A Valence Theory for Level Design
Yes, so maybe I like reblogging Robert Yang's posts. Like, a lot. But the point is: he writes good stuff. In this case, it is about level design. And in my opinion, it is pretty clever idea.
Based on a presentation by Randy Smith on "Level Building for Stealth Games", Robert Yang creates a system do design levels based on valence.
In this way, Randy Smith's "valence theory" (NOTE: again, he never called it that, but I am) posits that different parts of a room or level can afford stealth mechanics: level elements can have a POSITIVE [+] valence (shadowy, quiet, stealth-friendly) or NEGATIVE [-] valence (bright, noisy, not stealth-friendly).
Scattering those elements with their valence over the level can give you an overview of how the level will be traversed. By connecting the positive valences, you (as a designer) should get a rough idea of where the player is going.1
I am quite convinced that this technique, probably somewhat adapted, can be used in most level design tasks, in various ways:
- It can give you an idea of the pacing of the level, by reminding you where the high action (negative) and low action (positive) areas are.
- It can help you guiding the player, by using positive level design elements as stepping stones, where from one element the next is already visible, showing the player where to go.
- It could help defining a level design vocabulary, where specific combinations and arrangements of negative and positive level design elements, forcing the player to move in a specific way.
One such example would be orbits, as described by Robert:
Using "orbits" (again, my own name / spin for something Randy Smith said) we can induce a very rough pattern of player movement.
Surround a compound with [-] hostile areas to imply fortification, then add at least one [+] vulnerability. Inside, you can have a ring of friendly areas that overlook a hostile area (e.g. a bank vault) and the player will "orbit" around to gather as much intel / recon on the bank vault as possible. The structure also allows for a pattern of alternating affordances, like a [-] [+] [-] [+] rhythm as the player infiltrates each ring of security.
Having a library of such patterns and language to talk about them might be good for teamwork as well, since it is easier to visualise ideas and patterns.
So, once again – a very good read.
Of course, this might also be helpful to predict the player's movement in order to direct their gaze. ↩