We were provided with concept art to set the tone, lighting, and ideas for texturing the levels. I would select from the bulk of concept art provided a couple of images that would provide the inspiration for each of the levels I worked on. That inspiration might be a feature such as the ramps seen below.
Before developing the floor plan of the maps, I would consider all the goals we need to meet for each map design. This and technical limitations impacted the designs.
• Support multiple play types. From death matches to “Capture the Flag”, the levels need to allow all these modes to work on a single map.
• The levels needed to take advantage of weapons placed on the map. Parts of the map would allow certain weapon types to have an advantage over others.
• Be balanced. The map should provide a similar scale of advantages and disadvantages for each team.
• Be fun. Moving through the space should be interesting and avoid frustration for the player.
• Provide limited cover. Places for cover will have exposed zones so that they only protect from fire from certain directions. Having some exposed sections to prevent camping.
• Have minimal models. The goal is the build the levels as much as possible with proprietary level building blocks to reduce level file size and load on the device. If alternate models are used, they should be done sparingly and in a meaningful way.
• Size should allow for quick short matches. Through testing, we must reduce the amount of time to engage in initial combat. We want to allow for maximum-intensity play for the limited duration of a match. If a level is too large, there will be little engagement and the player will get bored.
The maps were made in stages. We would make initial concepts based on images we selected from the concept art, then we would select ones that we liked best to focus on to ship with the first release of the game. Below are two different floor plan concepts I proposed and they are followed with a case study of my process for developing and refining Acedia for its use in game.
Map Concept 1A
The center section is based on the concept art and it divides the stage into 2 planes, upper and lower. The left side is the upper ground and the right is the lower. The center combines both levels of the battlefield. The stage could be used in the defend/ attack concept or an all-out brawl in the center section. I have left the stage fairly open so that we can add more elements later giving the player the ability to cover from fire. Areas that are very round have been reduced to polygon sections.
Map Concept 2A
The elevated ramp is based on this concept art. The map is symmetrical but also designed to provide lots of alternating cover and open spaces to keep the players moving to avoid being shot. The verticality of the map provides changes for sniping as well as raising the intensity when the player needs to determine if the enemy on the radar is above or below them. The images show the concept with legend, total map combined, then each floor plan on its own.
Map Concept Acedia
Acedia was one of the most popular maps in the first release of Archetype. In this section, I will explain the development process and design goals behind the level. The main theme of the map was to create a large asymmetrical design that remained balanced and fair for both teams. The inspiration for the level came from the concept art that I chose, which is shown below along with the initial floor plan.
The goal was to provide advantages for different play styles. For example, the map includes semi-protected ranged platforms for snipers, close quarters for melee and shotgunners, and a pit for all-out brawlers. One-way drops were also included with two functions. They acted as strategic traps to bottleneck the routes of escaping players, and they provided intense moments for less experienced novice players who stumbled upon them. The map also featured a single portal that allowed for high-risk play if a player wanted to infiltrate the other team’s base.
Testing and Refining
Due to the limited processing power of the original iPhone and 3G models, we had to carefully consider performance when refining our level designs. The development team produced a tool that allowed us to examine levels and identify areas of high device load, which enabled us to optimize the levels for occlusion culling. We evaluated multiple design options and chose the features that offered the best balance of gameplay and device performance.
The image below shows one of the solutions I reworked. I provided the team with detailed reports, screenshots, and drawings to illustrate problem areas and the viewing directions. Through this process, we were able to create levels that offered a high-quality gameplay experience while ensuring optimal performance on devices with limited processing power.
Below are comparisons of the occluder solutions that were modified for the sake of gameplay. The primary difference between these solutions is the opened-up center section of the arena. We wanted to maintain this area for brawling, but the first solution turned the area into more of a cylindrical hallway.
As we continued to develop the gameplay, we encountered a new challenge. We had to take into consideration the length of time it took to play a match, which was determined by the number of players in the lobby. While part of the appeal of the game was the ability to quickly jump into a match, if there were only a few players in the lobby, the match would be over too quickly. As this particular map was larger and suited to more drawn-out strategies, it might result in less action between players. To address this, we decided to shrink the map by blocking off certain areas with walls. Below, I have presented three proposed solutions for reducing the map size and focusing the gameplay to be more direct and fast-paced.
The dev team produced another tool for us, which helped refine items and could be used by players in the final game: heat maps. These showed the foot traffic of players and allowed us to consider level alterations as well as weapon placement.
Below are the final versions of the design. The first image shows the final map that was used internally, including the weapon placements. Besides, that is the final map that I designed and that we released to the players. Below that is a flyover of the map.
A large part of the success of Archetype was how fun it was and the level design was a key factor in making that possible. My involvement in different aspects of the project allowed me to have experience designing levels, refining my designs as well as those done by other teammates, and making sure the final release was polished and met its goals of making a great game on an iPhone. Below are some screenshots from the game.