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From pen and paper to blockouts: how level designers create iconic stealth encounters

Whether you’re sneaking up behind a guard ready to give a decisive blow, or remembering a patrol pattern that slips overlooked, level designers can help establish a momentary experience for your favorite stealth game. It plays a big role.

Their job is to nail the flow of levels and to coordinate the moments when they make good use of the core mechanics. However, there are significant differences in how studios tackle this challenge, and projects often require different philosophies to give players the best opportunities.

To learn more about the complexity of level design and the specific design approaches associated with stealth level design, Arkane’s contacted three developers who have worked on many projects over the years. Disgrace Ubisoft series Assassin’s Creed game.

First, it’s probably best to get rid of common misconceptions first. That is, the role of the level designer and its responsibilities. One of the most common misconceptions is the relationship between level designers and environmental artists.

“I often see people refer to their favorite level and say,’This is really good because the level design looks beautiful,'” he explains. Zi Peters, Sumo Digital Level Designer, Yorkshire Game Festival Earlier this year. “But it’s different from level design. It’s a purely aesthetic aspect. It’s an environmental artist that comes later. Level design is very important for spatial design.”

As Peters explains, level design is about how to build an environment according to game and system mechanics, for example, following metric guidelines. He uses examples of the character’s height, jumping height, crouching height, and reach of weapons and other projectiles. Level designers usually start by designing a level or blockout prototype with these requirements in mind when developing a scene.

“”[At Sumo]Do a lot on paper as a flow chart, “says Peters, who helped design the Colombian-level stealth action game. Hitman 2 Formerly Sumo Digital (supporting IO Interactive) Disneyland Kinect Adventures At the frontier. “We try to explain as many different possibilities as possible on paper, and it’s cheaper to find those possibilities and modify them there to build the environment itself. You’re things Understand the true meaning of, and that’s what you don’t explain once you start building the actual level [like] Place the target and run the loop. And you can see what other problems are occurring. “

Level designer Stevery talks about his own design process Disgrace 2 And John Wick Hex, Comment, “The blockout stage is to understand what a level should be by quickly creating, testing, and repeating as much as possible a rough but representative version. I try to approach things fairly logically and work from there, basically from the perspective of understanding what they are (its important ideas and unique concepts, goals and constraints, themes, settings, etc.). Generally speaking, the most unique, important and dangerous ones get special attention early on. ”

However, in rare cases, the studio may take a slightly different approach. For example Assassin’s Creed SyndicateUbisoft Montpellier level designers haven’t had many opportunities to prototype their territory. Instead, it played a role in supporting the artist’s level flow later in development. This is when you can change aspects such as traversal, enemy placement, and mission flow.There were several reasons for this more collaborative, somewhat interdisciplinary approach, explains level designer Vincent Barrieres, who worked on it. Assassin’s Creed SyndicateWith the Whitechapel district Jack the Ripper Download contents

“To Syndicate, Because everything was created internally [Anvil] The engine itself didn’t have the opportunity to create a gray block or block mesh level, “says Barrieres. “It was they who created the visual part of the game because we worked directly with the level artists. We were here to help them as level designers:” Hey, I need it Or “I really need this.” In other words, it was a collaboration between the level artist and the level designer, rather than the level designer creating the entire level on their own and providing it to the level artist. “

In terms of the principles for building levels, one of the most important aspects of stealth level design is to explain the freedom of the player. This is especially important if you are working from an actual reference that, if used as-is, can prevent the potential for increased stealth opportunities.

“When you look at an architectural plan, you can find a lot of dead ends and things,” Peters commented. “In stealth games, we want to create these nice loops that can move around, so there’s no place to run or hide when you get stuck somewhere and see someone following you.” To make up, he finds it important to open more areas to ensure that players always have the options available in a pinch.

To Disgrace 2, They achieve this freedom by giving players many abilities that they can use to traverse the environment. However, the design of the level itself offers many variations by providing multiple ways for players to enter the room and achieve the goals of the quest.

“Educating players to play in their own way is the basis of the idea that the game offers interesting options and depth of gameplay,” Lee said. “However, Disgrace, The concept of different play styles becomes clearer by the way players perceive how they are playing, not only in terms of both statistics and achievements, but also in terms of interactive narratives. I will. As a level designer, as a level designer, it means that you need to emphasize the importance of player choice and the non-linearity of the game in your level design ideas, as it is a pillar of the franchise. “

According to Lee, this means presenting players with gameplay obstacles with many potential solutions, but the story design is in implementing these choices in a compelling way. I also believe that it plays a big role.

“For example, many non-lethal solutions for dealing with assassination targets are Disgrace The game is interesting. Because, from a gameplay perspective, killing an enemy is generally much easier than finding and implementing a non-lethal remedy. Still, many players are drawn to a non-lethal approach because it is important to them in a purely narrative sense. The stories, experiences, and fantasies they play in their heads are more important to some players than a gameplay challenge, or simply checking all the boxes to reach the end of the game. It’s interesting. “

One good example of this practice is the Royal Palace mission, where the player needs to take Duke Abele out. Once in the area, they can pick up guards and brute force the mansion, or go to additional lengths to find Armand, the Duke of Abele’s body double. With the doubles in place, players can replace Abele as Duke of Serconos without spilling a drop of blood, but it’s not without great difficulty.

Compared to many other games in the stealth genre, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Is a much more action-oriented title and less owed to the tradition of immersive sims, but its level designers sought to provide a more stealth approach to missions while players were exploring the open world. .. This feat is usually achieved by using the game’s verticality, implementing some hiding places such as leaves and carts, and the basic patrol pattern of the guards.

“Philosophy is always Assassin’s Creed It’s a 360 philosophy about how players approach the situation, “says Barrieres. “We call it a black box. This means that players can use stealth or power to resolve in-game conflicts and situations at any time. Therefore, for us, levels In the way you design, you always have to think about these two ways for your players. “

According to Varriars, it’s important that players don’t feel constrained by one idea.To Assassin’s Creed SyndicateFor example, players are provided with grappling hooks and other useful tools. This allows players to better master the environment and unleash new ways to navigate levels and avoid guard detection.

As a final question / question, I wanted to know what tips I would offer to anyone who wants to get started with level design. What should aspiring designers do to make themselves more hired? And what are the universal skills that level designers should prioritize when working on stealth games? This is what they had to say:

“The big thing you think you need to work on is your portfolio, because it’s an example of your skills,” says Peters. “It’s easy to tell future employers that you’ll be able to do what they want from you, so at the time you worked on Unreal Engine 3 and Unreal… Editor to level up in your spare time. Created and played the role of the first design at the Cambridge Frontier. “

Lee adds: “The key skill is to be able to think about how every player with different skill levels and styles will experience different parts of the level. It’s a really good skill to be able to think about both gameplays. I think it’s a situation and story design that works at different levels for players like you and players who are really devoted to your game, as well as players of all kinds. “

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