*With encounter scripting towards the end.
What you see here is a variety of level layouts I’ve done in the past. This means taking an idea from the Design Director and working in other requirements such as Narrative beats. It starts in 2D, then shaped in 3D, then populated with existing art assets and scripted when I was able to.
Design documentation depends on the project needs. Two examples of documentation I’ve done are here:
At the end of this page is an attached document describing ways to label the environment with gameplay tokens to make the space usable in multiple scenarios.
While I can’t show anything involving my current project, I can give you a glimpse of the things I’m drawing inspiration from. These two photo albums are some of the larger, more fantastical environments I’m prototyping. These can give you an idea how I’m moving back to my bolder fantastical roots after Mafia 3.
A chunk of my time on Mafia 3 was designing the large world layout and populating it with gameplay moments outside of the main quests. When I wasn’t managing this effort, massaging local layouts within the city, I was also hands-on creating locations outside of the city.
This location was inspired by a photo I found with an elevated cabin over murky waters. An exciting element was giving players the opportunity to drive a boat right up through the center of it to remove a patch of enemies. If players avoided or eliminated nearby alligators, they could stealth in closer under the docks to gain access to the hostage being held in the front cabin.
This isolated island was designed as a multi-stage encounter. It features two distinct sections bottlenecked by a central warehouse of stolen goods. Players could approach a guarded west gate, a barricaded eastern edge, explore and be rewarded with a backdoor entry next to a condemned building, or approach full force from the north by boat.
Alligators provided environmental hazards if the player wanted to risk shortcutting through the enclosed pond.
Bourbon Digs Channel
This small swamp village was built for multiple uses. It featured a wide variety of routes and perches to attack from. A risky corridor for players who wanted to shortcut through this water route. This layout also weaved in and out of cabin interiors as well as half-submerged docks between buildings. The water channel down the middle was designed with a couple boat ramps for another exciting way to launch boats in the air knocking enemies off docks.
Another way I was able to populate Mafia 3’s large world with smaller team was repurposing building structures in different ways. A dozen of these appeared around the city providing an identifable building for smuggling goods in by boat. Each location however had a unique layout surrounding it.
The last image is an example of another playspace in the northern wilderness featuring that familiar smuggling boathouse in the background.
Unfortunately the Prey 2 team was never able to release footage beyond the E3 walkthru. What you see in this video is the Bowery district. This layout was a joint effort. I also did two other Districts of this scale by myself that wasn’t showcased.
It corresponds to this topdown map below on the left. Neighborhood and local themes are highlighted with different colors.
What I learned from this was providing routes from anywhere to anywhere can sometimes be overwhelming for players. This is why I did a quick 3-day rework of the District to create a larger “Fat Corridor” experience instead of the “Swiss Cheese” block it original was. You can compare the two to see how these neighborhoods moved to their new locations.
This urban “island chain” approach gave players more moments to see more distant destinations to pull players through the space. When lost, they could more quickly find a world edge to re-discover where they were, reducing the need to go to the mapscreen.
And all these changes were playable in-game with no major loss of content like lighting or NPC presence.
For a short spell I helped the MMO Defiance on one of their coastline encounters. Here’s a screenshot from a repurposed nuclear reactor. This process involved shaping the terrain with prop and structure placement.
Putting aside The Suffering’s action-horror aspects, the game was developed in a similar way something like Zelda Breath of the Wild. It’s a large open landscape dotted with large-to-small structures also similar to my time on Defiance. While The Suffering was level-based all my parts and others were made contingious and non-overlapping.
If you full-screen & fast-forward through these next videos you’ll spot several examples of this. I was given a quest description and constructed everything from the ground up for these levels:
- Layout + Pacing
- Scripting + Spawning
- Terrain terraforming + Decor placement (trees, rocks, grass, etc.)
- Proxied complex interiors before passing to Art (like the old Asylum mansion)
- Used existing art pieces to shape outdoor areas (like the Rock Quarry)
Coastline Bluffs & Rock Quarry
This was primarily an outdoor level with terrain sculpting and a lot of rock prop placement for vertical gameplay. Some puzzle aspects are introduced in the Quarry section.
STORY: Escaping the island’s Prison, you wander the wilderness to find a way off the island. Memories of your family haunt you as much as the island’s creatures taunt you. Places you come across on this journey include a graveyard, caves, rock quarry, and a mysterious tower in the distance…
Old Estate & Asylum Mansion
When I joined the team I completely redid the Asylum. The mansion had been a generic dungeon sprawl, whereas I found ways to capture all the encounters into a belieavable space players could easily identify and map in their head. It was the most satisfying thematic location I did for the project.
STORY: Beyond the Quarry you climb over the backwall of an old Estate. Entering the Mansion you discover it was an asylum run by the mad Dr. Killjoy who still lives through film projectors. He’s fascinated with you and wants you to embrace the raging beast within you.
Coastline Cliffs to Caves
As with all previous levels, everything here was crafted by me except the cutscene and props.
STORY: After you explore another part of the prison, you find your way now on the other side of the island and closer to the small town and boat dock. To get there you only have to make your way along the ocean shoreline and enter an old cave…
Caverns & Underground Bunker
What was exciting about their proprietary terrain feature is I could flip terrain swatches upside down and create not only the floor, but the ceiling. Cave props were use to mask where the two terrain sheets met each other. This deeply organic layout was probably more satisfying than the Asylum mansion. The puzzle room at the end was a classic two-step puzzle to defeat its gas-vapor haunt designed by the Lead then executed by me.
STORY: Dark twisted chambers hide creatures to battle and force past. The ghosts of a former military outpost echo their pain and wait to ambush you before you escape…
Components for Creativity
Lastly, you can download this document I’ve used in the past to establish a toolset to describe an environment to game systems for spawning and creating encounters. It also showcases how to use a space more than once for different Quests. There were some more technical details I removed for casual reading.
For a deeper foundational look at Level Design, read my older article on Design Concepts