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NicoG

Level Design In An Arena Game

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Hi all.
First of all, I am not trying to do a mmorpg but a Singleplayer Mod based on Half Life 2, which a very few users here may know.
The advantage is, that I can focus on doing content and not coding, because I want to learn more about level design and how to create immersions.

Setting

An underground group of sadists kidnaps regulary people out of City 17 to make them fight against various creatures, just because they like to see people fighting for their lives.
Some cutscenes take place in the cell, where you also meet some of your opponents and some dialogues happen.
You are then transferred to an arena where the fighting takes place.


I am having issues with designing the arena. First, I made it a Cube with an exit and a spawn-area where the mobs spawn and enter the arena to attack the player. But I find it very hard to design a room where the user is fighting. What Support Models to put in? How can I make it more atmospheric besides lighting? What type of lighting? The Arena was designed like a place in the sewer, no windows, but a balcony with watchers.

My second Idea was to create a classic arena upside in a small valley: http://img708.images...489/arenalx.jpg
Excuse the German Notes and my uber paint skills. Where it says "irgendwas dazwischen" means "Something between like Water, Spikes or Lava"

I hope you can give me some hints about how you would design this. Most of the Game takes place in that arena, but there will be a new Version of this arena for every challenge the player is up to solve.
I also thought about adding moving walls etc later, but thats minor.

I really hope you can give me some hints or ideas. I do not want the whole bible, but maybe some chapters.
regards

ps.: Please excuse the typo in the title >_>

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Cool Idea!

How about something like the movie Running Man? You start out in the first Arena, together with other AI Characters, perhaps even your Friends from the Cell. And together you have to survive through different Stages, fighting of Mobs. Perhaps your best friend gets injured bad along the way and you try to save him. Then you discover some "crack" in a wall and start escaping.

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Yeah, there will be some escaping of course ;-). I already have a storyboard where this takes place.
But for right now, I want to focus on designing the arena. I have little issue with designing normal levels, but this one is really hard to do :P.

http://img510.imageshack.us/img510/1440/bmsbsdev1.jpg
In this picture you see the red spawning area, where the enemies will come out. If the player goes there, he will be damaged with 30 damage per second.
On the right hand you have the cabin with the suit and there will also be a table with weapons for this level etc. I think that this is better than just giving the weapons to the player.

http://img152.imageshack.us/img152/526/bmsbsdev2.jpg
Here you see some fighting.

But as you notice, it is just a square room for now. And I just need some ideas how to make this look more interesting and more atmospheric.
Here is the level in Hammer:
http://img440.imageshack.us/img440/5656/bmbshammer.jpg

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Great Idea for starts, I can already envision some of the drama created between matches(in my head: a cross between Tron/prison break).

I'd work on a few different levels, that will help keep the game interesting, and you can make minor adjustments to one, re-skin it and have a whole new level(Like Super Mario Kart 64 donut/skyscraper, essentially the same, little differen't.

The first thing I would do is cut corners. Removing the corners of the level, like the UFC did with "the octagon", and trying to ensure no inside corners at all will remove places to hide, forcing the prey to keep moving. (I'm assuming no pvp gameplay at this point). Try adding some vertical gameplay by adding suspended walkways, or other platforms.

If some of the enemies the player face are armed as well, then cover will be essential, so make the player moving from one cover to another quite risky.

Try making the levels expandable during game play. Think Mortal Kombat 3( i think) where in some levels an uppercut would send the opponent up to a new lever, and your character would follow to continue the fight. This could even be part of the game story(after opening up all areas in each map a route could be created from the cell block to the outside, and the players now have the route they need to escape.

Hope it helps.

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I think you could go along the lines of having various themes for different arenas and letting this guide you in what to include.
For example:

Roman Theme: Stone columns, wooden walkways, banners as opposed to flags, lighting for flaming torches, lion pits

Nautical Theme: Boat hulls, seaweed, flooded section, searchlights

Also I think it depends on what size the arena is going to be. If you have only a small area eg. Rome Colosseum your only going to want pathways etc. and not rocket jumps. On the other side of your going large, eg. Tribes you'll want to have shortcuts, ways to move fast, etc.

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Blizzard at one point talked about their design aims when making the arenas for WoW, I think it was a BlizzCon panel but I'm not positive about that. The main idea that I remember from it was that they designed with the gameplay elements in mind first. Cycling on-off line-of-sight blockers, high-low areas, leaving areas open vs. getting pinned in corners, which parts of the arena lead to others, hazardous areas, etc. Different arenas revolve around a couple different core tenets as far as the mechanical changes they brought to fighting in that arena. Then, when they had that together, they applied the aesthetic parts to it. On-off LOS blocker = surges of water, etc.

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In a game like this, level design will be absolutely critical to the fun factor. I don't know any way to design levels without marrying them completely to the pace, flow and style of the gameplay, and extensive playtesting is pretty much the only way to get that figured out. I play StarCraft 2, and watching commentaries on high-level matches provides a lot of insight into the vagaries of map design in that game. You hear a lot of, "This map is hard on Zerg players, because the close bases make early defense an issue and defending an early expansion is virtually impossible without some kind of containment strategy." The fact that base defense, early expansion and containment strategies are crucial parts of the game allow the map to be designed such that it encourages or discourages some of the opening gambits.

In a first-person shooter like yours, your gameplay will be dictated by things like weapon characteristics and tactics. Will your players be able to set some mines or turrets to cover certain angles while using their own weapons to fight in the few remaining directions? Will they be running backwards spraying lead while enemies swarm them? Will they use area-denial weapons to herd targets into a kill-zone? Will they be sneaking behind cover and drawing opponents to them one at a time? Engaging from outside enemies' effective range? Closing to within their own effective range? Taking and holding high ground? Using environmental hazards like laval pits and red barrels? Circling around the arena to gather powerups and ammo without getting surrounded? Using timing-critical effects like cloak or invulnerability to launch assaults, and then fleeing or hiding until the special move is ready again? Conserving and expending resources like grenade rounds?

Make a few test levels with a variety of design parameters, and watch how people play in them. Is there a "safe" corner where people camp and pick off targets? Put a back door on it to compromise its safety. Is there a powerup that people need, but can't get? Make it available. Are people using one awesome gun to solve all their problems? Nerf it, or constrain its ammo. If there's a tough level that a few good players can beat with a clever strategy or by saving up a resource, have one of the NPCs in the cell reveal that trick before the level starts. "Hey, Jerry, you're going to be up against the zombie hordes in three rounds, make sure you squirrel away a few extra frag grenades, and save up shotgun ammo, because you'll need to take down several baddies every time you pull that trigger."

Get some buddies to play your test levels again and again and again, watch the games, play it yourself, talk to your testers, see what works and what doesn't, and then build levels that encourage people to use a variety of tactics and keep the game fresh.

I always like to see multiple ways in and out of every spot on the map. You can't hole up and use your LMG to just mow down everything as they come through the door, and you can't get totally cut off. The Resident Evel series has the "Mercenaries" mode, and I love to climb up a ladder, kick it down, lob a few grenades, spray some lead, then dive out a window and hustle out of the danger zone.

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