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the institute

Project Info

My role: Level Designer and Level Artist

Team size: Solo

Project duration: Not completed

Tools: Hammer World Editor

Project type: Personal project

my contribution

Level design

  • Designed the level

  • Scripted level events

  • Placed 3D props

  • Research and preplanning

  • Analyzed L4D2 level design

About

Left 4 Dead 2 is a multiplayer co-op FPS game set in a zombie apocalypse. The players have to work together in order to survive against the hordes of zombies. Additionally the game can be played in a four vs four versus mode where the two teams take turns to play as the survivors or the zombies.

This is a level designed in my spare time using the Hammer World Editor. It’s inspired by the book ‘The Institute’ by Stephen King. I wanted to learn more about designing combat arenas and pacing. This level is part one of my campaign that is structured into three parts: 

 

  1. Suburban/trainyard area

  2. Logging camp area

  3. Institute area

 

I analyzed the level design in L4D2 in order to keep my level in line with how they create levels and campaigns for the game.

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Pacing graph of L4D2 levels

Game loop

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Level design process

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Ideas

Sketching overall layout and encounter design.

layout

Combine different layouts and encounters into complete areas.

blockout

Creating the rough 3d layout for each of the areas in the game.

Iteration

Reworking areas according to feedback from playtest, implement 3d assets, test collision and navigation. Repeat this step until satisfied.

Level design goals

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Creating multiple ways to solve encounters

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Designing areas that encourage the player to use the different characters abilities in synergy with each other

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Creating a tutorial that teaches the mechanics in a natural way for the player

Choice is the flavour of life

A big part of this game genre is the players tactics and ability to plan. I wanted to provide the player with opportunities to solve the different encounters in their own personal way with their own tactics.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork

One of the primary mechanics of the game is being able to seamlessly switch between the two characters. Therefore I designed the levels so that the two characters had to help each other out in order to survive. One of the characters has abilities focused on killing enemies while the other is more focused on distraction and crowd control. I designed encounters that required the player to use abilities from both characters in order to progress.

Character B has to distract the green enemy in order for character A to slip past and kill both the enemies.

Like riding a bike

One of my personal goals for this project was to provide a strong tutorial for the player. I decided upon a linear design that forced the player to complete encounters in a specific order, this to easier introduce the mechanics. I wanted to teach the player some basic tactics for them to feel confident enough to come up with their own further on.

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iteration

I wanted my design process to be based on player feedback, therefore I conducted playtesting often and early on. I also needed to adapt my level to the ten minute time limit so I had to optimize the level layout. Here is a showcase of the major iterations made to the level:

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First iteration

This is the first iteration of the main level. The general consensus of the playtesters was that it had too much filler in it, the core mechanics didn’t get enough time in the spotlight.

One of the biggest complaints from testers was that this specific area felt vague and unclear. They didn't know where to go or how to navigate. In this scenario the player has to move to the location to the left of the house and distract the guard below. My problem was that players kept running down the ramp, making the game much harder for themselves. To more clearly communicate my intended solution I removed the house, made the spot where I wanted them to stand pop out more. I also worked with the narrative designer to make the dialogue reflect this, pointing the player to the correct location. This worked well and playtesters cleared the area much more easily.

What i learned

It is hard to design levels from a top down perspective when you want to get the player to go to a specific location. I couldn’t rely on the same tricks I normally would  when designing a FPS level for instance. This was much more of a group effort with level design, narrative design and art all working together.

 

I learned that designing encounters that suit your own difficulty level makes them too hard for the general player. Especially when you take into consideration that the player is presented with so much information in each encounter, information that me as a designer already have internalized and won’t notice. Without the amount of playtesting and iteration I did in the project the game would be too hard and confusing to complete.