The importance of game components.
When discussing how to approach open world locations, great attention needs to go into what defines a game location in terms of game-play variety.
It goes without saying that in open world games the amount of challenges that the player encounters are to some extent limited, so limited in fact that the way we use them frames the boundaries of our design.
Level Design is mostly about constraints. Without constraints the game will go of the rails and there will be no way to achieve global consistency.
Components fit into different types of categories and it is important to try to keep them separated as you work your way through compiling this list.
- Theme, Difficulty, Biome, Enemy Faction, Sub faction, NPC Class, Gameplay Focus, Gameplay Styles, Navigation Mechanics, Player Abilities, Neutral Abilities, Noticeable Ability, Enemy Types, Combat Ranges, Objective types.
Based on what your game is and what you plan to have in it these things might be different.
A variety matrix is a excel spread sheet that is specifically designed to list all the major moments/locations/levels in your game to freely associate them with your Game-play Components
The beauty with this method is that you can reverse engineer other games to determine what goes into them.
Here is an example from Quake:
At this stage, this way of differentiating between levels component and setups serves as a good way for you to plan player progression trough the game (what the player learns, where he goes) and also helps you plan your designs better (where things, and should they be moved somewhere else).
Recipes drive the design
From a designer perspective you only get to see only the one big that gets assigned to you.
And these would be your restrictions and expectations:
- Stealth Game-play
- Explosive Game-play
- Large Map Size
- Easy Difficulty
- AI — Rushers
- Thematic — Ruins
Good luck solving the puzzle of how all these elements could come together in a level.
The formula is meant to generate ideas that you can juggle with until your figure out a cool way of building a map within these restrictions.
The challenge is to juggle and combining these components in a way that leads to meaningful gameplay.
Using this method, you can also try to define a development time flow for your design documents as such:
- S1 → Define Constraints
- S2 → List Components (AI, Secrets, Progress tools, Combat, Gating, Navigation)
- S3 → Define Intent (Concept, Walk through, Block-out)
- S4 → Design (Iteration and Discarding)
Here is a way to organize and plan larger areas in the absence of any other components.
Game-play tropes are usually born from lucky/happy combinations of component that lead to interesting systemic interactions:
Here is a chart I built for HL2 to check for interesting systemic interactions between game play components:
This would translate obviously into a list of preferable combinations that would lead to interesting game-play scenarios
- Float Component + Slide → The floater slides down the ramp to the reach the water and float. Could be used to create new paths for the player. Could be recombined in the form of Logs, Crates, Other kinds of floaters.
- Float Component + Man-hacks → The player has to traverse a bridge of floater while being attacked by Man-hack Swarms → Objective is to reach across → Challenge is not to be knocked out by Man-hacks → Reward is intrinsic : The satisfaction of completing the challenge.
Theme also drives the design
Just like various types of mechanics, AI, objectives, and other components Theme also drives the design.
A game-play trope would take a different form based on the various Themes where it would be implemented.
That is why specific care needs to be dedicated towards researching, documenting, and referencing the correct themes associated with Theme that has been allocated to this level/map/scenario.
However the simplicity of the concept “Airport” that could serve as a theme for your map could lead to a lot of confusion when it comes to defining what an “Airport” is, what is consists of and how will the game-play components (as allocated as the base of your design) fit within the concept that you are defining.
Here is an example of a breakdown of tropes in terms of design and elements, their deconstruction and then reconstructions of the concept.
And all this leads to a more concise concept driven design that is ultimately grounded and easier to scope at this phase.
This leads towards allowing for some flexibility in iterations since it is more of a permutation of concepts rather than a construction process. At least at this point.
From a player perspective all these will manifest in a tapestry of option that the player will interpret as concordances and choices that he can take/use to achieve his goals.
So next time you sit down to design a map, please take a moment to think about what you are going to put into that map, what the theme is and how should go into it. It might be that it is going to save a lot of headaches later down the line.