Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Explorations in Level Design Part 4

Final Level Design Walkthrough

In my final level design exploration, I designed a level that was inspired by the the Last of Us with some fantasy elements like in the Legend of Zelda.  

The level begins with a scene outside an apartment complex and they player is in an wide open prospect space but with only one clear path to go. There are not a lot of visual interests because this space is supposed to feel a bit dead so they don't dwell here for too long. 

Once they come to the first node (the stairs), the only path to take is up the stairs. 

As they climb up the stairs to this new elevated space, they arrive at a bridge that connects into the city. The player reaches the second node but both the path on the left and on the right are blocked. 

Friday, 3 August 2018

Reflection on Rapid Prototyping Process and Next Steps

The last five weeks in my prototyping class have been very illuminating and extremely helpful in helping me establish where I want to take my thesis project next. It also gave me the chance to test out some early ideas.

The goal of this prototyping process was to try to merge together a variety of concepts and visions (in somewhat of a crass, copy/paste manner but that is the nature of "rapid" prototyping) I have for my final thesis game, namely the shooter genre in video games, queer culture such as vogueing and cruising, and the queering of space. I also wanted to test out the mocap system from Rokoko and see how it would work inside Unity.

What I learned

In the end, the quick prototype I developed revealed many problems, but that is a good thing and it allows me to now further develop and refine some of the original concepts I have. I learned that I in fact, quite enjoyed the condense period of making, even though I was frustrated that I didn't have more time to reflect on the making process, the lack of space for reflection forced me to do things and make decisions that I wouldn't normally consider. As I mentioned earlier, the rather crass, copy/paste and literal translation of some of the concepts I had is a crucial first step into refining and polishing your ideas. Normally, I would usually do this first step in my head or through paper and pen sketches, and then refining until I am ready to make something a bit more developed with a more polished idea. This of course puts me in a much less vulnerable position but making the first idea as close to the final piece as possible (in my case a game) opened it up to a more constructive feedback process, which ultimately puts me in a much stronger position to help me decide to make for my final game.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Explorations in Level Design Part 3

At this point, I have developed a good set of basic vocabulary to decipher, read, and understand level design and its fundamental concepts in creating immersive environments and how shapes communicate meaning to us. I have now mentioned a few times how environment tell stories and affect us emotionally. In order to dive into this deeper I referred to a few different texts and online sources such as Christopher Totten's book, lectures on level design from GDC and the course on level design from CGMA by Emilia Schatz.

Drawing from space theory in architecture and urban design, we could also apply the same ideas of how to categorize spaces in video games and the emotive tone they strike upon us.

Prospect Space - wide open space, feelings of loneliness and vulnerability, no privacy and space to hide, lots of potential threats. However, wide open spaces also inspire freedom and choice.

Narrow Space - Cramped space, limited space to run away if danger is near, claustrophobia, but narrow space could also be comforting like home.

Intimate Space - Neither too open or too small, enough space to move, to flee and to look out for potential threat and how to act to threat, the feeling of control.

Depressed Space - Space that is lower than the space around, feeling of being exposed and the loss of power. Players generally tend not to independently choose to go into depressed spaces if they are not being forced to.

Elevated Space - Space that is higher than the surround space, creates more perspective, more information, player can spot threats easily and harder for enemies to spot them, feeling of power and control, more visibility.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Explorations in Level Design Part 2

Level designers are creating both image and spatial compositions in their worlds, but in games where the player can move, especially 3D games, these compositions can never be perfect because you cannot fully control where the player is guiding the camera.

Image and spatial compositions communicate information to the player, it suggests to the player the narrative and gameplay goals. It presents to the player the world they are in via world-building and environmental storytelling. It also allows the player to orientate themselves in the world, finding certain focal points to help them pivot in your game world. As level designers, we are not striving to create perfect compositions, imperfect compositions also have its place, it depends on what kind type of emotional tone you want to strike to the player at that given point in the game. Is it clarity or is it confusion you want to express to the player in this part of the level?

What is a good visual composition? Rudolf Arnheim proposed a Gestalt theory of visual composition. Informed by psychology, Armheim employed scientific methods to analyze visual art. "In his later book Visual Thinking, Arnheim challenged the difference between thinking versus perceiving and intellect versus intuition. In it Arnheim critiqued the assumption that language goes before perception and that words are the stepping stones to thinking. Sensory knowledge, for Arnheim, allows for the possibility of language, since the only access to reality we have is through our senses. Visual perception is what allows us to have a true understanding of experience." (Wikipedia)

Arnheim developed the theory of a structural skeleton which (and I apologize I might butcher this a bit) conceptualized how composition achieves balance through the idea of where visual weight is placed within a frame.

Explorations in Level Design Part 1


In the last year, I have been studying game development extensively but since I am in a MFA program, my classes have mostly introduced me on the overall process of game dev instead of learning each specific element of the game development process individually. I was originally introduced to level design when I was still working as a production coordinator at EA Vancouver, and after chatting to some level designers there, I became intrigued. I then came into my MFA program knowing that I want to focus on making games and identified level design as my potential research thesis topic. In March this year I was lucky to have been accepted as an ambassador to attend GDC with Different Games where I attended most of the talks that had to do with level design. Once classes ended for the summer, I decided to embark on a 12 week journey exploring level design independently with the guidance of my professor Emma Westecott. Instead of reflecting on my learning every week through writing, I decided to solely focus on putting my new knowledge into practice and really honing in on what I was learning through making. After 12 weeks of intensive studying and learning, I can say that I love level design and I will definitely pursue this field professionally. This 4 part blog is a condensation of what I learnt in the passed 12 weeks.

Level Design encompasses many tasks and responsibilities which is highly depended on the type of game you are working on. However, level design is generally understood as the discipline that designs and shapes the space of the game. There are many parallels to architecture, urban design and environmental design.

I consulted a wide variety of resources to guide my learning

Online courses, lectures:

GDC Vault - Level Design Talks - Various
Gamasutra - Level Design Articles - Various
80 Level - Level Design Articles - Various
World of Level Design - Alex Galuzin
CGMA - Level Design - Emilia Schatz (much of my notes are informed by what I learned in this online class)


Frederick, Matthew. 101 Things I learned in Architecture School. MIT Press, 2007 (this has been my go to reference and most helpful book during the last 12 weeks, sometimes you really just want some pictures and diagrams to look at instead of reading hundreds of words.)

Totten, Christopher. An Architectural Approach to Level Design. CRC Press, 2014

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Road Map

I made a Gantt chart to help me plan, monitor and schedule my thesis process. 

In August before everything begins, I will be dedicating my time wrapping up the mocap and to conduct as much photogrammetry work as I can possible. I will also finalize my research questions before heading back into classes in the fall. 

I decided to plan my thesis process by breaking the writing process into two two-month periods, the first half is in September and October and the second half is in the mid-January to mid-March. September and October will be a great time to write as I will also be attending and presenting at two academic conferences and moreover I will be taking a critical theory class. The game design process will be spread throughout the year. I intentionally scheduled my autoethnographic writing process the same time as when I intend to start level designing and blockmeshing the game environment, as I believe the autoethnography will greatly influence how I want the level to feel. 

When September comes, I want to first solidify my game concept and GDD.  November and December will be dedicated to finalizing the assets in my game, cleaning up mocap data, photogrammetry data, modeling, texturing and rigging. In the new year, I will first focus on bringing everything together and spend an extensive period on programming and to build a first playable build. Afterwards in February and March I might conduct user testings but will solely focus on fixing bugs, doing updates, fixing any asset errors and scripting for the final build. This will be done at the same time as I write the conclusion and reflect on my research-creation process in order to meet the deadline to hand in the first draft of my thesis. 

March will be solely dedicated to editing and finalizing both my written thesis document and my game. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Test Report

Types of Testers

  • Peers (Ramona, Kylie, Emilia, Jad)
  • People who have not seen my progress (Kate)
  • Ideal user-testers (Roxanne)
  • Queer Friends (Raymond and Dylan)

Types of user-testing used

  • One-to-one testing

Methods of user-testing used
  • In-session observation
  • Post-session questions
  • Open Discussions

In-session Observations

Everyone except for Roxanne had some difficulties using the the keyboard and mouse to control the camera and movement of the player. Roxanne was hesitant to shoot at the dancers and ultimately decided not to. Emilia, Jad, Kate, Raymond and Dylan were completely immobile due to the mouse and keyboard and therefore didn't even walk around let alone use the gun. Ramona was able to move after a short adjustment period and Kylie felt comfortable to move but didn't feel compelled to move around. Ramona shot at the dancer who was dancing on their own while Kylie didn't shoot at anything. Out of this group only Roxanne, Ramona and Kylie had tested the first version. 

Explorations in Level Design Part 4

Final Level Design Walkthrough In my final level design exploration, I designed a level that was inspired by the the Last of Us with so...