Finalizing the Level Design

Throughout the development of Twin Switch, our level has gone through many iterations. We knew early on that the map design would require a lot of attention, as the quality of the level would play a big part in demonstrating the mechanics and dynamics of Twin Switch. The development of the map’s design took roughly 4 months, while the final geometry and art for the map, which is currently still in progress, will have taken more than 2 months by the time it is complete.

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Map Layout

Deciding on the right size and layout for the map was difficult. It was important to us that the map complimented the players’ abilities well and thus required some use of Mobility Mode for navigation, yet the map also had to be small enough to foster frequent engagements in a 2v2 scenario. As a result, the map was designed to be larger than you may expect of a 2v2 combat space to allow for players to make use of their movement abilities to chase, evade, or flank their enemies. However, given the size of the map, players often found themselves wandering around aimlessly looking for enemies or wondering where their teammate was engaged. We mitigated this problem by creating Points of Interest, increasing Line of Sight, and implementing Respawn Zones.

Paths
Illustration of Map Pathing

Points of Interest

Points of Interest create areas for players to naturally gather in. In the map’s current state, the most powerful pickups are placed in the middle of the map, encouraging players to control that area. Some additional pickups are found on the edges of the map, encouraging and rewarding movement through those areas while directing flow toward the center of the map. By including clear points of interest, players will begin to learn which areas of the map are more likely to contain an enemy, and can choose whether to avoid or engage in those areas.

Weapon Spawns
Illustration of Pickup Spawns

Line of Sight

During an earlier iteration of the map, limited line-of-sight greatly inhibited players’ ability to find each other. In Twin Switch, we can afford to include more open sightlines, as weapons have limited effective range and players can make use of the sightlines to quickly locate and navigate toward the action without being able to easily hit enemies from across the map. However, it is necessary to include some line-of-sight blockers for pathing purposes and to allow for players to flank or take cover. There were a few instances where we wanted to block a player’s movement with level geometry while providing vision to an area. Our solution was to create level geometry with gaps in it, further opening up sightlines while maintaining function as a movement blocker.

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Left: Example of movement blocker which provides some vision

Respawn Zones

With the above approaches taken into consideration, we still found that players occasionally experienced a longer than ideal break in the action. At this point, more modifications to the level would likely have little impact on the issue without compromising the flow or structure of the map. Thus, we decided it would be a good time to implement some basic respawn logic to focus the 2 vs. 2 action and encourage better overall usage of the map. Our implementation is a simple system that splits the map into 8 “Spawn Zones” which are connected to each other. Friendly players add influence to the zone they are in, as well as some minor influence to each zone adjacent to them. Enemy players have a large negative influence on the zone they are in, and have some minor negative influence on each zone adjacent to them. When a player is respawning, the game will choose to spawn them in one of the zones with the highest influence. This has the effect of spawning the player away from immediate danger while trying to spawn the player close to a teammate – unless they are in immediate danger. However, players should generally not respawn too far from the action.

Spawn Zones
Illustration of Respawn Zones

Map Features

It was also important that the map include some key features to demonstrate the game mechanics well. When designing the map, I took into account Ground Pound Hotzones, Ramp Interactions, and Elevation to give players sufficient opportunity to make full use of the tools available to them.

Ground Pound Hotzones

Ground Pound Hotzones are areas which have intentionally been made vulnerable to ground pounds from a higher elevation nearby. This creates opportunity for players to make use of one of our key game mechanics, and creates clear areas of risk for the player. Areas which contain powerful items, like power weapons or health, tend to be ground pound hotzones – to add risk when collecting a powerful item or controlling its spawn area.

GroundPoundHotspots
Illustration of Ground Pound Hotzones

 

Ramp Interactions

The interaction that projectiles have with ramps in our game is unique in that projectiles will follow the slope. I made sure to frequently use ramps in my design so that players will frequently encounter this interaction and come to understand it quickly. The map also contains a couple instances which leverage the projectile behaviours to create power positions, such as the center platform: which enables a player to shoot at enemies atop nearby ramps without being vulnerable to return fire.

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Center Platform

Elevation

Twin Switch is a Competitive Twin-Stick Shooter in a 3D Environment; it was important to make full use of the 3-dimensional space we opened the genre up to by creating clear separations in elevation, requiring the player to traverse the map in 3D space. Differences in elevation also work to split up the areas of engagement, as players cannot shoot between two different elevations without the assistance of a ramp.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, I’m very happy with the way our first map in Twin Switch turned out. It showcases the mechanics well and provides players with ample opportunity to flank and move creatively while encouraging combat engagements in key areas. I think this map serves as a great introduction to the game, and we can afford to deviate from this well-rounded design in future map designs with, for example, less ground pound hotzones or more extreme differences in elevation.

Finalizing the Level Design

Weapon Balance in Twin Switch

Weapons in Twin Switch are designed with specific roles in mind, such that no weapon outclasses another across all situations. Some weapons may be useful in more situations and thus more powerful overall (especially those which spawn infrequently on the map). However, all weapons should be viable when used for their specific purpose, creating a conscious choice for players to make as they cannot hold all of the weapons. The goal in balancing the 6 weapons in Twin Switch is for every weapon to see some use based on personal and situational preference.

Para Rifle

para

Role

Starter Weapon, Medium Range, Shield Drainer, Easy to Use

Attributes

Medium Rate of Fire, Medium Time to Kill, Medium Magazine Size, Medium Bullet Velocity, 2 Bullet Streams, High Shield Damage, Low Health Damage

Description

The Para Rifle is an all-rounder. It is usable in most situations and can compete at most ranges but doesn’t particularly excel at anything. As it is the first weapon players will use, it is designed to be forgiving with its thick projectile stream. However, there is room for more experienced players to optimize by being more precise with their shots and causing both projectiles to hit the same enemy – drastically reducing the time-to-kill.

Sidearm

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Role

Starter Weapon, Medium-Long Range, Finisher

Attributes

Medium Rate of Fire, Medium Time to Kill, Medium Magazine Size, High Bullet Velocity, 2 Burst Fire, Low Shield Damage, High Health Damage

Description

The Sidearm excels just outside the range of the Para Rifle and other shorter range weapons, where its high bullet velocity makes it easy to hit the other player whilst evading their slower incoming projectiles. It also serves as a quick finisher with its high health damage and thus pairs well with the Para Rifle or Spam Cannon, which can quickly drain shields but have trouble securing the kill.

Swarm Gun

swarm-gun

Role

Pickup Weapon, Close Range, Combo Weapon

Attributes

High Rate of Fire, Low Time to Kill, High Magazine Size, Medium Bullet Velocity, Bullet Stream Has Limited Effective Range, Medium Shield Damage, Medium Health Damage

Description

The Swarm Gun is an on-map pickup, which means that its power level should be slightly higher than the starter weapons within its niche. It fires extremely fast and can deal a lot of damage within its short effective range – before the projectiles begin to split off from the stream. However, given its fast rate of fire, it is difficult (though possible) to kill two opponents with a single magazine. Additionally, the Swarm Gun is very effective when combined with either the Ground Pound or Speed Slam, which both drain an opponent’s shields and leave both players in close proximity to one another.

Spam Cannon

spam-cannon-1

Role

Pickup Weapon, Close-Medium Range, Shield Drainer, Area Denial

Attributes

High Rate of Fire, Medium Time to Kill, High Magazine Size, Low Bullet Velocity, 2 Bullet Streams, Projectiles Ricochet Multiple Times, High Shield Damage, Low Health Damage

Description

The Spam Cannon is a very defensive weapon, and can be used to influence or limit enemy movements as well as aiding in escape. It has attributes similar to the Para Rifle, though its usability is more limited at range due to its low bullet velocity. The Spam Cannon is best paired with a precise finisher like the Sidearm or Precision Rifle as it will quickly drain shields within its area of influence, but will struggle to kill an opponent outright.

Shotgun

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Role

Power Weapon, Close-Medium Range, Instagib, Area Denial

Attributes

High Rate of Fire, Low-Medium Time to Kill, Low Magazine Size, Medium Bullet Velocity, 8 Shot Spread, Projectiles Split on Ricochet, High Shield Damage, High Health Damage

Description

Unlike Shotguns in most games, the Shotgun in Twin Switch is a bit of a finesse weapon. Firing directly at an enemy will deal a lot of damage, but it takes two direct hits at minimum to kill an enemy, with a relatively high delay between shots. However, the Shotgun’s projectiles will each split in 3 when ricocheting off a surface, tripling the gun’s damage output and creating the potential for a single shot to eliminate an opponent if they are close to the ricochet. This weapon requires specific conditions and some skill to use optimally, though it is still powerful and threatening even if the player does not manage to get a one-shot kill.

Precision Rifle

precision

Role

Power Weapon, Long Range, Finisher, Precision

Attributes

Low Rate of Fire, High Time to Kill, Low Magazine Size, High Bullet Velocity, Projectiles Leave a Damaging Trail, High Shield Damage, Very High Health Damage

Description

The Precision Rifle is extremely powerful, as it deals a lot of damage – draining shields in 2 shots and health in 1. Its high bullet velocity makes it easy for a skilled player to deal a lot of damage very fast, though its low fire rate and magazine size require the player to be precise and stay outside the range of the other, faster firing weapons. Precision Rifle projectiles leave a lingering damage trail, making it more forgiving for less-skilled players and giving it some light area-denial potential. Given the fact that the Precision Rifle eliminates enemies in a single shot once their shields are drained, it pairs well with a shield-draining weapon and can be a deadly follow-up to a Ground Pound or Speed Slam.

 

Tuning Balance

weaponbalance

As we begin to move into the tuning phase of Twin Shift, it will be important to keep an eye on each of the weapons’ use in playtesting and evaluate whether they are fulfilling their roles effectively. If one weapon becomes too dominant or performs another weapon’s intended role better, values and attributes can be tuned to bring the weapon balance more in line. I have an excel spreadsheet with each of the weapon’s values and important numbers like time-to-kill which is being updated with each major balance pass.

Weapon Balance in Twin Switch

The Evolution of Player Abilities in Clade

Project Clade has undergone a lot of change since development began back in September. With our Alpha production milestone fast approaching, I’d like to take a look back at how our mechanics have developed and how decisions were made.

Conception

Project Clade was developed around the concept of switching between two camera perspectives, corresponding with two different sets of abilities. The game would function as a top-down shooter in combat, while allowing players to switch to a more three-dimensional, “over-the-shoulder” perspective to navigate between combat engagements.

Mobility Mode

Capabilities

In the initial prototype, the main advantages to using Mobility Mode were the ability to jump and see further. At this point in development, both modes had the player moving at the same speed, but the jumping alone was enough to make the Mobility Mode useful for navigation as well as evading.

Wall Jump

Players could extend the height of their jump by jumping off of walls to access higher elevations.

Combat Mode

Capabilities

In Combat Mode, the player loses the ability to jump, but gains the ability to shoot at enemy players and eliminate them for points. The player’s range is also limited by the camera perspective, making it necessary to approach with Mobility Mode first.

Problems

  • Players can easily evade using Mobility Mode, jumping over projectiles and up to elevations where they cannot be shot at. Too easy to escape engagements.
  • Wall jump feels a bit clumsy.
  • There is not a lot of depth to Combat Mode. Aim & shoot – land more hits and you win.

 

First Iteration Changes

Our first iteration was focused on forcing more combat engagements and creating further contrast between the movement abilities of the two modes.

Mobility Mode

Spherical EMP

The first new ability that was added to the game – the EMP was a powerful tool intended to force combat engagements by taking out enemy shields and disabling their ability to jump for a short period of time. The ability was on a short cooldown and affected a short radius around the player. It saw frequent use as a means to initiate combat.

Double Jump

The wall jump was switched out for a double jump so that players could reach maximum jump height any time at will, without the assistance of a wall. This allowed for more freedom of movement and made navigating the map much more enjoyable.

Combat Mode

Move Speed

The movement speed in Combat Mode was decreased to about 75% of the speed in Mobility Mode to further distinguish between the roles of the two modes.

Problems

  • Combat still does not feature a lot of depth – the reduction in move speed makes it more difficult to evade enemy projectiles.
  • EMP feels too strong – it both damages enemy players and cripples their movement options. There is no reason to engage in combat without using the EMP.
  • At this point, players are generally finding it more fun to be in Mobility Mode and quickly move around the map than fighting in Combat Mode, which lacks depth. However, Combat Mode feels more useful because it is essential to winning the game. Mobility Mode needs to be made more useful, and Combat Mode needs to feel more fun.

Second Iteration Changes

Our second iteration took the functionality of the Spherical EMP and split it across two different abilities. We liked the overall effect it had on the game in the first iteration, as it did create more direct engagements, but there were too many powerful effects contained in a single ability.

Mobility Mode

Directional EMP

In order to position the EMP as a tool for engagement, we extended its range to affect an area in front of the player, but removed the ability for it to deal damage. Its range enhanced the player’s ability to chase and catch an enemy player, by slowing down their movement and removing their ability to jump, while still giving the enemy player a chance to fight back with full shields.

Combat Mode

Ground Pound

We liked how the Spherical EMP allowed players to get the drop on an enemy and weaken them if you were able to get close. However, it was too easy to pull off, so the damaging effect was isolated to a new ability – the Ground Pound. Switching from Mobility Mode to Combat Mode high in the air would create a damaging effect around the player upon landing. This created a clear condition in order to achieve the damage effect as well as a clear mechanical link between the two modes. The Ground Pound was really satisfying to use, even in its early implementation, and its addition is when things really started to come together for Project Clade.

Problems

  • While the Ground Pound adds a layer of depth to the combat, it is still lacking.
  • The outcome of combat is often determined by the Ground Pound – though it can be countered with the Directional EMP.
  • The range and effect of the Directional EMP is unclear – it’s difficult to tell if it connects, and the effect is not very noticeable.
  • Mobility Mode still doesn’t feel as useful as Combat Mode.

Third Iteration Changes

Our third iteration was focused on making combat more fun and dynamic, while making the functionality of the EMP more clear.

Mobility Mode

Stun Gun

The Directional EMP was replaced for the Stun Gun, which mostly functioned the same with some different visuals. Rather than being used at will, the Stun Gun utilized a lock-on system which guaranteed a hit as opposed to the Directional EMP, which often “whiffed” due to players misjudging its range.

Movement Metrics

We found that players were moving and jumping unrealistically fast/high (even for our super soldiers) so the player and level metrics were corrected such that players were jumping only about half as high as before. This really helped the game’s sense of scale but also made jumping over projectiles more difficult.

Combat Mode

Melee Dash

A damaging dash ability was added to both Mobility and Combat Mode which could be used evasively, offensively, or for navigation. Combat Mode benefited the most from this addition, as the dash’s quick burst of momentum could be used to effectively dodge enemy projectiles and change the flow of battle, adding a fair amount of depth to our combat.

Ricochet

Around this time, bullets were given the ability to ricochet off of walls and barriers. This allowed us to be more creative in designing our weapons and made battles feel more hectic and dynamic.

Problems

  • Mobility still doesn’t feel as useful as Combat Mode – The increased capabilities of Combat Mode make it feel both more fun and useful to use now.
  • The effect and usefulness of the Stun Gun is still not always clear, especially to new players. This is especially true with the new lower jump height, which reduces the need for players to eliminate an enemy’s jump in the first place.

Fourth Iteration Changes

The goal in our fourth iteration was to make Mobility Mode feel more useful by emphasizing its advantages and providing more clear links to Combat Mode like the Ground Pound.

Mobility Mode

Charge Jump

Players felt that they should have more free access to elevated areas in Mobility Mode. A Charge Jump which must be held for some time before releasing was suggested to us, and it made a lot of sense to implement. This adds a bit of a risk factor for getting to higher areas quicker (you’re vulnerable while charging) and also has great synergy with the Ground Pound mechanic.

Momentum

Although Mobility Mode allowed a player to move about 20% quicker than in Combat Mode, it didn’t feel significantly faster. To emphasize the speed difference between the two modes, we added a mechanic where players will begin to build up speed after running for a few seconds, until they reach their true maximum speed. Building momentum also interacts with our two other new mechanics: the Mobility Blink and Weapon Overcharge.

Mobility Blink

Once a player reaches their maximum speed through momentum, they can press the dash button to teleport a short distance in front of them. This mechanic replaces the Mobility Mode version of the Melee Dash and is used as an initiation move for combat by applying the EMP slowdown effect on nearby enemy players and dealing a small amount of damage to them.

Combat Mode

Weapon Overcharge

Moving around at maximum speed in Mobility Mode builds “Overcharge,” which can be activated to boost the power of all equipped weapons for a short duration. This mechanic further adds an element of dynamism and strategy to combat.

Problems

  • Too much complexity; with all of the new abilities we added, it’s become a lot for new players to learn. Not only must players remember which buttons correspond with each action, but they must also remember the conditions that must be met. (Some abilities need Combat Mode Active, some require Mobility Mode, and some can be used in both. Some actions require the player to be running at max speed. The Stun Gun can only be used when there’s a valid target)
  • Combat Melee Dash feels like a movement option that should be present in Mobility Mode, but the Mobility dash has been replaced with the Blink. Melee Dash feels more useful in some circumstances due to the Momentum condition that must be met.

Next Iteration

Our next iteration will be focused on toning down the complexity as we approach our feature complete milestone. The next iteration on mechanics is likely to be the final or second-to-final major iteration on mechanics before we lock in our features.

Remove Stun Gun

The Stun Gun has gone through many iterations in an attempt to make the mechanic work, but it still remains confusing to players and feels ineffective. Furthermore, the problem it was intended to solve may no longer be a problem anymore as it’s more difficult to evade bullets by jumping now, and jumping is less frequent. Removing this mechanic also removes a lot of complexity from the game as it featured its own unique ammo & targeting system.

Tweak the Blink

The blink in its current iteration is very satisfying to use and really makes the player feel mobile. However, having to be running at maximum speed to use it can feel restrictive, especially when you can dash at will in Combat Mode (which is supposed to be the less mobile mode). Adding a smaller directional Blink which doesn’t deal damage for when the player is not moving at max speed will help to remove some of that conditional complexity and give the player options when they find themselves in a bad situation.

Simplify Dash in Combat

Dashing in Combat Mode is fun and feels good, but also gives the player an extra action to worry about using, as well as having to distinguish between the Mobility Blink and Combat Dash. By modifying the Dash and linking it to movement input (switching directions causes a brief burst of speed) rather than a button, we hope to reduce complexity while retaining similar functionality.

 

The Evolution of Player Abilities in Clade

Crafting a Level with Depth

Unique Tools

In Clade, there are a number of unique tools that can be used in the level design which have some really interesting interplay with the gameplay mechanics. Careful application of specific map features has the potential to lead to some intense situations which make effective use of both armour modes.

One-Way Firing Lanes

onewaydemo

Probably the most interesting and dramatic tool; due to the way the projectiles behave in Clade, it is possible to have situations where a player can shoot at an enemy player while remaining immune to any return fire from their enemy. This occurs when a player stands at a ledge firing across a gap at an enemy player who stands atop a ramp – the player’s projectiles will clear the gap and hit the enemy player, but the enemy’s projectiles will follow the ramp and transition to a lower elevation before colliding with the ledge. This allows us to create counters to other positions in this way, and forces alternative approaches from assaulting players.

oneway2
The Blue Player fires across a gap, hitting the Red Player…
oneway1
…the Red Player is unable to return fire, as his bullets travel down the ramp.

Low Walls

lowwalldemo1

A very simple element that encourages use of both armour modes. These low walls are tall enough to occlude an enemy player in the third-person view, but the top-down combat mode easily reveals what’s waiting on the other side. A quick switch back to mobility mode allows a player to jump over the wall and initiate a fight with their opponent.

low-walls1
The Blue Player is unable to see over this short wall in Mobility Mode…
low-walls2
…by switching to Combat Mode, the player is able to see what’s waiting on the other side.

Projectile Underpasses

underpassdemo1

Due to the way projectiles “stick” to the ground, we can create spaces in our levels which do not provide enough room for a player to walk under, but will still allow projectiles to pass through. This effectively creates a window which players can shoot through but not move through. Similar to the low walls, these features encourage use of the top-down view to see and shoot what’s on the other side of the underpass.

underpass1
The Blue Player catches a hint of the Red Player on the other side of the underpass…
underpass2
…switching to Combat Mode, he is able to engage the Red Player!

Skill Jumps

skilljumpdemo1

The movement options in Clade afford a lot of opportunities for “skill jumps,” which make use of the double jump and dash abilities to make jumps which are not immediately obvious. With correct use of the movement mechanics, players can jump further and potentially access higher areas than usual, and can also make use of the movement mechanics during combat to reposition themselves in an unexpected way (jumping off the map, around an obstacle, and dashing back onto it, for example.) It is important to keep the movement mechanics and metrics in mind when designing a map so that we can purposefully include areas where players can demonstrate their movement skill, but also so that we can prevent players from making jumps that shouldn’t be possible. There is likely to be a lot of emergent gameplay here as well, as it will be difficult to design for all of the possible jumps and movement options. (players may discover some jumps that we didn’t intend!)

skilljump1
Taking fire from the Red Player, the Blue Player runs toward the ledge…
skilljump2
…double jumping out and around the wall!

Pickupspickup

There are currently a number of pickups in Clade (Health, EMP Energy, and Weapons) which are placed on the map in a way that encourages map flow and engagements. Powerful weapons should always be placed an equal distance away from both teams’ spawn positions to give them both an equal chance of acquiring it, and to encourage battles over a neutral position for control of the weapon. Health and Energy pickups can be placed to encourage the use of specific routes or areas, and can even be used to create “risk vs. reward” scenarios for the player where they must make a tough decision. (e.g. “Do I give up my height advantage for the health pack?”)

 

Power Positions & Counters

Power positions are an important concept in arena shooters – just like power weapons, maintaining control of a power position on the map can give one team a large advantage in the game. A power position is any position on the map that gives the controlling player an advantage over an approaching player. Cover, elevation, one-way firing lanes, available pickups, and the number and type of approaches to a position (to name a few) all contribute to its level of power. To keep power positions in check, we can introduce counter-positions which allow attackers to more easily approach and take over a held power position. Examples of this could be an elevated position that allows attackers to ground pound the power position, or the existence of a one-way firing lane directed at the power position.

powerposition1
An exaggerated example of a power position – a player standing on the center platform can fire outwards while remaining immune to return fire!
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Adding an elevated counter-position to the map allows players to take cover from the power position and ground pound it in an attempt to control it!

Application

eyeofthestorm

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been developing a map based on some concept art that Moh created, to be used for demoing our game in addition to the basis for an art prototype. As such, it is important that this map plays well and showcases the mechanics and dynamics of our game while drawing inspiration from the concept and making sense in the context of the environment: which is intended to be a tower that generates energy making use of a surrounding storm. This was, and remains, a tough design challenge as the context of the environment and theme places some limitations on where this particular map design can go, while simultaneously providing some great inspiration and direction.

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Above are some images of the first iteration of the map. You can see a few of these tools being applied such as the projectile underpasses connected to the cylindrical generators, a health pickup in a risky location, and a powerful one-way firing lane directed to the health pickup spawn from the center cylinder. The center cylinder was quite powerful both defensively and as a ground pound platform, and was difficult to approach in this iteration, even though I included some ramps close-by in an attempt to counter it. In addition, the map had some flow issues at this stage, with the health pickup side of the map seeing the most use. These are some issues I sought to address in the second iteration of the map.

Crafting a Level with Depth

Designing a Level Across Dimensions

The Problem

Clade is a competitive multiplayer twin-stick shooter taking inspiration and design insight from arena shooters like Halo, DOOM and Unreal Tournament. Clade features a unique mechanic in that players can seamlessly switch between top-down and third person perspectives, which both provide the player with different movement and combat opportunities. With “combat mode” active (viewed from the top-down perspective), players cannot jump and can only traverse between elevations through explicit connectors (e.g. ramps). With “mobility mode” active (viewed from the third person perspective), players can jump, affording more options for vertical map traversal. This presents a unique problem in that the multiplayer maps must accommodate both modes of play equally.

helldivers
Clade combines the top-down perspective of a twin stick shooter like Helldivers…

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…with the third-person view of a game like Sunset Overdrive.

Unique Mechanics

The combat in a twin-stick shooter is very different from the combat in an FPS – especially with the unique behaviour exhibited by the projectiles in our game, which “stick” to the ground and will follow ramps between elevations. This behaviour creates many interesting tools for us to use in our level design and allows us to craft and segment levels in unique ways. Players are not able to shoot from the third person perspective, with the mobility armour mode active, meaning that they can never deliberately angle their shots and can only shoot between different elevation levels with the assistance of ramps and slopes (they can also shoot across gaps, over ledges, to hit other players who are on the same elevation as them, as projectiles have a maximum angle that they can follow).

bulletmechanics
Demonstration of projectile behaviour

This effectively makes combat in Clade two-dimensional, while taking place in the context of a three-dimensional environment. However, varying levels of height still play an important role in Clade, with ledges acting as barriers between two varying height levels which can only be “passed through” one-way by dropping off the ledge in attack mode, or switching to mobility mode (third person perspective) in order to ascend the ledge.

movementmechanics
Demonstration of movement mechanics

Design Philosophy

While there are some significant differences between Clade and a typical arena shooter, there are still a number of lessons we can learn from the map design philosophy of arena shooters like Halo. Chris Carney, former Level Designer at Bungie, writes about the importance of Simplicity, Orientation, and Navigation in multiplayer level design. Simplicity is the ability for a player to quickly understand the map’s layout which should be “[distilled down] to core, simple elements.” Orientation allows the player to quickly understand where they are located in the level very quickly at any given time (especially after respawning) through the use of distinct, recognisable environment elements that can be easily seen from a distance. Finally, Navigation enables the player to “easily understand how to get from point A to point B” through “clear paths of suggested movement.” It should also be clear to the player where they can and cannot go, and which jumps they can or cannot make. Adapting these design elements to Clade will be essential, as the player will have to develop a mental map of the environment for two different perspectives, and should ideally be able to understand, navigate, and orient themselves in the map just as easily no matter the perspective they currently have active.

Accommodating the Third Person Perspective

In mobility mode, the player’s main advantages include: the ability to see much further than in combat mode, move faster than in combat mode, and most importantly the ability to jump up to higher elevations. It is important that the level design takes these abilities into account, and encourages use of the mobility mode to navigate the map effectively. At this point in development, we are leaning towards creating a symmetrical map to ensure map balance, as Clade is a team-based shooter. Symmetrical maps are great for Simplicity, as a player essentially has to learn only half of the map in order to develop a full understanding of it. However, it will still be important to design the map’s layout in a way that players can easily understand how it is segmented both in terms of elevation and combat spaces.

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Symmetrical maps, like Halo 3’s Heretic, feature a layout that is easy to learn.

 

On the flip side, Orientation in a symmetrical map can be problematic as one side is a mirror of the other, which can have players running in the opposite direction they intend if the level doesn’t do a good job of orienting them. To solve this from a third-person perspective, we can take advantage of the fact that players are able to see far in front of them and place visually distinct, obvious elements in the distance to distinguish one side from the other. For example, if the red team’s end of the map features a looming tower in the distance while the blue team’s end has an open sky, this alone can be enough to orient a player in the correct direction.

lockout_2
Halo 2’s Lockout features a massive cliff face on one side to assist in orienting the player.

Finally, Navigation through the map should feel as natural as possible to the player. As our levels will all feature a degree of verticality, it is important to make it clear to the player how they can access higher elevations. It will be crucial to define our player movement and jump metrics early on so that we can make it crystal clear to the player which jumps are possible and which are not. If a jump is too far or high to make, it should be painfully obvious. However, we will still want to occasionally include some difficult jumps to encourage skillful use of the movement system, which simply means that if a jump looks like it is almost possible, it almost certainly is possible with clever use of the movement system.

Accommodating the Top-Down Perspective

In combat mode, the player is unable to jump and can only see within a radius around them from a top-down perspective – this makes navigation much different from navigation in the mobility mode. In regards to Simplicity, it may actually be easier to gain an understanding of the map’s layout from a top-down perspective. However, given the limited radius of the player’s view, it may be difficult to see an area in context with the others, thus it will be important to design areas of the level with distinct shapes and artistic elements in mind so that players can recognize the same areas they have seen in mobility mode (and vice-versa) and develop connections between the two perspectives.   Orientation of a player is also much different in combat mode, as they can no longer see elements that are far away. Thus, we can not only rely on distant elements to orient the player within the level, but must also make both sides of the map visually distinct through palette and artistic elements so that it is clear to the player which side of the map they’re on.

2fort.png
Team Fortress 2’s “2fort” is a symmetrical map in which each side features its own unique aesthetic, helping to orient the player.

It is also important to give the player context as to what level of elevation they’re currently on, as the top-down perspective can have the effect of “flattening” elevations. The player’s Navigation is also affected by this as it can be difficult to tell whether you can move to a specific area or shoot at an enemy if you’re unable to distinguish which elevation you’re on. There are two possible solutions in mind for this issue, which is to either make each elevation distinguishable with art alone (e.g. different colours, textures, themes) or to develop a shader/effect which gives the player information about which levels are currently higher/lower than them and where they are able to shoot. We will have to explore these options to see what fits our game best.

topdown
An example of how art might be used to distinguish elevations in Clade. (Darker = Higher)
los
An example of how an effect might display elevations & line of sight.

It’s worth mentioning that Navigation is also assisted by the top-down perspective in that players are able to see what’s on the other side of walls that would normally occlude their vision in third-person view. Players cannot see far in top-down, however, which can make traversing the map difficult, but combat mode’s main purpose is to be used in combat engagements, so it’s more important that the player can navigate individual combat spaces effectively rather than the map as a whole.

Continuing On…

Level design is a super in-depth topic, and I have only scratched the surface of the level design problem in Clade here. Next time I intend to focus on the gameplay implications of our level design and how we can use the tools we have at our disposal to craft an intense experience and a well-balanced map.

Designing a Level Across Dimensions