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Where's the Design in Level Design? (Part Two)
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Where's the Design in Level Design? (Part Two)

July 16, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

A point of emphasis or focal point is that item or place that catches your visual attention upon first glance. The focal point of the room is essential to anchor the composition of the room. Each time you enter a new space you have an opportunity to create a new focal point. In a composition, the player's eye travels from the focal point to the rest of the room and back to the focal point (see Figure 3). Without a focal point, the eye tends to wander aimlessly throughout the space, searching for something to focus on. This lack of grounding produces anxiety. If the focal point can also be the point of unity for the space, you have accomplished two things at the same time. You have secured the player's attention and unified the room.

Figure 3. The focal point of light ahead directs the player and gives reference.

A repetition of like items in a room or space that move the eye from one area to another, rhythm can be accomplished with color, pattern, texture, lighting, and style or character (see Figure 4). Think in terms of music. How important are the drums and the bass in a song? Once you have the rhythm of the beat, you are into the music. That consistent beat carries you throughout the music.

In a game level, a certain repetitive motif, pattern, or texture could help guide the player though the experience of movement. Moving or nudging the player through the exploration experience is one of the most basic yet important responsibilities that a level design has to satisfy. When a room or space has rhythm, people feel secure because of the comfort in the predictable nature of their surroundings.

Harmony is when a common element exists that binds all parts together. Like a common denominator, this element can be a color, pattern, texture, detail, or the character in a room. In a picture grouping, for example, it can be the frame, matte, accent color, or subject. When the principles of design are adhered to, the result is harmony. All of the parts relate to each other in a way that allows blending and bonding. Harmony is the difference between a great-looking and -feeling place and a room or space full of things.

Figure 4. Good repetition of likeness creates rhythm and movement.

Texture Design Also Matters

These same basic principles can be applied to the careful design of textures. How many times have you sat in on a design meeting where someone criticizing a level idea has made the following statement: "From the point of view of the player or rate of travel through a level, no one cares about that much attention to detail in the texture"? If you have invested time in the game industry, then you more than likely have heard this several times. Consequently, your environment's overall look and feel has probably taken a hit.

It is a misconception in our industry to think that as developers who play games we know instinctively how much detail is enough when creating a great-looking game that still runs well. People are diverse, they play games differently, and it is safe to say that perception of what makes a game great will vary from person to person. Giving attention to detail in all aspects of a game, including textures, should be considered crucial. Texture detail and design can't be an afterthought if you are trying to achieve a cohesive look in your levels. And when it comes to detail work, it's the little things we take for granted that count. The rivets, dents, rust, stains, and scratches all give life and personality to a surface (see Figure 5). If the level designer is not a skillful texture artist, then it makes perfect sense to hear him or her play down the importance of a well-crafted texture set.

Figure 5. Add life and personality to your objects with well-designed textures. This 3D object was created for WildTangent's Betty Bad.

An exceptional texture artist is worth his or her weight in gold. This is often expressed by the seasoned art director whose job it is to manage and direct creative resources. This art director also knows that the texture artist has the ability to promote the perception of quality in a product while addressing known issues and constraints one has to consider when creating a texture set for a level. The 2D artist needs to be fully aware of the latest effects supported by current and future graphics cards and help devise creative ways to exploit them, such as real-time reflection and bump maps. Besides helping to establish the final look and mood of a level, the textures also provide the player with important information such as direction, interactive clues, and orientation. If your development budget does not afford you a skillful and dedicated texture artist, then your level designer or modeler has some ramping up to do.

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