(Deity) Level Design Process Work

This is a showing of some of the process work for when creating levels for Deity. Even though there are only 4 levels in the final release of the game, I had built many different levels that were used to pinpoint the most fun aspects of the game. Below is some of the process work that I did when creating levels for Deity:

The video above was Deity during our Alpha phase. At this time, I was experimenting with the idea of allowing the player to pick their own path, and that multiple paths lead to some of the same areas. This worked extremely well on our enemy army level, as it allowed for a dynamic hide-and-seek encounter. However, non-enemy levels suffered greatly from this design, largely due to the fact that players would end up running in circles around the level without realizing it. Since our game wasn’t going to have a minimap, this proved to be a fatal flaw in the level design, and had to be reworked moving forward with the project.

As the team began reworking our game for Beta, I started playing with the idea of having modular rooms layouts. This way, I could have a room that was well put together and still allow for flexible level design. I think had we made the levels be created through a procedural generation method, this level design concept may have worked. However, it was important to the team that we had a unique and interesting experience with each and every level. Therefore, the rooms idea was scrapped in favor of more customized levels.

I ended up studying more isometric games, such as Diablo III, and started to dissect what they were doing for their levels and why they were doing it. I began to experiment with the linear approach to our level design, as I felt it easily fixed the layout problems we had at Alpha, as well as lead the player to the end of the level. As a result, we had the following level types at Beta:

At this point, we had brought the game to PAX and had countless players play our game, which they all really enjoyed. As I was watching however, it occurred to me that some of the elements that we liked about the Alpha level design, such as the more stealth elements to the game, were lost with the new level design principles. After all, how can you be stealthy in a hallway? We found that a linear path worked great for action, but we didn’t want to lose the stealth feel to Deity.

(Level Design concept work to help with path types & look and feel)

At this point, I had to reflect on everything I had learned from both Alpha and Beta. The underlying principles that the Alpha build had brought a fun aspect that the Beta version hadn’t replicated. On the flip side, Beta was much more direct, helping players get from point A to B without much confusion. I concluded that having the best of both worlds was the best way to go. In other words, we create encounters in an open space environment, but there is a specific continuation point at the end of the encounter. From the player perspective, this would read as needing to go from point A to B over the entire level, and then from point X to Y within each given encounter area. Once comfortable with this design concept, I began laying out more specifics of the level design for the end product.

This was the starting point for what became our first level in the final product. When designing this level in particular, I was most concerned with making sure that the player could learn to play the game. I go into great detail about this level in my “Teaching Through Level Design – Level 1: The Invasion”  topic. Out of all of the final levels created, this level remained the closest to the original concept.

This level was intended to be a level where you killed enemies with flags, which allowed you to complete the level. There would be have been a bridge in the middle that lowered once you had killed all of the flag carriers that would open to the second part of the level. In theory, this sounded like a fun level, and I was aiming to take the enemy army level from Alpha and put an updated spin on it. However, after doing a rough block-in of the level, the level became too large and too technically demanding for the time constraints we had. Plus, it just wasn’t as fun as I had hoped for it to be. Ultimately, we took elements of the enemy army level and placed them into a sub-section in the final build of Level 2.

In Level 3, I had designed this level where worshiping Clerics would travel along a path as they worked their way to the 4 alters. There would be a Head Cleric in the center, who was preaching and doused in light (and therefore impossible to kill under normal circumstances). The goal was to convert all of the alters to blackflames, which would elevate a statue, and cast part of a shadow over the Head Cleric in the middle of the level. If you managed to convert all 4 alters, the Head Cleric would become exposed, allowing you to kill him and complete the level. I really enjoyed this level concept, as it brought a new spin and some diversity to the levels that we had. In this case, I broke my own design rule about open spaces. However, I felt that since the alters would be so noticeable and obvious as to which were converted, that it would be far less likely to actually get lost or go in circles unintentionally.

When it came down to execution, we wanted to have the game still feel cohesive with itself, as well as make it less demanding on the technology. Therefore, the final build of Level 3 has the Head Cleric element, but also has a “library” component where you deal with the Valkyrie. We found this to feel better overall for the level, and made the game have that extra sense of danger and stealth element.

The final level was something the team and I always spoke about. We really wanted to have a gauntlet encounter, as well as an epic battle between the player and the Valkyrie. The layout above was a really rough idea of how we wanted to handle the Valkyrie fight. The idea was that you would leap from torch to torch and trying to avoid her attacks. By turning off X many torches, you would stun her and be able to attack her. While the exact layout was definitely changed, this was a great starting point for discussing how the final level should be handled.

After all the levels were blocked in, the environment artist and I would go through the levels and adjust lighting, add props, and really create and improve the atmosphere of each and every level. This was obviously an important step, and really taking the time to polish each level just elevated the quality of the game that much more.

I think looking back on my process, it could have definitely been improved. Since the game was on a grid system, it would have been better had I made the levels on graph paper to get a stronger idea of scale and level length. However, the work that I did do followed a natural evolutionary growth as the game changed. I was never married to an idea, and was willing to be flexible due to technology or time constraints. I believe that this helped me get to a better end result faster as took the time to analyze our game’s core fun. Doing so aided me in knowing how to build levels to emphasis that fun, which I feel was a successful part of Deity. To see all the final game levels, I recommend you download and play (for free) at http://www.deity-game.com/ or you can watch one of our fans blow through the game in 20 min:

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~ by rhickman-design on May 8, 2012.