Partner at Haley Strategic, designing products, creative and training programs. Shop designer at Echelon Software, currently cranking on a new isometric Black Powder, Red Earth game. My first graphic novel series(BPRE) available on Amazon. Working on a sequel and a new non-fiction book. Current graphics and vocals for Gridlink(as seen on Homeland >o<). Former singer of Discordance Axis and Hayaino Daisuki.

Report article RSS Feed Designing Levels in BPRE

Posted by eva05 on Aug 10th, 2013

The early board game prototypes of BPRE I built didn't account for a specific digital rendering/realization, but instead attempted to build a game system that was flexible and open ended enough to support a variety of missions in urban-hamlet-sprawl battle spaces.

One of the first decisions I made was to design a game focused purely on street fighting, with the higher goal being to provide both depth and opportunity for the player to problem solve in that setting. Not just to build a corridor where shake-bake-repeat is the key to victory, but a true tactical/operational decision matrix that allows for permutation and creativity without slowing the game down to turn based speeds.

This meant detail oriented scrutiny in how I chose what set pieces would inhabit the world and how they could be utilized by the player in both surveillance, attack and egress.

Coming from a predominantly FPS background, designing an isometric game level is a whole different animal. We have to deal with line of sight and enemy awareness in a whole new way with the screen displaying around 50 yards at a time. This one constraint alone has driven decisions effecting every aspect of the game, from the weapons balance to the actual settings where the game plays out.

I have written previously about the setting and world of BPRE, but what I have not mentioned is that the early prototypes were set in the same location as the first series. The city of Basra. With the creation of the first digital prototype, it became clear that a dense setting would not work well in a isometric experience as it did in a first person style game.

I began exploring current conflicts in the region outside of Iraq and then began mapping the likely consequences of those conflicts. In a few weeks, Yemen and Syria became the top contenders as a setting. Ultimately I chose a post-Syria state as the setting for this game, in no small part because of the potential for both a very different narrative in the graphic novel and because of the needs of an "ideal" isometric game level.

Studying the cities and towns in Eastern Syria, I discovered that things are far more spread out than the shoulder-to-shoulder construction we find in a major metro area like Basra or Baghdad. The vast majority of the town-hamlets are built around a single main paved road, generally a highway, with dirt roads feeding off that into neighborhoods of walled compounds. There's the odd orphan structure, but that is the general lay of the land, which is perfect for our title.

As we went from pen and paper to pixels, we determined that structures could be targeted and destroyed, but units would not be able enter and clear them. To make CQB work in a digital analog would require a far more zoomed in camera and a whole different set of assets to be created. And when you are 3-4 guys, the last thing you want is to have to reproduce a whole library of assets, not to mention that CQB is really a whole game in itself. You can see plenty of other titles exploring pure CQB and they are laser focused on this one element.

To take this on, in addition to our street fighting system, would cannibalize valuable resources that could be otherwise used to refine our core game. I remember meeting with Cliffy B and Dr Mike Capps in 2007 when we were working on the first iteration of BPRE and they gave me some of the best advice I ever got. It boiled down to, "You're 5 guys - you're not making Grand Theft Auto. Pick your battles and win them decisively." Holds just as true today.

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