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Educational Feature: 'A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games, Pt.2'

Educational Feature: 'A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games, Pt.2'

May 1, 2006 | By Simon Carless




Indiana University graduate student Sam Shahrani presents a detailed history of the evolution of level design and in-game interactivity from the inception of 3D engines to the near present, in the conclusion of this exclusive two-part Gamasutra educational feature.

In this extract, the choices made in designing Looking Glass' classic PC survival-horror FPS System Shock are discussed:

"The level design in System Shock emphasized giving the player choices and rewards for thorough exploration of the station. The levels varied between the computerized corridors of Citadel Station to hydroponics bays filled with mutant creatures and plants run amok, orange tentacles creeping across the walls and integrating with the digital systems. In certain cases, the player actually had to jack into a representation of cyberspace in order to achieve goals such as unsealing doors or repairing systems.

The need for the player to balance choices, as well as having to actually interact with computer and security systems in the game were innovative features in the genre, and significantly increased the direct influence that players could have on the game world besides merely butchering enemies and throwing switches.

System Shock's design choice to eschew non-player characters in favor of using logs and messages left before their death is an interesting choice from a game design standpoint. In a postmortem on System Shock 2, Irrational Games developer Johnathan Chey notes that System Shock made this decision primarily because the computer technology of 1994 "was simply inadequate to support believable and enjoyable interactions with them" (Grossman, 12).

While the decision was made out of necessity, it served to greatly improve the feeling and immersion of the title, and was a decision that was carried through in the August 11th, 1999 release of System Shock 2 by Irrational Games and Looking Glass."


You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, including many more details on the evolution of video game level design (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

(The first half of the article is also available from Gamasutra's newly expanded Gamasutra Education section.)


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