City Streets Design

7 years, 6 months ago 0

Baltimore was the setting for The Suffering’s sequel. Early on, the decision was made to not recreate the actual city. The gameplay ultimately shaped what the city levels were.  Here’s your chance to see how the layout evolved over time from a series of linear levels to the beginnings of a sandbox open-world layout.


In the original Suffering, each chapter contained multiple levels. For example, Chapter 4’s “The Quarry” involved two levels. The sequel initially took this approach too, with the City Streets presented as multiple levels for Chapter 3.

This was eventually abandoned and each level became its own entity. Fans of the game will recognize the original Chapter 3 levels as Chapters 3-7.

Version 1

The initial direction I was given had only three levels for the Streets. It started at Torque’s Apartment in the northeast down and ran all the way down to the Harbor Docks. In the image below, encounters in the level are noted (L#) as well as Cinematic encounters (C#)

The last stretch leading up to and including the Harbor Docks was bumped from the next images. You can see what became of it in an upcoming post.

Version 2

The first thing I tackled was world scale.  The previous version had a loose sense of gamespace, but the layout wasn’t proven.  Let’s see how all of these encounters fit inside gamespace metrics.

The level started to take shape. I anchored all the high points around streets to constantly remind the player he was in a city rather than a network of back alleys. Some secondary events were moved around slightly for better pacing and presentation.

Version 3

While the game was linear, the final layout could almost be considered an open world layout. I twisted everything up to the Crackhouse back in on itself. Strategic debris and blocked routes prevent the player from deviating off the planned encounters, however it was “swiss cheesed” enough to allow exploration if the game design was changed.

I wanted to take every opportunity to hint at upcoming areas and return to previous landmarks — like the fallen train outside of the Apartment. This would reduce the need for new art in each area and the risk of becoming bland and repetitive because the schedule was spread to thin for new material.

The Copperfield and Mauler appearance was bumped after Miles’ Bar. The rooftop scenario following the Crackhouse was removed. And, the abandoned buildings prior to the Police Station became a Cafe. Actually, the shipped version of the game didn’t even have the appearance of a Police Station. Having the cops outside of the Cafe was enough to give the encounter the right theme for the Triggerman’s first appearance (labeled as Marksmen in Version 2 above).

In-Game Map

Art Department Hand Off

I blocked out the level with my own proxy models to review potential performance concerns. Once the team signed off on the direction, I then started breaking it into different groups so the Environmental Artists could work on it.  To guarantee everyone understood what these proxy level pieces were and the engine requirements, I created a several helper images to describe the parts.


The first thing was to simply label the different types of things the player would see and be moving through. The next image is fairly straight forward and removed confusion when the level was being passed around.

Even though we weren’t supporting tons of vegetation or flora like the previous game, I wanted to give the player’s eye a break from all the brick and mortar by spacing out different green areas. The Park was the only one that made it into the final game, however.


Each level was modeled by several artists. To help section off areas for themes and mesh ownership, I cut the level into Model Zones. All areas were still comprised of multiple pieces, so don’t confuse these zones as big puzzle piece models.

All of the environments were finalized in Maya. They were still independent models within the game editor, but the artist did all the high-detail and polish in Maya. This pipeline did allow designers to move things within the editor and have that change reflected in the Maya scene (a two-way pipeline more developers should adopt).


This last image was really important because it let the Artists know how the engine would interpret which models were associated to which render chunks (Scenegraph). Aside from the blue Portal lines, all the other colors are arbitrary and only there to show the way I cut it up for rendering.

The important part was preventing an Artist from creating a long road that cross into another Scenegraph. If it did, I’d have to share it in both areas, which runs the risk of higher object count and poor performance.


If you’re curious what the final version looked like in-game, take a look at the first half in the video below!

2012 Version

Computers are a lot more powerful since 2005, so I played around with some performance settings recently. By pushing the fog out, more of the city and surrounding buildings can be seen! I also removed a large billboard that blocked your first view of the Theater where you meet Killjoy.

The left side is the original version. The right side is the modified version.

Designer Notes available for this video — enable YouTube’s Annotations to see them!


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