在过去5年里，Level Design in a Day成员都会在游戏开发者大会上聚在一起讨论关卡设计。而今年，Gamasutra提供给我们一个很棒的机会，即通过与游戏开发社区进行Q&A而与更多用户进行互动（不再只是面向几百个参加者）。
所以我们聚集了一群关卡设计精英（游戏邦注：选自今年的AAA Level Design in a Day Bootcamp名册上），并且他们都同意以圆桌会议的形势回答Gamasutra社区的问题。
Neil Alphonso：Splash Damage首席设计师
Jim Brown：Epic Games首席关卡设计师
Joel Burgess：Bethesda Game Studios高级设计师
Steve Gaynor：The Fullbright Company联合创始人
Seth Marinello：艺电/Visceral Games关卡设计师
我们的第一个问题是来自Bloomfield College Game Design的学生Roger Rosa：
Joel Burgess–我认为主要原因还是我们很难有效完成hub的创造。如果再次使用hub的话，你便需要投入大量时间去改变状态，然后完善hub并对玩家的行动做出反应。你可以通过使用相同的布局而有效做到这一点。《天际》中的“Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary”和《辐射3》中的“Mothership Zeta”便是如此。
我认为《Splinter Cell: Double Agent》是一款非常优秀但却被埋没了的hub导向型游戏。这款游戏解决了创造hub的问题，即将其更好地与游戏玩法融合在一起并作为NPC的存在空间。
这也是我在今年的GDC大会上关于LDIAD教程的演讲“Narrative Techniques for Storytelling in Level Design”所强调的内容。关于这点有很多很棒的方法：使用灯光和影子去突出重要的对象，删除周边地区任何不相干的内容，有针对性地设置玩家的前进道路，从而让他们可以直接走向最重要的内容。
在过去数年我有幸在许多出色的游戏工作室就职。令我惊讶的是每个工作室都采用了完全不同的关卡设计方法，即使其基本内容极为相似。有些工作室采用了逻辑化，近乎机械拟 的方法构建关卡，而有些公司则是一骨脑地抛出多个理念，寄希望于某些理念可行。虽然每种方法都有其优势，但我发现要创造兼具逻辑性和创新性的关卡，还是需要一种规范关 卡设计核心元素的方法。我从自己的设计背景中寻找灵感，想起了Dieter Rams的《优秀设计十大原则》中的内容。虽然这些原则是产品设计的极佳指导，并且加上一点创造性的诠 释，将其直接运用于关卡（和任务）设计确实需要一些魄力。但在此我要将其作为一个宽松的模版，以便创造设计出色电子游戏关卡的十大原则（游戏邦注：有些原则还适用于系 统和叙事设计），并列举一些出色的游戏案例，说明这些原则的可行性。
这看起来像是一个相当明确的引导……但重要的是要理解“直觉”与“趣味”间的区别。尽管游戏应该让玩家在穿过关卡的基本过程中毫不费力，但导航式的玩法也可用来创造趣 味。可以将特定区域隐藏起来，增加关卡深度，以及玩家探索游戏时的重玩性（只要你提供了必要的视觉或叙事线索），或者创造一些让玩家迷路或困惑的区域，以便制造一种剧 烈的紧张感，如图2：
我有个导师曾经告诉我，优秀的交流碎片好比是一个被破坏的圈圈。作者创造了这个圈圈，但却给读者留下一些由他们自己去填补的空隙。但要谨慎处理这个空隙！如果它太渺小 了，读者就不会注意到；太大了，你就可能失去读者，因为他们无法连上这个圈圈。那么我们该如何创造这个圈圈和游戏关卡中的空隙？首先要认识到关卡中的三个关键叙事方面 ：
关卡设计师应小心创造显性叙事内容，因为这正是组成我们“圈圈”的要素，而隐性、突发性内容才是创造“空隙”，令关卡与众不同的最重要元素。使用“环境提示”将故事融 入游戏世界，并以“隐性”故事激发玩家的想象，让玩家通过玩法选择（游戏邦注：包括使用哪种武器、走哪条路，用什么方法解决问题等选择）来创造“突发性故事”（如图4） 。这些元素允许玩家以自己的行动和想象来填补“空隙”，这总比将一切东西都端到你面前更有益处。
（图5：《天际》——该游戏中的Dark Brotherhood任务并没有指明你如何杀死目标人物，只是告诉你必须杀死他们。游戏还提供额外的奖励目标（例如杀死目标之后隐藏尸首）， 允许玩家设置自己的挑战难度）
游戏设计元老Mark Cerny曾告诉我们，要为玩家呈现一系列并列的目标，允许他们自主选择完成顺序，每完成一个目标就提供对之后目标有益的奖励。这种方法可以让玩家获得一 种控制感，Cerny的作品《Ratchet & Clank》系列就体现了这一点（见图6）。
（图6：《Ratchet & Clank》——在原版游戏中，玩家会面临一系列可任意选择探索的星球。每探索完一个星球，就可以收集到一个有利于探索下一个星球的道具，其关卡设计包 含了一些首次玩游戏时无法解琐的机制）
Raph Koster在其《趣味理论》一书中说明了人类大脑如何根据周围环境来处理信息，并将其转化成之后更易于处理信息的模式。从玩游戏角度来看，这说明我们很大一部分乐趣来 自学习知识，连续掌握不同的机制。Koster提醒我们，如果玩家理解了这种模式，很容易就掌握了游戏机制，他们很快就会厌烦并退出游戏。只有优秀的关卡设计才可能避免这种 情况。
优秀的关卡应该引进新游戏机制，或者调整旧机制令玩家重新评估自己已经掌握的技能。游戏应该让玩家在整个游戏中持续评估自己所学到的技能，确保每个关卡都能呈现新鲜玩 法。Bethesda的Todd Howard在DICE 2012 Keynote Address演讲中就以学习 – > 玩 -> 挑战 -> 意外这一循环来衡量《天际》关卡设计。这不但是本原则的延伸，还引出了下一 个设计要点……
已有许多文章探讨过如何使用经典的Aristotelian技巧来衡量游戏。标准的高vs低强度，探索vs战斗，休息vs行动等“过山车”曲线是一种评估关卡设计的优秀基准，也是保持玩 家粘性的重要工具，但其持续重复性会迅速成为一种例行公事。对于交互式媒体来说，我们还有更合适的衡量技巧，但即使是设计很到位的关卡，如果没有一些意外的起伏，也难 以给人留下深刻的印象。
这里的意外不一定是很大的震撼或情节转折……其核心在于急剧上升的不确定性，用游戏设计大师Alex Mandryka的话来说，它就是趣味的根本。从关卡设计上来说，意外可以是独 特的环境，可以是传授玩家新机制的时刻，将山穷水尽转变为柳暗花明，或者难度曲线中的急剧变化。（见图8）
（图8：《死亡空间2》——当Isaac返回在《死亡空间2》中的Ishimura时，他在15分钟内不会碰到另一个丧尸。这种节奏变化创造了一种极端紧张感……令人意外的是，这种设计 产生了一个开心的结果：这个关卡中的怪物太大了，无法置于原版游戏Ishimura布局中的任何地方，所以关卡设计师只能将其置到玩家到达转输中心时……而此时玩家才走完了一 半的关卡！）
（图9：《Urban Chaos》——在你完成游戏之后观看谢幕画面时，游戏突然又重启了，你发现自己在游戏中干掉的恶棍复活了，他们知道你住在哪里，并决定执行报复计划，令沉 浸在其中的玩家战栗不已，这种落幕方式真是太棒了，这也难怪其开发商Rocksteady能够如此成功。
电子游戏是逃避现实的天堂，应该是纯粹而简单的。玩家会愿意逃到一个比他们生存的世界更加世俗的地方吗？关卡设计师不应该要求玩家做他们在现实生活中就能做的事——你 的任务目标应该是避开平庸的、重复的活动，总是给玩家有趣的、好玩有活动。这听起来似乎很明显，但甚至最优秀的游戏开发者有时候也会忘记这条最基本的原则，正如喜剧演 员Dara O’Brien所说的。
(《Red Faction Guerrilla》：用枪破坏桥的支架，相当直观，让人觉得强大。)
为了让玩家真正觉得自己强大，他们的行为必须在游戏世界中有显著的效果。在低级的、直接的水平上，这可以是与游戏世界中的物品的交互活动（或更通常的，推毁物品），但 如果这样还不能使玩家立即获得破坏的满足感，你可以把你的关卡做成脚本，以其他方式反映玩家的影响，像《inFAMOUS 》中的帝国城和新玛莱的市民。
（《ImFAMOUS 》：因果系统被完整地结合到开放世界的关卡设计中，玩家被迫在分散的副线任务中做出道德选择（分散炸弹和拯救市民，或者引爆炸弹获得能量），平民会朝你的 敌人或者你扔石头，这取决于你的游戏风格。）
然而，这种方法并不总是管用的，所以设计良好的关卡必须允许玩家自己管理难度，即灵活地使用风险和奖励。完成关卡或任务的基本路径必须让一般水平的玩家觉得节奏合适、 挑战适中（有一定的惊喜），但还要有一些针对技术水平高的玩家准备的路径（或针对新手的选择）。无论何时玩家必须做出路径选择时，都应该明确地使用关卡语言让玩家知晓 风险和奖励，确保玩家是在知情的情况下做出决定。
（《Burnout Paradise》：高水平的玩家可以冒险走捷径，即图中被黄色障碍挡住的路。捷径的难点在于路径狭窄，从游戏镜头看，奖励可能不太明显，也就是节省时间和爽快感 。）
这个原则在赛车游戏中表现得很明显，但同样适用于其他类型的游戏，如射击游戏或RPG；在后者中，这些高风险/奖励的元素可能表现为放在难以接近（但容易看到的）的位置的 强力武器，或有背对着玩家的守卫的旁路（擅长潜行的玩家可以偷溜过去）。这些捷径也可能表现为谜题，需要玩家多费一些脑筋才能想到，甚至可以插入可选择的、次级目标（ 游戏邦注：如寻找U船指挥官并杀死他以解锁强化手枪），从而增加游戏的重玩价值。
有空可以玩一玩《天际》的Bethesda工具箱或《辐射》，你会很惊讶：这么小的团队怎么能够做出这么多出色的内容……这都是模块化的功劳。这么高程度的模块化可能不一定适 用于所有游戏，但在不同程度上可以运用于所有游戏。制作《荣誉勋章》时，制作人要求我们制作“战斗时刻”——时长为30秒到5分钟、战斗玩法紧凑的片段，我们可以用它们快 速制作原型和重制，拼成不同的情境，最后做成许多有趣的关卡。这使设计师得以花更少的时间制作更多但仍然有趣的内容。
（《光晕3》：在这个关卡中，Master Chief要穿越一片大沙漠，之后还要返回来！但是，制作团队给Master Chief 一个超级坦克，使返程的旅程别有趣味。）
（《古墓丽影》：在她的最新冒险中，Lara Croft穿过狭窄、封闭的洞穴、植物蔓生的原始丛林、令人头晕目眩的山崖……各个空间都是精心挑选的，旨在引发玩家的不同情绪反 应。）
事实上，玩家对关卡的情绪反应确实太重要，所以在一开始设计关卡时就应该考虑到。为此，你要挑选可以使玩家产生你所需要的情绪的空间指标、剧情元素和游戏机制。想产生 困扰的感觉？让敌人AI追赶玩家。想产生愉快的感觉？让玩家在开阔的路上奔跑。想产生绝望的感觉？让玩家在有限的时间内解决几乎不可克服的困难。所有这些都可用于引发玩 家的情绪性反应。
（《英雄连2》：在这个任务的最后一幕中，玩家的小队被迫返回教堂。玩家陷入困境，必须抵挡纳粹直到援兵到达。怎么知道坚持到什么时候？计时器？不是。纳粹的剩余数量？ 不是，敌人是杀不绝的……是玩家小队的命值。只有当玩家快丧命时，援兵才会出现。也许有些不公平……但这个玩法有效地使玩家在面对无尽的敌人时产生绝望感。且当最终获 救时，放松的感觉也更加强烈！）
在过去几年中，我发现游戏行业似乎乐于将建筑学作为辅助我们执行设计的一个潜在领域。作为拥有两个建筑学位的游戏开发者，我当然也看到了这两个领域之间的联系。我在还是一名建筑学本科生时就开始与朋友制作小型电子游戏——使用我在课堂上所用的设计软件来绘制游戏的美术内容。因我一些工作室伙伴的建议，我开始在自己的课堂在项目上运用我所学到的游戏设计知识。我认为建筑学与游戏一样，与其用户之间具有象征性的关系，并且设计精良的游戏关卡与建筑大师Frank Lloyd Wright、Le Corbusier、I.M. Pei等人的作品也有异曲同工之妙。我在这两个领域的研究集中体现在一篇关于游戏与建筑学交集的毕业论文中。毕业之后我成了一名游戏开发者，并继续研究建筑理论对关卡设计的运用。这项工作令我撰写出了多篇论文，展开了多次大会演讲，并且现在还出版了一本书。
《An Architectural Approach to Level Design》这本书由CRC Press于6月12日出版，整合了建筑学和关卡设计领域的空间设计理论。本书通过建筑学情境和历史探索了关卡设计原则，为学者和游戏开发专业人士提供了有用的信息。
美国建筑师Louis Sullivan常被誉为摩天大厦的创造者，他曾说过“形式要遵从功能”。Sullivan以这个格言确立了一个建筑学现代派的主导原则。现代派是二十世纪早期强调创造形式源自功能的建筑这一主张所定义的建筑学运动。在现代建筑中，装饰物通常是建筑本身或者具有某项用途的产品，而不只是纯粹为了美学效果而存在。与Sullivan相同，Le Corbusier也曾说过，“房子是居住的机器。”他的许多建筑设计与Frank Lloyd Wright、Walter Gropius、Louis Sullivan等人的作品一样，关注的是有目的地为居住者创造一种体验。
游戏设计可以通过核心机制这个理念来表现形式遵从功能。核心机制通常被定义为玩家在整个游戏过程中所执行的基本操作。游戏设计师Aki Jarvinen在自己的博士论文中曾创造了一个以核心机制为中心，即设计师从动词入手的设计方法。如果你将核心机制视为玩家在游戏中的基本动作，就能够理解构造每款游戏独特体验的基本元素了。例如，《超级马里奥》就可以说是关于跳跃的游戏。而《塞尔达传说》的主题就是探索，《Katamari Damacy》就是翻滚，《愤怒的小鸟》就是弹射。从这个核心开始，其他添加的动作定义了最终游戏产品的规则。
在这个关卡中，游戏的Builders League United（或称BLU）队必须通过一辆轨道上的矿车向对手Reliable Excavation Demolition（或称RED)队的基地投掷一个炸弹。Payload模式的矿车机制采用了《军团要塞2》基于团队的第一人称射击机制的标准并进行了一些调整。这不但改变了玩法机制，还改变了关卡空间几何条件。
Edmund McMillan在《Indie Game:The Movie》关卡设计讨论中指出，当设计师创造出环境机制时，即与玩法相关的关卡交互环节，它们就必须具有多种可用性。在e4 Software的手机游戏《SWARM》（玩家必须将敌人引进陷陆的平台游戏），程序员/设计师Taro Omiya创造了电子栅栏陷陆的多张草图来形象化它们的不同用途。此外，Omiya等人还在电脑和纸张上制作正式的方法论以便形象化关卡的空间方向（例如下坡、漂浮岛以及平台区域）。
游戏与建筑学的区别就在于现实世界的建筑必须遵从现实规则。例如，现实世界的建筑必须同时具有内部和外部设计——其中一者必然影响另一者。同理，现实世界的建筑学必须考虑到气候、地质、分区管制以及构造现实状况。而游戏领域却没有这些必须处理的情况。这可能意味着像Atelier Ten Architects和GMO Tea-cup Communications Inc.的地球博物馆（一个漂浮在太空的大型椭圆建筑）或者巴西建筑师Oscar Niemeyer生活中的Hidenori Watanave的探索数据雕像——这两者都是存在于虚拟世界《第二人生》中的建筑结构。这会产生基于玩家行动模式、叙事事件或游戏机制等更为自由的空间布局。的确，“内部”和“外部”不过是基于运用于装饰游戏空间的美术元素的描述。
（这是Atelier Ten建筑和GMO Tea Cup Communication Inc的地球博物馆的一张草图。因为该建筑是在虚拟世界中创造，它并不需要任何构架来支撑组成其主体的成百上千个立方体。设计师是用微软Excel表格设计该建筑形式，之后再用一个自动建模程序生成其几何图形）
Frederick还指出，在利用Figure-ground理论时，figure元素和空间都可以通过区分结构元素的空间，或者创造与附近figure相似的形式的消极空间进行暗示。这与理论神经系统科学家Gerd Sommerhoff引述建筑师Grant Hildebrand所谈的观念相呼应：
正如figure-ground是用大量元素组成空间的空间布局一样，form-void是通过添加堆块或减除空间来进行的空间布局。这与我们在第二章：关卡设计的工具与技巧所描述的许多游戏引擎的操作方法一样。与之相似，3D美术程序也允许形式之间通过精心建模或Voolean操作实现交互，可用数学方程式以增加或减少的方式来结合3D模型。 Peter Zumthor的Therme Vals或Mario Botta的Casa Bianchi（两者均位于瑞士）等建筑就能够说明form-void关系可运用于塑造露台、门廊、窗户、卧室和其他用途的空间。在游戏中，这种增减方法可用于创造隐藏性的空地、秘密走廊、伏击点甚至是关卡目标。
（来自Peter Zumthor和Mario Botta的草图表明形式和虚无可以用于确定空间。）
我们主要通过到达某空间来向玩家传递信息。这也正是空间促使玩家走向下一个目的地或为玩家提供其路径选择的方式。你进入一个空间的体验来自之前空间所提供的空间条件：如果你进入一个大型空间，那么引你进入其中的之前空间应该是狭窄的，这样才能让新空间显得更大；同理，明亮的空间之前对应的应该是阴暗的空间。建筑师Donlyn Lindon和Charles W. Moore在其著作《Chambers For A Memory Palace》中称John Portman & Associates的Hyatt Regency Atlanta酒店就是这种典型。它又被评论者称为“Jesus Chris Spot”，该酒店落成后商人们从较低的天花板空间进入22层的中庭并向上看时，嘴里都在喃喃着“天哪！”类似的空间体验还可见于基于探索的游戏，例如《塞尔达传说》或《合金装备》系列中进入重要敌人遭遇战，道具获取或故事事件的时候（见下图）。
（许多游戏使用对比鲜明的空间条件来突出进入boss房间或目标等重要玩法空间的路径。这是来自《塞尔达：时之笛》中的Temple of Time图表，玩家在此会收到重要的宝剑，这显示了对比鲜明的空间，其拜占庭式的大厅布局则强调了宝剑房间的重要性。）
最后一个建筑学空间经验与布局的关系较小，但与设计空间的另一个目标关系更为密切。这个经验就是Spirit of Place。这个术语来自一个罗马信仰，即灵魂会扮演城市精灵的角色，保护城镇或其他有人口居住的地方。这个术语被20世纪末的建筑师所采纳，并用于描述一个地方的标识或情感体验。
在第二章节，我们讨论了关卡任天堂力量方法，即设计师创造一个宏观层面的方法或者其关卡的规划，然后分配玩法的高潮时刻 ，就像为游戏杂志创造地图一样。每个玩法的高潮时刻，可以是敌人遭遇战，行动谜题，或者有帮助的阻塞点，都有它们自己的Genius Loci。这些地方是用于休息还是战斗？玩家在这些游戏空间是否该感到放松、紧张或思考？这些问题的答案取决于你所创造的游戏，但却有助于确定你想为关卡创造的体验类型。
除了每个玩法遭遇战，关卡设计师还可以在其游戏空间中植入Genius Loci，并将其作为一种将玩家从一个点转移到另一个点的工具。Genius Loci可以通过光线、阴影、空间布局以及空间大小的操控来创建。如果你为恐怖游戏创造关卡，你所创建的Genius Loci就应该是通过对场景艺术、光照、音效和其他资产的精不挑细选而创造出来的。同理，仅有一点或没有Genius Loci的游戏空间就可能是一个流通空间，也就是玩家转移到下一个目的地的空间。根据你所创造玩法的情况，流通空间可能是激烈遭遇战之间的一次休息机会，或者玩家进入下一个难忘玩法时刻前创造悬念的工具。
Level Design in a Day: Your Questions, Answered
by Coray Seifert
For the past five years, the Level Design in a Day crew has gathered in the hallowed halls of the Game Developers Conference to discuss all things level design. This year, the fine folks at Gamasutra offered us an awesome opportunity to interface with a much broader audience than the few hundred folks that usually attend the session by doing a Q&A with the game development community at large.
To that end, we’ve brought together a panel of esteemed Level Design experts, hand-picked from the roster of this year’s AAA Level Design in a Day Bootcamp — which runs all day on Tuesday, March 26. They’ve agreed to answer the Gamasutra community’s questions in the form of this roundtable feature.
Neil Alphonso: Lead Designer – Splash Damage
Jim Brown: Lead Level Designer – Epic Games
Joel Burgess: Senior Designer – Bethesda Game Studios
Steve Gaynor: Co-Founder – The Fullbright Company
Seth Marinello: Level Designer – EA / Visceral Games
(Editor) Coray Seifert: Vice President, Product Development – Slingo
While many of these questions are specifically focused on the craft of level design, there are a number of great quandaries that delve into broader production concerns, tools development, and engine limitations.
I always say that level design is applied game design. It is both a hyper-specialized craft and a broader study of the intersection of technology, mechanics and largely intangible fun. Thus, there are some great learnings in this feature — and in our GDC tutorial offerings — no matter what game development discipline you may come from.
Our first question comes from Bloomfield College Game Design student Roger Rosa:
1. What are common mistakes or key things level designers look for after the first pass of a level is finished? What are some common flaws in level design that tend to be overlooked?
Jim Brown – The two main things I tend to look out for are sloppiness and poor assumptions on the part of the LD. The vast majority of bugs in scripting, cover, collision, and general level design happen because someone gets complacent or rushes through the “boring” parts of design. If you have good attention to detail and treat every aspect of the level as important, then you’ll be much better off (faster, cleaner, easier) in the long run.
Secondly, LDs sometimes build a level assuming that the player will proceed through it in the same manner that the LD who built it will get through it. Just because you’ve played it 500 times doesn’t mean the end user has, and they will be facing backwards at the wrong moment, hit triggers out of order, go the wrong way, and break your level in every way imaginable. First pass maps tend to be very “golden path” and quickly fall apart when the systems are stressed. Aside from that, we sometimes just need to “get things working” so first pass maps do just that… and then need massive optimizations in performance, memory, pacing, and difficulty.
Steve Gaynor – For me, the first pass is layout and flow, the second pass is lighting and visibility. Knowing the shape, size, and connectivity of spaces is a good first step, but as soon after this as possible, you need to start playing through like a player would and think, “When I enter this space, how do I know where to go? How do I know where enemies might be coming from? How do I orient myself if I get turned around and lose my way?”
The two biggest aspects of these issues are sightlines and lighting. You have to determine what the player can see from each point in the level, and what is occluded. For instance, if you enter a space and you can see two doors on the far wall, is one more important than the other? Is the player supposed to enter one first? Maybe set up a sight blocker so they only see one door first, and can’t see the second one until they’ve reached the first one, and so in all likelihood will go in there first instead of skipping it. Can I see entrances, egresses, and important objects?
If the lighting is too even, nothing is prioritized. Look at how you can throw spotlights and shadows around to highlight important things, so the player can get a lay of the land on first glance. Once you have the flow laid out, and a good idea of what the player’s visual understanding of the major concepts in the spaces will be, you’re in a good position to move on to smaller nuts-and-bolts aspects of placing incidentals in each room.
Seth Marinello – Once I have a white box layout of the level complete, one of the first things I will do is review the room sizes and sightlines in order to plan out our visibility strategy. Since the environments we create for Dead Space are so high-detail, it is very important we get a handle on how the space can be divided for performance at an early stage. One of the worst things that can happen is having to slice a room in half after months of trying force an over-complex space through the GPU.
As to overlooked problems, I find pacing can be hard to read early in development. Without dialog and scripted moments, a level can feel empty and the feedback tends to add more combat, resulting in pacing problems once the rest of the content comes online. It is important to be aware of this and schedule polish time to address these issues.
Our second question comes from Twitter user @Skizomeuh:
2. Why are there so few hub-oriented games (in terms of level design) nowadays? I’m thinking of games like Metroid Prime or Hexen.
Neil Alphonso – The short answer is that hub-based level design has essentially been eaten by open worlds. Advances in streaming technology and improved art creation pipelines have meant that many of the constraints that originally put the “level” in “level design” are dissolving away, allowing for more seamless experiences. A perfect example of this is the evolution from Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum, which is hub-based, to the streaming, open world model of Arkham City. Many of the principles of hub-based level design still apply, but ultimately not as much backtracking is required.
Steve Gaynor – The answers to this come on all different axes — it can be harder technically to allow for more open, free-flowing spaces (based on view distance, level streaming tech, and so forth). There are also many more variables from a design perspective, since you have to consider “What if the player comes into this space from the east instead of north? What happens if they backtrack after clearing the next area? How do I direct them to their next goal when the space is an open hub instead of a hallway?”
The benefits of hub-based level design are clear — much more player-directed exploration, a more “real-feeling” world, and the advantages of content reuse since you can change the state of an area when the player revisits it, instead of having to build more square footage. But it takes a few specific kinds of investment to pull it off.
Joel Burgess – I think the main reason may just be that hubs are tough to pull off well. Revisiting a hub can get stale fast — you may end up spending a great deal of time implementing state changes and otherwise having the hub evolve and react to player actions. That work can end up overwhelming any savings you may have gained by reusing the same layout. We ran into this with both the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary in Skyrim and Mothership Zeta in Fallout 3, for example.
For what it’s worth, one current-gen, hub-based game that I think is unsung is Splinter Cell: Double Agent. This game also solves a sticky problem of crafting a hub which accommodates gameplay as well as being a convincing living space for NPCs.
Our next question is from @DCharlieJP in Tokyo, Japan:
3. How aware are level designers of the limitation of the game engine? How is this factored in and/or communicated in the design process?
Steve Gaynor – Oh, very aware. The technical constraints of the engine define everything you can do as a level designer.
How it’s factored in depends a lot on what state the tech is in — if you’re working with a stable, established engine, your constraints can be much more clear and top-down from the beginning; if the tech is still being assembled while the game is being designed, the dialogue between programming and design is more fluid, but can also be more uncertain and frustrating, if you don’t know exactly what your constraints are.
But on some level, part of your job as an LD in this case is to help push the limits of the tech, and discover what it’s capable of as well as what you would LIKE it to be capable of, in order to help figure out what the constraints will end up being when the engine does stabilize.
Jim Brown – If LDs aren’t fully aware of their engine’s capabilities, the project is at an extreme disadvantage. The last bit of polish at the end of any project is usually the most difficult — and that’s always expected — but a lack of understanding that leads to building something entirely out of scope (or otherwise causes major redesigns) is unacceptable and wasteful; it can kill budgets, schedules, and careers.
You have to build within the framework of what your team and engine are capable of producing, and you have to keep those goals in mind even when prototyping. And of course, you have to ensure that project goals are aligned across the entire team.
With Gears, for example, we were just starting in on UE3, so we knew up front that we wanted advanced shaders and high-poly characters. As a group we agreed on a third person camera and close “intimate” combat distances to highlight those engine features. That obviously influenced design across the board, and had to be kept in mind at all times as it affected the number of enemies on screen, scale of architecture, and encounter scripting in big ways.
Neil Alphonso – Level designers need to be as familiar with the inner workings of their game engine as they can be, but the pace of technological change can make this very difficult! In the end, this is a responsibility that needs to be shared throughout the team; the tech leads need to provide guidelines for level and asset creation, the level designers need to provide a layout that can marry this with the environmental visual fidelity targets for the game, and the artists need to push as much quality as they can within that and still hit framerate goals.
Tools have made this somewhat easier in modern development, as automated processes can flag any problematic areas before it gets too painful to change them. Anything mechanically risky really needs to be addressed in a prototype well before production, because unless it is or becomes something that is used game-wide, the chances of development resources being dedicated to it for such isolated use are significantly lessened.
The next question comes from games industry veteran and Kabam General Manager, Mike Sellers:
4. Tools and Metrics: How do you know how players like the level, aren’t getting lost, frustrated, etc? There are some good solutions for this but they’re also unknown for a lot of people (even pros).
Joel Burgess – As early and as often as possible, get people in front of the level and watch them play it. Don’t wait for the level to be polished or for your publisher/producer/whomever to arrange a playtest session. Grab somebody and sit them down with as little setup or guidance as possible. Encourage them to vocalize as they play. Then: Shut up. Don’t interrupt, don’t help, don’t correct. Ignore direct questions unless absolutely necessary.
The unfiltered feedback you get from players will always be the best guiding light, and will often help you win internal arguments you had already been having.
Jim Brown – The simplest answer is to watch and pay attention. And while that sounds obvious, it’s probably the most overlooked. It’s not uncommon for designers to get too attached to their work. If you’re too involved or too invested, you tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. A few years ago in my LDIAD talk I mentioned that the designer’s job is to “be an advocate for the player” — you can’t just build things that you like, or lose sight of what the player’s role is in experiencing your game. You’re building for them, not yourself!
That said, usability testing, focus groups, heat maps, stat tracking, and any other number of analytical tools are incredibly useful and should be employed whenever possible. It’s also well worth the time to read up on some basic psychology. The human brain is a crazy thing, and doesn’t always work the way you would assume. Watch as other people play through your work, and keep an open mind. Getting into the head of the average gamer will make you a better designer.
Neil Alphonso – The lowest-cost method is simply watching somebody play, and diligently taking notes! Many studios even now use biometric data to help mine more useful information out of these sorts of tests. Tools for tracking metrics on a large scale have improved significantly over the years however, and can provide much more clinical information when a big enough audience sample size is provided. Valve’s changes to Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 that have been based on Steam metrics have shown that with enough actionable information, frustration points (or “shelf moments”) can be lessened significantly.
5. How do you change your approach when you want a player to PAY ATTENTION or GO HERE DIRECTLY versus “It’s okay to wander around”?
Steve Gaynor – I definitely tend toward allowing as much “it’s okay to wander around” time as possible. But if you really, truly need to direct the player to one specific point (for tutorialization or whatever) it’s all about generating focus.
This is what a lot of my talk on “Narrative Techniques for Storytelling in Level Design” is going to be about at the LDIAD tutorial at GDC this year. There are a number of best practices: Use spotlighting and silhouetting to highlight important objects, remove any extraneous interactive objects from the surrounding area, arrange the player’s path so they walk head-on into the important part of the scene, and many others.
You basically want the important stuff front-and-center and clearly visible, so the player will be aware of it and engage with it willingly, instead of being “forced” to do so by the designer.
Joel Burgess – There are many ways you can communicate urgency cues subtly, like choosing appropriate music, incorporating funneling elements into your layout or minimizing elements that may distract the player. Sometimes it’s not enough.
Level designers everywhere understand the discomfort of watching players examine a light fixture while a lovingly scripted scene plays out a few feet off-screen.
The first thing to do in these situations is to determine whether you should actually do anything at all. Timers, UI prompts, cutscenes and other devices can help direct attention, but know the difference between a player that needs guidance and one that simply cares more about that cool light fixture. Being lost and confused as a player can be frustrating, but heavy-handed level design is always frustrating.
Neil Alphonso – My main tool for this is density, which can take many forms: it can be density of objects, density of movement, or density of interactivity, and that’s just to name a few! I find it a good way to subtly tell a player that they’re in an “important” place. But this method is used to maintain a decidedly indirect method of directing a player; how heavy-handed you can be with directing the player is more down to the game or creative direction of the entire game, rather than how it is handled in a given level. It’s why essential events are often conveyed during cinematics or with UI.
If you give the player the chance to miss what you deem as critical information, chances are that many of them will indeed miss it! This isn’t because players are unobservant, but more because you never know what distractions a given player might have when they’re playing the game.
Our next question is from Full Sail graduate @MrDonaldYoung:
6. How often should you create situations for the player to go off the golden path, and is it worth the extra resources to do so?
Steve Gaynor – It’s absolutely worth it. The soul of games is interactivity, and interactivity means that no two players are going to have precisely the same play experience. The more variance you can add between two players’ experience of your game, the more of a personal connection they’ll feel — “I decided to go here, I decided to explore this extra space, I found something that other people didn’t.”
Having as minor a crit path as possible, and as much optional space as possible, gives the player much more to dig into and think about and own for themselves. If you think of the production cost of non-crit path space in terms of “look how much content we’re building that the player might never see!” you can easily talk yourself into making everything mandatory, every player’s experience the same, so no one “misses” anything. But if you think of the inherent, intangible value of the feelings of self-direction, investment, exploration and discovery that optional spaces provide the player, the overall experience is improved much more than you can easily quantify on a spreadsheet.
Joel Burgess – My personal preference is to include non-essential content whenever possible. This rewards players who explore, but it also helps make the world feel less artificially focused on the player and her story. Luckily for me, about 90 percent of any Bethesda game is off the golden path, so we’re used to spending resources on non-essential content. That’s part of the feel of our games, though; your situation may vary.
Seth Marinello – The basic answer is as often as possible. The more opportunities for players to have a unique experience, to feel like they found something special, the more important the game will be to them.
When laying out a level for Dead Space I try to include two kinds of optional content — “treasure pockets” and “beta rooms.” The first is simply a reward for exploring; if I have a long hallway, for example, and the alpha flow only takes the player halfway down it, there should be something interesting at the far end, even if it is a pickup. By rewarding pushing the boundaries of the space, you can turn a dead end into a discovery.
Beta rooms are exactly what they sound like, a space that is both unique and separate from the alpha path of the level. I try to make these rooms build out the world more, make it feel inhabited — this is why I tend to build in human spaces like quarters, bathrooms, and laundry facilities to our sci-fi levels.
Our next question comes from video games journalist and translator @andymonza:
7. Replay value vs. cinematic sequences (usually from heavy scripting). Is it truly possible to make the two coexist in the same experience?
Jim Brown – Absolutely — but it means that the designers have to give up on a bit of their control (which is not necessarily a bad thing!) and you have to have reliable systems (flexible scripting, strong AI, smart world building, etc.) in place to keep the experience fresh. Gears of War: Judgment uses S3 (Smart Spawn System) to randomize enemies and change spawn locations in every encounter, Left4Dead uses the Director to control pacing, Skyrim has a matrix of possibilities that avoids repetition in world encounters — and these are just a few examples. Each of those titles still makes use of cinematics and scripted sequences, albeit less frequently than other titles.
In my personal opinion, this is an incredibly great thing as it puts the control back in the hands of the player, and allows them to make the game story more uniquely their own. Even The Walking Dead has a heavy use of cinematics paired with high replay value because they don’t tie their players down to one single path that must be adhered to.
Neil Alphonso – If the cinematics are skippable, then yes!
The key issue is that cinematic content isn’t flexible, because it borrows so heavily from what is a passive form of media. The mechanics of what makes film work and what makes games work are fundamentally different, and trying to marry them at a base level often ends in tears. As replay value most often comes from mechanical depth and variety, this can truly be an odd coupling!
So is it possible? Yes, but in a traditional triple-A sense this is a hard battle to justify fighting. But sometimes, traditions are made to be broken!
Seth Marinello – Cinematics are an important part of most narrative-driven games still, but they are inherently counter to the idea of flexible gameplay solutions. Some studios have invested in creating branching cinematic moments to try and maintain a sense of agency but this tends to be expensive and not always successful. As designers and storytellers I think this energy is better focused on finding ways to convey the same information in a more player-driven manner, and when that is impossible to use cinematics as a bridge between gameplay moments. Whenever we can, we try to make scripted moments be in response to some event outside of the protagonist’s control. That way we don’t have the character making decisions without the player’s input.
Kyttaro Games’ @gnomeslair asks:
8. How do you reuse similar elements for vastly different gameplay results?
Joel Burgess – With games as big as Skyrim and Fallout 3, it’s very important that we’re able to make effective use (and re-use) of every element at our disposal. This is a big part of the topic I’ll be covering during our LDiaD session at GDC, in fact.
One good thing to do is to try and erase any preconceived notions of how elements should be used. Resist the temptation to strongly associate a specific setting type with a specific encounter or gameplay type. The more that you enable yourself to mix and match these elements, the more potential variety exists for you to discover.
By setting this expectation internally, you also encourage yourself and the team to think in more open terms about how you’ll implement various mechanics, art assets, and the like. This means your feature set will (hopefully) be more robust and bug-proof overall.
Seth Marinello – From a gameplay standpoint, creating patterns that the player will understand and then dressing those in different guises is key to delivering a fun experience. You need to create tasks which the player can master, and then ramp them to provide further challenge — Portal is a textbook example of this kind of design. As others have mentioned, this is a topic that we will cover in more depth at this year’s LDiaD session.
Jim Brown – This has definitely gotten easier as technology has improved. Higher resolution textures and better materials mean we can scale, rotate, and reuse models in different ways without them looking too similar. Higher poly models and improved rendering means we can add more detail to different areas of the models, and then light them differently to vary how they appear.
Ultimately, however, I think the best way to get good results here is to have an understanding of real world architecture and psychology — if something looks “real” or appears “normal” people will subconsciously accept much more than you’d think. There’s a certain amount (and style) of repetition that happens in nature, and a general look to shapes and structures that the brain will accept without too much filtering. For the LD, putting together a level with limited resources becomes a fun puzzle, or game of its own.
Our penultimate question comes from pro gamer and game producer Kal Shah:
9. What things can a producer do to make the job of a level designer easier and improve the process as a whole?
Steve Gaynor – The biggest benefit of production is making sure that no one is blocked from doing the most valuable work they could be doing right now. The kinds of things that block designers are: Not having a space built that they need to put gameplay into; not having art assets that their level will be based around; not having mechanics in place that are required to make their level playable. So having open communication between design, production, and the other departments to be able to say, “I need to be implementing the first pass of the shotgun fight, but the shotgun enemies aren’t functional yet,” or, “I need to build gameplay around the crashed helicopter, but I don’t know what its dimensions are” will help other departments prioritize their work.
But aside from just giving other people work, it can be even more useful for production to facilitate ways for level designers to unblock themselves — for instance, providing a Maya license and a brief tutorial with an environment artist, so that an LD can model a temp mesh while they wait for the real one; or working with programming to get script actions so that the LD can prototype new functionality through scripting instead of waiting for completed code. Helping designers communicate better with other departments, but also be more self-sufficient, will improve productivity and reduce blockers.
Seth Marinello – There are two major ways a producer can aid the level design process. The first is as an interface between groups – as a level goes from white box to final, lots of content needs to be integrated and tracking the progress of each component can take a lot of time. If there is a producer there than can do that legwork and ensure progress is getting made on the key assets the designer is free to iterate on gameplay and performance scripting. The second is as an external sounding board for design. It is easy to get too close to a design and lose sight of what the experience will be like for an end-user, a producer can help catch issues BEFORE your work goes through the focus test wringer.
Neil Alphonso — Levels are the final destination for a lot of development work; an often-used phrase is that levels are “where the rubber hits the road.” Because of this, the most critical thing a producer can do to help the level design process is to ensure timely delivery of the components that make up the level designer’s work. It’s also important to provide interim deliverables whenever possible, as this helps the level designer to more quickly adapt the level to the evolving content. This can be particularly tricky with art assets, as artists can be notorious for not submitting something that is “unfinished.” Ensuring that the pipeline includes many phases of integration as art content is being made ends up being hugely effective risk mitigation for unforeseen complications hampering a well-playing level.
Our final question comes from Ubisoft level designer Myles Kerwin, via the Level Design in a Day Facebook Group.
10. I’d like to hear about how Level Design has evolved over the past decade, and how you think it will change in the years to come.
Jim Brown – I think that level design — in the classic sense — is an endangered craft. The concept of level design first came into being with the advent of online gaming. People could make self-contained levels that they worked on from beginning to end. We made our own textures, did our own programming, scripting, design, lighting, pathing… everything! More recently, companies have separated that work out among many specific talents: lighting specialists, tech artists, scripters, gameplay designers, usability experts, and everything in between.
As such, LDs became micro-specialists who were very good at one piece of the puzzle. Moving forward, it will be harder and harder to identify what a “level” is as the lines get blurred. There are so many systems involved now that you have to understand how they all work together. I bet we’ll not only go back to being generalists, but actually expand our skill sets into general game design – levels, creatures, weapons, combat, visuals, scripting, performance, usability and anything involved in crafting an “experience” rather than just a “level.”
Seth Marinello – In the last decade the biggest fundamental change in the level design workflow has been moving away from brushes to static meshes. From Quake 1 all the way through the early Source games the level designer was also the environment artist. Since then we have moved a lot of the work out of our editors and into 3D modeling programs like Maya. This has vastly improved the visual quality of the games we can make, but at the same time drastically changed the role of a level designer in the process. Now, we are not just creators but also integrators and collaborations with whole teams supporting the vision of a level. In the last few years I have seen a lot of games succeed with more open environments; I hope over the coming years we see level design focus on enabling experimentation over following a script.
Joel Burgess – When I first got interested in level design, it was very much a one-man operation. Early mappers would create every aspect of their levels, from layout to lighting to scripting. Just a few years later, as I got into the industry, that was already changing. New-at-that-time consoles like the PS2 and Xbox demanded higher visual fidelity, and dev tools were more robust and complex to use than before. Level design became a more distributed process, often involving 2 or 3 people in more specialized roles.
This may seem like a bleak prospect for those who are uninterested in heavy specialization. While I have known designers who prefer to focus on scripting or layout exclusively, I personally enjoy dabbling in all aspects of game dev, and have historically found that well-rounded LDs thrive at bringing together disparate elements as great gameplay. Specializing runs somewhat counter to cultivating this kind of LD.
I think we’re at an exciting cusp for games and level design right now, though. While the upper end of fidelity continues to rise, there’s more room than ever for games of all types and scale. This is great news for level designers, because no matter what unique combination of skills and interests you may have, there’s a game out there for which you’re the perfect LD.
篇目2，Ten Principles of Good Level Design (Part 1)
by Dan Taylor
The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Over the years I’ve had the privilege of creating levels at many great game studios. One thing that surprised me was that each of these studios had a totally different approach to level design, even though the basic content was extremely similar. Some had a logical, almost robotic approach to constructing levels, whereas others just threw as many ideas at the wall as possible, in the hope that something would stick. Whilst each approach had its advantages, it occurred to me that there must be a way of formalising the core elements of good level design in order to create levels that are both logical and innovative. I looked to my classic design background for inspiration, and was reminded of Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles for Good Design. Whilst these principles serve as a fantastic guide for product design, and, with a bit of creative interpretation, high-level game design, applying them directly to level (and mission) design required slightly too much force.
Instead, I’ve used them as a loose template, to create ten Ramsian principles for designing compelling videogame levels (with the occasional detour into the realms of systems and narrative design) supported by some examples of great games in which you can observe these principles at work…
Good level design is fun to navigate
In most cases, the player’s core method of interaction with your level will be navigation – the process of actually traversing the level. Careful layout, lighting, signage and other visual cues should create a natural “flow” to the level that guides the player instinctively through it. From an aesthetic aspect, a game’s levels should all work together to create a consistent visual language, through the use of colour and form, that the player can learn, to progress intuitively through the level (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Mirror’s Edge – in DICE’s seminal 1st person parkour game, the entire art style is geared to guide the player elegantly through the level. Even the screensavers on office computers help to point the player in the right direction.
This may seem like a fairly obvious guideline… but here it is important to understand the difference between “intuitive” and “fun”. Whilst basic progress through the level should be effortless, navigational gameplay can also be used to create fun. It is entirely appropriate to hide areas from the player, to add depth and replayability through exploration (as long as you provide the necessary visual or narrative clues), or to create areas where the player feels lost or confused, to create a sense of dramatic tension (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: Modern Warfare 2 – the Favella level in MW2 is a maze of crazy buildings, with enemies coming at you from all sides. Is it easy to find your way out? No. Is it tense and exciting?
Absolutely! Modern Warfare’s Favella level is also an excellent example of verticality in level design, which can be an important aspect in making a level fun to navigate.
The main caveat while designing fun navigability is that it should not come at the expense of your other gameplay elements. Imagine the intense combat of Modern Warfare 2 in the crazy parkour levels of Mirror’s Edge… the navigational and martial elements of the level would be completely at odds with each other. There’s a good reason why DICE kept the combat in Mirror’s Edge nice and light.
And be careful not to fall into the same trap as Khan… always be sure to think in three dimensions when designing your level, and use verticality to keep
the space interesting and fun to navigate!
Good level design does not rely on words to tell the story
A mentor of mine once told me that a good piece of communication is like a broken circle. The author creates this circle, but leaves a small gap for the
readers to fill in themselves. But care has to be taken with this gap! If it is too small, the reader won’t notice it; too big and you risk losing the
reader, who won’t be able to connect the circle. So how do we create the circle and the gap in a game level? First it is necessary to understand the three
key narrative aspects at work in a level…
Explicit – this is anything that is called out by text or speech, e.g: a mission objective or cut-scene
Implicit – this is the story told by the environment through mise en scène (Fig.3).
Emergent – this is the story told by the player as he goes through your level
Figure 3: Bioshock – the city of Rapture, and the story of its demise, is brought to life in the player’s imagination through careful use of narrative props (posters, graffiti, corpses, environmental damage, picture walls, etc…)
Whilst the level designer should take care in crafting the explicit narrative, as it is this that forms our “circle”, it is the latter two elements that create the all-important “gap” and really make a level stand-out. The use of mise en scène physically integrates the story into the game world and stimulates the player’s imagination with implicit narrative, while emergent story is written by the player through the medium of gameplay choice: which weapons to use, which route to take, which style to solve a problem with, etc… (Fig.4). These elements allow players to fill in the “gap” with their own
actions and imagination, which is much more rewarding than having everything handed to you on a plate.
Figure 4: Hitman 2 – the player decides which story to tell: go in guns blazing and wipe everyone out… or sneak in, poison the fish and get out before anyone even notices you’re there.
Good level design tells the player what to do, but not how to do it
Having been given the power to tell his own story though choice of mechanics, the player must never be in any doubt as to what their objective is. This clarity is typically created by simple, explicit, text-based objectives, proper use of waypoint markers, and any other navigational aids you may have; your level’s objectives should be visually distinct, using location, form, lighting and animation to make them clearly stand out from their surroundings.
Having said that, as with navigational gameplay, there is some fun to be had with more open-ended objectives. Compelling challenge can be created through obfuscation of the means to completing an objective… as long as the actual objective is clear. This is another example of the “broken circle”. E.g: “Assassinate Vittoria Vici” (Fig.5)… the what of this objective is crystal clear… the how is not.
And on the subject of “how”, players should never be forced to use a singular technique to solve an objective; how they complete the challenges laid-out should be up to them, and players should never be punished for improvising a solution to the designer’s meticulously thought-through scenario. This is another requisite for good emergent narrative.
Figure 5: Skyrim – the Dark Brotherhood missions in Skyrim don’t specify how you kill your marks, just that you kill them. They also give additional, bonus objectives (like hiding the body afterwards), empowering players to set their own level of challenge.
Veteran game designer Mark Cerny tells us that the player should be presented with a number of concurrent objectives, which can be completed in any order, with the reward for each one providing an advantage for subsequent objectives. This approach gives players power over the order in which they complete their tasks, creating the feeling of control (albeit an illusory one). You can see this approach in his work on the Ratchet & Clank series (Fig. 6).
Figure 6: Ratchet & Clank – in the original Ratchet & Clank, the player was presented with a number of planets to explore in any order they choose. The completion of each planet resulted in the collection of a gadget (e.g. magnetic boots) that allowed subsequent planets to be played (or re-played) differently, through level design that included unlockable mechanics not necessarily available on the first play-through.
Good level design constantly teaches the player something new
In his book “A Theory of Fun”, Raph Koster explains how the human mind enjoys processing information from the world around it into patterns for easier processing later. In gameplay terms this implies that a large part of the fun is generated by the learning, and subsequent mastery, of your various mechanics. Koster cautions that if players understand the pattern and master the mechanics too easily, they’ll quickly become bored and stop playing. This risk of boredom can only be avoided with good level design.
Figure 7. The Legend of Zelda – every dungeon in every Zelda game is a tutorial for the new piece of equipment you find in it… with the dungeon’s boss being the final test (always with a clever little twist). The game’s final boss battle usually requires the player to use every single piece of his equipment to win.
A good level should either introduce a new game mechanic, or put a spin on an old one to make the player re-evaluate his or her established paradigm. On a larger scale, this constant learning should be measured out across the entire game, to make sure that each level delivers fresh gameplay. Bethesda’s Todd Howard outlines the Learn – > Play -> Challenge -> Surprise loop used to pace Skyrim in his DICE 2012 Keynote Address, which is not only a great extension of this principle, but leads nicely into the next one, which is…
Good level design is surprising
There have been many articles on how to use classic Aristotelian techniques to pace your game, and this approach has served books and movies well for aeons. Whilst the standard “roller-coaster” curve of high vs. low intensity, exploration vs. combat, rest vs. action, etc… serves as a good base-line for level design, and is important for maintaining player engagement, its constant repetition can quickly become de rigueur. There are pacing techniques that are more appropriate for an interactive medium, but even with great pacing levels will have trouble being memorable without the sudden spike in intensity that comes from surprise.
Surprise does not necessarily have to be a big shock or a plot twist… at its core, surprise could be considered as a rapid surge in uncertainty which, according to game design visionary Alex Mandryka, is the very essence of fun. In terms of level design, surprise could take the form of a unique setting, a moment that teaches the player something new about a mechanic they’ve already been using for a while, turning the corner to see a beautiful vista, or a radical change in pacing (Fig. 8).
Figure 8: Dead Space 2 – when Isaac returns to the Ishimura in Dead Space 2, he doesn’t encounter another necromorph for about fifteen minutes. This change in pace creates extreme tension…
Surprisingly, this excellent design came about as a happy coincidence: the monster this level was designed to showcase was too big to fit anywhere in the original Ishimura layout, and so the level designers couldn’t use it until the player reached the central transport core… which was half-way through the level!
Level designers should not be afraid to take risks with their design! Don’t just replicate a level from your favourite game… take an existing trope and turn it on its head! It’s only through trying something unusual (Fig. 9) that a truly innovative and surprising experience can be created. The trick is knowing how to manage these risks – design on paper… picture the final product in your mind’s eye… and create a playable prototype (A.K.A. grey-box) as early as you can. Show that your crazy ideas will work as soon as possible… or watch them get cut as your Alpha Milestone catches up with you!
Figure 9: Urban Chaos – after you complete the game, and sit through the credits, the game suddenly starts back up, and you find yourself getting some much needed R ‘n’ R at home.
Unfortunately, all the gangs you busted in the game know where you live and decide to exact their revenge! The player has to scramble through his home, grab his trusty sidearm from under the sink, and finish off the criminal scum once and for all! This post-credit surprise was beautifully executed… it’s no wonder that the developers, Rocksteady, went on to bigger things.
Following on from the principles discussed earlier in Part 1, let’s get stuck in to the final five, starting with…
Good level design empowers the player
“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” – Goethe
Videogames are escapism… pure and simple. Why would players want to escape to somewhere more mundane than their existing lives? Level Designers should never ask players to do something that they can easily do in real life – your mission objectives should shun banal and repetitive chores, and always be interesting and exciting! This may sound obvious, but even the best game developers can sometimes lose sight of this basic principle, as comedian Dara O’Brien points out.
Figure 10: Red Faction Guerrilla – taking out a bridge’s support struts with the concrete-eating nano-rifle is, quite frankly, freakin’ awesome.
For players to experience true empowerment, their actions must have a noticeable effect on the game world. On a low, immediate level this could be the interaction with (or, more usually, the detruction of) objects within the environment, but, if you don’t have the immediate gratification of destructible scenery, like Red Faction (Fig. 10), you can script your levels to reflect the player’s influence in other ways, like the citizens of Empire City and New Marais in inFAMOUS (Fig. 11).
Figure 11: inFamous – the karma system is fully integrated into the open-world level design, with scattered side-missions that force the player to make moral choices (diffuse the bombs and save the citizens, or detonate them to absorb their power), and a populace that will throw rocks at your enemies… or you, depending on your play-style.
For Medal of Honor Heroes 2, we wanted to make the secondary objectives more than just a shopping list of hidden Nazi dossiers, so we created side-missions where the player could rescue allied troops, trapped at certain locations hidden throughout the level. These troops, once freed, would fight alongside the player, which made him/her feel that there was a direct consequence, and reward, for his/her actions.
Good level design allows the player to control the difficulty
The difficulty of games is one of the hardest things to get just right. The standard technique of having Easy, Medium and Hard difficulty settings feels particularly arcane when you consider that players are asked to make this decision before they have even attempted the first level, and thus have no idea of which setting is appropriate for their skill level.
A systematic approach to this is to implement dynamic difficulty, most noticeable in games like Fallout & Skyrim, where the enemies become more powerful (and treasure more valuable) based on the player’s experience – thus adjusting the challenge on the fly, to suit the player’s competence.
However… such systems are not always available, and so a well designed level must allow players to manage difficulty themselves, through clever use of risk and reward. The basic path through your level or mission should be properly paced for a player of moderate ability, with the appropriate peaks and troughs of challenge (along with a splash of surprise), but there should be areas off the main path that present a clear opportunity for the skilled player (or an
easier option for those less adept). Whenever the player has to make a path choice, both the risk, and resultant reward should be clearly called out using the level’s language (as mentioned earlier), enabling the player to make an informed decision (Fig. 12).
Figure 12: Burnout Paradise – Skilled players can take a risk and aim for short cuts, which are clearly called out by yellow barriers (a recurring motif). Difficulty is indicated by the narrowing of the track, and the reward, which may not be obvious from the in-game camera, is a reduced time and a sweet bit of air.
Whilst the manifestation of this principle may be obvious for a racing game, it is still equally applicable to other genres, like shooters or RPGs, where these high risk/reward areas might take the form of a powerful weapon that is in a tricky to reach (but easy to see) spot, or a flanking route with a guard whose back is turned, allowing players skilled in stealth the opportunity to sneak past. These side-paths can also constitute a puzzle, requiring a little more cerebral skill to access (Fig. 13), and can even be worked into optional, secondary objectives (e.g. Find the U-boat commander and kill him to unlock the enhanced Luger), making them more apparent and extending your replayability.
Figure 13: Skyrim – The chest is clearly visible from the main path, but has no obvious access; players have to use a dragon-shout to leap a chasm (an advanced technique) and pick a lock if they want to collect the treasure. All the clues are clearly visible for the keen player who is ready to put in a little extra effort to get some cool swag.
Good level design is efficient
A game only has a finite amount of resources to draw from, ranging from hardware limitations (like system memory) to production realities (such as art capacity). It’s the designer’s responsibility to maximise the use of those resources, and create efficiency through good design. In level design this means not only using the whole animal, from nose to tail, but doing it quickly, and more than once…
Modular design is your friend – a smart designer won’t design a level, he/she will design a series of modular, mechanic-driven encounters, that can be strung together to create a level. And another level. And another level.
By applying simple modifiers to these modules you can create variation, building more levels with less work, and less risk. This technique also creates a series of familiar encounters that the player can use to learn and master your mechanics, while the modifiers applied to these encounters keep them fresh by providing increased challenge and surprise.
Take time out to play with any of Bethesda’s tool-kits for Skyrim or Fallout and you can quickly see how a relatively small team were able to create so much awesome content… it’s all modular. Such a high level of modularity might not work for every game, but it can certainly be applied to any game in varying degrees… For Medal of Honor the Producer tasked us with creating “Battle Moments” – sections of intense combat gameplay, ranging from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, which we could rapidly prototype and iterate on, before stitching them together in different contexts to make a number of exciting levels. This enabled the designers to build a lot more content in a lot less time, and still keep it interesting.
Your trusty art team will spend a considerable amount of time making your levels look amazing, when most of the time the player will plough through their beautiful work in a matter of seconds. Reusing areas of your level not only gets you more bang for your art buck, but alleviates the amount of level geometry you have to keep in memory. This can sometimes be referred to as back-tracking, which has a somewhat derisory connotation, and so, as a designer, one must be careful to make sure such spaces are designed for bi-directional gameplay, preferably with a key modifier on the second pass (Fig. 14).
Figure 14: Halo 3, Mission 6: The Ark – In this level, Master Chief fights his way along a large stretch of desert… and then all the way back again! But, as you’d expect from a team like Bungie, they keep it fresh… by giving the Chief a super-powerful tank to make the return journey in, thus using the same space for very different gameplay.
A good designer should use every last bit of the level, by providing implicit objectives that require exploration to complete – the skulls in Halo 3, the COG tags in Gears of War, the feathers in Assassin’s Creed… all designed to extend the gameplay time with no extra hit to level production.These collectible elements, along with the risk/reward paths and secondary objectives mentioned in the previous principle, will all contribute towards your game’s replayability, generating further efficiencies. But be sure that there is a long-term incentive for completing these gameplay objectives like a significantly different play-experience or a clearly telegraphed reward (new power-ups, weapons, etc…). Better yet, give them context by integrating them into your narrative like Astro Boy Omega Factor(Fig. 15).
Figure 15: Astro Boy Omega Factor – This GBA title is still one of the best examples of replayability ever made. Upon finishing the game on the first play-through, you get a somewhat unsatisfying ending… but you are flung back in time so you can use all the power-ups you have collected to access new areas of old levels, unlocking more levels and power ups, and the true, extremely awesome ending.
Good level design creates emotion
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court officially classified Videogames as art… which, according to the dictionary, makes them “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance”.
But this is slightly pragmatic analysis of what constitutes for art. From a purely subjective stand-point, I would posit that art is anything specifically created to provoke an emotional reaction; paintings, sculpture, photography, music, movies… are all created to encourage some kind of emotional response in their recipient. This is particularly true for videogames.
The classical art form that is, perhaps, most analagous to level design is architecture… and architects have been messing with people’s emotions for centuries. For example, architects will vary the height of windows depending on the motional response they are trying to evoke: place them below knee- height, and widows create a sensation of power and voyeurism… place them above shoulder-height, and they create a sense of persecution and encarceration.
Architects have adapted Mazlow’s Heirarchy of Needs (which are defintely too abstract for direct application to level design) into a series of very useful architectural concerns that can help deigners create an evocative space. These theories, along with the more traditional use of spatial metrics, can be used to create what I like to call “spatial empathy” witihin your levels, something which this year’s Tomb Raider does with aplomb (Fig. 16).
Figure 16: Tomb Raider – In her latest adventure, Lara Croft is taken from narrow, claustrophobic caves, through sprawling, epic jungles, to vertiginous mountain ascents… with each space carefully selected and crafted to elicit a range of varying emotions.
In fact, the player’s desired emotional response to your level is so important, that it should always be the starting point of your design. From there, you can drill down and select which spatial metrics, narrative elements and game mechanics can be deployed to best create that response. Want to create a feeling of persecution? Place enemy AI that actively hunts the player. Want to create a feeling of exhilaration? Engage the player in a high-speed chase on the open road. Want to create a feeling of desperation? Give players a time-limit and an almost insurmountable objective (Fig. 17). All of these devices, and more, have been used in games with the express intention of eliciting an emotional response through the game’s mechanics.
Figure 17: Company of Heroes – Carentan – In the final act of this mission, the player’s squad are forced to fall back to a church. Trapped in a corner, the player has to hold off the Nazis until reinforcements arrive. What dictates when this will happen? A timer? No. The number of Nazi’s remaining? No, there are infinite enemies… it’s the player’s squad’s health.
Reinforcements will only appear just as the player is about to die. A little unfair, perhaps… but this gameplay conceit creates a palpable feeling of desperation against overwhelming odds. And extreme relief when finally rescued!
Good level design is driven by your game’s mechanics
“Books let you imagine extraordinary things. Movies let you see extraordinary things. And videogames? Videogames let you do extraordinary things” – unknown
Above all else, great level design is driven by interaction – the game’s mechanics. Game levels don’t just provide context for mechanics, they provide the very reality in which they exist.
I like to describe a game level as the meta-physical medium through which gameplay is delivered. This may sound fancy and contrived, but what it really means is that your level should be a gameplay delivery system, whose primary function is to leverage your mechanics to create a great experience. Topology, architecture, objectives, interactions, combat scenarios, etc… should all be designed first-and-foremost to highlight all your great gameplay systems.
To do this successfully, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of your game’s mechanics before embarking on your level design. This is not always possible when systems and levels are being designed concurrently… but you should at least have an idea of the sort of systems that are being built (as well as a trust that they will be built, so that you don’t find yourself wasting time designing around incomplete features that aren’t quite ready yet). The up-side in this situation is that the relationship works both ways: if you have a cool idea for your level, you can request the necessary gameplay
systems to make it work.
Figure 18: Deus Ex Human Revolution – the side-quests in this game were designed to highlight specific mechanics; in one mission the player has to use his ability to drag unconscious bodies to pull a drugged victim over a cliff and make an assassination look like suicide.
And when I talk about systems, this includes AI… something that can easily be overlooked, creating untold problems. A surprising amount of a level designer ’s time is taken up with bending mischievous AI to his or her will! Develop a relationship with your AI team… so you know what clever features they’ve got planned, and they know what issues you are having. Who knows… if you ask them nicely, they may even create special behaviours for that cool sniper ambush
Figure 19: Batman Arkham City – the Riddler challenges spread throughout the open-world, cleverly reuse existing mechanics, encouraging the player to find new ways to use his equipmet. This makes for some great design efficacy , as well as creating cerebral gameplay that fuels the fantasy of being the world’s greatest detective, and not just some guy in a cape who’s really good at beating people up.
Always remember that interactivity is what makes videogames different from any other form of entertainment: books have stories, movies have visuals, games have interaction. If your level design isn’t showcasing your game mechanics, your players might as well be watching a movie or reading a book.
And that’s ten! I want to be clear that in no way do I consider these principles to be definitive… but hopefully they are a good start to creating a base- line standard of quality and innovation in level design. I expect them to be continually refined and tweaked, much like a game itself.
To conclude, here are the 10 principles, summed up in my poor imitation of Rams’ succinct, simplistic style, for quick and easy reference when building your levels.Good level design…
Is fun to navigate – It uses a clear visual language to guide the player along the primary path, and creates interest through verticality, secondary paths, hidden areas and maze elements.
Does not rely on words to tell a story – Aside from the explicit narrative called out by story and objectives, good level design delivers implicit narrative trough the environment, and provides players with gameplay choice from which to create their own emergent narrative.
Tells the player what to do, but not how to do it – It makes sure mission objectives are clearly communicated, but lets players complete them any way they like, and, where feasible, in any order.
Constantly teaches the player something new – It keeps the player engaged by continuously introducing new mechanics all the way through the game, and prevents old mechanics from becoming stale by applying modifiers or reusing them in unusual ways.
Is surprising – Classic Aristotelian pacing is not always appropriate for an interactive medium, and it is not enough to simply pace all your levels to the standard “rollercoaster” model. Good level design is not afraid to take risks with the pace, aesthetics, locale and other elements to create an experience that is fresh.
Empowers the player – Videogames are escapism and, as such, should eschew the mundane. Furthermore, good level design reinforces players’ empowerment by allowing them to experience the consequences of their actions, in both the immediate, moment-to-moment gameplay, and in the long term, through the holistic design of all levels.
Allows the player to control the difficulty – It gears the main path toward players of basic ability, presenting advanced players with optional challenge through clearly communicated opportunities of risk and reward.
Is efficient – Resources are finite. Good level design creates efficiencies through modularity, bi-directional gameplay and integrated, exploratory bonus objectives that make use of the whole play-space.
Creates emotion – it begins at the end, with the desired emotional response, and works backwards, selecting the appropriate mechanics, spatial metrics and narrative devices to elicit that response.
Is driven by the game’s mechanics – above all, it showcases the game’s mechanics through the medium of the level, to reinforce the uniquely interactive nature of videogames.
篇目3，Excerpts from An Architectural Approach to Level Design
by Christopher Totten
In the past few years, I have noticed a fascination in the game industry with architecture as a field that could be potentially helpful to the way we design. As a game developer with two degrees in architecture I have likewise seen the connections between the two fields. As an undergraduate architecture student I began making small video games with friends – creating art with the design software I used for classes. On the suggestion of some of my studio-mates, I began utilizing what I learned about game design in my class projects. I felt that architecture, like games, had a symbiotic relationship with its users and that well designed game levels had much in common with the work of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, I.M. Pei, and others. Eventually, my work with both fields culminated in a graduate thesis on the intersections between games and architecture. After grad school, I became a game developer and continued my research into the ways architectural theory could be applied to level design. This work has allowed me to write several articles, give a few conference talks, and now publish a book.
Released on June 12th by CRC Press, An Architectural Approach to Level Design integrates architectural and spatial design theory with the field of level design. The book explores the principles of level design through the context and history of architecture, providing information useful to both academics and game development professionals.
Presenting architectural techniques and theories for level designers to use in their own work, practical elements of how designers construct space are addressed along with experiential elements of how and why humans interact with this space. Throughout the text, readers learn skills for spatial layout, evoking emotion through gamespaces, and creating better levels through architectural theory.
This article contains several excerpts from the book showing basic architectural elements that can be applied to practical level design applications along with illustrations from the book taken from my own gameplay and design journals. These sections prepare the reader for further explorations of methods for visual communication, producing emotional responses in players, encouraging social interaction, and other things important to game worlds. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it. The book can be purchased at http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781466585416
Ways of Seeing for Level Design – from Chapter 1: A Brief History of Architecture and Level Design
In order to fully understand spatial design principles for level design, it is necessary to analyze precedents from both real world architecture and video games. Hal Box, FAIA, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin argues for an educated form of seeing architecture based on study and analysis. In this case, “seeing” is not used to only describe using the visual senses, but also to process the spatial, formal, contextual, and historical elements that make a building unique.
For level designers, this type of “seeing” can be transformative for how we learn from the levels of previous games – both good and bad. Doing this may involve breaking some habits common to game players. For example, there is a saying that “gamers don’t look up” when playing games. As designers, the verticality of gamespaces can be an important element in establishing the grandiosity of a setting or for communicating direction with players. Likewise, as players, it is common to run directly to the next action scene rather than pause to explore game environments. Designers should look for ways to direct the pacing of a game environment in subtle ways – placing narrative elements in the way of player pathways or incentivizing exploration with rewards.
In his book, Think Like an Architect, Box proposes ten ways for exploring and understanding a building:
1. Learn why a building was built, what it was for, and what it is now.
2. Look up as you walk around – noticing visual elements, layering of forms, and materials.
3. Sense the space by its size, shape, and how it interacts with light, sound, and other spaces.
4. Train your eye to understand the structure of the building and how it holds the building up.
5. Determine how materials are working – in compression or tension – or if they feel heavy or light.
6. Determine how the building was constructed and from what materials.
7. Examine the historical precedents of the building.
8. Analyze the composition, proportions, and rhythms of building elements.
9. Observe the appropriateness of the building to its setting.
10. Analyze what makes the building special from others[i].
Obviously, not all of these apply to game levels. While the environment art of a level can represent structures that are in compression or tension, the game art itself will not be. Likewise, many game levels are held up by the fact that they are not defined as rigidbody objects in the game engine and thus, do not fall according to the engine’s physics system. However, many of these proposed ways of seeing are applicable to game levels in their current form, or may be modified slightly to fit our own purposes. In this way, we may say that level designers can modify their ways of seeing with these methods:
1. Identify what gameplay occurs in the space. What are the game mechanics supported?
2. Look up as you walk around – noticing visual elements, especially art that contrasts the rest of the environment or somehow calls attention to itself. Also look down – is the spaces’s verticality used in reverse to make you feel in danger?
3. Sense the space by its size, shape, and how it interacts with light, sound, and other spaces. How do the lighting or sound conditions make you feel?
4. Analyze the pacing of the level. Does the level usher you through itself quickly or are there opportunities to explore? Are these required or bonuses for extra curiosity?
5. Is there one gameplay style reflected in this level, or are multiple supported? (For example, does a deathmatch map have places for snipers, offensive players, defensive players, etc.? Does a game level play well for barbarians but poorly for mages?)
6. How does the space express the narrative of the game? Is it a backdrop or does exploring the level tell you about the game world in some way? Are narrative events scripted to occur around the player or are there cutscenes?
7. Examine any historical or gameplay precedents? What kinds of spatial experiences were in those games?
8. Analyze the composition, proportions, and rhythms of environment art elements.
9. How does level geometry compare with the movement abilities of your avatar? Is everything well within their capabilities or does the level space challenge these measurements? Is there anything that is outside of these capabilities? If so, does the game offer any way to expand these abilities?
10. What environment art elements are repeated? Are they interactive? If so, do they correspond to a specific gameplay mechanic?
These ways of seeing for level design, as well as the architectural and gamespace precedents found in the rest of this chapter, will guide our explorations of spatial design principles for level design.
Level Design Workflows – from Chapter 2: Tools and Techniques for Level Design
The American architect Louis Sullivan, often credited as the creator of the skyscraper, once famously said, “Form ever follows function.” This was shortened to the famous design idiom, “Form follows function.” With this phrase, Sullivan stated one of the driving principles of architectural modernism. Modernism was an architectural movement of the early twentieth century defined by an emphasis on creating buildings whose form was derived from their purpose. In modernist architecture, ornament was generally a product of the building itself or applied for a purpose, rather than simply for the sake of aesthetics. Similarly to Sullivan, Le Corbusier stated, “The house is a machine for living in.” Much of his architecture, as with the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Louis Sullivan, and others was focused on purposefully creating an experience for the occupants.
As we have seen, the same can be said of level design. In level design, developers often design with a specific experiential goal in mind. In a 2008 interview, Valve level designer Dario Casali argued that “experience is key” when creating level design ideas[ii]. Earlier in this chapter, we discussed some goals of level design that related to how users use gamespace and how we as designers communicate to the user through the space. These experiential goals should dictate how we as level designers construct space: form follows function.
In this section, we will discuss some workflow processes that involve these same tools, beginning with how “form follows function” fits into game design.
Form Follows Core Mechanics
The tenants of form follows function thrive in game design through a concept known as the core mechanic. A core mechanic is often defined as the basic action that a player makes throughout the course of a game. In his doctoral dissertation, game designer Aki Jarvinen similarly created a core mechanic-centered design method where designers began from verbs[iii]. If one looks at core mechanics as the basic verb of what a player does in a game, they can understand the foundational elements of what builds each game’s unique experience. For example, Super Mario Bros[iv]. can be said to be about jumping, The Legend of Zelda[v] is about exploring, Katamari Damacy[vi] is about rolling, Angry Birds[vii] is about flinging, and so on. Beginning from this core, other actions are added that define the rules of the final game product.
When designing levels, having a similar core mechanic idea in mind is necessary. While many new designers assume that individual levels should simply follow the core mechanic of the game, it is possible to define level core mechanics to make each unique. An example is the Badwater Basin level (figure 2.43) of Valve’s Team Fortress 2 (TF2)[viii].
Figure 2.43 A plan diagram of Badwater Basin from Team Fortress 2. RED and BLU team bases are marked on the map, as are major circulation areas and BLU checkpoints between the two bases.
In this level, the game’s Builders League United (or BLU) team must push a bomb into their opponent’s, the Reliable Excavation Demolition (or RED) team’s, base via a mine cart on a track. The mine cart mechanic of Payload mode, which Badwater Basin is a map for, takes TF2’s standard team-based first person shooter mechanics and adds a twist. Not only does this change the mechanics of gameplay, but also the conditions of the levels spatial geometry.
One example cited by Casali, who helped design the level, was the level’s tunnel. In the first prototypes of the level, designers made the mine tunnels a standard width that they had used for other basic maps. However, upon playtesting the level with the mine cart-pushing mechanic in place, they realized that tunnels had to be widened to accommodate both players and cart. This seems like a small change, but it prevented a lot of aggrivation from players that had been getting blocked out of tunnels by the cart (figure 2.44.)
Figure 4.44 Modifying the width of the tunnel in Badwater Basin allowed for better circulation of both the player and mine cart through the level and made gameplay less aggravating for the offensive team.
As level designers, it is our job to design to the realities of how player avatars and other gameplay elements move through levels. Traversing levels is comfortable when level spaces comfortably accommodate metrics. As we will explore in later chapters, gameplay drama can be achieved when we create spaces that push metrics to the limit. Such spaces include gaps that require the farthest possible jump a character can do such as the one found in world 8-1 of Super Mario Bros. (figure 2.45) or tight corridors that restrict movement in horror games, such as Resident Evil[ix] (figure 2.46.)
Figure 2.45 This section of Super Mario Bros.’s level 8-1 pushes Mario’s jumping metrics to their limit. The gap is 10 blocks wide, 1 block longer than Mario’s running jump distance of 9 blocks, so using the 1-block-wide middle island is necessary. Most strategies for crossing this gap call for a running jump to the middle island, and then another quick one off the 1-block-wide island so Mario’s landing inertia doesn’t launch the player into the pit.
Figure 2.46: Many hallways in Resident Evil are barely wide enough for two characters standing shoulder to shoulder. In this way, a single zombie in these hallways can become a significant threat for players trying to get past. This spatial condition also gives the game a claustrophobic atmosphere.
Designing to gameplay does not solely have to involve measurements either. It can also mean designing to specific character abilities such as special attacks or movement modes. Stealth games, like Metal Gear Solid[x] provide a great example of how to construct levels based on different types of character movement. In Metal Gear Solid, the player character, Solid Snake, has the ability to hide behind walls and look around corners. This vastly changes the meaning of ninety-degree corners when compared with other action games – they are strategic hiding places rather than just level geometry. As such, the nuclear weapons facility that makes up Metal Gear Solid’s environments has lots of these corners so players can sneak from place to place, looking around corners to find their next refuge. While not measurement or metric based, these kinds of layouts are based on the character’s own mechanics, the gameplay actions that form the range of possibilities for how a character may act or interact with their environment.
Level Design Parti
Earlier in the chapter, we discussed the architect’s parti, basic formal explorations that architects utilize to determine what shape or orientation they want their building to take. For level designers coming off of determining the core mechanics of their level, a parti is another valuable tool for developing the spatial layout of your level.
Designing with parti is quite different than designing on graph paper or computer. Partis are meant to be sketches, and therefore will lack measurement. Sketching exercises allow designers to form ideas quickly before spending the time to plan measured versions of their designs. The key to a level designer’s parti is to sketch gameplay ideas as spatial diagrams. For example, a level design parti of the previously mentioned Badwater Basin level would be two large masses (representing the team’s base areas) with thinner zones of circulation in between the two to represent the mine cart track, and some smaller bases for BLU players to capture, similar to the diagram shown in 2.43.
In his discussions of level design from Indie Game: The Movie, Edmund McMillan argues that once a designer has created environmental mechanics, that is, interactive parts of a level that factor into gameplay, they should be usable in many different ways in order to be valuable. For the e4 Software’s mobile game, SWARM![xi], a ball-roller/platformer game where players had to lure enemies into traps, programmer/designer Taro Omiya created many sketches of the electric fence traps to visualize the different uses they could have (figure 2.47.) Likewise, Omiya and others working on the game made formal Partis on the computer and on paper to visualize spatial orientations of levels such as downhill slides, floating islands, and platforming areas (figure 2.48.)
Figure 2.47 Once designers for SWARM! created the electric fence traps, they sketched many gameplay partis of them to visualize how they could be utilized through different levels.
Figure 2.48 Formal partis for SWARM! show the visualization of different spatial orientations such as hills, tilted ledges, and others.
Digital Prototypes with Whiteblocking
When developers have moved from prototyping off the computer to prototyping in digital form, they create test levels through a process known as Whiteblocking. Whiteblocking is when a level designer creates a level out of simple geometry, most often white or simply-textured blocks (thus the name), to test whether levels accomplish the gameplay goals they want. Early on in the design process, when designers are trying to define gameplay metrics of player characters and other things, Whiteblocking can help determine what gameplay measurements should be. Likewise, designers can draft the spatial characteristics of their levels in a parti-like way, testing the sizes and shapes of certain environments for different gameplay experiences, before specific environmental art is added to a level (figure 2.51.)
Figure 2.51 Whiteblocking done for SWARM! shows how an important section of a level meant to teach players how to kill enemies was thoroughly tested in simple geometry before environment art was added.
The geometry used to Whiteblock level spaces is usually the simplest needed to simulate the colliders that will be used in the eventual final level design. Colliders are a component of objects in game engines that simulate the interaction between physical objects. A box collider attached to a piece of level geometry, for example, will cause that object to interact with other objects as though it is the shape of a six-sided box, regardless of the shape of the actual environmental art (figure 2.52.) Colliders can be simple geometric shapes or can be made to tightly fit organic shapes.
Figure 2.52: This plant has a box collider attached to it. Though its 3D model has an organic shape, player objects in a game will interact with it as though it were a rectangular solid.
Valve uses Whiteblocking extensively in its level design process. The construction rules for engine primitives in their level editor, Hammer, allows rapid 3D level prototyping through simple and precise building. Hammer’s primitives, called “brushes”, are used to roughly define level spaces, which are then playtested to see if the intended experience is created. Level designers see what worked properly and what did not, and then change the spaces by editing the brushes. When the designers find themselves editing little of major spaces and instead focusing on smaller details, the level is ready for environment art.
As an iterative process, Whiteblocking begins with almost parti-like interactive forms of levels and moves designers towards more art and ornament-centric design decisions that are not unlike interior design. As level geometries become better defined, standard pieces of environment art can be defined as well, eventually becoming the building blocks of levels.
Architectural Spatial Arrangements – from Chapter 3: Basic Gamespaces
As with the previous chapter, we will begin with lessons from Architecture. Where last time we focused on tools and techniques that were useful in game engine environments, this time we will discuss spatial arrangements that can be utilized in games.
Games and architecture differ in the fact that real-world Architecture must conform to real-world rules. For example, real-world buildings must both have an interior and exterior – with the shape of one influencing the other. Likewise, real-world architecture must take into consideration weather, geology, zoning regulations, and structural realities. Conversely, these are not things that gamespaces must deal with. To one extreme, this can mean experimental structures such as Atelier Ten Architects and GMO Tea-cup Communications Inc.’s Museum of the Globe[xii], a large elliptical structure formed from cubes floating in space (figure 3.1) or Hidenori Watanave’s explorable database sculpture on the life of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer[xiii] – both former structures within the virtual world Second Life[xiv]. For more day-to-day level design, however, this means gamespaces that are free from interior/exterior requirements. This results in more freeform spatial layouts based on player movement patterns, narrative events, or game mechanics (figure 3.2.) Indeed, “interior” and “exterior” are little more than descriptions based on the art used to decorate the gamespace.
Figure 3.1 A sketch of Atelier Ten architects and GMO Tea Cup Communication, Inc’s Museum of the Globe. Since the building is built within a virtual world, it does not require any structure to hold up the hundreds of cubes making up its main body. The designers designed the buildings form in Microsoft Excel and then generated the geometry in an automatic modeling program.
Figure 3.2 Parti diagram sketches of level plans. Game levels can take on unusual forma characteristics because they do not have to conform to a corresponding interior and exterior as real buildings do.
With these differences in mind, spatial designers for games can take advantage of architectural lessons within the freedom of game design environments. Some of these lessons even have conceptual links to how levels are constructed in many modern game engines.
The first architectural spatial arrangement we will explore is that of figure-ground. Figure-ground is derived from artistic notions of the positive and negative space of a composition, where positive space describes the area inhabited by the subject of a piece and negative space describes space outside of or in-between subjects (figure 3.3.)
Figure 3.3 This illustration, known as Rubin’s vase, shows the concept of positive and negative space and how they can be reversed. Based on whether the viewer is interpreting the black or white portions of the image as the negative space, this is either an illustration of two faces looking at one another or of a vase.
Figure-ground theory in architecture comes from the arrangement of positive space figures, often poche’d building masses, within a negative space ground. When viewed in plan, the designer can see how the placement of building figures begins to form spaces out of the ground. Indeed, the formation of such spaces in figure-ground drawings is as important as the placement of the figures themselves (figure 3.4.) According to architectural designer Matthew Frederick, spaces formed by arranged figures become positive space in their own right, since they now have a form just as the figures do[xv]. From an urban design standpoint, these framed spaces are often squares, courtyards, parks, nodes, and other meeting areas where people can “dwell”, while remaining negative spaces are for people to move through[xvi].
Figure 3.4 When mapping out spaces with figure-ground drawing, it is important to observe how the positive space figures create spaces out of the negative space ground. These spaces, having forms of their own, are considered positive space.
Frederick also points out that when utilizing figure-ground, both figural elements and spaces can be implied[xvii], either by demarcating a space with structural elements or by creating negative spaces that resemble the form of nearby figures (figure 3.5.) This echoes theoretical neuroscientist Gerd Sommerhoff who, as quoted by architect Grant Hildebrand, said,
The brain expects future event-and-image sets to be event-and-image sets previously experienced. When repetition of previous experience seems likely, the brain readies itself to reexperience the set. If expectances are confirmed, the model is reinforced, with a resultant sensation of pleasure.[xviii]
In this way, we can see how figure-ground becomes a powerful tool for level designers to create additive and subtractive spaces within many game engines. Many engines allow for the creation of additive figure elements to be arranged within negative 2D or 3D space. Gamespaces are often based on mechanics of movement through negative space, using positive elements as ledges or supports for a player’s journey. Under other mechanics, forming spaces in-between solid forms allows for the creations of rooms, corridors, and other spaces that players can run, chase and hide in. Additionally, designers can communicate with players via implied boundaries or highlighted spaces that use figure-ground articulations like those described by Sommerhoff (figure 3.6.)
Figure 3.5 This illustration shows how figure-ground arrangements can be used to imply spaces or elements.
Figure 3.6 These illustrations show ways that figure-ground relationships can be utilized in many gamespaces, implying spatial relationships can be an effective way of relaying spatial messages to players.
Form-Void (also called solid-void) is in many ways a 3-dimensional evolution of figure-ground. Indeed, it is the natural application of figure-ground in games where the gamespace will be viewed from a non-top-down perspective (figure 3.7.) In form-void theory, spaces that are carved out of solid forms are implied to have a form of their own.
Figure 3.7 Some examples of form-void relationships between forms.
Just as figure-ground is spatial arrangement by marking off spaces with massive elements, form-void is spatial arrangement by adding masses or subtracting spaces from them. This further resembles the operation of many of the game engines described in Chapter 2: Tools and Techniques for Level Design, in how these engines allow for the placement of geometric forms or for their carving out of an endless mass. Similarly, 3D art programs allow for intersections between forms to be realized through either careful modeling or Boolean operations, where mathematical equations are used to combine 3D models in additive or subtractive ways. Buildings such as Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals or Mario Botta’s Casa Bianchi, both in Switzerland, show how form-void relationships can be used to carve out spaces for balconies, doorways, windows, private rooms, and other functions (figure 3.8.) In games, such additions and subtractions can be used for hidden alcoves, secret passages, sniping spots, or even highlighted level goals.
Figure 3.8 Sketches from Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor and Casa Bianchi by Mario Botta show how forms and voids can be used to define space.
Level design is an art of contrasts. It is also an art of sight lines, pathways, dramatic lead-ups, and ambiguity about the nature of where you are going. All of these elements contribute to the experience of an arrival, the way in which you come into a space for the first time.
Much of how we will communicate with the player is through arrivals in space. It is also in how that space ushers the player towards their next destination or provides the means for players to choose their own path. Much of how you experience a space when you arrive in it comes from the spatial conditions of the spaces that preceded it: if you are arriving in a big space, spaces leading up to it should be enclosed so the new space seems even bigger, light spaces should be preceded by dark, etc. In their book, Chambers For A Memory Palace, architects Donlyn Lindon and Charles W. Moore highlight John Portman & Associates’ Hyatt Regency Atlanta Hotel as featuring such arrival in its atrium space. Dubbed the “Jesus Chris Spot” by critics, it was not uncommon soon after the hotel was built for businessmen to arrive in the twenty-two-story atrium from the much lower-ceilinged spaces preceding it and mutter “Jee-sus Christ!” as they looked upward[xix] Similar spatial experiences are common in exploration-based games such as those in the Legend of Zelda or Metroid series for leading up to important enemy encounters, item acquisitions, or story events (figure 3.9.)
Figure 3.9 Many games use contrasting spatial conditions to highlight the approaches to gameplay-important spaces such as boss rooms or goals. This diagram of the Temple of Time from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, where the player receives a narrative-important sword, shows how contrasted spaces and a Byzantine-esque basilica plan emphasize the importance of the sword chamber.
Another important element of how players arrive at spaces is their point of view from the arrival point. As we will see later in the chapter, camera angles in games have a great deal of influence with how a player understands space. However, dramatic reveals and arrivals are possible regardless of the chosen point-of-view. In classical architecture, the procession-like approach to the Parthenon in Athens, Greece shows how an occupant’s point of view is steered towards dramatic reveals. Visitors climbing up the steps of the Acropolis would first see the Parthenon from below. Then, passing through the Propylaea, the portico-like entrance building of the Acropolis, they would be greeted by a three-quarters view of the Parthenon from its Northwestern corner rather than a more 2-dimensional view from straight on. The path then forced visitors to walk around the building before they would wind back to the entrance of the Parthenon itself. From this forced path, visitors got a more theatric approach to the Parthenon than if they had walked straight up to its entrance (figure 3.10.)
Figure 3.10 Diagram of the entry procession to the Parthenon. Visitors did not approach from the entryway side, but from a corner. They then had to walk around the building. Since all elevations of the building were equally intricate, it could be enjoyed from all sides as visitors walked around to the entrance.
A last architectural spatial lesson is less of an arrangement and more of another goal for designing your own spaces. This lesson is known as Genius Loci, also known as Spirit of Place. This term comes from a Roman belief that spirits would protect towns or other populated areas, acting as the town’s Genius. This term was adopted by late 20th century architects to describe the identifying qualities or emotional experience of a place. Some call designing to the concept of Genius Loci placemaking, that is, creating memorable or unique experiences in a designed space.
In Chapter 2, we discussed the Nintendo Power Method of level design, where the designer creates a macro-scaled parti or plan of their level, then distributes highlighted moments of gameplay as though developing a map for a game magazine. Each of these highlighted moments of gameplay; be they enemy encounters, movement puzzles, or helpful stopping points; have potential for their own Genius Loci. Are these places for rest or for battle? Should the player feel relaxed, tense, or meditative in these gamespaces? The answers to these questions depend highly on the game you are building, but can help you determine the kind of feel you want for your levels.
Beyond individual gameplay encounters, level designers can implant Genius Loci within the entirety of their gamespaces and use it as a tool for moving players from one point to another. Genius Loci can be built through manipulations in lighting, shadows, spatial organization, and the size of spaces – which will all be discussed in detail later in the book. If you are building a level for a horror game, for example, the Genius Loci you build should be one of dread, created through careful selection of environmental art, lighting, sound effects, and other assets. Likewise, spaces in a game with little or no Genius Loci can be circulation spaces, that is, spaces for the player to move through to get to their next destination. Depending on the gameplay you are creating, circulation spaces may be a chance to rest between intensive encounters or tools for building suspense before a player gets to the next memorable gameplay moment.
篇目4，Composition in Level Design
by Mateusz Piaskiewicz
Composition in Level Design
When designing a level you’re able to freely compose your virtual environment with any objects you want. This distinguishes level designers from the landscape photographers. You don’t have to adopt to existing elements of nature or architecture. You can affect the scene dramatically. A level designers’ work can be compared to that of a painter. Now let’s see the level as the art gallery and the level vistas as paintings. It means that a player can traverse from one composition to another.
When you should care about composition? Well, I would have to say that you have to do it all the time but that’s simply not possible. It’s very time consuming and sometimes there’s no need to build mind blowing compositions in the middle of nowhere. The good news is that building pretty compositions is very simple and will easily become your second nature. A lot of designers I’ve met can make awesome levels but they don’t know how or when to apply these compositions. In this article I’ll present you with my way of planning and implementing beautiful environments.
When and where you can apply composition rules:
Environment Composition – Big picture, everything that the player sees, both visual and gameplay areas. You can compose single corridors and rooms, towns, landscapes, far horizon views and stunning backgrounds. That kind of composition is often seen from only few directions, that makes planning of the composition easier.
Environment Elements Composition – Set dressing, details, groups of objects that are parts of the big picture. Garbage around the dumpster, rocks on the ground, stuff on a desk. That kind of composition can be seen from arbitrary angles.
Visual Feedback & Navigation – Highlight the objective, show the way to the objective, guide the player through a specific area. If the player’s objective is to get to the chopper and you need to navigate the player there or you simply want to show the player where he should go then you can apply composition rules to highlight something that will catch his attention and change his wandering course.
There’s a thin line between composing everything you can and imitate nature or natural mess. You can create composition of leaves that wind blew by the wall but the result might be simply overdone and unnatural. Composition is used to arrange space into appealing picture. Leaves are only background, there’s no need to compose that unless that’s an important pile of leaves that should get player’s attention. Nature is creating beautiful compositions, let’s simulate the power of nature instead of faking it.
Composition is an arrangement of scene elements. Scenes with applied rules of composition presents a harmonic idea that is easy to understand and isn’t confusing to the observer. Harmonic composition smoothly guides the player’s eye through the image’s elements just as we planned. Harmony has a huge impact on the understanding of an image. In order to achieve a harmonic scene you need to set down the components of your scene and emphasize some of its elements by using color, lighting, proportions, direction and position. In other words, you can show the important part of the screen and hide things that are only background.
The opposite to composition is chaos. On chaotic images it’s hard to determinate which element acts as dominant. In this situation the player can focus attention on relating parts of the scene. In this article the player and observer interchangeably.
Composition can be divided into three main sets of layers: Foreground, Center of Interest and Background. Additionally you can include the staffage layer in your composition.
Example composition – layers
Perspective view of example composition – layers
Red cube – Dominant; Yellow cubes – Composition elements; Green cube – Observer; White cone – Observer’s eye sight; Gray plane – Terrain
Layers that are the closest to the observer. This set of layers acts as a prelude and creates a frame for the composition’s dominant. It’s commonly overlooked in games. Foreground is used to focus the player’s attention on the most important layers – Center of Interest. Remember that composition elements from the foreground have to have a logical connection with the rest of the composition. Brightening foreground objects can separate this layer from other layers which creates an effect of scene isolation. Darkening objects on the foreground gives the feeling of space because the contrast is enhanced in regard to the rest of the layers. Often, only a silhouettes of objects are visible and you don’t have to worry about that, on this layer you shouldn’t show details and colors.
Dark foreground made of bushes, grass and tree branches – Call of Duty: Ghosts
Center of Interest
A layer or layers on which the composition’s dominant is placed. Dominant is the focal point of the composition, it can’t merge with the rest of the scene’s objects but it still has to be consistent with those objects, it should be brighter and set in a advantageous position to stand out from other elements. Thanks to the dominant it’s possible to quickly name the theme of a scene, for example: “Winter scene with the ruins of a medieval guard tower in the mountains” where medieval ruins are the dominant and mountains are the background. You can use dominants to tell a story of the scene and build the unique identification of the scene. You need to plan your composition so that the dominant will be the first object which the observer will notice. Make sure that there are no obstacles that heavily cover the dominant but don’t worry about the objects that overlap other layers. Center of interest can hold more than one dominant. The other dominant in the composition is called the counterpoint. As an example it could be a scene “Fountain on the market square with a wreck of a tank”. Fountain is the first dominant but the tank wreck also asks for attention. When the observer will get to know all the dominants he’ll start to look for a details on the center of interest and the background layers.
Center of Interest layers
Lone tower (Dominant) and adverts on the wall (Counterpoint) – Dishonored
Layers that are closing the composition. Mostly background layers which main contents are the horizon and sky. Background layers are marked with calm and moody color scheme and less detailed objects. This helps keep the observer’s eye on the dominant. The purpose of these layers is to bring out the dominant’s silhouette, impress with the scale of the scene, create depth and eliminate the impression of scene isolation. An effect that can emphasize the depth is aerial perspective (also known as tonal or atmospheric perspective). Avoid using strong colors, sharp lines and lots of detail.
Few layers of mountains in the background – Rage
Optional layer with living elements, for instance human or animal figures. Mostly used as a scene diversion, a scale and proportions reference or the eye guiding element. Pay attention to the figure’s pose or face direction. It is a big eye catcher and it can compete with the dominants. You can use it to guide the observer’s eye by showing the figure’s line of sight. The observer will notice the figure’s face and will check what he’s looking at.
Alyx watching what is happening on the horizon. She helps determinate the proportions of the scene and her line of sight draws attention to the event on a horizon. – Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Let’s start from the observation places (spots or zones) from which the player will be watching the composition. Before you add observation places think under what vertical and horizontal angle the player will approach the composition and how many observation spots the player will be able to reach.
This angle defines how player will be able to observe the dominant. You can change the sight angle to achieve bigger impact by modifying the dominant’s size, height or placement.
Low Angle – Dominant is seen from above. The image can show depth and perspective. This angle gives the player a great visibility on the composition layers. You can use it as the player’s advantage and allow him to plan his tactics or exploration route.
Flat Angle – Dominant is seen from the ground level. Scene feels flat and boring. Mostly used with strong dominants and high composition angles. You can fake the perspective and depth by smoothly lowering the height of the terrain between player and the dominant.
High Angle – Dominant is seen from the bottom and is literally dominating the composition. It gives impression of being small when compared with the dominant.
Red cube – Dominant; Green cube – Observer; White cone – Observer’s eye sight; Gray plane – Terrain
Angle in which the observer sees the composition layers. By changing this angle you’re able to adjust the perspective and depth of the scene.
Front Angle – This angle performs really good when composition layers are far from the observer, for instance hills on the horizon running straight up to the line of sight. When the layers differ from themselves it draws a nice depth. Compositions that are close to the observer can get flat and monotonous because of barely seen perspective.
Half-Front Angle – Angle on which perspective starts to be visible. Great angle to use in narrow spaces.
Half-Side Angle – Angle on which perspective performs its best. Most commonly used angle.
Side Angle – This angle perfectly shows the pattern running along with the distance. However, without a strong dominant and pattern this type of composition angle can be monotonous.
Red cube – Dominant; Green cube – Observer; White cone – Observer’s eye sight; Gray plane – Terrain
Building the composition is very simple when the observer is not able to move and he’s watching the composition elements that we want to show to him. Things are getting complicated when the observer can freely traverse through the scene. Compositions in video games can be watched from arbitrary angles and positions. You have to make sure that the player is able to reach the composition from places you’ve arranged.
To guide the player you can use choke point or funnel methods. Both are the types of corridor-like spaces where actually nothing special happens. Thanks to that boring tunnels we can be sure that the player is not focused on gameplay events or details. In such spaces player will just traverse along the path looking for interesting things. If you caught the player in such a corridor you can smoothly change its angle to guide the player to the composition’s dominant. This method works perfectly on linear levels, you’re able to design the composition’s frame and make sure that the player will see your composition as you wanted to. The place where player has to stand to see the composition is called the observation spot.
Funnel and observation spot
Monument with the screen and a skyscraper in the background – Half-Life 2
Red cube – Dominant; Green circle – Observation spot; Green cube – Observer; White cone – Observer’s eye sight; Gray plane – Terrain
Let’s look at the screenshot above. Screen and the tower in the background are perfectly fit with the line of roofs and the shape of a city square. This composition looks best when the player is leaving the train station (behind). A perfect observation angle is achieved by leading the player through the funnel – a door that is the only exit from the station.
On half-linear levels we need to worry about more than one observation spot. The composition should be built in a way that it will look appealing from every observation spot.
In Doom 3 BFG: Resurrection of Evil you can see how the designer took care about the composition. This dominant acts as a navigation helper and looks nice from every side.
On open world levels the observation spot gets really big so checking all the angles where players can observe the composition is very laborious. A composition can look perfect but when looked at different angle it can quickly turn it into mess. It’s hard to use small composition elements when you don’t know where the player will be coming from. Even then it’s possible to apply main composition rules like a standing out dominant, asymmetry and balance on the biggest elements in the composition. You can always pick a few main paths and build a composition that will work if seen from the selected observation spots on the main paths.
Funnels and three observation spots
Village composition in open world game – Skyrim
Red cube – Dominant; Green circle – Observation spots; Green cube – Observer; White cone – Observer’s eye sight; Gray plane – Terrain
Composition Elements’ Positioning
The position of the dominant can dramatically change the reception of the composition. That’s why it’s very important to follow a few basic rules to make sure that we’ll achieve the effect we wanted to. Painting or photography has a set of rules on how the composition should be build. You can pick the golden ratio or rabatment of rectangle rule as an aid.
Static (Symmetric) Composition – Dominant is set in the middle of the frame. Composition seem to be synthetic, made by human, clean. Use it when you want to highlight patterns or architecture.
Symmetric position of the dominant
Monument at the town square – symmetric composition – Bioshock: Infinite
Red cube – Dominant; Yellow cubes – Composition elements; Gray plane – Terrain
Dynamic (Asymmetric) Composition – Dominant is aside from the middle of the frame. The position set down by one of the positioning rules. Composition feels organic, made by nature, dirty. Use it to simulate nature scenes. Make sure that you leave a margin between a dominant and the edge of the screen.
Asymmetric position of the dominant
Asymmetric composition, a path to the castle – Dishonored
Red cube – Dominant; Yellow cubes – Composition elements; Gray plane – Terrain
Placement of composition elements is dictated by balance. In other words, the attractiveness of each object in the composition. More attractive objects will catch the observer’s attention. Too attractive or too heavy objects will create the feeling that the scene is simple and boring. To balance your scene you need to determinate what is the visual weight of each object is. I don’t mean the physical mass but its color brightness and intensity, size and detail. Visual weight is something that we all feel but not everyone can recognize it. Compare the elements’ parameters and you’ll be able to tell which objects are lighter and which are heavier.
Heavy visual weight – Large scale, detailed, dark color, intensive color, heavy contrast.
Light visual weight – Small scale, stark appearance, light color, soft color, light contrast.
Delineate a vertical line that will divide your composition into two pieces. Define the visual weight of your composition’s elements. Dominant should get the highest weight, small and faded elements should get the lowest. It means that the dominant’s heavy weight has to be equalized with a few low-weight elements on the other side of the composition. Move the objects around the composition’s frame to get the balance you want to achieve. You may want to have the visual weights equal on both sides or get a more aggressive composition by moving the weight close to the dominant or far from it.
Very asymmetric composition. You can see that the balance turns dramatically to the right side of the frame
Asymmetric and balanced composition. Notice that both sides are different but the visual balance is equal
Well balanced composition of the almost symmetric elements positioning and symmetric dominant
Red cube – Dominant; Yellow cubes – Composition elements; Gray plane – Terrain
Sometimes you’ll need to make sure that your composition’s dominant will get the attention it deserves. You can use a few additional tricks to catch the player’s eye.
The detail density method is based on a contrast of detailed and bland spaces. The detail-rich spots will get the player’s attention simply because there are things to watch. By detail you can consider a place where you’re using more objects or more rich textures. You can also use symbols, text, posters, graffiti, paintings and a figure to catch the player’s attention.
Silhouette of the man, detail density and text used to attract player – Bioshock: Infinite
Portraits of missing people attracts player to know the story of a place he’s exploring – Bioshock 2
Text banners used to inform player about the places he can explore – Rage
By setting elements of the composition to draw lines in certain directions we’re able to guide the player’s eye. We call it the leading lines. You need to emphasize those lines and set their direction. Even a small change of player’s position or camera angle can dramatically change the reception of the scene. There are two types of lines in the composition:
Practical lines – Visible lines drawn by edges and composition elements.
Virtual lines – Not obviously drawn on the composition but made by composition elements that draw directions like staffage’s line of sight. Those lines are drawn in our imagination. You can use that to enrich your composition and emphasize
The lines’ direction should calmly and softly flow through the scene in or with the dominant’s direction. That makes a feeling of harmony. Often the composition elements are set to draw a line that guides to the dominant but there are some open compositions where lines are softly led through the scene without showing the dominant. Those lines are mostly in Background or Foreground layers. Hard lines and edges are reserved for dominants or other important composition elements.
Horizontal Lines – Used to bring out breadth and depth to the scene. Static, stable and calm. Works perfectly on horizons. You can use it to build impressive, wide and monotonous scenes. Avoid using a lot of horizontal lines on foreground and center of interest layers. Even if you’re designing a parking lot you’ll need the cars and other object to break the parking’s horizontal line.
Horizontal sea line makes the scene feels calm – Dear Esther
Vertical Lines – Used to highlight the height and strength of the composition and create the impression of enormous size or monumental scale. You can use it for the objects that have to impress the players.
Vertical lines drawn by chimneys and edge of the yellow building supports leading line of the skyscraper – Half-Life 2
Curved Lines – I like to use a “Line of Beauty” term from landscape architecture for that. It’s a curvy “S” shaped serpentine that smoothly runs through the composition. It makes the composition feel soft and natural.
Curvy and wavy path line drawn by rocks – Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Angled Lines – Angled lines will give the impression of dynamic and active scene.
Inside collapsed tunnel – Fallout: New Vegas
You can use contrast and color saturation to catch the player’s eye. Color is one of the most important methods to communicate with a player. That communication is called the visual language. Picking an intense color or making heavy contrasts can make a big impact on your composition or on your level’s navigation. Make sure to pick a color that fits your color palette and that it won’t collide with the visual language of your game. Sometimes to catch the player’s eye you’ll need to pick a color that stands out a bit from the game’s color palette.
Barn color is completely different from other elements of composition. Still this color is well saturated and fits into the scene – Alan Wake
Intensive orange catwalk stairs used to navigate the player – Mirror’s Edge
Contrast between lit and shadowed surfaces builds the mood and depth of a scene. Composition without the contrast would be considered flat and boring. You can use light contrast to emphasize some of the composition’s elements by lighting the front of the objects or its silhouette to get a light glow around the object. The most important objects should be well lit, the rest of the composition’s elements should be covered with shadows or lights with smaller intensity. You shouldn’t invert that effect, players are mostly not accustomed to look at very dark spots to find something interesting. Make sure that there’s a visible difference of light intensity, color and direction. The light you’ve used to highlight an object should follow the art direction, color palette and scene lighting rules. With this method you can navigate the player to the exit doors or show him an item to pick up.
Strong light used to show beautiful horizon and emphasize the depth – Rage
Color and light used to guide player through the corridor – Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Silhouette used to emphasize the composition. Blue light is used to make the stature readable – Bioshock: Infinite
Bigger composition elements will get more attention than the rest of the scene. Objects that are all the same size will make an impression of a flat and chaotic scene. You can change each object’s proportions so the bigger objects will catch the player’s eye. That could be the large radar dish on the top of a mountain or a skyscraper. Such an object will always stand out from the scenery. You can also invert that rule. The most important object in a composition could be the smallest but it’s a bit risky. The big elements cover a bigger screen space and get attention more naturally.
Giant building construction that gets player’s attention – Crysis 3
Chimneys are catching player’s eye, an electric poles are leading the player to the city – Fallout 3
You can make your dominant stronger by adding moving elements to your composition. It could be a flag, smoke, fire, bird or walking human.
Smoking steam train as the only moving element in the composition – Sniper Elite V2
Keep your composition consistent on every layer.
You can blend the foreground layers with other layers (roads, object placement).
Give the player a few seconds to notice, analyze and understand the composition.
If the dominant is above the observer’s line of sight you can build the scarp or stairs. On a slanted terrain the player will naturally look up and notice the dominant.
Composition needs space. Watch for narrow streets and buildings. If it’s too close to each other there will be no way to set up an observation point.
Use one composition theme and avoid telling to many stories at a time.
Dominants should be well lit, detailed and colored. Background and foreground areas should get less detail and color.
Too weak dominants or too chaotic compositions will quickly lose the player’s attention.
Scale down the objects on a background layer to imitate that the objects are further away than they really are.
Keep the player’s interest on only one thing a time. Make sure that after the fight there’s always time to take a breath and admire the view.
There’s nothing wrong with compositions that don’t fit in the observer’s field of view. Just make sure that the dominant isn’t hidden in the corner or behind an object.
A lot of games are using different Field of View (FOV) angles. For First Person Perspective (FPP) games the FOV angles oscillate from 60 to 100 degrees. The higher the angle is the more you can see in the FOV but objects will get smaller and the scene will give the impression of being stretched.
If you’ll plan too many composition layers it may get too messy, the composition elements can get really chaotic.
It’s easier to fit the composition into existing gameplay than break the gameplay just to have a nice view for a moment.