DEVELOPERS BLOG #2
An Evolution In Detailing
Hi, it's me again. A few days ago I started to cover Contagion via my own personal dev-blog. I didn't really know what to write at the time but I did know I wanted to write about my personal experiences. The pitfalls and whatnot. Today's topic is detailing.
In this blog I'll be using a level called Aurora Estates (cx_AuroraEstates) as an example. I've learned a lot of technical stuff from working on this map but I'll refrain from any techy mumbo jumbo since I'm not writing a tutorial here. The fact that this map has been in production for over a year should give you an idea of the amount of time, work and dedication that goes into each level. Mind you that it's not the only level I've worked on. That would be insane, but I treat my levels as works of art, and as a good wine, it tastes better in time.
There are a few rules I go by when creating a level. One of them is telling a story through visuals. It's a simple rule that a lot of designers use. I constantly ask myself questions about the place that I'm are creating. What is the story behind this area? If I add a painting that's slanting on the wall I ask myself: how did this happen? For instance one of the houses in my suburbs map is chuck full of little visuals like that.
A couch has ben overturned creating a barricade between the people that where there and the zombie(s). You'll notice some bullet holes in the wall next to it. The owner of the house probably shot at a zombie and he missed? Then on the other side from where the shots would be fired there's a bunch of blood on the wall. Oh my, was that the person's blood? Did a zombie get him? Good chance that's the case.
My second Rule I use is that adding just enough detail to a map in just the right places without overdoing it. This particular rule can be very tough to implement because on one hand there's my imagination and on the other hand there's a very real limit to what I can do. I believe that detailing should be done with a good amount of thought behind it. For instance, when I add, let's say, a simple trash can I can just simply put it there and be done with it. Which is totally okay.
However, if I just put the same trash can everywhere then it looses it's appeal and it then becomes just another prop. So, after I place it I rotate the prop around it's z-axis a little so that it feels like someone put it there. In the real world, people don't really care how a trashcan is placed on the street when they put it out. They won't measure it and make sure it's on a perfect 90 degree angle. So let's say I put a second trash can in the level. I place it there and also slightly rotate it, so it also looks like it's been placed there by someone.
Fine, done, I got my two trash cans in there but wait. I'm making a zombie game right? During an outbreak no less !! There's a good chance that someone could be running away from a group of zombies trying to survive and he ran around that particular street with my trashcans and accidentally knocked one of the cans over. And there you go, I added a little story behind my simple trashcan that probably no one would ever guess, but that's ok. That happens in real life just the same.
And this brings me to my third rule. Very, very little people will actively think about their surroundings like this when they play a game. And you know what? That's totally fine. I'm merely painting a canvas here. It's my job to make them feel emersed in the game and when people are not complaining about these kinds of things it means that all these small little details combined created a strong enough atmosphere for people to get lost in. Also, there is an unspoken context to that knoecked over trash can. The player is well aware that there is a zombie apocalypse underway. They clearly understand that situations like these can easily take place and I do not need them to verbally or audibly provide them with a context, it's a given. The player concentrates on having fun and he or she emerse themself in the level without much or any effort at all because the visual design was strong enough for them not to be bothered by a lack of atmosphere. And this is one of my many responsibilities.
Next I want to show you how a good level gets better over time and why I am so gratefull of my boss that he permits me the time to go back on a map and still tweak, add and change things to make it better.
So here we have one of the earliest incarnations of the suburbs map. There's not that much detailing going on and the lighting is, well, there...
The lighting started to take shape thanks to input from the rest of the team. We all throw ideas at eachother all the time and we all thought that dusk was a good choice.
It looks okay, not really refined enough, but it's a start. Then we tried another approach. Early dusk. I worked very hard on getting a more reddish and yellow color tone to work. I liked it a lot, but we felt that it just didn't work out, not for this map at least.
So we shelved it and went on to initial idea. I worked my ass off on this one and everyone felt that this is what the map should look like. The atmosphere is great for a zombie game and it just felt right. This is how the map now looks and I'm still very proud of it.
So there you have it. A little more back story to the Aurora Estates map. I hope you enjoyed it and I'll try to come up with some more interesting topics. If you have any questions feel free to ask. Now I'll go back to work, cause i'm crazy busy with our Kickstarter project and our impending release of the game.
(originally posted on Pixlbit)