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.


  • David Edwards

    Nice! 🙂

  • Kevin

    Love reading your blog and seeing the creative process you have. Also your blog reminds me how much I suck at 3DS Max! Still a beginner though. It’ll come with practice!

  • Alex Delderfield (ADEdge)

    Cool post!
    This is the kind of detail missing in most games, it can be very important indeed.

    I played Dear Esther over the weekend, and the one thing I noticed about the entire game, is that everything feels *REAL*.
    As your walking around, you find yourself in environments where things have happened, prior to you arriving. Both the environment and the narration to the game amplify this.

    But you really know a game is something else, when you walk into a building, and you feel like your walking into someone elses home. You feel like they could be nearby watching, or completely unaware that your in their house.
    Theres also a little shed nearby, with some used medical equipment nearby, its spooky, and feels real because someone has been there, recently, doing something – it makes your mind race to think what could have happened as you find the blood splatters and tiniest little objects scattered around, your only witness to fragments of some more global *past* event… And then theres the other details scattered about. Finding the little objects in far off places, the bits of broken car wedged between rocks at the beach down below the cliffs… And so on.
    Basically, these details are crucial in making a game seriously feel real and ‘lived in’, its great to hear your doing the same Chris.

  • http://www.stasisgame.com Chris

    I’ve heard both good and bad things about Dear Esther. Ill admit that Im quite intrigued by the ‘interactive novels’ that are coming out, where puzzle is almost non existent, and story is the absolute main focus. To The Moon is another example.

    I gotta say that when you give each room a story, it really helps. Im always reminded of things like the Mary Celeste being found with the dinner tables still set, but nobody on board-or how skeletons have been found on sunken ships tied to chairs, or hiding in cupboards. It really adds an element of ‘freaky’ to know that in this place, in the last moments, people were HERE…LIVING.

  • Bill Briba

    Wow. Your blog is something like a big and ongoing tutorial for starters. Can you please give us some details about your arsenal?(apart from visionaire and obviously 3dsmax)

  • gikkio

    CAN’T WAAAAIT!!! 🙂

  • JimF

    Hi what pen do you use for the concept sketching?

    Love your work BTW. I’m a programmer looking to learn a little bit on art creation so these types of blogs are really great.