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.