Architecture and Level Design [The B Files]
Robert Yang kindly asked me to translate the article about my level design considerations for my bachelor's thesis game. I'm slightly afraid that he is going to be disappointed, since this is not so much a theoretical approach to architecture and level design in general, but rather my thoughts and motivations for creating the specific level architecture for my own game.
When starting to design the level, I considered the following points to be the main guiding lines:
With the game being a serious game and a bachelor's project, I have neither the time (now) nor the money (in the future, when, hopefully, I'll be able to finish and publish the game) to create a large, open world. The level has to depict a place that is relatively enclosed, without many exits that have to be artificially closed down, in order to keep the player from wandering away.
Seemingly the opposite of the constraint above, the level has to be open. Open to imagination and to the various events that are planned to be happening there. It should have, in fact, similarities to a stage: by adding various props and actors, different scenes can be played out. As such, the level itself should not suggest something too concrete that, in the end, would make some scenes implausible to play in this space.
This is required because of the current development: since I won't be able to present a finished game at the final presentation, the level must be extensible in a way that allows me to demo its possibilities, while still being able to add more content later on, without having to rebuild the entire level.
What I Decided to Do
Since the main actors would be teenagers, I decided to set the action in an apartment building in a city. During the summer holidays the kids are mostly on their own and are able to roam the building, meeting the other residents.
The apartments are grouped around a courtyard, which has the only (closed) exit to the rest of the city (which is invisible, and, likely, will only be "realised" through sound as a reminder that this building is part of something larger).
By using the apartments, it is possible to add or remove more residents to talk to easily – once there is a need for a new person, I can just "open" a new door, add a new apartment: instant extensibility.
The Lime Tree
In the middle of the courtyard is a lime tree. It serves as a focal point and has a similar function as a tree at the centre of a mediaeval village: it is a meeting point where news are exchanged, where people flirt or fight, but also where people sit in judgement and decide what is just or unjust. Additionally, it can have personal significance for some of the characters – serving as a plot device, i.e. by threatening to cut it down, the various characters could join their efforts and try to avert this.
The various apartments can be reached through access balconies that are placed around the courtyard. This is a clear reference to theatre architecture – both from the ancient world as well as Shakespearean England: balconies are put around a yard, allowing the audience a good view on the action from all sides.
This is not an accident. It is, after all, a game that plays extensively with the notion of social roles: What am I when I exit my own apartment? Do I act as the person I think I am – or as something I think I should be, or even as something I assume other people expect me to be? The courtyard (as well as the balconies) are supposed to be stages where social drama can take place. The closeness to soap-operas is no accident either, but rather a nod to the narrative form the teenagers are already used to.
With the courtyard being both enclosed (the surrounding city is being kept out) and completely open (you can see down from every balcony), the player has to decide between experimentation ("It's a protected space, the outside can't see in.") and conforming to expectations and rules ("People can watch me from everywhere"). How one deals with that tension is up to each player individually.
The balcony railings are slightly rotated along the vertical axis. While this seems at first rather pointless, even impractical (I expect my brother who's studying architecture is currently shaking his head), it serves some purposes. On one hand, it goes against the usual, technically much easier rectangular level designs (in other words: it's just me being fancy). On the other hands, it visualises the (emotional) world teenagers at times live in: suddenly, what they believed in before becomes unstable, it shifts and threatens to crumble down, and they are forced to acquire their own sets of values with which they can navigate their (social) surroundings.
Incidentally, the "I am designed" aspect of the building also helps placing it in a certain time. Since I have not yet decided whether I remain in the present or rather nudge the story into the near future, the building can either be a remnant of the concrete-crazy 60ies (think Le Corbusier) or some wild new futuristic dwelling.
And What About Leading the Player's View
... as I pointed out before?
Well, to be perfectly honest – it does not really exist in this case. Not really, as in:
- The level is not really modelled as a "funnel". The player remains in the location, and will, most of the time, run along the same ways over and over. Guiding the view would get old pretty fast.
- There is a little attempt at doing it in the way the player enters the level: the corridor that (supposedly) leads from the street into the courtyard is bent – which, technically, makes not much sense. It does, however, delay the first glance at the courtyard, and allows me to frame some of the main elements (the tree, the stairs, the access balconies), therefore already underlining their importance.
Translating from German to English is always a bit harder than writing in English in the first place for a non-native speaker ... I hope my lines of thought can still be traced back – otherwise: feel free to ask!: http://www.blog.radiator.debacle.us[Robert Yang] kindly asked me to translate the article about my level design considerations for my bachelor's thesis game. I'm slightly afraid that he is going to be disappointed, since this is not so much a theoretical approach to architecture and level design in general, but rather my thoughts and motivations for creating the specific level architecture for my own game.## Some BackgroundMy bachelor project is going to be a serious game aimed at 13 to 15 year old students. It is trying to raise awareness of (homophobic) bullying.Using a first-person perspective, the player starts out in what seems to be some sort of adventure game, but in the course of the game will be forced to change the character. This does not only change the way s/he sees the world (every character sees the world differently), but also how s/he can communicate with other people – and s/he will have to deal with the behaviour of the character s/he played before, since the player's previous choices are imprinted on this character. Confronted with her/his own behaviour, the player should be able (in the best case) to reflect on her/his way of treating other people.When starting to design the level, I considered the following points to be the main guiding lines:## Isolation ##With the game being a serious game and a bachelor's project, I have neither the time (now) nor the money (in the future, when, hopefully, I'll be able to finish and publish the game) to create a large, open world.