About Me

Level/Game Design, the study of games, and game culture take up most of my time. I love to figure out ways to make levels tell a story by the placement of an off-center painting, a pile of rubble, or the color of a light. I've been modding with the UDK/Unreal III and the T3D engine. I'm totally at home with using level editors, Unreal Matinee, Kismet, Particle Editors, and the Unreal Material Editor.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Board Game: Black Hole

Black Hole was created over the span of three months between Tavi Scandiff-Pirvu (Creative Lead), R.Tristan Banks (Lead Gameplay Designer and Co-Writer), Andrew Witkowski (Co-Writer), Dan Levin (QA Lead), and Akil Henry (Gameplay Designer).

During our mad rush to get this game playable, we went through roughly twenty test sessions and over forty different variations on the rules of the game. This dash to get the game done forced us to throw out design decisions that would have made us go over our time limit (like trying to balance stealth mode and hijacking resources from other players), and instead made us concentrate on just the core mechanics of the game and how to make it fun.

In many ways, it felt like we were trying to make Star Fox and instead made Asteroids, but we were accepting of that because of the generally good praise we received over the game.
Close up of Pieces

When we first started making Black Hole, we knew that we needed to several different kinds of ships for the Players to use so that the game wouldn’t be boring, as well as add more layers of depth to the game.  These ships are represented by different shapes.

The circles on the board represent Scouts class ships, the fastest ships in the game. These are the weakest ships in the game (only one point of armor), but they are essential to quickly finding out how much ore the asteroids (the black and white square pieces) contain. Scouts are able to spend their action turn to scan a unmined asteroid. Once scanned, everyone knows what that asteroid is worth.

The triangles represent Destroyer class ships. These ships serve no other purpose then to blow the crap out of your enemies. These ships are able to move up to three spaces a turn, they can sacrifice their action phase to move one extra space, or they can sacrifice their movement phase and shoot twice. Destroys have two points of armor.
The pentagons represent the Harbinger class ships. These ships are the slowest in the game (can only move two spaces a turn) but can shoot twice each turn from up to three spaces away from their target, destroy asteroids, and takes five hits to take down. They are also the most expensive ship in the game to buy.

The squares represent the Mining Crafts. These ships move at three squares a turn and are the only ships that can mine and collect ore from the asteroids. These ships take three hits to be destroyed.
When Players use their Mining Crafts to collect ore, they must bring the ore back to their base. These bases are located at the the edge of the board. Each Player can bring ore to their base only, unless the Players are playing co-op rules. Once the Mining Craft enters the Player's base, the ship must spend the next turn "docked" at the base before the Player can collect the ore.

Asteroids contain Ore, which is the currency and point system of the Black Hole. Before a Scout scans the asteroid or a Mining Craft mines it, the Asteroid Piece is white with the image of an asteroid on it. Once it is scanned or mined, the Player flips the Asteroid Piece over to reveal a black background with what kind of asteroid it is.
There are three kinds of Asteroids:
1. Large Asteroid = 3 pieces or ore
2. Small Asteroid = 2 pieces of ore
3. Broken Asteroid = 1 piece of ore
After the Asteroid is mined, the piece is removed from the board and replaced with a Mined Asteroid Piece.
At the end each round (after all Players have had their turn), the asteroids move 2 units towards the center of the board in a straight line. If a Player's ship happens to be in the way of the Asteroid, that ship is pushed closer to the center of the board and receives 2 points of damage.
The Black Hole Coverage Pieces
The Black Hole is the center of the board. At the end of each round, Asteroids move 2 units towards the center of the board. Each Asteroid that enters the Black Hole adds to a tally. Once that tally hits a certain amount, the Players put down one of the Black Hole Circles. There are six of these pieces.

End Game
Once the largest Black Hole Circle is put down, the game ends. At this point, the Players count how many pieces of Ore that they have as well as the total ore worth of their ships. The Player with the highest score, wins.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Grunt Work

What is Grunt Work?

Grunt Work is a 3rd person, co-op, fantasy brawler, made in Torque 3D, that let's the players choose between playing as the Witch (long range, magic based character) or the Ogre (close combat, smashy smashy character). The Players' goal in the game is to capture the Princess at the end of level three and take her back to the Overlord.  This game was made as the senior capstone project for Columbia College Chicago and was created by 25 seniors.

My Role in the Development

I was the lead level designer for Grunt Work. My main tasks were to lead my team, train them on using the level editor in Torque 3D, monitor the level uploads on the SVN, create maps, build levels, and work closely with the lead designers, producers, environmental artists, sound artists, and scripters.

How the Levels Were Born and Changed

Original Sewer Map
Ogre in Sewer

When we first started coming up with the ideas for the levels, we decided that we wanted to start the Players off in the sewer system of the castle. This area would serve as a movement and combat tutorial for the Players, as well as introduce the Players to the Sentry class enemy.
The map above is the first version of the level that we created. Once the level team learned that our particle system was already eating up way too much memory (which means the lake of poop had to go) and the artists weren't going to have enough time to create breakable objects, we went back and redid the level as two very large floors. After several playtest sessions, we did another redesign of the sewer that closed off most of the paths the Players could have taken, while still making the level look big.
Map of Mage Lab
Screenshot of Mage Lab
We then decided on creating an that would give the players more room to move around, as well as let them experiment with combining their abilities, such as the Ogre's skunkthrow bomb and the Witch's fireball that combine to make a much larger explosion. This area was also designed to introduce the Player to the next enemy type, the Mage. Surprisingly, this area didn't really change much during the development of the game.
The Mage Lab, pictured above, is the end of Level 1. Originally, we had decided that the Players would play straight through to the Princess fight, but because the Zones/Portaling system in T3D 1.01 created crashing and visibility issues, we had to break up the game into three separate levels.

Map of Servants Room to Trophy Rooms
Map of Servants Room to Ballroom

The second level started off with what was supposed to be the Servants quarters, but the Servants class of enemies was cut from the final game around February 2010, so this room was changed in a hallway that led to the Trophy Room. The original concept for this area was that the Players would use the Ogre's charge ability to burst through the doors of the Trophy Rooms which would then lead to the Courtyard. The Courtyard was eventually cut from the game because of time. Because of this, we combined the Trophy Rooms (minus the breakable doors because of time) and the Ballroom (oval shaped room pictured above). In between these rooms is a circular room that was originally going to be a cathedral.

Ogre at the Entrance to the Ballroom

Ogre at the Entrance to the Ballroom
Once the Players leave the Ballroom the level ends and the final level loads.

Map of Grand Hall (Princess Fight)
For the final stage of the game, we decided that we wanted to do it in a throne room style arena. We had originally decided that they Players would need to navigate through several rooms to get to the Princess, but because of time constraints, we decided to cut all the rooms that were, in essence, filler. A throne room had been built for the final fight of the game, but it was clear that it wouldn't meet up to the standards that we were going for, so it was cut. We converted the Grand Hall into a throne room.
Witch at the Entrance to the Grand Hall

Overview of the Grand Hall
Cover Points for the Grand Hall
When I and the lead designer were setting up how we wanted to do the Princess fight, we decided that she would be able to knock down large crests from the tops of the walls onto the Players, as well as summon Sentries, Archers, and Mages to attack the Players. Because I knew that the Player would get bombarded by tons of attacks and enemies, I decided that coverpoints were necessary for the Players. These cover points not only gave the Players a safe spot to rest, but also helped relieve the frustration that can happen when a player feels like he/she is surrounded and can't get away.
Sewer to Magelab

Trophy Room to Ballroom

Princess Fight

UDK Cyberpunk Level

This level was created using the art assets of the the June 2010 beta of the UDK.  All level design, lighting, kismet scripting, and matinee was done by me. 

Inspired the art styles of Bladerunner and the new Deus Ex, the level is designed as a 2 Fort style Deathmatch and Capture the Flag arena. It contains three battle grounds, elevators, sniping spots, and a huge pool that allows the players to be extra sneaky if they want to infiltrate the enemy base.

At the 25 sec mark, the Player has left the base and is confronted with the main battle area. From this point on, the Player must be constantly aware of the surroundings. Sniper from the windows of the opposite base can attack, as well as enemies charging the base.
At the 27 sec point, you can see the infamous UDK angels. These angels worked perfectly with the aesthetic that I was going for and the bright white light around them makes them stand out against the orange glow from the surrounding city.
At the 45 sec mark, the surrounding city and traffic becomes apparent. I used UDK Matinee to create the traffic of the Cicadas that fly around the buildings. Lights that were colored off of the surrounding buildings were used to illuminate the ships just enough that they can be seen, while still making the lighting look realistic. This lighting also hides that fact that the turbines are not moving on the ships, as they are just basic skeletal meshes.
Part 2 starts with the Player in the Main Battle Area of the level. This area has plenty of cover spots, hidden areas, elevators, and a pool that players can run around in.
At the 24 sec mark, the Player has entered one of the four elevators. These elevators bring the Player up to the Upper Battle Area. This area is more based on very close combat and cover. The cover points within the room are 64 units high, which is the same height of the base models in the UDK. Ammo and Health are spread throughout the room to encourage the players to run around and take risks.

The art for the Upper Battle Area and it’s connecting areas is done in more of the hardcore sci-fi industrial style. I made this decision based on that this is an area that normal people that worked in this skyscraper would never see, so there was no need to make it look pretty. As the Player goes lower into the building, that is when it starts to become more decorative.
The 47 sec mark shows the Player looking out of the windows of the skyscraper. This area is designed for sniping. A weakness in this area is that if a player gets the rocket launcher, the player can shoot all three rockets at the same time and the rockets will go through all three windows at the same time.
This is the last video for this level. In this section, the Player is going to go through the water system to enter the opposing base. I put this final method of travel in the game so that the level also works for capture the flag.
The Player has found the beam rifles that work as sniper rifles in this level. These guns work really well when used from the windows that the Player just left. The second function of these guns is that they shoot a large ball of energy that explodes if shoot from the primary fire from the gun. This large explosion can be used as crowd control from the windows of the base.
At the 12 sec mark, the Player is beginning to enter the lower area of the base. This area is based around the look of a sauna. The textures on the wall are a paler version of the walls in the pool.
I put a fog in the sauna area to give the feeling of heat and humidity to the room, as well as giving a player some visual cover when coming out of the tunnel to the pool. The small waterfall areas in this section are also designed to give the Player cover spots.