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Practice those levels

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As a designer, author and programmer, I''ve spent quite a bit of time bemoaning my less than applicable art talents. So, after some long talks with the artists I spent time with, I cam eup with an ingenious solution to my problem. Practice. And after having done this, I feel better about my skills and ability to visually make a point. I''d like to do the same with my level construction and design tools. So, to anyone who''s done something similar, or likes the idea, I''m looking for some tips and pointers. What do you think are some of the different stages of design? (conceptualization, roughs, geometry, encoding) Are there any particularly good tools and editors to work with? Are there any particularly good techniquest to make a point, or alter pacing, or lock off a level? What ways can a level make better use of gameplay mechanics? What tired and true cliches should be avoided? How do you fit a single level (that may be revisited) into a story? Good places to draw inspiration? Any other comments are welcome. Looking forward to feedback.

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Each of those questions could fill a thread of its own so I will just pick one and add my two cents
Are there any particularly good techniquest to make a point, or alter pacing, or lock off a level?

Not actually sure what you mean by "make a point" so I will skip straight to the second one.

Alter Pacing.
Audio - fast paced sound track to speed things up. Slow paced music slow things down. Silence/quite sound effects that force the player to strain to hear them also increase tension and make the player more likely to move carefully/slowly. Example: The snowy forest level in MOHAA.

Difficulty setting - Lots of "one shot" enemies increases pacing. The player storms through a level/area blasting enemies without slowing down. The fact that there are lots of them but that they are easy to kill makes for a frantic level but does not slow the player. Conversly a few hard to kill enemies will slow things down.

Hide and seek - Enemies are hidden/hard to spot and fairly deadly. You need to move slowly so as not to give away your position and so that you can spot them first.
Example: Again the snowy forest level in MOHAA.

Push/Pull the player forward using a time limit. - A bomb is set and the player must exit the level before it explodes. This gives the player a reason to keep moving. It should be combined with "one shot" enemies as mentioned above.
Examples: The falling/tumbling space ship in "Jedi Knight - Dark Forces II"

Block their path - the reverse of the push/pull, you slow the pace by blocking the players path. A good way to do this would be to have an obvious route such as a bridge collapse just before they cross. They now have to find an alternative route.

lock off a level
Water, fire, radioactive sludge, electrified fence/floor - You need to find some sort of protection before you can pass. Alternatively you need to find the source and shut it off.

A simple wall, fence or door. - The trick here is that you need to find an interesting way to break through instead of just a key/code.

Hazardous creatures - Your path is blocked by a deep trench full of mosters - maybe you even released them into the trench when you shut off the power to an earlier hazard such as an electric fence. Now you have to find some bait to tempt them away so that you can get past.

Automated weapons installation that detects body heat or motion. - You need to fool the sensors or trigger the weapon so that it wastes its ammo.

Language - There may be instructions but you don''t understand them. You need to translate them before you can proceed.

Dan Marchant
Obscure Productions

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About making a point with a level. An example would be with the idea of the royal gardens that I''ve been toying around with. The level would mostly feature as a transition piece. It would feature the royal garden, a bit of the audience chamber and the outer area of the castle. The outer area of the castle would be war torn, and show the markings of the rebellion going on outside. As you transition into the garden, things would take a peaceful tone, and would show none of the wear. The idea is to show that the king is insulated from the depradations of the outside world, but also innocent from it.

That''s kinda what I meant about making a point through the level.

One thing I dislike in locking off techniques is lethality. Sure, slap them a little, but I hate challenges where the solution I try (usually charging into it head first) causes a loss of everything I''d done to that point.

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

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