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Vertical Spaces in Level Design

April 21st, 2009 | Posted by Nels Anderson in Link-out

Rob Hale’s discussion of a Damnation making-of video┬áraises a very interesting point. The top down diagram that most levels emerge from does not lend itself particularly well to creating rich vertical spaces. It’s possible to create verticality after the fact, but rarely is it significantly navigable. I’ve personally wrestled with this when designing tabletop RPG maps, which are not only designed top-down but played the same way with a erasable grid mat and miniatures. Adding height variance to a space almost always makes it more interesting for the players, but it’s often difficult to make the vertical space navigable, especially if it’s done post-hoc.

Tightening the loop between concept art and level design, instead of the de rigeur practice of only using concept art to inform the environment artists, could help address this issue. Like Rob, I hope Damnation is able to pull this off. He also advocates designers improving their technical skills, a sentiment I heartily agree with.

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2 Responses

  • Graham J says:

    While I was working as a level designer, we usually skipped the top down diagram for this exact reason. Concept art would all be done player-perspective, and so naturally the artists added a lot of vertical features (because that puts the features plane to the viewer in the concept).

    As level designers, we would immediately block out in the level editor, even just for really rough drafts. Yeah, sure there were sketches to nail down flow patterns and things like that, but we felt that it was more practical and effective to design a 3D space using a 3D tool. Plus then we could immediately test our assumptions by adding spawn points and playing the level.

    After we had nailed the layout in a 3D tool, THEN we would translate that to a 2D map that could be placed in a document and communicated to various parties.

  • Perhaps it’s my grognard upbringing, but it strikes me that humans (and thus human conflicts) exist in a predominantly flat space. When I think of height in games, I think of Little Round Top and Seminary Ridge. Certainly there are exceptions to this somewhat subtle natural height variation, but with the exception of flight sims, I can’t think of many that have built themselves so extensively around mechanics that supersede the natural 2D nature of human locomotion.



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