of the biggest production issues today for a Game Designer/Level
Designer is translating that great concept from your mind into a
playable 3D world fast and effectively. I've seen some designers draw
out their level with a pencil onto paper, sketch ideas in Photoshop,
use simple pictographs in various 2D packages, or bypassing that
altogether by building in 3D from nothing at all. All these methods are
perfectly acceptable of course, but this doesn't solve our problem of
moving from a 2D idea quickly into a 3D world with known gameplay
limitations and parameters already included. Using the above techniques
described will not give us perfect scale, exact mission time, or fluid
game pacing all before reaching the 3D world. There is a system to
accomplish this while directly translating to Maya, to know the final
results of your level in 2D and it starts with Adobe Illustrator.
demonstration assumes you know how to use the basics of Adobe
Illustrator (if not, reading through Adobe's help files will be
enough). Let's begin and setup Illustrator correctly (using Illustrator
- In your Preferences, set Units to Centimeters.
Grid to "Gridline every .1 cm" and "Subdivisions 10" (you now have a
square per centimeter which will translate into one square meter in
a new document created, under the View menu, set "Artboard" to visible
(this shows you that 0,0,0 in Maya is located at the lower left hand
- Under View, set "Grid" to visible (you can zoom all the way to 2400% in order to see your exact centimeter squares).
- Under View, use "Snap To Grid" (optional, if you want precision).
Production and Game Engine Limits in Illustrator
every game has its own unique limitations with production and the
engine being used, so this demonstration will be set with arbitrary
standards. This demonstration will also feature two levels, an "On-Foot
First Person Shooter" and a "Racing Track" for vehicles only. Given the
types of levels we want to create we must know our boundaries up front
to create our levels, while they can be any size we want, we will set a
500 meter draw distance restriction with a 10 kilometer total track
limit for vehicles and a 2 kilometer total distance limit for our
on-foot level. I have chosen 2km for an on-foot FPS level and 10 km for
a vehicle racing level because I know both will be equal to a month of
production. Due to budgets and scheduling; art, sound and design are
limited to only one month for each level which gives us our first big
restriction, the actual size of both levels.
Build Proxy Objects
Illustrator setup properly, let's get our feet wet and just build some
simple proxy objects that we can use to tile throughout a level.
Remember, we're building to scale so keep this in mind as we build
these objects (each of those squares is a meter in Maya). Begin by
building a few sections of simple roadway and later we will build a
varied selection of items.
10, 20 and 30 meter by 40 meter road sections.
that we have a 500 meter visible draw distance we know for sure that a
straight stretch of roadway should not exceed 12.5 of these 40 meter
long pieces (assuming that we won't clip the distance with fog). Right
now you can use these basic road pieces to construct the pathway of an
entire level and you will know precisely the type of scale your level
Using your proxy pieces, you know your limits.
back up a bit before we start building a level and think about our
level as an entire gameplay experience. The Timeline is a good place to
start when you have your first idea for a level. With our on-foot level
we want a solid 15 minute FPS experience, so we'll establish our player
top speed to be 400 meters per minute, which gives us this easy
Player Speed = 400 meters per 1 minute
2 km Level Distance = 6 minutes for the player to transverse
Gameplay Interference needed = at least 9 minutes
Minimum Gameplay Time for our level = 15 minutes
here we can create our visual timeline that will be mirrored into the
level layout. Just by looking at the Timeline you can get a mental
image of what the level might look like before we start on our design.
I've broken up my level into only two distinct styles, Rooftops and
Back Alleys; because these are the restrictions I've been given by my
artist that will be working on the level. Also, I am limited to 25
unique scripted events where I place them as "Pacing Bars" which gives
me a sense of the gameplay and exactly where along my level they will
occur. Those Pacing Bars are going to create at least nine minutes of
gameplay as described in the above equation (note: the Timeline has no
need for scale, this is primarily a visual reference).
Describing the environment and Pacing with a Timeline.
to our vehicle racing level, I again know that I can only have two
distinct types of visual areas of art (Streets, Backstreet Alleys) and
25 scripted events. Repeating the same steps with a 15 minute goal,
we'll establish that the speed of our vehicle is 1 km per minute,
giving us that same basic equation followed by the visual timeline:
Vehicle Speed = 1 km per minute
10 km of Track = 10 minutes to transverse
Gameplay Interference needed = 5 minutes
Minimum Gameplay Time for our level = 15 minutes
Using the same Timeline with a different length of track.