Friday, 29 November 2013

Elements of Game Design, part seven: Level Design

 In a game, levels are important. Like, really important. They’re what everything else is placed in or onto. Without levels, you just have assets. Because levels are so important, it’s no surprise that level design is such a complex process when it comes to creating a good game.

In most games, levels are designed and built depending on the storyline and plan of the game itself. However, with free-roam, open world games; you will usually have one very large “world”, maybe with the addition of more, smaller maps if a narrative demands it.

Like a drawing, painting or any 2D piece, a level would be built up in layers and processes; through development stages and construction stages. The game design pipeline will be followed throughout, running through initial concepts to early builds and white boxes of the map to see if it works for what the run through of the game requires. When it actually comes to finalising the map and adding assets, these will be built up like a painting in order to make the level look real. From graffiti on the wall to a tank on fire while sitting in a destroyed wall, these details, big or small really add depth and believability within the levels.

When looking at open world games, the environment has to draw the player in wherever they may be in the game world. It has to give the visual and aesthetic feel of what it is representing. An urban, city environment such as the recent GTA:V needs to make each part of the city different and entertaining in some way, but retain the immersion of being in an LA-like American city. This can also backfire on some developers however. Take Team Bondi for example: LA Noire had a large, open-world map between single player levels. Being and impressive and visually interesting 1950’s setting it almost felt like it was there to cover up a much smaller game. There was no fast travel, meaning you had to drive through the city, usually to very far off objectives. The only thing that the open world was good for was to find collectibles, cars and occasionally help at a random crime reported on the radio. This, in my opinion shows lack of polish when finalising the game and although GTA is similar, it gives you lots of things to complete around the whole world. Be it side missions, random encounters or simply buying and upgrading cars and clothes.

Following the pipeline process, levels are usually white boxed or mapped out to give a visual idea of how a level will look and play out. This is an important part of level design as it looks at how the level can and will be played, where the player can go and reach and how. It also explores the practicality of certain visual and technical parts of the map. To make the map in the way it is planned for story or mechanical purposes could change its look and asset positioning. This may be to give the level enough spacing. This is space between different events; giving the “tempo” to the game if you like. If too much happens at once and too quickly, then the player will feel overwhelmed and rushed. Too little to do *cough* LA Noire *cough* and you will find the player getting bored and uninterested.

Level design is very important when it comes to game creation. It’s not just about the look and feel of it, but the way the whole map plays. If it is done right, you have a stunning game which is both good looking and interesting, making you want to play more. Do it even slightly wrong and you could lose focus from the player all together.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Elements of Game Design, part six: Visual Composition

In art, composition is a paramount understanding in the way artistic principals pull together to create an image. This can be seen in almost every master artist’s pieces; from those in history all the way to modern artists. Composition is like the ingredients to a cake; you can have all the right ingredients, but put them together in the wrong order and you won’t be having a slice.

Without composition, things in the scene can look “wrong” or out of place. On my course, this is something that you can’t afford to get wrong as you are trying to draw the viewer into the setting and make them lose focus of reality. You can’t make this happen without everything portraying the same genre, story and scope. For instance, you wouldn’t see a car in one of Da Vinci’s paintings, as it just wouldn’t be expected there and cars didn’t exist in his time. A lot of composition also therefore comes down to a good general knowledge of what is being created. If a concept piece is being drawn for a first person shooter set in the future, you would need to know what the weapons, clothing and environment look like or are based on.

Obviously a lot of artwork comes down to the imagination, which can even be noticed in some historical artwork. But the understanding of how things work in the world; the weight, the scale, reflectivity, etc. is vital in making a piece “belong”. However, composition can involve less if needed and can largely come down to the way in which light is used in the scene or how “ingredients” are positioned/mixed together. An example may come from looking at the rule of thirds and the rule of odds. The rule of odds suggests that people find an odd number of subjects look much more natural and less ordered as opposed to an even number. This is because humans pick out patterns in nature, and if a pattern is spotted the illusion can sometimes be lost. That being said, the rule of thirds helps to position the piece. Based on the golden mean (1:1.618) this understanding of division within the picture can help to naturally frame the subject of the piece and makes it much more visually interesting.

When we look at composition in 3D space, be it in a game level or when modelling and texturing a character, these rules still have to apply. A level must be built up using all the correct assets, putting them in space where they belong as well as giving them purpose. It would be no good making one long street and having the same building everywhere you look, with a tree in the middle of the road, it just looks out of place. It’s the small details which add to the composition. If you can affect the silhouette of something enough, it can look unique. Too much and it doesn’t belong. This has to be taken into account when putting a level together.