The mise en scène of Block

The following screen captures presents a varied snap shot of the ‘eclectic’, thematic environments that have featured in “Block ‘N Load”, all of them I created using the in-game editor.

Bit of a hard call choosing from our arena roster if I’m brutally honest, as there’s sooo many good examples, maybe another post for another time?..

And this promo for Valentines Day in Block ‘n Load, really hits the mark!

Block ‘N Load – Arena Creation

The last published project I was involved in was ‘Block ‘N Load’, a squad based shooter where “everything you build, destroy, construct or shoot has a devastating impact on the entire game. Build defences using a crazy range of block types and work together in this FPS where no game is EVER the same”. Developed by ‘ArtPlant’ & published by ‘Jagex’ provided us with a rare opportunity to work on a product that was actually a pretty fun game to play but additionally it was extremely ‘fun’ to work on.

I was the level (arena) designer. Using a 3rd party tool that was integrated into Unity I created/crafted the majority of the battle arenas you play in the game today ( I think I was edging towards 170 arenas made to date, obviously not all of those were released).  As the tool evolved over the year with refined actions and a more robust tool set the developer editor got re-formatted, re-skinned, and released to the public in Dec of last year. Since then players have upload 1,574 arenas to the Steam Workshop and even now I’ve not stopped building content or do I not stop thinking about building content.

From experience, this tidy little tool is a very clever bit of kit, it’s relatively intuitive, extremely quick to use, to block out, to publish. The hard part is nailing that BnL DNA!, as in “What makes a great ‘Block ‘N Load’ Arena great!?” and that people, is the million dollar question.

When I first started working on Block N Load I was given the following ‘rules’ to work to by the Design Director, and it’s been pinned above my monitors ever since.

Arena Design Rules

  1. Increasing difficulty for each objective, taking more time and effort for each objective to fall
  1. Each objective should have a different flavour or gameplay or approach, interior, vs rush, vs hardened etc. We want new tactics and have certain heroes “shine” for different parts of the map. This makes sure that there are no must have heroes that are just selected because of no brainers and the “best” no matter what the situation. An interior objective for instance is tough for Cogwheel as he excels in open areas, but Eliza is deadly in tight quarters, etc.
  1. Basic line of sight breaks for all objectives, but does not NEED to be hardened. This can be solved with elevation, but hard to get out of “pits” should be avoided.
  1. There should be height variance, but never go more than 4-5 blocks in elevation in “one go” (which is also conveniently within range height of a jump block)
  1. Maps should “hint” at possibilities and tactics, not lay them out explicitly. Hills are natural hardened areas, crevasses natural bridge/flanking etc.
  1. Use as little metal as possible, the game is about destruction as much as construction. Metal should only be used around objectives to prevent breaking of gameplay, not constructing elements of gameplay itself.
  1. Any variance in “lanes” should be easy to traverse, and easy to see. Complexity should be something the player brings.
  1. “combat lanes” are 21 blocks (max cube size) wide
  1. Map game time average goal to be 15-30 mins for an evenly matched set of teams
  1. Lastly, the map is a FPS footprint, or proto-map. We have to give players the space to make it a proper map influenced by the heroes they have chosen and the tactics they choose, not us. We only really want to control the objective itself, and even then it’s just to provide the high level gameplay, not the specifics.

As a lot of you are ‘budding’ arena builders it’s worth sharing.

Of course, rules are made to be broken!😉

 

The following video is a great little ‘new starter’ overview of the tool which features myself on lead vocals, ..and for further ‘in-depth’ viewing I’ve started streaming ‘Arena Building’ on Twitch

 

 

 

Strange Brew!

IMG_0286

“What about my breakfast?”

The following pitch evolved from interacting with my son.

When he was little he used to like ‘pretend cooking’ with his pre-school kitchen, we would make ‘crazy’ meals up with whatever items he decided to use and then I the victim would have to consume said concoction, my ‘over the top’ expressive reactions told him if his culinary delights were successful or not. This game would be played out whenever possible by my son but like rereading any child’s book the narrator (or next victim) would always be someone new, or a character that my son liked from a previous session, to please again, or more often than not, torment.

SO this got me thinking, how would I ‘bottle’ that fun and create a similar digital session that was digestible to a similar target audience but additionally entertaining for an adult also.

During the initial brainstorming sessions I had collated a fair amount of research by talking to parents and teachers, playing existing ‘digital toys’ targeted to my potential demographic and read a fair few papers in relation to child behavioural and educational assessments in the ‘under 5’s’, but most importantly I gorged on as many children’s books as I could possibly could* to help create an interactive toy, an educational toy, a companion app, that behaves like an interactive ‘pop up’ book, that ultimately is a friend to the user.

*In fact this will never stop!

This was how ‘Strange Brew’ evolved from an idea into a concept.

As I started to formulate mechanics, user controls, I roughed out plans for the user flow, the aesthetics, backstory, character design and animation lists, costings, scalability (demo/paid) my working diary starts to expand and overflow with notes and etchings of the entire package.

What is ‘Strange Brew’ I hear you ask?

This companion app introduces a creature that with a succession of interactions (tap/poke/prod) takes it through a range of emotions, starting of with being grumpy/angry through to being happy, at which point he demands his breakfast.

We swap to a mixing desk where 3 different ingredients can be placed into container, once mixed our creature consumes his ‘breakfast’ to which a celebrational result occurs.

Adding retention mechanics and replay value would expand the interactions with the creature, it’s recognition of user to a point that becomes a friend. Visiting it everyday scales it’s mood, not saying hello will decay it’s memory. Once a point of friendship is reached the user becomes introduced to a new creature, the process is repeated and results with the mixing stage will have alternative results.

 
The following mood boards embellish a little more background and it’s worth noting that creature design is the main unique selling point so when read, please imagine a creature of your own and feel free to imagine what it’s favourite 3 things it would like mixed into it’s ‘Strange Brew’.

High $core!

Pixel

Pixel Block!

One of my favourite design briefs over the last year was to produce ‘Arcade’ inspired battle arenas for a little f2p multi-player shooter on Steam called ‘Block N Load’.

Obviously, inspired and faithful homages to a point that a lawsuit wasn’t quick to slap us all silly was on the cards, so I got to work with our tools and went back to my childhood and pulled out some iconic arcade games that would be potential candidates,..

Taking inspiration from any source material can be clearly defined from a single piece that combined with a creative mind and knowledge base of said target audience you can build interesting game space that both emulates it’s source but also feels cohesive in its own product.

The end product was used across the summer, rotating a different arena every other week into the game’s main arena rotation.

                                    So here’s the ‘Summer of Arcade’ – Block ‘n Load style!

Principles of Design – Elements that work in relation to Level Design

The following post outlines “principles” often referred in general design considerations, there are obviously many more but for addressing specific problems within the Level Design discipline – I’ve listed principles that commonly questioned elements for my own guidelines rather than providing solutions to an issue.

It shouldn’t be a ‘heavy read’ and it’s up to the reader how you retain the information provided.

Wayfinding

“The process of using spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination.”

The basic process of wayfinding involves the same four stages:

· Orientation

· Route decision

· Route Monitoring

· Destination Recognition

Orientation refers to determining one’s location relative to nearby objects and destination. To improve orientation, divide a space into distinct small parts, using landmarks and signage to create unique subspaces. Landmarks provide strong orientation cues, and provide locations with easily remembered identities. Signage is one of the easiest ways to tell people where they are and where they can go.

Route decision refers to choosing a route to get to the destination. To improve route decision-making, minimize the number of navigational choices, and provide signs or prompts at decision points. People prefer shorter routes to longer routes (even if the shorter route is more complex), so indicate the shortest route to a destination. Simple routes can be followed most efficiently with the use of clear narrative directions or signs. Maps provide more robust mental representations of the space, and are superior to other strategies when the space is very large, complex, or poorly designed. This is especially true when the person navigating is under stress, where the wayfinding may need to be adaptive (e.g., in escaping a burning building).

Route Monitoring refers to monitoring the chosen route to confirm that it is leading to the destination. To improve route monitoring, connect locations with paths that have clear beginnings, middles, and ends. The paths should enable a person to gauge his progress easily along their lengths using clear lines of sight to the next location, or signage indicating relative location. In cases where paths are particularly lengthy or the traffic in them slow moving, consider augmenting the sight lines with visual lures, such as pictures, to help pull people through. Breadcrumbs – visual cues highlighting the path taken – can aid route monitoring, particularly when a wayfinding mistake has been made, and backtracking is necessary.

Destination recognition refers to recognizing the destination. To improve destination recognition, enclose destinations such that they form dead-ends, or use barriers to disrupt the flow of movement through the space. Give destinations clear and consistent identities.

Storytelling

“A method of creating imagery, emotions, and understanding of events through an interaction between a storyteller and an audience”

Storytelling is uniquely human. It is the original method of passing knowledge from one generation to the next, and remains one of the most compelling methods for richly communicating knowledge. Storytelling can be oral, as in the traditional telling of a tale; visual, as in information graph or a movie; or textual, as in a poem or novel. More recently, digital storytelling has emerged, which involves telling a story using digital media. This might take the form of a computerized slide show, a digital video, or educational software. A storyteller can be any instrument of information presentation that engages an audience to experience a set of events.

Good storytelling experiences generally require certain fundamental elements. While additional elements can be added to further augment the quality of a story or storytelling experience, they can rarely be subtracted without detriment. The fundamental elements are:

· Setting – The setting orients the audience, providing a sense of time and place for the story.

· Characters – Character identification is how the audience becomes involved in the story, and how the story becomes relevant.

· Plot – The plot ties events in the story together, and is the channel through which the story can flow.

· Invisibility – The awareness of the storyteller fades as the audience focuses on a good story. When engaged in a good movie or book, the existence of the medium is forgotten.

· Mood – Music, lighting, and style of prose create the emotional tone of the story.

· Movement – In a good story, the sequence and flow of events is clear and interesting. The storyline doesn’t stall.

Use storytelling to engage an audience in design, evoke a specific emotional response, or provide a rich context to enhance learning. When successfully employed, an audience will experience and recall the events of the story in a personal way – it becomes a part of them. This is a phenomenon unique to storytelling.

Immersion

“A state of mental focus so intense that awareness of the “real” world is lost, generally resulting in a feeling of joy and satisfaction”.

When perceptual and cognitive systems are under-taxed, people become apathetic and bored. If they are over-taxed, people become stressed and frustrated. Immersion occurs when perceptual and cognitive systems are challenged at near capacity, without being exceeded. Under these conditions, the person loses a sense of the “real” world and typically experiences intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. Immersion can occur while working on a task, playing a game, reading a book, or painting a picture. Immersion is characterized by one or more of the following elements:

· Challenges that can be overcome.

· Contexts where a person can focus without significant distraction

· Clearly defined goals

· Immediate feedback with regards to actions and overall performance

· A loss of awareness of the worries and frustrations of everyday life

· A feeling of control over actions, activities, and the environment.

· A loss of concern regarding matters of the self (e.g., awareness of hunger or thirst)

· A modified sense of time (e.g., hours can pass by in what seems like minutes).

Incorporate elements of immersion in activities and environments that seek to engage the attention of people over time – e.g., entertainment, instruction, games, and exhibits. Provide clearly defined goals and challenges that can be overcome. Design environments that minimize distractions, promote a feeling of control, and provide feedback. Emphasize stimuli that distract people from the real world, and suppress stimuli that remind them of the real world. Achieving the right balance of elements to achieve immersion is more art than science; therefore, leave ample time in the design process for experimentation and tuning.

Entry Point

“A point of Physical attentional entry into a design.”

People do judge books by their covers, Internet sites by their 1st pages, and buildings by their lobbies. This initial impression of a system or environment greatly influences subsequent perceptions and attitudes, which then affects the quality of subsequent interactions. This impression is largely formed at the entry point to a system or environment. The key elements of good entry point design are minimal barriers, points of prospect, and progressive lures.

Minimal Barriers

Barriers should not encumber entry points. Examples of barriers to entry are highly trafficked parking lots, noisy displays with many unnecessary elements, salespeople standing at the doors or retail stores, or anything that impedes people from getting to and moving through an entry point. Barriers can be aesthetic as well as functional in nature. For example, a poorly maintained building front or landscape is an aesthetic barrier to entry.

Points of Prospect

Entry points should allow people to become oriented and clearly survey available options. Points of prospect should provide sufficient time and space for a person to review options with minimal distraction or disruption – i.e., people should not feel hurried or crowded by their surroundings or other people.

Progressive Lures

Lures should be used to attract and pull people through the entry point. Progressive lures get people to incrementally approach, enter, and move through the entry point.

Maximize the effectiveness of the entry point in a design by reducing barriers, establishing clear points of prospect, and using progressive lures. Provide sufficient time and space for people to review opportunities for interaction at the entry point. Consider progressive lures like highlighting, entry point greeters, and popular offerings visibly located beyond the entry point to get people to enter and progress through.

Defensible Space

A space that has territorial markers, opportunities for surveillance, and clear indications of activity and ownership.

There are three key features of defensible spaces: territoriality, surveillance, and symbolic barriers.

Territoriality is the establishment of clearly defined spaces of ownership. Common territorial features include visible boundaries such as walls, hedges, and fences; privatization of public services so that residents must take greater personal responsibility and ownership. This communicates to outsiders that the space is owned and protected.

Surveillance is the monitoring of the environment during normal daily activities. External lighting as an example makes it more difficult for people to engage in unnoticed activities.

Symbolic Barriers are objects place in the environment to create the perception that a person’s space is cared for and worthy of defence. Note that when items that are atypical for a community are displayed, it can sometimes symbolize affluence and act as a lure rather than a barrier.

Progressive Disclosure

A strategy for managing information complexity in which only necessary or requested information is displayed at given time

 

Progressive disclosure used in the physical world to manage the perception of complexity and activity. For example, progressive disclosure is found in the design of entry points for modern theme park rides. Exceedingly long lines not only frustrate people in line, but also discourage new people from the ride. Theme park designers progressively disclose discrete segments of the line (sometimes supplemented with entertainment), so that no one, in or out of the line, ever sees the line in its entirety. Video screens, signage, and partial glimpse of people on the ride other additional distractions.

· Entrance

· Video screens entertain visitors while they wait

· High walls prevent visitors at the beginning of the line from seeing the length of the line

· Status signs indicate wait time

· Low walls allow visitors near the end of line to see they are getting close to the end.

· Windows allow visitors at the end of the line to see the ride.

Prospect – Refuge

A tendency to prefer environments with unobstructed views (prospects) and areas of concealment and retreat (refuges).

People prefer environments where then can easily survey their surroundings and quickly hide or retreat to safety if necessary. Environments with both prospect and refuge elements are perceived as safe places to explore and dwell, and consequently are considered more aesthetic than environments without these elements.

The prospect-refuge principle suggests that people prefer the edges, rather than middles of spaces; spaces with ceilings or covers overhead; spaces with few access points (protected at the back or side); spaces that provide unobstructed views from multiple vantage points; and spaces that provide a sense of safety and concealment. The preference for these elements is heightened if the environment is perceived to be hazardous or potentially hazardous.

In natural environments, prospects include hills, mountains, and trees near open settings. Refuges include enclosed spaces such as caves, dense vegetation, and climbable trees with dense canopies nearby. In human-created environments, prospects include deep terraces and balconies, and generous use of windows and glass doors. Refuges include external barriers, such as gates and fences.

 

‘Universal Principles of Design’

The Fundamentals of Game Design

Falling into Place

Falling into Place

 

Connections can be rather surprisingly, well random.

In this instance, I’m reading 5 books (when ever I get a chance, believe me it’s not that easy!) – where depending on my mood – I’ll read a chapter here or there.

A design/work related book I have on the go happens to be ‘Theory of Fun for Game Design’ by Ralph Koster

I’ve been happily jotting down notes for one of my pitches from it.

Then today -whilst having a coffee break – I noticed ‘Boing Boing’ a link an article of an old essay Ralph Koster published on his site called “‘The fundamentals of Game Design’”.

Both links and book pimping are worth a read. I find Ralphs approach to design rather informative accessible to follow, and like I’ve mentioned, I’m happily ‘borrowing’ bit’s from at the moment.

Minecraft – One of the best indy developed games on the market!

Chip off an old block!

When was the last time you played a game that really, really induced a sense of foreboding and damn right phobia inducing sense of panic/fear?

Then on the flip side happens to be one of the most tranquil episodes that wants to create something in harmony with the natural environment, then ruins you with temptation?

One word,

‘Minecraft’

For a game that’s been developed by a four person team and still in alpha testing phase, ‘1063616 registered users, of which 319639 of whom have paid about $13 each (myself included) for the game’ – so a net profit in the millions already then!

This happens to be one of those games that really shouldn’t float under any gamers radar, it really shouldn’t, if you have a PC you need to try this out.

I know all about letting boats sail off whilst I stand at the docks waving them goodbye, some journeys I’m happy to let people take, I’d purposely ignored the signs for the last couple of months but had been keeping one eye open at snippets of internet ‘buzz’ but then a sudden urge grabbed me to dance with the devil took over and I succumbed to sell my soul last week.

So glad I did…

It’s one of those stories that spins the player into a narrator of their own destiny, all Minecraft users can relate to the experience but what you choose to do will reflect on the time spent ingame.

What's up Bub?

In reflection to my opening statement, this was my 1st trip down a natural fissure, tooled up for the job in hand. I mined all precious ore on route until I slowly ran out of bag space and decided to return to the surface, in haste, taking a slightly wrong route towards the end. My placement of torches on route indicated I’d been here, they were my markers, so I thought I’d mine a ‘short-cut’ upwards after running around in circles and slowly getting slightly agitated due to my over active imagination of never seeing any daylight ever again!

..and then as I was chipping away with the last of my created pick axes, which was almost degraded, I managed to trigger a cave in.

I was buried alive.

No light!

Then my pick axe broke!

“SHIT!”

I was using a piece of rock scrabbling away at this subsidence, panicking at the prospect of remaining here for the rest of my in-game life I suddenly broke free.

I had never felt anything like it, that gaming experience is one of my personal phobias – suffocating. When I was a child I used to suffer fevered dreams of drowning in quicksand and playing this game, at that point, triggered some kind of emotional flashback I wasn’t really expecting.

Just ‘wow’!

..and then as a true gamer, I came back for some more!

For further reading,

‘Interview with Minecraft’s creator Notch’

‘Notch tells us his fav user created levels’

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