Level Design Challenge: 2 Days, 2 Levels

Last week, my Level Design class was assigned to build two levels, which should be connected somehow, whether it be through story or anything else. I’ve decided to make this assignment into a challenge, limiting myself to build two levels in only two days, as a test to see how much I can accomplish in a limited time frame, something that I should learn to expect in the industry.

This post will detail the process I used to create my two levels in two days, including sketches, screenshots, and videos.


Inspiration

Since the death of my laptop, I haven’t played around with UDK, my preferred editor, and had yet to download the May 2010 update. For this project, I had to work in the commons at UAT, where they just so happen to have the May version, and I am so happy with the update. A friend of mine (Cody!) showed me the GDC_FeaturesDemo map, and that served as my inspiration for my levels. I decided to have a ruins level, where the player could then proceed into the underground part of the ruins as the second level.


Story

The idea behind these two levels is something similar to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or Uncharted, but with a time traveling element intertwined. The player will control a time traveling treasure hunter from the “future.” For these two particular levels, the player will travel back in time to before the world became all metallic and electronic, where the ruins are still intact. Hidden in the underground ruins is a treasure (the quest treasure), a mystical and strange orb-like construction that could aid in their quest. The player’s goal is to first find the entrance to the underground ruins, and then obtain the quest treasure.


Pre-Production

The first level was the outside ruins. The player will begin in a small ridge to the side of the level (see map below). Upon passing through the opening before them, they will see secluded ruins, overgrown with plants and surrounded by rocks. There is a small shrine in the center of the area, where the entrance to the underground part of the ruins is sealed off. The player can freely explore this area, where they would find a few hidden treasures if I had been able to actually implement them into the level. The exploration is paid off when they find a switch hidden behind a broken wall and surrounded by red and pink flowers to key the area visually as significant. Stepping on the switch will trigger a cinematic wherein the player will watch as the entrance to the underground ruins opens, revealing stairs leading into fog.
The second level was the underground ruins. The player will begin on the stairs facing downward. The player may wander through the maze-like passageways, where they would find a hidden treasure in the dead end to their left of the stairs, once again if I had actually implemented the treasure into the level. If players take the left passage first, they will find the quest treasure hidden behind walls. The right passage will lead players to a switch, which will trigger a cinematic showing the wall blocking the player from snatching the treasure open up, allowing them entrance. The player should then proceed to the quest treasure, where they would complete the quest.

Level 1

The first level is a secluded level with ruins, where the player must find the hidden switch to open the path to the underground ruins, i.e. Level 2. To build this level, I began with a sketch. I had an idea of what I wanted to do: something simple and small, with a lot of details via meshes and lighting. The sketch, as seen in the Pre-Production section above, began with a square, measuring a 10 x 10 grid. I added the surrounding rocks and then the pavilion in the middle, where the underground ruins were. The switch is indicated by a star on the sketch. I knew I wanted the player to walk into the area and see the scenery and the pavilion, so I added a little path off to the side where the player would start and walk into the larger area.
I began to build the actual level using UDK May 2010 version. This was the first additive level I built. I started with a simple BSP box with a low Z volume so that it was more flat; this would be the ground. Next, I went through my meshes and found a suitable sky dome, followed by the rocks which would surround the area. After the base of the level was built, I added the pavilion and a few details, as well as the entrance to the underground ruins. The basic shape of the level was complete, with a few details on the focal point, as seen in the screenshot below.

BEFORE

Next came the details, including more static meshes, foliage, lighting, fog, and scripts. I started with the base lighting, then added more meshes to give the level more oomph, so to speak. I added the player start and the trigger to open the path to the underground level, which included a camera, then the foliage and fog, and finished up the lighting. There were also sound effects added, along with background music to give the level a more fitting atmosphere and make it seem less standard. I did a lot of tweaking, but by the end of the first day, the first level was largely completed. The second day mostly consisted of finished up adding foliage and correcting lighting.

AFTER

Level 2

The second level is an underground ruin, where the player must hit another hidden switch to reach the quest treasure. This level came much easier and quicker than the first, and I only worked on it on the second day. I began with a simple sketch for this one as well, which can also be seen in the Pre-Production above. This sketch also started off as merely a box with the same measurements as the first level, as I wanted it to fit under the first level. Rocks would surround the entire level, although I only drew them in around the sides of the level, while the rest of the level I drew was quick and simple, showing only the walls, stairs back to the first level, and where the quest treasure was located, which is represented by the star. I didn’t even add the hidden switch because this sketch was done at the end of the first day, right before I finished up, so I was tired and accidentally left it out!
This level was also additive to match the first. I started off the same way, with the BSP box for the ground, then added the stairs where the player would come down into the level. Next I added the rock ceiling, followed by the walls that create the different paths around the level. The quest treasure was to be trapped in a sort of mini-room with a single window, so that the player could see the treasure inside but couldn’t actually reach it. I built that, then constructed the treasure, which included a mesh as well as some effects to make it seem more mysterious.

BEFORE

After that, it was back to adding details, once again including more meshes, foliage, lighting, fog to cover the entire level, and scripts. I added the switch, its trigger, a script to open the treasure room, and a camera, then various other details. The fog was a bit tricky since I wanted it to distort the scenery but not so much as to hide the details, so I made it a light grey with a really low density. Then came the player start, sound effects, background music, and finishing up the lighting. I basically did the entire second level in the second day, and didn’t do a whole lot of tweaking because I liked the way it turned out.

AFTER


Walkthroughs

Below are two videos showing a walkthrough of each level. Click the youtube links to check them out, and sorry about the bad frame rate!

LEVEL 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgAV7D3KcQo

LEVEL 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43lc11e3Z7Y


Final Thoughts

For a two day, two level challenge, I think I did pretty well. I accomplished the task I set out to, and came out with a finished product which I actually liked. Time-wise, I did fairly well, although I could have used my time a bit more wisely. One thing I definitely have to say to any up and coming level designers out there is to take a break! Just every once in a while, take a break from your work, step away, play a game, hang out with friends, whatever to relax yourself. On the first day, I worked a lot of hours nonstop and started to get really tired and became my own worst critique; at one point, I almost completely dumped the level I was working on! It’s important to get away if you’re working for a long time on something, even if it’s just for a few minutes to stretch your legs and take a breather.
Here are my thoughts on the final outcome: I like the levels overall, but the second is my favorite. I really like the details in the first level, although the lighting doesn’t quite fit the sky dome. I wish I would have added more grass in the first level, because I don’t particularly like the dirt everywhere with random foliage; it seems a bit unrealistic to me. Also for the first level, I would have liked to make the area doubled in size with more ruins and walls, because it seems like a really small shrine instead of destroyed ruins. The fog turned out really well in the second level, although I also would have liked to double the overall level size and give it more of a maze-like feel, with more passages. I wanted to add in more puzzles, traps, and cinematics,  along with the other treasures that would be featured in-game, although the time frame limited me on these extras. Essentially, these two levels are very simple, and I would have liked to add more details but did not have enough time. I do like the levels, as did my professor for the class, and most importantly, I had a lot of fun making them. I may revisit these levels again in the future and make some changes once I’ve learned more about scripting and such.

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