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"Manny's Best Friend"

PROJECT SUMMARY

Project Summary

Role: Level & Mission 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."

House across the bridge
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Postmortem

POSTMORTEM

WHAT WENT WELL

  • While this quest was linear in nature, I managed to create a larger environment that felt much larger than it actually was by using a variety of level design techniques. 
     

  • Based on playtester feedback and review, I believe that player's did reach some 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 small 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.

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DESIGN GOALS

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

└ Design Overview

[MAIN QUEST & LEVEL 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, quest objectives, and other important elements of the map such as where important framing should be implemented.

This image depicts one of several maps I created before diving into a whitebox; as it is a detailed map, it includes enemy placements, pickups, and wow moments. It includes a scale reference and was accompanied by a map legend and chart of action steps.

This map changed a bit during whitebox and later stages of development as I iterated on the map after playtester feedback. Structurally, I removed the final stretch of the path and replaced it with an interior world space (cave system). The rest of the changes were made to create "big world feel" and give the player more framed pathways and goals, exploration opportunities, and better combat encounters.

The player starts the quest just outside of the iconic Red Rocket truck stop. 

The quest giver is visibly upset next to a camp site where the player learns that raiders have seized his home in the forest, killed his wife, and kidnapped his dog.

The quest giver has decided to relocate permanently to the settlements and asks the player for assistance in bringing his dog safely back to him.

Quest Start / Quest Giver
Entering the cave

Once the player accepts the quest, they accept a shotgun from the quest giver and head towards a shortcut to the forest through a nearby cave.

The player wanders through the cave looking for the exit to the forest.

While in the cave, they are introduced to the most basic enemy of the level: giant, crawlingradiated roaches

While there is not a formal side quest in this level, I did stage a skeleton in the cave, and when the body is looted, a key to a safe is found. Later in the level, a safe can be found and opened only if the player has this key; it is less of a side quest and more of a reward for exploration.

Rad roaches in the cave
Raider camp fight

When the player emerges from the cave, they trek through the wilderness in search of the quest giver's former home where the dog is being held.

The player stumbles upon a couple of raider camps on the way and can stock up on loot from the camps and bodies.

After defeating raiders in the camp, the player walks through an open gate and enters an open area looking out over a radiated lake.

As the player makes the corner, they can see the house they are searching for just over the bridge

From this position, the player can see guards patrolling the house. The player can choose their preferred player style and either rush the guards, stealthily snipe them, utilize a discovered missile launcher, or use the cover on the bridge to steadily work their way towards the house.

waterfall vista and bridge to house
House combat encounter

Once the guards are defeated, the player can enter the house to rescue the dog. 

As the player enters the house, a guard in the kitchen attacks the player while another guard attacks from the staircase.

The player locates the dog inside of a cage in a small bedroom. The key is located on a shelf nearby and the player can free the dog

Free the dog
Assisted combat

As the player leaves the house to return to the quest giver, 4 guards rush the house from over the bridge. 

2 ranged guards utilize the cover on the bridge, while the other 2 guards rush the player to engage in close-quartered combat. 

With the dog free, the dog aids the player in defeating the 2 guards close to the player. This frees the player to attack the bridge guards utilizing their method of choice (i.e. sniper, missiles, rifles, etc.).

Once the guards are defeated, the player attempts to return to the quest giver only to realize that the gate they came thorough is now locked thanks to the raider enemies. They must find a new way back.

The player and the dog trek through the forest in search of another way back to the quest giver; the dog follows the player

As the player is moving through the forest, blood bugs are introduced to the player (giant, flying, radiated mosquito type enemies).

 

During the trek, the dog runs away from the player towards something he found. The player must locate the dog

As the dog approaches his point of interest, a raider appears from behind a boulder and the dog's attention is diverted to that enemy instead of the point of interest. The player hears gunshots and a growling dog, and may also see the enemy depending on the route they chose. A second raider appears on top of a barricade structure during this time

 

Once these raiders are defeated, the dog returns to the point of interest, and the player can note the environmental storytelling: a grave stone that informs the player of quest giver's deceased 5 year old son.

 

Once the player has reached the gravestone, the dog begins to follow the player again and the objective is updated to return to the quest giver. As the objective is changed, a raider unlocks and opens a fence gate providing a new path for the player to explore. The player defeats the raider and the dog follows the player through the fence.

POI: Grave stone site
Radiated swamp zone

As the player walks around the mountainside, they enter into a swampy part of the forest that has seen radiation damage. There are no trees here.

 

Radiated roaches and blood bugs attack the player.

 

The dog and player must travel around the edge of the radiated swamp in order to avoid radiation damage. Running across the swamp would damage both characters.

As the player and dog emerge from the swamp, the space opens up and raiders attack the player from behind barricades or from on top of a billboard structure

 

The player can utilize those barricades and boulders for cover

Ruined neighborhood
Guarded cave site

As the player is engaged with the raiders, they are encouraged through gameplay to rush forward by seeking cover and closer ranged combat. In doing this, they can see the cave entrance they need to get back to quest giver, but it is locked.

To prevent the player from investigating the cave entrance long, as the player approaches the area of the cave entrance, 2 raiders spawn up ahead around the mountainside out of view of the player, and the dog stops following the player to seek out another point of interest in a ruined neighborhood area.

As the objective changes to follow the dog, the dog becomes preoccupied by the newly spawned raiders and the player can hear gunshots and the dog growling from their location.

To keep the dog safe, the player must find the dog and defeat these raiders; one raider is on the ground and the other is in the upstairs area of a ruined house providing verticality in gameplay and player choice as to how these enemies can be defeated.

If the player happened to acquire the key in the cave system, the safe is in the upstairs area of the ruined house next to the raider occupying that space. The raider provides balance of risk, while the location of the safe provides a reward for exploration.

Once the raiders have been defeated, the dog runs to a point of interest on the side of the ruined house: a body holding a note with a key lying on the ground. The player's objective is to follow the dog

From the environmental storytelling and note, the player can deduct that the body is the quest giver's wife's and that she was not killed by raiders, but instead, attempted an escape but failed to find the cave entrance before succumbing to her wounds

The key on the ground opens the cave gates.

POI: wife's body
Second cave entrance

Once the player reaches the body, the dog begins to follow the player again, and the objective updates to return to the quest giver.

The player returns to the cave entrance and is able to use the key to open the gate, and enter the cave.

Once back in the cave system, the player walks a short distance into a gate they now have the key to -- the same locked gate they would have seen on the way into the cave system. This provides a shortcut for the player.

 

The dog follows the player through that gate and the player follows the cave tunnels back to where they started until the game loads the player into the larger world space outside of the cave entrance at Red Rocket truck stop. 

Return tunnel in cave system
Quest end / Quest giver

Once the player exits the cave, they can clearly see the Red Rocket truck stop and the firepit next to quest giver regardless if it is in the evening hours or in the middle of a radiation storm.

The player chats with the quest giver and returns his dog to complete the quest and earn some xp and caps (Fallout 4 currency).

 

At that point, the dog begins to follow the quest giver wherever he may wander.

└ Combat Design

[COMBAT DESIGN]

Combat is first introduced to the player in the cave system. The area is meant to be an introduction to the types of enemies the player may face in the level and that they may come from the ground in non-human form (i.e. radiated roaches).

The first half of the cave system is a safe zone to allow the player to get acclimate dot the space and collect some ammo

 

As the player comes out of the narrow tunnels, the space opens up and the player has a height advantage. As they enter this area, they pass through a trigger box (blue in the photo) which spawns two radiated roaches in the lower area of the map. One is closer to the player, and the other can be seen wandering in the tunnels up ahead of the player (red markings in the photo).

 

Despite heavy fog, the goal was to give the player the height advantage so they could clearly see them crawling around below and plan their attack. If the player is paying attention and exploring, they will also see a pistol lying on some rubble next to them at this entrance.

Campsite combat

As the player leaves the raider campsites, they round the side of a mountain, passing through a trigger box (blue in the photo) that spawns 2 raider guards outside of the quest giver's former home.

 

After passing through the trigger box, the space opens up to a waterfall vista and larger lake with a bridge leading to the quest giver's house. This area is far enough for the player to be outside of the aggro radius of the raiders guarding the house across the bridge on patrol paths. This gives the player time to rest before the next big fight, and ample time to assess the situation and plan their next move

I took care to show the player in various ways that the lake itself was radiated and that the bridge would also cause trace amounts of radiation damage to the player. The goal was to keep the player and the AI from camping on the long bridge. The player's choice in how they proceed would need to account for this radiation damage. 

  • The player could use their missiles to damage them from across the bridge and run across as the missile was still in motion to gain a head start on the fight.

  • They could discover the scoped rifle in the toolbox I placed near the bridge entrance behind the bridge pillar they could use as cover; however, they would have needed to collect ammo for it at the campsites prior to this area. 

  • Any firearms would alert the raiders and entice them onto the bridge causing them to lose a few hit points.

  • The player could stealthily make their way across the bridge and intentionally suffer the radiation damage while self-medicating as needed in order to sneak up on the raiders or charge them with a pistol or shotgun.

  • The player could steadily make their way over the bridge as fast as possible with a looted rifle while using the crates as cover as needed.

Defeating these raiders awards the player with better armor if they loot the bodies and a chance to rest and heal up for a moment.

House combat: Kitchen raider

After a few seconds, the upstairs raider will begin to descend down the stairs to attack the player. The player can rush towards them to prevent them from progressing and pin them on the staircase for an easy kill; otherwise, the raider will make their way into the living room and fight the player at arm's length.

 

If skilled enough, the player could also take out the kitchen raider with a shotgun and make it up the stairs to kill that second raider before they ever descend the staircase

After these two 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 had the opportunity to collect a full set of body armor, multiple weapon types and accompanying ammo, lockpicking supplies, and various health aids.

House combat: post dog rescue combat trigger
House combat: post dog rescue combat

Once the player has defeated all of the enemies escaping the house, they have a brief rest to loot the bodies, heal up, and discover the entrance gate they originally came through is now locked

As the player journeys into the forest to find a new way back to the quest giver, they pass through trigger box 1 (in blue on the photo) and are introduced to blood bugs  (enemy 1a).

 

This singular blood bug has a patrol path on a beach that the player can get to from a side path; the player may notice this path from a distance if the are paying attention to their surroundings, and they can approach the blood bug as they see fit. Either way, the bug will see the player and fly through the noticeable player trails to get to the player. I kept this flying enemy on the player's trail to increase visibility of the side path through animation/enemy movement in an effort to encourage exploration and make the world feel bigger.

Once the player passes through trigger box 2 (blue on the photo), the dog runs towards trigger box 3 (blue on the photo), and raider 2b spawns with a short wander distance out of sight of the player or dog; the player's objective is to find the dog.

 

As the dog approaches trigger box 3, it will notice raider 2b and redirect its target to the singular raider. The sound of gun shots, enemy cursing, and dog growling will aid in helping the player in finding the dog for the first time and taking notice of the fence impeding the player's progress through the forest and the structural barricade in the center of the wooded area. Once the dog and player eliminate this raider, the dog b-lines to trigger box 3 (marked in blue in the photo). 

Once the dog has reached this point of interest and the player has stepped into the trigger box (blue in photo), 2 enemies spawn.

 

Raider 3b spawns outside of the fence, opens the fence, and walks casually into the direction of the player having not noticed the player from that distance.

 

Raider 3a spawns behind the structure and begins to ascend the staircase of that structure. 

Once one of the raiders notices the dog or player, both raiders begin to utilize the barricade and boulders for cover while attacking the player and dog. Often, the raider on the barricade will descend the staircase if they cannot get a good shot at the player due to the rocks. This allows the player to circle around and gain the height advantage by taking over the barricade structure. 

Once these raiders have been taken care of, the barricade can be searched for loot (including a lock-picking opportunity), and the player can take a short rest before progressing forward in the level.

Cave combat

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).

Once they pass through a trigger box (blue in the photo), a low difficulty raider spawns behind a tent and begins to patrol a campsite. As the player walks around a boulder, the raider will notice the player and attack. This is the player's first encounter with human enemies in the level and they can use the boulders as cover.

The goal is to draw the player into the campsite for environmental storytelling and loot collection purposes; raiders have armor and different weapons on their bodies that the player can collect. There are also opportunities at the campsite to obtain lockpicking equipment and other goods.

After the player leaves the campsite and pushes on ahead, they pass through an additional trigger box ( blue on photo) spawning 2 raiders at another campsite up on a hill and slightly around a mountainside. The player can use raider barricades near this campsite as cover to push forward up the hillside battle.

The player can collect more armor and ammo from these raiders, but can also discover a missile launcher and 2 missiles next to their firepit. Inside of the tent, a locked duffel bag holds prewar cash, a large amount of loot, and additional guns. This is the player's first opportunity to lock pick, but they may need additional bobby pins to do so; this was intentional because I wanted the player to reuse space whenever possible to create a more open world feel despite the quest being linear (they can return to this area before rescuing the dog or after acquiring the cave entrance keys). 

Initial bridge combat

Once over the bridge, the player opens the door to the house and a raider spawns in the kitchen and 1 raider upstairs.

 

This is the first time that the player is faced with close-quarters combat allowing them to choose whether a melee or short-ranged firearm will work best for them. The player can also sneak around the side of the house and enter through a backdoor giving them a few seconds of a head start on the kitchen raider.

The raider upstairs will use the floor holes to shoot at the player if the player lingers in the living room and doesn't rush towards the kitchen raider. The intention was to encourage the player to move into the kitchen or upstairs as fast as possible. The player could also shoot that raider from the lower floor through these holes though.

House combat: upstairs raider

After the dog is released, it begins to follow the player and objectives are updated. At this point in the quest, since the player has been given ample opportunities to gear up and to get acclimated to the type of enemies in the level, the enemies begin to ramp up in number and, in some cases, difficulty. Luckily, the dog will assist the player in fighting raiders; however, the player is tasked with keeping the dog safe. 

 

As the player begins their descent down the stairs, they pass through a trigger box (blue in the photo) that spawns 4 raiders (marked with a red x). If the player remembers the floor holes, they can use these to their advantage.

By the time the player reaches the living room, raider 4a is entering the front door. The player can run out of the back of the house for a quick escape or face them head on; running out of the back of the house gives other spawned raiders more time to get closer to the player.

Raider 4b is patrolling on their marked path (red in the photo) until they either see the player or one of their raider allies take hit damage. These first two raiders engage the player in short-range and/or melee combat depending on the player's decisions. 

Meanwhile, raider 4c and 4d are spawned at the other end of the bridge (marked with a red x) and begin to make their way towards their marker closest to the house on the bridge. Once they see the player, or recognize their nearby allies are in distress, they begin to run towards the player. These enemies are staged far enough away from the player where the player can see them coming and make a quick plan for how to deal with the situation. 

 

If the player has been strategic, they could have sniped the raiders on their way towards the house, and could now use their 2 missiles on raiders 4c and 4d on their way out of the house.

Overall, the goal of this encounter was to have an increase in the number of same-type enemies, staggered attacks, and in front of the player's view.

Forest combat
Radiated swamp combat

The final stretch of combat includes all types of enemies without a rest -- radiated roaches, bloodbugs, and raiders of differing difficulties and attack styles

The trigger boxes (marked blue in the photo) indicate when enemies above should be spawned. This creates a staggered combat effect.

This final stretch of combat 

  • begins with radiated roaches and bloodbugs,

  • then begins to blend in melee and short range raiders with large cover boulders and barricades, and

  • finishes with mid to long range raiders stationed at varying heights for the player to combat, with medium height cover props;

  • some raiders are programmed to run into the area from behind the mountains up ahead.

└ Big World Feel

[BIG WORLD FEEL]

Reuse of space; player path lines in order by number
Reuse of space; player path lines in order by number
Reuse of space; player path lines in order by number
Reuse of space; player path lines in order by number

Side Paths & Winding Paths

The next way I made the world feel bigger was by adding side paths and winding pathways instead of straight, singular paths to objectives. This substantially increased the player's gameplay time.

In the first image, I indicated the original pathway in blue lines and the player path in red.

In the second image, I indicated the final layout, where I utilized cliffs, contrasting paths, large trees, and boulders to guide the player around a more winding path which blocked sightlines to the bridge area resolving a few enemy and LOD concerns.

This change added gameplay time for the player and allowed me to have enemies come from behind the cliffs dynamically. In both cases, I was able to perfectly frame the bridge area.

Original path markings overlaying final map
Player pathways and obstacles of final map
ritical player path and cliff markings

After the forest, the player would trek through the radiated swamp area. Originally, I mapped out a straight path with the swamp as an environmental hazard off to the side;.

 

The edges to that path are indicated in blue while the player's critical path is indicated in red. I also marked red X's where radiation could hurt the player. My intention was to place additional loot in the area as a risk/reward for the player. 

To lengthen gameplay and make the space feel more interesting and bigger, I moved the radiated swamp to the center of the original path, and remapped the pathway to go around the swamp. I also added radiated insect enemies to this area to keep the player engaged here longer.

To help guide the player and limit sightlines, I added boulders around the edge of the swamp and after the swamp area. I also added raider barricades and raider enemies to the final stretch of the area. 

By adding boulders and barricades, I gave the player multiple paths to consider, and included one nook the player could explore off to the left if they were looking around where they could find extra ammo before the fight ahead.

The critical path is marked in red. The green lines indicate various alternate paths the player can take.  The red X's indicate radiation. The yellow indicates boulders and barricades.

Like the other areas, I utilized large cliffs and boulders (marked in blue) to force the player to take a more windy path than the original straight path (marked in red). 

 

The red X's indicate radiation hazards which also aided in forcing the player to use a more windy pathHaving the player take a more windy path helped create the feeling that this world was much larger as the time it took to walk these paths took longer than if they were straight lines. 

Forest area
Radiated swamp area

To drive home this idea of a differentiation of spaces, to make the game play feel more realistic, and to lengthen the player's gameplay experience, a secondary cave map was implemented.

After the player leaves Red Rocket truck stop, they enter a cave entrance.

Instead of exiting the cave in the exterior world space shown in many of the photos on this page, the player loads into a separate interior map space -- a small cave system.

For scope purposes, this area of the map was kept small, but it did include insect type enemies, which differed from several areas of the map, and served as an introduction to this type of enemies that could be found in the space. 

In the photo, I've used red circles to indicate where auto load doors were located. As the player walked towards these invisible spheres (blue arrow), the screen would fade out (at the blue dash after the arrow) and the player would load into other maps (either Red Rock truck stop or the custom exterior world space). The player would load into the cave where the blue arrows begin and faced the opposite direction.

To make this space feel a tad bigger than it actually was (playable space enclosed in blue lines), I included combat, but I also included a few path splits that the player could investigate (indicated in green); one of those splits included a key to a safe found at the end of the exterior world space. Other areas included a cooking station, food, general supplies, and a pistol.

Te player first loads into the cave from Red Rocket truck stop at the #1. I marked the critical path with red lines and auto load doors with aqua circles. The pink line represents a locked gate that is only accessible after the player obtains a special key in the last area of the exterior world space.

 

When then player has the gate key, they can enter the secondary cave entrance at the end of the world space, and load into the cave where the #2 is indicated. That key opens the gate outside of the cave and inside of the cave allowing the player to return to the Red Rocket truck stop entrance of the cave without having to traverse all the way back through the exterior map space and cave system --  a massive short cut.

Props outside of the playable space (i.e. church)

Reuse of Space

This quest was linear in nature, and I had to be strategic to keep it in scope when considering project deadlines and gameplay time targets. That being said, I wanted the world to feel bigger than it was

Initially, I wanted the player to enter the world space from a cave exit, fight some enemies, retrieve the dog, fight some more enemies, and return to the quest giver. My initial playthroughs, however,  determined that going from point A to B to C, etc. -- in a linear manner -- would have the player finishing the level way too fast.

 

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. 

As shown in the photo, the player starts in the world space at #1 (red line) and makes their way to the house where the dog is being kept as they  fight raider enemies along the way; once at the house, the player frees the dog. 

Next, the player attempts to return the dog to the quest giver by going back over the bridge where they face more raider enemies; this is show as a blue line with a #2. This is the first attempt at making the player reuse space with dynamic combat. Except, this time, the gate at the end of the bridge is locked, which cannot be seen until the player has returned to this location and walked behind the rocks that were covering the gate from view at the house; the gate is located at the #3 location.

At this point, the player runs back over the bridge and takes the only available path left - through the forest; this is indicated with the #3 and a yellow line. The player's objective still asks the player to return the dog to the quest giver.

In the quest design, the dog stops following the player and runs off to a specific marker on the map. At this point, the player's new objective is now to follow the dog.

 

Once the player investigates the spot where the dog ran off to (marked with a #4), the quest objective updates to return the dog to the quest giver, and the player continues on their trek through the forest indicated by the aqua line.

After fighting a variety of enemies, the player can visibly see a locked gate to a cave entrance. Just before the player can truly investigate it though, the dog begins to run off again towards a new marker (indicated by #6) and the quest updates to follow the dog again.

Once the player investigates the spot where the dog ran off to (marked with a #6), the quest objective updates to return the dog to the quest giver. Having reached a dead end, the player returns to exit the area where they came from -- just before the dog ran off (indicated by #5). This is the second time I forced the player to reuse space.

Original path markings overlaying final map
Final path markings overlaying final map

Like the campsite area, I originally had a mostly linear path from the bridge to the house, from the house to the forest, and from the forest to the radiated swamp area. 

The edges of the path are indicated in blue and the player path in red.

In order to make this area feel less like a walking simulator, I first added split pathways and programmed the dog to run off to the right forcing the player to traverse off the direct path through the forest. I split the pathway using organically placed boulders and trees, and utilized the terrain tools to make the player feel like they were travelling uphill which framed the split well.

I also added a few extra side paths leading to dead ends where the player could explore and find extra loot. At least one of these POIs (the beach) was visible from the bridge as the player crossed over it towards the house.

The rocks are indicated in yellow. The pathways are indicated in green. The critical player path is indicated in red.

Then, as with the campsite fight, I utilized cliffs, boulders, trees, terrain modification, and path contrasting to create a more winding path than simply just creating straight lines for the player to run through.

Here the critical path is indicated in red. Edges that were raised with terrain or created with cliffs and boulders and marked with blue lines. 

To ensure the player was fully immersed in the space, I scripted combat to occur from behind various rocks and allowed the dog to assist the player, independent upon which objective the player was working towards. This meant that the player was following the sound of gun shots and intentionally breaking their attention regarding which paths they were headed down. That forced to the player to retrace their steps and re-follow the dog a short distance in many cases to complete the objective. This also helped the player find side paths to explore.

I was sure to add a fence near the end of this section of the map that remained locked until the player investigated the location the dog runs off to. At that time, new raider enemies would open the fence and come towards the player.

Original path markings overlaying final map with swamp to the side
Final path markings overlaying final map with varying pathways
Final path markings overlaying final map with swamp blocking the player to where they need to navigate around it

Differentiation of Spaces

One thing I did to make the world feel bigger was to make sure that each area felt a little different and that I kept the player in those areas for a little while before they moved on to the next area. So, in each area there is not only combat, but side paths to explore and winding paths. There is also, however differentiation of spaces making the journey feel longer:

 

  • The player begins at Red Rocket truck stop which has colorful foliage.

  • When the player reaches this outdoor world space, they are surrounded by lighter colored, rocky cliffsides, higher terrain bluffs, and a few leafless trees

  • The bridge area is surrounded by a contaminated lake

  • Then, the player is inside of a house.

  • After they rescue the dog and ward off the enemies, they begin down a heavily wooded forest with many dead trees.

  • There is a side path to a beach.

  • The forest begins to force the player into narrow rocky ravines with lighter colored cliffs, green spruce trees, and heavy white fog.

  • Once they pass this area, they enter into a radiated swamp area with dark rocks, different enemy typeshazardous orange radiated terrain, and heavy orange fog.

  • As the player passes the radiated swamp, the gasses fade and the rocks begin to turn a lighter color again and the area begins to feel more like the beginning of the map where the player started. This is where they see the cave entrance to return home. 

Cave system dead ends, split paths, and nooks.
Cave system pathways and level loading zones

Props in the Nonplayable Space

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. 

In some cases, I added building structures beyond the mountains to suggest that more town existed near the ruined neighborhood area.

 

In other areas, I added trees and additional rocks beyond the mountains to suggest that more forest and mountains existed beyond the boundaries of playable space.  

___Player Emotion__

Access Player Emotion

I was inspired to make this map after playing and watching some God of War. I know that games often aspire to access the player's emotions and I wanted to try that for this level.

 

My goal became to create a follower that the player would be responsible for looking after. In order to create player buy-in, I would need to offer a compelling narrative and give the player a reason to care.

The photo is an initial pitch page for my level: "A Good Deed." This level had similar gameplay and layout when compared to the final level: "Manny's Best Friend," but some major changes were made before the level design document was drafted. 

 

Most noticeably, after speaking with colleagues, I realized that players would have more buy-in with a dog than, with a child; less effort would be required to create that buy-in by using a dog instead.

 

Secondly, I did not want to create major play spaces that could be bypassed. So I modified how player choice would work in the level and would require the player to utilize the spaces that were built no matter which choices they made.

Original level pitch
House: environmental storytelling

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 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 wife, his dog.

When the player arrives at the house, it is clear that the house is in ruins, blood splatter is on the walls, and there are unexplained children's toys in the room where the dog is being contained.

Later the player is led to a point of interest where they learn that the quest giver and his wife lost their son before the raiders ever even showed up. His son was only 5.

I used environmental storytelling and an interactable tombstone to show this to the player. I made it clear that the dog was familiar with the area and/or scents. I added a chair permanently stationed next to this gravestone to imply that the quest giver or his wife spend a lot of time at this grave stone

Grave: environmental storytelling
Body: environmental storytelling

A second point of interest was made to share more about what happened to the quest giver's wife.

 

Her body is found in a nearby ruined neighborhood far from the house. She is lying on the ground with a note that explains her attempt to escape the raiders. The dog recognizes the scent and runs right over to her to alert the player.

The last thing I did was make the dog seem as loveable as possible. I chose a character mesh that looked less radiated and more like your average dog. 

The dogs in Fallout 4 are kind of large. I made the decision to shrink the size of the dog to create more puppy-vibes for the player in hopes to make it seem "cuter."

I made sure than when the dog was injured by a raider, it yelped and whined. Those noises along helped to bring players to the dog's aid. Additionally, when the dog has been injured, it will be covered in blood.

freedog.gif
____Conveyance____

Conveyance

Conveyance Techniques: framing, funneling, leading lines

I utilize many types of conveyance in this level to include framing, funneling, leading lines, contrasting colors and lighting, differentiation of spaces, warning indicators, and baiting techniques.

 

In this first photo, I framed the waterfall to draw the player into the area. I made sure to add orange, vaporous VFX to the falls to help indicate that something was off about the water.

Framed right in front of the falls, the player can clearly see chemical barrels and a bright red tool box containing a scoped weapon.

Upon reaching the bridge, the only place to go is over the bridge. I was careful to show that the water was likely not safe: it had an orange glow to it, there were chemical barrels floating in the lake (these were animated and dynamic with the water), and there were biohazard signs posted at the entrance of the bridge.

Stepping onto the bridge meant that the player would take on small amounts of radiation damage but this path was required to continue the level. The player had several chances before this to acquire anti-radiation gear.

 

There were 2, clearly visible, raider enemies across the bridge patrolling the grounds. The goal was for the player to spend as little time as possible on the bridge and also not to go swimming. I tried to convey that they could use the scoped weapon before traversing the bridge, and then, once the enemies were killed, run across the bridge quickly; the stone bridge pillars were added for cover.

Conveyance Techniques: hazards
Conveyance Techniques: framing, funneling, leading lines

The objective marker that the player is trying to reach in this photo is on the house, specifically, the upstairs of the house where the dog is located.

The player is funneled onto the bridge and the house is perfectly framed

Once the dog is rescued, a second quest runs in the background which provides a quest marker on the dog so that the player can easily locate the dog at all time. 

After the player rescues the dog, they return to the bridge. The gate they came through, however, is now locked -- seemingly by the raiders they just defeated.

 

This creates a valve that blocks access from returning to the Red Rocket truck stop through the cave exit they entered the exterior world space through.

Valve
Contrasting colors and shapes

I used multiple materials and assets to make the player's critical and side paths visible to the player. My goal was to contrast the shapes, colors, and lighting to a great degree, and ensure that paths were highlighted even if the player was playing during the evening hours of the game.

For example, in this photo of the forest, I used dark, leaf-covered grounds material for the main forest floorThe pathways had a light, dirt color and no leaves. This contrast could be seen at night, even with the glow of moonlight in the level.

The pathways were mostly smooth (except for natural looking bumps and hills), while the edges of the path had shrubs and other foliage, and the inner parts of the forest had tall trees.

To highlight where the player should go in the evening hours, I also included highly lit objects to entice the player to travel in that general direction. 

For example, in the photo, I used glowing blue mushrooms to highlight the path and tree that surround a side path that the player would need to follow the dog through before continuing through the level. These mushrooms not only created a breadcrumb trail to the POI, but also created a negative space between them that made the pathway more obvious to the player at night.

Breadcrumbs and contrasting light
Contrasting colors an classical conditioning

Where trees were not present, I utilized boulders and mountain sides combined with terrain paint and foliage to break up the pathways and highlight where the player could traverse, in the emptier, negative spaces.

I tried to use mushrooms consistently throughout the level as a pairing technique -- a psychological theory to assist in conditioning the player to respond to their surroundings in specific ways. In the level, if there was a mushroom nearby, it meant that there was a point of interest in or near that location and it was likely where the dog would be found if it ran off. 

The entire map is enclosed in blocking volumes (yellow planes indicted in the photo). I had to be certain the the player would not traverse over the mountains nd outside of the map. 

At the same time, I did not want to break player immersion. So, I was careful to make these volumes feel as natural as possible. For example, if the player could not traverse the sides of a mountain, it was because it might look too steep for that to be realistic. If the player was unable to jump over something, I would make it look a bit too high. In some cases, the player couldn't traverse an areas because the trees were too dense, the water was too radiated, or the area was simply fenced off. All other spaces, were made to feel more like an open world. 

Blocking volumes
Each area looks different

Each combat area (and also Red Rocket truck stop) was made to look like an entirely new space. The goal was to help convey to the player where they were in the world and also that they had reached a new area.

 

I wanted the player to be able to navigate back to places if they wanted to search for loot, explore, or return to something specific without getting lost. I accomplished this by creating a world that had differentiated spaces.

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