Level Design Practice #4 – Winter Cliffs

Here’s a project based in a fictional Northern mountain range. I’d say a lot of inspiration for this project comes from random pictures of Canada I came across, as well as various open-world video games (Skyrim in particular).

010 - Winter Cliffs (August 13, 2016)

  • Title: Winter Cliffs
  • Time Spent: 8 hours
  • Assets Used: Unreal Water Planes / Infinite Blades Ice Lands Collection

I wanted to try my hand at a Winter scene and ended up producing this after a good amount of time. To date, this is probably the longest project in my practice series, taking roughly 8 hours to complete across three days. One of my biggest issues when working on this scene was running into a creative wall, where I disliked my progress with the level, but had no idea as to how I’d fix it.

Here’s what I had after a few hours of work:

005 - Winter Cliffs (August 10, 2016).png
Early Stages

I think the problem was my lack of knowledge when it came to natural environments. As a level designer, I’m beginning to realize that I need to hone my understanding of various environments, and that I should be actively taking in information as I browse through pictures or stroll through the city. I need to understand the nature of each environment that I encounter so that I can accurately reproduce them within a game, otherwise my scenes will look lifeless, improper, and incoherent. With due time and active analysis, I think that I can begin developing my strengths as a proper level designer and fully utilize the tools at my disposal to their true potential.

This project also took significantly longer than my previous ones because I wanted to incorporate actual level design. Up until now, my projects were more like ‘speed design’ studies where I would quickly develop a scene purely for aesthetic. This level actually allows the player to walk around, and introduces branching paths and skill gates for playability. I’m currently using a simple FPS template, so there are no unique mechanics to add to the level, so I may add those via blueprint in future work.

Here’s a quick video I put together showcasing the (semi)completed level:

Level Design Practice #3 – Cartoon Kingdom

My first two practice entries shared the same grey/green/blue color scheme, so I opted to pump a little more color into this next one.

004 - Cartoon Kingdom (August 9, 2016).png

  • Title: Cartoon Kingdom
  • Time Spent: 3 hours
  • Assets Used: Unreal Stylized Rendering Demo Assets

This level was created using assets from Unreal’s ‘Stylized Rendering’ demo, which contained models and textures with an artistic, cartoon-like aesthetic.

I wanted to create a scenic view of a path leading towards a capital city surrounded by castle walls, and I feel like this was a decent first attempt. I wanted to create a level that felt bright and diverse, and I feel like these assets were the perfect fit. If I were to improve on this, I think that I would fix some tree placement, and add a little more detail to the city in the background.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

Level Design Practice #2 – Waterside Tower

Here’s a recent attempt at creating a rocky island with an abandoned tower near the terrain’s apex. This project took approximately 4 hours to create. I wanted the scene to be slightly more realistic, but noticed that the rocks made everything look too grey. If I were to recreate this scene in the future, I’d add a bit of color, maybe some foliage or other props to mix things up.

003 - Waterside Tower (August 8, 2016)

I also learned a bit about optimizing my level design. During the development of this stage, I had used a foliage brush to randomize rock placements. This brush caused a significant dip in my frame rate since it was generating thousands of high-poly smaller rocks in the scene. I noticed that placing assets in clever and unique ways helped to reduce my foliage brush usage and limit my frame rate issues.

Level Design Practice #1 – The Hill

Hey there! Long time no see! I’m currently working on some level design projects that I would like to share. I would appreciate any critique or feedback that you guys are willing to provide! Thanks!

002 - First Cliff  (July 2016)

This is a quick hill design that I created a while back. This was my first time working with Unreal Engine and I decided to challenge myself by only using the engine’s default starter assets and the terrain tool. This is probably one of my simplest and ugliest works in Unreal, but this was my first level created with Unreal and I wanted to keep it in mind to see where I end up in comparison later down the road.

As this is a quick prototype (took roughly 1 hour to complete), there are no real gameplay elements in the level. Future projects will include actual space for players to move around as well since blocking volumes will ensure that they do not leave the level.

Global Game Jam 2015

This post is over a month late as Global Game Jam 2015 occurred on January 23-25, but hey, at least I’m posting about it!

I’ve been approached a few times with questions regarding game jams, so I figure I’ll elaborate here. Put simply, game jams are one of the best ways of improving your skills as a game developer. It’s a bold statement I know, but I think it’s fairly accurate.

Game jams are community events that encourage game developers of all sorts to get together and develop games.

Easy enough right? Well, there is a catch. There are usually restrictions associated with the development process. There’s often a time limit, many game jams (e.g. Global Game Jam) require you to make and submit a game within a 48-hour time span (You are always welcomed to continue work on it afterwards though). Some may last months at a time (e.g. One Game A Month).

Some jams also require you to base your game around a specific topic, which is disclosed at the beginning of the event. Other jams may leave the topic completely up to the developer, but could restrict genre (e.g. Fuck This Jam). Group sizes, team roles, and other restrictions can be brought forth, it really depends on how the game jam’s organizing crew puts it together.

The key element of a game jam, in my opinion, is the time limit. It forces a deadline on developers and encourages them to build a playable product within a period of time. These hard deadlines are a great way to motivate developers to attempt completing projects. It’s very easy to fall into a slump when making games, and it’s common to see people quitting projects before fully seeing them through. Giving people hard deadlines helps this problem to an extent.

I believe that it is extremely beneficial for developers to get together with their communities and participate in game jams, these events are great for learning, personal growth and networking, so I definitely recommend attending local and global game jams if you plan to become a game developer. Heck, show up even if you don’t intend to make games, it’s a fantastic opportunity to see how your local game community operates. Many notable indie game titles started as game jam prototypes.

With that said, let’s talk about my personal experience with Global Game Jam 2015.

We had a team of around 7 people working together for the first time during the jam. With such a large group and no evident leader, we found that everything was extremely unorganized, so we’ll be preparing to make things more efficient if we work together in the future.

The event was held at the local college, so we opted to use their computers to develop a flash game using Actionscript and Flixel. No one had actually known how to develop in flash, so it was a completely fresh learning experience. As a rule, you should probably use a programming language that you’re comfortable with when trying to make a game in 48 hours. We knew it would be messy, but we were interested in what the results would be, so we did it anyways.

Much of the development was planned for the final day, and of course, a power outage happened to fall on the last day of the jam. As a result, we lost a huge chunk of our planned time, and were unable to get remotely close to what we wanted.

Either way, this is what we had by the end of the session:

Get Out of the House!

It was a bit of a disaster, we weren’t able to get solid assets down, the gameplay and mechanics were nowhere to be seen, and there wasn’t even a way to end the game.

But it was a fantastic learning experience that gave us a lot of insight about working together, and a lot of knowledge about Flash. We were able to learn enough to at least get something up and running within a 48-hour time span, so it wasn’t a waste of time.

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