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Let's improve our level design skills


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  • 3 months later...

Never played Payday 2, but this may come in handy if you want to design a small map with a lot of replayability. Thoughts on gameplay and randomness are pretty solid:

 

http://www.generalvivi.com/blog/?p=410

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is more a video on game mechanic design than level design (specifically praising Thief's sound systems), but I think there are some good takeaways.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 5 months later...

Hey hey, it's about The Timeless Way of Building! Melan recommended A Pattern Language, and this reminds me I should report back here now and say that I made it through most of that book over the summer. At about a thousand pages, it's encyclopaedic (in volume, and arguably in content as it goes down the checklist of the largest superstructures of government to the minute details of building), but I appreciate the recommendation. It's very good in making you think in terms of context as to what you are building, which would ideally be human habitats and all that this fact entails. Only some of its information is applicable to (TDM) level design however, due to engine and game ruleset limitations.

 

I have been reading the Ecological Approach to Visual Perception by J.J. Gibson (while waiting on another visual literacy book, "Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication", to arrive) and I very much recommend Gibson if you hope to understand why and how we perceive our environment the way we do. It's a landmark work in optics (reading it I am fairly certain, though not for a fact, that he strongly influenced how PBR in CG is structured) and his concept of affordances is in wide use today and it is something you should familiarize yourself with.

 

On the topic of less contemporary authors, I have good old John Ruskin waiting on the e-shelf here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17774/17774-h/17774-h.htm and am planning on going through these essays soon.

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My FMs: The King of Diamonds (2016) | Visit my Mapbook thread sometimes! | Read my tutorial on Image-Based Lighting Workflows for TDM!

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

This is slightly older GDC lecture, Randy Smith is talking about player expression, using examples from both Thief and his own games:

 

 

Also not sure why this one is an hour long. The lecture is like 20 minutes, the rest is a black screen.

Edited by Judith
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  • 5 months later...
  • 11 months later...

All the videos from the school of stealth are good, although this one is interesting as it talks about the problem of post-detection game.

To be fair, I wouldn't mind a small, e.g. a Bakery Job-sized mission with saving disabled, but with a limited time rewind ability.

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Not sure if I like that, TBH. I like to be master of my gaming experience, and, limited saves, or that rewind ability takes away from it. I absolutely detest games with checkpoints and no manually saves as well. It CAN make sense, if it fits into the gameplay, but, it can be pretty annoying as well, if the game is so challenging, and distributes those checkpoints more scarcely in later levels.

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Posted (edited)

I remember I initially hated MGS V for this. But I did let my inner perfectionist go after a while, and I learned to love it, just going with the gameplay flow.

A perfectionist run, especially when you're playing the game / map for the first time, shouldn't be something players expect from themselves. Unfortunately they do, as stats and ghost achievements encourage this. So when a player is a master of their own experience, they ruin it with save scumming. Possibly the best of both worlds would be providing two modes to play a map with, but it probably requires quite a bit of additional development time.

Assuming players will reload a save in case of trouble is a design mistake itself, if mappers ever do that. Teaching players that making mistakes is okay, and at the same  time, providing better space to run away / spend the detection phase in, seems like a better idea, and it doesn't make all the post-detection AI game logic basically go to waste (if everyone just quickloads, nobody sees in in action).

As with mostly everything else, it's the flaws and mistakes that make the most interesting stories, the problem is that we conditioned ourselves to act otherwise.

Edited by peter_spy
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Notice what's happening though? You teach the player how he has to play your game, opposed to giving him the chance to play the game his way. :) The best games I played let me play them the way I want to play them.

That's why I enjoy the Bethesda RPG's so much, for example. They give me the choice whether I want to play a sneaky Thief-y character, or a gun blazing, or axe swinging brute. THAT is freedom in gameplay, not conditioning and teaching the player. With the option to quicksave the game, you give everyone the chance to play the game his way, removing quicksaving, and insisting on checkpoints takes away the option to play your way.

Edited by chakkman
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You have to teach players how to play your game, as it always has some rules. You don't feel entitled to have a e.g. a magic carpet mode in an RPG like the Witcher, right? Save system, unless diegetic, is more universal and external from the game itself, and yet players feel entitled to use it 'their way' to influence the game outcome in a manner that is not so far away from cheating. So this is more like protecting players from themselves. With save scumming they're making the experience cheaper, playing in the world where there are no consequences of their actions (even if the game is prepared to present you these consequences and not punish you with the game over screen).

And yeah, some players will oppose that. Some people will oppose any idea outside of their thought bubble. It's kind of designers' problem (and choice) who to communicate their ideas to, and how (which can be risky, obviously). I think MGS V didn't do a great job with communicating the idea (AFAIR), but by experimenting with the whole system and seeing how it works in practice, players can change their mind.

Edited by peter_spy
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I found the video quite interesting and I agree that it is sad that the whole search system is wasted for most people. I am a quicksave spammer myself, but I also try to condition myself not to do it too often. An incentive to get players to not do that could be to track and rank the number of times the game was saved. The (admittedly very old) game "Sverance: Blade of Darkness" did that. It ranked you as "Awesome", "Bold", or "Normal" depending on how often you saved. To get an "Awesome" ranking, you may only save around two times per level. It had no other influence on the game, but it made the player just try to save not that often. So, you could try to let the number of saves/loads influence the stealth score or give it it's own ranking. That way people may feel compulsed to try "no save" runs just as they try ghosting missions.

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3 hours ago, Destined said:

To get an "Awesome" ranking, you may only save around two times per level. It had no other influence on the game, but it made the player just try to save not that often.

Having positive incentives for the players is a better solution, no doubt. I think I have a presentation called "How to stop players from saving all the time" somewhere on my hard drive at home, need to read it again sometime :)

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5 hours ago, peter_spy said:

You have to teach players how to play your game, as it always has some rules. You don't feel entitled to have a e.g. a magic carpet mode in an RPG like the Witcher, right? Save system, unless diegetic, is more universal and external from the game itself, and yet players feel entitled to use it 'their way' to influence the game outcome in a manner that is not so far away from cheating. So this is more like protecting players from themselves. With save scumming they're making the experience cheaper, playing in the world where there are no consequences of their actions (even if the game is prepared to present you these consequences and not punish you with the game over screen).

And yeah, some players will oppose that. Some people will oppose any idea outside of their thought bubble. It's kind of designers' problem (and choice) who to communicate their ideas to, and how (which can be risky, obviously). I think MGS V didn't do a great job with communicating the idea (AFAIR), but by experimenting with the whole system and seeing how it works in practice, players can change their mind.

Reminds me of those synthetic "Don't K.O. anyone" objectives in TDM. :P (which don't make sense at all, BTW. No noble men who just got his valuable scepter stolen gives a damn how many of his lower guards or city watch got hurt in the process)

I still think it should be left to a player how he plays a game. Of course your whole gameplay design dictates some things, but, the more open you are to different playing styles, the more satisfying it will be, for everyone. Checkpoints are a departure from that. They dictate how people design their personal game experience. It's not how I would design my game. I would design it so that everyone can decide for themselves how often and when they save the game.

Also, let's face it: Checkpoints are usually in the games because people are either too lazy to save, or forgot it, and then freak out because they have to re-play a good portion of the game since the last save. Typically checkpoints are NOT implemented as a gameplay decision.

Edited by chakkman
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3 hours ago, chakkman said:

Also, let's face it: Checkpoints are usually in the games because people are either too lazy to save, or forgot it, and then freak out because they have to re-play a good portion of the game since the last save. Typically checkpoints are NOT implemented as a gameplay decision.

That's really, really not the case, and for like decades now. Checkpoints are there so you don't break your gameplay flow thinking about saving and performing such action. Mostly because you have to pause the game, go to the menu and use an option. Even with some shortcuts for a quicksave option (used both in PC and console games now), you are taken away from the experience for a while. Checkpoints are a very conscious design choice, and developers have been talking pros and cons of it for years.

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Hm, for a conscious design choice I've seen them implemented really badly way too often.

It depends on the particular game, of course. I don't mind checkpoints in many games, but particularly in the stealth genre, they tend to ruin the fun for me. The most striking impact I observed in the Splinter Cell series. Whereas in the first three games, I really enjoyed going for a stealthy approach, I absolutely hated it and felt punished for it in the later games, and the difference is exactly quick saves vs. checkpoints. In the first games, I could quick save whenever I wanted - and it was incredibly fast, both the saving and the loading. And as such, I felt more inspired to try and take some risks, and if I did get caught, I didn't lose much progress and could just try something else.

In the later games, however, getting caught means being reset to the last checkpoint, and if you are taking a stealthy and cautious approach through the level, that means easily replaying your last 5-10 mins. And nothing, absolutely nothing, infuriates me more than replaying the same part of the game over again that I just went through, particularly if my mistake came later. And that led to me very quickly abandoning the stealth approach, because it felt way too punishing. Playing the levels action-style also meant you went much quicker from checkpoint to checkpoint, so less time lost if I die. But playing the games action-style also diminished my enjoyment of the games immensely, and so this is at least one example where my enjoyment greatly suffered from checkpoints...

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Splinter Cell is a good example. On Xbox, in the first 2 Spliter Cell's, there was no chance to quicksave, and the game only save on checkpoints. Some sections were so freaking hard because of that that I quit playing Pandora Tomorrow because of that.

I think that's a great example of how checkpoints can really ruin your game. Fortunately, the PC versions of the first games all had manual saving.

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I think all the games I played for years now have checkpoints, and I really don't remember how they handle my saves, because they do the job correctly, i.e. the game handles my saves for me, so I don't have to think about that. Problems you're talking about are mostly for older and very linear games from like Xbox era, where the problem lies between not having checkpoints often enough or having them too often. Maybe it's the genre thing too. Also games which have checkpoints and death mechanics tied to the game lore (e.g. Borderlands, Shadow of Mordor, Dark Souls) seem fare a bit better in this regard. But I also don't remember saving manually in last DX or Dishonored games, apart from the Save & Quit option, which is something I'd see when I have finished my gaming session anyway.

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I quicksaved the hell out of the Dishonored games. Mostly because, like cabalistic wrote, not to play 5 minutes of the same again. :)

Guess we have to agree to disagree on this, as we simply have a different approach towards games. And, guess what: That's why it's great to have quicksave AND checkpoints. As we're both happy that way. :)

Edited by chakkman
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