[In this detailed design article, Blue Castle (Dead Rising 2) level design director Josh Bridge examines how you design memorable, tactical combat areas for first/third-person shooter games.]
The following is an attempt to identify,
name and describe the key ingredients to necessary for typical cover-based
video game shooter. Usually in a shooter, the core gameplay revolves around living long
enough to kill what is threatening you or impeding your progress.
is to present this small amount of gameplay in new and exciting ways so that
the player is compelled to sit through and play all the way to the end... and
hopefully want to play the sequel.
It should also be noted that the following
is focused solely on the areas of combat within a level, and should not to be
misinterpreted as the sole ingredient needed for an entire level's design.
The Combat Zone is a reference to the area
of gameplay within a level designated for battle. This is a broad term and
doesn't necessarily imply explicit, physical boundaries... though in some cases
it can. In either case, the LD creates areas of expected battle with various
gameplay support; enemies, cover objects, destructibles, impassable points,
flanking positions, etc. The layout and placement carries the expectation that
the player will have to battle through the area -- in essence, the presentation
of the core gameplay.
Defined as the area in which the player
and/or AI is without cover and can be fired directly upon, and potentially
killed. This area can be visible (landmines on the ground) or virtual (tracer
fire). The effectiveness of the design here determines the difficulty of the
firefight. Without an effective Kill Zone, the player doesn't need cover, and
eliminates one of the key ingredients intended for gameplay.
The required companion to a Kill Zone. There
should be areas in which the player and/or AI is protected from direct fire.
Without this, the experience boils down to shoot or be shot. Cover has a huge
impact on play styles and difficulty, which I will go into a bit further on.
Players should be able to play the way THEY
want to. Why? It allows for a more creative experience, something that players
will likely want to come back to again. Limiting the player to one path and
play style over and over again gets tiresome; variety is key to keeping the
Everyone has a preferred play style in
Run and Gun - guns blazing, shooting
everything on sight as they usually stick to the most obvious play path.
Ninja - climbing up and jumping across
everything or sneaking around through small passages that are discovered; they
usually avoid the most obvious play path.
Camper - loves to hang back in safe spot and
snipe from as far away as possible before moving in.
In the above level mock-up are examples of
multiple play paths that accommodate these styles:
The Run and Gunner will likely shoot their
way across the trench, taking cover only when necessary.
The Ninja will likely climb up and jump
across all the cover objects, making their way across the playfield.
The Camper will likely look for a safe spot
atop the catwalk to snipe the enemies from afar.
Focusing on accommodating each one of these
play styles in each Combat Zone isn't easy and based on experience really
should be planned from the beginning. However, this element is critical to
getting out of the linear/scripted old school way of designing levels.
When you think you are about done with your
napkin sketch, ask yourself:
Is there way to circle the enemy undetected?
Can the player climb under and over enemies?
Can the player have a variety of cover
Does the player have to crouch?
Can the player navigate the space by jumping
from object to object?