A history and analysis of level design in 3d computer games

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A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games Sam Shahrani Designing game spaces is not a new phenomenon Children it on a daily basis, constructing complicated games governed by rule sets that can change at the drop of a hat The design of computer game spaces, on the other hand, has existed for only about 30 years and in that narrow timeframe has evolved dramatically The level design in most early titles was part and parcel of the game design itself; often the programmer was the person designing the gameplay, as was the case with many titles by Atari Corporation One person could, much like an auteur, create an entire game alone, but as time went on and games grew more complex the division of labor required led to the creation of a new position; that of the “level designer.” Defining Level Design & Level Designers Level designers, or map designers, are the individuals responsible for constructing the game spaces in which the player competes As such, the level designer is largely responsible for the implementation of the game play in a title The name “level designer” is something of a misnomer, at least for modern games Originally, games were comprised of distinct levels of difficulty, beginning with Level One Each level was more difficult than the last, providing steadily increasing level of difficulty, hence the term “level” Modern titles follow this formula to a degree, but the levels are no longer as simple as they were in the mid 1970’s and early 1980’s In most modern titles, the distinction between individual levels is subtle, with transitions happening relatively seamlessly Alternately, individual levels can be extremely large and complex, with storyline tying the individual levels together Indeed, the term “level” now refers less to the increasing difficulty of upcoming missions and more often to the next mission or gameplay area The term “level designer,” then, is an inaccurate description of the job; a more accurate name for the position would be “game space designer.” In the computer game industry the term level designer has become both sufficiently entrenched and sufficiently broad in meaning that everyone understands what the job consists of In the context of this paper, “level design” refers to the creation of levels, missions, maps, game environments, stages and any other space wherein the player or their avatar interacts with the game world The primary focus of this paper will be on “first person shooter”, or FPS titles, though examination of non-FPS titles that made significant technical or gameplay advances is also possible For those unfamiliar with the genre of FPS games, they can be most simply characterized as games wherein the view on the screen is designed to simulate the view of the player’s character or avatar inside the game world Examples of traditional FPS’s would be games such as id Software’s Doom and Quake, Valve Software’s Half-Life and Bungie’s Halo Additionally, other titles such as Lucasarts’ X-Wing and Tie Fighter, Parallax’s Descent and Origin’s Wing Commander could also be considered to be first person shooters, since they place the player in a first person perspective, albeit inside the cockpit of a vehicle It is important to note that level design is not unique to three dimensional games, but is an art that applies to all genres of computer games The level design in a twodimensional side scrolling strategy such as Psygnosis’ 1991 Lemmings requires a great deal of forethought and testing The extra dimension present in a 3D title adds a significant amount of work to the level designer, who must now consider movement across all three axes of movement – x, y and z, instead of merely x and y Reaching the current state of the art in 3D was no easy task Before there was Unreal Tournament, Doom 3, Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, Serious Sam or F.E.A.R there were countless small steps, casual games, labors of love and simple curiosity that laid the foundations for all the games to come The Beginning – 1974 to 1991 When contemplating what game represents the original first-person perspective 3D game, the answer is not immediately apparent Depending on the age of the person being asked, some might state, that Battlezone was the first 3D computer game, whereas others might name Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, or even Quake While these titles may be some of the best known examples of the genre, the first documented 3D first person game appears to be Spasim, a program written by Jim Bowery for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s PLATO network (Bowery) Bowery describes Spasim as follows: Spasim was a 32-player 3D networked game involving planetary systems with up to players per planetary system, flying around a space in which the players appeared to each other as wire-frame space ships and updated their positions about every second (Bowery) Bowery recalls that Spasim, short for Space Simulation, was originally released in March of 1974, but locating documentation of the exact dates for the release of many PLATO games is very difficult since little conclusive documentation exists, probably because these games were not seen as terribly serious endeavors so little effort was made to record their creation and evolution Users of the PLATO network probably had little idea that these games would prove to be the genesis of entire genres of games Bowery claims that Spasim is, at the very least, the “intellectual genesis” for a number of other 3D computer games, such as Silas Warner’s PLATO game Airace Airace later evolved into another PLATO game, Airfight, the creator of which is either Kevin Gorey or Brad Fortner Bowery further asserts that Airfight eventually led to the development of a tank simulator for the US army This tank simulator, Panzer (or Panzer PLATO), appeared on the PLATO network in 1977, and was apparently a highly detailed simulation for the time (Dunnigan, Ch paragraphs 7-8) Panzer was an evolution of an earlier PLATO game called Panther, programmed by John Edo Haefeli, which was also a tank simulator Panther and Panzer would prove to be the inspiration for a game that would mark the appearance of polygon-based 3D graphics in both the arcade and the home: Atari’s Battlezone While Bowery claims to have the first documented 3D first person game, this claim does not go entirely unchallenged Maze War, also known as The Maze Game, Maze and Maze Wars, was a program developed at the NASA/Ames research center in the summer of 1973 that could also be a contender for the title of the first 3D first-person game Maze War was aptly named, consisting of a maze constructed of polygon walls at 90 degree angles, through which a player could navigate and then shoot at other players (Thompson, slides 10-13) Maze Wars included technical innovations that were not present in many of the early PLATO titles While the ships in Spasim were wire frame polygons that one could see through, the walls of the labyrinth in Maze War used a set of algorithms to eliminate any polygons that would not be visible to the player, lending an impression that the walls were solid (Thompson, slide 10) This is a technique that would not be seen again for some time, particularly not in the home computer market It is important to realize that as impressive as the technical achievements made in both PLATO games were, as well as in games developed on other networks, these systems were certainly not widely available to the public In many cases, these computer systems were among the most powerful systems in the world at the time, and prohibitively expensive for all but institutional use True mass-market innovation, and the creation of a more mainstream game industry, would have to wait for the emergence of a broader market in personal computers For personal computers, the history of level design for 3D computer games begins with the 1983 release of Battlezone for the Apple II and PC A “port”, or translation, of the 1980 coin-operated arcade game of the same name, Battlezone allowed players to take control of a tank tasked with destroying enemy tanks and avoiding missiles Battlezone is significant because it represents the first use of polygonal environments and opponents combined on home computers, along with the ability to move through the gameplay space, at least on the X and Y axes of movement The move into polygonal environments was the beginning of the transition from the two-dimensional sprite-based environments and into the world of full 3D Battlezone represented the most basic of polygon environments, with all sides of a polygonal object being visible at all times This served to enhance the futuristic setting of the title, but also meant that everything in the game appeared to be made of glass, since players could see through the wire frame models Battlezone also continued the proud tradition of computer games using storyline to hide engine technical limitations; battles were fought “in a large valley completely surrounded by mountains and volcanoes” (Battlezone Operations Manual, p 17), thus explaining why you couldn’t move beyond the area you began in Regardless of these limitations, Battlezone was the first truly successful mass-market game played from a first person perspective The level design for Battlezone was relatively straightforward, in as much as it consisted of creating a game space (the “large valley surrounded by mountains”) in which the player could drive around and destroy targets for points Essentially, the level design was that of a digital Roman arena, wherein the player could battle, and it was a design that worked well for the limitations of the graphics engine, and provided enjoyable and novel gameplay for the arcade and home computer markets Still, the gameplay was little removed from that of Battlezone’s PLATO forbears Not all attempts at 3D games involved the use of polygon-based 3D environments like those used in Battlezone; several games attempted to leverage other technology to provide an impression of a three-dimensional world Notable efforts include Lucasfilm Games, now LucasArts, 1986 title Rescue on Fractalus!, a first-person title that used fractal generation technology to render the game world The title is notable both for the use of a simulated 3D world, as well as for the first-person perspective The player took the role of a pilot looking out from a cockpit, tasked with rescuing other pilots stranded on the surface of the planet Fractalus (Langston) The concept of a spacecraft based FPS would later return in LucasArts’ 1993 title X-Wing and 1994’s Tie Fighter space combat simulators, as well as Origin’s 1990 release of Wing Commander Rescue on Fractalus! was completed in May of 1984, but due to a number of exclusivity decisions the title did not become legitimately available for home computer systems until 1986 (Langston) According to Langston, however, an incomplete version of the game for home computers was widely pirated Polygon based engines, however, remained the most popular and effective way of delivering 3D gameplay, and as computing power increased throughout the late 1980’s designers improved the technology A PC port of the BBC micro and Acorn computer title Elite, Elite Plus was a complex trading and combat simulation, wherein the player was given a spaceship and a small amount of funds then tasked with traveling to various star systems and earning money Firebird Software’s 1987 release of Elite Plus represents one of the first documented implementations of filled polygons (Rollings, 516-517), a technique that solved the “glass enemies” issues of Battlezone by calculating and removing lines that would be blocked in a solid object By combining these calculations with the ability to fill the polygons that made up the enemy ships with color, Elite Plus created enemies that had the illusion of a solid construction This was a crucial step towards realism Elite Plus also featured an impressive amount of gameplay for its time, with eight galaxies and thousands of planets Even today, having a designer specifically craft such a universe would be a daunting task, so the authors of the software chose to use a technique of pseudo-random generation of the worlds, allowing a complex universe in a relatively small amount of space with a minimum of design effort The id Software title Wolfenstein 3D, released in 1992, is generally accepted as the start of the “First-Person Shooter” genre of 3D games, but id software was not the first to experiment with texture mapped 3D games That honor goes to the now-defunct Looking Glass Technologies for their March 1992 title Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, which was also the first Role Playing Game, or RPG, to feature first-person action in a 3D environment All 3D RPG titles from Morrowwind to World of Warcraft share Ultima Underworld as a common ancestor, both graphically and spiritually, though World of Warcraft utilizes a slightly different third person perspective For better or for worse, Underworld moved the text-based RPG out of the realm of imagination and into the third dimension Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss featured an extremely advanced graphical engine, far more advanced than what the better known Wolfenstein 3D would support Underworld could support a number of features that would not appear again until the release of Doom on December 10th, 1993 and, in at least one case, the release of Duke Nukem 3D years later on January 29th, 1996 While Wolfenstein would consist of a world with only 90 degree angles and ceilings all of the same height, Underworld allowed the use of varying height ceilings, and walls at 45 degree angles, allowing for much more complex and realistic architecture Further, while id software’s Doom and Apogee’s Rise of the Triad would introduce stairs, it would not be until Duke Nukem 3D that a major title from a company other than Looking Glass would feature inclined surfaces, allowing ramps and other effects All of these elements were in place in 1992 for Ultima Underworld and David Kusner states in “Masters of Doom” that id software only contemplated the idea of applying texture mapping after designer John Romero was informed of what Looking Glass was doing with Ultima Underworld Id software’s lead programmer, John Carmack, admits that id’s game Catacombs 3D, a dungeon-based title that beat Ultima Underworld to market by months, was motivated primarily by Romero’s interest in having id attempt a game with texture mapping (Kusner, 89; Kent, 458) The texture mapping that Carmack added to Catacombs 3D was a significant innovation over previous titles The texture maps were simple, consisting mostly of stone walls with moss or vines across them, but combined with the black ceiling texture it helped to enhance the feeling of being outside (in certain levels) or trapped deep beneath the earth In an e-mail to the author, former id game designer and creative director on Catacombs 3D, Tom Hall, stated that the texture mapping in Catacombs was “… the Wolfenstein technology, but in EGA” Catacombs 3D also introduced a now-familiar element of many first-person shooter games; a visible weapon in the bottom center of the screen In Catacombs 3D, that visible weapon was one’s hand, from which a variety of magical spells could be projected to slay enemies Again, level design and layout were relatively simple, but the addition of the texture maps went a long way to deepening the immersion of the game Catacombs 3D itself was an evolution of an earlier id title called Hovertank 3D, wherein the player drove around in a hovering tank, destroying enemies with its main gun and rescuing trapped people The gameplay was relatively straightforward, but it was the engine that was something new Id software’s head programmer, John Carmack, was bothered by what he saw as excessively slow gameplay in flight simulator titles like Wing Commander and sought to create a faster 3D engine (Kushner 81-82) Carmack utilized a technique known as ray casting, allowing the computer to essentially draw only what the viewer could see This meant that the first id game based on this technology, Hovertank 3D, and its successor, Catacombs 3D, were much faster than any other 3D rendered game of the time This emphasis on speed, however, meant less complexity in the levels, at least as compared to Ultima Since both Hovertank 3D and Catacombs 3D made it to market before Ultima, though, players were unaware of the difference The third id game featuring the technology, Wolfenstein 3D, would prove to be a genre-defining smash title 10 of the game Nevertheless, compared to many other titles, particularly Duke Nukem 3D, the world had a very static feel Combined with the dark color palette, Quake provided a singleplayer experience that, beyond the technical achievements of the engine, offered little new gameplay Like Doom, Quake was designed with modification in mind This time, instead of simply relying on WAD files, Carmack developed a scripting language called QuakeC that allowed members of the mod community to drastically alter the game Adding new weapons and enhancing player function became a relatively simple affair, and a number of popular modifications such as TeamFortress and ThreeWave Capture the Flag were a direct result of the power of the modding tools These user-created modifications would help fuel the popularity of Quake as well as a growth in the popularity of modding games Multiplayer proved to be Quake’s strong suit, with the game featuring support for the TCP/IP networking protocol, allowing multiplayer games to now take place over the burgeoning internet A later update to the game would add in a system known as QuakeWorld, which added client-side prediction to the game, greatly improving network performance on slow dial-up connections Curiously, the greatest achievement of Quake may not lie in its gameplay or its ease of modification, but in its use as a test bed in the evolution of 3D accelerator cards Carmack used a modification of Quake known as GLQuake to allow the game to use the new consumer technology of graphics accelerators to add both new features to Quake, as well as improve its rendering of the world as it existed In addition to increasing the speed of the game, allowing gameplay speed closer to that of Doom, GLQuake added 34 graphical enhancements such as making water transparent, adding reflections and also adding shadows Until GLQuake, water in Quake and most other titles had been essentially opaque, with no way to see what was in the water without jumping in GLQuake made it possible to look right into the water, which not only allowed players to butcher their swimming opponents, but added another small touch of realism to the now fully three-dimensional world The added shadows served an important function, giving game characters and items a greater appearance of being grounded into the game world Use of 3D graphics acceleration is now common in the industry, and its adoption has shifted much of the graphics strain from the processor onto specialized graphics chips, allowing the computers main processor to devote it’s time to other tasks, such as artificial intelligence for non-player characters and physics calculations for game objects Id would follow up Quake with two official mission packs, the first being Scourge of Armagon, released on February 278th, 1997 and created by Ritual Entertainment The second mission pack was Dissolution of Eternity, released on March 31, 1997 by the now-defunct Rogue Entertainment While Scourge of Armagon received considerable praise for its excellent level design and inventive use of traps, as well as a cohesive series of levels with an overarching story, Dissolution of Eternity was somewhat less popular The fact that Richard “Levelord” Grey, one of the founders of Ritual, had been intimately involved in the level design for some of the most memorable Duke Nukem 3D levels likely played a part in the inventive design of the Scourge of Armagon maps In addition to new levels, both expansions added new weapons and new monsters Quake and it’s sequels Quake II and Quake Arena would continue to push the boundaries of rendering technology, but would little to advance the art of level design 35 and storytelling While Quake II’s release on November 30th, 1997 would be a significant cash cow for the company, its much-vaunted single player storyline would once again place the player in the shoes of a lone space marine against impossible odds Technically, the game would add improved graphics and the ability to render colored lighting, allowing for much more dramatic graphic effects Quake III Arena would enhance the engine technology by allowing rounded surfaces in games, meaning that more organic shapes could be constructed Previously, almost all levels were constricted to more angular shapes As Quake II Arena was essentially a multiplayer only title, little use was made of this technology, and even if it had been properly seized upon it is unlikely that players involved in intense multiplayer deathmatches would stop to admire the architecture Engine Refinements, Storytelling and Interactivity The move into a fully three dimensional world with Quake was probably as momentous an occasion as the release of the original Wolfenstein 3D or Doom, a turning point in the development of three-dimensional first person titles Many companies would license Quake engine technology in order to construct their own games around its powerful rendering technologies, just as companies did with Doom In addition to permitting faster development of games, this licensing of engine technology had a second, less recognized effect It allowed the licensees to concentrate more of their energies on the design of the actual game, instead of focusing as heavily on technical concerns That is not to say that the engines were simply plug and play, but that programmers were spending more time modifying the engine to suit their needs, instead 36 of designing whole new engines from the ground up As the 1990’s came to a close, a slew of new titles arrived on the shelves, with many offering singleplayer innovation On May 28th, 1998, Digital Extremes and Epic Games released Unreal, a title that had been under development for four years (Grossman, 91) Unreal had impressive graphical capabilities, supporting very detailed textures, connected linear levels and fairly advanced artificial intelligence for the enemies This resulted in moments where enemies would narrowly dodge projectiles at the last moment, a nasty surprise to players Level design wise, the game featured moments demonstrating nearly cinematic pacing, such as the players first encounter with a Skarrj warrior Like Quake, Unreal featured a full three-dimensional engine, but supported more complex environments Unreal also required levels to be constructed in a much different way than Quake engine titles In Quake based titles, a level starts empty and must be assembled from various geometric shapes, called brushes These brushes can be manipulated to alter size and shape, as well as other features, resulting in what can be called additive level construction Unreal engine based projects, on the other hand, use a subtractive model, where the world starts full and level designers create empty spaces to serve as rooms, then add other geometry as details, much like a sculptor whittles down a block of clay or marble to create a sculpture Level design for Quake engine titles were more akin to working with Legos that could be stretched and modified Unreal also featured much more natural environments While Duke 3D did a good job of simulating cities and urban environments, Unreal was adept at creating believable and lush pseudo-tropical landscapes The levels featured effects such as waterfalls, transparent water, colored lighting and greater interactivity with objects such 37 as boxes, which could be pushed and used to create stairs While the actual game offered little new, the impressive use of graphical effects served to add yet another layer of depth to the virtual world While the Unreal and Quake engines would become the two dominant engines used for the creation of First Person Shooters for computer games, they would not be the only engines developed Several companies, such as Looking Glass, would continue to develop their own engines from scratch The Dec 3, 1998 release of Thief: The Dark Project and the August 1999 release of System Shock 2, developed nearly simultaneously, marked the first implementations of the Dark engine Thief was best described as a First Person Sneaker, where the object of the game was not to loudly blast through enemies, but instead to avoid detection while pilfering valuable or interesting objects The storyline was involved and played out in animated cut scenes before and after each level, setting the stage for the action to come The cut scenes were well done, but it was the gameplay that was novel, encouraging players to hide in the shadows and use a variety of arrows to ease their path Thief featured truly dynamic lighting, with almost every light source able to be doused, a vital component of the gameplay Thief is, at the very least, the spiritual ancestor of popular modern titles such as the Splinter Cell series from UbiSoft Thief also illustrated that there was a market for titles played from a first person perspective other than violent slaughter-fests Thief also relied heavily on audio as an element of player involvement In most previous titles, enemies were essentially silent unless they were attacking the player In Thief, one of the best ways to determine the location of an enemy was by their footsteps 38 Further, players could use the sounds made by the NPC’s to determine how aware or suspicious they were; casual whistling could indicate they were unaware of anything amiss, while yells for help would ensue should the player be spotted Players could also use these aural capabilities to their advantage, throwing objects or using special noisemaker arrows to distract opponents This use and recognition of audio as an important part of the immersive experience was a significant step forward, adding another vital element to level design; the placement and use of ambient audio While ambient audio had been used in previous projects from Doom to Duke Nukem 3D and beyond, Thief was the first title to make audio a central element of the gameplay (Grossman 175-176) System Shock 2, developed by both Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios, was a sequel to the innovative, if overlooked System Shock System Shock continued the story of System Shock, with the player taking the role of the sole survivor of a terrible disaster aboard two ships deep in space The player awakens with no knowledge of past events, and through audio logs and e-mails must piece together what happened aboard the ships Like it’s predecessor, System Shock was a difficult title to categorize, having elements in common with role playing games, action games like Doom and adventure games More generally, the game could be categorized as an action horror survival game, as the player had no idea why the crews of the ships were dead, and seldom enough ammunition to simply blaze through any opponents Item placement was a critical element of level design in System Shock 2, as designers were careful to never give the player an overwhelming amount of resources Players were required to carefully horde 39 ammunition and supplies, as well as manage various ammunition types As in System Shock, certain weapons and ammunition types worked best against certain enemies, so players had to be aware that they could encounter any of a variety of enemies at any time, and that using a more effective ammunition type would help conserve their meager resources Problems or “puzzles” in System Shock frequently had multiple solutions that would depend on the various skills of the player character and their playing style Enemies could be killed or snuck by, doors opened by finding a key code or by hacking the lock Players could disable cameras by shutting down a security system, destroying the camera or merely sneaking by it when the camera was pointed elsewhere As in previous games from Looking Glass, players were usually rewarded for careful play and exploration of the world, receiving upgrade chips that could be spent to improve character abilities in an RPG style system The game also allowed characters to research on enemies using a variety of simple chemicals This research would then yield distinct knowledge or combat advantages over opponents System Shock also made extensive use of scripted sequences, a concept that would be fleshed out more fully in Half-Life As opposed to pre-rendered movies advancing the story, System Shock chose to display almost all events inside the game engine itself, helping to maintain player immersion which could easily be broken by the interjection of pre-rendered movies Many of these events were highly unexpected, such as the player’s first encounter with a “ghost” of a crewmember While the models of characters and objects would later be criticized by some players as primitive, the attention paid to character and level design, as well as the vital role of sound effects and spoken 40 dialogue made System Shock a highly successful and critically acclaimed title The game is still considered by many to be one of the best examples of the genre and of game story in general System Shock is joined in this pantheon by another game that has direct ties to Ultima Underworld and System Shock; Ion Storm Austin’s Deus Ex Released in late June of 2000, Deus Ex was set in a dystopian future where conspirators and terrorists have turned the United States into a fractious, diseased and crumbling nation Levels were set to resemble recognizable locations such as Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park in New York and other areas throughout the world The player Avatar, J.C Denton, was a nano-augmented agent for a United Nations anti-terrorist group The game, designed by former Looking Glass developer Warren Spector, had much in common with titles like System Shock, System Shock II and Ultima Underworld The player’s character could define an early set of skills and abilities that later could be modified through a combination of experience points and “augmentation canisters”, which would add new functions to a player, such as the ability to increase their strength or to become resistant to radiation Augmentations could also be upgraded using upgrade canisters, a separate system from the experience or “skill” points system In addition, Deus Ex allowed players to use a variety of play styles and tactics to achieve in-game objectives Many objectives had several different approaches that would all be suitable, allowing players to exercise their discretion and giving the impression of a great deal of freedom in what was still a largely linear game world For instance, when confronted with a locked door in most games, players would know they would have to find the key or a switch to open it Deus Ex could allow players several options, such as 41 destroying the door with explosives, picking the lock, hacking the security system to open the door or finding a way around the door, typically through a ventilation or sewer system, or by navigating other nearby rooms Naturally, such freedom came at a considerable cost for level designers, necessitating massive amounts of pre-production and planning for level design and other systems (Grossman 200-201, 205-206) Level designers would have to take into account the various augmentations and skills that a player might have and provide a sufficient variety of tools for a player never to become completely stuck in a dead-end merely because they didn’t have the requisite skill level to hack a computer or pick a lock This meant that other solutions had to be found, such as key rings containing necessary keys for players to use The issues faced by Deus Ex serve as both an example of how good planning can result in better level design, as well as a cautionary tale about the difficulties of giving players choices While many players clamor for more inventiveness and freedom in games, implementation of such abilities presents serious challenges for designers, necessitating, as was done with Deus Ex, early functional prototyping of levels and other resources Deus Ex was richly rewarded for its efforts, garnering a great deal of praise both for its comparatively open-ended gameplay and its ability to allow players to play the game in a manner that fit their personalities The game also received considerable praise for its conversational system, allowing players to choose from a number of prescripted conversational choices, each of which would affect the course of the conversation with an NPC This furthered the sense of immersion and the impression that player choices would have tangible effects on their ability to progress, as well as NPC’s 42 perception of them This system, allowing players to actually select from conversational choices was an ideal method for exposition and character development, but not the only approach to player and NPC interaction A company that took a different approach nearly two years before Deus Ex was Seattle based Valve Software Released on November 20th, 1998 after more than a year delay, Half-Life put players in the shoes of Gordon Freeman, a research scientist at a top secret government facility in the fictional location of Black Mesa, New Mexico in the United States Half-Life is remarkable in many ways, but one of the most obvious is the method used to introduce the player to the world Typically, players are thrust into their characters immediately after a disaster has occurred rendering all other friendly nonplayer characters dead or dying, or at the very least in need of help This is a storytelling device that serves to cover up the fact that the technology for players to interact believably with Non-Player Characters was, at best, limited Indeed, this idea of the limited capability for players to interact with “friendly” characters had become something of an accepted fact in many titles Half-Life took a different and arguably more cinematic approach to their storytelling Players began on a highly detailed tram ride into the Black Mesa Research Center, with the tram ride serving as an introduction to Black Mesa at the beginning of a normal work day As would be expected, the player is completely unarmed throughout this portion of the game, a dramatic difference from practically all other titles The player would then have to follow verbal prompts and instructions from Non-Player Characters in order to achieve their goals The characters featured a form of lip syncing, similar to the appearance of a puppet, that caused their mouths to move in approximations of the proper 43 shapes for certain sounds, giving the impression that the characters were actually human and speaking to you Players would then proceed down to a test chamber where they themselves would become responsible for the initiating event that would lead to the disaster at the facility The concept of showing players the world before the disaster, letting them become familiar with it in its natural state, served to give players a reference point by which to compare the following chaos and disorder The player would then have to move through the facility, frequently relying on Non-Player characters to open doors and provide medical attention, as well as supply advice and hints as to the next course of action that the player should take Valve, also realizing that the technology was not yet sufficient to allow back and forth conversation with NPC’s, chose to make Gordon completely mute, and simply have characters speak to him directly With careful writing the designers could give the impression that the conversation was at least a natural one, if decidedly lopsided Half-Life also featured an excellent implementation of level transitions, similar to those used by Unreal Instead of an intervening screen between levels, Half-Life would load the next level dynamically when the player reached the end of one map, displaying a small “loading” graphic before resuming the game The transitions were as seamless as possible, allowing for next to no pauses in gameplay While the level transitions typically required a reasonable amount of pre-planning on the part of the level designers, the seamlessness gave players the feeling of truly being in a continuous world Additionally, players could backtrack over considerable distances in the game, allowing them to go back for items or equipment that they may have missed or wanted to save 44 Half-Life was based on a heavily modified version of the original Quake engine, providing the game with a fully three-dimensional world, but the additions made by Valve made the singleplayer game many times more advanced that that of Quake Colored lighting, the use of scripted animated sequences to advance story and heighten tension and the construction of both impressive indoor and outdoor environments made Half-Life a hallmark of the industry Combined with the intriguing plot and the addition of an endgame choice, the game was a wild success Further, the release of level design and other tools, called a Software Development Kit or SDK, turned Half-Life into a success in the online gaming world, spawning a number of third party modifications such as Counter-Strike, Natural Selection and Day of Defeat The Future While a number of titles have been released since Half-Life, including its widely acclaimed sequel, Half-Life 2, there has been surprisingly little advancement in the field of level design since Half-Life Many other titles have adopted features that were present in Half-Life and made iterative improvements, while some titles have updated older methods of interaction, such as Deus Ex or System Shock Still, the question remains regarding what level design and level designers are becoming The release of mapping tools to the general public has allowed the creation of hundreds of thousands of maps and collections of missions for a variety of FPS’s, beginning with Doom and continuing on with titles like Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Halo First Person Shooter titles have branched out from personal computers and onto popular consoles, with games such as Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 and the Halo series for Xbox, but the gameplay model has, by and large, 45 remained the same Some of the more popular modification teams have even been hired to commercial work, such as the poorly received Gunman Chronicles, the product of a total conversion for Half-Life While the availability of the tools has given rise to new ranks of level designers, the job is constantly increasing in complexity Early titles could have their levels designed by only one person in a few hours, as was the case with Wolfenstein 3D Games such as Half-Life and Half-Life now require team efforts, with designers specializing in lighting, weapon and enemy placement and the creation and implementation of scripted sequences to make the world come alive It is highly likely that in the coming years we will see the emergence of a division of labor very similar to that of the film industry, with certain designers laying out architecture while others apply textures and still others place enemies, items and monsters Valve Software itself noted that it has had to change the design process for its own levels, laying out architecture with a flat default orange texture in order to test gameplay and level flow before dedicating the resources to applying the necessary texture maps, lighting and other small touches that truly bring levels to life Level designers have come a long way from the early days of the first person shooter, but with each technological leap the necessary time, preplanning and design required to create a level has increased significantly It is highly likely that just as the auteur game programmer has become extinct, so too will the auteur level designer, replaced instead by what Valve software refers to as “cabals”, teams of designers working in concert to bring a level to life This is not limited to just FPS titles, since the growing complexity and open-ended gameplay of games like Grand Theft Auto: San 46 Andreas and World of Warcraft require level designers to expand their skills far beyond that of simple geometry creation and lighting These design challenges raise important questions for the game development community regarding the methods and technologies that are being used to develop content for titles Certain designers, such as Maxis’ Will Wright, advocate the use of procedural generation technology to allow algorithms to handle the bulk of content generation, a technique he plans to use in his upcoming game Spore Valve appears to advocate the cabal design process, wherein they recognized that level gameplay and flow is the primary issue Because of this, they chose to use their technique of texturing prototypes in a flat orange color in order to concentrate fully on gameplay and not be distracted by graphical concerns, a process that appears to have worked well for Half-Life However, perhaps it is not an issue of team size, but an issue of tool improvement The level design tools that we have today are advanced, but likely have not advanced at the pace of the rendering engines themselves, so there is likely room for improvement both in function and usability Could we alter the way the levels are created so that rapid prototyping could be made even easier? Which approach to level design is more robust, the additive techniques used in the Quake and Doom engines, or the subtractive methods used by Unreal engine titles? Is there a combination of the two techniques that would work best? These are questions that must be answered so that the pace and advances of level design can keep up with the requirements that are being placed upon the level designers, particularly with a new generation of consoles and other hardware nearly upon us 47 Works Cited Atari Corporation “Operation, Maintenance and Service Manual Complete with Illustrated Parts List: Battlezone” California, 1980 December 29, 2005 Bowery, James “Spasim (1974) The First First-Person-Shooter 3D Multiplayer Networked Game” Jim Bowery’s Personal Website April 4, 2001 December 28, 2005 Braben, David “Elite Frequently Asked Questions” Frontier Developments 2003 December 30, 2005 Dunnigan, James F “The Complete Wargames Handbook 2nd Edition” New York, 1992 December 29, 2005 Grossman, Austin Postmortems from Game Developer: Insights from the developers of Unreal Tournament, Black & White, Age of Empires, and other top-selling games San Francisco: CMP Books, 2003 Hall, Tom “RE: Questions about your career in level and game design.” E-mail to the author January 2006 Handy, Alex “The First First Person Shooter.” Computer Games Magazine July 2005 October 5, 2005 Kushner, D Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture New York: Random House, 2003 Langston, Peter “BALLBLAZER and Rescue on Fractalus!: The Lucasfilm Computer Division Games Project is born - A very brief personal history” January, 2005 Peter Langston December 28, 2005 Rollings, Andrew and Dave Morris Game Architecture and Design: A New Edition Indianapolis: New Riders, 2004 Romero, John “RE: Wolfenstein 3D and Level Design.” E-mail to the author 20 February, 2005 Siegler, Joe “A History of Wolf3D” 3D Realms Website 3D Realms, Inc January 19, 2005 Thompson, Greg “The aMazing history of Maze – It’s a small world after all” DigiBarn.com November 7, 2004 DigiBarn Computer Museum/Computer History Museum December 30, 2005 48 ... 64 in 1983 and finally to DOS in 1984 The Wolfenstein 3D game engine was based on the same principles as that of Hovertank and Catacombs but with some major additions made by John Carmack Catacombs... Edo Haefeli, which was also a tank simulator Panther and Panzer would prove to be the inspiration for a game that would mark the appearance of polygon-based 3D graphics in both the arcade and. .. mountains”) in which the player could drive around and destroy targets for points Essentially, the level design was that of a digital Roman arena, wherein the player could battle, and it was a design
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