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Level Design Workshop - GDC China 2012

Originally presented at GDC China 2012, this workshop covered level design fundamentals such as layout, pacing and storytelling. It was presented by Joel Burgess (Bethesda Game Studios), Matthew Scott (Valve Software), and Steven Gaynor (The Fullbright Company)

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Level Design Workshop - GDC China 2012

  1. 1. Level Design Workshop 2012Matthew ScottValve SoftwareJoel BurgessBethesda Game StudiosSteve GaynorThe Fullbright Company
  2. 2. Meet the Presenters•Steve Gaynor, The Fullbright Company
  3. 3. Meet the Presenters•Matthew Scott, Valve Software
  4. 4. Meet the Presenters•Joel Burgess, Bethesda Game Studios
  5. 5. About Our Backgrounds• Our Experience is primarily with: – First Person Games – Exploration Focus – Narrative Techniques – Shooters and Role-playing Games• We do not have Experience With: – Free-to-Play Games/Services – Mobile Games – RTS/Puzzle/other Genres of game
  6. 6. What to Expect Today• Applicable Concepts & Techniques – How?• Seek Common Level Design Ground• Share Insights from Our Experience• Present Lessons w/Broad Usefulness
  7. 7. General Structure• Core Concepts We’ll Focus On – Broad Definition of Level Design • Define a Common Language – Layout Techniques • Guide for Physical Playspaces – Pacing & Encounter Design • Populating Levels – Narrative & Environmental Storytelling • Achieving Deeper Meaning
  8. 8. Workshop Schedule9:30-9:45 Speaker Introductions, Overview of the Day9:45-10:30 Section I: Components of Level Design10:30-11:30 Section II: Layout Primer & Best practice tips11:30-12:00 Pre-lunch Q&ALunch Break1:30-1:45 Reconvene and afternoon overview1:45-2:45 Section III: Level Population. Encounters, Pickups, Puzzles, Reveals, etc.2:45-3:15 Section IV: Pacing, Balance, Flow - Next step of Population3:15-3:30 Afternoon Q&ACoffee Break4:00-4:15 Reconvene, Final session overview4:15-4:45 Section V: Narrative Overview - Role of LD as storyteller4:45-5:45 Section VI: Narrative without words, Environmental storytelling.5:45-6:00 Wrap-up and Final Q&A
  9. 9. Level Design Workshop 2012Section One: Components of Level Design
  11. 11. Defining Level Design• Broadly defined discipline• Needs change per studio/project/genre – Often one face of a multi-role job – Not a universally agreed-upon term
  12. 12. ?Level Design Single-player ? ?
  13. 13. Single-player
  14. 14. One Language, Many Dialects• Discuss Level Design in Broad Terms – Seek Common Ground – Extrapolate from Specifics to Generalities – Find Lessons We Can Apply to Our Work• So – What is a Level, really?
  15. 15. Defining Level Design Levels are the space in which player actions happen• By this definition, every* game has levels• Role of Level Designer varies by: – Game/Genre/Perspective – Technology – Team Culture – Designer Skillset *Probably
  16. 16. Level Design is…• Level Design is defined by your game• Your level design can define your game• Your role? Whatever it needs to be.
  18. 18. Level Design Job #1 Create Circumstances which invite players to engage in the activities the game models well• Showcase the art, code and systems – Duty to the Team and Game• Build Player Trust – Duty to the Player
  19. 19. Universal Design Concerns• Concerned with physical space – Aesthetic Component• Conduit between Player and Mechanics – Psychological Component
  20. 20. Level Design Aesthetics• Level Design != Creating Art Assets – Though it is tied up very much with this! – Level Designers Can be Non-Artist Developers• Level Design Thrives on Visual Composition – As Opposed to Visual Finish• Levels are Art In Motion – Gameplay is rarely visually static
  21. 21. Level Design Psychology• Understanding Player Emotional State – Catering to Play Styles – Meeting Expectations• Gameplay As Active Expression • Level Design As Player Collaboration• A Predictive Discipline – Building Systems And Circumstances – Designer/Player Authorship Relationship
  23. 23. Core Concepts• Layout – Morning Session (Joel) – Understanding How We React to Space – The Many Approaches to Layout
  24. 24. Core Concepts• Gameplay & Pacing – Afternoon (Matt) – Defining Gameplay Goals – Understanding and Use of Pacing
  25. 25. Core Concepts• Narrative – Late Afternoon (Steve) – The Many ways Level Design Tells Stories – Explicit, Implied and Environmental
  26. 26. Level Design Workshop 2012Section Two: Layout Fundamentals
  28. 28. Layout & Mechanics• Mechanics: Player’s Verb Set• Layout: Space Conducive to those VerbsA sandbox is a verySimple layout forPlaying w/Sand
  29. 29. Do Games Require Layout?• Some Mechanics-Driven Games Do Not
  30. 30. When Does Layout Matter?• Any game in which physical space impacts the player activity
  31. 31. Layout As Gameplay Rule
  32. 32. More Than “Just A Map”
  33. 33. Layout is a Statement• Invite and Encourage Player Behavior• Layout is a powerful statement about what your game is, and how you suggest players best enjoy it.
  34. 34. Standing CoverCrouching Cover
  35. 35. Level Flow• Flow: The Rhythm at which a player moves through and experiences a level• This is very much tied up with Layout and Pacing• Flow will underscore and enforce overall pace of the game
  36. 36. Layout As Teacher• Layout can be an effective, natural tutorial• Create scenarios in which player must use a specific, core technique to advance
  37. 37. Too High To JumpDead End Too Small To Fit
  38. 38. Must Use Morph Ball
  39. 39. Locked Door Weighted CubesPressure Plate Button
  40. 40. Weighted Cube+ Pressure Plate Door Opens!
  41. 41. Layering• Introduce Rules/Mechanics in Isolation – Remove Distractions – Remove Challenges• Layering Duress – Physical Circumstance (Layout) – Combine w/Mechanics (Such as Enemies) – Time Pressure (Use Sparingly)
  42. 42. Requires Two
  43. 43. Layout as Preview• Show currently-inaccessible areas• Telegraph Gameplay Expectations• Draw on Desire to explore
  44. 44. Playable Area
  45. 45. Playable Route
  46. 46. Playable Area
  47. 47. Layout as Composition• Good Level Designers can be terrible at painting a picture…• But great at composing one.• Rules of Visual Composition Apply to Level Design
  48. 48. Rule of Thirds• In Visual Art, it’s a guide for framing elements within a composition• In layout, serves as a loose guideline• Useful for composing reveals• Emphasize Planes of Play• Tool for avoiding symmetry
  49. 49. Fibonacci Sequence0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…
  50. 50. Applications of Fibonacci• Visual Reveals• Planes of Play• Potential Pacing Usefulness – Handy Yardstick for analysis – Less so as a planning tool
  52. 52. Paper Planning
  53. 53. Paper Planning+ Familiar & Comfortable+ Rapid and Flexible- Difficult to Express 3D space- Disposable
  54. 54. Graybox Blockout
  55. 55. Graybox Blockout+ Playable Fast+ Minimize Distracting Context- Tech Heavy
  56. 56. Kit Roughing
  57. 57. Kit Roughing+ 1:1 relationship w/Final Space+ Very Quickly Playable- Requires Art- Rigidity
  58. 58. Iteration is Key• No Matter What Your Preferred Approach: – Keep yourself Flexible – Constantly Re-evaluate layout – Test, Observe, Test, Observe, Change• Layout is the Bedrock of your Level – So take time to get it right
  60. 60. Straight-OnEnter Exit
  61. 61. Straight-On- Little Player Choice Available- Handkerchief Design+ High Level of Authorship
  62. 62. Re-TreadEnterExit Climax
  63. 63. Re-Tread+ “The Oblivion Problem”+ Difficult to make Re-Tread Interesting- Few Reusable Options/State Changes
  64. 64. One-Way LoopbackEnterExitClimax
  65. 65. One-Way Loopback• Minimizes the Re-Tread Problem• Choosing Meet Point is Tricky• Can Seem Contrived
  66. 66. Branching Chokepoint
  67. 67. Branching Chokepoint• Good Emphasis on Player Choice• Scope Control: Chokepoint & Edge Cases• Choices can feel Illusory
  68. 68. Swiss-Cheese Approach
  69. 69. Swiss-Cheese Approach• High Emphasis on Player Choice• Less Design Control of early experience• Scope Bloat: Handling multiple Paths
  70. 70. Branching Fractal
  71. 71. Hub and Spoke
  72. 72. Hub and Spoke• Efficient: Highly Reused Hub Space• Hub Can Become Dull/Repetitive• Spokes Not Reusable
  73. 73. Gated Hub    
  74. 74. Pass-Through and Return
  76. 76. Decision Stacking ? ? ?? 
  77. 77. Pickups & Flow Disruption -- 
  78. 78. T-Intersections & Spillout ? ?
  79. 79. Mixing Bowls  ? 
  80. 80. Changed Perspective !  ?
  81. 81. Consistent Incline/Decline
  82. 82. Level Design Workshop 2012Section Three: Pacing
  83. 83. PART I: A primer onpacing
  84. 84. How can we use pacing in game development?• Pacing is a tool for keeping the player interested in your game. It can be used to convey certain emotions to players, and also helps control impact of events to the player. 3
  85. 85. How can we use pacing in game development?• Pacing goes by many names: flow, rhythm, tempo, groove, etc. 3
  86. 86. How can we use pacing in game development?• Useful to visualize pacing in graph form. 3
  87. 87. Pacing for the scope of this talk 4
  89. 89. Pacing and Player Motivation•The carrot and stick.•Static carrot positioning vs dynamic. 7
  90. 90. Pacing and Player Motivation• To entice players to continue playing, they need certain incentives. These can be items, story elements, shiny stuff, some little nugget to keep them going. 6
  91. 91. Pacing and Player Motivation 6
  92. 92. Pacing and Player Motivation 6
  94. 94. Where do we start?• Breaking down pacing into its components. 10
  95. 95. Breaking down the problem• In animation, shots and story moments are broken down into smaller units called "beats". These beats are useful in timing out important story or character development points. 11
  96. 96. Breaking down the problem• Should the beats happen too frequently, viewers can get overwhelmed and lose track of whats going on. Too infrequently and they get bored. 12
  97. 97. Breaking down the problem• You can draw in the viewers by changing the type and frequency of these beats. 13
  98. 98. Breaking down the problem•In games we can use this methodology to design interesting gameplay experiences. For us, these beats can range from things as simple as a small health boost to something as big as a boss fight. 14
  99. 99. 14
  101. 101. Another way of approaching the problem• pacing in musical terms. 15
  102. 102. Another way of approaching the problem• The Jaws theme is a great example of the power of pacing. 17
  103. 103. Another way of approaching the problem• It is conceptually simple, a pattern of notes that repeats. 18
  104. 104. Another way of approaching the problem•What makes piece so powerful is the way that pattern repeats. The increased tempo, added flourishes, these all add to increase tension in the listener. 19
  105. 105. Another way of approaching the problem 19
  106. 106. Another way of approaching the problem• Examples in video games 20
  108. 108. The importance of developing a shared vocabulary:• When working with a team, it can be difficult to communicate clearly to each other. 25
  109. 109. The importance of developing a shared vocabulary:• The more people, the more possibility for divergent ideas of what youre talking about. 25
  110. 110. The importance of developing a shared vocabulary:• To unify the groups vision, develop a shared language for elements of your level/game. 25
  111. 111. The importance of developing a shared vocabulary:•During HL2s development, the team had a way of talking about pacing where they were able to generalize the entire game into a few basic components: Combat, Puzzle, Exploration, Choreography, and Vista. 26
  112. 112. The importance of developing a shared vocabulary:•Developing this shared vocabulary meant they were able to describe fairly abstract gameplay scenarios in very concrete ways. 27
  113. 113. The importance of developing a shared vocabulary:•This has become common practice at Valve and has allowed us to have more grounded discussions on how to design and iterate our levels as well discuss the game at large. 28
  114. 114. CASE STUDY: HALF-LIFE 2
  115. 115. Defining HL2s pacing elements.Here are the elements the Half Life 2 teamused to describe their game: – Combat – Puzzle – Exploration – Choreography – Vista 29
  116. 116. Defining HL2s pacing elements.• Combat - describes any time a player is engaged in a fight. 30
  117. 117. Defining HL2s pacing elements.• Exploration - a term for the player traversing the environment, not actively engaged in solving a puzzle and not in combat. 31
  118. 118. Defining HL2s pacing elements.•Puzzle - player is faced with a challenge they must overcome before they can progress. 32
  119. 119. Defining HL2s pacing elements.•Puzzles are a great way to introduce new gameplay mechanics because they allow the player to learn in a pressure-free environment. 32
  120. 120. Defining HL2s pacing elements.•In Half-Life 2, the teeter-totter teaches players to think of physics as a game mechanic, not just a visual flourish. 32
  121. 121. Defining HL2s pacing elements.• Choreo - short for choreography. These encompass animated scenes ranging from the interactive scenes in Elis lab to completely animated scenes like Dog v Strider. We mainly use Choreo for story exposition. 34
  122. 122. Defining HL2s pacing elements.• Vista - a Vista is an area of visual interest to the player. We expect players to stop and check this area out. 36
  123. 123. Defining HL2s pacing elements.• I really like these generalizations because you can simplify almost any game using these elements.• Its all about thinking of these elements in context. 55
  124. 124. ANATOMY OF A LEVEL: HL2: Episode 2
  125. 125. Anatomy of a level: White Forest Inn• HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn 38
  126. 126. Anatomy of a level: White Forest Inn•When planning a new level, one of the first questions we try to answer is: Where does this fit in relation to the previous and prior maps? 39
  127. 127. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn•The White Forest Inn map serves to give the player a break from driving. 40
  128. 128. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn• We could have solved "driving-fatigue" by shortening the trip to the White Forest base, but that would have reduced the anticipation and importance of the dangerous journey to the Base. 41
  129. 129. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn•Pacing your level is a balancing act. 42
  130. 130. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn•If a combat section is too long it can become stagnant and boring. 43
  131. 131. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn• We observed new players going through our content every week and began to see patterns as to what keeps the player engaged and motivated to progress through the game. 44
  132. 132. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn• Since we had so much data we were able to tightly iterate on the games pacing. 45
  133. 133. Level Deconstruction• To analyze levels that you think “work”, break them down into smaller pieces. Try to find the unique components and identify why and when they are used. 46
  134. 134. Level Deconstruction• In this example we will analyze this levels pacing by breaking down the level into the individual elements I mentioned earlier. 47
  135. 135. 48
  136. 136. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn• Now lets take a closer look and categorize whats going on. 49
  137. 137. 48
  138. 138. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn• Look at it a different way, breaking the level into its individual elements on a timeline representing % of level makeup or % of time spent in level. 50
  139. 139. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn 51
  140. 140. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn 51
  141. 141. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn 51
  142. 142. Anatomy of a level: HL2: Ep2: White Forest Inn 51
  144. 144. Getting down to details• Now that weve talked about some of the main elements of pacing a Half-Life level, lets talk about the moment to moment gameplay within those elements. 72
  145. 145. Getting down to details• I like to think of pacing as a graph of frequency vs intensity. 73
  146. 146. Using Item placement as "beats"• Items can be used as "beats" in your level. 80
  147. 147. Using Item placement as "beats"• Item importance can be influenced by pacing. 80
  148. 148. PLAYTEST!
  149. 149. A note on playtesting:• During Episode 2s development, every week we brought in a random volunteer from outside the company to play the game while we observed. 76
  150. 150. A note on playtesting:• Observing a playtest is a very direct way to collect data on payer engagement within each part of your level. Wed observe player behavior, take notes, and interview the player afterward. 77
  151. 151. A note on playtesting:• Playtesting isnt just a useful for finding bugs, it is critical to tuning the pacing of your game. 78
  152. 152. A note on playtesting:• When self-testing, play as a new player.• We tend to naturally get bored and either screw around or shift our attention to other things. 79
  154. 154. Transitioning between elements• Combat• Choreo/cinematic• Exploration• Puzzles. 81
  155. 155. Transitioning between elements• Combat is one of the most intense in regards to player engagement. 82
  156. 156. Transitioning between elements• Choreographed scenes/cinematics - depending on their placement, theyre a good bridge between other types. 83
  157. 157. Transitioning between elements• Exploration - usually more less intense than combat scenarios 84
  158. 158. Transitioning between elements• Puzzles - mentally taxing. 85
  160. 160. Battling player fatigue• Combat sequences• Introduce a new method of fighting: new enemy type, new weapon type, traps, remove weapons, change enemy composition, change AI behavior, interrupt the fight with a beat of a different type ( puzzle, choreo, vista, etc) 86
  161. 161. Battling player fatigue• Exploration• Introduce small combat segment! (hl2 would use manhacks, spy cameras, etc.)• new method of traversing through previously traversed levels ( dishonored, shadow complex ) 87
  162. 162. Battling player fatigue• Puzzle• Give the player a break, transition to another element.• Introduce time pressure ( stop the bomb!)• Combat - use sparingly. Introducing combat is adding another layer of complexity for the player. Sometimes it becomes too frustrating, and the player quits. 88
  163. 163. Battling player fatigue• Choreo• Combat - this is a powerful combination due to the players expectations to let their guard down during choreo/cutscenes.• Break up your story points and place in shorter sequences. 88
  164. 164. CASE STUDY: LEFT 4 DEAD
  165. 165. Pacing Left 4 Dead• Since the Left 4 Dead franchise is largely devoid of puzzles, choreo, and designed to be infinitely re-playable, trying to pace the game became a challenge. 63
  166. 166. Pacing Left 4 Dead• The elements Left 4 Dead succeeds at are Exploration and Combat. 64
  167. 167. LEFT 4 DICTIONARYDevelop a shared vocabulary
  168. 168. Develop a common vocabulary• In the early days of Left 4 Dead 2, a group of us played the original L4D, logging our "awesome" or "fun" moments during playtests.• We made notes of both the levels geometry and the Directors behavior. 60
  169. 169. The Left 4 Dictionary• Through our notes, we saw patterns of fun environmental segments and Director behaviors. We developed terms like Zombie Rain, Funnel-In, Finales, Crescendo Event, Death Closet. 66
  170. 170. The Left 4 Dictionary• We would find interesting combinations and use a sentence like "Wide Open Top to Funnel-In to Single-File with Open Top" to describe something as conceptually simple as a parking lot leading to an alley that is between tall buildings. 67
  171. 171. The Left 4 Dictionary 69
  172. 172. The Left 4 Dictionary 69
  173. 173. Additional Level Terminology• "The Flow" - main route from starting safe room to the exit. 70
  174. 174. Additional Level Terminology• Capillaries - side paths off the main flow.• Useful for item placement 70
  175. 175. Additional Level Terminology• Crescendo Event - high intensity combat challenge.• Highest impact event in level. 70
  176. 176. Additional Level Terminology• Finale - highest intensity combat challenge in the entire campaign. 70
  178. 178. Pacing Left 4 Dead• Replayability - why should we design games to be replayable?• "static" games vs "dynamic" games. 64
  179. 179. Pacing Left 4 Dead• What should we change per play session? 64
  180. 180. What did we change?• Enemy spawning - variable positions, variable types• Item spawning - fixed positions, variable type 64
  181. 181. What we didnt change• Map layout• Basic campaign events like crescendo events and finales 64
  183. 183. The Director• Dynamically influences the pace of the game by analyzing and responding to player behavior 64
  184. 184. The Director• Micromanages enemy and item spawning to tailor this specific play experience for this specific group of players. 64
  185. 185. The Director 64
  186. 186. Impact of The Director• The Director has been personified by players.• A main "character" in the franchise. 64
  187. 187. QUESTIONS?
  188. 188. Level Design Workshop 2012Section Five: Level Designer As Storyteller
  190. 190. Player Stories• Every time a level is played, a story is told.• The players experience of playing through the level-- what happened to THEM-- is that story.
  191. 191. Super Metroid Intro
  192. 192. Inherent Storytelling• The story is told through a variety of means – players interactions with the games mechanics – exploration of the environment – observation of the scripted story elements.• But each players experience of this levels story is different.
  193. 193. Inherent Storytelling• It is the level designers job to define the possibilities of what a levels story might be.• In some games, most players stories will be nearly identical; in others all will be very different.• But in each case its up to the level designer to determine the bounds of the experience.
  194. 194. YOUR TOOLSET
  195. 195. What tools does a level designerhave at their disposal to define the possibilities of the levels story?• Layout/flow• Mechanical population• Environment art• In-world scripting/voice• Cutscenes
  196. 196. Storytelling Tools• All of the above can play important roles in telling the story of a level. However: – What kind of story does your level need to tell? – Which of these tools will provide the most efficient way of telling this story?• This will determine the levels scope.
  197. 197. Types of Story• Gameplay story• Environmental story• Scripted story• Super Metroid Example Contains All Three
  199. 199. Super Metroid – Gameplay Story“I navigated by running, jumping and shooting, then encountered a huge monster and foughtagainst it, but it was too powerful for me. I then rushed through hazards to escape the space station before it exploded.”
  200. 200. Super Metroid – Environmental Story“The base was deserted, all the scientists weredead, and the dangerous specimen was missing from its containment unit.”
  201. 201. Super Metroid – Scripted Story“The monster stole the specimen and flew away with it, causing the space station to enterdestruct mode. I escaped in my spaceship just in the nick of time, moments before the space station exploded.”
  202. 202. Gameplay Story• Most important story to get across – (from design perspective)• Teach Player What Abilities Exist• Consistency = Trust• If any player completes this level without understanding this story, they also walk away with an incomplete understanding of their role as the player of the game.
  203. 203. Gating• Mandatory mechanical elements must be gated. – Running solves itself – Jumping is similarly straightforward – Shooting is slightly more complex Cant rely on player shooting during boss fight. Doors only open when shot.
  204. 204. Beyond Tutorials• But this is only one very limited type of Gameplay story: the tutorial.• Gameplay stories can be highly varied and expressive, allowing the player to shape their own experience based on the opportunities provided by the designer.
  205. 205. Deus Ex 3: Multiple Paths
  206. 206. Varying Gameplay Stories• “I used cover and explosives sweep through the room, killing all of the enemies.”• “I hacked security to fight for me, then snuck away while the enemies were distracted.”• “I used my abilities and cover to sneak through the room without anyone knowing I had been there at all.”
  207. 207. By carefully managing the levels layout and the arrangement ofgameplay elements within it, the designer can guide the playerthrough one very specific Gameplay story, or present them witha number of possibilities out of which to build their own.
  209. 209. Scripted Story• But often a level designer is responsible for presenting a scripted story as well.• This story most often comes from the writer of the game, and is considered “THE STORY” from a reviewers standpoint.• It is the level designers job in this case to present the Scripted story as clearly and compellingly as possible.
  210. 210. Scripted Story• Scripted story can quickly become very expensive – Cutscenes are the most reliable, and most expensive, method.• Any way in which the designer can express more of the Scripted story in the level itself will benefit the project, and the player experience, as a whole.
  211. 211. What elements of Scripted story can live in the level itself?• Voice-over• Character animation• Environment events
  212. 212. Scripted Story• Any of these is better integrated into the gameplay-- and less expensive-- than a cutscene• Must be managed along with all the other gameplay elements that the player encounters
  214. 214. • Framing – funneling the players attention via layout• Gameplay mechanics – or lack thereof/minimizing distraction• Staging & lighting – focusing attention visually• Gating – keeping the player from skipping the sequence, if necessary
  215. 215. Framing• FRAMING: Using layout to ensure the player is facing the event when it begins, and is able to see it clearly as it proceeds.• Should always occur in the center of the players screen.• Dog Leg or S-Lock to funnel the players view
  216. 216. Dishonored: “Plague Train”
  217. 217. Mechanics• Any interactive elements will draw attention away from the Scripted story sequence.• If interactive objects cannot be removed, any effects that highlight them (special effects, particles) should be disabled.
  218. 218. STAGING/LIGHTING• Scripted Story is a stageplay.• Lighting and blocking draw the players attention to the most important elements of the sequence. Spotlighting highlights specific elements Silhouetting isolates specific elements from the surrounding scene.
  219. 219. Optional or Non-Optional?• If the player must not be able to skip the sequence, some form of gating is required.• Ideally the resolution of the sequence itself should clear the blockage, allowing the player to move on• Allowing the player to skip the sequence requires additional planning, but allows the player to interact to the game more naturally.
  220. 220. Level Design Workshop 2012Section Six: Environmental Narrative
  222. 222. Environmental Storytelling• Exists in the conceptual space between Gameplay and Scripted story• The story that the player deduces from the gameworld itself
  223. 223. Environmental Story• Gameplay stories- “what the player does”• Scripted stories - “what the player watches”• Environmental stories - “where the player is”
  224. 224. Environmental Meaning• The games environment constantly surrounds the player.• It communicates meaning, whether the designer intends it to or not.• An environment that has not been carefully considered only communicates its most basic properties
  225. 225. * But the environment CAN communicatemuch more* The cost to do so is generally much lowerthan Scripted story, and in many casescompared to the Gameplay story.
  226. 226. Environmental storytelling is:• Visual• Static• Passive• Optional• Instantaneous• Scalable
  227. 227. Latent Story• Decoration that tells a story• The player is free to pay attention to if they want, but is not forced to engage.• What are the practical advantages of Environmental storytelling?
  228. 228. Advantages of Env. Storytelling• Inexpensive• Time-Agnostic• Memorable
  229. 229. Inexpensive• Don’t require unique game mechanics or heavy bugtesting• Don’t require writing or voice acting or character animation.• Require art assets to be created and placed in specific ways Setup cost, memory cost, but require fewer personnel with shorter pipeline
  230. 230. Time-Agnostic• Scripted stories take time, usually in the form of voiceover and animations playing out. Not necessarily a bad thing especially for a first-time player.• But Scripted story is more static than Environmental story Will always take the same amount of time to resolve
  231. 231. • Player has no control over duration Can only choose to watch or not• Half-Life 2 lock-in scripted story sequences fail for players who are not naturally invested in the story
  232. 232. Time-Agnostic• Environmental stories have no set time span.• Allow the player to expend as much attention on them as the player desires.• Environmental storytelling doesnt pose the risk of pushing the player away by forcing them to sit through content theyre not invested in. It drives player engagement.
  233. 233. Memorable• Environmental storytelling happens as much in the players head as it does in the game. Player is deeply invested when they engage with the content.• While all players are shown the same cutscenes and Scripted sequences, the piece of Environmental storytelling that the player discovers themselves is theirs to own, and remember.
  235. 235. The Montage Effect• In film, the Montage Effect was pioneered by filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov. The principle states that, with any series of images, a viewer will always assign meaning to a given image based on the image that precedes it.
  236. 236. The Montage Effect• Environmental storytelling clusters concepts together• The player observes and imposes a framework of relationships upon them.• The designer works in reverse, setting up an arrangement of elements that the player can reconstruct into the intended story.• Can express a simple, single moment...
  237. 237. Example:System Shock 2
  238. 238. Example: Gone Home• But Environmental storytelling moments can also cover more time and say more about a character.• Environmental storytelling can express how a character lives, and therefore what kind of person they are.
  239. 239. Gone Home
  240. 240. • Environmental storytelling can convey that builds up a characters identity over time.
  241. 241. • Lived-in, domestic spaces invite the player to explore and discover more about the characters that live there
  242. 242. STAGING & FRAMING
  243. 243. Staging & Framing• Consider how the player first encounters an Environmental storytelling scene, and how it is lit and presented.• Unlike a Scripted moment, some Environmental storytelling may be off of the critical path Reward for players that explore and want to find more meaning in the game
  244. 244. Front & Center
  245. 245. Hidden Example
  246. 246. Staging & Framing• With the amount of development investment required for Environmental storytelling, its much more feasible to allow some players to completely skip some of this type of content.• The players who do find it will feel that much more rewarded.
  247. 247. USING LANGUAGE
  248. 248. To Graffiti or Not to Graffiti?• One element often found in environmental storytelling is some form of writing. – Graffiti, handwritten notes or clippings from print.• This use of language can be a boon, or a crutch.• Over-reliance on written text can explain to the player exactly what the scene means, instead of letting the player figure it out.
  249. 249. Telling instead of showing
  250. 250. To Graffiti or Not to Graffiti?• But sometimes text can be applied in such a way that it holds the scene together, giving just enough context for the other elements to have meaning.
  251. 251. Showing & Telling
  252. 252. Einstein’s Razor• Environmental storytelling is primarily visual• Language can help the effect cohere.• “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
  253. 253. In Conclusion• Environmental storytelling is all about maximizing your ability to communicate with players. – Populating the environment with meaningful imagery maximizes the impact of the space the player navigates. – Environmental storytelling can often be the most efficient method of conveying authored story as well.
  254. 254. • When faced with a section of the environment that isnt “saying” anything, or a story element that you need to communicate to the player, consider how you might be able to fill the environment with meaningful images that allow the player to reconstruct the story in their mind, making the player a storyteller, instead of just a bystander.