Jul
17

Level Production

5 years, 11 months ago 0
Posted in: Projects, Samples

Pre-Production

Beyond what’s described on the previous Flowchart, Pre-Production isn’t discussed here in great detail. All Pre-Production features are required before any final game levels should be started.

Here’s a rough estimate what’s needed for a typical FPS/Action Game before full production should begin:

Pre-Alpha

This is the critical stage when core gameplay is validated and agreed upon. It’s fragile, functional, and linear.

Vision Kick-Off

Review the Story Outline for what happens before, during, and after this level. Reference the Pacing Chart for weapons, gameplay, character use, and story beats. Translate these details into a Level Doc (1-2 pages):

  • The purpose for each key encounter
  • Region (i.e. Bright Side) and Style (i.e. Prison)
  • Time(s) of Day
  • Weather
  • Introductions (weapons, gadgets, gameplay, characters, locations, story events)
  • Modifications (…same as above…)
  • Restrictions (…same as above…)
  • Estimated size, Action Zones, and key content

Store the Level Doc in Perforce at: /game/*docs/Levels/<abbreviation>_<name>.doc. The Design department is responsible for updating the Level Doc. Collect reference photos and concept art related to the level’s style. Now the Level Team has the requirements and a direction to start from.

Team Meeting

This “buy-in” meeting is to guarantee all departments agree on the level’s purpose. Review the Level Doc. Each department can share their requirements and concerns. Such as “Is this area worth the effort?” or “How many characters will be used?”

Participants:

  • Project Lead
  • Art – Lead, Environment
  • Design – all Designers
  • Producer

Outcome:

  • Everyone agrees on the key elements and signs-off on the Vision.
  • All key elements are noted in the Level Doc.
  • The Layout Designer takes the Level Doc and translates it into a 2D map.
  • (optional) Art continues refining Concept Art.

Art Sample Environments

This task is considered part of Concept Art & Level Styles, sometimes called a “Beautiful Corner”. While it involves a technical perspective, it greatly affects the development of a level. Its purpose is creating a Beta quality location with final textures, materials, models, FX, and lighting. Explore several ways of modular construction to discover the best look with repeatable elements. Some of those elements become less important as the team gains confidences with their modeling and texturing quality. A critical element is lighting. A level needs to have an example what the lighting style will be as it relates to gameplay and material (texture) creation.

Designers and Artists need to work together to determine what’s needed to start this task. If a playable game space will help scope, than provide it. If a final sample area hasn’t been created to showcase the Level Style yet, it needs to start now. It helps to have this finished early, but development can continue up to Beta. A great “Beautiful Corner” could inspire the team to make the level differently – or vice versa – a great layout might change how “Beautiful Corner” is approached.

Phase 1 – Blueprint

Owner: Level Design

The Blueprint is a rough sketch to outline core Story Beats and physical scope. A flowchart should be included to guarantee everyone agrees on the event pacing through the level. There are no arbitrary areas – each encounter should exist for a reason.

  • Translate the vision to a top-down layout.
  • Provide general scale and vertical usage.
  • Identify key story locations, missions, and lighting.
  • Identify neighborhoods to show how they’re unique from each other.
  • Call out repeatable areas/elements.

Team Review

Does it meet the project requirements?

Participants:

  • Project Lead
  • Art – Lead, Environment
  • Design – Lead Level, Lead Scripter, Layout, Writer
  • Producer

If successful:

  • Everyone agrees on the general layout and signs-off on the Blueprint.
  • The Blueprint and Flowchart is added to the Level Doc.
  • The Layout Designer takes the 2D map and translates it into a 3D layout.
  • Art continues refining Concept Art to match key locations.

If unsuccessful:

  • 2 days are given to incorporate feedback then re-reviewed.

Phase 2 – Whitebox Layout

Owner: Level Design

The Whitebox Layout is a 3D block-out to visualize the Blueprint and discover the playable space. A rough pass for cover and affordances (climbable edges) are present.

  • Create a Whitebox layout based on the top-down layout – adjusting for scale and sightlines.
  • Critical paths and mobility are playable (ignore vehicles or scene cuts).
  • Global lighting created and critical key lighting noted.
  • Initial Asset List completed.
  • No heavy artistic detail or scripting logic.

Team Review

Is the core footprint, sightlines, and key location verticality and placement satisfied? Only after this should other things be added or fine-tuned (such as proper cover and affordance distances).

The level is a work-in-progress and shouldn’t be considered as a final layout. This review is to generate feedback, both positive and negative, and bring forth ideas to maximize the fun-factor. These ideas will help transform good designers into great ones. If the Level Designer is stumped and doesn’t know what to do in a specific area, they should seek input from other designers or the Lead Designer prior to this review. Levels may require more than one review at this stage.

Participants:

  • Project Lead
  • Art – Lead, Environment
  • Design – Lead Level, Lead Scripter, Layout, Writer
  • Tech
  • Producer

If successful:

  • Everyone agrees on the general layout and signs-off on the Layout Vision.
  • Any changes to the Blueprint or Flowchart are noted in the Level Doc
  • The Layout Designer translates the level into key repeatable parts (doors, pillars, catwalks, buildings).
  • (optional) Art can start Sample Areas like “Beautiful Corner”.
  • (optional) Art continues refining Concept Art for the level.

If unsuccessful:

  • 2 days are given to incorporate feedback then re-reviewed.

Phase 3 – Model Layout

Owner: Level Design (or Art if managed by Level Design)

The Model Layout converts the Whitebox Layout into repeatable, modular assets. This includes replacing blockout geometry with prefabs, proxy models, patches, and props (both new and from existing levels). Effective cover and affordances are present to allow gameplay development in the next phase..

  • Clearly defined game-specific areas and filler-art areas.
  • All key routes present (more can be added as the map develops).
  • All key game floor objects/structures represented (cover).
  • All key mobility represented (jumps/clambers/slides/affordances/grapple points).
  • All view blocking objects/structures and vis-portals placed.
  • Simple placement of other key lights and/or fog.
  • Key models and locations should be more defined with proxy models or patches.
  • Cut into Action Zones, named correctly, and saved in Perforce as prefabs (i.e. L04_2_Geometry.map).
  • Playable from beginning to end on a target platform (i.e. Xbox 360).
  • Maintains 30+ frames per second.

If it’s a larger Action Zone sub-level (prefab), it should be saved in /maps/game/*levelname/zone/. For all other prefabs, use a Naming_Wizard.xls to help find a place to save the prefab. If it’s to be replaced later, use the directory “whitebox“.

Team Review

Has every layout element been separated into its smallest component?

Participants:

  • Project Lead
  • Art – Lead
  • Design – Lead Level, Layout
  • Tech – (Lead?)
  • Producer

If successful:

  • Everyone agrees on the general layout and signs-off on the Layout Metric.
  • Update the Level Doc with any changes to the Blueprint or Flowchart. List all known art assets.
  • The Layout Designer gives the level to the Scripter to add game events (and transfer any test work).
  • Art starts creating content for known and safe prefabs (to match concept or “Beautiful Corner” work).
  • (optional) Scripters can start experimenting with a copy of the level.
  • (optional) Art continues refining Concept Art.

If unsuccessful:

  • 2 days are given to incorporate feedback then re-reviewed.

Gameplay Vision

Owner: Scripter

The goal is to achieve the right pacing, scale, and flow to the gameplay experience, without any focus on making the level look aesthetically pleasing. Simple lighting and fog is recommended to assist in the visualization. This is the stage where feedback and rapid iteration should take place between the Level Designer and the rest of the Design team. Rough-in the “Critical Path” for major encounters:

  • Key enemies placed with basic spawning/scripting/pathing (no branching or side-events).
  • All audio call-outs specified.
  • Player objectives defined and added (with debug text if needed).
  • Identify any key geometry that needs to change for gameplay reasons.
  • Changes in key lighting for gameplay or mood.
  • Basic scripting for key dialogue/cinema/moments using debug text and placeholder subjects.
  • Basic vehicle pathing (if required).

The Level Doc is expanded to detail each Action Zone:

  • Purpose for each key encounter.
  • Theme(s) (i.e. Power Station, Central Plaza, East Side, etc.).
  • Mood(s) (i.e. Cautious, Heroic, Spooky).
  • Gameplay outline and difficulty.
  • Player objectives (primary and secondary).
  • Enemies & Allies.
  • Department requirements (i.e. Audio, Models, Game Feature).
  • A simple, top-down screenshot of each Action Zone.

Review

It’s ugly – now is it fun? Review the pacing and variation. Does it have memorable moments?

Participants:

  • Project Lead
  • Art – Lead, Environment
  • Design – Lead Level, Scripters, Writer
  • Producer

If successful:

  • Pre-Alpha complete!
  • Everyone agrees on the gameplay direction and signs-off on the Gameplay Vision.
  • Any changes to the Blueprint or Flowchart are noted in the Level Doc.
  • Scripters share the level with Art.
  • (optional) Art continues refining Concept Art

If unsuccessful:

  • 2 days are given to incorporate feedback then re-reviewed.

 

Pre-Alpha Complete!

 

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