Level Design - Metrics

Design Metrics for Temple of Haoma

In one of my recent blog posts, I broke down the level design of the Temple of Haoma. Here I focused on the flow and layout of the level along with the many of the challenges the player faced. In this post, I’m going to detail how I came to those design choices and the metrics I used to build the level.

The Temple of Haoma started with a few sketches a flow node map and a 2D layout to detail how those elements came together. It was tempting to jump right in and start blocking out based on those details, but To make my life as a designer more manageable, I decided to build a test room for planning my design metrics the following were the goals of my test room.

  • Create terrain at different elevations to test step offset & height.

  • Create a series of gaps to determine jump length.

  • Create various objects to test min and max cover height.

  • Place an enemy with simple detection logic to test cover and detection range

  • Create angled terrain to test walk/run angles.

  • Create crawlspaces to test the min height.

Many of the above factors rely heavily on the dimensions of the player. Based on my early design docs, the player was a wolf. Therefore I came up with the following dimensions (W x H x L) 1 m x 1 m x 2 m. A little light research helped back these numbers up along with some rounding to keep the numbers clean to base the rest of my level off on.

From here, I started creating my building blocks. 1 x 1 (W x L) I used this to first create a hallway I began with a 5 x 1 width but ultimately felt this was too constricting to the player and the third person camera. I settled on a 12 x 1 hallway as a good starting point. Since I was designing a temple, I wanted to give this space a grand feel and felt like the additional room also served the stealth mechanics well.

With my basic width, I created a 12 x 12 floor chunk and would eventually use this to start laying out the level. This chunk was also used in the test room to begin mapping out all the different terrain. After building the environment and testing mechanics, I came up with the following metrics.

  • Player height = 1 m

  • Camera height = 1.5 m

  • Cover Height = 0.85 m

  • Crouch height = 0.65 m

  • Crawlspace height = 0.75 m

  • Entrance clearance = 1.5 m

  • Interaction Range = 0.25 m

  • Enemy Height = 1.8 m ~ 2.0 m

  • Enemy Visibility = 10 m~ 20 m

  • Max run angle = 30°

  • Max walk angle = 45°

  • Jump Distance = 5 m

  • Doorway min width = 3 m

The above metrics really helped in blocking out my level and having standards to conform to. However there was several metrics I did not plan for that after earl test plays I wish I did. One example was player speed. Although I set numbers for these values in code early on I didn’t test these enough in the early stages to know if things lined up well. I had to make several revisions based on that factor alone. In addition fall damage and fall height threshold became immediately apparent as players threw them selves off the ledge immediately In hopes of finding secret areas. To solve that problem I concluded a 25 m fall height would result in damage.

In the end design metrics really helped me in building out the level in an efficient and manageable manner. For my next I project I do plan to further extrapolate on my metrics and been studying other titles to learn and discover what metrics are being used. As always thanks for reading.

God of War - Level Design Breakdown

God of War - Climbing Section

Recently I’ve been replaying the latest entry in the God of War series for research into level design techniques. There is a few areas later in the game that I’m particularly excited about researching. However in my travels through Midgard I stumbled upon the moment captured above. I felt the framing and along with the level’s geometry really are a master craft in teaching the player how to navigate the space.

  1. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the light coming in from the top of the screen. The bright color contrasts the rest of the image. Light rays help guide the player upward and finally once we arrive at the top of the screen our gaze is captured by the lone red flag waving in the wind.

  2. From here we naturally wanna work our way down the space.The affordance of the golden paint has been taught to us at this point in the game and we know that when used on walls we can climb that object. This focuses our vision with our goal of reaching the red flag we can start to imply a route.

  3. The stone with the golden chain is another great example of object affordance. We know we can climb the chain but the chain must be knocked down by Kratos or Atreus. In addition the texture of the chain stands out from this rest of this imagery in the scene. Capturing the player’s attention and providing clues about how to traverse.

  4. Here we have some subtle leading lines that point to the intersection of the rock walls. More gold paint allows us to trace the path.

  5. A large golden circle and the slightly inset to the rocks really help connect the climbable wall to the wooden platforms below.

  6. The contrast of the torchlight help to highlight the gap in the platform and imply the importance of the bridge. In order to progress we have to bring that bridge down.

  7. The second chain we see brings everything we just observed into range and with the gold paint on the wood under it we know we can eventually climb this short structure. This also brings us back down to ground level where the player currently is. We can observe the entire path from this location and just have to figure out our first step.

  8. We do see a gear below the bridge. This object stands out from the rest and it’s affordance tells us we can freeze it once the bridge is in place. from here it’s a matter of finding the device to activate the bridge.

  9. Finally we can get a glimpse of a staircase in the bottom right corner of the map. This helps lead to the first piece of the puzzle which is sending Atreus up onto the platform.

This is a quick entry in the blog but I just felt this was a such a strong image that really stresses the importance of framing. As soon as Kratos climbs onto this ledge all the information is available to the player. With great use of lighting texture and solid geometry the player can piece together the clues and figure out the area for themselves. As always thanks for reading and please look forward to more entries based on God of War in the near future.

Level Design - Temple of Haoma

Temple of Haoma

Overview

Project goals: Build a level to explore and utilize level design techniques such as flow, leading lines, bread crumbing etc.

Genre: Third-person stealth

Software: Maya, Unity, Photoshop, Illustrator, Visual Studio (C#),

Plot: A Forest spirit awakens in isolated forest. Strange machine like creatures have taken up residence in the forest. The spirit is tasked with awakening the great tree Haoma and protecting the forest from this strange presence.

Temple of Haoma is an early level in a stealth adventure game named Prowl. In Prowl the player is much weaker then the enemies you face and most focus on stealth game-play. In order to properly stealth the player must rely on observation and situational awareness. The player can sprint causing them to move faster at the expense of creating more noise or crawl moving slower but also better utilizing objects around them as cover.

The goal of Temple of Haoma was to create level that will holistically teach player the concepts of the game world and also explore various level design techniques. In fact the entire prowl project has been developed to serve as a case study into level design. In the samples below you will see a culmination of techniques used.

  • Working with metrics to establish proper scaling

  • Focus on framing to have proper flow between chambers of the temple

  • Pacing that leads to good balance and keeps the player engaged in different kinds of content.

  • Examples of clear object affordance and examples of implied affordance that we provide the player.

The above is just a few examples but the descriptions that accompany each image further clarify some of the concepts applied in the accompanying screenshot.


1 - Bridge

In the opening moments of level I want to accomplish several goals.

  • Create a landmark to center the level on

  • Provide player with a safe area to explore controls

  • Introduce stealth concepts to player

From the early design of the stage I decided the level would focus around a massive tree. Thus it was a natural fit to use this as an landmark that the player would want to head towards. In addition the giant tree serves as a point the player can refer back to if needed to orientate themselves .

Once the player emerges in the first area we do have an enemy up ahead but we also have plenty of space to move around before approaching the enemy. Stone tiles lead towards the enemy showing our route but a fallen pillars block this path. Two stone tiles lead off to the left and the route encouraging the player to move in either direction around the enemy.

When stepping into the grass the player is prompted to press the crouch button which will put them in a stealth state. This is further complemented by a crawl space on the right side closer to the enemy. The goal is reinforced using the crouch state to carefully sneak past the enemy.

If the player is crouched and sneaking past the enemy. I have scripted the event so the enemy will turn and look towards the player but be unable to see them.

To review

  • Landmark to establish a goal

  • Leading lines towards our goal but also suggest paths to get around the enemy

  • Tall grass and crawl spaces to encourage crouching & stealth

Once we move past the enemy we are on a long bridge high above a ravine below. This is a great vantage point that foreshadows several future areas of the level. The bridge narrows into a thin path while our player is navigating across an event will play with birds flying up through the gap in the bridge. My intent here is to have the player’s look down to make sure they see the area below and all give a sense of height and danger. This should also foreshadow the area below as a place the player wants to explore.

Once past this point the bridge culminates into a narrow ramp. Our leading lines point the player towards the ramp and this should encourage the player to jump across and head towards the temple.


2 - Foyer

Once inside the temple I immediately greet the player with three potential routes.

  • A sealed door with a root breaking through it.

  • A staircase leading into a main chamber with several enemies

  • A route to the left dimly lit by embers.

A challenge faced early on in development was always guiding new players choose the left path. Which has a more gradual approach to stealth then the path straight into the main chamber.

Utilizing leading lines & the warm welcoming light of the embers really aided in helping test players try this route first. In addition I also added a small platform that players would have to move around if they wish to proceed into the main chamber.

The center of the room also has two large roots extending into it. A device is attached to these roots and the player is required to remove the device to navigate forward. This activates our checkpoint and causes both roots to retract. The left retracts back the doorway guiding the player towards this path.

It is worth nothing that a careful player could move directly into main chamber and take an alternate route through the temple. Providing player’s with choice is important as it let’s player scale their experience to their skill and preferred play style.


3 - Sundered Library

Inside the left path we encounter another lone enemy. This time we have no tall grass to use so timing and utilizing objects in the space to sneak past the enemy are the key goals I hope to teach the player.

First I provide a small bit of cover as you enter the room to encourage the player to take a moment and observe the enemy’s behavior. I also placed an object in the center of the room to imply the enemy’s route around the room.

I spent time iterating over the enemy’s path and adding moments where the enemy would look out the windows and away from the center to further reinforce safe moments to sneak through the room.

At this point the player enters a library with the floor broken dividing the room into two sections. Across the gap we see light pouring in from a doorway that leads outside. This detail was incredibly important to get right. This should be established as the route for the player to take. They should immediately want to head here.

Leading to this moment I want the players to associate nature with safety and progress and structures with the enemies and danger. It is my goal to make the player want to reach the exit from the temple. This is hopefully reinforced by the outdoor area shown early on below the bridge.

When the player is ready a small ramp encourages a jump across the gap. However when the player lands on the fallen bookcase it slides back and forces the player to fall below into the barracks.

At this point the pacing of the stage shifts. The loud crash causes two enemies to converge on your location. The path behind you is blocked by roots and the player must quickly choose which room to hide in.

The area around the player is a barracks with many small rooms that can be used to hide. Once hidden it’s up the player to observe the enemies and find the right opportunity to sneak forward. Additionally the patrolling enemies will look into the rooms and it’s up to the player to use the objects to hide when this event happens.

The goal of this space was to put pressure on the player but also provide them plenty of options to move through it. Additionally we have a great opportunity for environmental storytelling as the nature of this space implies that people used to live here giving us clues about it’s origin.


4 - Flooded Chamber

After sneaking through barracks I dial back the tension and pacing and introduce a quiet flooded room. First the player will look to the broken staircase and see an inaccessible walkway. This serves as a reminder of the path in the library and gently reinforces that as one of our goals. From here I guide the player to see the open doorway in the middle of the flooded section and I further highlight this space by placing floating derbies to lure the player’s gaze to the doorway.

Once the player heads inside the doorway we reveals the source of the flood. A root has busted through the wall breaking open a water spring. The root has a device in it to be activated similar to the device back in the foyer. Upon removing the device the root retracts and the temple rumbles once again.

With the root device removed the player will have to backtrack to progress forward. This is indicated by a new root extending from the barracks that was not there previously. This root blocks our initial path through the barracks but opens up crawl spaces in the smaller rooms of the barracks the player can use this crawlspace to sneak through.


5 - Mess Hall

The mess hall contains stationary enemies whose line of sight covers most of the room. This presents more of a puzzle based challenge for players as opposed to the previous patrolling enemies.

This space in particular was difficult to get right. I had to balance a fine line of utilizing leading lines and lighting to suggest to the player where to go instead of explicitly showing it. I ultimately used the tables as cover to get the player in the right position to find the path heading into the kitchen area. This route through the kitchen gives the player access to new cover objects in the mess hall and allows them to reach the exit safely.

From here we return to the main chamber but from a new perspective. First we frame the exit to the other side of the temple right away so the player immediately knows where to progress. From the mess hall doorway the player can safely use the objects in this room as cover and sneak around the two enemies patrolling the room. The space is constructed to allow for multiple routes.

One route would be walking back behind all the seats and crawling underneath the stairwell to reach the other side. Another route can use any row of seats as cover and the player can sprint across the center gap in the brief windows of opportunity created by the enemy patrol routes.


6 - Storage Room

Once through the main chamber we find ourselves in hallway leading straight into a new room. There is a small bit of cover as the player enters the room but past the cover is a large stretch of ground with no cover and a lone enemy patrolling the hallway. To the right of the cover is crawlspace leading into a new room.

Moving through the crawl space opens into a storage room. Here we don’t frame the exit right away but instead frame objects that can be used for cover as we have an enemy patrolling the area.

An interesting challenge of this room is we are not directly framing the player’s objective but instead relying on their familiarity of the space. The player knows from the previous room that they want to head to their left. So here we frame the room an it’s objects as tools to make that objective possible.


7 - Garden

In the garden chamber I had to apply several iterations in order to help the player navigate this space. Initial play test had players wandering around until they stumbled onto the objective.

I changed the layout and created a vantage point on the far side of the room the player could see it as soon as they emerge from the narrow passage and it grabs their attention. In order to navigate to this point the player has to carefully move from cover to cover while avoiding the gaze of the enemies.

The goal of this room is to reveal a bit more of the space each time the player moves to new cover. Having the player improvise a path instead of planning it ahead of time.


7 - Plant Nursery

Once we move up the ramp we have an enemy to deal with and two possible paths. Past the lone enemy on right leads to a shortcut we can open up back to the checkpoint.

In this section it is my goal to frame the path to opening the shortcut. The tall grass serves to breadcrumb a route through the room. Once the player has moved to the third patch of grass they will spot a crawlspace allowing them to sneak through the room.

After this room a short hallway leads to another root with a device in it removing the device causes the wall to crumble and the player can proceed into the foyer.With the checkpoint open the player can safely resume the previous route.

Back in the nursery the player’s new perspective frames the second path. This brings the player to a new vantage point very close to another root puzzle similar to the one in the flooded room.

Once activated the dungeon shifts one more time breaking a wall and reducing the water level in the back chamber. An intact staircase is framed by the wall breaking open and the player can finally reach the upper level of the temple.


9 - Grand Gate

In this section I keep the player in rather narrow hallway but open into a large room with high ceilings. The contrast in space serves to show the player this room is of importance. In addition I reuse the statue at the other entrance of the temple. The reuse of the asset will also serve as a clue to the player.

The doorway on the right currently has no use to the player but the simple layout of this room is intentional to contrast the complex look of the door. Player’s will remember this object when the time is right.

For now the player moves on, and finally reaches the other side of the library and can head outside to explore the ravine area.


10 - Descent to the Ravine

As the player descends down into the ravine I widen the terrain a bit and block the exit by a root you need to crawl under. The player will have to look to the left to find the crawl space. This combination of widen terrain and looking to the left should aid the player in finding the vantage point.

Once overlooking the area below the player should see several roots spreading out and dried grass. At this point the level has been built in way to reinforce roots as a useful interaction that changes the level. I’ve actually spent a lot of time trying to tweak to the layout of this area so the player can actually see almost every root in the area below. You will notice each root is accompanied by a much smaller version of the grand tree. This is marked by their unique pink color and rounder leaf structure. Hopefully player’s make the association with the large tree and the useful of the roots.

In the ravine the player will step into the dried short grass which does not provide the ability of being able to hide in it. The dried grass does not provide the same affordance as the normal grass it is shorter and more sparse. Cover can only be provided by full grown normal grass which as the player has seen is thicker and taller.

When the player activates the first root puzzle the dried grass from the current root and the tree it’s pointing to will be hydrated and grow into normal grass. Thus allowing the player to use it to stealth. Once again this is a crucial moment and will be important for teaching the player how to pass through the next few sections of gameplay.

  • First root puzzle offers a split path with no enemies around choice: Left or Right path

  • Second root on left or right side offers no choice just reaffirms the concept of growing grass to sneak past enemies. Converges on third root

  • Third root is another split decision but this split will determine how you decide to pass the group of enemies.

  • Fourth or Fifth continues the path from the third root around the enemies and allows you to reach the gate at the end of the section.


11 - Lookout Post

When progressing past the third root the player has to deal with an enemy surveying the area around them. This requires careful movement from the player as the dried grass patches are spread further part.

The enemy is on a raised platform to ensure the player notices this while another enemy patrols the ground below. The enemy on the raised platform has an increased view distance and I help the player indicate this by creating a circle of dried grass around the area. Once the player steps into the open they are visible to the enemy.

Early iterations and play tests showed that players were unsure of enemies view distance. Refining the area around enemies to use the geometry to help the player gauge the enemies distance has been incredibly helpful.


12 - Encampment

Once the root puzzle has been solved a gate opens leading into a subdued forest where we can explore. This area provides a bit of a pacing break before the next challenge.

Ahead I’ve placed several structures and a spiked fence to indicate that danger lies ahead. Once again I also created an area using the grass to help imply a safe distance to observe from. The layout is attempting to reinforce the concept of observing before entering the area. The fence is meticulously placed but on the far right the pattern breaks and a few spikes are off. This is also framed by the path leading to the encampment. This is a clue to help plays find their way into the encampment.

Once inside the encampment the space has several structures and gaps that you can crawl through. It’s a tight space with lots of hard corners with several enemies wandering about.


13 - Bridge Pillars

The Bridge serves as a landmark and the central point of this encampment. Once the player reaches the bridge we see a tree root wrapped around the left bridge pillar.

My intent is to give the player a goal figure out how to complete this root puzzle. The second pillar has a root emerging from the water but only wrapped around the base of the pillar. This root is also extending into the water and pointing to the right of the player’s current position.

Looking to the right of the first screenshot I use the roots coming from the temple to point to an area hidden behind a rock. Additionally the rock has a root emerging from the bottom to further emphasize a hidden element behind it.

When the player sneaks behind the rock they find one last tree with a root and device attached to it. Activating this final root causes it to extend forward and break the second pillar.

One of the reasons I move the player to this point to break the bridge is to make sure they have a good visual of the bridge breaking from this new angle we can clearly see the height change and understand what happens. It also prevents the player from being hit by the pillars.


14 - Vantage Point

Finally on the way back I use the fallen pillars to lead the player to this new vantage point. Here the players gets a valuable hint about where to go next. I framed the cave players may have missed as they where approaching the encampment.

On the way back out to the small forested area a new root extends up and connects this pathway to return to the starting area.

The lowered bridge can now finally lead us back to some of the earliest areas foreshadowed.


15 & 16 - Inner Sanctum

After the collapsed bridge the player repeats a jump from earlier in the game but due to the lowered nature now ends up in a lower chamber.

A long hallway leading to a large structure at the end serves for a bit of dramatic emphasis. The narrow hallway opens into a wider space. From here we see an object very similar to the door in the back half of the temple. Upon activating the object. The player is given a new ability.

The player can now range stealth kill unaware enemies. The root extends upwards drawing the player’s eye to the small balcony above. Part of the floor falls and breaks off and the enemy standing in the middle of the main chamber has it’s back facing the player. The player will be able to climb the root and sneak up behind the enemy. Delivering their first stealth attack to move past the enemy.


Back to The Gate

At this point the player is tasked with returning to the back room and defeating as many enemies as they desire along the way. Upon reaching the gate the door reacts and opens up and reveals one final chamber in which we end the level. The ending is of interest because it allows to utilize our same space but in a different context I believe this promotes the player’s confidence and power in this final encounter.

Thank you for your time reading my longest blog post to date. The Prowl project has been an excellent opportunity for me to grow as a designer. If you’ve made it this far I would leave to hear your thoughts on the above images. Is there a techniques or concept I’m missing that can really help with the project? Please let me know and share your thoughts on the overall design.


Level Design - Sekiro Ashina Outskirts

Ashina Outskirts

 

Players of Sekiro: Shadows die twice may remember the battle with General Tenzen Yamauchi a harrowing encounter against a named Samurai General. The truth star of this fight is not the General himself by the finely crafted courtyard that surrounds him. After a battle with a chained ogre, the player grapples into a narrow corridor up above. A scouting tool is found a small opening appears to our right.

Sekiro - Map Recreation



2 - Affordance

Following the narrow corridor to continue scouting, we get a few more simple lead lines encouraging us to hug the rickety fence on the right. Fortunately, Sekiro has taught us tall grass’ affordance that it provides cover an the ability to sneak.

The tall grass leads us into the fence on our left. As we approach, we can observe the patrolling enemy and the stationary, but more importantly, a gap in the fence leads our eyes to discover a cliff ledge. Once again, when we see this white texture on the edge of the cliff and the affordance is clear we can hang and sneak closer to our target.


3

On the other side of the level leading past the sentry, we can see some more examples of Affordance. Once again, tall grass and a cliff edge are used to indicate a safe sneaking route. Additionally, a thick tree branch protrudes from the intersection of our leading lines. Sekiro has taught that a tree branch is a grapple point and an great perch to survey our surroundings. This path also now provides the player with a full route around the courtyard and an excellent opportunity to spot every enemy kill the sentry and form a plan of attack.

We can proceed with facing the mini-boss or…

move on towards the castle.



4

In the far back section of the level we find a broken bridge that leads us towards the castle off in the distance. A torch off in the distance uses lighting to clarify to the player this is an area we should head towards. An alternate path must be found. At first glance it may not appear obvious but the Tree Branch’s Affordance shows us there must be something below. We Look downward and and see a soft blue light indicating an idol is nearby. This sets our player on a new path.

1 -Overlook, Leading Lines, & Lighting

In this example, I believe the designers at From Software do an excellent job showing where each enemy is located however it is done in a manner that suggests it to the player allowing them to feel they discovered each enemy on their own. The scroll and torch circled in the example image is our first focus point. Good contrasts with the dark hallway, the bright light of the torch and the tall scroll stands out and takes advantage of the leading lines created by the broken wood. This scroll also happens to be the location of our mini-boss and quickly establishes a goal to our players.

Goal: Defeat General Yamauchi

With this discovery, the player's eye moves upward to enemy patrol behind him and then to the broken wall section above. This area is also complimented by a torch to ensure the player stays focused and sees the next enemy above.

In this small opening, we can see a tree branch. The branch leads up a bit further to the right and a very easy to miss enemy the sentry. This enemy is precisely placed to teach players a lesson about rushing and not properly scouting. At the start of this section, you obtain the Ninja Monocular which serves as a hint to scout.

With the sentry spotted the player must now figure out a way up and our final torch on the right side of the screen helps guide our eyes to another branch and a small ledge we can hang from. The player has two possible routes ahead of them continue scouting to the left, or move towards the sentry.

In this one image, we have a couple of great examples of leading lines and lighting to quickly allow us to orientate ourselves and discover all the enemies, in addition, each enemy is always placed near a red color-coded object. Tree leaves, torch, or banner. This subtle touch helps train our brain what to look for.

In Conclusion: Sekiro has a clear and consistent language in it’s level design. It provides us with immense challenge but that challenge is both fair and approachable thru it’s design. In the above examples we have covered the following.

Leading Lines - To reveal enemies and set objectives.

Lighting - To highlight key objects or focal points.

Color Coding Blue = Safe , Red = Danger

Affordance Clear understanding of objects usage through repetition and shape theory.

The above screenshots also contain of variety of other techniques such as signposting, bread crumbing, and Denial and Reward the later of which we can do an entire blog on. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post.




Level Design - Level Update

Temple of Life

My temple of life level project has now been through several iterations. The goal of this project is to practice and develop my skill set as a level designer. My previous blog post covers the design process that I’ve worked out that keeps me focused on my goals and allows for consistent progress.

In tonight’s post I would like to show off some a few captures o the level’s current iteration and go into a few brief details about what i’m hoping to accomplish. It is also worth nothing that I’m making this post before moving into my test play iteration phase. I believe a lot of elements may change significantly at that point and documenting will provide interesting talking points.

Core Pillars

  1. Stealth

    1. Power thru patience

    2. Observe and Evade or Observe and Strike

    3. Situational Awareness

    4. Cover Afforadance.

  2. Exploration

    • Reward player with narrative

    • Encourage player with short cuts interconnecting pathways.

    • Multiple ways to solve a problem

  3. Narrative

    • Wolf Spirit Guarding the forest

    • Environmental Storytelling.

Here is a quick glance at an early flow node map I made to help establish pacing and plotting my initial layout.

Color

  • Green - Exploration low intensity

  • Red - Stealth high intensity

  • Yellow - Interaction mental challenge

  • Blue - Narrative space or collectible

  • Pink - Streaming Gate

Enemy Key

  • Eg - Low number of enemies guarding not very mobile.

  • Er - Low number of enemies patrolling

  • Ef - High number of enemies mixed guards and patrols.

Interaction

  • Br - Extend into a bridge to reach new location

  • Ct - Close a circuit by linking objects

  • Ga - A gate sealing off an area

  • Gw - Cause foliage and cover to grow in the area.

I used the above information to plot out what encounters and challenges I wanted to place around the level. I focused on trying to keep connected areas varied so pacing would allow for moments of intensity to be followed by a short break. Traversal areas are also designed to allow the player to take as much of a break as they need or observe the next challenge before moving forward. In addition I wanted to have strong variety in the interaction mechanics which serve as the foundation of our puzzle.

Example the center area labeled temple is designed to be a large enemy fortification at it’s core, with the upper levels providing valuable vantage points and light enemy presence for the player to apply basic sneaking concepts at practice.

Flow node map severed as the blueprint for my blockout in 3D space. The following images are without final lighting and I have several more elements I Intended to add. Such as bread-crumbing with flowers or tree roots. Leading lines are placed but may need to be refined thru the testing phase.

Intro - Landmark

The Player exits a narrow canyon unveiling a massive tree surrounded by a temple. The tree has a distinct color from the rest of the environment. The tree serves as a major landmark providing orientation for the player. No matter where the player is in the level they can always look up and orientate themselves.

Temple Entrance - Structure & Flow

Once inside the temple I’m presenting the player with choice which allows the player to scale their difficulty. Moving directly down to the lower level presents a greater challenge requiring more intricate stealth and timing. Staying up above presents opportunities to scout and get more comfortable with stealth.

This is just a brief glimpse of the level in progress, it has been quite a large undertaking but incrediably rewarding. I’m currently wrapping up the blockout and will be moving onto implementation and test playing soon and can’t wait to share the results.

Software: Maya, Illustrator, Photoshop

Level Design - Process

Level Design Process

After attending several inspirational talks at GDC, I hoped to reevaluate my design process for producing levels. The goal is to rely less on intuition and focus more on repeatable steps I can take to produce high-quality levels with proper pacing and intensity. Below I will list several steps I take and detail the importance of each.

1 - Information gathering

  • What are the design pillars we are adhering to?

  • What metrics have been established by the team or still need to be defined?

  • What elements are required to complete the vision of the game?

  • What are the required mechanics or tutorials

  • What are the required Narrative elements

  • What is our gameplay through-line or theme of this level?

  • With the above information define my goals while interfacing with the rest of the team.

Having our design metrics and pillars clearly defined at this phase provide us with an excellent common language to use in the decision-making process. We can utilize this info to work with leadership to answer the rest of the questions if they have not already been determined. Having clear goals and required elements will make the pre-production phase more approachable.

2 - Pre-production

  • Author Design documentation

  • Establish verbiage describe what kind of elements will make up our level.

  • List and detail our games components

  • Define metrics if applicable

  • Setting

  • Narrative

  • Define spaces

  • Set goals

  • Sketch and quickly iterate over basic map shape and landmarks.

With all of our gathered information, I begin to iterate towards our goal. Listing out what tools I want to utilize for building the level and clarifying the setting and how the spaces interact with one another. At this point, I begin sketching out the map its shape and focus on what landmarks will guide the player through the level.

Create a flow & node map

  • Use components and verbiage to build a node map

  • Define what each space will be used for in terms of game mechanics.

  • Establish pacing

  • Each node uses color to define how it affects pacing.

  • Convert to pacing timeline and check for pacing issues

  • Define loading zones

Once our level’s concept is further clarified I create a node map to demonstrate the level's flow and further detail how each space will be utilized. On a high level, each node represents a section of the level. Within those nodes, I detail the connection of each space and what that space will try to accomplish mechanically. The flow map is also a great high-level indicator of the levels pacing.

Pacing Graph

Detail map

  • Use node map, sketches, and LDD to create a detailed version of the map

  • Placement of key objects (Cover, Enemies, Checkpoints, Etc…)

  • Establish general lighting mood and atmosphere

With the node map focusing on our game mechanics, it’s beneficial to bring it all together in a map that will work out the aesthetics that surround our level, while placing key objects to get a general feel of each challenge. The detail map is our last line of defense before investing more time in a block out phase.

Feedback and iteration

  • Peer check

  • Refine and iterate

  • Are we on track to reach our goals?

Although refinement and iteration should be happening in almost every step of the process, I detail it here explicitly as feedback in this stage can significantly improve and help resolve possible design issues before moving to the next part of the process. In addition, I believe it is also essential to check in at this phase to make sure that we are meeting our earlier established design goals.

3 - Production

Test room

  • Quickly block out all spaces and use building blocks based on metrics.

The test room is a quick and fast way to establish our design metrics in 3D space. Make sure our ledge height is appropriate, or threshold for cover conveys that the object is indeed cover and properly hides our player. Creating the test room now also will save us time later in the implementation phase as we can use this room to test Game Mechanics.

Blockout

  • Place landmarks

  • Use building blocks to establish a critical path

  • Establish optional or secondary paths

  • Check Metrics and scale.

  • Setup each challenge and all enemy placement.

  • Clarify Interaction Affordance

  • Environmental Storytelling - every space has a story or purpose.

  • Verify the framing of key objectives, landmarks, and paths.

With building blocks and documentation to guide we can start the blockout phase. Placing major landmarks and the critical path are the first steps to assuring our player can always orient themselves. Early on I focus on framing and utilizing leading lines to emphasize objectives and gently guide the player on the critical path. Our secondary or optional path can be used to promote exploration and can be excellent tools in allowing the player to control their pacing. At this stage, I also try to assure that every space can serve the narrative or provide context on the player’s objective. Any intractable element the player can use should indicate it’s purpose and should be something to note in playtesting.

Implementation and scripting.

  • Work on enemy path finding and line of sight mechanics.

  • Setup puzzles and intractable elements of the level.

  • Script any narrative moments such as cut-scenes or intractable events.

  • Collision check

Test play and iterate (Self)

  • Play the level and look for issues with any of the above design choices.

  • Encounter Tuning

  • Puzzle Tuning

  • Adjust and iterate on framing and breadcrumbing if applicable.

Test play and collect feedback (external)

  • Have other’s who are less familiar with the project play test the level and observe their experience without interfering.

  • At this phase, I try to pay extra attention to Player’s ability to navigate successfully.

  • Encounter and puzzle tuning.

  • Additional bread-crumbing if applicable.

Once all the levels significant gameplay moments are scripted, and the level is fully playable. Doing several rounds of testing and iteration is essential. I believe the self-review is vital as we can quickly iterate on many of the elements of our level. Once satisfied I think it’s critical to get a large variety of player’s on the level as early as possible. Observing their playtest sessions and compiling notes on their experiences. At this step, it’s worth stepping back during the play session and not acting on the notes until you have a good set of data to review.

4 - Review and check goals

  • Review feedback and notes

  • Have we accomplished our goals?

  • Define new goals or issues to be solved.

With the data compiled, we can look at what issues are common and which are more fringe. From here repeat playtesting, iteration, and review until we feel we are satisfied with the result.

Closing Thoughts

This process is not set in stone and has plenty of room for improvement. However, it helps me break down my tasks into smaller bite-size problems that I can tackle one at time. It has helped tremendously with blank canvas issues as I always goals to refer back to make sure I’m staying on task. Currently, I’m focused on improving my speed at how fast I work through this process. I’m happy with the results so far, but I have ways to go still. In a way I’m working on iterating my self as a game & level designer.

Thanks for reading!

- Corey