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#1 Judith

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Posted 22 January 2017 - 06:07 PM

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You might not agree with me, but in fan missions, for both Thief series and Darkmod, level design is often the weakest part. We mostly want to tell a story, build cool or "realistic" locations, and we think about populating these locations as we go. Not that I'm a good level designer, but all these years I've been collecting tutorials, books, and GDC PowerPoint presentations about level design, and I want to share a few of those with you. I paid for the books, so that would be illegal to share, but stuff from GDC is publicly available.

 

Let's start with something absolutely essential. I believe every Thief/Darkmod level designer should be familiar with this:

Randy Smith - Level building and stealth gameplay

 

Now, this is a good piece on environmental storytelling. If you want to cut back on lengthy readables in your levels and leave more to players' interpretation, this is a must-read too:

Harvey Smith & Mattias Worch – What Happened Here

 

This is more like an annex to the first presentation, a bit more theory on how Thief systems work:

Randy Smith - Design fundamentals of stealth gameplay in Thief

 

 

I have more of those, but they're more about systems, or they focus on other games and level design in general. IMO those three documents are a solid piece of knowledge that should help you think more consciously about your levels and the whole design phase. Also, if you have any documents like that, especially on stealth games, and you can share it, it would be great :)


Edited by Judith, 22 January 2017 - 06:22 PM.

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#2 Destined

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 06:56 AM

I am not completely finished with all three documents, but it is definitely very interesting to read. I already saw my own biggest flaw in the first couple of sentences. I tend to build realistiacally, which is in many cases not very interesting to sneak through. Well, I will see that I get a couple of the game design lessons into my WIP and maybe finally finish a mission that I think is worth playing ;)



#3 demagogue

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 07:34 AM

Great resources, though I'd read them before.
I'm big on visual storytelling too.
As for design, the two big ideas I like are stepwise refinement (from the original tutorial shipped with the Thief2 CD) and kissing oblong cylinders, which I got just by observing good missions.

Stepwise refinement means you build the entire space for your FM in rough blocks first, then you take progressive passes detailing each area.

Kissing cylinders means for outside areas you roughly layout space with 5+ walled oblong cylinders which connect at kiss points or sometimes kinked tunnel entrances (not counting building entrances), so you natually cut off long lines of sight and it's natural looking, not boxy or unnaturally symmetrical.

I have a bigger philosophy, but rather than spill it here I'll link to the wiki page where I wrote it all out: http://wiki.thedarkm...and_Plot_Design
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#4 Judith

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 08:41 AM

I am not completely finished with all three documents, but it is definitely very interesting to read. I already saw my own biggest flaw in the first couple of sentences. I tend to build realistically, which is in many cases not very interesting to sneak through. Well, I will see that I get a couple of the game design lessons into my WIP and maybe finally finish a mission that I think is worth playing ;)

 

You shouldn't be too hard on yourself in that regard, only the best level designers are experts in marrying gameplay-driven spaces with a sense of real place (like Arkane guys). It seems like these two are almost polar opposites. But, if the games I played are any indication (and the history of games in general), you really don't need your spaces to be realistic at all to be perceived as functional or to belong to a certain class of locations.

 

In games I played in my childhood, the concept was to evoke an idea of a place, rather than trying to reconstruct it (technology and performance reasons, obviously). "Forests" in games like Dungeon Master II or Lands of Lore looked more like garden mazes, but it didn't prevent players from getting the idea: "ok, I'm in the forest now". Games like Ishar 1-3 perfected the formula, but those are still garden mazes, just with better set dressing.

 

KOTOR games are another good example IMO. Most of the mission maps are basically multiple "kill rooms" with lockers strung by sets of corridors, just with a different theme in mind: jungle, spaceship, temple etc. Even Bioshock games mentioned in the second presentation are pretty poor in terms of architecture. They hardly feel like real place in terms of space, which is mostly rooms and long blocky corridors. Still, these games have a strong theme and keep players busy with those small stories. This wacky underwater world is quite lively, even if the layout is pretty much artificial (Bio:Infinite might have gone too far in that regard, IMO it feels like a giant museum tour).

 

Even now you don't need much to evoke a concept of a place and make it somewhat believable. Drangleic Castle in Dark Souls II is a huge maze that doesn't make much sense in terms of architecture (like it has a throne room and a dungeon, but not much else), but it's a great space for gameplay and exploration.

 

I've never done this myself yet, but for my first little TDM mission I want to start with totally artificial spaces. Problems to solve. Floors with spatial puzzles and stealth gameplay. Then I'll try to to make the whole thing look like a place. Bioshock-level blockiness wil be more than fine for the first attempt ;) I already have a theme which should be pretty flexible for that. T3Ed was never fit for iterative design, but DR is a great tool for fast whiteboxing and assessing measurements. I can make a giant room, focus just on how the floor should look like, add z-movement options, lights, enemies, loot, iterate as much as I need. Then I'll worry about translating that into a something more plausible ;)


Edited by Judith, 23 January 2017 - 03:06 PM.

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#5 Anderson

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 09:38 AM

Indeed, Neverwinter Nights and KOTOR (1 and 2 if you wish) are the poster child of every Bioware creation - from Mass Effect to Dragon Age it's the same thing over and over but bigger in size and scope each year.


Edited by Anderson, 23 January 2017 - 09:38 AM.

 "I really perceive that vanity about which most men merely prate — the vanity of the human or temporal life. I live continually in a reverie of the future. I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago. The result will never vary — and to suppose that it will, is to suppose that the foregone man has lived in vain — that the foregone time is but the rudiment of the future — that the myriads who have perished have not been upon equal footing with ourselves — nor are we with our posterity. I cannot agree to lose sight of man the individual, in man the mass."...

 

 

- 2 July 1844 letter to James Russell Lowell from Edgar Allan Poe.

 


#6 Destined

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 10:22 AM

You shouldn't be too hard on yourself in that regard, only the best level designers are experts in marrying gameplay-driven spaces with a sense of real place (like Arkane guys). It seems like these two are almost polar opposites. But, if the games I played are any indication (and the history of games in general), you really don't need your spaces to be realistic at all to be perceived as functional or to belong to a certain class of locations.

Well, I tend to spend a lot of time on details and trying to make places realistic. Or at least I tried so far. This is why I don't think that my WIP is enjoyable in terms of gameplay. So, I will just take the story and redo the rest, this time with a more gameplay driven approach, like you and demagogue proposed: ignore the setting almost entirely, set your geometry, lights, enemies, loot, etc and afterwards try to make it visually more appealing. I just wasted a lot of time trying it the other way around before I had to realize that it was the wrong aproach :(

 

"Forests" in games like Dungeon Master II or Lands of Lore looked more like garden mazes,

Ironically, it is not that long ago that I played Lands of Lore, as my PC had crashed beyond repair and my Laptop could not handle much beyond old DOS games. Lands of Lore was a fond memory of my childhood (and most likely the game that got me hooked on RPGs), so I started it again. However, I did not play it beyond the swamp area; another maze with slightly different visuals and environmental danger.


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#7 Judith

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 01:02 PM

There's a good tip for mappers, modelers as well as character designers – never go into details too early. I wish I used that advice more. Somewhere in the Darkmod wiki there's a tutorial on blocking out, but if that concept is not much familiar to you, try this presentation from Bioware on Iterative level design:

 

https://www.youtube....GuRQCjA&t=11m9s

 

Most studios do something like this nowadays, they just have their own nomenclature for things. Whether you like their games or not, it's still worth watching.


Edited by Judith, 23 January 2017 - 03:20 PM.


#8 Destined

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 01:15 PM

Well, each time, I have done some mapping, I remember I should do it like that. And then I make the next part and start getting back to the small details. I just need to gather up the discipline and stay focused on the general design first...



#9 Melan

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 03:02 PM

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I just can't do stepwise refinement. I know it is the standard way to go among the pros, but the only way I really enjoy the process is by going scene by scene (while iterating a lot).

 

220px-A_Pattern_Language.jpg

 

Anyway; some of the best advice I have read about designing spaces (real or virtual, public or private) comes from Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction, a great 1977 book on urban and housing design. Alexander was (is) an opponent of technocratic modernism and a proponent of human-scaled, organic architecture. In his book, he gives a great understanding of how architecture works by breaking it down into core elements ("patterns") which form nested hierarchies, and which can combine to create good or bad architecture. Coincidentally, a lot of what Alexander considers good architecture - varied, slightly irregular, full of nooks and crannies and suprising little spaces - also makes for good Thief architecture. It is a thick book, full of illustrated examples and discussion, and you don't have to be an architect or town planner to understand it.

 

positive-outdoor-space.gif124diagram.gif

061diagram.gif118diagram.gif

 

Here are a few patterns: Positive Outdoor SpaceActivity Pockets; Small Public Squares; Roof Garden.


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Come the time of peril, did the ground gape, and did the dead rest unquiet 'gainst us. Our bands of iron and hammers of stone prevailed not, and some did doubt the Builder's plan. But the seals held strong, and the few did triumph, and the doubters were lain into the foundations of the new sanctum. -- Collected letters of the Smith-in-Exile, Civitas Approved

#10 Bikerdude

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 03:03 PM

I like the idea of fixing play-ablility and fps issues as they happen not at the end, when alpha or beta testing. But this only happens if I am working with the map author fairly early on in the process.

 

Coincidentally, a lot of what Alexander considers good architecture - varied, slightly irregular, full of nooks and crannies and suprising little spaces - also makes for good Thief architecture.

100%

 

I looked at all of those links - very interesting read. I especially liked the bit about activity pockets, and not that I think about it - on all the maps we have worked on we have either consciously or subconsciously created these...  ^_^



#11 Judith

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Posted 23 January 2017 - 03:18 PM

The thing I'm watching right now is about how we should actually learn and understand key concepts of interior design. Very useful to me so far, definitely need to watch again and take notes.

 

 

The concept Melan speaks of is kinda there too, it's a breakdown of how we see and navigate space, what works and what doesn't.


Edited by Judith, 23 January 2017 - 04:25 PM.

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#12 stumpy

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Posted 24 January 2017 - 06:25 AM

I always go on the fact that people are seeing in 2d while playing a 3d game, as in they hardly ever look up, so if you want a secret entrance into a place, stick it above their heads, or even better stick two entrances into a place side by side one in the dark and one in the light, the one in the light is two narrow to get through while the one in the dark is just right. its a stealth game so why do you get feed back about the one in the light being to thin to get through, even though there's one in the shadows next to it that is easy to get through.

 

you can use the people don't look up that often to hide things in plain sight.


Edited by stumpy, 24 January 2017 - 06:33 AM.

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#13 Obsttorte

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Posted 25 January 2017 - 05:47 AM

Keeping performance in mind while processing is definetely a good advice. Many people may think that performance can be fixed at the end of the mapping process, but this only works to a certain extend.

 

There are definetely benefits of starting roughly and refining as you go, but there are also different ways how to do this. You don't neccessarely have to apply this philosophy on a per level base. It's also possible to do this on a per room / area base, which is probably the more satisfying workflow considering that most mappers here work alone. Additionally, some of the things mentioned in the video are simple not applicable for a stealth game like TDM. For example doing the texturing and lighting very late in the mapping process might work for a shooter, but as textures and light placement have a major impact on stealth gameplay, you have to do this kind of stuff very early in TDM, at least roughly.

 

Overall, iterative game design is mainly focused on avoiding creating highly-detailed stuff in the beginning which you have to throw away later on (and therefore throw away a lot of time) in opposition to throw away low-detailed stuff which did not take that much time in creation. Every mapper has to ask itself whether this happens often enough so that changing to an iterative workflow would be beneficial.

 

Like with all philosophies you can't generally say it is correct or false, but it is something to think about, even if you reject it in the end.


FM's: Builder Roads, Old Habits, Old Habits Rebuild
WIP's: Several. Although after playing Thief 4 I really wanna make a city mission.
Mapping and Scripting: Apples and Peaches
Sculptris Models and Tutorials: Obsttortes Models
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#14 Judith

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Posted 25 January 2017 - 06:48 AM

Definitely, stealth levels are much harder to design, because the choice of lightning and textures directly affects gameplay, it's not just an aesthetic choice. The same goes for story and setting, that can affect a lot of factors too.

 

Besides, making abstract maps first is pretty counter-intuitive for the brain. Typically, I have an image in my head first, an interesting location or a shape, but something that looks finished. And the urge is to get to that finished state as soon as possible, not to iterate on raw building blocks. Discipline and patience is hard ;)



#15 demagogue

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Posted 25 January 2017 - 08:55 AM

Yes but on the other hand light contrasts and similar stealth tropes tend to work in favor of good aesthetics, also the fragmented space/niche idea. So gameplay and aesthetics can be mutually reinforcing at times too.

The talk about space reminds me of the discussion that sometimes comes up with size-restricted contest missions, which is the idea of live and dead space (and not the game ;) ). Dead space is like a massive bare wall. It does nothing for the game, not even to look at, so it's wasted space, whereas space contributing to game play or aesthetics is alive. And you can think about the live to dead space ratio, wanting it to be high as a design principle. Because our gameplay is particularly environment sensitive, it means more to us than other genres.

You notice it in contest FMs because the size restriction means you think about what every inch is doing to cram everything in. Once you've built like that, you realize maybe you can use that way of thinking for full sized FMs too. More live space means more gameplay punch per square foot, which adds up.
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#16 Judith

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Posted 25 January 2017 - 10:01 AM

I always had a bit of problem with lightning, and I think FM makers have that problem in general. Games like Dishonored or Thief reboot have lightning setup focused a bit more on aesthetic side, which is ok with Dis. In Thief, it makes things a bit too subtle, more often than not. That forces players to observe the lightgem rather than the environment, which is obviously bad. On the other hand, a lot of mappers just throw one or two major lights in a room, add the ambient_world, and hope for the best. That's not good lightning design either.



#17 jaredmitchell

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 03:13 PM

Having released only one, not-terribly-well received FM, I know I'm not the most qualified to chime in here, but I really agree.

 

What irks me most about a lot of levels here is how linear and constrained they are. One of the biggest appeals of Thief for me were the many paths that intertwined, giving players more options to approach an encounter (or circumvent it altogether). It's also worth remembering that one of the skills Thief tests players on is spatial navigation, so if you're asking players to follow a straight path, they're not being engaged on that level.

 

That's not to say linear paths are never appropriate: the first level in Thief II really constricts the player through the use of locked doors to teach the player about certain obstacles. Later on, the player can obtain keys to open up previous areas, allowing the level to fold in on itself later. I attempted to do this with my level, but I don't really know how effective it was.


Edited by jaredmitchell, 29 January 2017 - 05:10 PM.

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#18 Bikerdude

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 03:40 PM

Having released only one, not-terribly-well received FM,

What Fm was that..?



#19 nbohr1more

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 04:10 PM

What Fm was that..?

 

http://forums.thedar...fm/#entry397852

 

To the community, this looked like a Beta announcement rather than a release.

 

The mission isn't terrible but there are some rough spots. I've been tied-up in 2.05 activity so I forgot to go back and offer feedback.

I'll agree (to some degree) that the large size and sparse areas could be tightened a bit. Add a little more decor to the core game-play areas

and cut-off areas where the player would aimlessly wander without much to do. You've got a lot of map to work with so you should

be able to pair down to a nice tight mission release.


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#20 jaredmitchell

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 05:15 PM

What Fm was that..?

 

Edited my post to include a link. Thanks for pointing that out.

 

To the community, this looked like a Beta announcement rather than a release.

 

Is that why? I realized as I was releasing it that I hadn't placed it in the right area (since the beta testing forum is hidden).


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#21 Obsttorte

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 05:19 AM

You normally ask for beta-testers, than someone of the forum admins will grant you access to the beta-testing.

 

The term 'release' is normally understood as really publishing a mission in the TDM Fan Missions forum after it has been gone through the beta-testing stage. So your wording caused some confusion here ;)


FM's: Builder Roads, Old Habits, Old Habits Rebuild
WIP's: Several. Although after playing Thief 4 I really wanna make a city mission.
Mapping and Scripting: Apples and Peaches
Sculptris Models and Tutorials: Obsttortes Models
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Let's Map TDM YouTube playlist: ObstlerTube
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#22 Melan

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 06:39 AM

Yeah, I thought it was a call for beta testers! (Which I didn't answer because I wanted to play the final release.)

 

Do you wish to betatest the mission, or do you consider it a final?


Come the time of peril, did the ground gape, and did the dead rest unquiet 'gainst us. Our bands of iron and hammers of stone prevailed not, and some did doubt the Builder's plan. But the seals held strong, and the few did triumph, and the doubters were lain into the foundations of the new sanctum. -- Collected letters of the Smith-in-Exile, Civitas Approved

#23 jaredmitchell

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 12:20 PM

I'm thankful for the attention I inadvertently gave my FM here. I'll respond here, but I'd prefer if future discussion of Nothing's Sacred took place in its own thread. I think this thread's topic of finding the community's level design shortcomings so that we can better them is interesting and important, so I don't want to distract from it (and I'm also worried about being perceived as "hijacking" the thread :P ).

 

 

You normally ask for beta-testers, than someone of the forum admins will grant you access to the beta-testing.

 

The term 'release' is normally understood as really publishing a mission in the TDM Fan Missions forum after it has been gone through the beta-testing stage. So your wording caused some confusion here ;)

 

Yeah, I wasn't exactly following a set milestone schedule. I guess I'm used to a game dev's definition of beta, as opposed to what the community here (or gaming communities in general) would consider beta. This was also muddled by my sending the level-in-progress to my friends several times during development already before approaching the TDM community, so I guess I considered it somewhere between "Beta" and "Release" (often called "Release Candidate").

 

 

Yeah, I thought it was a call for beta testers! (Which I didn't answer because I wanted to play the final release.)

 

Do you wish to betatest the mission, or do you consider it a final?

 

Uhhh, that's a good question.  :P

 

Given the lack of feedback I got initially, I did fix some things, but didn't really mention that in the initial thread (which I think I'll do now), such as adding a guard, removing most helmeted guards, and replacing a model that didn't show up properly in the .pk4. Now that I'm getting more feedback on decoration and spaces that should be more filled (mostly from nbohr1more), I might go back and fix that, but most feedback seems to focus on decoration.

 

So, I guess I consider it finished, since I posted it on my portfolio site, but if you find a couple of things that would make it look better, I wouldn't be averse to fixing them.


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#24 Judith

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Posted 03 April 2017 - 04:33 AM

Another great GDC lecture about building non-interactive spaces:

 





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