DIVING INTO “UNREAL” WORLDS
With Age of Blood beginning to pick up momentum and it also progressing closer and closer to completion, I thought I would share a few reflections of the level design process and how it shapes me as a level designer. Along the way I will also share ideas/opinions on how levels should be built and why “Unreal Engine 4” has played a big part of our accomplishments at Galaxy Interactive.
Before I get too far ahead of myself and loose you in a disorientating jumble of words, maybe I should tell you a few things about myself? I enjoy long walks on the beach, drinking mojitos, and sailing on my yacht. Who am I kidding; I do none of the previous mentioned activities. Instead I spend my days and nights glued to a flat screen monitor slaving away either developing games or playing them. In many cases the later endeavor occurs more often. Nevertheless I create video games, or attempt to. There have been many instances over the course of my game development career that concepts have never left the prototype stage and even the drawing board stage but the ones that do prevail take hours upon hours of time.
If you haven’t noticed I am an inspiring game developer, or to be more specific a level designer. You know, the person that takes everyone else’s work and makes it complete in a level, builds lighting scenes, and sets up the events in the game. Yeah, that’s me.
Enough about me, what about this game Age of Blood? In the simplest terms it is a third-person-action-adventure-puzzler in which the player controls one of two characters through a mess of sticky situations. Which in most cases are solved with the edge of a blade or the tip of an arrow.
You may be asking yourself by now, what has this guy been working on or contribute to the project? Well, I have been working on the “flooded underground”, a nasty level later on in the game in which “Cael” [one of the two protagonists] has been sent crash landing into. Unlike previous levels that have been showcased with AoB the flooded underground is far darker and full of deadly encounters around every room and corner.
So are you ready to hear about level design finally? I thought so. The first step to creating a level is to map it out. Don’t even touch the editor until you have at least a sketch of the floor plan. Doing so will allow designers to visualize the paths players must take and more importantly plan the “flow” of the level. Flow, what is Flow? Flow is the steps in which the designer wants the player to take. Without it your level would be a trip from location A to location B. With it you can add meaningful encounters, situations, use of mechanics and the overall direction.
Once you have a visualization of the flow down, its time to step into the editor and put things together. Step one: Block out the level; this can be one of the easiest steps if you do proper research before implementing what goes into the level. For example, the flooded underground has several cave systems and tunnel systems. I spent a vast amount of time studying and looking at the interiors of caves and the catacombs found in Paris. With this knowledge I was able to communicate with our lead environmental artist to create stellar props for the level.
Step two: Get your Blueprint “A” game on and start making your level into an interactive world. With the new standard of game environments you want nothing less than a believable/immersive environment for which the players experiences. One of the first steps you will want to take when starting in blueprints via visual scripting is setting up your overall game [game mode, characters, etc.]. Once you have gotten this out of the way, you can move onto more level specific scripting. Some of these blueprints could include doors opening and closing, moving chandeliers, enemies, falling objects, death-dealing trap, level specific events and cameras.
Step three: Lights! Unless you are making “darkness the game” you will most likely be dealing with spotlights, point lights, directional lights and captures spheres. This is seen by most level designers as the last task to do before completing the level, but I suggest working on it early on to find the correct direction you would like to take the specific level you are working on. It might even same as simple as throwing in a few lights and calling it good, but take it from me, lights can be a pain in the ass and often take much longer to complete than expected.
If you haven’t noticed by now with all the terms I have been using in the above-mentioned spilling of nonsense, AoB is built using the Unreal Engine 4. Why? Why not use another engine like Unity or UE3? This answer is simple and only contains to words; IT’S BETTER. AoB was originally built with Unreal Engine 3 but with the new upgrades the Unreal Engine 4 offered it was immediate that the game needed a change of venue. Not only did it offer ways to get things done more easily but also it just looks fantastic. Anyone who has converted for UE3 to UE4 can tell you the same thing. The new graphical limitations of the engine alone were enough to spark a new motivation to get the game into the hands of players.
I hope you enjoyed my rambling and didn’t look away with blank stare on your face. Look out for Age of Blood later this year and if you haven’t already checked the game out, do so and tell us here at Galaxy Interactive what you think!
– Justin Terry