Saturday, 23 January 2016

How do they do it? - Level Design

Hello! And welcome back!

First of all, another (slightly belated) happy new year to all! We hope you all had a nice holiday and perhaps made some good new year's resolutions?
Last time we blogged, we introduced the first playable demo of the game to you. It's been a whole month since then and we have been keeping busy. Right now we are working on a whole new set of levels and mechanics for the game! We also updated the webpage slightly, so for those who haven’t yet played the game, be sure to check it out here.
(The web demo works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera, you may need to install the Unity Webplayer plugin first in order to play the game)

So, let’s move on to the topic of the day!
Today we would like to continue on our “how it’s made” blog from last week, and with that also introduce a short video series on how we are producing the game. The video series will show you some of the methods we use in the production process, but also exclusive in-game content! Although we intend to make this informative, we’ll try to keep it on the lighter side. ;)

Acquiring the Matrix!

Any game typically takes shape starting with a design. This can just be a cool or fun idea that you have, but usually in game development you want to write it down and refine it into what is called a concept document. These are the barebones of your game and allow you to pitch your game idea to others either to sell it or acquire (human) resources. Next to that, the concept document is a means for verifying your idea before you take it further into development.
Although this part is sometimes skipped by developers, please make sure that at some point you verify your ideas, otherwise you might end up with a game that is absolutely amazing, but only tailored to what you like. You may find that there is no audience to play your game, which would be a waste of all your hard work! That being said, it is important to always try and make games that you yourself would want to play if you are in control of the design because at the end of the day, you are the one who has to defend your game and show everybody how great it is! Finding a balance between what you would like and what others would like to play is therefore essential.

Luckily for us, we already made a prototype as proof of concept for the game as a school project. This allowed us to create a basic design, pitch it to teachers (with game industry experience!), and build a basic prototype. We’ve come a long way ever since and have now completely rebuilt the core game (in a new engine) and lots more!

As we’ve mentioned in our last blog, iteration is key in game development and it is best to do that right from the beginning. Even when you are uncomfortable with pitching your ideas to others, start with showing it to your friends and family. But keep in mind the target audience you are trying to reach.

So, as you saw in the header above, using a matrix (not The Matrix) can be quite useful to developing both new game ideas as well as the actual development of a game. So what is this Matrix thingy? Well, one day, a colleague of mine explained this to me and I immediately fell in love with the idea. Basically, you start with a two dimensional grid (matrix). On both axes, write down all ideas or mechanics you can think of for your new game (or the existing mechanics of the game you are creating). The diagonal line in the middle where the same ideas match is usually not used, but you never know! So what you do next is you lay down each mechanic next to another and see if that would lead to a promising new mechanic or game idea. You can also use this for level design; that is where we are using it for at this very moment! It makes sure you don’t forget about your mechanics, and it allows you to recombine them and create whole new mechanics and game experiences.

Here is a screenshot of what the matrix would look like:
You can do this on paper but you can also use office applications such as Excel to visualize it.

Example Matrix

 Simplified Matrix as we used it for our game.
As you can see, not all combinations lead to (useful) outcomes.

Level Designs, how do they do it?

As we’ve already mentioned, we like to use this matrix method for coming up with level designs. However, to come up with these levels, we first split up the game into several sections. Each section consists of about 5 levels and introduces one or two new mechanics. So for each section of the game, we already know which mechanics we are going to use. We then add these mechanics to a matrix and use that to design (small) individual puzzles. With all these puzzles and the general storyline of the game we decide on a level layout and implement the puzzle designs into it. Eventually, this leaves us with a level design.
You can design these levels on your computer using a drawing application, but you can also use Excel if you are building a tile-based game as we are doing with AI Vendetta. However, we personally prefer to do this on paper, because it, in the long run, is quicker for us and allows us to write comments and explanations as we go. (Although you can of course also achieve this with a lot of computer applications.) Or... you can even build your own level design tool if you have the time!

As we’ve mentioned before, we are working on a short video series on how the game is made. Today we can introduce to you the first video of this series, created by our very own Rens van der Meijs!

What can you expect from us in the next Blog?

And with that we are running towards the end of this Blog. We hope it may be of use to all of you who are interested in the games industry or are (starting with) developing games of your own! If you have any comments or questions, please let us know! We are always interested in helping others out or giving advice!

Again, if you haven’t already, you can play the game using this link. We are always happy with any feedback you may have and will do our best to implement it into the game! We may be posting updates to the playable demo as well, although we will probably not feature the actual levels and story that will end up in the final game as to not spoil it for anyone!
If you are interested however, we may be able to set you up for closed testing once we are well on our way in the Beta phase of the project.

That’s all for now, thank you for reading! In our next blog we will continue on how the game is made and let you in on other tips, tricks and methods that we use. We hope you enjoyed this blog and we would love to see you all again for our next blog!

~Thom de Moor, CatByte Games

P.S. If you are interested in following our progress, follow us on Blogger, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google+ as well as our individual members on Google+, Twitter and Indie Gamer.

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