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Role: Level Designer
Genre: Survival Horror
Editor: Dying Light Developer Tools
Process: Level Design Document, Map Diagram, Whitebox, Gameplay Iterations, Aesthetic Pass, Launch
Development Time: 3 months (15hr/week)
“Grim Repo" takes place in the slums of Haran, a fictional city in the game Dying Light. The player is tasked with repossessing a stolen airdrop stashed at a nearby workshop. As a side quest, the player can search the premises to locate a grim looking sickle.
5-7 min of
Simple, Smart Design. 5-7 Minutes of Gameplay.
[MAIN QUEST DESIGN OVERVIEW]
The player begins the map on the streets outside of a workshop and chats with a quest giver.
Here, I was intentional about framing the quest giver and the workshop that the player would need to get to after speaking with him.
The player then moves through the workshop yard avoiding or attacking zombies while collecting weapons, ammo, and other loot.
Once the player makes it through the yard, they enter the workshop using their lockpicking skills.
One thing that separates Dying Light from games like Fallout 4 is that the rest of the game does not stop while the player is picking locks. It is fully possible to be attacked while picking a lock.
This door is locked on purpose and only accessible via lockpick to ensure the player actually spends time in the yard searching for a lock pick and facing the zombies. The player only has melee weapons.
Once in the workshop, the player navigates to the back of the building to locate a circuit box.
The workshop is intentionally crowded with shelving, pallets, and boxes to limit sightlines and make it challenging to see just how many zombies are in the workshop.
This setup intentionally causes zombies to pop out from behind corners and forces the player to engage with them head on. Luckily, the player can pick up a shotgun upon entering the workshop.
The player triggers the circuit box opening a storage unit door.
More zombies are present in the storage unit causing the player to delay slightly before reaching the airdrop which helps the scripting catch up as well.
Once in the unit, the player can repossess the airdrop and obtain a rifle.
The rifle was strategically placed where the player would likely see it as they were exiting the storage unit. The gun contrasts well against the boxes and is directly framed in the player's path to exit.
If the player happened to look in other units or the restroom, they would have obtained a rifle earlier as a reward for exploration of the critical path.
The player ascends a ladder (or uses a staircase to the side of the workshop) and enters the storage unit.
Entering the unit and opening the airdrop triggers a radio message from the quest giver and the quest updates. In this way, the player will be sure to turn around and not be blind-sided by the combat unfolding in the workshop with their back turned. This message was required for proper conveyance and understanding of the quest narrative.
Once the airdrop is repossessed, the player fights their way back through the workshop, yard, and side alley to return to the quest giver and map start location.
The fight back to the quest giver is different, however; the bandits have returned with firearms and are not happy that their hideout has been infiltrated.
On the way out of the storage units, the player can better see the red catwalks above the workshop which can give the player a height advantage.
[LEVEL DESIGN BREAKDOWN]
My design process started with top down map diagrams and a level design document (LDD). The full LDD can be downloaded here.
The level design document included many sections that detailed the map layouts, gameplay breakdowns, references, risks, and development schedule.
As I moved into the whitebox stage of development, some changes were made to the gameplay and level geometry, but I was able to keep the final project close to the original plan.
I am a fan of iterative processes, and after playtester reviews, I made some changes to the whitebox. The largest geometry-related change was in the exterior space; as I changed the location of the player start, I rearranged the location of the shipping containers to create better framing of player goals. In terms of gameplay, I also removed the demolisher enemies from the design entirely, and replaced them with a return fight involving ranged combat.
I started my diagrams with an overview map and summary of the level progression.
With every map I created, I was sure to have a legend accompany it.
For the overview map, the circles that have letters in them represent narrative beats and sections of gameplay, and these correspond to a chart just below the map in the level design document.
Next, I created a detailed map for the exterior space and included a more in-depth breakdown of what would be included in each area shown.
The breakdown included npcs, enemy types, combat style, and the placement of weapons, ammo, health, and other loot.
I also noted conveyance techniques used in the space and anything that should call the player's attention or be considered a wow moment.
In accordance with the overview map, I labeled each enemy with the letter corresponding to the narrative beat or gameplay section they were a part of, and a number identifying which enemy they were in the section.
The final detailed diagram was for the interior space. I was careful to pay attention to scale here. This paid off in the design of my level when everything snapped together almost exactly as I had planned in my diagrams.
I also indicated the critical path the player might take.
The rest of the document contains reference images I heavily use while constructing my spaces, a development schedule that I strictly adhered to, a risk analysis and the steps I took to mitigate those risks, and other information about the level such as hooks, backstory, context, etc.
The outdoor area is comprised of shipping containers, stacks of wood and pipes, vehicles, and large trash bins -- objects that basic zombies can not climb onto.
These are placed in strategic ways: spread out but close enough to jump to the next easily.
This encourages circular flow and allows the player to use their parkour skills and ability modifiers to navigate inside of, on top of, and around the large objects to collect loot.
This was critical as parkour is a major mechanic of Dying Light.
In some cases, glass can be broken with the player's machete to enter a container or other point of interest (POI) with loot. In any case where this occurs, I framed the loot in view from outside of the glass.
Whenever possible, I try to make things as interactable as possible in my levels. One of the first things I did in the planning stages of development was hop into the Dying Light Developer Tools and sift through all of the destructible meshes, cinematic assets, animated materials, and trigger-related, interactable objects to see how I could design a level using as many of these as possible.
By designing my level with these assets in mind from the start, most interactive or animated elements in my level have a gameplay purpose and are not just for decoration, and the game feels more immersive.
Active fire hazards were placed near vehicles on the streets. I placed visible loot (i.e. wallet with cash, different melee weapon, etc.) inside the hazards to give the player risk/reward choices.
Additionally, red barrels and gas cannisters were used consistently throughout the level as explosives that could be triggered with gun fire. Shooting a barrel with enemies in range created visually satisfying theatrics.
Oil spills were placed near some of these barrels. When shot at, the projectiles would ignite fires on these spills creating new fire hazards.
I placed some of these in the workshop to not only cause a more chaotic, dangerous, and visually exciting fight, but to be used at the player's advantage if there were still a lot of zombies when they were facing the human enemies; zombies will walk directly into the fire trying to get to the player.
The indoor area resembles a workshop with shelving that can be climbed over or crawled/slid through in some cases. In a couple of cases, metal beams cross from one shelf to the other to encourage constant movement.
Sightlines are blocked with boxes, pallets, forklifts, pillars, and a variety of items. This not only helps performance, but can also create jump scares by zombies trying to reach the player.
At the back of the building, there are a series of storage unit doors, a restroom, a grim supply area, and a glass-enclosed office providing environmental storytelling, interactive gameplay, and new types of loot.
The workshop also has catwalks that hover over the shelves. While these are entirely accessible to the player once they are inside of the workshop, the player may not immediately notice them until they attempt to leave the facility. This was intentional to encourage melee combat before the repossession of the air drop and ranged, vertical combat from above after the repossession.
In any case, the player could attempt to avoid many of the zombies on the way to the storage unit. In this case, they would need to defend themselves against zombies and bandits at the same time on the way out. If they are clever though, they could use the explosive barrels and oil spills to their advantage and allow the zombies to distract the bandits.
The goal was to give the player the freedom to choose their style and allow for advanced gameplay.
I was also conscious of my level's performance. Some of the things I did to compensate for performance:
Added occlusion parameters to large walls, solid fences, and props.
Removed extra particle systems that did not enhance gameplay or only minimally enhanced aesthetics
Adjusted LOD parameters for mesh assets
Scripted all ai to enable and disable so that they were only visible to the player when they had to be.
Destroyed trigger boxes and checkpoints after their use was no longer required.
Kept the map space small and designed wisely with reuse of space.
To ensure the player stayed in the playable space, I blended blocking volumes with props in the map to create natural feeling collision in the level.
As a "just in case" measure, I enclosed the entire playable space in with markers that informed the player they were leaving the playable space if they so happened to escape the map; this allowed the player to respawn at checkpoints I set up if this were to happen.
Dying Light does not allow for heavy scripting of AI movement, and a goal for this project was to create a smaller map that had reuse of space with dynamic gameplay.
For these reasons, I had to be more intentional about how I placed enemies and when they spawned in order to create interesting and dynamic combat with verticality.
I have indicated some of the ranged, bandit placements in these photos with a yellow x. That being said, once, the bandits would spawn, they would run to the nearest cover marker and attempt to attack the player.
So, in addition to the spawn location markers I placed, I set up cover markers near pallet piles, forklifts, shelves, and pillars with a short ai-wander distance.
There are twice as many cover markers than AI in order to give the bandits options and to create more spontaneous movement each time the player plays the level.
I had the markers programmed to be initially disabled and scripted them to spawn at specific times during the later half of the quest. There are two waves of bandits, and cover markers that spawn in total.
Zombies existed throughout the map and wandered towards places as they heard noises. These really served more as melee style, hazardous obstacles.
The only place there were no enemies was outside of the fence near the quest giver. Technically enemies could wander outside of this zone if they were not all defeated. To account for this, I marked the zone a safe area which is common in the vanilla game; this meant that the zombies maybe wander out (rare), but they will not seek the player in this space. I also scripted them to vaporize naturally if they stayed in this area too long.
The workshop yard, side alley, and the interior of the workshop is teeming with slow moving, melee-style zombies as a general environmental hazard.
The player does not have access to a firearm at this point; they do have access to machetes (and a metal pipe if they find it).
Once the player has lockpicked their way into the workshop, they can pickup a shotgun to help decimate the zombies inside the building.
Shotgun ammo is placed throughout the world and serves as foreshadowing for the shotgun later found in the workshop.
I placed multiple shotguns for the player to discover, but I made sure to place one framed in view of the player as they enter the bay door or the main door.
Once the player has ascended a small staircase or ladder and reached the storage units, they can discover rifles and repossess the airdrop.
The player is then notified via radio that human enemies have entered the building and the player can utilize the now-clearly-visible catwalks in front of them to gain a height advantage.
While the zombies are not indicated on the mini map, the human, ranged enemies display as red triangles.
When human enemies are alive in the map, the music changes to combat music.
The player can shoot at the flammable red barrels/cannisters, or at the oil spills on the ground, to cause explosions.
Players can use firearms to trigger explosives, but can only lure the human-enemies with their player-character, not firecrackers; this creates player vulnerability since the player would take fire damage if they are standing on an oil spill or near a red barrel/cannister when an enemy projectile causes an explosion.
I placed firecrackers in places that were not on the critical path; these provided a reward for exploration (i.e. the side alley or trash cans).
The player can utilize firecrackers to lure zombies near explosives or other fire hazards.
This vertical and ranged combat is made to feel even more intense to the player as I intentionally placed destructible and semi-destrucible props among the static assets props in the game.
I used clear consistency with these assets so that the player would learn which objects are destructible and could rely on the ones that were static for real cover.
Crates were destructible with only one projectile shot,
Pillars would break off into pieces and never fully destroy.
Additionally, exploding barrels would destruct and cause new hazards in the area.
The intention was to make the environment feel dynamic with the combat unfolding around them, and to bring a sense of surprise to the player when something broke near them.
Once the player escapes the workshop, they are greeted with additional human-enemies, but the player no longer has the height advantage.
The player must utilize the cover of pipes, vehicles, and shipping containers, or they must take a risk by climbing on top of these things and exposing themselves to gain the height advantage.
The player could also choose to go down a dangerous, narrow side alley to avoid heavy combat from humans, but by doing so, they must then fight a single human-enemy alongside zombies while risking damage from fire hazards and multiple explosives in the area with limited cover. For me, player choice is all about the risk/reward.
While Dying Light makes use of literal arrows often in the vanilla game, I attempted to convey guidance to the player in many other ways.
I used contrasting colors often to draw the player towards their goals (i.e. black key card access pad against a white brick wall with a spot light on it from a flood light). Outside, this is most notable on the worn path in the yard compared to the actual grass. I also achieved this contrast through lighting against darker colored assets (i.e. highlight a blue door with a spot light against a white brick wall).
As the player walks into the yard, one of the first things they would see is a massive yellow flag, with the bandit logo, on the workshop flapping in the wind. The logo itself creates leading lines that I use here to point the player towards the main door.
I also added animated trash blowing in the wind towards the doors to the workshop to subtly suggest where the player should travel; as the player begins to walk into the yard, this animation begins to play.
The circuit box pulses in an emissive material until the player interacts with it; this makes it easier to find among all of the other props in the area, and is a consistent technique used in the main game and in the level whenever an object is interactable and involves a quest.
The pillar the box sits on is illuminated with light and adorned with a bright yellow bandit logo that can be seen from the front entrance of the workshop and from multiple angles.
Once the circuit box is activated, electrical sparks animate in three places on a cable that I ran from the box to the door the box opens; this door is also highlighted by a flashing material until opened.
The garage door on the storage unit plays a cinematic of the door opening, and a feedback light turns from red to green.
And if all of that is not enough conveyance for where the airdrop is, the word storage is sprayed painted on the wall with an upwards arrow under the unit, I have included objective markers, and there is a mini map for additional guidance.
Once the storage unit door is opened, the light inside of the storage unit flickers and the quest object (airdrop container) is highlighted in an animated material until collected.
I used color consistency to draw the players attention to various objects in the scene.
The ladder, upper catwalks, and storage unit catwalks and stairs are red; these red bars also create leading lines and affordances on where the player can traverse.
I used yellow flags and sprays to indicate where bandits have been.
Lootable vans in the level also have red doors (as I used red to indicate that something is useable).
Additionally, I included a construction cone nearby each van as a classical conditioning technique I learned from studying psychology; I explain it more in depth here.
The first van has a set of doors that are cracked open and animated tape blowing in the wind on the cone in an effort to teach the player that red van doors can be opened.
In multiple areas, I guided the player's path by framing immediate and long term goals.
From the level start the player can see the workshop and the giant yellow bandit flag on it.
I made sure to include an animated flag prop so that the player was sure to look at it.
When the player approaches the workshop, there is also a sign above the door that says "workshop."
As the player approaches the yard, they walk through or climb over a sliding metal door. Once inside this door, the building they are attempting to get into is framed directly in front of the player.
The building is also highlighted as a yellow square on the mini map.
A large pipe draws the player's attention to a framed, spray painted arrow on a shipping container.
While I do not normally use overt arrows in level design, this is something that dying light makes heavy use of, and the project called for making a level that would seamlessly fit into the vanilla game.
Both the bay door and the regular door on the building are framed by funneling the player into smaller pathways with medium props, and they have color contrasting lighting highlighting the interactable object needed to open the door.
The main door area funnels the player by using a contrasting colored pathway lined by piles of trash and pallets. Blue is funneled area. Yellow are props that assist with funneling.
This path not only funnels the player towards the door, that funnel frames the door.
The pathway, pallets, and stick on the ground also serve as leading lines subtly guiding the player. Red lines are leading lines.
The player is funneled into the bay door area by either climbing over the truck in front of it or walking into a small patch of grass via a narrow gap between the truck and piles of pallets and crates. Props funneling the player are in yellow while leading lines and affordances are in red. Blue represents the funneled area.
When the player walks through the gap or climbs over the truck using the pallet ramp and crate stairs as affordances, the key card reader is framed between two bay doors.
The truck, pallets, crates, cable, bollards, and the edge of the grass lining the cement all assist in creating leading lines to guide the player towards the card reader between the two bay doors. The grass is also subtly shorter creating a pathway to the reader.
Inside the workshop, no matter which entrance the player chooses, they are immediately shown several framed pathways to choose from, and all of those pathways lead to additional framing of objective goal areas.
As the player enters the bay door, they are immediately funneled through pallets, boxes, and pillars. Framed directly in front of them is an access point to the catwalks above. Objects funneling the player are marked in yellow.
Since the player only enters from this way after completing a side quest, I tried to offer a hint to the catwalks earlier than necessary here as a reward.
In addition to funneling, many objects were deliberately placed to offer leading lines toward this access point as well. Leading lines are in red. For example, the pallet leaned up against the shelving directs the player's eyes up while the bandit logo spray painted onto it is angled towards the open space above on the shelving.
All of that being said, if the player doesn't look above, they would run into a shelf. Despite which direction they would be forced to turn towards to keep moving on the ground, there is additional funneling, framing, and leading lines that brings the player towards the circuit box which is the active objective at this time.
In a similar fashion, the main entry is set up to funnel and frame the player towards the catwalks above or towards the left on the ground. The yellow dictates efforts at funneling the player, while the red lines indicate leading lines. Blue represents a funneled area, while aqua represents affordances where the player can climb up onto the object or crawl underneath it.
The upper catwalks are framed in very similar ways as the bay door was conveyed. On the ground, however, the player is primarily guided towards the left as they did not find the side quest key card.
The camera angle in the photo is higher than the player to show both paths the player could take. It should be noted, however, that the catwalk above is intentionally harder to spot from the player's vantage point despite being framed well.
In most cases, playtesters choose to walk around the shelving or climb over it to avoid zombies; this is what I expected, and this is primarily what I guided the player to do. I did create a second ground pathway for the player though.
I placed a shotgun on the ground in view of the player as a form of bait. If the player happens to crouch to collect this shotgun, they would see the circuit box perfectly framed, and if they attempted to walk forward while crouched, they would learn that higher shelves can be crawled under. In this case, if the player crawls underneath the shelf, they would discover a new guided path towards the circuit box.
I primarily created these crouch spaces for more advanced players to be able to use their sliding mechanic. There is another higher shelf on the other side of the building near the side quest weapon as well.
Once the player has completed the initial workshop area with melee combat, they must traverse back through the workshop facing ranged combat.
Because this is a more difficult fight than with the zombies, and because I wanted to put more distance between the ranged enemies and the player, I wanted to give the player a much stronger height advantage than the workshop shelves while still reusing the same space.
When the player exits the storage unit to begin this next objective, they are facing the red catwalks now at eye level with clearly framed and lit pathways to utilize on their escape.
They are able to do this because I forced the player to ascend a flight of stairs or a ladder to get to the raised platform where the storage units are located. Because of the player's higher height, they are able to easily climb onto these hanging catwalks.
All pickups are rotated and framed with additional props to draw the player's eyes toward them.
I consistently used green cases for ammo, red cases for health, and yellow cases for lockpicks. These material changes had to be hard-coded into the script as materials on containers could not be simply swapped.
I used pickups to leave breadcrumbs towards goal areas and POIs. For example, in the workshop, I used red medical kits to lure the player down the most central critical path towards the circuit box.
In the image shown, I am showing the shipping container that includes an office point of interest (POI) on the inside. The player would only find the office if they were standing on top of the container and looking down into the breakable glass. The door to the container is locked; the only way in is by breaking the glass. Also, in the case of locked doors and items, anything that is permanently locked has chains and a pad lock attached to it as an anti-affordance.
I used a ramp to suggest climbing onto the container (an affordance). In order to give the player a reason to go on top of the container, I have placed a red medical toolbox on top of the container. If the player follows the ramp and collects the medical supplies, they would see the glass, and if the player looks into the glass, they would see more bait supplies and may attempt to get into the shipping container.
I made sure that the player had landmarks to recognize throughout the map (i.e. crane in the distance, large tower near the player path, and smoke rising near the quest giver).
I also included weenies and differentiation of spaces along the critical path; a few include:
orange shipping containers near the front of the yard and blue containers near the workshop
Vans and large bay doors at the front of the workshop
The giant bandit flag on the front of the building
The car accident by the quest giver with the billowing smoke and body
Optional Side Quest(s)
[SIDE QUEST 1: Special Weapon]
At the start of the level, the quest giver mentions a grim weapon somewhere in the building that the player can collect for themselves. This creates a running side quest alongside the main quest.
Once the weapon is collected, the side quest completes and the player can use the weapon in game.
The intent was to bring an eerie playfulness to the level through this side quest. Therefore, I wanted the quest object area to stand out from the other areas in the level.
To bring my Grim Reaper theme to life, I used a purple tinted light inside of the small storage area, encased the quest object with an eerie green aura, placed a skull decal on the exterior wall, and used an evil looking gate to secure the area. The entire side quest area is also set dressed as a rather grim scene using environmental storytelling.
To account for different player styles, the player can either lockpick their way into this space or smash boards to break in.
I added a skull decal on the wall to draw attention to the wall and area in general. Otherwise, the area is purposefully tucked away under the overhead catwalk, in the back corner of the building, blocked by shelving and other props to offer a bit of a scavenger hunt challenge for the side quest.
I considered how the player might enter this area, and made sure that as they approached, they could clearly see the side quest item even though that boards blocked most of the view. I did this by framing the weapon and green aura through a gap in the broken boards and through the door frame the gate is positioned in.
The nearby forklift and boxes also create leading lines toward the entrances to the area. Leading lines depicted in red.
The rubble on the ground creates a trail of breakcrumbs to the space. Breadcrumbs circled in yellow.
The boards serve as affordances given that boards can be broken in other parts of the game. Boards circled in blue.
[SIDE QUEST 2: Key Card Access]
An additional, silent side quest also activates if the player happens to find an access card in the yard.
I designed this van to also teach the player how vans work in the level. While the key can be seen from the open van door, the key cannot be accessed without opening the other door. By teaching this now (at the first van of the level), the player learns that red doors on vans can be opened and loot may be inside.
I strengthened this conveyance by framing the van in the critical path, using the pipes and doors as leading lines, by adding a ramp up to the van and an open door as affordances, and by using "pairing," a psychology technique referred to as classical conditioning. Vans that can be looted have red doors while junk vans simply have white doors; in fact many things the player can use in the level are red as a form of color conveyance (i.e. catwalks, ladders, health kits, explosives, the airdrop, and stair rails.).
Additionally, I placed a construction cone near every van with red doors; by always stashing a construction cone near a van with red doors, I tried to assist the player in noticing the van in the first place. Sometimes, players will simply move around large objects without paying much attention to them. I thought that perhaps, adding a small prop that is paired with an additional meaning, might attract the player's initial attention. The first cone also had an animated piece of tape on it flapping in the wind.
The hope was that players might see the cone and remember that lootable vans are near cones; I should note, however, that this technique has better results when the player has more time to learn the meaning of these small intentional assets, and this is why I also have red doors. A similar technique is used in 'Fallout 4' with monkey props and traps.
By acquiring the access card, the player can skip lockpicking the main door altogether (more dangerous in the yard), and instead, open a bay door with a key card reader; opening the bay door completes the side quest in this case.
I used contrasting light and color to highlight the access card reader. A cable runs from the reader to the bay door. Also, once the side quest is active, the key card reader pulses an emissive material until used.
I wanted to give the player a choice that impacted gameplay. By choosing to enter the building through the bay door, this also alters the exit path the player might take (since the main door will be locked); that exit location change can impact gameplay since there are often more enemies near the center of the workshop closer to the bay door, but further from the main door which is tucked away in a corner along only one side of the building offering a safer passage in many cases.
Of course, the player could always lock-pick the door from the inside, but this also poses a risk as enemy gunfire and zombie attacks do not stop in Dying light when the player is lock-picking.
Aesthetic Details & Environmental Storytelling
I utilized small props and decals to liven up the spaces and make it feel truly lived in. I used a 3 layer approach:
1. My goal for layer 1 was to first create the workshop and yard as it was once used.
This mostly consisted of workshop shelves, forklifts, and shipping containers full of supplies, food, and papers that one might find at any place of business or a workshop. I also added wall murals and graffiti which is common in many urban areas and helped to make the building feel "lived in" instead of pristine.
2. For layer 2, I added a layer of props and decals that suggest that there was a zombie outbreak that affected this place.
I used living zombies, workshop employee bodies, blood decals, and fire hazards to bring this to story to life through out the map.
3. Finally, I added a third layer that suggested that bandits had taken over this space last.
In order to ensure this narrative came through, I made heavy use of the bandit colors and created scenes that suggested odd utilization of a general workshop. The bandit narrative would come through as a workshop being used as a base.
I added supply containers with bandit logos on them, decals of the bandit logo spray painted onto plywood and pillars, bandit bodies where they failed at their fight against the zombies, and vehicles with the bandit logo on them. I place a massive bandit flag on top of the former workshop sign on the front of the building.
In one of the unlocked storage units, I turned the space into a den for bandits to hangout in their downtime. My intention was to show that this building was being used in ways outside of the normal operations of a workshop.
To explain who used this space, I placed a bandit body on the ground which also strengthened the zombie outbreak narrative. I included a useable rifle with the body to forewarn the player that human enemies carried firearms.
[POINTS OF INTEREST & DETAILS]
I also included several points of interest (POI) in the level to encourage exploration of the space and provide a little dev humor and personal flair.
With each location, I tried to use environmental storytelling and took extra time to really think through these additional areas off of the critical path. All locations have extra loot the player can collect.
These locations include:
Van accident fractal humor
Restroom with zombie in stall
Grim Reaper storage no-winners aftermath
Office space murder scene
Drowning under the tree with loot
Bandit with teddy
Storage unit man cave
Shipping container office
Loot truck by the sewer
After I was certain that my gameplay was solid, I added aesthetic detail to the level. Aesthetics is a strong skillset of mine, and I am always sure to dedicate ample time to making sure my levels not only play great, but look great. In each scene, I tried to incorporate several layers of aesthetic passes.
The restroom, for example is adorned with decals for mold, dirt, blood, and graffiti. The lights flicker and the trash can and toilets have real loot mixed into it. Lighting in the restroom has a slightly green tint as well to indicate that its a dingy environment. Lastly, I placed an sound effects (SFX) volume into the restroom to change the atmosphere to a more echoy vibe with dripping water.
In the Grim Reaper storage scene, I began with the geometry of the space. I choose broken walls and wooden boards plastered onto the hole.
I varied the materials on the walls where possible, and for visual effects (VFX), the boards can be smashed and scattered onto the floor; this smashing is accompanied by sound effect (SFX).
Next, I added small rubble meshes scattered underneath this hole to show where some of the missing wall went. I also added decals of smaller rubble and dirt onto the floor in this area.
Then, I placed the bodies with the assistance of a physics simulation tool in the editor. I tried to tell the story of a bandit guarding their supplies while being attacked by zombies; in the end, the bandit succumbed to his wounds and the zombies were killed by the shotgun lying next to the bandit. To bring this story to life, I placed shotgun shell decals under the guns and around the bandit's body.
I placed a flickering, hanging lightbulb over the storage area with a slightly purple tint to signify a difference in this space from the others; this area is the side quest item area and is supposed to have a subtly more grim reaper, supernatural vibe than the rest of the level.
[SFX, VFX, & IMMERSION]
I made sure to do a full audio pass on the level for player immersion; combined with the visual effects (VFX) I added, I was able to bring environments to life.
For example, in addition to the animated grass and gunk hanging off of the sewer grate, several other things were added to this sewer pipe.
First, I added a particle system with dripping water and a water volume at the base of the pipe.
I added a second water volume outside of the pipe on the ground which creates splashing sound effect (SFX) when the player stands on it.
I inserted a sound cue inside of the pipe to create sound effects (SFX) for the dripping water in an echoy space.
Lastly, I placed trash decals under the water volumes and places a few trash mesh pieces on top of the water to give it depth.
Using the audio files from the base game, I was able to create audio zones for different areas of my map.
For example, in the video here, I show the differences in environmental audio zone changes as the player moves from the restroom, to the workshop, and to a storage unit.
All three zones have different ambient audio. The outdoors also has different audio then the workshop.
I surrounded the entire map with surrounding cityscapes, trees, and high walls. In any direction the player looks, I took care to make sure that they were in an immersive space. The closer the environment was to the player's location, the more realistic it looked.
Additionally, I added foggy visual effects (vfx) and darker world lighting to give the atmosphere a gloomy, late in the day vibe.
The player starts the level inside of a gate with barbed wire; the barbed wire keeps the player from climbing over it. Behind the player, I wanted it to seem realistic as to how the player and quest giver got to their starting locations. To pull this off, I placed a vehicle and a ladder outside of the locked gate and towel on the ground. My intention was to depict that the blanket was used to climb over the barbed wire with the help of the ladder.
Because the player might spend considerable time looking out into this space, I treated it like playable areas of the map. The same mesh roads and terrain painting and foliage techniques were used, as well as, decorative rubble props, and visual effects (vfx) of paper flying in the wind.
What I Learned
The most challenging part of this project was learning how the scripting worked. It was very different scripting then other engines I had used and it was hard to grasp in the beginning. In order to be successful, had to become an expert problem solver.
I sought out the few tutorials there were and worked alongside some peers to see how they were doing certain things with their projects. Later, I discovered two wikis for the engine and a Discord server. In the end, communication with others and sharing resources with others helped a ton, and networking makes all of this possible. I contributed a tutorial to the wiki and helped others as I could.
If I could change anything about the project, I would go back and adjust the workshop lighting more, enhance the npc animations, and correct a small scripting bug. If I had more time for the overall project in general, I'd add a small city segment between the quest giver and the workshop yard to allow the player more free running opportunities, and I'd create an additional path into the workshop via the roof.
Overall, I learned how to work with a map editor that works entirely different than other editors and engines, which I think was important.