slot had occur within sometime.

Game Flow

We reconsidered the flow of the first time play experience. Initially the first time players played the game they start directly at level one. The intention behind this was done in attempt to get players attention by showing them the most interesting thing first. This was changed to start with the map first because:

  1. It was our actual homepage.
  2. Many other games followed a standard of showing the map first rather than introducing the gameplay.