Friday, November 5, 2010

Been some places and seen some things

I have been working on a lot since my previous blog post on the Alien Level which was created as part of a LARP event for Jim. At the time i wasn't satisfied with the results, it was a buggy, non flowing cluster of static meshes which I named a level design. For me now I can not believe some of the obvious mistakes I made when blocking out that map and cringe at the sight of some of the out of place game mechanics I implemented into it. I am using the same engine for my final semester hand in which is using the pre-existing static meshes that come within the UDK editor and creating a level design with lots of in depth action packed game play and cinematics. The meat of my final semester will be packaged up in a following blog post. As a designer I hadn't quite noticed how much I had changed until I looked back at this previous level I did. I say i wasn't happy with it at the time of publishing but they are for completely different reasons than I have now. At the time it was the same old story, not enough time, too many constraints, not the right assets.. Ive soon come to learn that that's the job of a designer so you should just get on with it.

The reasons i have for not liking it now however are for completely different reasons. Some of the mistakes that were made I am glad for, I feel sometimes that its only by making these mistakes and learning how to fix them that you truly develop your design skills, and man, do I make a lot of them. For me as a designer its only when I start to visualise the levels that I can get a feel of the flow of a project. Now i know, as a designer, that this is a bad work practice to follow and that 100% of the time you should know exactly what your trying to achieve on paper before touching 3D. This isn't to say I don't have a general idea of the flow, i imagine the theme, setting, possible events and visual style in my head before I start to design along with a few different mood boards that include possible environmental settings and elements, along with architecture, possible lighting and existing books, movies and sometimes games. I feel that its only by blocking out a map and play testing that you can get some truly interesting game play. This is a very quick and easy first step to achieve in UDK using a quick setup of BSP brushes to get a good blockmap.

So What is it that have developed my skills as a designer?

...and how do you differentiate good design from bad design? Well the simple answer is, I don't know. Some thing has changed but im not sure what. My designs have suddenly become less linear box and more open ended theme park. When people look at my work now there is genuine awe (in the modest sounding way) rather than 'yeah, that looks cool but that's what you get with the UDK'. But why? Things haven't changed, I'm still using the same editor with the same static meshes, I think the key, and biggest learning curve, comes only from creating map after map and getting a feel for what motivates a player to play and HOW they play. The place where my designs have always struggled is with play testing. Creating a level that can not be broken by a player is a very hard thing to accomplish if you want a fun, open ended game as well. When someone else takes control of your level, only then can you say
whether its a successful level design or not. Ive focused a lot of time in this element over the duration the semester. I've started incorporating backup loops and a lot of 'what ifs' which I think will end up catering to lots of different players and playing styles but only vigorous play testing will tell.

I'm currently not far off having a fully mapped out level that can be play tested. I'm aiming to have a playable level by next Friday (12th November) which gives me around a month to iron out all the bugs of the design. I will upload pretty pictures to look at in the next blog post and hopefully people will get a feel of how my level will play and (hopefully) be able to identify how my level designs have improved and my skills have progressed as a level designer.

The Big Question

So the big question, what is it that I'm doing this semester for the final 'bang' of the MA? Well, I'm starting off with a Level design document, this will be accompanied by a smothering of kismet setups and garnished with a spattering of
detailed game play features so that people will be able to see my greatness. It will be bursting with colour and show of my technical abilities and warm me up nicely to my main dish which will be a meaty dissertation asking the question 'Do technical limitations hinder creativity?'

In its simplest form i am asking whether a game design is more successful if it has lots of money pushed into it and unlimited capabilities created for the PS5 with 100 man team working behind it such as a CoD title creates better design than one man set up in his basement working on an 8 bit game such as Minecraft?

For desert it really couldn't have been anything but an Unreal level created using UDK content as well as any custom content i need to make to create specific effects. This level will be my portfolio piece for catapulting me onto the bottom rung of my career in the game industry. I will showcase the best of my abilities by creating intense and exciting game play and cinematics. As you never leave table without a hot mug of black sugarless solace I am aiming to create a document about the technical limitations I face in created my levels in the UDk and how I think my designs could be aided without the limitations. I think that this will polish off my degree nicely and hopefully wrap it into a nicely presented package with bow in time for the Christmas festivities.

An assortment of blog posts, images and words of wisdom will follow thick and fast now that Masterchef has finished, so sit back and let me know if you have any idea how I would go about achieving any of this.