Level Design 2

I think its important when things make sense. Ive spoken before about level design before ( http://www.stasisgame.com/building-spaceships-the-hawking/ ) and making sure things work in a connected way.

Here is another example of that, and also a little glimpse into how I plan out and design the different areas of the game.

Each area starts out with the game script. A written description of the area, and how it sits in the story. When I wrote the game script, I kept the writing very ‘fluid’ , and reads very much a story treatment for a film, or a novel. There is nothing specifically ‘game related’ in the game script-its JUST the story.

From the script, I go into each area of the game, and design the flow of the rooms. I really want things to feel interconnected. If you enter one room, and leave through another door, where does that door go? Where does that corridor lead? Does the placement of the elevator shaft make sense in relations to the floors above and below? Now its important to note that quite a bit of this detail is ‘invisible’. The player will never notice where the elevator shaft enters and exits, but I think that on a subconscious level, if things aren’t flowing properly, it can take you out of the experience.

This is something I worked on this weekend, specifically ‘Crew Deck 14 F’.

From the hand drawn sketch, I fire up MAX, and build a very quick proxy of the area. Each room is represented by a simple square, and a label. I set up really quick cameras for each room, and position the cameras so that I can see how each room exists in relation to each other. This also allows me to add in the doors, and check that the flow of the particular area is working.

Then I start working on the bases for each area. Floors, walls, doors, etc. The advantage of working on multiple rooms at the same time is that I can very easily share assets in the scene. There are 2 Sleep Blocks which share assets. To double up the rooms, I just copied the completed room over, and started to alter the layout.

Once the floors and walls are in, I can start to add in the details in the rooms. Blood, bodies, papers, screens….

Interestingly, when I first to the layouts of the room, I start off creating the room as it would exist in its most ‘pristine’ state, and then I start to mess it up. I try to keep the flow of the story with the rooms. If there was some sort of carnage, where did it start? Would most of the damage be concentrated by the doors? Wouldn’t the surrounding rooms hear what was going on? If they did, would they have baricaded themselves into their room, or gone out to investigate? If they barricaded the room, what would they use? Would the dead bodies still be in the room? If they aren’t, where are they?

As I said before, I think that many of these details are invisible. They aren’t noticed by the player directly, but they all come together to create a believable world for the player to explore!

 Then comes detailing, lighting, and colour correction. And here is one of the finished rooms, without any interaction elements rendered out (opening doors, steam, flickering screens, etc). Once all of the rooms in the area are completed, I go to each one and start inserting the puzzle elements into them.


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Here are 2 interviews that have recently gone live about STASIS.



TechZwn: The game looks great. It’s good to see an isometric adventure game. I’m curious why you chose this route when everyone else seems to be going for first-person games or side views for adventure games – what effect do you hope to create though it?

Bischoff: I have always loved Isometric games. I remember playing through Diablo, just to revisit some of the cities and areas. The old Black Isle RPG’s, like Baldurs Gate, and the iconic Fallout series really are some of the my favourite games.
While I know that many Adventures Games opt for an ‘In the action’ first person, or a side on view, I think that isometric graphics have a certain sense of scale about them. You can get your character to feel like a small part of a big world.

TechZwn: Just going by the first images and video from Stasis, you’ve done a good job creating the atmosphere, but we’re still left guessing about what the player will really encounter. You mention on the website there is “danger lurking in every shadow.” Can you talk about this a bit? How will this go along with the adventure mechanics?

Bischoff: I have really tried to keep the story a secret-which is quite difficult when talking about a genre that is very much built around the story! Ive found in many games that they really try to put you into the thick of things as fast as possible. It works in action games-but in an Adventure Game, I think that the slow build up is where the genre can set itself apart from others. Seeing something move in another room…reading a mysterious report….hearing someone being dragged screaming through a corridor.

The encounters in Stasis are linked to the story-so to get into just WHAT those dangers are would really give away to much! That said, The Groomlake, as a medical research platform, is filled with failed experiments, and science gone unchecked – from genetically altered fungus, and insect swarms to sentient computers and research into black holes.
Mechanics wise, I think that Adventure Games are the perfect vehicle for Survival Horror games. You have no weapons…no armour. You can only rely on your knowledge of the environment, and your wits to survive.

TechZwn: The game looks really unique. I’m curious what your inspirations are, and what elements from them you hope to build on with Stasis.

Bischoff: I’ve always loved Science Fiction. Anything from comic books, novels, films, computer games. The inspirations for Stasis are almost to numerous to mention! The obvious ones that share some DNA with Stasis are Alien, Aliens, and Event Horizon. Infact, I have tried to design many of the ships and vehicles in the game with the intention of them looking like filmed miniatures!

Story wise, I studied the pacing of two of my favorite game series, Deadspace, and Bioshock. The way that stories are dealt with in games, compared to movies or novels, is vastly different. I really think that those two series have come the closest to a ‘film’ experience, while using the advantages of the game as a medium. They are also beautiful games, where the developers have put as much attention to the world that the player exists in, as they have the other aspects of the game.

Graphically, Im inspired by everything from Doom, to Fallout, Commandoes, Planescape Torment, Star Control…all of those games have left their mark on me. I have a very large collection of ‘art of’ books, and directories FULL of screen shots from these games. Inspiration is never to far off.

TechZwn: You mention on the website, that “At its core, Stasis is a story about an ordinary man, in an extraordinary situation.” This sounds interesting. Could you explain this – what kind of story do you hope to weave?

Bischoff: John (the character you play), is not a wise cracking, ass kicking marine. He isnt a kitted out engineer. He isnt a genetically altered clone, He is a fragile, scared man, with a drive to save his family. Whenever someone is asked the question “How far would you go to save someone you loved?”, the answer is usually “As far as I need to” – and that makes for compelling stories! I really wanted to tell a story from *my* perspective. What if I woke up, in an unfamiliar place, and couldnt find my family.
Story wise, the game has 2 separate threads, that weave together. The search for your family and the search for the truth about The Groomlake, Those stories however cross over into each other, driving each other forward.

The puzzles in the game really reflect this. You aren’t going to be able to hack into a security system, but you are going to be able to beat a camera with a wrench. Need to stop a conveyor belt? Jam a crowbar into it. Something is following you? Hide!

TechZwn: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Bischoff: Stasis is a complete labour of love. Its a 1 man production through an through, from music, sound design, and graphics to the planning and puzzles. The amount of support that I have gotten from the community has been amazing. At the end of the day, I’m really making a game that I would like to play. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience so far, and I know it can only go from strength to strength!




Szymon Liebert: First of all, can you introduce yourself and your team?

Chris Bischoff: Stasis is very much a one man game. I am doing everything from the game design to the sound and animation.

Szymon Liebert: Why did you decided to make this particular type of game?

Chris Bischoff:For a very long time, I really wanted to create films. I got into 3D animation and illustration with the purpose of telling stories. But my ideas were always outstripped by budgets! Adventure games are very unique in that they are very story driven. They provide a fantastic platform for someone like me, who has grand ideas!

Szymon Liebert: It seems that we’ll be all alone in the game. What are the main themes of the story?

Chris Bischoff: Being alone is a big theme of the game-but essentially the main spine through the game is ‘how far would you go to save your family?’ There are also quite a few other things stemming from the story. Questions about the moral implications of science, about what happens when ethical boundaries are crossed. All of this is wrapped around a story of conspiracy, and an unlikely friendship between two survivors.

Szymon Liebert:There’s not many modern isometric adventure games. How does that change the whole experience?

Chris Bischoff: The perspective doesnt really alter any aspects of the gameplay. The choice of being Isometric came down to a personal decision. I just really love the perspective!

Szymon Liebert: Obviously you have a lot futuristic technological stuff in the game. Is realism important here or are you allowed to just do whatever you want?

Chris Bischoff: I think there is a thin line to balance when dealing with Science Fiction in games. I really love SciFi from the 1980’s. Everything had a very gritty, real feel about it. A gun was a gun. A car was a car. There werent many fantastical elements to it all. Ive tried to keep that ‘grounded’ reality in the game. There are no magical technobable ways out of some of the situations. You are also playing as a normal man. Not a scientist, or an engineer…not as someone who has an inate understanding of the super technical. If you are going to stop a machine, you don’t reprogram it, you jam a wrench in it.

I think that art without limitations can often create many issues. Working within prescribed ‘rules’ is very important. When designing the story for Stasis, I wrote the backstory for the universe first-and have tried to stick to those rules – that framework – as much as I can.

Szymon Liebert:How does Emergency Medical Kit work? Is it just a typical tool to combine items or something more?

Chris Bischoff: Its really just an answer to the question in Adventure Games of just how deep a characters pockets can get! It works in the exact same way as any Adventure Game inventory system works, just with a bit of ‘in game reality’. That said, the ‘rules’ for the EMK are in place…items cannot be to big. You arent going to be stuffing in any ladders or cars into there.

Szymon Liebert: Old school adventures games were often a bit hard and abstractive. What’s your take on this aspect of a game in Stasis?

Chris Bischoff:When doing the puzzle design of Stasis, keeping it grounded to the practical has been a major guiding light. All of the puzzles in the game have been designed from the point of ‘Would it work?’ ‘Does it make sense?’. There are going to be no ‘cat moustaches made from honey’ type puzzles in the game. I really see puzzles as a way to explore the world, and get deeper into the game-not just as a way to stop the player from moving to the next area.

Szymon Liebert: I personally love IDM and ambient music and your art style. What are you inspirations and goals here?

Chris Bischoff: Movies! As I said, SciFi from the 80’s has always been a major influence on me. Alien, and Aliens are my two favorite films, bordering on an obsession! Im making a game that I would love to play. At the end of the day, everything from the art, sound, and music is harkens back to that love of Science Fiction.

Szymon Liebert: I know that it’s early to ask those, but can you specify any of those: release date, platforms, the length of the game or plans for post-launch content?

Chris Bischoff: Right now, I have no concrete release date. As for platforms, at the moment it will be a PC exclusive, but the aim is to have it ported to PC, Mac, and the Ipad upon release.

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The 3 Day Cinematic.

Someone asked on CGTalk if it was possible to create a cinematic sequence in 3 Days. Of course the answer is no…unless you are the type of person who decides to create an entire game on your own.

So I took the weekend off from STASIS (Horrible, I know!), and set about trying to create a cinematic sequence of reasonable quality. This was my result:

Here is the link to the finished product. Please watch in HD!

And here is a timelapse of the creation of some of the sequences…

Now its back to SciFi!


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