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Emerald_Eel_Entertainment

How to design linear forest levels in videogames?

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Forest-themed levels in 3D linear games seem to be tricky to pull off. I primarily refer to first person games though this can easily be applied to third person games and possibly top-down games.

Older games were limited by the hardware used at the time so texture space and polygon counts were important to manage. These games uses a flat texture of trees to create the illusion of depth or create rocky cliff walls to obscure parts of the scene the player is not meant to view.

 

An example of a linear forest level is Forest Edge from Disney's Donald Duck: Goin' Quakers on the PlayStation 1.

255516-disney-s-donald-duck-goin-quacker

 

A relatively recent example of a linear forest level are portions the Outlands White Forest from Half-Life 2: Episode 2 on the PC. You can see that it looks more like a small narrow valley. For gameplay and readability it works well and doesn't feel artificial though it's not quite a dense forest.

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Outlast 2 did have areas set in tree-filled areas but the only indication of not being able to go through some bushes or trees are invisible barriers, which supposedly works but feels very artificial in my opinion.

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Some games in recent years like The Forest and Ark: Survival Evolved have made fully explorable forest levels but they are non-linear open world games. Since the respective games aren't linear in nature they have no need to funnel players through areas designed to be traversed.

The-Forest-Effigy.jpg

 

How can depth and believability be achieved without making the player confused or lose their direction? How can making a linear forest level be done without making the environment appear artificial?

I created this topic as I'd love to hear what you guys think. I don't think there's a right or wrong way going about making a 3D linear forest level.

Edited by Emerald_Eel_Entertainment
Fixed the ending of the first sentence.

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What about flipping the canyon around, have it on a ridge with sheer cliffs to the side.  That lets you still have a dense forest on top but the player can't go too far to the side without falling off.  For navigation, even with a dense forest you can still see bright spots through the trunks, especially if the path is flatter and there's not a lot of dense over brush or vegetation on the ground.  If you setup the destinations with large lights/fires/etc it can still give the player a way point, without feeling artificial or ruining the atmosphere.  Using dense vegetation that makes sense in that setting though (dense sticker bushes) also gives a way of blocking the player, without resorting to the old "oh look, there is a fern, well I guess I can't get past it".

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On 1/16/2018 at 6:52 AM, Emerald_Eel_Entertainment said:

How can depth and believability be achieved without making the player confused or lose their direction?

You'd want to add a lot of "landmarks" for the user to use as navigation markers (it also makes the level more interesting). It's usually a good idea to add a lot of variety even if the level is something like "just a bunch of trees".

 

Examples: uniquely shaped boulders, decrepitated cars or wagons, periodical patches of open spaces, wildlife "homes" (like bear burrows or bird nests).  Using these sparingly (or only one or two of each "thing") will not only break up the monotony, but allow the player to create a mental map of the environment.

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20 hours ago, AstroPig said:

You'd want to add a lot of "landmarks" for the user to use as navigation markers (it also makes the level more interesting). It's usually a good idea to add a lot of variety even if the level is something like "just a bunch of trees".

 

Examples: uniquely shaped boulders, decrepitated cars or wagons, periodical patches of open spaces, wildlife "homes" (like bear burrows or bird nests).  Using these sparingly (or only one or two of each "thing") will not only break up the monotony, but allow the player to create a mental map of the environment.

Excellent suggestions!

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I would suggest a camping trip with a camera and note book if at all possible. Spend some time hiking and looking at elements of real environments, and try to pick out elements that catch your eye.

 

But some design tricks to get a 'natural' look and feel to a narrow woodland environment can include tricks like:

- Movement Resistive Vegetation: By using a 'soft edge' to your zone of increasing scrubby bushes, you can allow your player to 'step off the path' a bit, and not feel like they're being completely railroaded. As they try to get deeper, forward progress away from the trail becomes slower and slower, but if you turn back towards the trail you are quickly 'released' and can make ready headway back towards where you expect them to be. - By lowering the resistance of 'getting back out of the bush' as compared to diving into it, you will likely find players fairly naturally come back to the obvious 'trail' to the level while not feeling overly restricted. You can keep the 'centre' of the linear level only a few feet wide, but still let the user wander and try to sneak by parts, or otherwise offer a feeling of 'space' within the confined level.

- Carefully manage turns and density of vegetation, and use to to manage a sense of being lost or not. Want the player to feel like they know where they are? Then be consistent with things like moss on trees, keep a clearly defined path in the middle, and a visible landmark like a mountain or noteable tree to one side, and don't take a turn sharper than 45 degrees. Want to promote a more "I'm lost" feeling? Then let the 'path' fade in the middle,  scatter the 'edge brush' across a wider area, and then put in a sharp hair pin turn. You'll strip the player of their landmark of "The big mountain was to my left when I'm moving 'forward' down the trial.

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