Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Movie moments

Sometimes it's just fun to wow the player with an amazing moment of action. Something they can look back on and think, I DID THAT!
These can be passive, i.e. the player does not interact with the event, for example a helicopter crash that swoops closely over the players head but never touches them, or interactive, for example the player having to jump off a roof thats about to explode into a swimming pool below.

These moments will always come from your imagination (or the best action films!) but try to add one or two amazing movie moments to your map. It will make the player remember it that much more and hopefully recommend it to others.

Light and sound

Light and sound have a powerful effect on the player. Aside from making the world feel more realistic players will be guided by these elements.

Lighting a map correctly has become an artform in itself these days. You could spend months tweaking lighting to get the best results.
This guide is primarily focussed on gameplay so we'll skip all the asthetic details. Its enough to say thay players will be drawn to the light. So if you have 2 routes and one of them is not the way the player should be heading, make it darker.
Light can also be used to highlight important areas of an area. Got a handle or button that the player needs to interact with? Light it up.
I would also point out here that players are naturally drawn to more natural forms of light. Between an indoor lit area and an outdoor area the player will generally want to head toward the outdoors. Dont ask me why... human nature or something.
These elements of human nature can be a very useful tool sometimes...

Sound can build a world beyond your map and create the illusion of many things, what the ear hears, the brain builds into the overall environment. Sound can also be a really handy tool to tip the player off of an upcoming danger or an important element of an area. The more you want a player to focus on something the more noise or more regular noise it should make.

Mixin it up

Most FPS games these days provide the ability to set NPC alignment. This provides us with the ability to have a 3 way fight going on. You hate the bad guys, they hate you but someone else hates all of you! The player then has the choice to sit back and let the neutral party thin the herd a little or jump in guns blazing and take them all down!
All good fun...

Player Motivation

Making the player care about a map and progressing through it is tough. Without backstory or lots of complex npc interactions it can be hard to lay out a story in order to put something more at stake other than the players life. Never the less there are ways to give the player something else to aim for other than get to this location and kill the bad guys.

For example, the player finds a raised drawbridge. In order to lower it the player needs to find and install a missing cog and place it in the gear mechanism, then they need to find a missing handle to turn it on, finally they need to switch on the power. There, we've now given the player 3 objectives, each of which can be placed in a different action or puzzle area. The player has the satisfaction of seeing the drawbridge drop and progressing to a new area once complete.
See.. motivation!

Pick an environment..

The first step of any map design is to choose the environment its going to be set in.

Is it in a sewer?
A tower block?
A street scene?
Alien world?

You must have a clear idea in your head as to what the area will look and feel like.

See it in your mind.

We're not bothered about specific layouts here, just the look and feel. We need this because when you start the mapping process you need to be able to use basic dull textures or development textures and overlay them in your mind with how its going to look in the finished map.

Once you can look at a basic collection of square blocks and see in your mind what each one represents in the final map, you can start building creatively and not bother too much with the detail or textures at this point.

Where to begin...

I find that many folks who attempt to build SP maps tend to approach level design in a slightly backward fashion. By this I mean they design and build the environment and then fill it with NPCs and hope that the action will be appropriately fun.

While having a good idea for the environment you wish to build is an important step, SP level design is primarily based around the events that will occur in your map. Each section of the map is designed specifically with the gameplay in mind.

If you look at any specific area of an SP FPS game you'll realise often how unrealistic the layout of an area actually is. In the real world, how often do you really come across high walkways with no hand rail etc...?

This is the reason warehouses and crates are so popular as environments for designers. They can be configured into almost any layout to meet any preplanned gameplay encounter and still look reasonably realistic. The trick is to take an unrealistic area layout that works well for gameplay and then disguise it as a location that fits the theme of your game map.

For example... that large block essential to making the firefight circulate round the room will become a big water tank once you start detailing. The high level sniper position becomes a clocktower etc...