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"Manny's Best Friend"

PROJECT SUMMARY

Project Summary

Role: Level/World & Quest Designer

Genre: 3rd Person Shooter; RPG

Editor: Creation Kit

Platform: PC

Process: Level Design Document, Map Diagram, Whitebox, Gameplay Iterations, Aesthetic Pass, Testing, Iterations, Postmortem

Development Time: 3 months (15hr/week)

 

The Project: (2022)

"Manny’s Best Friend” is a single-player, Fallout 4 quest that takes the player to a secluded cabin in a heavily wooded area northwest of the Commonwealth of Boston in 2287. The player meets Manny at Red Rocket and accepts a quest to rescue his dog, Rover, from his cabin that has been seized by raiders. The player travels to a new location, rescues Rover, and traverses the dangerous forest before returning Rover to Manny safely. This level is teeming with raiders, rad roaches, blood bugs, and other hazards, while providing players the opportunity to use their skills in lockpicking, hacking, and stealth."

Focus: Open-World Techniques, Emotional Engagement, NPC Follower

Framing
POSTMORTEM

Postmortem

WHAT WENT WELL

  • While this quest was linear in nature, I managed to create a more open environment that felt much larger than it actually was by using a variety of area / world design techniques used in open-world games. 
     

  • Based on playtester feedback and review, I believe that player's did reach a level of attachment with the NPC follower (dog). 
     

  • The exterior environment was constructed in natural looking ways. I also managed to use mod-kits in the cave system to construct a smaller but meaningful area for the player.
     

  • I was able to successfully script a follower for the first time in Creation Kit and have that same NPC stop following the player or re-follow the player based on specific triggers and level progression.

EVEN BETTER IF

  • I tried a ton of new things this project, and I was admittingly a bit too ambitious. While I did get all of the core programming implemented properly, it took a long time to get right. That time spent cut into the time I had to perfect my nav mesh and LOD settings. This level also needed more balance in difficulty and better pacing. In the future, I plan timebox the time I spend on scripting, and cut features/elements when the time spent is far too much for the overall project time allotment.
     

  • I used scaled-up rocks to assist in sculpting my terrain's general shape in my whitebox process, but then I underestimated the amount of time it would take to replace these later. So, they didn't all get replaced. The result was several large rocks in my final map with stretched textures. In the future, I will not only follow a decent scaling-limit protocol for resizing assets, but I will ensure that I leave adequate time for aesthetics and think more proactively about my whiteboxing methods for geometry.

WHAT I LEARNED

  • Creation Kit is a robust editor with numerous places to implement code, dialogue, stages, conditions, trigger boxes, nav mesh, and other game elements; this also means that there is a lot of room for things to break, and a wide variety of places to check where something might have broken. I am learning more and more every day about how crucial it is to do only a little bit of work, and then test that work, but to also keep that process going for the entire project. Otherwise, with an editor like Creation Kit, when things break, it can be challenging to determine what changed, where the change occurred, and what went wrong.
     

  • This project reminded me that in open worlds, sometimes the player needs to be gated before proceeding into a new area or the player could break the quest, enemies may spawn at incorrect times or in unbelievable places, and the player could be spending too much time walking/running around the world with limited gameplay to keep them entertained. I resolved this concern in my level with literal gates used in natural ways. For example, in some cases, NPCs would open the gates, and in other cases, a key would need to be located before a gate could be unlocked.

DESIGN GOALS

Design Overview

Map Diagram

My design began with an overview map, detailed maps, and a level design document that included a breakdown of narrative beats, combat encounters, pickup placements, and quest objectives.  This map changed a bit during whitebox and later stages of development as I iterated on the map after playtester feedback. In the end, I removed the final stretch of the path (5E-F) to replace it with an interior area (cave system) to help differentiate areas and optimize performance. Other changes were made to create "big world feel" and give the player more framed pathways and goals, exploration opportunities, and better, dynamic combat encounters.

Design Goals

Linear Quest with
Limited Playable Space;

Big World Feel

Access player emotion;

script a follower

Conveyance

Linear But Open

Linear Quest with Limited Playable Space; Big World Feel

This quest was linear in nature, and I had to be strategic to keep the map in scope when considering project deadlines and gameplay time targets. That being said, I wanted the world to feel bigger than it was, like a true open world game. So, the first thing I did was decide to force the player to reuse some of the same spaces instead of going in a straight line for each quest objective. 

Another way I lengthened the traversal time for the player was by implementing environmental hazards and enemies that encouraged the player to navigate around these areas instead of through them.

The next way I made the world feel bigger was by adding side paths and winding pathways instead of straight, critical-only paths to objectives; I did this in numerous areas. Side paths offered exploration opportunities, a chance for the player to rediscover the main path, and risk for rewards.

 

Changing straighter paths to winding paths added gameplay time for the player, allowed me to have enemies come from behind the cliffs dynamically, and helped to optimize the map due to blocking problematic sightlines.

In addition to the many side paths I created, I also programmed the follower NPC (dog) to run off of the direct path through the forest on several occasions and lure the player away from the critical path towards trigger boxes which would progress the quest.

Another thing I did to make the world feel bigger was to make sure that each area felt a little different than others. The player traverses through caves, different parts of the forest, swamps, a neighborhood ruin, over a lake, and inside of a home. Even in the night, I was careful to illuminate each area differently through lamps, glowing mushrooms, etc.

The last thing I did to make the world feel larger was by adding props to the nonplayable space in the distance. I intended to create the illusion that more world existed than there actually was. 

___Player Emotion__

Access Player Emotion

I was inspired to make this map after playing God of War. Good level design starts with identifying emotions that the designer would like the player to experience in their levelSo, I decided to aim to create emotions like sadness and concern, then nervousness and suspense, and finally joy and a sense of accomplishment. In order to do that, I would also need to instill a level of empathy in my player audience.

 

So, my goal became to create an NPC follower that the player would be responsible for looking after, and most importantly, an NPC follower that the player would want to protect. In order to create player buy-in, I would need to offer a compelling narrative and give the player a reason to care about the NPC emotionally.

After speaking with my stakeholder and colleagues, I iterated on my initial design. Instead of creating player buy-in about a sick mother and a child who needed care for, I tried to build a new narrative where the quest giver had lost everything and help the player to see that this kidnapped dog was truly all he had left.

I began that storytelling with the quest giver literally telling the player about all he had lost: his home, his late wife, his kidnapped dog. Later, the player would discover that the quest giver had also lost his child. I also chose the cutest dog model I could find, one that was less radiated-looking, and I shrunk it down to more of a large puppy size.

____Conveyance____

Conveyance

Combat Design

Combat Design

Combat was elaborately planned in order to spawn enemies dynamically based on the player's location and the quest stage the player had completed.

 

All enemies had patrol paths and/or stations with animations. As a player would reach a trigger box, enemies ahead would spawn and appear from behind rocks, boulders, and signs. As quest stages were completed, trigger boxes and enemies would unload and new ones would load for the player to experience. 

Throughout the level, he player has opportunities to lockpick, discover loot off of side paths, and find interesting items on enemy remains. Often, if I gave the player a super powerful item like a sniper rifle or missile launcher, I would incorporate a challenge in order for them to obtain the item. Otherwise, I would simply reward the player for exploring non-critical paths.

 

For example, the player could lockpick into a bag found at a campsite after a raider fight and obtain a missile launcher; its ammo was nearby if they chose to explore, and bobby pins for lockpicking were obtainable at the previous campsite. If I offered the player a special item (i.e. sniper rifle), I would also ensure the player had opportunities to use it strategically (i.e. enemies on the other side of the bridge.)

The first half of the cave system is a safe zone to allow the player to get acclimated and collect some firearms and ammo. Combat is first introduced to the player in the caves with the mildest of enemies in the level (i.e. radiated roaches). Later these roaches appear in greater numbers and alongside other enemies types as the difficulty ramps up

 

When the player exits the cave, they enter a seemingly open area of forest giving them a chance to heal up or reload their weapon(s). This was done on purpose to create a sense of safety.

Once the player begins their journey into the forest, they are introduced to raiders. These human enemies have firearms, varying combat styles, and different degrees of difficulty.

 

I started the player out facing a single raider directly in front of them. As the level progresses, the player must defeat groups of raiders, more difficult raiders, and raiders at varying distances and heights. In all cases, the raiders have patrol paths and spawn in dynamically as the player makes quest progress. 

Once over the bridge, the player opens the door to the house to engage in close-quarters combat allowing them to choose whether a melee or short-ranged firearm will work best for them. For stealth-lovers, the player can, instead, sneak around the side of the house and enter through a backdoor giving them a few seconds of a head start on the raiders inside. 

 

After the indoor raiders have been defeated, the player is given a moment of rest while they locate the dog and the key to free the dog from a cage. If the player has looted all of the bodies up until this point, and has located all of the loot containers on the critical path, then they have also had the opportunity to collect a full set of body armor, multiple weapon types and accompanying ammo, lockpicking supplies, and various health aids.

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