Topic 5 & 7- Analysis and Research of level design and audio

Primarily before a level can be designed, the designers must have an idea of what kind of level they want to be designed. Once the ideas have been conveyed and agreed to be worked on, the next stage would be the setting of a location and theme. This would allow for the designers to focus more solely on a set place, where more focus can be placed on the assets that would make the setting a replica of the location and overall theme. Once this has been chosen, a project purpose must be analysed. This is to ensure that all designers know why they would be taking part in the project, and what this level would contribute to.  E.G. The level would be used in the newest most popular game series of the studio. Once this has been done, the “set of features” that the level will include will need to be chosen. These features are chosen/built upon, to differentiate your level/overall game to the competition that is also on the market. This can be such features as “a fully customizable character, a seamless and real-time raid system, and a new sense of destruction.”  These could also be marketing material when the game releases in the future. Features can be a good set of guidelines that the level designers should follow, for them to incorporate all the features into the level. Once these have been chosen and have been able to be incorporated correctly into the genre of the level, then references will need to be taken. This is the research aspect which needs to be collected for reference, as this research will be the starting point when primary sketches and 3d designs are made when the research has been fully collected. This research which needs to be collected, can be such research as environment and location reference which would allow designers to almost replicate or take inspiration from the location that the level may be trying to replicate. Along with the set design and prop reference, which would give the designers the research to make geographically identical/ similar products to the set, and to ensure that realism is present in the level.  Besides that, lighting reference and style/visual references can be taken. This would allow the designers to take inspiration again from the lighting present at the location, and that make appropriate and life-like lighting throughout the level itself and make appropriate lighting for the assets designed from the photo references. These will then start the stage of concept art, based on the research. The concepts will analyse such things as physics and shapes, along with age that would need to be implemented onto the assets, depending on how long the level occurs after the year that the assets have been taken from. E.G. Times Square used for inspiration now, but the level is set in 2120, and so the assets would need to be aged accordingly, so the user still recognizes that the level is Times Square, but it has aged significantly, but that’s not all. Alongside this, the sound team will be starting their work on sounds such as dialogue and sound effects that will be implemented into the level, such as gunfire or even the sound of the playable character walking along with ambient noises. This stage will last as long as to stage 10, where visual development occurs. Once this has been started, then the Story developers begin/project their story to the rest of the level design team, and so will begin to express the story, both explicitly and implicitly. The explicit way of storytelling is told through the level that the player plays in. This can be through the character/characters speaking with each other (dialogue), cinematics, and game level objects/assets. Everything is told/shown directly to the player and so, is the simplest way to convey a story without any confusion. Compared to implicit storytelling, where the surroundings and environment tell the story without directly stating what occurred. (The player must infer based on what they can see around them.) An example of this can be that the player finds a body lying next to the firearm on the floor covered in blood. The player was not told that the person shot himself, but due to no other bodily marks, E.G. bruises, the player can infer that the person committed suicide and that nobody killed the person while struggling. Both of these methods of story-telling must be implemented early in the development stages, as the story writers and the environmental level designers need to work very closely together, so that the level is appropriate to the level genre, and that the story can also be told properly and effectively within the level itself. After this stage. The next step, (step 7) is to analyse and implement the O-O-S. These are the Objectives, Obstacles and Set Pieces. The Objectives primarily focuses on what the player will need to achieve/complete to progress in the playable level, this can gravely vary in difficulty, from a simple task to one that can be more difficult and time-consuming. Alongside this, the Obstacles that the player must face are those that can either take the form of a puzzle, exploration, battles ETC. The focus of the Obstacles is to add an additional layer of challenges to the level which in turn adds challenge and elongates the level’s overall playtime. Finally, the thought and implementation of Set Pieces, otherwise known as Scripted Events, are the pieces that enable the player to feel immersed within the game level/world, as this can influence the player’s choice within the level, and they can see what their actions have to lead to. This allows the player to feel a sense of belonging within the game’s world/level, and allows them to make informed choices, as later in the level or game, the player could be shown how their actions affected the game world, and what consequences arose from their choices. But besides this, the focal points must also be thought about and implemented with all prior steps in mind. The next step is to use and implement the Focal Points. The reason for the use of focal points are as stated:

Functional purpose – helps the player to orient themselves in the environment. The player will always know where they are in relationship to a focal point.

Visual aesthetic function – visual appeal

Helps to draws the player’s attention to a location. It becomes a point of interest to explore.

The use of Focal Points allows the player to mostly orient themselves within the map/level, and so gives them an extra sense of exploration that needs to be completed. Whilst also giving them a perspective of the level, whether it be in a town or a field, and gives the player a sense of distance when travelling from one place to the next and allows the player to recollect previous maps/levels by implementing a landmark that differentiates from place to place that they may go. But it does not have to be large or outstanding, something as simple as a single ray of light in a dark room, or even a crashed car within a field, gives the player a sense of direction, based on leaving the car as they walk away, or perhaps looking at the object closer, as it could further the story in the level itself as the landmark could house an interactable object. Yet a designer’s task is still unfinished, the next process would be to create a Top-Down layout, which implements all the previous steps. This layout is a bird’s-eye view of the level that will be created/early concept of the level that will be enhanced later. This can give designers a guide on where to place assets, along with judging the overall size of the level, and can also perhaps start to judge the overall play-time of the level, and so any adjustments to elongate or shorten the playtime can be justified and be made here. Finally, the proper level design and infrastructure can be designed and made. The Visual Development can start to occur with the utmost efficiency, as the designers have all the pieces for the “puzzle” and all that they need to do now is to build it to their standards. Implementing all that they have analysed and read about, ensuring that the level, not just only looks outstanding, but the story flows and all assets and sounds function properly, which will soon lead to a fully playable level. But again, a designer’s work is far from over, they must submit a list/report that entails such items as Asset Lists, Production List and Project Management. {For less of an eyesore please console in the more visual representation seen below.}

Stage 1- Overall idea is thought of and eventually chosen to be developed as the groundwork for the level. (this can be where the level is set, (location) or even the initial thought of the story.)

Stage 2- The more in-depth decision of the setting and theme. This would have been influenced by stage 1.

Stage 3- The project purpose, whether it would be for a new game company’s NO.1 game, or simply as additional DLC to a pre-existing game, would change how much time and money would need to be spent on the design and build of the level.

Stage 4- These are the features that will be implemented into the level, that set it apart from others in the competition. This could be pre-existing features that are more refined in this level, or even a new set of features that are the first of its kind being implemented into the newly designed level.

Stage 5- This is the collection of references and the conduction of thorough research. This allows the assets to be designed according to the research conducted, and so offers the basic planning of assets and the environment of the level itself to occur.

Stage 6- How the environment tells its story to the player, this can be in the form of how the level looks at the relevant time of the player being there, or how it changed from before the layer making an entrance to it. As stated above, this is the introduction of the explicit and implicit story-telling that the environment and level convey to the player.

Stage 7- This part is the setting and implementation of O, O and S. (objectives, obstacles, and set pieces) this allows the designers to begin to understand the purpose of the level and also allows the designers to introduce obstacles and puzzles that the player may have to complete in order to proceed playing in the level. This allows the designers to analyse the overall playtime that will be needed to complete the level, and from here, they can shorten or elongate it accordingly.

Stage 8- This is the introduction of focal points. This is usually in the form of landmarks and allows the player to reorient themselves in the level and so ensures that the player will be less likely to become lost, even if the level layout may be complicated.

Stage 9- This is the part where the “Top Down layout” is drawn. This gives an overhead view of the entire map and shows such things as boundaries, player paths, alternate routes, spatial relationships, flow, pacing, cover, player starts, AI position, important locations, and focal points.

Stage 10- This is the stage where visual development becomes the focus. Usually, the art style will be determined here, but in a larger game’s studio, this would have been chosen earlier in development. Concept art will arise here more and allows changes to made with the characters and even more minor details in the level if need be.

Stage 11- This is the final step of level design and occurs after each level is made. The developers must create a list of everything in their levels, including assets, production list, and project management. These are titles for more in-depth lists of models, textures, materials, audio, particle effects and any ongoing bugs/errors that need to be fixed and what work will need to be done shortly.

The Design process- (concepts, narrative, characters, mechanics development)

The overall level design process can be seen above, while I’ll go into more detail below on the subjects of concepts, narrative, characters, mechanics and development.

Concepts- These are usually done first, after the initial idea of the level/game has been chosen. This is the stage where initial designs and ideas of such items as architecture, character design and even the environment start. This process although started first, usually isn’t finished first. As this process can last if even to the alpha build of the game, as assets can be changed and altered accordingly based on the studio’s own choice or even pressure from the public.

Narrative- This part usually is started once the initial draft of the story arc has been devised. This can be speech from the narrator, or even the characters. This process, once the correct scripts have been made, takes a while to complete depending on how much spoken dialogue is in the level/game, but this process can take months to execute perfectly and can even not be completed by the time of the public beta of the game. (a few months before the game’s launch)

Characters- This process usually occurs alongside the concept design, as characters are incorporated into the initial design, then branching to be focused on later. This can be the most difficult part to execute depending on the scale of the level/game, and this process usually has the most people working on it, as the characters are the most visible thing seen to the player, and so such things as the bodily shape and texture of the characters along with the outfits and the speech must be the best quality, as they are the forefront of the level itself, and this is what players will usually see and interact with the most.

Mechanics- This process is usually completed early in the development of the level/game, as a level’s mechanics depend heavily on the genre of game. E.G. a space game would have less/no gravity to simulate being in space. The mechanics/physics of the level can differ from game to game, but this process can be created quickly or reused from existing titles that can be reimplemented and improved on in future titles, an example of this being the Assassin’s Creed series, where the mechanics are similar from each title, but behave slightly differently due to improvements being made.

Development- This would be the overall process from the beginning to the end of developing a level/game. The phrase is rather vague as the overall “development” of a level is split into sectors and even those become more sectors, but for some, the development side, can be building on pre-existing items, such as assets, mechanics dialogue etc. Where the initial footwork has been started and the “development/improvement” has commenced. There is not an end to the development process, as it can still be done even when the game has been released, as this process is key to future updates and content that could be released with patches and fixes, to payable DLC. (downloadable content)

Audio- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfwDLONo7nI

Creating audio within a game, is very similar to creating audio for a movie. Primarily the game clips will be created first, where designers have an idea of what sounds should be incorporated. Then the Foley artists along with the audio mixer, will be given a range of clips where they can add real, non-synthesised sounds to the clips, so it can be added in time with the clip. However, this can be time-consuming and expensive, so some sounds can be artificially synthesised/made which in turn would take a shorter amount of time and so reduce the amount of expenses. This is just for sound effects. Although for a soundtrack, OST, this would usually be done using a live orchestra. This is to ensure that the OST sounds as best as possible giving a premium sound as the level progresses. Once a list of sounds has been chosen to be used the editing process must begin. Usually the studio will use their in-house software, they may use some 3rd party audio editing and trimming software such as Audacity if they do not have their own in-house software.

Software used-

Modelling:

  • Maya
  • 3DS Max

Sculpting:

  • Zbrush
  • Mudbox

Texturing/Materials:

  • Quixel Suite
  • Substance Painter
  • Photoshop

Game engines:

  • In house engines (made by the company developing the game)
  • CryEngine
  • Frostbite
  • Unreal Engine
  • Source
  • Unity
  • Snowdrop
  • (Although all departments need different software to accommodate to their specialty, some software will be shared between departments and so software will be used throughout.) In terms of what order the modelling, texturing and sculpting occurs, primarily the modelling occurs first. As this action interacts with the mesh itself and alters the shape creating the digital canvas which will place the work of sculpting later. The next stage would be sculpting. This is the part of the process where the designer will add detail and alter final shapes within the initially designed mesh, this can be such detail as adding muscle definition or even adding scars. But the main purpose of sculpting is to add brushed detail easily, without using too many meshes, which would lead to the asset being hard to implement into such engines as Unity or Unreal, as the poly count would be too high for the engine or the PC/console to handle. Once this has been completed, the final step is to add textures to the asset to ensure that it looks realistic, and that it matches with the levels time setting and genre. For example, a designer could make a teddy bear with an eye missing look like a normal teddy, with a nice brown fluffy texture. But change the texture to black and add blood patches, and the bear would now fit into a horror game. This goes to show that the asset can be initially be designed for one purpose, but the texture applied to it, can give it many purposes and can be used across many game genres.

https://www.quora.com/What-software-do-AAA-studios-use-for-game-development

https://www.methodj.com/modeling-vs-sculpting/

HARDWARE NEEDED https://www.pcgamer.com/game-development-pc/

As mentioned above how different departments need different software, different departments need different hardware that can primarily run the software along with doing other hardware such as drawing tablets that can draw pictures/concept art straight into the software. While the sector that probably would need the most powerful PC would be the sector that deals with the test gameplay and video editing, that would be done to create the game trailer. This is to make the game look as good as possible (highest resolution) and also as high a framerate as possible. Depending on the studio, whether it be an indie studio or a AAA studio, their spending would differ on their hardware. Verified sources for the hardware used in a game studio, can be hard to find, so it can only be left to speculation, or even asking a game studio employee. Besides the design aspects of level design, the in-house testers need such hardware as controllers (usually the ones that the game will release onto, e.g. Xbox controller and PS4 controller) but this would depend on the studio. If the studio made video games for consoles. PC and mobile, then they would need all the consoles on-hand to use as the game/levels are created to ensure compatibility along with ensuring that no errors are found.

https://www.quora.com/What-kind-of-computers-do-game-developers-game-programmers-use-and-what-are-their-specs

What I will need to create my own level.

Required assets- The assets that I will need, will be a mixture of being created my myself, along with using some from the Engine’s assets store. Such assets would be buildings and nature, clothes, furniture and even a skybox. I could create most of these myself, but I would rather give myself more time to use on scripting and planning.

Mechanics- I would need to choose how my level operates and how the player operates within that. I could try to replicate pre-existing mechanics or even use them, or I could plan and write my won scripts to introduce mechanics that could be solely in my level. How the character interacts with the environment will be crucial for the overall playability and so must be given lots of time in order to be executed properly.

Audio- + recording hardware I will try to make most of the audio in my level myself. This would challenge me as I have never done this before and would mean that I would need to conduct research beforehand and then incorporate what I learned into my level. Some sounds like gunshots or explosions I could artificially replicate, but I would prefer to make each sound heard, as real as possible, even if it means using sounds from the asset store. The hardware that I would use would be a good microphone that can record the audio being recorded, and perhaps a music mixer, that I could use to compile sounds/tunes to create a general basis for an OST, but I would prefer to make an OST within such programs as Audacity. Whilst incorporating audio into the Engine/game is also very simple, for example, addding background music to a menu screen is as simple as dragging the MP3 file into the audio file and again drag the MP3 onto an object in the menu, and it will play by itself and it can be looped if need be.

Software- Each process will require different software, at this current time, I would use such software as,

Unity, Cry-engine, Blender, Maya, Audacity, Word Photoshop and Quixel.

Not all the software is free, and some operate on a monthly subscription. The software would allow me to venture through the entire process of level design ranging from, the initial drafts and texts, to the mesh creations and texturing later and finally compiling all if the assets into the game engine to be tested and modified accordingly.

Game engines- For the game engine, I would either choose the Unity engine or the CryEngine. Both are formidable and offer rather similar tools to use and can offer almost the same results in terms of performance. I primarily would choose Unity as I have spent longer using the engine, but I would like to learn to use the CryEngine as it offers some tools that unity does not in its current build.

2d/3d content creation- Content creation will take a long time for me, as I’m not very familiar with Maya, and my current PC cannot run such software as Blender anymore. Although the 3D creation for my level would include asset creation and perhaps even architecture, along with some assets for the wilderness, that I can change to make the backdrop look more realistic, or even photorealistic. This process would be the most difficult for me, as I would usually spend too long on creating a certain asset that I would use once, when I could have spent my time more wisely. To fix this, I could watch tutorials on creating certain assets for my level, as this would make the process quicker, whilst I also learn how to use different tools to further speed up my work.

Textures- This workload, I would need to do research for, such as reading blog posts and watching tutorials, as I am not familiar with creating a texture along with applying it to an object. This would be my weak point as I have never done texturing before, and so this would take the longest to master and start doing more occasionally and comfortably.

Narrative- Although I do not have any experience with adding sounds to levels, I could either pay somebody to read/voice act for me, or even ask a family member to read. The difficult part would be editing and compiling the audio reel to the visuals on screen and keep everything in sync. I would probably use audio software like Audacity as it is easy to use, and I have some experience using it.

Research- The research I would need to conduct would not only be for guidance when using software, but also for reference images when designing/modelling assets. This would allow me to ensure that the assets do look realistic and that I have the skills to make them look like this. This process would be slower than usual, but this is due to learning alongside designing the asset, which the skills that I would gain, would allow me to use them more efficiently further down the line. Alongside this, I would need to research such things as clothes of the era along with the environment of Japan in that era. This would contribute to the asset creation and allow me to even make my own replicas of items from that era.

Planning/design work- I would conduct my designs by using Adobe Photoshop. It has a great host of tools and can be easily learnt if need be. I do not have any experience with Photoshop, so I would need to read some books and watch some tutorials on how to use Photoshop most effectively for the design process. The initial planning that would also need to be done, could be completed using Word or even PowerPoint, to convey the processes that I went through to then decide what to plan for my final level. Scripts- For scripts I would use Visual Studio, as it is compatible with most game engines such as Unity. It can be used for different programming languages and so I can use this to my advantage. Having learnt a little Python, I could incorporate this knowledge, but I would prefer to stick with C# as I have learnt more of it. Along with this, I could research ands watch tutorials on the process of adding scripts to assets, and this would broaden my scripting/coding knowledge and so I would then use what I learnt for such projects as my Final Major Project.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: