Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why did I become a Game Designer?

I ask myself this questions because from my experience so far everyone seems to be a 'game designer' of sorts. Of course all the artists you speak to are game designers, and don't forget the programmers and animators all throwing in their "two cents worth". If everyone knows design and can implement it on their own what is the needed for this overpaid, unskilled, subordinate of the team??

The problem lies in the mentality that everyone thinks they're a designer at heart. But when have you ever heard a level designer telling an animator to move the key frames because "it doesn't feel right". Or a programmer that his line of code becomes obsolete because the For loop negates the... well you get the picture. But when it comes to design everyone has a hundred different ways to solve your problem.

Designers are good at creating work (problems) for others. Designers are bad at providing the tools necessary for solving these problems.

And I couldn't agree more. We know how to create all the design documents and say what we want to happen, but when someone encounters a problem we're also the first to find an excuse. "Don't worry I'll design that part later" or "I'll fix it when we have a full game built". The reason we have this issue is because a lot of the game designers are actually bad designers. No matter how many times an artist does a concept (taking practice out of the equation) a bad drawing is a bad drawing. However when designing everything is 'theoretical' and if given a choice between design A and design B you just pick the better of the two. It doesn't necessarily mean its better, or indeed a good design. We shouldn't rely on other people to have to implement ideas, we should be there with a solution to that idea even before it arises. We should have the skill set so that when people come across inevitable problems, we have tools to fix them. After all Design and problem solving is why we got into this game, isn't it?

"Given enough time and resource a bad designer can make a good design."

So we've identified the problem, now where do we find the solution? Looking on the back of your hand won't help with this one. The sweat has washed away any chance you had a looking credible and now you have to rely on your design knowledge to fix it. I guess when it comes down to it, there is no definitive answer. As a designer we have nothing to measure or compare our work with. I can put in my 10,000hrs in and read as many books and articles as my brain can digest and know that I am a better designer for it. But how do other people see this or even measure the improvement? As you see an artist's portfolio expand you see their skills expanding immensely, you see their colour palette broaden and the light sources fill the scene with subtle highlights. A designer on the other hand has no visual aid to fight their corner or shout support in your time of desperation. You can argue of course that a beautifully crafted design document in Google Sketchup will do the trick, but who knows if it's actually any good?

There is a light on the horizon however, and with light comes excitement.

With games courses (including my own) ever expanding on the teaching and practice of games design. And with industry professionals joining hands with academia, we can work together to identify exactly what a game designers is and should do. In the industry we are not graced with the time to take a magnifying glass to the design closet pinpointing exactly what a games designer is and should be. But in this creative academic environment we are given the precious time to teach and evolve our skills and toolset ready for the industry. With these tools we gain from academia we can throw the students into the deep, ever expanding pond of talent and hopefully we can see a real change in how people view games designers. Not as an accessory to the team. Not as a person with all the ideas and no solutions. But as the true bond that holds the team together. Who has all the solutions before the ideas are dreamt. If a member of the team needs to know exactly how something works, we should be the ones to answer as we know the game inside out and back to front. We set the pace, we "achieve the most with the least". Nothing will be accidental and every item placement and chainsaw will run more like a finely tuned machine than an ever expanding snowball of unknowns.

I highly recommend reading this design article too which inspired the post.

Long time no post

Apologies all for the lack of content uploaded to this blog, I've been busy working on other projects and you can find all the information on my other 'blog' here


But I'd like to resurrect this blog as more of an opinion piece than a work in progress update. I think writing more about my trade will allow me to develop my skills and hopefully share some knowledge along the way.

Stay classy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Feels like the final stages...

I was in a bit of a dilemma about what to do with this map. It feels like I have invested far too many man hours in to this project and maybe its time to move on. The level as a whole feels pretty complete but there are still lots of pickups to be placed, and trims to be fitted. Along with a few extra textures I have created, just not imported.

These are the shots so far, let me know what you think. Is it time to move on? Or is it better to 100% complete the project..whatever 100% completion may be..

These are 3 outdoors shots. In the second image there are 2 green lights (if you can see them) When shot, these shut the doors on the upper floor and kill anyone inside. There is a redeemer weapon in this room if players can make it out alive.

The red base. A lot less detailed than other areas of the map I know..

And these are the central joining sections. I feel these are the places where the most game play will take place. There are hints at different types of game play in the images but I think there needs to me much more, especially in corridors.

So if anyone has any feedback on the map and whether its worth pursuing or starting something fresh with the skills I've learnt.



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UT3 Crevase update

Hey guys,

Firstly apologies for the delayed update. I've been busy blocking out the level and there wouldnt have been much to talk about with lots of default chequred textures plastering the walls.

I've finished fleshing out the majority of the level and now its mainly lighting, details and game play.. I say it like its a small amount! There is still lots of work to do but I'm glad I've been sticking with it and I've definitely learnt a lot about BSP blocking in! I've also only used 3 or 4 different Unreal Meshes.

These first two shots are how the level looks from the outside. I've been playing with the Post Process effects and I'm happy with the outdoor look.

Below, shows inside the two central icebergs/refinery type areas. These two sections are the parts that join the blue base to the red base.

The images below are the results of starting the red base (the last bit I have left to block). Im happy with the flow, however the Post Processing here might be too harsh. What do people think? It kind of reminds me of old school Quake stuff which I love, but if people don't like it, I will probably end up changing it. 

I also played with the blue base Post Process. Do people think its an improvment or that the PP takes away all the bold light from previous updates?

Cheers for reading and welcome any kind of feedback. Especially on the post processing.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deathmatch is Alive!

Hey guys,

Just a quick update of some screenshots I took of my level this evening. Im getting there with the textures, using purely BSP is a tricky thing, aking sure you have the correct sizes in all the places to make you materials fit in there nicely! I've tried and tested textures..some worked..some didnt, but I'm happy with the progress so far. I'm still playing around with lighting and materials so if anyone has any recommendations for me please fire away!

This is main room I've been playing around with today. I really like the towering structure. It has a lift inside it with a UTDamage pickup at the farrrr top indicated by the purple light. This is a tricky lift jump to achieve, it takes perfect timing and the lift only moves for .5seconds. Its tough, but worth the reward!

Kinda just an overview of the top section of the room. If the player reaches this point there is a sniper rifle waiting for them. Once collected they can double jump on to the top of the lift section and make their escape along the rafters to a large outdoor snow storm where they can pick players off. 

This is the top-tier again showing off lots of nice pretty orange lighting leading to the sniper rifle

Final shot is just the floor, a nice flow to this section I think but it needs something else to bring it alive. The weapon pick-up here is a link gun, any better suggestions of weapon choice? Also a string of health vials leading out

That's all for now folks, doesn't look like much progress but I have been blasting it pretty hard this evening!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Apologies about the oversized images!

These are the final submission screenshots for the World of Level Design contest. Let me know what you think!

Tombstone, Arizona


Gold Rush

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WoLD Challenge WiP 23rd March

Hey guys,

A little bit of progress made this evening. Finally got the wall in. I'm terrible at modelling so when it comes to creating organic stuff my polygons look more block(y) than a rubix cube! But not to worry, im happy with the result. 

I also added some structure to the station with a possible story behind why its there. It was part of a mining camp rail line. Im still working on how to add some character to the actual station part but no ideas so far. It still feels flat and lifeless, and not lifeless in a good way!!

I have never really shown how my level was created either so here are a few screens to demonstrate this. In the rules thread I saw AlexG mention that the scene was more "movie set" than playable level, which gave me the idea to create a film set style scene. There is nothing behind the fa├žades of the building which I think is a nice trick and I'm pretty happy with.

Does anyone have any input on the colours of lighting and dust ive used? I feel happy with it but I'd like a critical eye to pull it apart.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

WoLD Challenge WiP 22nd March

Whoa, doesn't time fly, the deadline is nearly upon us. Its inspiring to see everyone's brilliant progress. I apologise for not updating\responding for so long, again, a very busy week, but I have been plugging away at my scene when I get a spare 5 minutes! Here's the progress I've made, taking into consideration the changes about altering the dust in the desert and adding tipi's, although I tried them, they just didnt work in the scene. 

Now to tackle the American Indian settlement. I roughly modelled Tipi's and imported them into the scene so that it looked like this...

Apart from the basic modelling, no matter what size I tried them and on what rotation, they just didnt work. So now I'm left with an empty area..

Somethings missing but I just don't know what! I'm going to design a type of church to go near the bench so that a nice shot can be composed having the church in the foreground and the saloon across the street in the background really driving home the differences between the two cultures but apart from that I'm clueless. Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Level Design Document

How much is too much?

4 years ago, when the only thing Unreal to me was how my MP3 player could hold more than 20 songs at a time, I have struggled to understand the concept of a level design document. To this day, after 2 degrees and a handful of industry design documents, I still do not fully understand what a level design document should contain, and whatever information is found between the Red Bull stained pages, how much detail should be included?

Design after design has had either too much or too little information and I'm starting to lose faith that there is a middle ground of hope in this minefield of the term "flow". If there is, please, throw me a metal detector. Now of course there are two sides to this story, isn't there always? So I'll start by dissecting to the two and giving each side a chance to weigh up the pros and cons battle. Firstly, we'll start with what information I think should always be included in a level design document.

Where is the game?

A wise man (A myth from the UCLAN game design studio) nailed this phrase home every time a 'know it all' second year handed him a game design which failed to include a game. We've all fell into this unforgiving trap of thinking a quick top down sketch of a potential level passes as a level design. We are wrong to think this and therefore get snagged in the trap until the wise man comes along with his plastic sword and goatee (are you painting a picture yet?) and rescues you from the zone of 40%. Analogies aside, this is a very dangerous thing for a designer to do when designing a level. First things first we need to establish what happens in the level. What are the epic moments? Does this happen in any other levels? If people say "the level where that badass thing catapults you off the ground into the tower thing where you kill 100 demons before somersaulting into a bed of straw", will people know that was your level? Start by compiling a list of key events, things that are unique and awesome to your level. This will give you a good foundation to start your design. So where is the game? If you do not know what happens in your level then find out before you start putting portholes to hell into Spyro the Dragon.

Pace yourself

Pacing is important, even your girlfriend will vouch for that. Once you have the 'key events' list sorted your now ready to tackle the design. I would still suggest laying off the graphics tablet, mouse or indeed pencil if anyone can remember what those led based instruments are until you have thought about the pacing of your level. Too many designers brush over this as if it was an insignificant crack on the windscreen with the mentality "no one will notice". We will notice, and your level will transform into a sponge for fun, soaking up gameplay left right and centre. A way around this can be one of two ways, two of two for all you eager game designers. A time pacing chart, such as the one shown below, can give instant visual feedback about exactly what is happening in your level and the intensity these events are going to provide. Now, for all you mathematicians out there, this is not an exact formula, but it works. It allows you to think "oh, there's too much jumping in this section, if I save it for a later part of my level it will break up repetitious game play and add variation " in which case you can pat yourself on the back and grab a cold beer, preferably not in the workplace, of course. Pacing is everything and using a core set of mechanics multiple times but in varied ways is the secret to good level design.

Dad jokes can only get you so far

Another way to pace a level was, as far as I'm aware, invented by Wise Man number 2 (not in hierarchy for disclaimer reasons) . This method works in second year games design at the University of Central Lancashire, and continues to work once you've thrown your cap into the air never to be seen again. Games can become complex pretty quickly and if you don't keep tabs on what the player is doing in each section, pacing can pick up momentum and before you know it pass GO picking up £200 for the trouble and turning your title from 'Game of the year' into another Dynasty Warriors. A way to avoid this is to create a list of your core mechanics. This, for most genres of games will include jumping, running, walking, triple back flip into a plie whilst counting backwards from 100, you get the idea. You then create a list of secondary mechanics, these are things that may be specific to your level, say you have an underwater section where the player is pulling triggers, that would be included here. And thirdly, you include Events. These are things that we have mentioned previously, if something badass happens, write it in this column, if not, then rethink your design.

Once you've compiled your lists, hopefully not leaving the chubby kid until last, you can then start to turn it into some kind of flow. Number your core mechanics 1-50,000 or however many you have, and give your secondary mechanics A, B, C values and use mandarin when out of the English language, game designers dig that.

Now comes the tricky part, you need to walk through your level in your head thinking about what the player is going to be doing in the different areas of your level. This is more of a visual tool so I've decided to paint a picture with a 1000words, see the badly drawn image below. Adding a time scale value for how long you think each section is going to take is a good indicator for how many minutes of gameplay your level will consist of.

It is completely up to you which method you use to pace your level, you may even have your own way of achieving similar results. But in all cases you must think about the pacing of your level otherwise players will get board very quickly and instead load up Call of Duty in their vertical disk trays when they have 5 minutes to spare.

In a similar way to a beginners attempt at a level pacing, my word count got pulled out from underneath my caffeine fuelled fingers and I lost track of time. I will use this eagerness as a badly placed cliff-hanger and write about the 'detailed'  side to a level design document in Part II, hopefully being posted in the near future.
 I hope that people find this interesting as I feel there are a lot of useful tips in there that I use when creating level designs and hope you feel the same.