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Advancing the Level - Drop Dead Gorgeous

This log has been a long time coming. For the past 3 months, I have been working on implementing and creating art for our level as well as completely redesigning the level. I started by going back to our original grey box.

Grey box level 01

What worked: It allowed for the player to climb vertically and explore the world, and provided some challenge.

What failed: It did not feel like a city. Blocked out sections for platforming were not built like proper buildings would be. Part of the reason for this was because I really didn’t know what a building in this world would look like and how the player could then interact with it.

Looking back at our grey box I decided to tear it apart but keep the core. I liked having the 3 tears for the player to move around in and explore, but I knew that I needed to promote the idea of platforming more. This lead to me cutting up sections on the map so that we had a total of 9 “wards” on the map that could be accessed in different ways.

First iteration of previous grey box

Concept that turned into grey box 02

Grey box 02

Because I created these little island wards that look similar to a 3x3 grid, I needed to create routes that the players could take that would allow them to access certain areas while locking off others for later, but it all had to remain visible on the player’s map. This is where tubes, hard light bridges and drones came into play. Tubes suck the player up to different wards, some of them are working while others are out of order. This allowed players to move vertically through wards with little to no challenge, but it was efficient so it was used sparingly to hopefully help create some cool moments for the player. Hard light bridges were used to bridge gaps between wards and allow the player to move horizontally between 3 different wards. The drones are only on the far-right side of the map and are constantly flowing upwards allowing the player to gain access to 3 different wards vertically while promoting platforming and creating some challenge.

What is the Goal?

The level was heading in a better direction but there was still no idea as to what this city was going to look like so I jumped on environment art. I started by establishing what it was we were trying to create; a noir city in space that was slowly being upgraded. This city had to visually encourage the player to move vertically, provide some world context and fit our quirky theme that we were going for. Technically all objects in this world needed to be clearly readable on the player’s mini map, meaning the colours had to be readable if grey scaled and text on signs had to be legible. Since it is a platforming game I had to make sure that the objects that the player would be climbing on would make sense in the world.

Initially we had a small list of things that players should be able to climb in a city.

  • Fire escapes

  • Buildings

  • Dumpsters

  • Signs

  • Benches

And on the 12th day of Christmas…

Even with these lists we didn’t really have much traction. While we were home for Christmas I had a break, I could finally see how buildings were going to work from both a level and environment design perspective. You see while I has home I spent a lot of time riding around the downtown core of Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a rough looking little city known for its steel export. The city has so much character and I wanted to bring that to our game. So I looked at a lot of building made some sketches and started to break down what made a building look like a building.

I didn’t need to be architecturally correct in making my building, but they still needed to feel like they could be real in some small way. I ended up breaking buildings into 3 main components.

Body: The general shape of the building

Details: Aspects of a building that make it look habitable (i.e. windows, door way, etc..)

Walkways: Player intractable object such as roof tops and ledges that can be walked on.

Full generic building 01

From these three main components, I could make any building, so that’s what I started doing. We needed a variety of building and fast so I made everything as modular as possible. I made 3 variations of each building component and re-coloured them in 3 different colour palettes to give me a larger variety of buildings that I would then build in Unity.

These buildings could be re-scaled to any size and the assets would still all work together. I took this and then created our "special" buildings.

Making Movement Pretty

I had to make sure that each way to move around the map was clear to the layer, what I am referring to are the tubes, hard light bridges, and drones before. Tubes were based off of the Futurama tubes and the drones are based off of the amazon delivery drones. Those were fairly straight forward to create, but in terms of guiding the player on how to use them I took a more obvious approach and used signs to tell the player how they should interact with each set piece.

The hard-light bridges were another beast. Since hard-light bridges don’t exist there is no universal understanding of what they are so there was very little reference I could turn to. In the end, they became 2D versions of the classic hard light bridges in Halo: Combat Evolved.

Halo Hard Light Bridge

HL Bridge with Stop Light

On top of all this I added signs in both the back ground and on walkways in each ward to tell the player where they are located at all times. Instead of using street name I kept it simple labelling each section from A-1 to A-9, as letters and numbers are easier to remember than street names since we are asking the player to remember a lot of information anyways. I try to maintain the 7+/-2 rule when considers what I am asking the player to remember at any given point in the game.

Set Dressing

After adding all of these elements I needed to visually reinforce the capitalistic nature of this world. To do this added trash piles, dumpsters and sewage on the lowest level and left it with the least amount of vegetation. As you move up in the world the buildings get bigger and there are more lush plants.

I also wanted to help create the promise of more for the player. That is why there is an inaccessible construction site that can only be seen on the player’s map, and why I have giant tubes that lead upwards to new levels, but are currently out of order.

So far this is the level we have. With only 2 weeks left of development time I will be focusing on making this a fun environment for the player to be in. Who knows where we will end up, but hopefully it's somewhere fun.

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