Posted by : Jameson Durall Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I've been a Game Designer for many years and created levels for several games over that time. That experience did little to prepare me for Level Design in a fully destructible world like Red Faction: Armageddon. Designing these levels takes an extra layer of careful planning above what is traditionally needed in professional level design. So, I want to try and give some insight into the types of challenges we faced.
The first big challenge with working in a fully destructible world is how much of the game resources we have to work with as Designers. No other game has the level of destruction that our GeoMod Engine provides, but that comes at a tremendous cost. When you have 32 total ms of frame time to work with in keeping the game running smoothly and 11 ms is utilized before the first pixel is placed...it doesn’t leave a ton of resources to work with. We have to be very careful where we spend our level design dollars, making sure that we focus the gameplay around what the player will experience and enjoy most.
One of the major reasons Red Faction: Guerrilla had so much empty land in between each area of gameplay is because of how open the world was. Drawing visibility at such great distances and trying to fill a world with expensive buildings made it necessary to spread out the fun into pockets that didn’t share costs with each other. But, this also meant that the player could have significant down time in between each piece of gameplay.
Red Faction: Armageddon, we decided to take a significant portion of the game under ground. Having cave walls to limit distant visibility allowed us to focus all of our costs into the areas immediately surrounding the player. As an added bonus, we could now have destruction all around the player by having things on the walls and ceilings and making the player feel that they are truly surrounded by a destructible world.
While this helped a ton, it didn't get us all the way since we wanted to significantly increase the amount of destruction in each area. Resource management is a huge part of building levels in a destructible world. It is more important than ever to work closely with the Art team to focus on the areas that you anticipate the player seeing most. One way I helped do this was by sitting next to the Environment Art Lead so we could communicate on a constant basis. It's also very important to build in as much occlusion into your level designs early so you can reallocate resources easily as the player progresses through the mission.
But, like I always say...good Game Design is all about making something great in the constraints you are given. This was just a new challenge that took some careful planning and team work to come up with something that was fun regardless of the resource limitations.