FIRST PERSON STEALTH ADVENTURE

LEVEL DESIGN  |  STORYTELLING | WORLD DESIGN

GOAL

In this project, I set out to create a 1st person action/stealth adventure inspired by Dishonored, set in an Italian setting, therefore, names Isola (Island). The focus was to create a white box experience focusing on branching paths and assassinations. The project mainly includes level design. The goal was to deliver a stealth experience where the player stays in control throughout the level.

PROJECT DETAILS

  • 8 weeks half time

  • Engine: Unreal Engine 4

  • Level Design

  • Storytelling

  • Whitebox

  • Epic Marketplace Assets Used: Advanced Locomotion System, First Person Melee

OVERVIEW

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GAMEPLAY

BLINK

After the player has gotten used to the basics of platforming, I reward the player with a new traversal ability, the blink.

 

The blink mechanic allows the player for greater and vertical movement, which did add a layer of complexity to the making of the level, especially when the player can traverse at high altitudes.

ASSASSINATION

The player can permanently take out patrolling guards by assassinating them. This wasn’t always the plan, but I felt that the player would stand more of a chance of being able to remove unwanted attention by planning out their strategy to get through the level it was also a rather satisfying addition to the game loop.

KEYS & DOORS

I wanted the player to feel rewarded for exploring various parts of the level by placing out keys that are used to unlock shortcuts throughout the level. Some of these keys are placed in high-security areas which makes it a high-risk high reward.

It was a simple, yet effective way to boost player exploration and make the world feel bigger than it is.

MULTIPLE PLAYSTYLES

When I set out to work on this level did, I want to focus on a nonlinear level design which encourages the player to think for themselves and create their own path. Each time I present a new problem I tend to create at least 3 different ways to clear the objective.

This was a way for me to also make sure that the player can play in different playstyles, such as not harming any guard, going fully stealthy or walking right into the hornet’s nest.

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DESIGN TECHNIQUES

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FIRST ENCOUNTER

In the early stages of my level, I wanted to in a way lock in the player so I subconsciously built a large wall of buildings that would act as a Hard Gate, which the player cant get past until they have climbed the clockwork.

I also did the same thing at the end of the level, by Hard Gating the exit until the target has been killed as he's in the power station room for the final gate.

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LEADING THE PLAYER

Since the level design is nonlinear I wanted to set up a formula aimed toward findability/discoverability by rewarding the player with a small glimpse of progress throughout the level. 

I choose a vibrant yellow light as a guiding light which holds a bit of similarity to the clocktowers dial which is one of my main leading instruments. This is noticeable throughout the level since all the main objectives have a yellowish light or colour to subconsciously guide the player towards it.

VISTA

I wanted to highlight the importance of the main goal with a hard reveal so I used a vista at the top of the clocktower to focus the player's attention on the main target's area.

I choose to cage in the player, to make sure they get enough time to take in all the information that they get from the view, such as the main target, alternative paths, guard positions and so on.

I also foreshadow the upcoming area by revealing a glimpse of the wall of light.

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MOVEMENT

In the early stages, I made the decision to have patrolling guards. This was a way to give guards their own objectives that the player could exploit. But it was also a way to draw attention to the enemies which made them stick out more.

 

I organized a small playtest to get further information on how well my patrolling guards worked. Here I made the direct decision to also include idle guards and minimise the numbers of patrolling units to give them more contrast since that would make them stand out more in the world.

STORYTELLING / THE WORLD

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LOCKDOWN

When building the town I set out to create a dystopic environment. I wanted the town to undergo a plague where most of the civilians have died. Therefore the town is on lockdown and coffins cover the streets.

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THE PLAGUE SHIP

The town is based on an island so it makes sense to get rid of the corpses somehow. That's why the plague ship exists. It arrives at the port, to ship the large amounts of coffins away.

This was a way to further build on the lockdown since the largest amount of coffins are placed near the docks since they are being moved down towards the ship.

It was extra modelling but I believe this adds to the level where it had its impact, especially on the plague situation.

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On the left side of the clocktower, there's an apartment complex in the quarantine zone, where the player can find the blue key. This key was dropped by a patrolling officer who accidentally got crushed by a couple of boxes.

CRUSHED GUARD

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A TYRANTS RULE

This is a bit more of an objective update that the player finds within the top of the clock tower. I wanted to tell the player who the target was, without having to put a marker above him (I know that I changed his material to yellow, but that's for further clarity). 

The plan was to create a den-like environment that looks like a planning zone/hideout for the assassins to target the leader of the island.

PROCESS

BLOCKOUT

When I created the layout of the island, did I first make a rough sketch of the land so I could get a sense of the level flow.

 

After that I began to landscape the land and made a rough blockout, I filled the level with placeholder buildings and landmarks so that I could get a sense of scale in the editor.

 

From there did I iterate and refine the design which led me to further advanced the blockout where I now went more in-depth and started to refine the blockout in each separate area.

ITERATIONS

During the blockout phase, I always try to iterate on my design since this is when it's the easiest way to make changes. Although I try to iterate early in the process, I have no issues with making large iterations further into the process as shown during the shaping of the fort above.

 

I noticed sometimes I've had to cut content simply for making a more focused experience, which was large iterations to the design which would require lots of work, but I already planned for cutting content so I easily converted old player areas to quarantine zones, areas that are completely blocked off and still blend into my levels environment.

PRE - PRODUCTION

REFERENCE GATHERING

I began my production by gathering inspirational images of both environments and settings that could help my creativity. At this point, anything that could further develop my vision was used as reference material.

 

My reference library was largely filled with images of the southern islands of Italy, tropical islands, dystopic environments and old forgotten forts.

 

PureRef Moodboard
Trello Board

STAYING ON TRACK

In early development, I set up a Trello board to both keep myself on track and set up an agile workflow using scrum. I wrote down my main tasks for the project and easily got a good overview of what had to be done and what was left on the project, which further helped me control the scope of the product.

Revisiting the scrum board now at the end of the project made me realize how little added detail there was since pre-prod. One of the main lessons I learned from this project was to constantly update my Trello board and further break down epic tasks.

REFLECTIONS

In the end, this was one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on. When I look back through the multiple different iterations, I can proudly say that it’s been a valuable learning experience. It truly feels like I’ve further developed my design skills both composition wise and gameplay-wise. But even after delivering a heavy level, there were some parts that I would have changed if I had done this again.

Iterations - I found myself iterating a lot and it's usually good to iterate but I had some major changes pretty late in the project which I'm not afraid of doing but resulted in me going off the set time frame for the product.

Kill your darlings/cutting content - my base pitch was a bit bigger than my finished product which I noticed in the middle of beta so I decided to "kill my darlings" by removing an entire area. I knew that this choice would look weird and have consequences especially when the area was on the coastline, I managed to remove this seamlessly worked thanks to my theme of an ongoing plague. This worked because of my setting but I can't escape with such methods all the time.

This project really improved my blockout skills and design skill. If I look back on my goals do I truly think that I accomplished my goal of creating a 1st person action/stealth adventure where the player stays in control. If the opportunity would arrive in the future, I would gladly see myself working on a similar project.

Thank you for reading.