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A Mayan ruin level


 At an Alpha stage its important to blockout where the player can go and what the player can do as well as start defining objects in the space.

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Bird's eye view

What went right



GDD Constraints

The constraints present in the game design document were a good way of funneling creativity. No longer was my yet to be made level a blank canvas but now a controlled palette of design ideas. This was further discovered when playing in the project’s designer gym. Here the designer learns the capabilities of the player character, further narrowing the design potential into something more reasonable then any and everything.


Pre- Alpha Feedback

This was an area that felt like it went right and wrong. Right, because most of my feedback consisted of “This is good, keep going.”. As you might think, this feedback feels good in the moment but doesn’t offer much guidance. This dissonance left me finding many play testers to validate I was still going the right direction. By the end, I had gotten enough feedback to be confident in my design but it was an odd dichotomy of getting good critiques and knowing how to improve.


Level Sequences


I used Level Sequences too much success throughout my level. The highlight of my level was getting five different level sequences all to work in tandem. Upon interacting with a lever, the player will watch the lever go from left to right, a wince rotates, a set of chains go up and a hanging prison with its own set of chains come down from the ceiling. All those happen together and reveal the levels ‘Gate’ key. There was also a playtest that saw a player check out a moving excavator arm much to their surprise. Movement draws the player into the game and interactivity like that can add a lot to the experience.

Level sequences in action


Outside sources for learning

At the beginning of this two-month project I was especially hungry for level design knowledge. Assigned ILAs were just a starting point. I found other GDC talks, and YouTube channels dedicated to level design that greatly expanded my knowledge and reinforced what I was learning in class. I found myself taking notes on videos from Level Design Lobby and going back to reference them often. Anything I could implement into my level I tried during the early stages of blockmesh.


Getting comfortable with Perforce

Perforce was a very intimidating program at first. I thought I’d have the power to destroy other people’s work and that was not a comfortable thought. After a few days using it I found myself getting comfortable with the workflow and learned at worst I’d set my teammates back a few hours of work. Anything new is going to be uncomfortable but that’s why the best way to get good at something is to do it. The more actions I performed the more I understood what was happening. Submitting work to the depot often made both mine and my teammates minds at ease.

What went wrong



Landscaping difficulties

Landscaping was left for one of the last things to do, this was my first mistake. My second was not learning more about it before jumping in. I saw landscaping as low impact, medium effort when it turned out to be high impact, high effort for me. The way I turned this around was by watching tutorials online and cutting content that had a low impact to give myself time to focus on the high priority landscape. In hindsight, landscaping should’ve been the first thing I did when I moved into Beta.


Exteriors VS Interiors

This was mostly a scope issue. I found that blocking out exteriors and interiors weren’t all that different or difficult. It was when I started bringing assets in that I realized how difficult it is to make something look natural. My exteriors suffered because of a lack of time dedicated to making those areas look more realistic. The interiors were easy in comparison to make look believable. In practice, adding trims and decorations is easier than adding landscapes and forests.


Fireman Duty

The final days before turn-in I was on what I like to call Fireman Duty. Finding and putting out fires. Materials aren’t showing up on a mesh, the void can be seen from this angle, this portion of geometry doesn’t allow progression, this area feels empty etc. I ended up being the team’s builder despite warnings from our teacher. Due to equipment limitations, I was the one building and I ended up building a dev mode package for the final video which was a letdown. Since then, I’ve learned the proper way to build and package.


Asset integration

Asset integration takes a long time. Finding probable packs, sifting through the files for things to integrate into the level and then actually using those assets in replacement of existing blockmesh ended up taking twice as long as it was to create the original blockmesh. This bogged down the creation process and it was especially bottlenecking when I’d go looking for some very specific asset and end up never finding one. For projects in the future, I’ll be keen to know what I’m working with prior to working at all.


Easter eggs and cut content

Some parts of my level from Pre-Alpha and Alpha didn’t make it into Gold. They were additions I had extra time to work on in the early stages of the project but when Beta came around, I only had time to work on high priority tasks. Extra rooms, interactable chests and exploratory areas were cut in favor of the golden path. Cutting content isn’t something I wanted to do but I’m glad I did in the end. Easter eggs are fun, but they don’t impact the game much and I’d rather have a game then a cool easter egg.

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