I think we might have reached a point where outposts exist to support gameplay rather than being built directly to reinforce it.
I said this many times, and I will say it again: Level Design is supposed to facilitate gameplay rather than enforce.
I have been playing a lot of Valhalla (around 130 hours) and since I have finished all the content I can now sit down and look at how the content is structured in the world.
One of the main differences between how Valhalla builds its settlements/outposts is the introduction of gating mechanism. In short you now have locked or block doors that require you to do additional steps in gaining access to a goal/objective.
Valhalla’s economy is being driven by two things:
- Upgrade Material — Letter, Iron, Cloth and Titanium — Used for upgrading the individual pieces of gear
- Enhance Materials — Carbon, Nickel and Tungsten — Used to turn gear from Fine to Superior to Flawless to Mythical.
I won’t go into the details of how these goes, you should play the game to find out, however in terms of material distribution:
- You get 1,2,3 Ingots per location based on how big the location is
- You get many chests filled with Upgrade Materials in all settlements.
These objects constitute effective objectives for the player since the player is going to constantly seek them out when attempting to engage with the location:
Now this is not hard to understand or execute. Its fact it’s quite simple and trivial and we might as well just do the following and call it a day:
However as it stands out that would be terribly reductive and would give us no perks in terms of how we engage with the location.
So in order to clear it up we need to split the problem into several layers:
- Objective Count and Distribution
- Gating (Cell Blocking and Locking Mechanisms)
Objective Count and Distribution
If you have read my original blogs on variety matrixes, formulas and what comes out of a master plan for a designer you might remember that I mentioned that a set of components might be assigned to a designer when a decision to design and build an outpost is made.
Such list might contain: Types of Objectives (Ingots, Materials, Story Beats, Targets, Loot, Equipment) Number of such objectives available in the location.
The challenge is, however, to make the acquisition of these objects compelling.
Gating (Cell Blocking and Locking Mechanisms)
Molecularly you can think about 360 approach under this simplified molecular approach.
This can be expanded into an onion layer structure like bellow:
And different types of variations can be achieved as well:
However, under the circumstances if we are going to discuss gating and locking mechanisms we need to make sure we understand what these things are in the context of our game.
AC Valhalla locking mechanisms:
- Key Locked Doors
- Blocked Doors
- AI Guards
Watch Dogs Legion has the following types of locking mechanisms:
- Key Locked Doors
- Electronically Locked Doors
- Motion Sensors
- Metal Detectors
Each of these obstacles come together with a bunch of possible solutions that can be applied to go around them:
- Locked Doors → Guard with Key
- Locked Doors → Remote Key Position that the player needs to reach
- Electronic Locked Door → You can use a spider bot to reach the red box
- Blocked Doors → Breakable Walls, Climbing Spots in the Roof, Underground paths, etc.
To keep track of what you are doing when designing a gating structure for your level you should try to keep things as clean and easy to read as possible.
One way to do this is by separating each entry formulas into different types based on how the Zones are interconnected.
Say we have an outpost that is layered like this:
We can visualize this in a formula like the one bellow:
Sometimes Zone 1 (aka the approach zone) might lead directly into Zone 3
With multiple solutions added to the layout this structure could look like this:
Meaning that the player can reach the Challenge area through the Approach zone via 7 entry options.
Each entry options is associated with different ways of reaching that area (parkour, walking, stealth, combat) — Since this section of the map is always supposed to be a low challenge zone it’s enough to have a 2 step process:
- Player finds the access point
- Player executes the gameplay associated with that access point (there might be multiple ways of doing this)
Sometimes access through towards the vault could be achieved directly through the Approach Area however the challenge associated with it should be greater than if the player decides to go from Approach area towards the challenge area.
So, challenge should increase based on how the zones connect to each other. This challenge is not global, instead is based on the current difficulty of the location.
So, the difficulty is not really based on the difficulty of the actual challenges, more like based on how many steps you need to take to complete the actual puzzle.
Let us consider a real layout:
Here is how the area would look when applying the onion layers and locking structure.
Here’s another example:
The Layout has 3 objective places each with their own associated challenge:
Objective Vault 1:
Objective Vault 2:
Objective Vault 3:
Objective vault 3 is more of a straightforward objective since the chest is out in the open and defended by AI that patrol around it.
Incidentally, this is the formula used for AC Odyssey and Origins.
If we decide to switch game and that a look at Watch Dogs legion:
Access towards the vault is done from two directions:
Obviously, this opens the possibility space for building these layouts by a lot without letting you deviate from the vision of the game way too much.
According to the variables allocated to the layout you are working on; you can build a variety of layout formats that you can iterate on from a very macro stage.
Obviously under AAA conditions you might have to apply this format to locations that you pick up from the real world and then adjust them to support the gameplay you are targeting.
Translating it into a 360 layout might look like this:
Challenge Area 1 Gating Flow:
Challenge 2 Gating Flow:
Vault Hub to V1, V2, V3 Gating Flow:
This implies that traveling between vaults inside the location is not gated but accessing the vaults is a little more problematic.
Accessing the vaults from the Approach area is possible but implies some challenging spider platforming, Parkour on rooftops or Unlocking access to a cargo drone in the vicinity.
Like all things the location needs to be readable. This implies that site analysis and location reconnaissance should be possible at all points at least from Zone to zone.
- Approach Area can survey the Challenge Area
- Challenge Area can survey the Vault
- The players need to be able plan their approach.
- The players should be able to implement the approach.
- If they fail it should be their fault for poor planning.
- If they win, they should feel empowered.