8. Initial Level
Construction. Now, the level designers or world builders should
proceed with the initial level construction, using the target
specifications and framework from the Intensity
& Pacing Plan finalized in the previous step.
The level builders and/or mission scripters now know where
the key level events should be placed and roughly how far in time they should
be spaced apart. Compensating for projected average player deaths and event
completion times, they can turn the time metrics into distance (assuming the
player avatar speed is locked down or close to final).
These key designers also know where in time to build in
relaxing lulls, dialogue-points, or scenic vistas to reduce the tension after the
resolution of a major intensity event.
Using the projected distances between
the action events, they can also determine where to place these lulls -- although
less precision is needed with placement of lulls than with the action events
(just make sure they are close to that event).
As they build out the level, they will fill the sections in
between each lull/action event/lull group and the next with the reusable portions
of gameplay in such a way that they help build the intensity up to the next big
action event (e.g. a sequence of battles with progressively more henchmen or
They must also be very careful during implementation to make
sure that the intensity of any reusable sub-events does not surpass that of the
next key action event so as to preserve the intensity target trends from the Intensity & Pacing Plan.
When working in an Agile Development environment, begin the
first pass with a small set of levels that are adjacent (say levels 1-4 if there
are enough personnel for four level teams). For the second stage, initiate the
initial implementation for a second set of levels (say 5-8) and do a full round
of iteration on the first set. In the third stage, initiate the initial
implementation for a third set of levels (9-12), and complete another round of
iteration on sets one and two (levels 1-8). Continue this method until all
levels are working with initial implementation of all the key events.
Note that if the project is more than two thirds of the way
into production without completing the initial implementation of all
levels/missions, then a full round of level/mission cuts should occur
immediately, and the Intensity &
Pacing Plan should be reworked. If cuts are necessary, then this signals
that the ongoing estimates from the leads have been inaccurate, and thus an even
more conservative level of cuts should be made at this point (ideally cut
30-50% more of the unimplemented levels than the schedule predicts there is
time to implement).
Level designers should also utilize the lessons of theme
park design and urban planning to affect pacing via the level layout. Those of
you who attended Brian Upton's excellent GDC
2007 lecture on Narrative Landscapes will have a great
perspective on this. Visual pace can be created to coincide or contrast with
the pacing of the action to add to the highs and further enhance the lows in
intensity. Geographic elements such as sight line reveals can and should be
used to help release tension after a high intensity event, just as
claustrophobic sections and mental edge barriers can help heighten tension
leading into a major action event.
9. Review &
level production, the creative leaders and team leads must review the
in-game levels and compare them to the Intensity & Pacing Plan targets and trends. They must then
schedule appropriate time for the levels to be iterated on in order to
adjust the events to come closer to the targets. These reviews are also
the best time support and ensure the accuracy of the Gameplay
Review the levels with those building them, and re-rate the
intensity of the in-game main action events (keeping the previous ratings out
of view so as not to bias the results).
Compare the event intensity ratings to the target
specifications from the Plan. Where an intensity rating is different from the
target value, adjust the on-paper design specifications, along with the level
designers responsible for mission construction. Consider: adding, building up,
removing, or minimizing elements such as enemies, hazards, explosions, or moving
geometry. The idea is to evolve the event to bring it closer the intensity and
timing targets from the Intensity &
Pacing Plan. The pacing trends also must be maintained.
The event ratings for an in-game level will also need to be
compared to the ratings for the other levels that fit around it in the
campaign. You will need to ensure that the first key action event of the level
is larger in intensity from the one in the level before it -- and that the last
action event of the level is larger in intensity from the level before (Figure
Using the design specification changes, create and prioritize
a change list of tasks and communicate those to the producer, project manager,
and appropriate lead for each level.
Once deep into production (say 80-90%), then any functioning
Dynamic Difficulty system(s) can be leveraged to ratchet up the intensity further
for the highest action points and to lower it during the intensity lulls for
finer adjustment controls to the intensity of each event.
Allow the level designers enough scheduled time to complete
another full iteration to all the levels based on the change-list of tasks.
Repeat this review, adjustment, and iteration cycle
throughout production (at least every 4-6 weeks) and even into post-production
for final tuning. It is imperative that these reviews continue throughout production
so the team can track their progress towards their Intensity & Pacing Plan target trends and to avoid a costly and
time-intensive overhaul near the end of production that might otherwise likely
result in costly throw-away work.
Every three or four months, the levels should also be
reviewed by the whole design team and ideally even shown to the whole
development team in order to allow everyone to give feedback, and to ensure the
range of viewers and opinions is as wide as possible. This also helps gain
buy-in from the entire team and lets them feel as if everyone has contributed
to the creative process from brainstorming to Final.