Inspirational game levels
As I mentioned in the mind map of my presentation that can be found below, I have chosen four themes that I could build my game around, that being Post-apocalyptic, Sci-Fi, horror or horror. however, there are radically different designs that I could within each of the themes as such I have chosen 2 game levels set within each theme to show what environment I could create for the theme as well help me to come to a conclusion on what theme I will choose to build my environment around.
the first level that inspires me from the Post-Apocalyptic theme is from the game Metro: Exodus.
This level is set in an old underground subway where surviving humans have built a city protected from the radiation and mutants that linger above them. because of the fact that the city is built from debris and wreckage, it creates a really grungy and imperfect look which I think is perfect for a post-apocalyptic themed style environment. with the level being set underground there is no natural light as such the entire level is light using lanterns and fire adding to the almost primitive atmosphere. this level feels like it could be real if we ever had an apocalypse making the level feel more realistic which I find really intriguing in a level where it feels realistic and plausible.
the second inspiration for the post-apocalyptic theme isn’t a level but instead the world for the game, mad max.
Halo 3 Silent Cartographer
dead space USG Ishimura
Dark Souls 3 Catacombs of Carthus
Kingdom Hearts 2 world that never was
Resident Evil Spencer Mansion
Outlast 2 School
I also created moodboards for my presentation so my tutors and I could see possible designs and location for a theme as well as show the variety of levels that a single theme could host.
The first moodboard that is being shown is the moodboard that I had created was for the theme, sci-fi. in the moodboard, I created obvious choices for sci-fi, that being a spaceship or futuristic alien city, but I also included more unique locations for a sci-fi based level like an underwater city inspired by steampunk and a floating city with 1950s architecture. The reason that I had decided to include those two designs into my moodboard as I believe that sci-fi themed levels too often rely on space and aliens for there level allowing the theme to feel stale and overused, whereas these two designs that I found from games are creative, unique and still fits into the sci-fi theme. Allowing the game developer to create a unique design and lore for the level as they use real-life science to explain their city which creates a more interesting atmosphere. if I choose to build my game in the sci-fi theme I consider either building the level as an underwater city or a floating city due to the reason that I listed above.
The second moodboard I have included below is for the post-apocalyptic theme. unlike the previous moodboard, the locations I have included don’t really change with most being set within a ruined city, instead of being set in different locations the images are all of the different aesthetic. For example, two levels set in the same location can be altered to make the area unique and stand out from each other. one of the major ways they do that is by either have it desolate and completely destroyed with the street lined with rubble and destroyed cars, whereas the other has the same destroyed buildings but instead of being desolate with a mainly brown colour pallet, this level has been taken over by nature and the ruins have overgrown plants surrounding them adding much-needed colour and visual variety to the theme. if I was to choose the post-apocalyptic theme to design my level around I would consider going for the overgrown appearance for the reasons that I have already mentioned like the colour and visual diversity but also for the fact that it gives me the opportunity to create a much more unique level by giving me the ability to use any plant making my level much more diverse than a simple wasteland.
The next moodboard was for the theme that has the most possible location to build my level in. with the theme being fantasy, there is seemingly no limits on a possible location to set my level, I could build my level in a swamp, forest, castle, dungeon and those are just the common locations with more unusual locations like worlds inside a painting being possible. Another aspect that is unique to fantasy is most art style can work in a fantasy theme, whether that be realistic or cartoony, cel-shaded or exaggerated. All these art styles and more works well with a fantasy level whereas for the rest of the themes you’re much more limited with the art style you can use, any art style can be used for any game, for example, a horror game doesn’t always need to be gritty and realistic there are popular pixel art horror games like the lone survivor which manages to be scary and engaging using pixel art. It just means that certain themes work better with certain art styles, where fantasy doesn’t have this issue because of the extensive possibility for the theme, it could work as a realistic castle or for a cartoony forest and neither feels out of place.
If I was to choose fantasy as my theme then I would choose to build a dungeon/catacomb style of the area with a realistic art style. The reason I came to the decision to build a dungeon/catacomb area if my theme was fantasy was due to the fact that it’s not too common so I can create a level that feels unique and my own but also has enough examples in other games to use as reference and inspiration. I also chose to do the art style of realistic for a simple reason, that being the realistic art style will work well for the more catacomb area that I was thinking as it will help to create a dungier and gloomy atmosphere.
The final moodboard, unlike the rest, was not recommended to me instead I chose to look into this theme myself as I knew this has the possibility of creating a very unique level that stands out between any of the others in my class, this moodboard is for the theme horror.
Horror is another theme that has an abundance of possible locations for me to set my level in, with popular being choices an abandoned mental institute or a haunted mansion. another good location to set a horror theme level is in a prison due to a hopeless atmosphere already being established. like I previously mentioned any art style can be used for any theme, however, although art styles like pixel art can capture the feeling of dread and unease a realistic art style works best as the player feels more immerse if it looks realistic because it helps the player to imagine its real.
if I was was to choose horror as my theme for the level then I would design my level around a mental institute due to the fact that it allows me to create different cells filled with different aesthetics to show off the psychology of the different deranged inmates. to make the level more interesting I could also look into having some of the inmates locked in a cell and have the player be able to the inmates or at the very least hear them which will add a more interesting element into my level. if I was to add the inmates into the level then I would use a realistic art style to really show off how deranged and dangerous they are.
Now that I looked further into the different themes and have a good understanding of the possible designs and art styles that can be used for each theme I can finally make a decision on what my level design will be. The theme I have chosen to use is the sci-fi theme due to the fact that it lets me creates a variety of possible locations, I was also planning on including a shop where when you enter so when the player enters there’s a line is spoken that says “welcome” and “thank you”, I thought to have these lines spoken by a robot to add a little more variety to the level and also shows more of my knowledge of unreal which will help me to get a higher grade. I have also decided to go for an interactive environment over an actual game for one reason, that being that my coding skills leave much to be desired and considering this is my final major project I have decided to play to my strengths, that being environments and the art side of game development. because I am doing an interactive environment the software ill be using is unreal over unity due to the fact that Unreal is much more tailored to building levels whereas unity is for coding features into your game, ill also be using 3DS Max to create all my assets. The art style that I decided to use for my level is a realistic art style, I was originally planning on doing a cartoony almost comic book style for the game to make it stand out even more and create a unique visual style to my city. however, I have no previous experience with this art style and for my final major project their more risk than reward for using the art style. this is why I have chosen to use a realistic style for the city because I have previous experience with the art style and I know that I can create a good looking city for this project.
level design types
Now that I know what my idea for my level is going to be, I now need to decide what type of level would work best for my level idea. I chose four possible level types that I believe could work with my level idea to research further to find out what would create the most interesting level to explore. the four levels that I have chosen are Alley, Maze, Island and Hub.
This level type can be the most basic to create a level for as the main objective to get from one spot to the next with little to none distractions for the player to explore. However, if hidden and optional routes are used right then it could add to the experience as the developer could hide easter eggs and secret hidden collectables or weapons giving the player incentive to explore an otherwise linear level. A good example of this being used to the game’s advantage is with the Halo series which regularly has alley level design but has hidden weapon cache and even hidden weapons that can’t be collected any other way.
However, this doesn’t always work and can actually be a decrement to the game, there’s no better example of this than from the game, The Order 1886. this is another shooter with a majority of levels being an alley level type however there’s only a small amount of diversions through the levels and those have nothing to offer to the game experience so they feel more like distractions than extensions of the level. due to the fact that the was so linear with little reason to explore the map making the game feel repetitive and boring.
Because the alley type can be so basic when it comes to level layout the developer normally includes big set pieces or interesting mechanics into the level to distinguish itself from other competitors as well as keep the player engaged with the game and stop the player from wanting to quit before the story has concluded. This is why the shooter genre works well with this style of levels, whether it be due to the basic point A to point B level design they don’t have to spend as much time designing the level and can instead focus on creating bigger and flasher set pieces to make it stand out. A great example of this is from the Call of Duty which is known for its flashy over the top sequence while using the alley level type, with the most popular moment in the franchise is when you have to fight through a slum following a set path till you reach a helicopter and you think the level is over a nuke is set off in the background knocking you’re helicopter out of the sky and gives you back control for you to slowly crawl out of the wreckage to succumb to your wounds. This allows for the game to stand out due to its memorable moments but in a more relaxing game like a walking sim, it doesn’t really work.
this type of level is often used for puzzles games for obvious reason is that the player needs to figure a way out whether that simply finding the correct way to go or even incorporating some riddles and puzzles into the maze to make the game more varied and interesting to complete. apart from puzzles games there is one other game genre that thrives with the maze level design and that is the horror genre with 2 of the most famous horror games using the maze level design, them being resident evil and silent hill 2. the reason that horror games work so well with this level type is due to the fact that, using resident evil spencer mansion as a reference, you’re trapped in a building that you do not know the layout of so you have to find your way around the mansion while collecting puzzles to unlock more of the map to explore all while avoiding the enemies which allow you to face them head on or simply avoid them.
the horror genre adds much more of an uneasy, panicked feel to the game than the much more relaxed atmosphere than a puzzle game normally portrays. this appeals to a much wider demographic as although they are some players that would like to just relax, a majority will play it for the action and the feeling of accomplishment and ease that they would get from beating a puzzle and move onto the next area in a horror game.
although a maze layout could be used for an interactive environment it may feel a bit basic and if it’s not designed well could be infuriating for the player to navigate. whereas if it was designed with the purpose of being a game that has actual puzzles and riddles incorporated into the maze, even if it wasn’t designed all that well, it could still be interesting for the player to explore and try to complete.
the island level type is the most common level that game developers use when creating a game in recent times. island level types are also known as open world, which most of the game now use, especially RPGs and recently battle royale games. the whole point of an Island level design is allowing the player to be dropped in a vast open land and letting the player explore it at their own pace.
due to the lack of urgency that often comes with open world games often have its harder for game developers to create a coherent story with action pieces that standouts and make the game memorable for players.
one of the most popular games that currently use the island level type is apex legends, its a battle royale game where you can drop anywhere on the map and the goal is to survive as long as you can. the premise of a battle royale works well with island level type as the game consists of you literally having the choice to go anywhere you want on an island.
The final level type that I am considering for my game is the Hub level type, this level type is slightly different from the rest of the level types as the rest of the level types are all general set in one area whereas the hub level is split into different sections. you have the main section also known as the Hub, is a small explorable area that has different portals that take you to other levels.
due to the fact that the player is teleported to the levels from the hub, this allows the level designer to create a variety of levels to travel too that can vary widely with one level consisting of a snow level and the next level is a lava level. this is because they are less worried about creating a coherent world and can create more unique levels. the level types work best when it comes to 3d platformers due to the fact that you can create a lot better platforming challenges when you’re not having to worry about consistency.
one of the most popular games in the world to use the hub level type is super Mario 64. this game sees you explore a castle and proceed through different levels collecting stars to move onto other levels. giving the player more choice on what they can do when.