Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Level design

Level design incorporates a wide variety of elements into a final, working product. It is definitely not limited to the appearance of the map, such as from the textures alone, but also involves the underlying architecture that keeps all of those shiny texture maps together. The way that the level is designed visually is important in itself, but the core of the design is the playability and depth.

In modern day games, you can’t just make a nice looking level with great textures, but nothing more; there has to be functionality behind it. It’s like a beautiful girl but without the ability to talk or move; in the end, it’s just a model. A level should have some sort of interaction to it, and there are various ways to do this, no matter how big or small they may seem. Even from the beginning of 3d games there is some level of interaction with the environment. Let’s take DOOM for an example. Its one of the oldest 3d games, yet still the levels have interactible objects like elevators, trap doors, portals and other secrets. There are games like Call of Duty in which level design is all about strategically placed items on the map, so it’s not only a huge sandbox where everybody can spot you and shoot you down. There is minimal interaction with the level in this case.

However, there are games like Portal, where the level itself is the game. Everything is placed effectively, and made to look good without sacrificing functionality. It also managed to use fewer polys, and maintain the texture budget. In the game you have to basically travel through the level with the portals so you can achieve your goal. It’s more based on the love of the characters and the fan-base then on actual interesting gameplay. I’m not saying it’s not fun, but it’s more like an interesting comic for me than a game. In others, like the Half-Life franchise, there are a lot of tasks you must complete to continue your epic journey, like open a secret door or move an object so you can carry on. In others like the Assassins Creed franchise, the level is one of the most interactible imaginable. You can climb, jump on, and hide in almost any building you see. I’m still amazed at the brilliant work they did on how he moves around the level so fluently.

Looking at first person shooter the level is made to be playable in a way that you can, or cannot get a good shot at someone. To me, it’s really not that difficult to do, as all that is done is placing obstacles around the map. However, games such as the Battlefield franchise make the level dynamic, by allowing everything to be destroyed, thus altering gameplay on the fly.

When I think about it we give much love to the levels in games without knowing it. For instance, we love some levels in specific games, and just hate others. Like in Half Life 2, when you are in Ravenholm, I hated it because it scared the crap out of me and I always had no ammo then.

Overall level design is a huge part of the game experience. A game isn’t a game when it consists only of one straight corridor. The textures may be nice, and the character design may be pulled off flawlessly, but simply having enemies pop out at you with no depth to the game is extremely boring. You must immerse the player into a world that will look good and have something interactive and interesting about it.

Planning and concepting

Planning and Concepting

Planning and concepting are one of the lead hands that pull the strings in the development of a game. No matter where a project ends up, it always starts with an idea, and that idea is expanded upon with planning. Organizing and distributing the work that has to be done is also a major factor for a successful game. Concepting is the visualization of the whole project. But what exactly occurs with planning and concepting?

Planning the whole process of work takes quite a lot of time, and it’s not only in the beginning, but continues through the whole process because not everything will end up the way you planned. But the initial organization is of most importance.

On the other hand, we have concepting, which is as important as planning. Basically, it’s the visualization of the whole game, the feel that it will have overall, and the characters that will give even more life to the surroundings. The planning of the game gives rise to the concept; what type of game is it going to be? If it’s a war game, the concept of it is going to be more realistic, and a lot more references will be used than, for instance, a game that takes place 200 years in the future, in which the artist’s imagination can go wild. However, the concept must still be restricted to the overall idea of the game. There is more freedom, but the initial planning must still be followed to keep the basic design constant.

Another example is if the game takes place in a specific time era, let’s say the 1930s or the 1950s in America. They have to make it feel like it’s actually 1930. When I think about those times I imagine warm, but at the same time very cold colors, because they were difficult times. Imagine an old-school jazz bar with live music and cigar smoke everywhere, beautiful ladies in fancy dresses, and real men in costumes. Mobsters come across my mind as well. They were famous times for bank robberies and alcohol and drug traffic, which the mob was heavily into. Basically what I want to say when you make a game you have to know what it will bring to the eye and soul of the player. That’s why concepting is so important.

It also is a factor that can continue over the whole project but yet again there must be a solid initial idea for the whole thing. Overall, planning and concepting are the first step into the making of a video game. One on hand you have to have a visual and plot design of the whole idea, and on the other a plan how all of that work will be processed, done for the period of time there is.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Personal review of the first year

Looking back on year one, I realize that it wasn’t so much of a struggle as I thought it would be, especially in comparison to this year so far. It might be that I’m saying that because it has already passed and over with, but it’s difficulties were still somewhat easier to handle than several of the changes so far this year.

The biggest issues I faced during the first year were getting used to the course, and its programs, such as 3Ds Max, which I had never used beforehand. As well, being a foreign student required a lot of adjustment. Personally, I feel I’ve matured to some extend since the first year, and I am able to better realize the weight that I have to carry on my shoulders. Still, there is much I have to get used to.

In hindsight, I realize there are many things that I could have done better, one of which was my time management. This is an issue I’ve tried to get better at for years, with little progress. Essentially, I get everything done at the last moment, perhaps because of the fear of failing or not reaching the deadlines makes me go into work-overdrive, at which point I get everything done in one go. This year, however, I’m starting projects near the beginning, and working on them little by little until completion. Still, I tend to complete a large part of the work near the end. Overall, I think I did well during the first year – not great, of course – but I intend to improve. From my experience, I found that the time and effort I thought I put into a project simply wasn’t enough sometimes.

As of now, I can’t really describe what my expectations are for this year, as I’m uncertain of what is to come. However, there are several things I’d like to achieve. First, I’d like to show some improvement in my art. Secondly, my 3Ds Max skills could stand to improve, though I’m really not looking forward to it. I plan to spend as much extra time as I can with drawing, and developing myself as an artist. So far, I can say I’ve travelled a long road since my beginnings, and I plan to continue down that road to improvement. Sometimes the goal of getting there drives me mad, especially when looking at the art of those better than me; still, I strive to get better, and eventually surpass them. It’s a long and difficult road, but I take it in stride; I may want to take the easier paths, but something inside me urges me to take the rougher path.

Having seen what our current projects are, I’m quite confident that I can do them. Now, though, we’re a little bit more stressed out about our work, as we’ve got to put forth our best effort in order to pass on to year three. At point I find it quite difficult to manage the workload, and I have to try and balance that with developing my drawing skills. Another issue I’ve been facing that is having an effect on my work is my eyes. I’ve had medical issues with them for years; mainly, they’re photosensitive. After staring at a screen for some time, they hurt quite a bit for the rest of the day. Managing this requires taking breaks every now and then, where I just have to stop looking at anything in order to let them recover.

Overall, year one wasn’t quite as difficult as I expected it to be. This year however, I know I have to put forth a greater effort, and balance my own issues at the same time, in order to succeed.