Let's Talk Level Design! (Part 1) - My design for the new level in Asunder

Hi all,

So my focus this week was designing and developing the latest level for our game, Asunder. The majority of the game takes place in a old, ruined civilization that has fallen from the sky and is now in the depths of a cavern where the earth has swallowed it up over the centuries. The level I am focusing on this week is the marketplace. This part of the story takes place after you leave the temple and your encounter with the spirit, Luddite. You leave the side exit of the temple and make your way down the cliff side and stumble into what appears to be a marketplace in ruins, as if it was the old downtown of Aegeros. 

So what are the goals of this level?

To guide the player to the next destination, the arcade, but also convey that the environment was once a busy, active part of the city's past.

This is important to establish the appropriate characteristics to the level from a narrative standpoint but also a gameplay and design one. 

So how do we accomplish these goals?

1) Understand general flow and expectation from narrative standpoint
2) Note important landmarks and identify where to place clutter/buildings
3) Elevation/height changes for wayfinding, views/vistas, and awe-moments
4) How all 3 of those inform general circulation and mood of the level

(Level planning and concept from my sketchbook)

(Level planning and concept from my sketchbook)

The Concept

Starting off, I had to sketch the general flow: leaving the temple, change of elevation downward on the cliffs, marking important landmarks, and general thoughts on circulation to the arcade. Key thing was to understand height changes and how to establish views for the player for both wayfinding reasons but also awe-moments to keep the player engaged. Gotta keep them interested and say, "Oh man, I want to go over there!" So, if this is a dense part of the level, then the player needs to lock onto a central point like a tower so that they can establish a relative location and use that navigate around the space if they feel lost. This will also provide a reason and location for the next puzzle or action to take place (which will be in the next sprint's iteration). 

(My quick thumbnail sketches of what I want to capture and accomplish within the level)

(My quick thumbnail sketches of what I want to capture and accomplish within the level)

Then I needed to identify moments and other critical details I wanted out of this level. In these quick thumbnail sketches, I essentially made a visual to-do list of what all I wanted out of the level. 

From Concept to Whitebox

Next step is to actually build it!

So I needed to create a whitebox of the level in 3Ds Max with elevations in the terrain, the mountain/cliff sides, and basic buildings of varying heights and size to mock up the level. 

Had my team run through the whitebox and made changes based on comments and this was the whitebox results. Feedback and testing is key!

Whitebox to Modeling - Technical Process

Now we begin to model the actual level. The slideshow shows the order of my process. When it comes to constructing the cave geometries, our pipeline is to create a series of 8m x 8m squares to keep track our scale, but also, thanks to our technical artist, strategize UV mapping efficiently by using just a single texture and applying them in a series of 1x1, 2x2, and 3x3 squares to keep performance in mind. We can create a variety of scales of cave textures with a single 1024x1024 image and generate additional maps based on the desired shader we want to use (which we are still experimenting with). From the square grids, I began to modify vertices to make more organic shapes like mountains and cliffs but keeping the general square in mind in order to not skew the textures too much. The goal is to get each level to about a 50-60% state as we come back topolish and add in more art and assets to liven up the place. 

Importing Level into Unity (Pre-art stage)

Dropped my level from 3Ds Max into Unity with just basic whitebox buildings. We are still developing more 3D art for this level but you can see some of the destroyed buildings that provided by my fellow 3D modeler/artist. We tend to trade off from week to week being either the environment artist or the level designer. As you can see, I was the level designer this time around.

But you can see all the different points and details I've touched on such as views, circulation, scale, and moments I mentioned earlier in the post. It's all about player engagement and wayfinding! I love designing levels :) Gotta put my architecture skills to work.

We're still developing and deciding on our shaders and textures at the moment. So the image only shows temporary placeholders materials. The next step is to implement the more environment art like the tower and additional and test some visuals :)

So I'll be posting more within the next week or so as we develop our next steps.

Thanks for reading :)