Left 4 Dead: Quarry

Left 4 Dead: Quarry | Level Design Jam | Hammer | 2023

*PAGE IS WORK IN PROGRESS – PLEASE BEAR WITH ME*

This level was a mainly aimed at exploring the L4D director while creating an interesting space which surprised the player.

Level Design work

  • Collected reference, designed level layout and planned gameplay beats
  • Created level blockout inside the Hammer++ editor
  • Conceptualized combat, interactions & environmental storytelling

Layout

Design decisions

Surprise

To keep the player thinking, i decided to introduce elements of surprise into the maps design. I felt this had the effect of keeping the player on their toes and strategizing.

Theme

I tried to create a believable survival space that would not only fit in the L4D world narratively but would complete the L4D director.

Player Agency

I created a circular layout which gave the player multiple paths & agency. This approach allowed the L4D director to spawn enemies from different locations to keep the action interesting.

Planning & Reference

The image gallery below shows some initial sketch work before block-out along with some reference imagery.

Gallery 1 – Initial sketches for the level’s layout

Half-Life 2 – Grainger’s Point

Half-Life 2: Grainger’s Point | Personal Project | Hammer | 2022

This level was a personal project about designing a small contained space that facilitated player choice.

Level Design work

  • Collected reference, designed level layout and planned gameplay beats
  • Created level blockout inside the Hammer++ editor
  • Conceptualized combat, interactions & environmental storytelling

Gameplay beats

Gameplay & beats

  1. Player arrives at the station, verticality facilitates strategy
  2. Player chooses left path – collected scoped weapon
  3. Enemy encounter
  4. Player chooses right path – can collect weapon
  5. Player releases NPCs to allow for interesting combat
  6. Exit level

Layout

Fig.2 – Level layout

Design decisions

Choice

I decided to start the player up high to allow them to assess their options and choose a path. Using this approach allowed me to stimulate the players curiosity and explore the space. I triggered a helicopter flyover to signpost the way forward for the player.

Scripted A.I.

I created various scripted entities with associated patrol areas. The players relationship to the A.I. soldiers was controlled at various points in the level to give the players the illusion of stealth.

Affordance

Affordance was used to allow the player to make / see the connection between the power line, the switch and energy wall.

Planning & Reference

The image gallery below shows some initial sketch work before block-out along with some reference imagery.

Gallery 1 – Initial sketches for the level’s layout

Fig.1 – Moodboard/concept reference

Half-Life 2 – Reactor Cooling

Half-Life 2: Reactor D6 | Level Jam | Hammer | 2022

This level was my entry into Steve Lee’s second level design jam. The themes for the jam were “Non-Violence” and “Verticality“. I decided to learn the Hammer Editor for this one as its still one of the best pure level design tools and allowed more time to concentrate on building and scripting the level. I tried to keep my scope small and focused, as time was limited.

Level Design work

  • Collected reference, designed level layout and planned gameplay beats
  • Created level blockout inside the Hammer++ editor
  • Conceptualized and scripted puzzles, interactions & environmental storytelling

Gameplay & narrative beats, intensity and level flow

Fig.1 – Level timeline 

Gameplay & beats

  1. Arrive at the reactor
  2. Wooden planks blockade
  3. Water valve and crowbar puzzle
  4. Broken stairs blockade
  5. Collect the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator (Gravity gun)
  6. Discover the multi-level structure
  7. Exit level

Layout

Fig.2 – Level layout

Design decisions

Composition & signposting

To make use of the verticality theme, I decided to start the player up high to allow them to assess their options and decide on a path. Using this approached allowed me to stimulate the players curiosity and explore the space. I also included a windmill as a landmark to guide the player throughout the level.

Puzzles

I used the classic Bait & Switch technique to draw the player to an obstructed opening which blocks their path. Players can see that the crowbar is located on access walkway above them and they need to reach it. Backtracking, players can find the valve to raise the water level.

Gating

The use of gating was used to make the player stop and think about the crumbled stairway problem. The locked door implies that something the player needs is behind it. Affordances associated with scattered wooden planks and metal panels in HL2 provide multiple options for the player to progress.

Planning & Reference

The image gallery below shows some initial sketch work before block-out along with some reference imagery.

Gallery 1 – Initial sketches for the level’s layout

Fig.1 – Moodboard/concept reference

Jam video

BioShock – Mad God

BioShock – Mad God | Personal Project | UE 5 | 2022

NOTE: This is an live page which I’m using to document my level design process. Apologies if its a little all over the place.

This level was a personal project about designing a fictional first level for a DLC for the original BioShock. I wanted to focus on pacing, atmosphere, environmental storytelling and introducing the player to mechanics and a new plasmid.

Level Design work

  • Created level blockout inside UE5 using cube grid and modeling toolset.
  • Collected reference, designed level layout, planned gameplay beats, spaces and encounters, designed and implemented puzzles
  • Used blueprints and sequencer to script player interactions, gameplay events and enemy routes us
  • Conceptualized and scripted narrative moments.

Download and play the current version of the level here

Gameplay & narrative beats, intensity and level flow

Gameplay & beats

  1. Arrive at the lighthouse
  2. Bathysphere Gas trap
  3. Collect Radio/Meet the stranger
  4. Jumping and crouching (TUTORIAL)
  5. Collect the wrench
  6. Melee Combat (TUTORIAL)
  7. Plasmid puzzle
  8. Exit level

Further reading: BioShock – Level design project – Planning

Blueprints & Sequencer

The following shows some of the various gameplay blueprints that I’ve scripted for the level e.g. actor blueprints for the Secruis doors so I can reuse them throughout the level, a teleport blueprint contained in the Level Blueprint and the sequence which plays the lighting event as the player enters the lighthouse.

Actor Blueprint for opening and closing door
Level Blueprint to teleport player
Main door & Lighting sequence

Level Design Research

I began by replaying BioShock, BioShock 2 and Minerva’s den to get a general feel for how the levels are designed. As I played, I noted down, the general layout of the levels, environmental storytelling aspects, story events, splicer attacks and pickups.

Planning & Reference

Further reading: BioShock – Level design project – Planning

Related pages

  1. BioShock – Level Design Project – Reference
  2. BioShock – Level design project – Lighthouse
  3. BioShock – Level design project – Planning
  4. BioShock – Level design project – Update #1
  5. BioShock – Level design project – Update #2

Toyama Work Camp

Toyama Work Camp | Unity | 2018 | The Corridor: On Behalf Of The Dead | Steam & Xbox

Level Design work:

  • Built level blockout with Maya and Probuilder, collected reference, designed level layout, planned spaces and encounters, designed and implemented puzzles.
  • Design goals: Introduce the player to crafting mechanic, broke up linear gameplay spaces and developed strong environmental storytelling themes and rewarded player with story event.

Additional tasks:

  • Designed and visual scripted player interactions, gameplay events and enemy routes.
  • Conceptualized and scripted narrative moments.

Store links

Introduction

This article will focus on my design process, work flow and responsibilities for the Toyama work camp level from the sci-fi horror game The Corridor on Behalf of the Dead. It will include planning, reference, design and artistic decisions.

Background, planning and reference

As the designer and part of a three man team on The Corridor, I was responsible for a range of aspects of the games development including some level design. One of the levels I took responsibility for was the Toyama work camp level which was the third level in the game. Up until this point, player’s had followed a fairly linear path up and I proposed that I create a space where the player had the freedom to choose how they approached their objectives and exploration.

Additionally, the core narrative idea I wanted to explore and present to the player was what had become of the citizens of the world after M.O.M (the ruling party/ organization in the game) had taken control.

The game in general was influenced by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and while re-reading the novel for reference, I was drawn to the work camp type environment with its rich visual design and strong environmental storytelling themes it offered which allowed players to construct their own version of the narrative.

Additionally, a new crafting mechanic was to be introduced to the player. They would need to use this to create something that would be needed to progress.

Goals

  • introduce new crafting mechanic to the player – items need to be collected and assembled to progress
  • break up linear flow of levels and support player choice to approach their objectives and exploration
  • strong environmental storytelling and visual design

Layouts & Sketches

To begin, I started sketching (fig.1) some ideas for the levels layout, keeping the ideas of player freedom, exploration and collection of items in mind.

Fig.1 – Early paper sketches to generate level ideas

Hub and spoke design

While in the process of sketching, I was reminded of certain levels from the Bioshock series, such as the Medical Pavilion, Minerva’s Den and Burial at sea.

Fig.2 – Level layouts from the BioShock series.

Fig.3 Examples of level layouts from Fundamentals of Game Design by Ernest Adams

These levels make use of the hub and spoke level design layout which involves a central large space with pathways that emanate to smaller self contained spaces. Rewards and challenges can be provided for at the ends of these spokes. These large central spaces act as a reorienting space as players pass through this area as they explore each spoke.

Using the central area as reorienting space aligned well with the games design goals of providing an immersive experience along with player freedom. I wanted the game to omit any form of HUD or marker system and allow the player to freely navigate levels and fid their own path through exploration. In approaching the games design this way, it was necessary to communicate the players various option’s through the design of the level. Additionally, by focusing on exploration, we could use the self-contained spaces to distribute ephemera and along with environmental storytelling, allow the player to create their own version of the story.

I began looking into real spaces that might fit the general idea of a central orientating space with smaller self contained spaces surrounding it. I started looking at floorplans of large dilapidated or ruined buildings, places like slaughterhouses or old factories for reference. These generally had large central spaces as see here in this architectural plan (fig.3):

Fig.4 – Ground plan for a slaughter house

I incorporated the slaughterhouse ground plan into some of the earlier sketches I had made and then began thinking about how this place might look and feel, a place that people worked and lived under the watchful eye of M.O.M. Fig.5 shows some mood boards I drew up as I continued looking at spaces. I liked the idea of a place that used to function but which had been converted and reused as a work camp. Furthermore, these would help me incorporate some shape and colour into the design.

Fig.5 – Mood board examples

Blockout

With these ideas and inspiration in place, I began a block out (fig.6) in Maya.

Fig.6 – Blockout in Maya

Once I was happy with the general feel of the level, It was time to move over to Unity and begin the blockmesh phase using probuilder.

Iteration

Fig.7 – Work in progress – blockmesh phase

As the gallery above (fig.7) shows, I produced a general rough version of the entire level so that that I could get a feel of the space, pacing and scale. From here, I asked a couple of our team members to playtest which allowed feedback to be collected and fed back into the next iteration of the level’s design.

Shape and Colour language

As Naughty Dog’s David Shaver has suggested, establishing a consistent visual language throughout the level design not only establishes consistent affordances to the player but also speeds up collaboration with other team members.

Examples of the various colour’s used to donate materials are shown in fig.8:

Fig.8 – Colors and material list

Shapes and opening

Fig.9 Arch section used to guide and attract players

I used a combination of shape and lighting in various areas of the level to guide players to specific paths or areas. Fig.9 shows an arch way section which leads to one of the levels main goals. In order to attract the player into this opening, I built a wall section which used three arches to create an opening and used warm lighting to generate a sense of mystery and safety to guide the player in.

Although this was used to guide players to where I wanted them to go, it doesn’t prevent players from exploring and still allows them the freedom to explore at their own pace.

This section was also used to show the door before the key. Directly through the middle arch, there is a locked door which the player needs to open to continue and this is seen as soon as the player enters the level.

Leading lines

Fig.10 – Leading lines used to guide player to important locations


Following on from fig.9, once players had entered the room beyond the arches I used a combination of pipework and a cable laid on the floor as leading lines to guide the player in the direction I wanted them to go (fig.10). The pipes and cable were given contrasting colour where added to guide players to important locations within the level. For example, a metallic grey was used to for pipe work to contrast against the “redish” brown of the brick walls, this has the affect of looking like a pipe would belong in this environment but also stands out and catches the eye of the player.

Affordances

Along with the game UI, I established a consistent visual language for the levels affordances. For example, doors with handles would generally be interactable and were kept a consistent colour and scale. If a particular part of the game required that I deny affordance to the player then a logical obstacle would be used. For example, fig.11 shows an area where a door is barricaded, wooden planks were used to show the player that the door couldn’t be opened in its current state.

Fig.11 Example of denying affordance to the player

Items that could be interacted with where placed in well lit areas to focus the players attention (fig.13). Additionally the game used a subtle highlight on the object if it could be interacted with. This feedback was used to reinforce affordances and that the player could interact and collect the item.

Fig.12 – Lighting was used to highlight interactable items


Narrative beats, environment and ambiguity

One of the games design pillars was story ambiguity. I wanted the player to create their own personalized version of the story and to facilitate that, much of the story was told through environmental storytelling, ephemera, worker dictaphones and notes. As the players are given the autonomy or freedom to explore the environment and experience these blocks of story, they are continually creating their own personalised version of the story. This form of story creation is what researchers Tom Cole and Marco Gillies terms Interpretive fictional agency (IFA) (2019) and manifests in meaningful ways for players.

Again. using the hub and spoke level design layout allowed me to distribute these narrative blocks throughout the level.

Gameplay event scripting

Along with all the other levels from the game I was responsible for scripting all player interactions and gameplay events. I used the adventure creator visual scripting tool for this and an example of one of these events can be scene in fig.13 below:

Fig13. This gameplay triggers a gas trap


NPC/Entity Setup

NPC’s were setup using Unity’s Mecanim system and Adventure creator character setup. As fig. 14 shows, this particular guard character was setup top follow a path and patrol an area. Allow a passive character, players could still take damage if they got too close.

Fig.14 – NPC setup and path creation

AI & Behavior tree’s

I also used behavior designer to setup behavior tree’s for enemy AI as shown below in fig.

Before and after

A selection of before and after sliders from blockmesh to the final game.