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Anatomy of a Combat Zone
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Anatomy of a Combat Zone

July 15, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Is It Obvious?

Giving the player multiple choices and paths within a Combat Zone lends to openness and freedom. But, all is for not if the player can't see it. Avoid trying to hide alternate routes and options; everything should be obvious!

Sell the player on the paths by:

  • Face the player: Show the player their options as soon as possible. Guiding the player with a more restrictive path at the entrance to a combat zone increases the odds that they will be facing the right direction.

    Note: the paths don't necessarily need to be restricted with immovable static mesh. Players can be guided with hazards of moveable objects to encourage the direction they should move. Some players will ignore this and push forward, but the majority will follow and avoid trying to push through.
  • Metrics: be consistent with path widths and angles. Narrow and steep approaches look uninviting and are not obvious.
  • Lighting/FX: 'god rays' or glowing fireflies that highlight a tunnel or ladder.
  • Pawns: spawn some non-lethal pawns to attract the player's attention.

No More Tubes!

Most common, and easiest to produce are flat layouts with odd pieces of cover. These are possibly okay as an early training level, but boring and "been there" through the course of the entire game. The challenge is to create layouts that offer a variety of angles and directions for the player to shoot from and take advantage of the fact that the world is 3D.


Cover is a key component of a shooter for obvious reasons. But, before you dismiss it as something that just 'happens' when the level is decorated, be sure that you understand what types and how placement directly affects the player's experience.

Fiction and Story - Unorthodox Cover

[email protected]#$#[email protected] CRATES!?!?!?

Repeating crates are a great indication that the team has run out of ideas. They work if the fiction supports it (a crate warehouse!), but should be avoided. Great cover ideally doesn't stand out and yell:

"Hey, look at me! I am the token cover object for the battle that is about to start as soon as you hit that invisible trigger!"

By using the same looking, sized, and shaped cover objects throughout a level the player starts to see the game and not the world. The player can see the Combat Zone coming. This is especially nasty when the cover objects don't really match the fiction of the area... like crates in the jungle.

Everything has to make sense. When designing a Combat Zone, it is critical to use the fiction of the area to inspire what objects will be placed on the play floor, and how they can be used as cover. This needs to be a part of your napkin sketch plan, as it is symbiotic to the environment your level is within.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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