To briefly recap (for my benefit more than yours), in Part One I went over the process of planning and outlining my ideas and vision, as well as the gameplay and narrative goals, for the redesigned Village Level.

Now known as Sun’s Crest, the level has taken on a lot more scale and character compared to its initial incarnation. The next part of the process was to see if my designs would hold up and translate well into a basic three dimensional, white-box implementation in a game engine.

In this part I intend to talk about the initial stages of building the level and some fairly major changes that I ended up making to the overall design as a result.

Just joining the story here?

This is one part of a multiple-part post. If you haven’t already, you should check out the previous part first!

Read Part One

Claim your Weapon

Originally I had intended to briefly go over what tools, engine and software I use to prototype and develop my projects and ideas here. However, as I was writing and laying out the content it quickly became apparent that there was a lot more to say than I had initially realised.

This was simply too much information to try and squeeze into a post that was supposed to be all about level design, and doing so would make it way too long. So, I decided to put all that wonderful information and more in an entirely separate blog post which, if it takes your fancy, you’re more than welcome to go and read.

You can find a link to it on the Right. ->

Don’t worry, I’ll wait here for you if you like!

To summarise the important information I discussed there for this post, I’ll be using Unity3D in conjunction with the ProBuilder Advanced Plugin from ProCore as well as Blender for some light modelling.

003: Developer Loadout

Read Now

Laying the Foundations

In my previous post I mentioned that one of my prerequisites for the exercise was the “Production of a high resolution map-view for visual and building reference”, and I did. I figured spending a chunk of time planning and drawing the level layout in Photoshop prior to building it it engine would save me time and confusion later, as I would know I exactly what I needed to build and where.

The image I produced was high quality and, most importantly, high resolution, this meant when I came to start building I didn’t need to eyeball or make any guesses as to what I was building or where. In a new Unity Scene I created a plane primitive and used the high-res map image as its texture and adjusted its scale, giving me a 1:1 template off which to begin building.

I set to work white boxing the level, using ProBuilder to create the primitive shapes. I also decided early on to quickly model a few slightly more detailed pieces for the main marketplace in order to help me get a better feel for the character of the level, I did these in Blender. You can see the progress I made in the gallery below.

I focused first on building a few main pieces of the level, namely the Entrance, the Temple and the Marketplace, as well as the sections of pathway that run between them. As I was doing this I was constantly running the game, walking through and checking the level from a player’s perspective by dropping in my Player Controller Prefab.

I reached a point with my building, however, during my testing I suddenly realised one glaring issue…

It was too much!

Having a portion of the level in front of me in 3D space and using my Player Prefab’s movement speed as a metric, I realised that the level’s size and layout was far too complex. As I’d fully intended to spread the gameplay and objectives across the map, I was not happy with the time it took to move from one location to another. I wanted the focus of the level to be the player’s interaction with the characters and the world around them, not frustrating them by having so constantly travel vast distances to simply move from one point to another.

Additionally, in the context of the overall game, this level was only ever intended to be playable at the start of the game for a couple of hours at most. The time that would be required to build and flesh out this part of the game at this scale was massively disproportionate to its ‘on-screen’ time, especially if the player ignored all optional side quests and just focused on the main objectives.

As a result, I decided to immediately halt any further building work until I’d had chance to not only rethink the scope of the level, but to also find a way and/or reason to massively reduce the overall size of the level.

Rethinking my Options

After leaving the project to sit for for a while I took some time to go and gather some inspiration, pulling ideas from places like Deviant Art, Artstation and Pinterest, but also from some films and TV shows I was watching at the time.

*IN DEPTH ANALYSIS ALERT*

In a moment of reflection I realised that I’d forgotten the some of the core reasons behind the creative decisions I’d made in the past in relation to this level.

The village was always meant to symbolise a part of the Traveller’s identity as a people:

Life at the extreme, existence in the face of adversity.

This was also reflected in the symbol I created to represent them, a Desert Flower. Their home atop the mountain is, in its own way, an island, surrounded not by an ocean of water but instead one of cloud. It was supposed to represent and also create a constant sense of isolation, confinement and danger, yet also one of home and safety. Enclosed by walls that are as much a physical boundary as they are a symbolic one, they are simultaneously their protector and their prison. So why not take this notion to the extreme?

*IN DEPTH ANALYSIS OVER*

Symbol of the Travellers; Desert Bloom.

But, how does this translate across to the design of the level?

My new idea was to reduce the size of the mountain top, increase the severity of its peak and build the village right into its summit. Doing so would not only result in a smaller village footprint by forcing us to work with a more limited space and scope, but would also bring the sky and endless horizon closer to the player and thereby enhance the previously mentioned themes.

In addition to this, it reduces the size of and also creates the potential for us to add more character and visual interest to the level. Thanks to the negative space generated by the sky, we can increase the readability and enhance the silhouette not only for the level as a whole, but also for individual locations and landmarks within it.

Lengthy descriptions over, now time for a demonstration. Here’s some ideas I sketched out in Photoshop.

1
This was my initial idea. Its simple, but an effective demonstration of the new look. I especially liked the big tree.
2
I also decided to experiment by separating out the main three pieces of the village, the Market, the Gate and the Temple onto separate pieces of the summit and linking them via walkways. I liked this idea a lot.
1
Decided to try an iteration of the Temple design. I tried combining the Temple and wall structures, rather than enclosing one inside the other in order to add more visual interest. Also, I lowered the walls to try a more open feel and to also make the area feel taller.
2
I also decided to see how the Marketplace tower would look it it matched the aesthetic of the temple. Unsure if this idea will get used moving forward.

I was extremely happy at this point with the new direction, both design and creatively speaking, the level was taking. So I decided to immediately start implementing this newer version in Unity.

I decided to take a more ad-hoc approach to this version and decided not to draw any detailed plans this time as I wanted it be more open and flexible to futures changes and iterations of the design. Luckily, I was able to produce this version in a fraction of the time spent on the original. This was because I was able to reuse a lot of the pieces I had already made, such as the walls, the Temple building and the Market Place.

I started first by building the outer walls, as well as establishing the locations for the entrances in order to create a general shape and perimeter for the level. Using some rock meshes I started placing and scaling them to flesh out the boundaries and the exposed rocky portion of the peak.

Meanwhile, inside the walls I used more ProBuilder primitives to fill the space and create an initial rough layout for the major paths and routes through the village.

Moving Forwards

At the end of the this portion, I am really happy with how this part of the project is progressing. Level Design isn’t something I get to do very often, so it’s refreshing to get back to building things in Unity.

Although there is still a lot yet to do, there’s no substitute for a positive start, even if you eventually scrap and/or change some of your ideas. I have great enthusiasm for this moving forward and will be therefore be posting again, hopefully many times, about further developments and  progression.

So please stay tuned.

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