Events & Intensity Lulls. Take the key plot points from the
story outline and rate the perceived level of intensity on the same relative
scale as the event ratings.
Dialogue-heavy plot events will fall in the low
intensity category, and will contrast quite nicely with a scripted action
event when placed just before or just after. List the plot-specific event
table in chronological order, but initially keep it separate from the
generic event table.
Identify potential low intensity peaks -- both generic event
and plot specific -- and slot them just before and just after the high
intensity peaks in an alternating trough, peak, trough... trough, peak, trough
Continue to chronologically layer in the main plot points
into the event table, ideally replacing and weeding out the least appealing
generic action events -- or even those that are projected to provide anomalous
intensity and fail to support your target trends. Ensure that all plot point
highs and lows have a place in this newly combined Intensity & Pacing Plan table.
Each key action event (generic and plot-specific) will need
to be sandwiched with an intensity lull before and after in order to provide
the essential contrast described earlier. For simplicity's sake, we will not
worry so much about the intensity values of the lulls. We will only set our
criteria to ensure that there is a pair of bookend lulls before and after every
key action event within each level.
Layout low intensity events as low-risk instances where the
player feels safe and relaxed (e.g. level navigation, an opening of view from a
tunnel or darkness, a reveal of scenic wonder, a low-risk puzzle, item
searches, or a feeling of accomplishment), and these can be used to fill in the
lull bookends around each key action event.
The order of these
relaxed layout events should be fairly interchangeable, and because they are
generic, they can and should be reused in varying ways. If there are not enough
low intensity lulls to sandwich every action event, then mark a generic
placeholder lull in that spot.
This will communicate to the level designers and/or
mission scripters that there needs to be a break in action, and a sequence of
low-risk/low tension calm or humor for some period around each key
Typically once the plot points are set in the context of a
location, the story can be evolved further for the best fit. Take another pass
at the plot outline to resolve any anomalies and to make improvements and
stronger connections with the environment location where possible. This would
be a good point to lay out any mission objectives for that level since they
will inform the plot outline and vice versa.
6. Time Metrics. In a new column set some time metrics for each level so you know
roughly how far apart each action event should be in time.
Always set the target time length for levels to be either
all the same or all increasing (during production you can allow maybe 5%
variance but set the targets more strictly), as discussed in the earlier
progression article. A valuable trend opportunity that is commonly missed
is to leave the length of levels/missions haphazard and have them end up
Do not worry about spacing the low intensity troughs too
strictly by time/distance or about sequencing their magnitude as precisely as
the peaks; just make sure that you have low intensity events (troughs) or
placeholder lulls to bookend every major action event (peak) to provide
contrast to the action. Wherever possible, replace each placeholder lull with a
specific segment of low-risk travel, revealing scenic wonder, or similar
tension-reducing event that makes sense in the given level location.
The intervals between peaks within a level should all be the
same or increasingly closer in duration. If you are going for a more advanced
and complex increasing pace of peaks, (Figure 5) the first event interval
in each new level should be reset to that of the prior level, or perhaps just
slightly faster, to maintain enough range to make the changes noticeable.
Fig. 5: Relative Intensity Graph of a TV Drama Series (Amplitude
Increasing for Greatest Contrast)
If you are going for an increasing level length, then
you will likely have to add events after a few levels to keep the intensity
peak interval the same or only slightly increased. You might also start from
fewer main intensity events (say two or three for level 1 and up to five or six
for the final level).
To help visualize the pacing trends, it will be useful to add
time gridlines to the graph (say in 30-second increments) to clarify the peak
intervals and the ideal pace rhythms.
7. Top-Down Trend
Evaluation. Step back from the levels and view the distribution of
intensity from one level to the next over the entire campaign, both in the
Intensity & Pacing Plan
table and visually through the graph of the data.
Verify that you have increasing intensity trends from level
to level as in Figure 8. Also identify anomalous points that disrupt or
weaken those trends (say one event decreases, stays the same, or has a very
slight increase in intensity compared to the one before it -- see the example
Discuss ways to adjust/evolve the high level design of the
event in question so that it fits closer to the ideal intensity level (adding
or reducing action elements, geo, hazards, props or enemies to produce the
desired intensity rankings).
It is important to iterate the Intensity & Pacing Plan at this point so that you can further
improve the set intensity targets and trends that you will need to work
towards. Because the implementation ratings will differ from the projected
ratings, you need not make your projected ratings perfectly hit all the
projected intensity targets on paper. Just get as close as possible, and ensure
that the appropriate increasing trends are upheld as in the table below.