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The birth of a level

by Arnaud Thion on 05/25/17 10:00:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hello there,

As I'm working on the graphic evolution of the levels of High Dragon (formerly Path of Destruction 2), I thought it would be interesting to share the way a level is created from start to finish.

Step #1: "Let's go to the movies!"

I sit on the couch and start either an episode of Star Wars (or another film I know by heart) or an episode of the series Supergirl (because I love Superman/Supergirl but the series is kind of a disappointment so far, so I listen without really looking, hoping for something that will catch my attention).

Anakin and Master Windu star war

So anyway, most of the time, the movie or episode starts and finishes and I barely watched 5 minutes.

 

Step #2: "Let's not watch and work instead"

Once the movie starts, I take my iPad Pro and the pen and I launch ProCreate. And then, I think.
(Actually, I have a method to come up with levels ideas quickly on paper but this is my little secret.)

I use my iPad Pro to sketch the levels cause it's like having a piece of paper and photoshop on your lap. Usually, in the span of 2 to 3 hours, I can come up with 4 to 16 level ideas, depending on my inspiration mostly and the attention I pay to the movie. I usually do that in the evening after a hard day's work.

This is what a level will look like at this stage:

20170525 world2 wip paper

Step #3: "Let's test"

When the time comes to prototype some level in a scrum sprint (this is tightly organized as related in a previous article), I start creating the level in Unity with basic forms. Of course, it sometimes requires the creation of assets I don't have. In this instance: trap and triggers.

I may or may not have graphical assets in my library to represent them. If I don't, I use simple boxes. I'm just testing mechanics at this point so, I won't waste time creating good looking assets if I end up throwing them away. The asset might not even match the final mood of the level anyway (like a snowman in the desert...).

20170525 world2 wip base

Most levels will stay in this state until I have created ALL the levels of the game.

 

Step #4: "Let's build worlds"

Once all levels are created (110 levels for Path of Destruction, 60 for High Dragon), I organize them by worlds.

First, I replay every level and give them a difficulty note from 1 (tuto) to 5 (hard).

From here the idea is to alternate a level of difficuty "x" with level of difficulty "x+1" or "x+2".
However, overall, the difficuty will increase world after world.
For example, inside world 1, you'll have levels with a difficulty of 1, 2 and maybe 3. In world 3, you'll have mostly levels of difficulty 3 and 4. In the final world, you'll have mostly levels of difficulty 5, with a bit of 4 and maybe even 3 to give the player a pause between hard maps.

At this point (roughly 70% of the development of the final game is done), all level are sorted. Some tests will probably make me move the position of a few, but, overall, I can move forward.

I have already given some thoughts as to the mood I want for each worlds too. I usually do that every once in a while, and write ideas in an excel file, with inspiration pictures, movies or games.

For world 2 in High Dragon, I wanted a village or human settlement kind of mood, with grass (a bit like world 1 in Path of Destruction). From here I start by building the terrain in Unity: I select textures, test them, delete, test again until I'm kind of ok with what I get.

Once I have the terrain for all worlds (every mood for each world is set), I replace the cubes I used for the props in step #3 with nice visual assets, mactching the mood of the level.

20170525 world2 wip props

 

Step #5: "Let's finish this"

We're almost done.

I need to add atmospheric fx like clouds, rain, and sounds to make thing sexier. Atmospheric fx can really help when you are not a professional graphist.

I play with the main light color, I try variation for clouds color.

(However, it's always the same: I start with a screenshot of Trine 2 or Diablo 3 and end up with... well, not-Trine and not-Diablo.)

So anyway, it's never what I had in mind, but it's always a version that I'm not ashamed to show!

20170525 world2 wip final

And this is it.

Until the release, some levels will be adjusted: I may add trees, flowers, props etc, but overall, these are my main steps for levels creation.

See you soon!
Arnaud


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