Development Blog 7/8/2020

Learning The Radiant Editor

I recently decided to start another modded level project. This time I’m making a modded zombies level for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. I chose to make a Call Of Duty level because it forces me to learn how to use the Radiant level editor. I decided to make a zombies map instead of a multiplayer one because it would be easier for QA testing due to the larger community for custom zombies maps. 

Zombie Level Sketch

I’ve spent the majority of my time so far learning how to use Radiant. I have been learning how to create geometry, adding new prefabs and objects, and some event scripting. I have also begun designing the level layout and geometry construction for the zombies map I’m going to make. 

Moving forward, I plan to continue working on the level geometry. I am hopeful to have a rough graybox of the entire level down soon and will begin implementing zombie spawners, perk machines, and buy doors. 

Development Blog 6/24/2020

Unreal Tournament Level Mod

After the release of Eira: Echoes of Adventure on steam alongside graduation in early May, I had little to work on and plenty of time on my hands. I decided to start making more modded levels in my free time. Creating level mods would allow me to learn new level editors, practice my design skills, and create more content to put on my portfolio. 

I decided to start making a modded level for Unreal Tournament. I thought this would be a good starting point because it allowed me to re-familiarize myself with the Unreal Engine, which I hadn’t used in over a year and helped me practice multiplayer level design. I quickly fell back into the workflow of Unreal, and used the geometry mode to start greyboxing a level. 

I decided to make a team deathmatch style map based off Rio De Janeiro and inspired by Modern Warfare 2’s Favela map. My goal was to create a level of organized chaos, allowing players to traverse through houses, across rooftops, and down alleyways while still providing a fair playing field for both teams. Creating this level definitely helped improve my multiplayer level design skills. It forced me to be deliberate with geometry placement because of its effect sight-lines and the ways players flow through the level. 

Development Blog 4/9/2020

Level Cuts and Polish

The last couple weeks have been interesting at the team and I adjust to working remotely. The first week of remote work was a bit slower than a normal sprint for me as I tried to find a schedule for myself to work. I managed to get the majority of my tasks done with the only exceptions being tasks that relied on other people and thus, couldn’t get done that week. The most recent sprint has been much better. The workflow has improved between everyone and I managed to find a schedule that allows me to get my work done. Apart from not having in-person meetings or work sessions, this week’s sprint has felt pretty normal. 

Having to work remotely has forced the team to re-evaluate the game and decide what is most important and what can be cut. One of the biggest cuts to the game was level 2. It was decided that integrating the tutorial into level 1 and cutting level 2 would help reduce the amount of set dressing and polish that would need to get done. Ultimately, the team concluded it would be better to make 2 really fun and fully complete levels, rather than 4 levels all somewhat lacking in completion. I think this decision was the right call as it allowed me to pass off level 1 to the other designers to polish while I got to focus on finishing level 3.  

As we approach beta, most of my work recently has been adding polish to the levels, making adjustments to objects so that they function better, and fixing any level specific bugs. Moving forward into the coming sprints, I think the majority of my tasks are going to be testing the game. As the level design work slowly starts to come to an end, my role, along with many other people on the team, will likely switch to become much more QA focused.

Development Blog 3/19/2020

Working Remotely and Plans Moving Forward

The last 2 weeks have been interesting to say the least. Due to spring break and GDC following we decided to have an extended sprint in which the team would work the same amount of hours as a 1 week sprint over the course of 2 weeks. This would have worked out well considering I was supposed to go to GDC and would have spent the majority of my time during spring break preparing for the trip and completing sprint tasks. This plan changed a lot with the spread of the Corona Virus becoming more serious posing a threat for the entire county. GDC was canceled and spring break was extended a week followed by a minimum of 3 weeks remote work for quarantine reasons. The team has been rolling with the punches as we try to find ways to get work done for the project while working from home. Luckily for me I have the necessary hardware and software to get my tasks done, however, some of the other people on the team are not as lucky and as a result work on the project has been slow. 

The majority of my work recently has been on re-designing the end game puzzle as well as polishing the levels. Due to the team having to work remotely and loss of time we would have had to work on the project, the number of levels we planned for the game seems slightly out of scope. The team is going to have a meeting in the near future to discuss what needs to be cut from the game and what our focus should be on moving forward. As it stands right now, our plan for levels involves cutting the tutorial and moving it to be in the beginning of level 1. Moving the tutorial would eliminate the need to polish and test another level. It also allows us to give other levels more of our attention. The design team also discussed cutting either level 2 or level 3 for scope reasons. Cutting one of these levels would allow the team to focus more on the other levels and result in a much more detailed product.

Moving forward into the coming weeks, my tasks are kind of up in the air until we decide as a team which levels we want to focus on. I don’t want to spend unnecessary time developing and polishing a level only for it to be cut in the near future, especially if my skills are needed elsewhere in the game. My role on the team will most likely stay the same and the task of polishing the levels will continue to be there; it’s just a matter of determining which levels I will be working on.  

Development Blog 3/5/2020

I made a mountain!

The last two weeks have been full of drastic updates to the game as we rapidly approach the alpha requirement. By alpha the player we need to be able to play through the entire game from start to finish. The team has been working very hard to get all systems and levels into a playable state so that it can be tested. This week we have finally been able to get more art assets into the game which allows the artists and I to set dress the levels more so that they feel less barren. We have also added new level interactions such as  intractable trees, pay totems, and scriptable events.

The majority of the work I have been doing in the last couple weeks has revolved around getting levels to be playable while making them look better with new art. Last week, I was able to finish documentation and get a rough blockout of level 3 using eveniornmetal assets that the artist made. I was also able to start building snow around the map for the player to suck up and build with. While I was working on level 3 we were able to bring level 1 to QA testing for feedback on level layout and functionality. 

I started out this week by fixing issues in level 1 and adjusting the layout based on the feedback we received during testing. I then switched to work on level 3 where I have been adding repairable objects, level interactions, and more art. Level 3 is very big so it is likely I will be making tweaks to the level regularly. I made the switch between levels so that the artists would be able to go into level 1 and set dress more without me working simultaneously causing possible merge conflicts.  

By the end of this week, we will have a fully playable game from start to finish. With no new levels being added at this point I will be able to dedicate the rest of my time to working on level details for both of my levels. Going forward I will likely be spending a lot of time in level 3 adding art, and fixing any issues we encounter during testing. Level 3 being a mountain, makes it by far the largest level in the game (almost twice the size as level 1) and will take a large amount of time to populate the level with art. That being said, I am very happy with the layout of the level and the amount of freedom it gives the player to explore. I am excited to spend more time adding details and making the level look polished.

Development Blog 2/20/20

Level 1 now has art and can be played!

These last couple weeks have been very productive as the team approached Greenlight. Up until this point all of our systems, designs, and art were being worked on separately and finally we were able to reach a point where everything was starting to be brought together in engine. The last couple weeks I worked mostly on level 1 both with the artists and programmers so that we had a fully playable level with a representation of all systems that will be in the final game. 

I started out the beginning of the week by swapping out level blockout assets for the modular environment pieces that the artists made. This alone made the level look more alive. I then started to add the destructible terrain into the level. By using the Marching cube tool that one the programmers made, I was able to play in the level, build out the destructible terrain areas. and save what I made so that It would appear the same each time the level was loaded. Once That was complete I added repairable objects in the level (Such as the ladders). I intentionally placed these objects along the golden path in order to help guide the player towards the end of the level without being overly obvious. Once the repair objects were in the level was fully playable from start to finish, however there was no incentive for the player to explore. To fix this issue, I begin placing chests hidden throughout the level as well as environmental interactables (For example the pay totem which will reward the player if pay a certain number of the correct gem). Lastly I started to work on level feedback and lighting. I added things like air particles, rewards for repairing objects, and narrative instructables. 

(Pay Totem)

As of right now level 1 is fully playable in its current state, however there are a few things I would like to change going forward. The first and main thing would be lighting, I didn’t have enough time or knowledge of Unity lighting to get it to a state where I was happy about it for greenlight. However, the team has a plan to fix this by working with artists in engine to get lighting looking a lot better. The second thing I would like to do is go back into level 1 and start adding the secret areas that will open by using acquired vacuum gun upgrades. Adding these will give the player a reason to go back to previous levels as well as provide more of a reason for the player to explore. In the coming week I will mostly be working on getting the concepts for level 3 fully fleshed out with puzzle and level design documentation. Doing this will allow artists to go in level 1 to fix the lighting and shader issues without having to worry about me changing things at the same time.

Development Blog 2/6/20

Beginning Level 1 blockout

These last couple weeks of development have been very productive. To start, the game has recently been recontextualized to become a Viking inspired, space, treasure hunting game in order to fit with the snowy environment that the team has decided to go with. We recently changed our name to reflect this massive shift in the game’s vision from Vacuum Vault to Eira: Echoes of Egil, with Eira being the player character and Egil being the grandfather you are now trying to find

Level 1 original layout sketch

With this shift in game context came a challenge in level design as well. We needed to start creating ideas for levels, however, with no real context for the overarching game world to base them on we didn’t know where to start. So we started by designing the world first. Over the last couple weeks the other Level Designer and I have created a world document outlining how each level fits into the grand scheme of the world, where player progression will happen, when new mechanics need to be learned, and how this all fit into the narrative story beats for the game. From there, we divided who was going to work on which level (Theirs being Tutorial, Level 2, and Treasure room, and Mine being Level 1 and Level 3 ) and started designing level layouts and puzzles for each individual level.

Level 1 top down blockout

As of right now I have finished a general design for level 1 and have started moving into engine to block it out for scale testing. I have also started to work on possible layout ideas and puzzle mechanics for level 3, with the goal being to have a rough overview of all puzzles in the game outlined in a step by step flowchart complete in the the coming weeks.

Development Blog 1/22/20

Starting Development on Vacuum Vault

Editor terraform tool testing

This was the first week of development working on the new game Vacuum Vault, a first person, casual adventure game where the player uses a vacuum gun to explore levels and interact with the world. As one of the 2 levels designers on the team my job going forward into production will be to design and construct future levels as well as reconfigure and contextualize the level that already exists in the game. Most of my time this week was spent on learning how to use existing tools, researching how similar games construct their levels, and brainstorming ideas for future levels and mechanics.  

The largest and more important use of my time this week was spent on understanding how to use the marching cubes tool as it is currently set up in the engine. Marching cubes allows me to construct terrain in the levels that can then be transformed by the player while in game. This tool is very powerful and allows the player a lot of freedom to build where they want, however it takes some time to construct in the editor and has some rules and limitations that I needed to understand in order to start designing future levels.

The rest of my time this week was spent meeting with the other level designer as well as the rest of the team to discuss ideas for player progression. We brainstormed ideas for level progression, story beats, vacuum gun upgrades, and new possible mechanics for levels. I also spent a lot of time researching similar 3D platformers like Mario Odyssey, Spyro, and Ratchet and Clank to better understand how their levels were structured to contain and direct the player towards their objective. 

Development Blog 8/11

Areas of greatest improvement over the course of this project

Over the past 12 weeks I think there have been a few of skills that I have noticeably improved upon. The first and most significant improvement was definitely my puzzle design skills. Before starting this project, I had no previous experience in puzzle design and was very lost when it came time to designing levels around them. Through research, trial and error, and QA testing, I was able to produce multiple levels with interesting environmental and logic puzzles that do a good job utilizing all of the game’s mechanics. 

The second skill I think I have significantly improved upon is communication and collaboration with the team. When the class first started 12 weeks ago the entire team struggled to communicate and collaborate efficiently, as a result the speed at which we produced work seemed much slower than where we are at today. I think there were 2 major factors that played a part in this change, daily scrum and more team work meetings. The introduction of daily scrum helped keep the entire team on the same page and allowed everyone to share what they were working on. The addition of work meetings with the team helped drastically with our workflow allowing for me to collaborate on the spot with specific people if need be and problem solve with each other when we ran into difficult challenges.

The third major skill I think I have improved upon was level design and documentation. For most of this project I have been the one to design the levels. This project was definitely a level design challenge. Having to account for a constantly moving room while also balancing the difficulty of the puzzles so that it scales as the player progresses through the game was no easy task. Constant testing, feedback, and adjustment allowed for the creation of 6 unique levels and along the way I think I learned a lot about balancing and player progression that I will definitely be bringing to future projects.

Development Blog 7/27

QA feedback and changes to the game.

Recently we were able to take our game to two separate play-test sessions and got a lot of important feedback from it that will soon be implemented into the game. One of the major criticisms that we received from the first session was not only that the tutorial level was too difficult but that the jump in difficulty from it to the main level was too drastic. After receiving this feedback, we decided that it was very important that the difficulty of the game curved more between levels in order to reduce player frustration. To achieve more of a curve we decided to make 4 “tutorial” style levels that would lead up to the main one, each teaching the player a new mechanic with limited amounts of objected in the room to avoid confusing the player and keep them focused on their main objective. 

After implementation of the 4 new levels we were able to take our game to another quality assurance session hopeful that this time the gap in difficulty between levels wouldn’t be as drastic this time. The feedback from this session was surprising, people seemed to struggle a lot on the first level which should have been the easiest, however, once they successfully completed it was as if they understood how rotation worked and were able to complete levels 2-4 with less of an issue. Despite final level being very difficult, which we knew was going to be the case going into the test session, those who made it that far were able to complete it almost entirely on their own. 

Overall the implementation of the 4 new levels was a success and helped reduced the steep jumps in difficulty between levels. Going forward, I still think there could be more intermediate levels between level 4 and 5 to reduce the difficulty spike even more. I also think that a major thing we are going to change for our next test session is the layout of level 1 In order to reduce confusion and teach the player about rotation sooner.

Development Blog 7/9

How my skills have developed over the past Eight weeks

Looking back at my first blog post eight weeks ago I identified that a major skill I wanted to work on was level design and documentation. Over the past eight weeks I feel like my skills in these areas have definitely improved. I have noticed an improvement in the amount of detail that I put into each level design document and the speed at which it takes me to complete it. The additional detail I put into each document is not only helpful for myself when it comes time to build out the level, but also has gained praise from some of the artists and designers on the team due to its ability to eliminate confusing and save them time.

As for my work in engine, I have mainly been focusing on level and puzzle design for the game we are currently working on. Focusing on level design stuff allows me to get more practice building out levels which has been speeding up my workflow more and more as I become more comfortable with it. 

One new skill that I have been working a lot on during this project is puzzle design. Before going into this project I had never designed puzzles for a game before. After a bit of research and some idea concepts, I managed to design 3 puzzles for our first level that utilize the main rotation mechanic and logic to solve. Over the course of a few weeks I learned that puzzle design is a balancing act between too subtle and too obvious for the player. A “good” puzzle will lie somewhere in the middle providing the player with enough challenge while also avoiding frustration. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to designing a good puzzle and I think that will come with more iteration. I am excited to put this level in front of people to test next week and see if what I have designed fits into the ideal puzzle middle ground.

Development Blog 6/18

Prototype with the best process and execution

Looking back at the last 3 weeks and 3 game prototypes that the team made I believe our most recent one had the best process and execution compared to the others. As a whole, I think our team worked together more during this project and everyone seemed to have a much clearer vision of the game than in the projects before it. During this most recent project everyone on the team communicated a lot more than in the past and as a result our overall workflow seemed more efficient.

One of the major things that sets the most recent project apart from the others was the active role of the product owner which help keep everyone on track. During our first prototype we didn’t really have a product owner and although the prototype came together well, team members had drastically different visions of the game. Our second prototype had a little bit more structure due to us putting more emphasis on the role of product owner but we had some issues and there was plenty of room for improvement. Our most recent prototype learned from the mistakes of the previous two and as a result everyone on the team was on the same page.

That being said, there is still a lot of room for improvement in our sprints to come. The biggest challenges for the team at the moment are communication and task management. As previously mentioned, communication is something that has been improving each week and will ultimately take time reach an ideal state. The root of our task management issues has been our slow speed during the concept phase of each prototype. The slow start to each project delays when work can get done each week. This should improve once we decide on a game and no longer have to work through the concept phase, ideally allowing people to manage their tasks better and get work done earlier in the week.

Development Blog 6/2

Designing a level inside a Rubik’s Cube

Last week my team and I finished our most recent vertical slice project (Cognitive Cop). During this project I have been able to work on bettering my skills in level design by planning out rough Level Design Documents and a short level for our prototype demonstration. While designing the level for Cognitive Cop I had to face an interesting level design challenge that I had not encountered before. One of the main mechanics for Cognitive Cop is the ability to zoom out of the cube shaped level that game takes place inside and rotate the walls, ceiling, and floor, changing the perspective if the world once back inside the cube. Designing a level for this mechanic felt like making a room inside of a Rubik’s cube. It was very fun, yet challenging to create, one of the biggest issues we ran into was having to balance which objects in the room get child’ed to the floor, while others to a walls or ceiling, so that when the player did rotate the room things would still function correctly and the room would not explode. In the end our prototype function fairly well to show our game mechanic even though it still had a few bugs involving collision. If given the choice to move forward with this game, there would need to be more research into the collision of objects inside the room. Most likely a script that would toggle object collision while rotating the room or possibly the transfer of a child object to different parent wall piece when rotated. This mechanic has a ton of potential for unique level design moving forward, things like physics puzzles for certain objects and the ability for 3D platforming on rotated world objects would take the game from a simple collection style game to something that is much more fun and engaging for the player.

Development Blog 5/28

Opportunity that this semester provides

During this semester I want to work on as many design skills as I can to in order to improve overall and become a more well-rounded Designer. As it currently stands, my one of greatest strengths as a designer is level design. It is a skill that I have been working on for a while now and have taken multiple classes for. I find level design work fun and will jump into that position on a team whenever given the opportunity. Another one of my strengths as a designer is documentation. I believe my documentation whether it’s for a VDD, LDD, or just general Design Document is done well and effectively helps my team understand the vision and direction of the game in a clear way. Some skills that I think I should work on to become a better overall designer would be programming and system design.  While it is true that the programmers mostly do the heavy lifting when it comes time to code the game, I also believe that as a designer it is important to be able to program systems and understand the scripts that are making everything work.  As of right now I wouldn’t consider myself bad at programming, I am able to get most things working how I want and can understand, change, and debug basic code that is given to me. However, I feel there is room for improvement that could make me quicker and more efficient when I do need to program things. I plan to approach this class in a similar way I approached production 1 while also improving upon weaknesses such as team communication and sprint planning. The good news about taking this class during the summer is that I am taken less classes then I would be during the school year and as a result less other homework I have to juggle which allows me to focus on this class and really improve my skills.