Sunday, 24 February 2013

Elements of game design, part eight: Documentation

Documentation is very important as it is the stage that needs the green light before any real game development can begin. It is the pitch, the ideas, the technical specifications and limitations. It is defining the genre, art style, demographic, platform, budget, time, and software. As second years we will need to prepare something like this for our FMP’s next year, doing this and reflecting or reverting back to it consistently is a great way to build functional game levels. So let me take a shot at this!

The Overview:
An open world Massive Multiplayer Online FPS. 5 different factions in game and 4 classes per faction. The Medic (healing class), The Sniper (long range class), The Rouge (quick close range class) and The Tank (does a lot of damage, takes a lot of damage). Each faction has its own back story and player can choose to role play or just get stuck in combat. 5 large cities exist, one to each faction and here is where players will purchase upgrades, armour, weapons and can choose Arena 2 v 2, 3 v 3, 4 v 4, and 5 v 5.
Screenshot - Planet Side 2)

Gameplay: Across 2 Continents, more than 30 bases exist and players fight in many numbers to secure these locations for XP and bonus content.
This pitch is not specific to a demographic but will have a 12+ . The aim is to create a pick up and play game such as Call of Duty but consist of the complexity of something like Guild Wars 2 for the more interested players. Attributes like Arena PVP, unlock able content depending on level, xp/leveling process and faction cities will exist.   
(Open World Map - Guild Wars 2)
Create one of the high detail environments and unique cities for one out of five factions, differences in factions will include race, size, as well as historical and cultural elements.
Aim for current gen pc graphics, referencing games such as Crysis 2, Uncharted 3, and Batman Arkham City.

Autodesk 3ds Max
Autodesk Mudbox
Adobe Photoshop CS6
Pixologic Zbrush 4R4
Main Character:
Depending on which faction you choose, the character will vary. All classes and races will have a 9k Tri Budget. As it is a FPS, you will not see your character in 3D except in the customisation screens, but other players will be visible in game so detail is very important. Weapons will be of high detail, 7k will be the maximum tri budget for any weapon. 

Main Character: 9K
Two 1024x1024 Diffuse, Normal, Specular maps. 
Main Character Weapon: 7K
One 1024x1024 Diffuse, Normal, Specular maps.  

(Main character from Mass Effect)

One of the most reoccurring NPC’s will be the Kings and Queens of each city. Players can invade other faction’s cities and kill the royalty, to gain high XP, exclusive content and achievements. This will reset every 24 hours in game. As these characters will be highly sought after to kill, they must be powerful and high in detail. Up to 15K tri’s will be set for each King and Queen.
Main NPC’S: 15K
Two 1024x1024 Diffuse, Normal, Specular maps.  

(king concept from World of Warcraft)

As the open world will be very large, vehicles will play an important role. Tanks, bikes, infantry carriers, as well as air support will all be usable in game. For air vehicles the budget will be 9K. For ground it will be up to 12k. This is because wheels can take up a high amount of detail. These are the limitations and smaller vehicles may be lower in tri count.

Air vehicles: 9K
Ground vehicles: 12K
Two 1024x1024 Diffuse, Normal, Specular maps. 

There will be 5 focal points (faction cities) as well as bases that can be conquered, each base should be around 50 – 100k depending on location, and there will be several buildings with between 15 – 20 high detail modular assets around.

The cities could be pushed up to 200k+ as they will have monumental structures like statues and very large exotic architectural pieces.

If I were to present this as a 3rd year FMP project for a level, I would go over all the challenges I would be facing, such as:

Time constraints,
A schedule to have things done weekly and stay on track,
Limiting the idea to one city or one base location and one character,
Getting a certain FPS out of the level once it is done so it all plays smoothly,
Software and pipeline learning curves,
Maximising texture and tri budgets,
Not losing the narrative and story throughout the process,
(to name a few).

These will vary from barrels, boxes and trash, to standing posts that mark faction territory. Also things like chairs, Inns inside the city, PvP Arena props, smaller customisable assets like armour, weapon attachments will all vary from size and importants. Anything armour based could go up to 3K and any modular assets could be limited to 1.5k but these are just guidelines.

In an article I found about educational game development, Subject Matter Experts and Instructional Designer’s seem to be at the hierarchy of gameplay and instructional aspects. So as an artist I would not have any say in the outcome of these factors, I would simply be doing the ground work to create what is needed. I am guessing that these guys will also have a strong input on any pitch or design document as it is their vision that becomes the final outcome.  

On another website it suggests that the pitch cannot always be simply a design document, but something called a ‘vertical slice’ may be created. This is because a document may not be enough to convince funding for the project; investors may want to see something in 3D before they are willing to back it. This is when the design team could have an input. It 
doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all because before I get into 3rd year, I could even use time in the summer to build a ‘demo’ or ‘vertical slice for a FMP pitch’ with the document so my tutors get a better idea of what my idea is. Just a thought!    

Friday, 8 February 2013

Elements of Game Design, Part Seven: Level Design

Before I go into detail about Level Design and its purpose, elements, and functionality, let me give a brief description of what I think this whole thing to be. From my understanding, level design appears as the foundation to any game. It is almost like the blueprint of every video game for every asset to sit on and every character to articulate around. It also seems to have a hand in defining genre, for example FPS games such as Call of Duty or Halo would consist of maps. Various sizes and proportions, but none the less, closed of maps where the player can only roam around a limited space. MMO’s or open world games such as World of Warcraft and RPG’s like Skyrim tend to have a much larger space for the player to explore, not limited as such by closed off areas. In such cases players are encouraged to use transport within the game to reach locations which could take several minutes on foot, mounts can also be incorporated for the players to get from one location to another whenever they see fit.  

Whilst learning a little more about level design I came across a plan that takes you through the steps of the process. Initially you would go through its purpose before making any decisions at all. Why does it exist? What is it for? What audience is it aimed at? Bearing in mind that Level Design does not necessarily mean games such as Crysis or Uncharted: highly detailed and polished environments that should convey a great deal of credibility. Considering handhelds and mobile gaming, Level Design is a very open eneded building block to game development. The guide goes through the process, beginning with photo referencing and idea generating, to get a strong overview of what you initially want, photos and sketches help a great deal. Using mood boards to decide Location, interior/exterior, set design, lighting style and time period is also key. First hand photo referencing should be done very early on for textures and real life locations to assist the level.  

An easy way to confront something as open ended as maps and the general layout, is to first break down the obstacles you will create for the player. What kind of objectives will the level consist of? What kind of elements will constrict or challenge the player and why? Another element to the design process is ‘focal points’. Visual landmarks are very important in any game because for one, it helps the player navigate, so they understand where they are in relationship to the focal point. Aesthetics are very important, a landmark should not be a general asset dotted multiple times around the map/world/level but a unique structure to its location. Drawing attention using landmarks can sell the level, not to say it should be a enormous, majestic architectural masterpiece; more so a distinctive addition. Although majestic architecture is always a bonus.

After figuring out what you want, and how you want it to look, a key building block in this pipeline is concept design. Developing strong artwork that depicts your level as accurate as possible can be a major help down the line when it comes to modelling everything in 3D. The more artwork that is produced, the greater idea the 3D artists will have when it comes to the final thing. This is also why there can be tons of concept art churned out by a team but only maybe 25% of it actually used. White boxing out levels is a great step in visualising concepts in 3D space. This typically will occur around the idea generation period where by using basic shapes in software such as 3DS Max you can get a very quick overview of scale and design. It is also helpful as drawings are 2D so the very angle illustrated is what the artists have to work with; in 3D space you can view your design from all angles and ofcourse do paintovers.

The visual side ofcourse is a very large step in this pipeline; in fact visual design and development is almost the entire pipeline. However, we must not forget narrative. Storytelling is something I think can be overlooked with all the next gen consoles delivering high end graphics and aesthetic appeal. Before the previous generation of gaming (around the early 2000’s) selling points like high end graphics and online game play were nonexistent. Developers had to involve players on COOL narratives and clever story telling just as much as gameplay, ofcourse. As an artist hoping to break through into the games industry in a few years, I think it is very important to learn these steps so there is no confusion as to why things happen a certain way.