Before Designing

Before jumping into designing any sort of maps, I first looked through images of sewers and sewer layouts to obtain an idea on how the main sewer ways should be laid out. However, in reality sewers are much smaller than they are shown to be in films and video games. Given this, I based my search around sewers that have been created for other video games. The images found have been compiled into a moodboard which has been added into the level design document.

As player choice and player expression are an integral parts of the project, I researched into video games that create player agency and give players the freedom to express themselves how they wish.
Player agency, as described by Josh Bycer (2015) is “The player’s ability to impact the story through the game design or gameplay.” (Bycer, 2015).

The first game I looked at was PAYDAY 2 (Overkill Software, 2013) and how they give players an objective, let them plan a strategy and then put them in the level to execute their plans.

Figure 1 – The Preplanning phase for the Bank Heist level within PAYDAY 2

In the case of PAYDAY 2 (Overkill Software, 2013), the players are entered into a pre-planning menu where they are given maps of the level. Here they can plan out their strategies together and if they wish, pay for “Favors” that give extra assistance, such as placing the thermal drill in an easier to reach location.
They are most of the time given a set objective, for example, in “Bank Heist”, the level shown above, the objective is to break into the vault and steal the contents. The objectives can only be achieved by completing very specific actions, in a certain order. Below is a graph I have created, depicting the mission flow, including criteria for completing objectives up until the end of the mission.

Figure 2 – The objective flow for the Bank Heist level in PAYDAY 2

Whilst playing, the player will receive XP that can be used to purchase skills and abilities from the skill tree, shown below. How the player plans and approaches these objectives is determined by how they have spent their skill points, which is also determined by the players preferred play style.
To give the reader a better understanding of the player expression, the graph below shows a breakdown of a stealth approach. The red connections show the order in which the player can progress with these actions.
As the reader can see, there are very few actions which need to be completed in a specific order, giving the player freedom but also, a clear goal for them to work towards.

Figure 3 – A chart showing the players available options for the Bank Heist level objectives within PAYDAY 2

PAYDAY 2 (Overkill, 2013) creates clear player agency by changing the level based off the players actions. A good example is if a player breaks stealth, rather than the level ending with a fail, the police will be called, leading to an open gun fight and the player will have to fight their way through the objectives. Even though this changes the world around the player and how they will have to work to complete objectives, the objectives themselves remain unchanged.
Placing the character in a non-linear level with a clear goal affords opportunities for player expression.

These are both experiences that I aim to replicate within the project.
This will be measured within the play testing milestones, but please note, the test plan(Co, 2006) will not be created before the level has at least been designed, this is due to the fact that certain elements of the plan will need to be based on the level that is presented to the player to enable the testers to give in-depth, quality feedback that will be more useful in planning iterations and measuring other qualities.

Figure 4 – The skill tree found within PAYDAY 2

After looking at how PAYDAY 2 (Overkill Software, 2013) affords clear player agency and player expression,
Keeping in mind that learning Creation Kit (Bethesda Game Studios, 2012) is a part of the project and to avoid over scoping, I wanted to find examples of how player agency is incorporated on a smaller scale. This lead me to look at Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018). Even though Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018) has some large instances of player agency, I will be looking at the smaller implementations, more specifically, the conversations between NPCs and NPCs and the player.

Figure 5 – A conversation between the player and an NPC within Hitman 2

As the reader can see in the above video, the dialogue from NPCs can change depending on not just what you do, but also what you are wearing. This gives direct confirmation to the player that their actions aren’t just planned out scripted events, they are in fact a part of the world and can have an effect on the events unfolding before them.
As mentioned before, a lack of experience in using Creation Kit (Bethesda Game Studios, 2012) means that the effects seen from the players actions will not be able to cause large effects seen throughout the level and game world. Due to this, inspiration will be taken from Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018) and how they create player agency on a small scale.

Sewer Design

When beginning work on the level design process, it became apparent that instead of spending a week designing the levels and then iterating on them the next week, it would be more helpful to iterate the designs as they are being created, whilst the ideas on iterations are fresh in mind.
Whilst designing the maps, I blocked out the levels within Unreal Engine 4 (Epic Game, 2015), this is so I could get a better understanding of how it felt to be within the spaces I was creating. Due to my familiarity with the level editing software, I felt comfortable using Unreal Engine 4 (Epic Games, 2015) to quickly create very basic block outs of the designs I had created, even though the final product will be created in another piece of software.
When starting the design of the sewers, as mentioned above, I decided to use Unreal Engine 4 (Epic Games, 2015) to create very quick, primitive block outs. This has been helpful in determining area scales and how it feels to move around within these spaces.

Figure 6 – The first version of the sewer

Before beginning to draw any maps, I set out some guidelines to assist in making creating player agency, emphasize that the player can choose how they want to approach the level, or player expression.
The brief guidelines are as follows:
– The player should begin the level on a vantage point. Different routes should be able to be seen from here.
– The castle entrance door will need a lever to open.
– Cult members will be present so there should be evidence of their presence, for example, tents, fires, cooking pots.
– It should be recognizable as a sewer.
– Each path should differ from the others.

After creating the first version, there were elements that I thought would work, however, in it’s current state, the map needed a lot of iteration. An example of a clear issue in the design was that the lever to open the exit door could be reached much quicker by taking a specific route where as if the player took a different route, it would take double the amount of time with no extra reward. This would be unfairly punishing the player for picking a different path.
Another issue is that, it didn’t feel much like a sewer system, there should be more waterways for the player to traverse.

Figure 7 – The final sewer design

As the reader can see, some areas have been kept the same whereas other areas have either been heavily iterated on or removed completely.
The main path options have been kept low, at three to be specific. This is to make sure that the player isn’t overloaded with multiple options, it also will reduce the chances of the player getting lost.
To begin with, I iterated the main waterways to give the level more of a sewer like feel. Another issue that required fixing was that when creating the block out within Unreal Engine 4 (Epic Games, 2018), the level felt incredibly small, there was not enough room for combat and barely enough room for sneaking around enemies.
After this, I wanted the hallways to feel more connected, rather than the hallways being used solely to connect two rooms, they have been turned into a more interconnected path between the multiple main paths.
The last major iteration that needed to take place was to create a final area. This area shouldn’t have been as easy as it was in the first design, it should be challenging, without forcing the player into a fight. To not make it too much of a challenge which could end up frustrating players, hard cover, a solid object that can block enemy projectiles and breaks the lines of site (Barclay, 2016) has been added in for the player to use to their advantage.
The level to open the final door is still present however, to avoid making one route more favourable than another, the lever has been moved to the lower level of the final area, whilst the door is on the upper level.

Moving Forward

The next step of this project is to design and iterate the interior of the castle. This will be the main area of play.