Estimating Player Paths in Compound/Outpost Design.

Player Behavior

I have been talking a little bit about how in open world games, the facilitation of multiple game-play styles leads to a blend of multiple game-play approaches that are player focused, rather than designer imposed.

In a traditional video game, you would get a linear gameplay beat progression that would show case different types of game-play situations:

And as time has shown us there are a bunch of substantial issues with this approach:

  • While the way these areas built may lead towards a cleaver “levels” that are wonderfully articulated, they often sacrifice player agency in favor of harsh linear progression and skill checks.
  • This also puts the level designer front and center. The player witnesses the design, gets pulled out of the game and is tasked to play the game the way the designer has intended it.
  • There is no way to cleverly circumvent a gameplay beat or to solve it in a more unusual systemic way.

With the birth of the systemic gameplay the advent of player choice has arrived and trough a multitude of toys and abilities circumventing the harsh linear structure of past constructs has become possible.

  • Not only that game-play beats can now be circumvented and solved in many creative ways now, but the need for such a linear classical exposition of game-play moments has now died out.
  • It is no longer about going from A → B, it is about solving C in either an A or B way.

So, then it turns into problem of choice where A, B are determined by your play style, and no choice is the wrong choice.

This leads into the interesting case where the game-plays space needs to support both game-play types and supports you changing between game-play styles at will without falling into a “hard failure” trap.

One of the best examples that I can give you is of course the Metal Gear Solid 5:

MGS 5 — Ground Zeroes

There are two major game-play styles that you can take in the game:

  • Stealth
  • Combat

Going from Stealth to Combat is as easy as walking into the Guards LOS and shooting at them, so therefore doing the opposite is also easy and It is done by breaking LOS.

The AI will start looking for the last know position of the player and meanwhile the player can exploit this situation and go somewhere else or flank the enemy.

But since this is not necessarily a spatial problem, and more like a choice that the player uses, the space and the systems will have to support both.

This leads us to the core of the discussion and more exactly how will the player behave in a sandbox in order to play “as he pleases” if the sandbox supports all the tricks that he can prove.

Here’s a layout from Breakpoint

  • The objective is the middle of the map
  • The middle is empty and exposed
  • It’s surrounded by large buildings
  • There are guards positioned around the center in large numbers
  • There are also pockets of guards on the outer perimeters
  • The are several ways inside the compound:

The player will not risk a frontal assault since the bulk of the danger is where the objective is placed so the focus is going to be on the safer extremities:

This leads towards a pattern of behavior where the player carefully infiltrates, executes and retreats to a safe position to re-calculate his odds and options.

This is basically what perforating the first layer of the Onion in 360-degree angles of approach would look like.

This leads to a form of iterative play where the player engages the space from multiple angles and clears it one layer at the time, as the same time looking for weakness in the inner layers, until the objective itself is captured.

If you remember the molecular structure of an outpost it would look something like this:

Outer Layer
Inner Layer
Inner Sanctum

So, designing a layout based on player approach angles and behavior is a good way of designing an outpost, just make sure to:

  • Consider how many entrances you have
  • How many layers you want?
  • How many objective spaces you need?
  • Make sure that the paths you create between layers a fewer the closer you get to the objective itself.

Of course, I did not factor in all the other sandbox toys like vantage points, strong positions, weak positions, cover density, enemy composition, etc. Everything at its own time I suppose.

One more thing, if you are play-testing your outposts with other people and they don’t seem to do what you want, then maybe you don’t have a firm grasp on how the player thinks, so try to see where the differences between “your intentions”, “your implementations” and “player behavior” are.

Meanwhile, hang and in there.

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Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.