A level design look at parkour rooftop connectivity in Assassins Creed Urban Spaces.

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Purpose

· With the occasion of the LD Challenge happening over at The Design Den discord channel these days, I have a chance to look at some of the ongoing levels being made.

· While by no means complete or playable, they did spark a bunch of toughs in my head that reminded me of some key things that, I believe, need to be mentioned.

Parkour and Rooftop Traversal

There are a couple of rules that need to be stated:

· Using rooftops should be easier than navigating the streets

· Getting to the rooftops should be easy and fun

· Rooftop running is not an option, it should be the default strategy

· AC is about Parkour.

District Separations:

When working with a large city that is under construction or has already been constructed, it is always easier to break it down into smaller chunks that are easier to manage.

Let us take a random city for example.

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Map of Boston — Circa AC3

The first step is to break the city into smaller sections:

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This will facilitate better management in the long run.

Since we are using a space division method the next step is to attempt to break it down even more into housing blocks:

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In general rooftop navigation inside of a housing block the movement needs to interpreted as if being circular.

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Let’s take the this diagram for example:

Movement through the rooftops must be considered as a form of linear movement dictated by the length of the rooftop itself (Green lines).

Connectors and rooftop transitions represented here by red lines. We will discuss what they might consist of later (Red Lines).

If we take a step back and look at this from a higher perspective, we will get something like this:

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We could achieve connectivity inside the housing block (Black Arrows) however what we also want to do is to try achieving connectivity between housing blocks as well (Blue lines).

To understand this, we need to think about connectivity in the form a very simple concept:

· Rooftops paths are rooftop highways.

Traversing the city on the roof should be easier then walking the streets.

Through the lens of Molecular LD this is what we are dealing with:

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Floor plan of a rooftop highway set.

To reach this concept, there are bunch of considerations that need to be addressed:

· Getting to the rooftops should be easy

· Players should be able to run through the rooftops uninterrupted

· Slowing down is bad

· Parkour should be about the execution; it should be about the variety of experiences.

We will take each one at a time.

Getting to the rooftops should be easy.

Getting to the rooftops should be easy. In general, climbing up the side of the building is slow, and it takes time.

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Climbing up the building should be fun and easy. Level design should facilitate this.

There are couple of elements that work for this exact purpose. We call these:

  • Parkour Starters
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· These items are here to start the parkour process. This implies that instead of going up the building you will go around the building at full speed jumping on elements to reach the roof.

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There are multiple elements that go into this:

  • Stepping poles
  • Swinging poles
  • Swinging Corner Laps
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Positioned correctly this leads to a set of interesting jumping cycles that trigger various animation to be played on the player character.

The jumping poles act like magnets and the distance between dictates what sort of animations is going to play.

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The goal of the parkour route however is to reach the top of the building. It serves no other purpose. Building a parkour path that leads the player in circles is a bad example of a parkour path.

Rooftops

Rooftops are air highways.

The player should be able to traverse the city faster on the rooftop then on the ground.

To do this the rooftops, need to be clean of any kind of obstacles that would slow down the player.

Older AC games are an excellent example of this. Players will look at the rooftops shape, size and orientation and will instantly understand where they can go.

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This means that the buildings need to be close enough to each other to allow the jumping animation to connect properly.

There multiple types of jumping animations that will trigger when the character jumps (based on distance) but I am going to limit this discussion to two:

  • Hopping — The character hops from element to element in quick succession.
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  • Lunge and Grab — The character does a longer jump and catches the ledge with his hands
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Ideally the hopping is what you want for speed. Lunging and grabbing slows down the player by adding another animation cycle (character pulls himself up)

Fixing this can be achieved by adding an additional step to the climb.

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Tiny Step
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Starter Step
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Start and Jumping Step
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Additional Step Construct.

Here are some actual in-game examples:

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This is also true when running between rooftops of different heights.

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Chimneys and street-pole lamps are excellent for this exact reason.

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Other ways of connecting streets:

  • Ropes:
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  • Zip Lines:
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These are self explanatory however zip-lines only go in one direction.

A fun trick is to always plant a soldier at the end for an easy kill.

Ways of ending the parkour path:

  • Treasure Spot

Based on context try to finish your path with a reward. Be it a collectible or treasure if the player gets something at the end or even during it it’s always cool.

  • Leap of faith

You can choose to end your parkour path with a leap of faith.

A leap of faith has always two elements to it:

  • Bird/Pigeon spot
  • Haystack

The Pidgins will be there to signal the fall

The haystack will pick up your jump and turn into a leap of faith.

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Beyond this point the challenge is to make these things easily readable and varied without overwhelming the player.

That’s it for tonight.

Written by

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Lead LD @MachineGames. #Leveldesign. All my opinions are my own. @notimetoulose.

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