在大部分的好莱坞影中，首先，观众会看到电影的主角和他所在的场景。然后，发生了一件改变当前局面的事件，观众开始对主角有所了解。在这里，主角面临第一个挑战，他要 靠这个挑战让观众认识自己。在电影的中间部分，观众得知主角必须做出什么关键决定、他的最终目标是什么——这是他无法脱身的处境。再然后，主角经历了一次战斗，这场战 斗会以致命一击结束，如果主角能克服这最后一个挑战，那么观众就会看到他的人生以及别人的人生因此而改变——他们得到奖励。如果电影有续集，那么观众就会隐隐看到另一 个挑战的暗示。当然，这种结构还有其他变体，比如主角不是一个人，而是一群人，敌人可能不是人类，而是一种自然力量或主角必须克服的某种恐惧。
令人惊讶的是，我们很容易就能想出另一种剧情结构，但是几乎没有剧本在跳出这种相当严密的结构之后还能获是成功，至少好莱坞电影是这样的；这是一种必胜的结构，电影制 作人都知道。那么，这对作为游戏设计师的我们有何启发？很多：这个结构告诉你如何将游戏关卡变成包含玩家在内的剧情——你的玩家喜欢并记得怎么玩的小电影，这种玩法剧 情会与绝大多数玩家产生共鸣，不过这取决于他们对这个小电影的理解和认同程度。
我知道，在这样一个大环境之下——设计师们仍然认为故事是多余的，是罪恶的，声称给予玩法剧情结构似乎是浪费时间，但请相信我，当我将好莱坞式配方运用到各种游戏关卡 设计时，你会发现它不仅让关卡更具连贯性，而且确实是头脑风暴时的绝好创意来源。在文章的另一个部分我将解释在《军团要塞2》（游戏邦注：以下简称《TF2》）中的一些最 成功的关卡如何运用这种结构，并据此为《TF2》设计一个新关卡。
尽管许多设计师将这个阶段忽略不计，错误地认为电子游戏玩家希望直接跳到操作部分，但是，在关卡中加入一定长度的介绍有助于玩家确定自己的方向、了解角色、控制动作， 以及在战斗以前做出稳妥的决定。这是一个微妙的点，但如果你把玩家直接丢进战斗而不让玩家自己决定，玩家是不会感谢你的。现在，你可能会说，从玩家开始游戏的那一刻起 ，他们就已经做出迎接挑战的决定了，但不要忘了，允许玩家做选择始终是游戏的本质，玩家能做的有意义选择越多，关卡的效果就越好。
要点1和要点2是显而易见的，但我得解释一下要点3。以《辐射：新维加斯》为例。根据经验，我们推测游戏的关卡平均长度大约是1-2小时。这意味着玩家必须能够在游戏开始的 前6-12分钟内获得必要的资源。同样的，在《魔兽》中，玩家必须能够在他们呆在安全区的6-12分钟内获得有价值的技能。至于平台游戏，关卡可能只持续几分钟，所以第一个技 能或挑战应该在10秒内能使用。
当然，也有些游戏并不遵循这条原则，比如《BIT.TRIP Runner》就是一个典型。它有所失败是因为开始新关卡时非常容易让玩家感到压力和无助，需要几秒钟和几次成功跳跃才能 缓解那种消极情绪。并且，这款游戏不给玩家机会理解玩法元素及其作用，所以玩家第一次进入关卡时基本上坚持不到3秒钟就挂了。糟糕的《BIT.TRIP》！
创造转折点的方法很多，但共同点就是包含一个作用于玩家的事件，迫使玩家接受第一个挑战或呆在安全区。在《TF2》中，当大门第一次开启，玩家可以决定呆在基地的安全区或 等所有“无敌”状态都用完了以及第一次混战结束就出去。另一种方法是给玩家最好的武器或交通工具，让他们看到未来的自己是多么强大，根本没有失败的风险。当然，这种做 法有一定的危险，一旦玩家的美好幻想被一把生锈的小刀——游戏给的防身武器割裂，他们不免感到受挫。《Oblivion》就有一个漂亮的转折点，角色的身份从犯人变成保护国王 的战士，让玩家感到荣耀。
在这个阶段，战士就开始战斗，间谍就开始暗算。注意，这时我们还没有让玩家开始为终极目标奋斗。如果终极目标是占领某个控制点，那么转折点是不会让玩家成功的。主角（ 在《TF2》中是一支突击小队）这时候应该还没有机会获胜。比如，让一类职业难以逃脱最初的基地，或者单纯地让所有人开始真正的任务以前都要经历一番挣扎—-他们仍然要杀 死敌人，但他们就是达不到控制点—-目前还达不到。
经过第一场战斗，或新生活的开端，主角开始走上目标的奋斗之旅。在《TF2》中，这意味着突击小队开始推车，或向控制点前进。我们有选择地削弱敌人（《TF2》中的守卫）的 实力，即让守卫离开防御位置很长时间才回来，或延迟他们的刷出时间，或取消一些有利的防御位置，所以玩家在这个过程就不那么困难了。在MMO中，玩家在这个阶段会得到一个 强大的技能，使他们更快地完成任务的第一部分。在平台游戏中，此时玩家会得知主角的目标就是拯救公主，或第一次遇见到这个性感女郞。
主角在这个阶段过得比较轻松。游戏场所有利于主角，可以也应该有利于主角，甚至在玩家对抗玩家的游戏中也一样。在《TF2》中，突击小队在关卡的这个部分占据了大多数有利 位置。这可能是打开了第一个控制点的通道（后门），或开辟了一条导弹车能通过的、易于防守的道路。这个阶段应该占据游戏总长度或游戏持续时间的25%，这时的主角形象应该 是很高大的。
在这个阶段，主角必须明确目标（比如，最后一个控制点或《TF2》中的推车地图的最后个路径点）。他必须能够很快达到冲突的焦点（在《战地》中，在最后一个控制点以前必须 有各种速度快的交通工具），并且最后一战的战场必须非常集中。不要把最后一战安排在宽广开阔的区域或战壕。要让双方直接对抗。不要忘了给敌人大量优势，使他能够重创主 角。如果你的游戏机制允许时间限制，那就在这个阶段的末期用上吧。在这个关卡里，这是设计师可以尽情“虐”玩家的唯一环节；只要玩家最终能够战胜敌人，他们就不会有太 多抱怨（好吧，他们还是会报怨的，不过他们会体会到设计的“用心良苦”的。）
对于策略游戏：在主角独自战胜挫折以后，现在又团结到一切可以团结的力量了；而敌人的势力也已经遍布全球了。最后一战发生在一个沙漏关卡，一波又一波的敌人在集中区域 里不断侵蚀玩家一方的防御力量。随着高潮逼近，敌群的规模越来越大，玩家一方也随之加快杀敌速度。玩家在战斗的某一瞬间会觉得妥善管理自己的单位非常困难。如果玩家再 不摧毁敌人的核工厂，时间一到，核武器就要生产出来了。敌人越来越多，甚至出现了以前从来没见过的敌人类型。
对于平台游戏：玩家边跑，平台边下落……所以玩家必须快速向前跑，但敌人又很强悍……有时候玩家甚至会觉得与其冲上去杀掉敌人，不如小心地躲开敌人的子弹。只有一条行 得通的路，并且玩家也没空思考是否还有其他路。这个阶段没有谜题，只有激烈的战斗和向前冲。也许游戏世界就在你身后迅速崩塌，也许你会听到主角的“梦中情人”正在尖叫 ，因为她就要被大BOSS残害了。
对于多人射击游戏：这是夺取最后一个控制点或占领敌人基地的战役。允许玩家就近刷出或很快抵达。允许玩家使用所有极品武器，但给敌人有利的地理位置（比如，让敌人的位 置更高，或迫使玩家先通过一个沙漏关卡——你当然不能只安排一条路，但你可以安排一条看起比较简单的路和几条非常危险的路）。当然，你必须允许玩家在这里暂时保存（如 果游戏机制或重刷机制允许的话），让敌人进入各种防御塔，等等。
士兵：擅于攻击上方的目标，特别是那些难以触及的目标。在中距离进攻（即位于开放领域并面对着敌人的退出点）时，他们总能发挥出最强大的攻击力。但是在近距离范围或远 距离范围（游戏邦注：即在一个没有任何障碍的开放领域与敌人进行一对一较量时）时，他们的攻击力就会变得较弱。当医师隐藏在士兵周围时将对敌人造成致命的伤害。（环境= 面对敌人的退出点的开放领域，或者是在高地）
我们的叙述将被用于单一的《TF2》关卡vs.包含相关关卡的地图（就像在最初的“淘金热”地图那样能让玩家循环通过）。每个转折点都将标记一个“检查点”。每个检查点将在 旅程初始时告诉他们新阶段的开始，因为我们的叙述转折点是等间隔的，所以很容易将其均衡地用于检查点中。除此之外，阶段一（背景）和阶段六（结果）将分别发生在友好的 一方（攻击者）和敌对一方（防御者）基础上，并且游戏规则也明确定义了这一点，所以我们只要遵循一些简单的实践便可，而无需花太多时间为它们设计关卡。以下我将分别描 述各个叙述阶段。
这时候攻击者还未开始战斗。他们能够选择类别，加载弹药，并了解场地等等，就好像英雄的日常生活。唯一需要记住的规则便是为攻击者提供多个出口，帮助不同类别的攻击者 进行快速分组。就像在我们的例子中，攻击者便拥有3个出口。主要出口（B）便很宽广，不存在防御物——对于驾驭重型车辆的攻击者来说这也是最近的出口。而出口（A）设有突 出物能够掩护攻击者顺利离开。出口（C）是一个受保护的出口，远离可能出现在出口（A）后面的哨兵。而（D）出口将引导着攻击者前往瞭望塔，让他们能够透过窗户观察狙击手 的位置。但是当（D）出口的大门敞开时，敌方士兵将很容易进入其中。
当玩家进入一个新形势时，我们想要创造敌人与环境的互动。这一阶段将为之后的几幕场景确定基调。为了让攻击者能在这一领域中探索，我们需要创造一些隐蔽处让敌人能够躲 藏——但是我们不能让敌人完全控制整片领域。所以我们最终决定让敌人从（E）点前进到（H）点，因为这是最佳开火和伏击位置。这些点是专门用于引诱敌人，并且这里已经埋 伏了哨兵，但是攻击者也很容易征服这些敌人——因为它们刚好是面向于攻击者的射击线上。就像我们所看到的，攻击者可以从（A）点看到所有敌人的设置点。
阶段3以“只能进不能退”的（A）点结束，我们希望能够让英雄（攻击者）感受到他们已经离开基地并将进入一个全新背景，他们需要在此做出艰难的决策。在战争电影中，英雄 将会与敌人同归于尽。而在好莱坞电影模式中，没有回头路便意味着必须做出两个完全不同的决定（游戏邦注：如射击罪犯或拨打911，迎面扑向敌人或逃走，对爱人撒谎或保持忠 诚）。为了创造这种差别，我将发生地点从一栋建筑转向阶段2中发生战斗的建筑，再转向另一个环境，让玩家可以选择是穿越隧道（B）而攻击敌人还是通过斜坡（A）而冲向狙击 兵。每个玩家都必须在此做出选择，并且他们的选择都具有很大区别，如作为待在广泛领域的英雄vs.待在黑暗隧道中的阴谋者。
最能代表最后出击的便是桥，因此我便在这一阶段设置了一座桥。我同样也喜欢多层次的战斗战术，让两边的玩家能够通向水里，桥上，更高的建筑以及阳台。在这一幕，敌人非 常接近于自己的基地，并且我唯一能够带给攻击者宽慰的便是桥上的防御物（B）与（C），实际上他们已经穿越隧道，并得到桥后面的高塔掩护。而水能够缓解那些被喷火兵烧杀 的角色的伤痛，我们同样也需要设置斜坡让攻击者能够离开桥而获得第二次机会。
The Hollywood Screenplay Approach to Designing Game Levels: Part I
by Babak Kaveh
Almost all Hollywood movies released in the past forty years are based on screenplays that use a singular structure. This article will introduce the Hollywood screenplay formula, and examine waysto apply that same structure to gameplay design. We won’t be using the screenplay structure for a game story, rather, we will attempt to create a narrative using only game mechanics, and more specifically, applying the formula to the design of levels and play sessions in different game genres.
Most Hollywood movies start out by introducing the viewers to the hero and his current situation. Then an event happens that upsets the current state of affairs, and the antagonist is introduced.
There is an initial challenge that the hero overcomes, thus proving himself to the audience. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, we get to the point where the hero must make a momentous decision and the viewer gets to understand the final goal he must achieve in the movie – this is the point of no return. From there on the hero has an uphill battle, which culminates in one last big push, and if the hero is able to overcome that last challenge, you get to see how it has affected their life and the life of others – they reap the rewards, and if there is to be a sequel, we also get a glimpse of another challenge on the horizon. Of course there are small variations on this theme, e.g. we can have multiple heroes, and the antagonist might not be a human, but a force of nature, or an angst the hero must overcome. Michael Hauge’s has an excellent summary of the separate stages of this formula.
It is surprisingly easy to come up with alternate narrative structures, and yet very few screenplays outside this rather strict structure have succeeded, at least in Hollywood; it is a winning formula, and movie producers know it. That said, what can we game designers learn here? A whole lot: the formula will teach you how to make each game level a narrative that the player is a part of – a mini movie that your audience will enjoy and remember playing, and this gameplay narrative will resonate with a majority of your audience, based on what they have come to understand and accept in movies.
I am aware that in an environment where some designers still think narrative is unnecessary and evil, claiming that giving your gameplay a narrative structure will sound like a waste of time, but bear with me as I apply the Hollywood formula to the design of a variety of game levels, and you will see not only will it make the level more consistent, it is actually a great brainstorming tool.
In the next installment (to follow shortly) I will also try to explain how some of the most successful Payload levels (pl_badwater and pl_goldrush) follow this formula very closely, and walk you through a new TF2 Payload level design from beginning to end.
An Overview of the Hollywood Screenplay Structure
Following is a summary of Michael Hauge’s description of the Hollywood screenplay structure and example screenshots from the recent movie “Battleship”.
Our hero is an impulsive, undisciplined womanizer
Stage 1 – The setup
This is the beginning of a narrativve where you are introduced to the hero(s), and possibly his companion(s) everyday life. This is where you try to make them likable and interesting to the audience. The setup normally takes up the first 10% of the duration of the movie.
After his run-in with the police, our hero’s brother forces him to join the marines in the hopes that he will get his life togetherTurning point 1 – The opportunity (@ 10%)
This is where the hero is presented with a new opportunity/threat that they cannot refuse/escape (internally or because of external forces). The opportunity makes the hero leave behind the status quo and start on a journey , although ogically at this point the hero could presumably go back to the status quo, but we know that won’t happen.
Our hero is an officer in the Navy, and in a relationship – still undisciplined but in a whole new world/way
Stage 2 – The New Situation
After having responded to the opportunity or initial threat, now the hero gets acclimatized to the new life he will be leading. This is where hero’s hear about their nemesis for the first time or get to learn how to use guns for the first time. This is the initial discovery phase for the hero which leads to him coming up with a plan to reach the goal set forth by the opportunity but in the background we want to show the audience that conflict is building around the her. This stage takes up another 15% of the total movie duration.
“Getting the girl” loses in importance when aliens crash-land on the Earth!
Turning point 2 – The change of plans (@ 25%)
This is where something happens that causes the hero to change his plans. It takes the hero from the new world that the opportunity defined, to a whole new level, where he will define the final visible goal that he will achieve in the movie. The guy might have found the right girl and now he wants to get her, or maybe the ex mercenary decides to protect the people he was sent to kill. The visible goal is what the “audience is rooting for your hero to achieve by the end of the film.”
Hhuman ships are in a stand-off with the alien spaceships
Stage 3 – Progress
Now the hero is in the thick of things and starts to make progress towards the visible goal. It is where the hero goes from having been caught off-guard by the change of plans, to where they align all their powers and allies to reach their goal. Conflict is still building at this stage but it is nothing the hero cannot overcome. This takes up another 25% of the total movie duration.
Our hero’s brother is killed by aliens and his ship is destroyed. There is no going back now, they must be defeated (which is the visible goal of the movie)
Turning point 3 – The Point of No Return (@ 50%)
Here an event happens, or the situation evolves in a way that will limit the hero in going back from his plans. This is the event or moment that defines the hero’s path all the way to the end of the movie. Bridges are burned and there is no going back and the audience knows it.
Close encounters of the third kind, and hand to hand combat with aliens, but our hero is doing fending off every offensive
Stage 4 – Complications
During this stage conflict builds to a point where the hero simply cannot risk loosing. It becomes all or nothing. The hero fight hard, but then just before the hero seems to score a major success the major setback happens. This stage which will also take up about 25% of the total movie duration.
The tides have turned – Alien “wheel-whizzer-thingies” shred the hero’s ship into slivers
Turning point 4 – The major setback (@ 75%)
This is the disastrous event that causes the hero to seemingly lose any chance of achieving the visible goal. He is captured, or important allies or companions leave him or die, or maybe there is a major betrayal. Things start to look real dark at this point.
The survivors regroup on the Mighty Mo and get her ready for a final grand battle
Stage 5 – The final push
Now the hero has to gather all of his energy and resources one last time to overcome the challenge. He is real close to the finishing line – the pace is furious at this point and it’s all or nothing. This stage should take up another 15-24% of the total movie duration.
She fights valiantly despite her age, and the alien mothership is destroyed and their communication scheme neutralized
Turning point 5 – The climax (@90~99%)
This is where the hero faces the final challenge, determines his own fate and the visible goal of the story gets resolved. It is where the hero fights and kills the end-boss or solves the final riddle of a crime or dies trying. It is also what the audience will probably be remembering about the movie later on.
Hero gets medal – hero gets girl – hero gets admiral’s recognition and respect – The End.
Stage 6 – The aftermath
This is where the audience winds down and gets to see the result of the events in the climax. The hero gets married or buried or gets to live happily thereafter! This stages takes up a minimal amount of time of the total movie duration, typically just a few minutes.
Applying the Structure to Game Level Design
Let us plot hero challenge (or audience tension) vs. time based on the timing of the stages and events from the Hollywood formula described above:
This is very similar to the punctuated sawtooth plot of challenge over time many game developers have proposed over the years:
Challenge vs Time in RPG games taken from an article by Thomas DuPont
Now it’s time to discuss how we can lay out our level to conform to the successful formula we explained.
Stage 1 – The setup
Although many designers leave this stage out, falsely assuming that video game players want to jump straight into the action, adding some sort of introduction into a level gives players to find their bearings and get to know their avatar, the controls and movement, as well as a sense of security before making their own conscious decision to enter the fray. This is a subtle point, but players will not appreciate it when you throw them into the arena without allowing them to make the choice. Now, you may argue that the moment the player started the game, they already made the decision to face up to the challenge, but don’t forget that allowing players choice is what games are all about, and the more meaningful choices you allow the player to make, the better your level will work.
It is very easy to add a Setup to your level. Platformers and shoot ‘em ups do this by adding a section in the beginning of the level where enemies don’t exist. TF2 does it by allowing players 60 seconds to charge up their Ubers and pick their classes before the gates open, and Fallout: New Vegas has an entire starter area where there are absolutely no enemies and where you get introduced to the backstory. WoW, similarly provides safe starter areas for each race. There are three important points in setting up the “the Setup” area:
1. It has to be safe
2. It has to teach the player about the game environment and the avatar’s back-story
3. The player needs to be able to exit the area within 10% of the duration of a play session or the level play-time, whichever is smallerPoint 1 and 2 are straightforward, but I will explain point 3. Take a game like Fallout: New Vegas. Let us make an educated guess that the average playing session for the game/level will be around 1-2 hours. This means that the player needs to be able to get all the startup resources he needs to enter the badlands within 6-12 minutes of starting the game. Assuming the same for WoW, the player would need to be able to get a valuable kill within 6-12 minutes of starting in their safe zone. For a platformer where a level might last only a couple of minutes, the first kill or challenge should be available within 10 seconds.
There are games out there that don’t follow this rule of course, and they lose something because of that – BIT.TRIP Runner being a notable one where starting a new level it is very easy to feel pressured and helpless and it takes a few seconds and successful jumps just for that negative feeling to dissipate. BIT.TRIP Runner also never gives you a chance to understand the elements in the gameplay and what each do before you run into them and die and there are barely 3 seconds to check out the level before your first jump. Bad BIT.TRIP!
Turning point 1 – The opportunity (@ 10%)
This is where the player meets his first challenge. It is not the challenge that will send him on his quest to save the universe – that will come later – rather, it should take the player out from his safe environment, into a new area or situation where they need to start acting, and actively exploring new options. That’s where most games go wrong. In their hurry to provide meaning to their story, and gameplay challenge to the player, they send the hero off on a secret mission to save the world from a soviet nuke.
Bypassing the first turning point and going straight to the point of no return will take valuable time away from the designers which can be spent on exposing the inner life of the hero and his allies (NPCs) and give them a second and third dimension. It also removes the player from the plot in that it doesn’t give them enough reason to care for the universe or NPCs or other online players that they are supposed to save.
There are a number of ways to create a turning point and they all involve an event that is forced on the player, allowing them to accept the initial challenge, or stay in their safe zone. In TF2 e.g. when the gates first open, the player can decide to stay in the safety of the base, or move out after all the ubercharges are spent and the initial frenzy is over. Another way to give the player the best weapon or vehicle in the game, and teleport them into their future self where they will get a taste of being cool without any risk of loosing, although this method does risk creating frustration in players once they
are ripped out of the fantasy and given a rusty knife to fend for themselves. Oblivion had a nice turning point where the player went from being a prisoner to having the honor of protecting the king.
Stage 2 – The New Situation
This is the stage where a fighter starts fighting – a spy, backstabbing. Note that at this point we are NOT sending the player on his final goal. E.g. if the final goal is to capture a certain control point, the turning point will not allow them to do that yet. There should be no chance of the heroes (in TF2 this is the attacking team) wining the game at this stage. This can be done by making the initial base breakout hard for faster/sneakier classes e.g, or simply making everyone have to fight their way through to a point where they can start their actual mission – They still get to kill enemies, but they
cannot rush to the control point – not yet!Turning point 2 – The change of plans (@ 25%)
After the initial combat, or introduction to the new life the hero will be leading, we start them on a path towards their goal. In TF2 this means the attacking team gets to start pushing the payload e.g. or move forward towards the control points. We facilitate this by selectively weakening the position of the enemy (defenders in TF2) by making them walk for a long time before getting to their defensive position, or by delaying their respawn a bit longer, or by taking away some of the beneficial potential fighting positions. In an MMO, e.g. this would be the stage where the hero receives a great ability that allows him to do the first part of the story quest at a fast pace. In a platformer, this might be the point where you introduce the hero to his goal of saving a princess, and giving him a first glimpse of said sexy lady!
Stage 3 – Progress
At this point it should be easy going for the heroes. The playing field is tilted in their favor. This can be done, and should be done even in games where humans play against humans. In TF2 this is the part of the level where the attacking team gets most of the advantageous positions . This might mean opening an access route (backdoor) to the first control point, or creating an easily defensible path that the payload cart can be pushed through. Make this stage last for 25% of the game time or play session duration, and let the heroes of the game feel awesome for the time eing.
Turning point 3 – The Point of No Return (@ 50%)
Contrary to sports, in Hollywood, half-time is not a time of respite and rest – It is the point where something happens that destroys any chance of the hero ever going back to his original life or even new situation. It is the point where he decides that he must push forward.
In the context of level design this can mean many things:
· For a platformer: It will now be impossible to traverse levels without the newly gained awesome double-jump or jetpack. It is also impossible to kill many enemies without your thunder-stomp! And if you slow down or fail, the princess will be killed, slowly – make sure your player knows that!
· For an MMO/RPG, this is where the world changes in response to the hero’s actions. E.g. A particular dragon might have risen who needs to be defeated before he reaches the birthplace of the hero.
· For a Multiplayer shooter like TF2/BF3 this is the point where the attacking team gains control of a forward spawning/landing position that is so good that the original starting base is made obsolete, or maybe even locked out.
Stage 4 – Complications
In stage 3, the hero got all the benefits. Now the tide will start to turn and the hero and his enemies will be balanced out. This means that both teams have an equal distance to go to reach the battle hotspot e.g. or the hero simply hits the limits of his awesome power because enemy NPCs are rising in level.
We can also artificially introduce extra challenges by adding extra conflict points around the map or within the story – maybe the hero has to sacrifice an ally to get through, or there might be traps that will leave the hero with very little HP before he manages to come out the other end. Betrayals are also a commonly used story element here, and so are time limits. This is the part of the TF2 level where enemy spies run amok, and this naturally brings about the next turning point as they sap forward attacker teleports and defensive positions.
Turning point 4 – The major setback (@ 75%)
The major setback is the darkest hour of the hero’s existence and unlike most other stages that can be achieved by tweaking gameplay/level elements requires a certain degree of engineering to make it work. After all the complications in the previous stage, we want the hero to be in a very weak position at least for a short while. Here are some ways to do this:
In an RPG: Endgame boss appears, and as the player is fighting him casts tons of debuffs on him that will last for quiet a while after the boss himself has left the arena.
In a platformer: reduce the number of health/ammo powerups. Now the hero needs to start counting bullets and health points.
In a strategy game: the player is flanked on three sides by the enemy, or even better, after his allies left him or dies in the previous stage, he is now stuck with a tiny defensive force and has to fight his way out through a painful gauntlet. We want the hero to be standing alone against the horde at the end of this stage.
In multiplayer shooters: give the defenders a great ambush chance, or a great sniper nest. Those two particular obstacles are a serious blow to the attacker (hero) morale and can definitely elicit the feeling of going through a major setback. However, make sure that those particular ambush/sniper nests are also possible to overcome. Do not place them in spots where enemies can easily get to them over and over, or you will have inadvertently created the climax before
the players actually reach their goal.
In order for a climax to work best, we want all elements (closing in on the goal, final push, lots of conflict, balanced fight) to come together at the same time.
Stage 5 – The final push
In stage 3, the hero had all the benefits. In stage 4 the two sides were balanced out. Now it is time to give the antagonist(s) (in TF2, the defenders) the teeth. Provide the enemy with great sniper position, and good cover. In TF2 the fact that the conflict points are now closer to the defender base provides a natural benefit to the defenders. In all other games, this is the time where the player constantly has to switch weapons because they run out of ammo, and has to use up a lot of potions or they simply won’t function. The final push is an intense and uphill battle (literally making this an uphill battle is a great way to use the symbology in game where having higher ground gives the enemy benefits, e.g. in most shooters or strategy games).
During this stage, the hero needs to be able to see the goal (the last control point, or the last waypoint on a TF2 payload map e.g.). He needs to be able to get to the conflict point really fast (in Battlefield games, there would be multiple fast vehicles at the control point right before the last one) and the final battle area needs to be very concentrated. Do not create wide open areas or trenches for this stage. Make the conflict direct. Also don’t forget to give the enemy lots of benefits that will really hurt the hero, and if your game mechanics allow for time-limits use them in the nastiest possible way at the end of this stage. This is the only part of the level where the level designer can go all-out sadistic on the player, and as long as there is some chance of the player being able to punch through, they will not be whining too much (well, they will, but they will also see the point and enjoy the fast pace).
I have pointed at some of the elements needed to create a final push stage in your game. How can we implement those in different genres?
In a strategy game: After the hero got through the major setback alone, he is now replenished with all possible units in the game, and the enemy is overrunning the planet with all of their forces.
The final battle is set in an hourglass level with huge waves of enemies eating away at the players defenses in a concentrated area. As we near the climax, the waves get larger, and the player’s army keeps pace. At one point the fighting gets so furious that the player starts to feel the pressure of micromanaging units. There is also a timer before the enemy is able to produce their nuke unit If the player cannot destroy their factory, and the enemy is starting to use larger and larger, and maybe even hitherto unseen units.
In a platformer: in this level platforms fall as you walk over them…you need to be fast and constantly move forward, and the enemies are relentless… sometimes it becomes more viable to just dodge their bullets and run instead of trying to kill them. There is only one visible and viable path, and very little time to choose anyways. No puzzles here….just relentless fighting and moving forward. Maybe the world behind you is crumbling at a constant speed – maybe you can hear the screams of your avatar’s “romantic interest” as she is being assimilated by Cthulhu himself ….
In an RPG: you have discovered the dungeon where the final boss/enemy resides, but his minions are not willing to serve up their master. Wave after wave of progressively stronger enemies come at you from the front, and from behind, and there is no time to explore, or maybe even open those loot chests. Monsters spawn so fast that going back and resting is not an option. Then there are the vilest minibosses in the game that you have to go through, before reaching the
chamber of Jronichiloctiel the Soul crusher!
In a multiplayer shooter: This is the fight for the final control point, or the capture of the enemy base. Allow the attackers to spawn nearby, or get there fast. Give them all the fancy weapons they want, but give the defenders an awesome position (e.g. let them have higher ground, or force the attackers through an hourglass level – you should of course never have only one path to go through, but you can always have one seemingly easy way to the enemy base and
multiple really dangerous ones ). For this to work, you need to give attackers/heroes an awesome forward staging area (i.e. if your game/spawn mechanics allow for this) and let the defenders have access to all sorts of defensive turrets, etc.
Turning point 5 – The climax (@90~99%)
The climax is the hero’s chance to overcome that one last giant obstacle to reaching his visible goal. In a game level this is the final boss battle, the capturing of the enemy base, or killing the last enemy standing. Here are some point to remember about the climax:
1. Don’t reduce tension artificially right before the climax. This is a stupid gimmick akin to screaming at your audience “Haha got you there!” Instead let it arise naturally from the already rising tension in the “final push”.
2. In order to overcome the final enemy, the player should use a lot, if not all of his skill/knowledge gained in the latter parts of the game. This is not the time to introduce new mechanics – it’s the time to demand the most of players based on already seen mechanics. For example, if success in your game was based on constant movement and quickly dodging enemy attacks, don’t put the player in a static turret that shoots at some giant end-boss!
3. It must resolve the hero’s quest. There is no more challenge after the climax whatsoever. After the climax it’s done! There should be no cleaning up to do. If the boss spawned adds during combat, once he is gone, the adds should blow up or something. Don’t distract the player from their huge achievement. Let them fully enjoy it. And then let them get their reward before the sweat on their brows dries!
In terms of level design, the climax is a natural extension of the final push, with the addition of one more element. This could be a final bomb that needs to be installed at the gates of the enemy base, or an end-boss, etc. Once the climax point is reached, it is not wise to suddenly negate all the prior challenges the hero was facing; no calm before the final storm here.
If you have a fighting game the arena where the final climax takes place normally has a central area where it all happens. It has entry points all around the arena, and players should be given no reason whatsoever to fight it out outside of this arena. Lock any backdoors that would distract from the final battle, and don’t let the defenders sneak pass attackers and backstab them. Also, avoid having any complex or smart enemies (except for the final boss) at this stage: having to think reduces pace, and new enemy behavior slows down flow – we don’t want any of that.
If you are making a puzzle or adventure game, this is where you repair that awesome giant mechanical contraption that will align Gaia’s energy with the center of the galaxy and save the world!
In an MMORPG, this would be the final boss in the story missions that needs to be beaten, or in case of dungeons it would be the end-boss battle.
In all of these cases make sure that the visuals tell the player that they have reached the end of the level before they enter the final battle (e.g. circular arena with tons of opening and no exit behind the boss), and make sure the final boss/challenge tests the players in multiple ways (speed, coordination, smarts, gear, armor, sensible tactics, etc.)
Stage 6 – The aftermath
After all the madness in the final push and the climax, and after the final goal has be resolved (hopefully in a final and definite way) it is time for the heroes to have a rest and enjoy their reward. A few points that might need repeating here are:
1. Make sure the player knows that he has won. Enemies should not be shooting at you anymore, and players should not find ANY challenges in their environment after the climax.
2. Give the player time and space to enjoy his reward. In TF2, successful attackers get to chase down and crit cowering defenders. In RPG’s players get access to all the treasures strewn about in the Boss’s chamber. In MMORPG’s this is when loots gets divided up. Many games simply announce that you won, and load the next level. Sometimes you don’t even get enough time to check out the leaderboards: this is bad design and rushing the player who gets no sense of closure and reward.
3. Avoid half-assed aftermaths. Let the player utterly defeat the antagonist or marry the girl in a happy ending or allow the Hero’s beloved one to die in a sad ending (instead of them being hurt e.g. or leaving the hero). Don’t let the nemesis get away, at least put him in prison, or magically lock him in a rock for good. Players hate to see that after all their trouble nothing happens to the baddies. Leave a clue for the sequel if you want to, but also give a good sense of closure to players.
There aren’t many level design tips for the aftermath except that:
a) Do not forego this stage and rush your player out the door into the next adventure.
b) Give players ample reward and time/space to enjoy that reward. Praise them, and show them how well they have done. If the player saved the princess have the princess kiss them, or have a marriage ceremony or something , or if they were supposed to destroy the enemy base, show them in gory detail how they bombed and burned their enemies and how all the structures came down in beautiful Destruction2 ?.
c) If this was a mini-story (like a dungeon in a larger MMORPG) don’t make players work in the aftermath of their success, e.g. teleport them out of the dungeon instead of making them walk out.
Give them a magical glow and let them feel like kings for a while.
In the next installment of this article, I will create a TF2 Payload map that follows the Hollywood formula, and I am sure you will start to see parallels with existing popular payload maps. Go ahead and play around in the map a bit before you read the full details of the design. I would also love to hear from you about other ways to make the Hollywood formula work in different games, and if you are a designer, let us know if you have ever consciously followed this or a similar flow design formula in your own level designs.
In part I of this article I discussed the six-stage Hollywood storytelling formula and how it can be applied to level design. I also promised to show you a practical example in the form of a TF2 Level. If you want to play the level before ccompanying me through the design process go ahead and have a look.
If you can’t play the level you might have to get the latest Unity 4 web player plugin for Mac or PC. You will need at least version 4.0.0f5.Zzzzz…
Glad to see you are back! Now the boring/educational part:
TF2 Class Rundown for Level Designers*
Before we start designing the map, we need to remember who we are designing it for, namely the player classes in TF2. Each of these classes has their strengths and weaknesses, and they all must be catered to both as attackers and defenders. Even though players do switch classes when they have to, they also have favorite classes that they play well (or think they play well) and a map that allows all classes to be utilized in interesting ways at different stages will be popular with players.
Here is a quick rundown of the classes in TF2 and how they affect the design of our level:
Pyro: excels at ambushing groups of enemies at close range and finding/killing spies in narrow tunnels and in closed to open area transitions. They are easily killed in wide open areas. (Element = Narrow Corridor/tunnel)
Soldier: excels when above target especially when hard-to reach or see perches are available. Most powerful at medium ranges and when standing in an open area that faces an enemy exit point. Is weak at close ranges or very long ranges and when fighting one on one in open areas without obstructions. When a medic can hide nearby the soldier can cause havoc on enemies with splash damage (Element = open area facing an enemy exit or when on high-ground)
Medic/heavy: excels in killing enemies at close range when medic can hide while healing heavy or if close to a cart and where the heavy faces a narrowly spaced group of enemies. Is a large target for snipers and rockets, and is slow so cannot really duck. Also draws spies like dung draws flies so is very weak in tight sneaky areas. Heavies are generally better for defense (due to low mobility) than attacks, unless they are ubercharged of course) (Enemy funnel next
to protected area for medic)
Scout: excels at flanking and fast surprise captures when aerial access exists to go around enemy defenses – this also enables them to do quick hit and runs. Scouts do well in multi-level areas and places where they can outrun enemies around corners. When they have to take the common routes or when enemy heavies and pyros are around scouts are easy canon-fodder. (Element: exploitable height-differences and bends that allow loss of LoS)
Spy: excel in open areas with nooks and crannies they can regenerate in. Excel at getting behind enemy lines or to where only one turret can stand. Very weak against two or more turrets, tight spaces, and open areas with no hidden nooks. (Element: areas with lots of rooms)
Demoman: excels at killing units at entrance/exits (especially exists) with sticky traps. Traps also come in handy when defending enemy gather points. Excels at lobbing grenades into windows or around corners of defensive positions which makes him excellent at defending choke points. Demos fail in wide open areas against sniping and are weak against fast units like scouts or at very close range. (Element: Mazes/Corridors/cave funnel exits)
Sniper: excels when hiding behind windows or obstructions, and facing a wide open area or an enemy exit at large ranges (Generally you should not give them LoS towards narrow exits). Spies are weak in close combat or when spies have alternate access to their perches. (Element: windowed rooms with good LoS on open area)
Engineer/sentry: Dominate area when hidden behind 90 degree angle in path and if defended against grenades. Defenseless in open areas or narrow tunnels when there is no bend or in areas that are easily accessible by spies (backdoors). (Element: defensible 90 degree bends)
Now that we know which elements each class excels at we will give them access to ample opportunities to use those elements. We will also use this knowledge to weaken or strengthen the positions of attackers or defenders when needed to drive our six-stage Hollywood inspired narrative.
Our narrative will be applied to a single TF2 level vs. a map consisting of related levels that players cycle through as in the original ”Goldrush” map. Each turning point will be marked by a “checkpoint”. Checkpoints provide a perfect symbol to signal to the players that a new stage in their journey has begun, and since our narrative turning points are evenly spaced, it is easy enough to adapt them to be equivalent to checkpoints. Additionally, Stage one and six which are the setup and the aftermath will happen inside the friendly (attacker) and enemy (defender) bases, respectively, and they are clearly defined by the game rules, so we will not spend too much time designing the level for them, other than following simple best-practices. So here is the breakdown into narrative stages
Stage 1 – The setup
Here the attackers haven’t started the fight yet. They are allowed to pick classes, load their ubercharges, overcharge, get acquainted, taunt, and generally be silly. This is the perfect analogue to the every-day life of a hero. The only rule to remember is to provide multiple exits for the attacker base that provide quick break-out opportunities for the different classes. In our case our attackers have three exits. The main exit (B) s wide and provides no protection – it is also the closest exit meant for heavies and ubercharged attackers. It is also the closest point to the cart. Exit (A) allows for support
classes to exit somewhat protected by the protrusion. Exit (C) provides a protected exit further away from the possible sentry gun that might be behind the protrusion at (A). There is also a protected exit that leads to the watchtower at D which also provides a good overview of the field to snipers via windows. Though enemy soldiers can rocket-jump into (D) they won’t stand much of a chance when the gates open.
Turning point 1 “the opportunity” happens when the gates open after the count-down. Again a perfect metaphor, as the life of our heros now suddenly changes and battle ensues.
Stage 2 – The New Situation
As soon as players break out into the new situation we want to create a complex interactions with enemies and the environment. This area will set the tone for the future stages. In order to allow attackers to explore the area above all we need nooks and crannies where enemies can hide – yet we cannot give the enemies full territorial control. To this end, we will give enemies points (E) through (H) which with seemingly good firing and ambush positions. These points are designed to tempt the enemy to set ambushes and sentries, and yet they are easy enough to overcome because they are open to attacker firing lines. As you can see, from Point (A) attackers will have a great view towards all enemy setup points.
The new situation is generally an understandable and easily overcome challenge, therefore we have a straight track out of the area, and it should be easy enough for the attackers to break through to the first checkpoint (= turning point) which is the “change of plans”.
The “change of plans” turning point is where the hero makes a choice or is driven to the visible goal of story. Therefore we place our first decision point of the level here and now things go from interesting and fun in stage 2 to challenging and requiring tough decision in stage 3.
Stage 3 – Progress
This stage is all about ups and downs. Our heroes are challenged, and they are in the thick of things. This is where, after the initial shock of the new situation, they create a plan for their future and start to work towards it. In order to force players to make a plan we need to provide them with important choices.
Here is how we do it:
Choice of path: Attackers get to choose if they will stay on the main track, clear out building (T1) or move on to building (T2). If they are in (T2) they can choose if they want to exit on the top and enter the tunnel (B) or exit right unto the raised gallery to the left of (T2).
Choice of class: the area is designed to be full of twists and turns (which symbolize the ups and downs of the hero’s progress), and for the first time “real” ambush points (T1 and T2 and around corners) and defendable sentry points for the enemy are introduced. This is where the attackers meet their first challenge and will be forced to switch classes if they were snipers or heavies, etc. as most of their Line of Sight benefits are lost.
I provided the enemy with a quick path to the point of conflict (PoC) through tunnel (B) to even out the teams at this point. This equality will give the attacker team a sense that they have now entered the stage where they need to start coming up with a plan.
Stage 3 ends with the “point of no return” (A) above – we want to make the heroes (attackers) feel that they have left their base behind and are now entering a whole new setting – where they are required to make painful decisions. In a war movie, this would be where the heroes chopper crashes behind enemy lines. In the Hollywood formula the point of no return always poses a painful decision between two contrasting things (e.g. shoot the criminal or call 911, Charge head-on or escape, cheat on a loved one or stay loyal). In order to create this stark contrast I implemented a huge change of venue from the building to building combat in Stage 2 to an environment that gives players a choice of backstabbing the enemy (via tunnel (B) above or charging ahead into sniper territory via ramp (A) above. Each player has to make a choice here and the difference between the choices is a big as it gets, i.e. being a hero in a wide open area vs. a ackstabber in a dark tunnel.
Stage 4 – Complications
Besides providing a change of venue, the exposed ramp and area beyond creates a delightful sense of “Oh crap!” in the attackers. Stage 4 forces an all-or- nothing combat style.
If the player has taken the ramp he will be fully exposed to sniper fire from the end of the field. If he manages to get to the entrance to the tunnel at (E) below he will have to face enemy ambushes to fight his way into the tunnel and to silence the snipers, and during all that time his team mates pushing the cart will be completely exposed to enemies jumping down from (G) below, and snipers through the windows.
As you can see in the image above the snipers in the sniper gallery could be duck-hunting on the ramp (A) and along the track. In my first tests this was just too easy to defend– so I added obstructions (the Tesla coils) where attackers can hide, even if for a short while before pushing the cart forwards. The coils are also meant to add to the “Oh crap!” feeling!
On the other hand if the attackers had taken the tunnel (from (A) to (B) below) they would have had to overcome an extreme disadvantage at the tunnel exit when they faced the enemy machicolations first, and an easily defendable position close to the defender base thereafter. Both cases offer a “now or never” situation.
This stage ends in turning point 4, “the major setback”. For the cart pushers this is symbolized by a ramp that leads upwards and where the enemy has the higher ground and a path to flank them (by jumping down the ledge to the open area. For anyone being able to exit the sneaky tunnels towards the enemy base, the building in front of them will be very hard to surmount. I did need to inject a glimmer of hope as in any good Hollywood movie, and that’s why I connected the sniper gallery in front of the open area via a secret tunnel to an area close to the enemy base.
Stage 5 – The final push
Nothing symbolizes a final push as a bridge does; hence, I went all-out Jungian and jammed a bridge in there. I also liked the multi-level combat tactics that the exit into the water, the bridge, and the higher up buildings and balconies surrounding it allow players on both sides. Here the enemy is very close to his base, and the only comfort, albeit a small one, I could offer the attackers was the shielding (B) and (C) on the bridge and the fact that they have access through the tunnel and further protection from the high columns behind the bridge. The water needs to be there to provide people burned by pyros with some relief and we needed the ramps so attackers blown off the bridge get a second chance.
In the image below you can see the bridge opening (A) which is totally in LoS from the enemy base, the tunnel exit (B) from the sniping gallery which will give attackers relief and a chance to attack the enemies exiting their base, the ramp (C) out of the tunnel that leads behind the large columns that offer cover to attackers, and water (D) under the bridge.
If the major attacker force decided to make the final push through the tunnel (which also provides them with a quick access to the final PoC, the will need to take control of points (B), (C) and (D) below ad give their cart-pushing buddies a chance to get on the bridge.
This stage ends in turning point 5 “the climax” which needs to be very close to the end of our narrative. It is where the enemy has all advantages and the attackers by extreme measures and personal sacrifice overcome the enemy. In our level this is the exposed mid-point of the bridge. Once attackers are past it, we get to stage 6.
Stage 6 – The aftermath
After the bridge mid-point the attackers get some cover, and from there it is only a few meters to the final checkpoint. I kept this distance really short, so that the battle for the mid-point is not overshadowed. If the attackers have gotten this far they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor by blasting away at cowering enemies!
Before I finish, I do want to remind you that just like the attacker base, the defender base needs multiple exits, and in this case, since the defender base is so close to the PoC, I also gave it good LoS over the bridge mid-point (B) and quick access to other areas (D) and (C) from their main protected exit (A) as you can see below.
As you see it is entirely possible to lay out the six stage narrative of Hollywood writers by using well-understood symbology (twisting alleys, exposed areas, down/up ramps, bridges, secret tunnels, etc.), controlling the level of challenge/relief for the attacker team, by allowing for multiple types of choices at specific points, and by controlling the duration it will take the attackers to go through each stage and reach the turning points. If you have more ideas on how to control and shape the narrative, without taking away control from the players, or a critique of how the level was lain out I would love to hear from you.