Here are a few shots of BENEATH (ie, the modifications I've made to Residential Evil to turn it into a single-player level.) This is the slightly-reworked entry lobby:
Note that the banisters now extend all the way down each side of the central staircases. I wish I'd had those in the original map, but I just recently got comfortable enough with the tricks of modeling more complex geometry in WorldEdit. I think they look rather good now.
This is the sub-basement/storage dock where the final boss fight takes place. It's a cavernous hangar-like space featuring a central control room, a raised catwalk, and an enclosed passageway on each side of the central room.
Last but not least: explosions!!Watch them stray bullets :-)
Here are a few shots of BENEATH (ie, the modifications I've made to Residential Evil to turn it into a single-player level.) This is the slightly-reworked entry lobby:
I want to take this opportunity to propagate something I've seen linked in the Games forum and by prominent designers alike: MTV's Game Makers Roundtable. At E3, MTV brought together four of today's most relevant game designers: Will Wright, Harvey Smith, Cliffy B, and David Jaffe. Gideon Jago asked them a bunch of high-level questions about why and how they make games, what influences them, what drives them to design the way they do--generally the 'big picture' questions about relationships between game design, the individual, and society. Jago surprisingly knows his shit, and the answers given, as one might expect, are really engaging and thoughtful. It's a pretty exciting thing to be able to watch. I suggest you check out all the segments they have online. I know I got a lot out of it.
By the way, let me just congratulate Rockstar on another great prank:
Microsoft: Hey guys, we need you to make us something new, something edgy, something pulse-poundingly incredible, exclusively for the HD Generation. This is the future of gaming!
Rockstar: Okay how about we remake Pong~~
What role do you take on when you go to see a movie? What is your relationship to the characters onscreen? You are always part of the viewing audience, watching the events unfold. Likewise, when you read a book, you are always the reader-- the interpreter, perhaps, but you maintain a consistent, detached role. You are outside of the story, observing the events unfold.
When playing a game, you are always the player, but your relationship to the characters onscreen can vary greatly from one title to another. What role do you play? Do you inhabit the character itself? Are you an abstraction of the character's will? Are you just the guy outside the screen, playing a video game? Or do you inhabit some vague omniscient third precence in between? Probably the most concrete metric of the player/character relationship is the UI, and the raw quantity being measured is the flow and availability of information. What does the character know, and what does the player know, and when, and how? I'm only talking about human-level, single-protagonist games here; obviously guiding the rise of the Roman empire or fostering a species as it evolves is on a completely different level. And I'm not talking about the simple difference between first and third person. The player/character relationship is only partly determined by the position of the camera.
4) "Tension meter"
The first three are pretty standard. The tension meter is the element that stands out. Being discovered by hostile forces isn't a binary event in Blood Money; you can tell when guards or passersby are starting to freak out by observing the tension meter, and quickly backing off or silencing any nearby witnesses to avoid your cover being blown. The question is, where does the raw info for this meter come from? Obviously on a code level it's drawn from the AI states of the NPCs in 47's vacinity, conveyed graphically. But in the context of the game, is this a representation of 47's perception of the people around him? If so, it seems too accurate, and also takes into account the states of people outside 47's range of vision. If the info comes from an omniscient third entity-- 'the computer'-- is that info also available to 47, the character? Or is it only available to the player? If the info on the tension meter is only available to the player--if the player knows something that the character onscreen doesn't-- it serves to separate the character, the computer, and the player into three distinct entities. "I am the player; I am observing the information provided by the computer; this informs how I direct the character in the video game." Any HUD element that draws the player's locus of attention out of the character's gameworld, and onto a graphical element that exists only in the player's world, breaks the player's experience into something more artificial than it might be.
I believe it's possible for the player to 'inhabit' a character in the third person. For one, the player identifies with the character's actions through the familiar act of visualizing their own physicality in everyday life. Right now, you probably can't see anything of yourself but your hands on a mouse or keyboard, but you know how you're sitting, what your posture looks like. When you walk, or run, or duck down, you can feel how that must look and can easily picture your own performance of these actions. I believe that the player inhabits a character in the third person by projecting their own sense-memory onto the character's actions, and treating the wider camera as a surrogate for the peripheral vision missing from the first-person experience. As such, for the player to maintain inhabitance of the character, everything the player knows about the gameworld must be directly observable through the physical gameworld itself; everything the player knows, the character must also plausibly be able to know. So, in Blood Money, the player's knowledge of surrounding guards' tension levels would ideally be dictated by directly observing their reactions to 47's actions, their body language and vocalizations, the sounds of movement in the next room. The player would need to swivel the camera around and carefully observe the results of their actions within the gameworld to gauge how much leeway they had in their actions at any given moment; likewise, the game's designers would need to ensure that NPCs' AI states were realiably readable through consistent body language signals and vocalizations depending upon their current state. In this way, the act of determining nearby NPCs' tension levels would no longer entail the player removing his attention from the gameworld to check a meter that only exists as an artificial construct on the screen, but instead to more closely examine the gameworld itself, drawing him further into the inhabitance of the character onscreen.
Another common HUD element in action games is the ammo readout. At a glance, the player can see how many shots they have left in their gun, and how much ammo they have left total in store. But who's keeping track of these things? Is the character counting how many dozens of shots have been fired from their gun, and how many remain? It seems unlikely this is a function of graphically depicting the character's perception, and instead is being conveyed the the computer, showing the player information the character doesn't actually know. Condemned addresses the old ammo readout issue, but only goes halfway:
There is no persistent ammo readout onscreen. The player must input a specific keypress to physically check their ammo count if they lose track (or when they first pick up the gun.) However, upon doing so, a graphical ammo readout appears briefly, and the count is not physically observable by the player. In the screenshot above, would you be able to tell how many bullets are in the magazine the character is holding? No, you must again break out of observing the gameworld, and shift your locus of attention to an onscreen readout. This seems easily avoidable. I mean, it's a problem that's been solved by firearm manufacturers in the real world:
In Condemned, the problem is almost solved in game design terms, but then forces the player to rely on a HUD element instead of his own observation, breaking him out of the gameworld.
I believe that the ideal solution is a game that exists primarily in the third person, but allows first person when useful (such as, for instance, when checking the ammunition in a gun's magazine.) The most important thing is that all information available to the player be physically observable, and equally available to the player character. Being in third person only facilitates this, by allowing simultaneous observation of the player character's state and the gameworld surrounding it. This also gives the designer a means of eliminating the mainstay of video game HUDs: the health meter. If the player is constantly observing the state of his character, and is capable of swiveling the camera around him at any time to examine him from every angle, the character's physical state can be reliably observed without a graphical readout. The character must react to damage incrementally, gradually slumping more, slowing down, visibly bleeding from wounds, shaking, dragging injured limbs, etc. This is less easily quantifiable than a numerical value displayed onscreen or a graphical health bar, less exact, but more meaningful to the player. I find it more useful to see that my character is physically limping
and bleeding than to read that my character has "26 Health" while still acting as they would with 82 Health or 100 Health. I believe that we can do without acknowledging the computer as an entity of interpretation, that we can completely omit the man behind the curtain from the experience. What should be important is making the player's experience as congruous with his character's as possible-- creating a seamless player/character relationship. This is HUD-elimination not in the pursuit of the cinematic. When the designer remains aware of the gap between character perception and player perception, and concentrates on eliminating it, the game experience itself becomes that much more pure. It just makes sense.
My approach for making the single-player level BENEATH is to use my multiplayer deathmatch map Residential Evil as a foundation, and build a directed, narrative-based experience into it. One of the first steps in doing this was to take the undirected, free-flowing map and impose onto it a linear path. It's been fun figuring out how to give the player a directed space by making as few meaningful alterations to the multiplayer map as possible.
RE started out something like this:
It's a three-tiered map that centers around tight corridors and interlocking gameflow loops for flanking and unpredictable movement patterns. There are multiple stairways leading between each of the tiers, allowing a good use of Z-space, but not just a bunch of huge caverns. I think it was successful at giving the player freedom of motion in all directions, while maintaining a focus on close-quarters combat.
BENEATH, as the name implies, focuses on leading the player further and further below the surface. At the beginning, the player is tasked with exploring the mansion to find the source of the disturbances at the site. Once he finds the secret door in the attic, the free-roaming/undirected segment of the level ends. Two powerful enemies enter the mansion from beneath, and the player must confront them to proceed. It's at this point that I started constricting the player's path.
The entrance to the basement is directly below the attic. I removed the stairway that led straight from the attic to the downstairs hallway (1), bringing the player's confrontation with the assassins out into the main room of the mansion. I also removed all but one of the stairways leading from the bottom floor of the mansion down into the basement (2,3). Once the player clears the two assassins from the mansion, he follows the only available path into the lower basement level. The basement is a dense combat zone populated by a number of soldiers working in teams. Again, the final destination on this floor would be too easy to reach with the multiplayer layout, so I closed off two of the three doors into the final/central room of the basement (4,5), leading the player in a roundabout path following the perimeter of the basement floor. The player must work his way through each room in sequence before exiting the final room of the basement through a newly-installed elevator. The elevator descends into a new, cavernous arena-type sub-basement that hosts a boss fight (not pictured.)
Point is, it's been fun to take a space that was meant to give the player as much freedom of movement as possible, and through a subtractive approach, create a space that directs them down a linear path. It's been a good exercise and I'm enjoying the results.
I'll have shots of the new sub-basement area when it's gotten a little more polish. It's starting to come together.
The official word: Map Contest Winners:
Hey hey, I'm takin' home a sweet video card... and they almost got the name of my map right! Thanks to all my friends/family/colleagues who voted and helped me with this thing. I really appreciate it. When I'm playing FEAR at a million frames per second on my new GeForce 7 series graphics card, I'll have you all in my heart.
Next time... I'm goin' for the gold :-)
Map Contest Winners:
So, I've spent the last week or so laying out and setting up the new, final segment of BENEATH, and just this afternoon I decided to scrap it. I just don't think I had a cohesive idea of how I wanted to approach the space. It was sort of an underground hangar space, or warehouse/shop floor, with a control room and employee bathroom incorporated, and the lift came down into the middle of it onto this raised platform... and then you fought a robot. I don't know.
I'm thinking I may take this opportunity to create a cool little space using Sketchup and import it into WorldEdit.
Or I may take some time and replay FEAR to get some ideas regarding how they did things.
Either way, it's back to the drawing board. The map up to this point is still lookin' good, though!!
This is a note to you and to myself that I need to start publishing notes on my level design work again. I'm currently at work converting Residential Evil into a brief single-player experience called BENEATH. It's been an interesting project, changing around a freeflowing, open multiplayer level to make it a linear, directed single-player level.
The process goes something like this: Create a multiplayer map with a free flow of player movement in all directions, allowing for dynamic firefights between multiple combatants. Think up a story that could be told in that space. Decide on the path that the story would lead the player through the map. Close off extraneous doorways and stairwells, creating a linear progression through the map for the player to follow. Add extra spaces not present in the original level as needed to flesh out the single-player experience.
That's the step I'm at now. I've added a small cubbyhole in the attic of the mansion, rearranged the passageways in the whole map, and now I'm adding a large fourth, subterranean sublevel to the basement, where a miniboss fight will take place and from which the player will exit the map. Once all the spaces are laid out and dressed up, I'll need to go back and script in all the enemy encounters, AI navmeshes, story elements, interactive objects, and so forth. I've already put in some new doors and triggers, and an industrial lift that gave me some problems for a while. Right now I'm dressing up the sub basement. Hopefully that'll be at a point I'm happy with before the end of the week. Then it's on to scripting, scripting, scripting. Fun stuff.
Oh yeah, and recording new voice samples. Wouldn't want to forget that.
I'll have some screenshots in here once I get home.
It's been a little while-- three weeks probably-- since I finished playing through the PC port of Monolith's first-person thriller Condemned: Criminal Origins. I liked the game a lot. The combat was really fun and felt a lot different than in any other action game I can really think of. The ending got a little weak, but not for gameplay reasons, really. It was more of an artifice thing-- the final boss of the game seemed sort of like a vague idea of a 'bad guy,' and the wacky "OR IS IT...?" final shot right before the credits was a let-down. Also, on my machine the entire outdoor farm level looked like absolute garbage. I guess it was a function of having my graphics turned to medium, but the grounds of the farm seriously started looking like Quake 2. There was nothing but mid-tone ambient light and all the textures looked washed out and shitty. I still wonder if it's my fault for not having a computer that could run the game at top-tier graphical settings, or if the outdoor part of the last level just looks like that. I didn't crank my settings up as a test to check. Maybe it looked that awful on the 360, but I can't imagine that. It's not even a case Condemned being one of those games that completely loses it in the final act (ala Half-Life,) there were just a few aspects of it that were really distracting.
I enjoyed the enemy AI a lot, especially the few times when their system to search for and acquire better weapons came into play. There were a couple of times when I dropped a gun with a few rounds in it in favor of some entry tool or powerful melee weapon and forgot about it, only to have a dangerous psychotic toss aside their rusty pipe and pick up the gun, surprising me with a sudden burst of gunfire. Really cool, really made me think about how I needed to carefully track all my cast-offs. Tangible implications of persistent useable items. Good stuff.
One thing that started to wear a bit thin as the game progressed was the central combat mechanic itself. Combat in Condemned is both nuanced and very simple at once. It breaks down to "swing or block?" and while each weapon differs in its few basic stats (speed, block, attack power, reach) it pretty much turns into a somewhat repetitive bludgeon fest after the first few chapters. The appearance and stats of each variant of the single weapon type in the game can be quite diverse, but the weapon types themselves could use a bit more variety.
To this end, I'd propose two new aspects of combat in Condemned. One is the breakable "one-time use" (OTU) weapon. A OTU weapon is something that deals extra damage and possibly a status effect (such as stun) on impact, but is destroyed after one successful use. This would probably take the form of a beer or wine bottle. Brandishing such a weapon would bring an extra element of strategy to the following encounter: by carrying a OTU weapon, the player would have a distinct offensive advantage over the next enemy they face, but also be at a couple of distinct disadvantages: for one, you can't block with an OTU; it would break. Second, after its first use, deploying an OTU leaves you completely unarmed. So, if the player comes across a single enemy while holding a beer bottle, the OTU is great, because the player can bum rush him and lay serious damage and a stun on the enemy, essentially leading to a free kill. On the other hand, if the enemy gets the drop on the player while he is armed with an OTU, the player is unable to block incoming attacks; and if he comes upon a larger group of enemies, he will be left briefly unarmed after attacking the first of them, leaving him open to follow-up attacks from the rest of the group. It's a risk/reward setup that adds a new element of strategy to weapon selection in Condemned, and adds some variety to what can often be fairly dry encounters.
Going along with these breakable OTU weapons would be the ability for 'standard' weapons to break instantly on block, depending on what they were hit with. In Condemned, if someone is attacking me with, say, a fire axe or crowbar, I can successfully block it with a rotting 2x4. Both logically and from a gameplay standpoint, it would be more interesting if some weapons could be broken when attempting to block other, more powerful weapons. If I were brandishing the 2x4 with nails, and came up against a psycho with the fire axe, sledge hammer, etc, I would need to reconsider blocking his attacks to avoid being disarmed, and possibly search around for a more durable weapon such as a steam pipe or locker door. Similarly, if I had a poweful melee weapon and came across an enemy wielding a desktop or wooden plank, I could swing on them with impunity, knowing that they would be unable to block my attacks, and actually would suffer for trying.
I guess you could combine these two features into one category called "Strategic Item Breakability." I think it would add a lot to the combat dynamics of Condemned, a fun and engaging action thriller whose own gameplay simplicity can sometimes work against it.
Game Designer as Simulator: "Realism" in games is an extremely relative term. Though many games tout their high degree of realism as a selling point, very few games attempt to accurately recreate a real-world experience through gameplay. Those that do are the flight simulators and racing simulators, the Gran Turismos, Silent Hunters, and the Jane's helicopter sims. Most game designers place the player in situations that are fantastical to some degree, whether it be taking on the role of a blue hedgehog and racing across impossible landscapes, or killing dozens of Nazis and singlehandedly blowing up entire tank platoons while absorbing ten rifle rounds without dying. The game designer as simulator instead attempts to place the player in a situation exactly like one they could be having in real life, but aren't.
This raises a number of unique issues. Almost out of necessity, the learning curve is very steep for this kind of game. In part, this springs from the difficulty of the designer mapping all the physical interactions that one's hands can have with a complex piece of mechanical equipment into the inputs on a standard console controller or keyboard. Besides memorizing all the minutae of the machine's interface, the player must also memorize what keypresses they must input to manipulate that interface effectively.
Another challenge for the designer as simulator is the difficulty of designing for a dual market. How does one satisfy the small but dedicated playerbase who have actually had the experience being simulated in the game and know first-hand how it "should" work, without alienating the less hardcore broad market of gamers who just want to see what it might be like to, say, fly an airplane? It's a trying dichotomy which either leads to the designing of multiple iterations of the game within the larger game (a 'realism' slider that reduces or increases level of automation provided by the computer, requiring the designers to build in those automated systems and balance and test them on each setting,) or the alienation of one or the other segment of your audience ('this is so dumbed-down it's hardly a simulation at all!' vs. 'I keep running into the wall what are all these damn knobs for?') Sadly for the minority of hardcore types, if someone needs to get cut out of the equation, they're often the ones on the chopping block.
The designer as simulator takes the fundamental tenets of what a video game is or can be-- a means to virtually place someone in a situation they can't normally experience-- and runs with it in an extremely literalist direction. It's one of the most technical roles, from both a design and gameplay standpoint. Incredible amounts of minutely detailed research must go into accurately reproducing the interior of a nuclear sub's command bridge, but the designer as simulator wants to portray it perfectly, and the core simulation player won't accept anything less. While most game systems are broad abstractions of realworld activities, the designer as simulator refuses any compromises to the experience he is recreating. This is the role of the perfectionist.
Click this link, then watch "Gameplay Video 1" from the selection. Look at that crowd. It is the first really believeable crowd scene I've ever seen in a video game. That is not GTA, where a 'bustling' city street plays host to six pedestrians. That is Mardi Gras. That is Shinjuku on a Friday night. That is something that games have always been missing, a sense of dense population. That Hitman gameplay movie is what Patrice Desilets touched on in his GDC presentation, the physical sensation of moving through a crowd; it's what EA's Neil Young referenced when he talked about pushing the balance between functional gameplay processing versus graphics processing to 50-50 instead of 80-20. I imagine that when I pick up the game I will spend a lot of time just being in that crowd, strolling through it or standing still as it washes past 47. I'm giddily looking forward to seeing what happens when that crowd goes into pandemonium. The possibilities.
What games are capable of is advancing every day!
Game Designer as Tinkerer: Sometimes, the role of the game designer is determined by the functional role of the game. With games that serve as a platform for player-versus-player competition, the designer takes on the role of a tinkerer, working at first in broad strokes and eventually focusing down to the finest detail, in the pursuit of creating a perfectly tuned and balanced machine as a basis for human competition.
It's a process of creating a complex mechanism that appears fluid and organic at first glance, but is so obsessively tweaked and balanced on every level that the outcome of any competition based upon it is decided entirely by the player's skill at manipulating it, not by their choosing "the best" strategy and easily steamrolling the competition. Any piece of this mechanism must be a valid counter to any other piece, and two players of matched skill should each an equal percent of the time when facing off against each other. These are fighting games, competitive shooter games, competitive puzzles games, realtime strategy games.
These are games that can support tournaments, such as Street Fighter 2 and its derivatives, Counter-Strike, or Starcraft. The point in these games is that any skilled player should be able to hold his own against any equally skilled opponent using any unit, character, or faction, based on how effectively he can control that unit, character, or faction. Ken should not be able to defeat Chun Li every time; the terrorists shouldn't constantly win de_dust, and a Protoss hero unit shouldn't trump a Human platoon in every encounter. A team in Counter-Strike shouldn't be able to all load up with AWPs and run every single match they enter. Every piece of the game must be equally balanced against every other piece. The game designer as tinkerer endeavors to create the perfectly even playing field.
These are the games that start edging towards the classification of "sport." The designer is essentially responsible for tweaking a rulebook down to the tiniest degree. But no game like this will ever be a "sport" per se, since they take place entirely within self-contained, artificial gameworlds, leaving them squarely in the realm of strategic traditional games like chess. The designer as tinkerer must define the rules of the game, as well as the rule of the entire world in which it exists. Someone setting up a real-life recreation of Counter-Strike by way of paintball or Airsoft competition would be responsible for only a relatively simple set of rules-- time limits, number of players per team, the location where 'bombs' could be planted, number of shots a player can receive before 'dying.' The designer of the video game Counter-Strike must define exactly how a grenade bounces off a wall; how long the flashbang effect lasts and how it looks; the shoothrough values of doors and walls; recoil effects and all the other attributes of each gun; and create every aspect, every brick and every railing, of each arena, as opposed to throwing down in some abandoned office park in the real world. To create an entire artificial ecosystem, if you will, in the interest of providing players a valid place to test their skills, is a complex and often thankless task. The players are striving twice as hard to break the game as the designers are to balance it. But, when a completely new venue for human competition does come to fruition, and thousands of players are manipulating the mechanisms that the designer has put so much time into perfecting, the result must be extremely satisfying.
Game Designer as Storyteller: Another designation that at first seems too broad to stand alone, I have a definition specific enough to differentiate it from other design roles. I am referring here to game designers whose primary role is to place the player in a world filled with loose threads, the seeds for individual stories, that are then picked up and played out according to the player's individual approach, telling a story through the assemblage of these bits and pieces. This designer's game isn't a singular work, one discrete storyline that every player will experience equally (i.e., the work of a designer as entertainer;) this is a world with any number of stories hidden below the surface, for the player to discover and unravel of his own will.
Most of these games are RPGs. I'm thinking of Fallout, and Planescape: Torment, and Oblivion, and other less-exposed RPGs that rely on the player both to instigate each individual storyline, and to dictate how it will play out. I'm thinking of games the designers of which wanted to tell a bouquet of stories through the actions and decisions of the player. What the player gets out of this sort of game is proportionate to what they put in, but they always get something, because the option to play out or not any given story branch is an equally valid decision in an open world.
Consider the recent example of Oblivion. It's a common claim for one to play dozens of hours into the game without touching the central storyline quests. It could be equally valid to claim those dozens of hours without touching any particular quest. The world is open enough, and full enough, that the choice to simply roam the countryside exploring caves and ruins, slaying beasts and collecting treasure, is as valid as undertaking any predefined story quest. But those quests are there, and they are the central draw for most players. The world of Oblivion is one with a daunting array of stories embedded in it, but none of which compel the player to any action beyond his own whim. The game designer as storyteller seeks to tell these individual stories by hooking the player and motivating them to play out each quest in their own way, but he also seeks to tell the broader story of the player's entire experience in his game, by way of the overall tapestry of smaller stories he creates through play, and the order and manner in which the player tackles them. Not only may any individual quest that a player undertakes be unique to himself as opposed to others, but the story of his complete experience with the game from start to finish is also dictated by when and how the player did or didn't decide to play out each individual thread in the world. In this way, the designer as storyteller conveys cohesive narrative through both the small, individual quests that he may dictate very specifically, and the way that he allows them to dynamically interlock throughout the world, giving the player the freedom to tell another, larger story through his actions as well.
The designer as storyteller is a direct collaborator with the player to tell the game's stories, as opposed to the designer as entertainer, whose player's main role is to hold down the gas pedal until the designer's story has been conveyed. The storyteller's is a different sort of player freedom than the designer as watchmaker, too, as in a storyteller's game, the player's main relationship is with the game's story itself, as opposed to the game's physical world and the interactive affordances within it. The gameworld in a storyteller's game can be affected by the player in fewer significant ways than that of a watchmaker, since the story branches become a sort of complex choose-your-own-adventure, but the limited outcomes can each be perhaps more dramatic, more affecting than the smaller revelations allowed by the watchmaker. The designer as storyteller must know all of the ways that the world's story can be told. It's up to the player to decide just what form that story will take.