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October 15, 2019
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Engaging Level Design for Combat - Pt 2

by Max Pears on 10/03/19 10:25:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hello all of you fantastic and wonderful people, 

I am BACK! I just want to say thank you all so much for the support and kind words from part 1 of my article. Great to see that many of you enjoyed it and feel like you have learned something from it, but we can not linger in the past, instead we must look forward to the second part of what makes good level design for combat. 

Introduction

In the first part, I discussed how important it is for you to understand your metrics, scale, weapon, etc. All this planning helps you to create great levels, now that we have an understanding of these crucial elements, it is on us as LDs to crafts spaces that players can have a great amount of fun and enjoyment with. In this article I will be breaking down the next steps of the process of the 2d design, then looking at a level I created and breaking down what I think made it a good level for combat. 

Pre-production - Research

Now that we have gathered all the useful information to help us we need to move through to the research stage of our level design. This stage can not and should not be skipped, it is crucial to not only making a good level but also a believable level (A quick side tangent, always keep in mind and to quote my friend Stuart Scott we are creating ‘Believable not realistic spaces’ meaning we do have creative freedom within our levels) 

Now you will be set a location for your level, this could be a castle, maybe a hotel or even a space station. Regardless of what that location maybe you will need to make sure that you have an understanding of how these spaces work such as: 

  • What rooms do this area normally contain? 
  • Where is the toilet?
  • How do people interact with this location before the player arrives?
  • How does it connect to other spaces? 
  • What is its architectural style? 
  • Where can you find this location? 
  • Which country is this location located?

And other such questions, in order to answer these then you must first do research. You can do this by googling pictures, then entering google maps to find a real-life example, you can start to see how the location looks in real life. Videos are also a great help, or there might even be an example in other games. I strongly recommend gathering not just images of the location but also floor plans as well. 

The reason for this is it helps you see the overall picture of a location as well as how some typically look. Not only that but this is a great starting point for your own level, as you can use this as a basis for your level. Even better with this, you can not start to see which rooms in a floor plan can be kept, removed or altered. Maybe there are too many rooms that are dead ends which do not give a good loop for combat, or there are not enough spaces for hidden loot, well now you can tweak these in your floor plan but still keep that location-based in reality. 

From doing your research not only will you have a basic understanding of how the locations flows together but you can grasp the theme of location, how it looks at certain times of days, How it will look if it is abandoned or when it is fully functional. 

Now the gathering resources is in full motion, you can use many different cool tools to store them, from it either being a folder on your computer or Pinterest or Google Docs as long as you have easy ways to access your files that are the most important thing. It is important because you will need to make sure you have access to them while creating your level to constantly reference. Yet it is not only important for your beautiful LD eyes but it will come in handy in reviews, so that when leads or directors are checking your work they can see why it looks the way it does but also helps them understand how you got to this layout and why, also this will really help your teammates in Enviro Art so they can get a much more vivid vision of how the location should look.

As for example, you may be asked to build a level set in a church, but this church is built in a Latin community. Yet when I think of a church I visualize a huge Gothic church in the shape of a cross, but that would never fit inside a Latin community. By doing your research you can see how different areas and communities view the same space, making sure you create more authentic and believable spaces. 

Once you have gathered enough references (50 images minimum in my opinion) you can start to move to the next step.

Pre-production - 2d Map

One of the most commonly asked questions I receive is “Max should I do 2d maps, is that the right way?” now for me the answer is yes. I used to do them and then stopped and just jumped straight into the blockout, but I noticed that my quality of my work decrease as well as it taking longer when staring at that ominous blank screen. 

There are many reasons I believe 2d sketches to be important, such as:

  • Quicker to start work on blockout
  • Easier to address feedback
  • Allows you to see the flaws quicker
  • Helps you go through multiple iterations before choosing and starting a blockout​

Now I know some of my other friends and other designers I have met use Google Sketch-Up before creating their blockout as it helps get a better sense of scale. Honestly, both are great, the point you should take away from this section is that you need to plan before your blockout. 

Do people also feel that when they do a 2d map or a form of planning they feel that they are trapped? I put a ‘?’ because you should not. This is a plan meaning this can and should change, this is your starting point! Meaning that you can and must make changes as you see fit, I even did this in a recent level I made, do not be afraid to change from your plan if it does not feel right.  

Now with these points added to your pipeline of level creation, we are going to do a break down of a combat level I created and break it down. 

(Before we do this though, do make sure to check out this great article which is fantastic for what to think about when creating your levels and brings forth some additional points on things to consider when making your levels) 

Case Study - Part 1

Okay, you now know how important pre-production is to your level, we are now going to get to the sexy part, which is the level itself. I created a small combat level for a task, now we will be breaking down the level and showing what I believe helps make this level good for combat. 

Quick side note, all of those documents in part one were my design rules and metrics and those were what I was referring to when I created my level. This level was not built or set on any particular location, we had a week to create Three combat spaces, so there is no reference images, just more of me creating a space that felt right. 

With no research I had my restrictions for space of 30x30m as well I could only use five enemies, with cover spacing of 2m and with that I created my 2d map. 

As you can see, it is not the prettiest of sketches but it gets the job done. It is very important when you do a sketch that you do use grid paper. The reason for this that you can get a sense of scale as well when it comes to putting it in the editor it you can translate the cube on the paper for 1m and use that to block out your level in the editor.  

When creating the level (and hopefully you can see this) that I wanted essentially split the space into quarters, so that the player could feel a difference in each section, but also feel a sense of progression. 

Quartering the level allowed me to reveal information to the player slowly, not just throwing them into the middle of a battleground. It allows the player to focus on the task at hand, before showing more slowly, also by hiding certain information from the player it also plays to their disadvantage making the challenge feel even stronger. Another reason I was splitting up space is the fact that it can and will reduce Long lines of sight. This way it forces players to move through the space in order to engage in combat, while also making them move to get an understanding of how the space is connected. 

Part of how I quarter the level is by dividing the space between interior and exterior spaces, most of the right-hand side is set in the interior space, while the left-hand space is kept in the open space to the exterior. This is handy for combat as players will have a different feel in each of the spaces. 

Exterior - players will have bigger spaces to engage in combat, having flanking opportunities, as well as having a larger line of sight to deal with and keep an eye on as enemies progress. 

Interior - players will be kept in a much more narrow space forcing them to focus on the front of combat as they battle with the enemies to move forward. 

Not only is this designed to have a visual separation but also designed like this to provide a number of ways in which players have to deal with the different encounters as well, making the space feel different too. 

You have now seen why I have decided to quarter the layout but it would not be much of a plan if I did not think about how the enemies occupy this space. Here is  the plan I had for my enemies in the space as well: 

(The enemies are the Red Diamonds with the giant E, inside them. While the player is the Green Circle, with the P inside it)

Before I jump to why I have placed the enemies in this position I want to talk about the players position first. This is sometimes an oversight when designing a level but trust me when I say, how the player first sees the level will inform how they play your level. One of the biggest/basic mistakes I see in beginners' work is that the designer places the player facing the wrong direction, so make sure you place the players avatar facing the direction you want them to move towards. Look at how Mario always faces the right as players must move right. 

With that same context I have it so my player faces forward leading them towards the window and to the turning on the left (we will break down why that is important later) but a big reason why I have placed the player a bit away from enemies is for safety. Players can start my level without feeling pressure right away. Allowing them to find their bearing before entering combat. 

 

Switching gears now, we will look at enemy placement, now I have only shown you they're starting off placement, not their patrol route. We will talk about their route when it comes to the blockout phase. One of the key things I have tried to do here is that I have tried to hide enemies from the players initial view. If you look at both the top right and bottom left, there are two enemies in each section, yet only one is visible in the player's initial LoS. The reason behind this is:

  1. To surprise the player, this way it keeps the engagement interesting
  2. Reward the players who do not go in guns blazing, those who strategise and truly take in the level will be able to not be caught off guard. 

 Conclusion

From this article I hope you have understood the importance of research and planning, this is a necessary stage to make great levels, as well as seeing some questions you should as yourself as you start working on your level. 

Always make sure to build up a library of references because the more you know the more authentic and believable your space will become. Floor plans are a great place to start when it comes to creating your own 2d maps, as you can use them to help ground your level or even the foundation of your own level. 

2d maps don’t need to be art, as long as it is understandable and makes sense then that is the most important thing. Plan the position of your player and your enemies as that will help you get an even better understanding of how the level will actually flow with your objectives. 

I was planning for us to start looking over the blockout of the level but honestly, I think it has turned out better that we have focused solely on the planning phase of development. Because now you can understand how important it is, as well as see my thought process when creating this level. 

Next will be the concluding part of this mini-series on making a combat level. I did not want to explain all of my design choices in this post as you will see in the next part that some of changed, but also I believe it will be better to see them within the level I have built. 

Please Support

Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read this, hope you have found it useful. If you do want to hear more about my thoughts on level design, then either follow me on Twitter for more bite size Level Design tips or please check out my podcast:

iTunes: https://apple.co/2CwAkqD

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2ybMelK

YouTube: https://bit.ly/2XUXcLf 

SoundCloud: https://bit.ly/2XYIo9K

 


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