I didn’t write a blog last week due to my work schedule being very erratic, working on bits and pieces of things before being assigned to making an entire level in the past three days. The tasks before that were good to learn some best-practice principles, but I just wish that what I was assigned to do was more consistently spread out.
Last week our lead designer, Chris, was away for a trip, so I volunteered to take over for the time being. I was tasked with attending a testing session of our game, fixing some light overlaps in the current level, and writing a report of what the designers on the team did that week. I was also told to start working on levels by the producers, though I asked for clarification as to which one I should do. After a while, I got a reluctant response of “Level 2”.
Of course I was excited. I got to work on creating the next level? Sweet! Already I had ideas swarming in my head of how to freak the player out. The level the original members of the team created last semester, their Vertical Slice, was serving as a pseudo-Level 1, though it was clear that it would have to be redesigned to fit the new gameplay. Still, that was something that wouldn’t have to be done until later, right?
Later, as it turned out, was closer to now than I thought. When I asked the lead artist of the team how limited I was with conceptualizing new areas, he expressed his concern about me not working on Level 1. When I asked our lead producer about this, he said that yes, I should instead be working on the first level, which confused me greatly. Ultimately, I didn’t have time to start working on it, as I had yet to accomplish my other tasks.
During our next in-class meeting, it was also established that the team wanted the new level in for Montreal Play, a game festival we had submitted our project to be in. This was occurring in a week and a half from then, so it was obvious to the designers that we had to scramble in order to get this level ready for the art team soon.
In our next design meeting, we went over the function of the old level 1 and what it was teaching. We then listed all of the aspects of the new gameplay that needed to be taught to the player, and tried to replace anything outdated the old version was trying to teach. Given that we were under a considerable time crunch, there were a couple more scripted sequences than I was comfortable with, but we did manage to include teaching moment for everything we wanted in the level.
Pictured: The layout I made for the new Level 1
I was then eventually tasked with making the layout for the new level. This was actually the first project I had in Unreal Engine 4, and I was already learning about some of its limitations. As mentioned before, I had to fix some lights overlapping in the old level with Jason, a programmer on our team who was very familiar with UE4. As I had learned, the engine would only be able to calculate up to 4 static lights affecting an area, and would then change any additional light sources to dynamic lights, which are significantly more processor-intensive. I kept this in mind later when designing the layout, so as to avoid this situation in the future.
Another restriction came from our artists- the lead, Nick, expressed interest in creating one giant mesh for the whole level environment. Since we were already on a tight deadline, I was consciously creating areas that would be able to utilize assets that were already made. However, if this environment mesh approach was to be viable, I had to keep the total surface area of the level to a minimum; looking at the old level and paying attention to its measurements helped me keep this in check, though I’ve yet to hear how successful I was at it.
So, after three tense days, I was able to complete a layout and blockout of the level, and pass the files off to our artists. I definitely would’ve appreciated having more time to get this done (and I’m sure the same goes for my teammates ), but hopefully our game will be in a good enough state to show off in Montreal.