dimanche 12 février 2012
samedi 12 novembre 2011
- There weren't a lot of programs in school to learn the craft of level design.
- Most programs were really expensive, if you would find them, and most were targeted towards artists learning to model or sketch...
- there was a limited number of companies in Montreal
- There was a limited number of software packages to create content as there are today( UDK for example)
The only way I could see to get in the industry was to become an AI programmer through different programs in school and work as a programmer until I could do the switch to design which was my ultimate dream. Adding Philosophy studies to my studies as well to have a different set of tools for a future employer to consider me.
Yes this combination of majors might sound weird and unusual, but philosophy is about reasoning about things in life and programming is about logic and structure kinds makes sense in some ways. Most importantly though, all designers Ive met in my career have really different backgrounds. I havent met a lot of designers who came from the same path to reach their goal.
Having different skills is actually a bonus for companies to hire someone different that will bring a new perspective on the game they are working on. Architecture,English Litt, Psychology, Computer Science, Maths, Arts are some of those skills that designers have.
In the last 2 years, we have seen a lot of game design programs be added to different universities and professional schools teaching the basics of what you need to learn. Even some high schools and primary schools are getting interested in those programs since children are excited about those and learn more easily while they are having fun and using technologies to learn. This is good news for the future of game development.
So yes, those programs are good ways to get in the industry, but you must also do more! Since more and more people will get the education, the market will get smaller to get in as companies need some talent they also need people with experience, who have done some games... Couple of things to do to differentiate yourselves from the rest:
- An easy one: have a passion for games, play them all the time, play all sorts of games and get to know ingredients and mechanics that those games are using for future references and learn the language if possible.
- Learn to work with some of those game packages out there that lets you create levels free and usually come with tutorials. Unreal kit, farCry2 kit, Unity, XNA, etc... Make levels using those and even games since those packages are easy enough to create new things without having programming skills or art skills since they offer material to start with.
- Learn and use 3D programs such as Maya and 3D Studio Max to create levels, objects...you will need to use them to create basic levels and gameplay when you get hired anyways
- Learn to use Illustrator and Photoshop which will be needed to create visual documents for your future maps
- If you create a level, also write up a level design document which includes moment to moment gameplay explanation that will show your reasoning and you thoughts behind each area. Dont create useless areas because it doesnt show the focus of your design and seems loose.
- (again)Play games relevant to the company you apply at. (mostly for interview moments)
Another way to get in a Design role is to get a job as a Tester/QA in a game company. As you work in this job, apply yourself in doing your job as best you can, work hard, learn from others(since you have access to all the different roles), use the tools the designers work with during your time off (if you have any), ask questions, talk to designers about their job, ask the company if you can do more and help the designers (some basic tasks designers dont have time to do such as placing collectable items for example, will put you in a good spot to learn tools and get seen by other designers and most importantly the leads). Well written documents and working efficiently in your tasks will show your professionalism and your willingness to achieve what you want.
A lot of great designers come from a Tester position before becoming a full fledged designer.
Learn, Apply yourself, Play games, Play games, Show your knowledge and make maps to show your potential!
Everybody wants to be a designer or thinks he is a designer(by the thinking that everybody has ideas) so it is hard to get in or even being recognised as a designer, but it is feasible to get in if you work hard.
(Be prepared for your interview as well...maybe a next post)
dimanche 30 octobre 2011
dimanche 25 septembre 2011
So ive been to Hawaii and to Chicago this summer for two different reasons.
Hawaii to relax after a long crunch period on Space Marine and to lie down on beaches and discover the amazing scenary of Maui. It was a great time and everything there is amazing and relaxing so it was just perfect :)
I went to Chicago mainly to go to Lollapalooza which was celebrating its 20th anniversary of existence. This festival is just the best festival ive ever been to.
Its so well organized with fast water filling stations, stages facing each other to make sure that people at the main stages will never have to wait, the variety of food options was just really impressive from organic farmer market options, to vegetarian products to normal fast food but with many options too!
Also the little shops, merch tents and shade areas were everywhere.
It was soooooo hot in Chicago and it was hard to go through the 3 days with that temperature, but I made it and it was painful at some point, but the festival ended in a muddy field thanks to the torrential rain that pourred during the last hours of the festival and during the Foo Fighters' show.
Obviously, the groups were there as well ;) There was so many bands, so many were really good and it was hard to see all the ones I wanted to see so I had to walk around a lot and I missed part of shows to see some bits of others. I discovered a lot of new bands and im adding them to my discography :)
Moreover, I left the great company I worked for the last year, Relic Entertainment, and decided to join Slant Six Games to work on Resident Evil. That should be an interesting time ... such a great IP to play and work on...just amazing :)
so i will write again in the coming month to continue my Level Design series.
lundi 4 juillet 2011
Level Designers: What do they do?
In missions/objectives oriented games, the level designers are the developpers with the best opportunity to create a bond with the players by offering them an experience they will remember for a long time and possibly create emotions that are stronger than anything else they will experience in any other form of entertainment. If level designers succeed, players will come back to the games they enjoyed and play their sequels or other games from the same studio. One of the main attraction to work as a level designer is that your work will be directly experienced by players because this is really what they see,play, enjoy or hate.
Level designers are ultimately responsible to create the gameplay, make sure the game is fun, create a unique experience, make sure the players feel involved and find ways to deliver the story that was created; through different means that we will explore here.
To be able to bring all those qualities to a game or a level/map, level designers have to be creative to find what to do in the context of the story, but they also have to work with pretty much every other department to be able to combine the script, art, sound, lighting,game mechanics and AI to really create something memorable.
Creating the gameplay, the technical steps
When level designers(LDs) start to think about the next level to be created, they will have to read the script of the area to be designed, take out the most interesting details and organize a general thought of what can be done. As a level designer I usually do some research on the web to find ideas of interesting structures(Castle,Fortress,Army bases, etc...), natural formation and outdoor environments that will give me different ideas to create something that is architecturally sound, could be made and could represent something fun to play. Obviously, I will adapt the areas to create gameplay that makes sense for the game.
LDs usually create the space in 2D on paper (thats what i do first) or in professional drawing programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator or some go directly in 3D using SketchUp to draw and organize a space fast to form a general idea of the gameplay and show other people on the team. Documentation should be kept at a minimum(1-2 pages), precise and to the point, with indications of whats going on and combined with a list of required mechanics or elements that will be used.
Creating the space in 3D once the sketch was approved or once you feel it will be working using all the mechanics that you will need will be your next step. You dont have to create something beautiful but mostly functional. What does this mean? You want to create a feel for the space, appropriate widths and heights for the rooms, then block out the rest of the game space using even cube if its works. You should have dimensions set for cover objects, corridors, space dimensions for combat or walking around so that you wont have to redo or measure every cube every time. Then Play! Just walk around see how it feels. It needs to look like everything would fit in your universe and not out of proportions.
If the space feels right and you actually have interactive objects or enemies working, place them in the space you just created it will help you to flesh things out better. You should be able to feel the space. Play, fix, play and fix again until all is perfect. It might be a long process, but you'll get it or ask people to test your level...it's good to use others opinion.
Creating the gameplay, the fun and unique experience
[Note: I dont pretend to be the best or know it all, since I learn every day new things, techniques, new ways to make everything i do better by working in collaboration with the best game developpers in the world. Everyone on a team can bring something new to the table because everyone has a different background in this industry...there are no 2 people with the same background in the game business]
As you create the spaces for your level, you will obviously be thinking about the gameplay and what will make the level fun and unique and we will explore some elements that will make it so. The process of finding what will make this special is thinking about the universe your game is set in, thinking about the different mechanics available to you and thinking about combining some to create something new, fresh and shows a progression from other levels set before, prototyping scenarios or gameplay features that could be implementing/reused by others, but also talking to other members of the team from different departments to see what they can deliver to you to make your awesome level even remotely possible. If you're thinking about making a scary level with shadows all over the place to scare the player or let him believe that bigger things are coming ahead, but the team doesnt have the technology or doesnt plan to develop anything for it, then you would need to change some of the details you wanted or be creative with your tools to have something that will have the same effect. So the goal here is to create a wishlist of things you would need and talk to the appropriate people on your team to make it happen.
To create the gameplay to be fun and unique will depend on the type of games that you are making and what the narrative wants to convey, but there are "recipes" or little touches that can make your game better and less linear for players to experience.
- Through the progression of your game, you will be using different mechanics for the players to use and progress. There is always a limited set of those mechanics so it is useful that as the game progress you combine the different mechanics as the player gets better at the game to try and make the gameplay different even if you are using two mechanics that were used before, but seperately. Now you can use a combination of both to increase the challenge or make it a new experience. (an example from Prince Of Persia would be to use the freeze mechanics to freeze waterfalls so you can go up to a new area then have the player unfreeze the water to pass the next obstacle and refreeze to grab ledge made of water.)
- To let players choose how to act in a given fighting space, you will need to have the space constructed in a way that they can see the enemies before they see them, they can see what the enemies are doing, they can see the main objective of the space clearly and they can see the different ways into the space. As an example in Deus Ex, you can use a ladder to go on a higher level than the enemies then get the drop on them or you can access a shaft which will let you sneak behind the enemies and kill them that way or you can blast through forward and use different cover objects to protect yourself and kill them. The important thing is to be able as a player to see the options available to make a good decision for yourself and later try something new if it didnt work the way you wanted to play the level. If you want the player to feel insecure, scared or you want to surprise them so they have a fast reaction to something going on, then you wouldnt want to show what is ahead and make it more small corridors or dark until you decide to throw something at them. It all depends how you want the players to feel in a given area or moment of the game.
- When creating multiple fighting areas, you can use the following "tricks" to make a space feel different to a player even though you are using the same shapes as before, but having the player coming from a different way into the space will offer a new perspective: a) Have the player come from the first floor of a two story space into a space where the enemies are on the same level as them. b) Have the player come the first floor of a two story building, but this time with the enemies on the second floor shooting down at the player. This time the player will feel scared, will have to move around fast to get into cover, will also feel more stressed by this situation since he doesnt have a good vantage point on those enemies and the player wont be certain about the number of enemies around, what they are planning, what kind of weapons they have or where they are located. c) Having the player enter the same space from the second level where the enemies are located below him and doing their own patrols or interacting with the environment will have a different impact on how the player will proceed. The player will feel a lot more powerful since he can see the units, their patrols and he will be the one deciding how to prepare and when to start the attack on them. d) another decision to take into consideration when create a fight scene is to decide if the enemies know about the player coming so they are already alerted and prepared( behind covers, their ai in shoot on sight mode,...) or having the enemies relaxed and doing patrols or random interactions will have a huge impact on the players take on this space. e) Having the enemies set in different space planes will also create something new for players even if its the same space built. By that I mean have the enemies attack on an horizontal plane so on the same level where the player can shoot left and right to kill everyone versus having the enemies attacking on a vertical plane where the player will have to shoot up and down will be a different experience.
- Setting up your encounters differently in each encounter, having a good progression(not sending all your units in a melting pot), having a distinct feel to each wave and using the environment to its maximal potential are good ways to make the game more enjoyable in all its small arenas. Consequently, when players are fighting your encounters they must be able to come up with a strategy of their own to defeat the waves you throw at them. They can do so if they see the options easily in the environment which give them the advantage, but most importantly here they must be able to make out which units are coming their way. They must be able to distinguish them and analyse which weapon or mechanic to use to pass the challenge coming their way. Hence, you should not really send on the small plane of play melee units which run towards them and units shooting at them since they will panic and wont be able to attack the more dangerous units shooting from distance. Unless the space is made such that the range units would be elevated or separate themselves from the group easily or if the units have a really different color type,doing so would not be advisable in early levels anyways. Moreover, organising the encounter using units that go together or complement each other is a good way to show off the variety of enemies and also shows their relationship to each other in your universe. Combining units that make sense together is a good progression idea after you have shown these units using their unique ability individually to the players.
- How to end your encounters? There are some elements you always want to have that will tell the player that it is same to go on since the encounter is over such as always having a big finale using your biggest unit thrown in at the end (like fireworks), having a door open up in a closed area with no one coming or setting the last couple of guys coming in reinforcement through a door that was closed before, activating an interactible object to "green" at the end of the fight so players know they have to interact with it to go on, having an special event occur that kills the last enemy or destroys an element that was preventing the player to go forward, having another character call in on the radio letting you know the space is safe or having a light come on to show the player the way out.
- Dividing the fighting spaces is important. As I said before it is good to show players what is coming ahead, but dividing the spaces into distinct areas with different functions will make your players understand the space better and how to overcome the challenge will make the experience less frustrating than have a big clustered area that will be confusing to advance forward. Usually, I am dividing the space in 3 areas. The first is located at the entrance(for the player) of the area where there will be some cover objects or a way for the player to move forward from the door to let the player BE in the space and begin the fight when he is ready. Let the player in. In the first area, he will have the options to rest, move around, acknowledge the enemy movements and decide to engage the way he desires. The second area is usually the no man's land where the fight will mostly happen and where it is more dangerous to advance to since the enemy will see the player and attack, but faster to progress to the objective or exit of the area. The third area will represent the main objective, the exit or where the enemies are located or entering the space. Accessing this area as fast as possible will let players advance and avoid more fighting which will be rewarding, but is more dangerous. This doesnt necessarily make it more fun, but will make the space less frustrating to players since he will be able to understand what is going on.
- A good way to find new ideas to make the levels feel unique and fresh is to do research with other games, getting inspired by other mediums such as music, movies, books and boardgames where you will find good ways to combine with your existing ideas and there is nothing wrong with getting inspired by other things you do in life. ;)
Creating the gameplay, delivering the narrative and making the player feel involved in the story
Usually games have a story to tell which is divided throughout the levels. Elements of the story can represent dialogs between characters or with the player, movies showing a scene that players have to see to understand the story which will fill the gap of the dialogs in game which takes place somewhere else or at another time, a way to introduce some new units doing something in the world, music which gives an insight into an event or a character, sounds representing the landscape or the emotion of a character or a city after an event or even showing an event happening where the player is right now; the main goal is usually to push the player to some emotional responses that will make him engaged in the story and the universe.
There are many ways that games use to deliver the narrative and most of designers are still pushing to find more interactive ways to make the players involved so its in constant evolution and researched constantly in hope of finding the ultimate ways to reach players, but here is a small group of those options that are used:
- Cinematics are used to present the story in a non-interactive way to the player who will be able to watch the story unfold so he will understand the events going on around him or that happened as a prequel to the current events. Using a cinematic to tell a story is useful because you can show exactly what you want to the player using your camera with the perfect angle to show the events and using all the processes the movie industry is using to create their masterpiece. Doing so you ensure(to a point) that the player is watching what you want him to watch and listen to what you want him to listen. Unfortunately, using cinematics in games also means you are removing the controls from the player and that breaks the immersion aspects of the game. Moreover, in most games in the last couple of years, there is an option for players to skip the cinematics entirely so they can continue playing the game without pauses which renders your efforts almost useless in the end. So use them, but its better to find another way more connected to the game.
- Scripted sequences with camera cut are used to present an element of your story using a camera cut that his happening as the player enters a space or after an action the player has performed. This process is useful because it will show the players something they will find interesting and it will give them the right angle to look at the event, but once again we remove the controls from the players hands to show something. This is less problematic than using a cinematic because it breaks the immersion on a smaller scale since it is only for a couple of seconds and the player's character stays in the same space. I find it useful to show off new units(the first time they appear) and skills to players so they know who appeared and what they can do so players can find a new strategy to beat the unit. Also, it is great to use to show a special moment such as a destruction of a structure opening a space or showing the way to move forward.
- Scripted sequences without camera cut are used to create movements in the space, as a destruction in the space, a special event that only happens once in a while or to create a moment of tension. Basically, it is anything that is animated and we want to show the players movement in the space without stopping the player from playing the game. As an example, an helicopter flies-by shoots at some structure which explodes and falls in front of the player to block his path. Using this technique you dont break the immersion in fact you help put an emphasis that the world is alive around the player, but you cant make sure that the player is looking at the event directly so he might only can the last glimpse of the action which is sad if you wanted to create a wow moment. Some players will see them and the others will never understand what happened behind them ... why is there a platform blocking the way now?
- Music is used as a way to create emotions in players while they are playing. It can create tension as in Dead Space, it helps to relax as in Flower, it tells that there are enemies around in the fight as in Space Marine, it helps to create a momentum in games and etc... Using music is an essential part of the games and creates a lot of immersion and emotion in players. Music is an excellent way to keep the tension in a space where nothing is happening and without any enemies which creates a bigger impact on the player in the end.
- Sound FX are used throughout games to help direct the players to the next area, the next objectives, to move the player towards an event happening close to him, to attract players basically where you want them to move and to distract them. Used marvelously in Dead Space. Sound FX can be used to keep the tension high even if nothing is really happening in the space which is a great way to surprise to player in the end as done in Dead Space.
- Lighting can be used to light up an area obviously, but can be used to attract the players where we want them to go or look at so we can pretend they will look at it and we can send enemies there or use a scripted event in that direction or hope they find the path to the next objective/area following the light. Dynamic lighting can be used in stealth games to show players enemies coming towards them or useing shadows to hide themselves from enemies or show them an event using the light and without showing the real action as in Splinter Cell 3 which is a lot cooler than showing something that might not look as good technically if shown in front of the player.
- Speech between allies in the space or using radio communications is another interesting way to tell the story without breaking the immersion and helps to create a sense that the world is living around your player's character and current location. If the player is playing with the volume on, he will hear what we are trying to communicate to him so there is no problem with the camera not looking in the same direction or anything like that. So speech can be used to tell elements of the story, which way to go next by giving directions using elements in the map or pointing out enemies coming towards the player or attacking the allies around him. Some people think that giving a voice to your character might break the illusion that the player is playing himself in a space, but i believe its way better since it gives some personality to your character and can create so much more to the universe and the player's experience.
- a Living world is an important aspect of more and more games lately because it creates some activity in the world and it helps to create a believable world to the game. It consists of having non-playable characters interacting with each other, NPCs interacting with their environment, NPCs interacting with the player when he passes by, having objects react to natural elements (such as water,wind) or using ads in a space shows that there is normal life around. Deus Ex is a good example of this. This will help for immersion in the world, but also tells a story about what kind of world the player is in.
- Maps and markers can be important to help player's move in the space so they should not be stuck and get frustrated by not finding the way to the next objectives. Moreover, if we use names of places on the map it also adds to the believability of the world. Markers can be used as a point in the space or part of the HUD to show the way or some used markers as bread crums to show every step that the player has to take to get to the next space. I think the markers should be integrated in the story or the technology used as part of the game.
- Point of interests should be used as much as possible in every map or part of a bigger space to show player's the way to go. They represent a big structure seen from a huge distance, look interesting and high poly enough to attract the player towards them. They should be placed centrally in the space so the player sees them as soon as they enter the space. It should serve as a main plot of the story as well.
So all these elements are helpful to create a great story, to show players a universe full of life and real enough so
they are immersed in the game and will remember the game for a long moment. To get all these elements in your
map or game you will have to talk to a lot of people on the team and make sure to follow your request otherwise
you might end up not having them which will change the way your map ends up. Good communication is key.
Everything i talked about in this post are things you should think about as a level designer. There are many other things that level designers will have to do, but these are the things that you need to make sure you have planned to create a memorable map or game. Good communication, good planning skills and research are essential skills that you need to be relatively good at your job as a Level Designer.
Hope it helps. I will have more posts in the coming weeks with pictures, drawings and more examples of things I have done in the past to illustrate all these things above in case it was not clear enough.