Urban Ruin

CONSOLE GAME LEVEL DESIGN

Level Design Document (v1.0)Level Design Document (v2.0)

Roles: Level Designer

Development Time: 2 Weeks

Team Size: 1

Aesthetic: Action Adventure, Third-Person

Platform: Console (PS4)

Contributions:

  • Analyzing level design structures and patterns found in the game Last of Us.
  • Authoring a level brief specifying narrative scenarios, level design directions, and gameplay goals.
  • Researching reference materials and resources for developing environmental language.
  • Designing the level layouts around key gameplay beats and pacing.
  • Greyboxing the level geometry using Maya and testing the build in Unity.

Project Overview

As part of a design exercise, I decided to design a mock level based on the highly-anticipated action adventure title Last of Us: Part II by the developer Naughty Dog. The goal was to design a contiguous level featuring two main beats:

  1. Exploration sequence of a partially flooded metropolis.
  2. Combat sequence against hostile human enemies patrolling the area.

 

Research: Design Patterns in the Last of Us

Before starting to design, I played through the original Last of Us to identify the established design patterns and conventions that I should consider in my own design. These are:

1. Dilapidated architecture to create interesting traversal paths and challenges.

2. Distant landmarks to tease and remind the player’s current goal.

3. Claustrophobic spaces and suggestive props to create a sense of anxiety and dread.

4. Visual composition and scene staging to elicit environmental storytelling.

5. Nature overgrowth as an emotional catharsis between moments of high tension.

6. Nature overgrowth as a wayfinding pattern to lead the player through the level.

 

Ideation: Design Notes & Sketches

Taking the learning from the case study, I started by jotting down any idea that first came to mind. 

First, I started to define what kind of environment I wanted to base the level on, and what the unique highlights and memorable elements of such context. Out of all the ideas, two things stood out: 1) A sinkhole and 2) Toppled buildings. Considering this context, I then started to think about the specific gameplay I wanted to achieve, which was to make the player feel:

  1. Uncertainty of the correct path
  2. Ambiguity between interior and exterior spaces.
  3. Insecurity of being exposed and danger around the corner at any moment.
  4. Curiosity of exploring dilapidated urban wilderness.

1) Brainstorming and defining the level goals, environment setting and atmosphere, and gameplay beats and pacing.

2) Researching and gathering environment reference images.

3) To help visualize the disorientation of ground plane and wall surfaces, I quickly made a cube out of paper to study the changes in architecture caused by flipping it around.

 

Prototype: Paper 2D Maps

1) Overall level layout sketch, showing the player path, gameplay sequence and pacing.

2) More detailed layout sketches of the collapsed building (on the left) and the parking structure (on the right).

3) Combat space layout sketch, showing the interior-exterior connections through doors and windows, possible player paths, enemy patrol paths, and general cover placements.

 

Prototype: 3D Blockout

I then translated the 2D paper map design into a 3D environment, focusing on the spatial experience, such as sense of scale, visual compositions, and adherence to gameplay metrics.

 

1st Beat: Traversal

1) Overview map of the exploration + traversal beat.

2) In-game screenshots of the traversal beat.

 

2nd Beat: Combat

1) Overview map of the combat beat, designed to support different play styles: stealth, melee combat, short range combat, and long range combat.

2) In-game screenshots of the combat beat.

 

Iteration: 3D Blockout

-Feedback

-Changes made

 

1st Beat: Traversal

1) Overview map of the exploration + traversal beat.

2nd Beat: Combat

1) Overview map of the combat beat, designed to support different play styles: stealth, melee combat, short range combat, and long range combat.