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Systemic Level Design Harvey Smith

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1 Systemic Level Design Harvey Smith

2 Systemic Level Design Lecture Overview Intro, Overview and High Concept Special Case LD Systemic LD Pros of Systemic LD Cons of Systemic LD Summation

3 Systemic Level Design What if Frank Lloyd Wright Built Doom Levels? Not a visual aesthetics or architecture talk. Not a level design chokepoint or flow talk.

4 Systemic Level Design What Todays Talk Is Related to LD content creation tasks and tools. Advocates gameplay implementation: o According to (systemic) global patterns o Instead of (special case) localized patterns

5 Systemic Level Design Intro: Ion Storm (Austin) An EIDOS Studio Studio Head – The GREAT Warren Spector Titles to date – Deus Ex (PC and PS2) In development – Deus Ex 2, Thief 3 Focus on Immersive Simulations

6 Systemic Level Design Intro: Harvey Smith Deus Ex 2 (Project Director) Deus Ex (Lead Designer) FireTeam (Lead Designer) Technosaur (Project Director/Designer) CyberMage (Associate Producer) Ultima VIII CD (Tester/Design Assist) System Shock (Lead Tester) Super Wing Commander 3DO (Tester)

7 Systemic Level Design Deus Ex: Goals Spy fiction Realistic environments Immersive environments Genre mix Player-driven experience

8 Systemic Level Design Deus Ex: Where We Ended Up Conspiracy Theory Globe-hopping, Real World Locations Immersive Sim – Shooter Hybrid Multiple Solutions to Problems

9 Systemic Level Design Deus Ex: Systemic/Special Case Hybrid Multiple Solutions (Player Expression) o Player-expression via game systems, emergence and simulation (Systemic). o Player-expression via LD-driven puzzles and situations (Special Case).

10 Systemic Level Design High Concept Level designers can establish gameplay systemically or on a special case basis. Systemic implementation enables o More intentional, less scripted play o Decreases the learning curve o Makes bug fixing easier

11 Systemic Level Design Special Case Level Design Definition Special case level design is the creation of gameplay out of the notions of a particular designer, as needed for a specific, localized occurrence in the game. Special case level design has limited awareness of global game patterns.

12 Systemic Level Design Special Case Level Design All about the ideas of a given level designer: o What is consistent o What is fun (and rewarding) Consistency is possible, but improbable: o Requires vigilant manual effort o Single cardboard box in DX contained something useful

13 Systemic Level Design Special Case: Planning ExampleTeam discusses: o Fictional setting of a given level o Look and feel o Placement of units (monsters or characters), weapons, tools or resources o Specific puzzles or scripted sequences Discussed, but implementation is not detailed Not practical Different designers, different styles/techniques

14 Systemic Level Design Special Case: Tools & Content Creation Properties and parameters for many game elements reside on a per instance basis: o Objects with tweaked parameters o Unique moving geometry (movers) o Special triggers All cobbled together by each LD individually

15 Systemic Level Design Special Case: Tools & Content Creation Examples: o Generic (highly configurable) triggers o Moving geometry (generic movers) o Different LDs create visually identical crushing block puzzles that function differently, with subtle variations. Many editors have hybrid tools o DX1 trip lasers had default properties, but could be tweaked, causing problems.

16 Systemic Level Design Special Case: Bug Fixing Testing finds problems and often each instance of a gameplay element must be visited and reconfigured manually: o Each scripted scene o All triggers controlling specific state changes o All unique movers o Et cetera

17 Systemic Level Design Special Case: Bug Fixing ExamplePlaytest determines that crushing blast doors add fun. Because each door was set up manually, each door must be visited individually: o Takes time o Likely to introduce bugs

18 Systemic Level Design Systemic Level Design Definition Systemic level design is the creation of gameplay out of combinations of existing game elements with globally defined, consistent characteristics and behaviors. Systemic level design has an awareness of global game patterns.

19 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Planning Team discusses: o Same stuff as in Special Case planning (fiction, look and feel, game element placement, specific sequences) o Rules governing behaviors of game elements o Specific methods for implementing types of situations (according to agreed upon patterns)

20 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Planning ExampleTeam plans 3 door classes: o Light doors easily destroyed and do not inflict damage o Medium doors only destroyed by explosives and inflict light damage o Heavy doors cannot be destroyed and inflict heavy damage

21 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Tools & Content Creation Game element properties and parameters reside at a higher level, rather than on a per instance basis. Tools for adding game elements are streamlined, calling upon archetypes, rather than specific instances of any given game element.

22 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Tools & Content Creation ExampleDoor behavior (3 classes) stored in object property tree o Not entered for each of 500 doors by hand o Information entered and managed centrally o LDs select proper door and drop into place o New door types are added when needed o All doors inherit properties from archetypes

23 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Bug fixing Playtest determines that a given gameplay element behaves inappropriately. A change is made to the object property tree storing the behaviors of the game element archetype.

24 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Bug fixing ExamplePlaytest complains that medium doors are not always destroyed by grenades: o Medium door strength is lowered globally

25 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Advantages Consistency Emergent Gameplay Efficiency

26 Systemic Level Design Consistency Breakdown Consistency o Plan Formulation o Intuitive Behavior o Learning Curve Emergent Gameplay Efficiency

27 Systemic Level Design Consistency: Plan Formulation Consistency rewards strategic plan formulation. Once the behaviors of game elements can be predicted, the player is empowered to make assumptions. Success or failure are understood. Player feels a sense of agency.

28 Systemic Level Design Consistency: Plan Formulation ExampleLDs set up blast doors w/ different properties: o Crush, Move Speed, Sound Volume After encountering first blast door, player makes assumptions about second blast door. Plans fail. Player feels like he is uncovering an arbitrary path set out for him by the designer.

29 Systemic Level Design Consistency: Intuitive Behavior If game elements are implemented with systemic consistency: o The player is more likely to develop an intuitive understanding of game elements. o Variations of game elements are likely to be understood even if the player is encountering them for the first time.

30 Systemic Level Design Consistency: Intuitive Behavior Systemically implemented fire damage model: o If campfire burns player-character once, it is likely to burn him twice. o If player encounters a second form of fire (like a fire barrel), it is likely to behave intuitively: Burns player-character Burns cat Burns dog

31 Systemic Level Design Consistency: Learning Curve If the behaviors of game elements stay consistent: o Player spends less time learning the game o Player spends more time playing the game

32 Systemic Level Design Emergent Gameplay Consistency Emergent Gameplay o Special Case = Per instance basis o Systemic = Class-to-class basis Efficiency

33 Systemic Level Design Emergence Emergent gameplay can arise from the interaction of simple rules, making the whole of the game experience greater than its parts, allowing for second order consequences.

34 Systemic Level Design Emergence DX1 Monsters were more systemic than characters: o Monsters were dropped in place o Characters properties were tweaked Urban context: Run when shots fired Warzone context: Crouch when shots fired DX1 Monsters provided more comprehensible, useful emergence

35 Systemic Level Design Emergence Example 01 Players discovered deeper layer of interaction than we had planned: o Locked Containers: Opened w/ resources. o MiB Unit: Explodes upon death. o Emergent Strategy: Players used MiBs to open locked containers. Good surprise: Oh, wow, of course. Bad surprise: What the hell?!?

36 Systemic Level Design Emergence Example 02 Transform: Convert organic into mech. Command Bolt: Steal enemy mech. Player can upgrade then steal enemy organic units.

37 Systemic Level Design Efficiency Consistency Emergent Gameplay Efficiency

38 Systemic Level Design Efficiency Systemic Level Design: o Plan-and-drop efficiency o Global bug fixes o Designers spend less time on tedious map- monkey tasks and more on gameplay

39 Systemic Level Design Efficiency ExampleA change made to TripLaser_red in the global object hierarchy changes all red trip lasers. Worth noting: Part of the DX1 problem was the lack of a LD tools support programmer.

40 Systemic Level Design Systemic: Disadvantages Need for Shoehorning Introduction of Uncertainty Designer Perception o Loss of power o Consistency is boring

41 Systemic Level Design Shoehorning Twisting an idea to make it work with core gameplay systems. A restriction on creative impulse in exchange for the benefits of systemic level design. o Sometimes needed to meet creative vision o Sometimes needed for player expectation

42 Systemic Level Design Special Case Squad Mate Example Designers (and testers) wanted a squad mate for cell break Idea made total sense, in context DX1 lacked Squad Mate AI We hacked it in anyway with a bunch of manually placed triggers

43 Systemic Level Design Ladies and Gentlemen…Miguel It met expectation and provided color It broke often and was lame Special case tools are powerful (maybe in a bad way)

44 Systemic Level Design Systemic Arrow/Pyre Example Designer takes abstract idea and warps it to work with some of the core game systems o Planting spots become pyres o Seeds become water arrows o Stealth is employed o Core context/fiction is employed

45 Systemic Level Design Uncertainty Systemic LD is more likely to allow for emergent events within the game. Emergent behaviors are often too subtle (or too numerous in permutation) for the team to effectively predict, introducing uncertainty.

46 Systemic Level Design Prox Mine Uncertainty Prox mines behaved according to globally consistent rules about relationships between classes o Player could attach/un-attach prox mines o Prox mines were physical objects o Player could collide w/ physical objects o Player didnt detonate his own o Player could climb walls w/ prox mines

47 Systemic Level Design Prox Mine Climbing

48 Systemic Level Design Special Case Prox Mine Prox Mine (red dot) is linked manually to other game elements (green dots). Prox Mine has no relationship w/ some game elements (black dots).

49 Systemic Level Design Systemic Prox Mine Prox Mine (red dot) is linked to object class (hollow green dot). Prox Mine has relationship w/ all game elements (green dots).

50 Systemic Level Design Prox Mine Model Comparison

51 Systemic Level Design Designer Perception: Loss of Power A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Special Case Level Designer (and Poet)

52 Systemic Level Design Designer Perception: Loss of Power LD loses some specific narrative/flow control. LD gains: o Tools that can be combined and trusted. o Power to contextualize the world. o Power to empower the player.

53 Systemic Level Design Designer Perception: Consistency Is Boring Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. – Aldous Huxley, Special Case Level Designer (and Depressing SF Writer)

54 Systemic Level Design Designer Perception: Consistency Is Boring Games with emergence are often surprising (in a good way). Players often perceive open-ended game environments as providing more freedom. Anything can happen. Systemic games encourage the player to experiment.

55 Systemic Level Design Systemic Vs Special Case: Player Perception Doug Church: Playing the Game Designer versus Playing the Game

56 Systemic Level Design Playing the Designer Often much more frustrating: o Some arbitrary force is foiling the player o Behaviors change, instance to instance o Environment inconsistent or incomplete o Plans often fail for inexplicable reasons o Surprise: What the hell???

57 Systemic Level Design Playing the Game Can be particularly satisfying: o Fewer logical breaks in consistency o Environment feels rational o Player feels free to experiment o Player feels less manipulated o Plans fail or succeed comprehensibly o Surprise: Oh, cool…of course The system does not careit has no agenda.

58 Systemic Level Design Some Benefits of Special Case LD Variation Outside Scope of Core Mechanics Unique Moments Story Advancement

59 Systemic Level Design Systemic and Special Case Examples Heart of Darkness GTA3 Platform Games

60 Systemic Level Design Heart of Darkness Great Game o Amazing Art o Short Play-time o Simple Interface o Fun Every scene totally special case

61 Systemic Level Design Heart of Darkness Constant variation Player constantly sees something new Any interaction is possible

62 Systemic Level Design Heart of Darkness Constant guesswork o Sometimes up arrow means climb wall o Sometimes up arrow means jump Very narrow range of emergent interaction

63 Systemic Level Design Heart of Darkness Fun is still possible Heart of Darkness has different (not inferior) values

64 Systemic Level Design Grand Theft Auto 3 Game of the Year Sandbox freedom through simulation o Pedestrian Traffic o Vehicle Physics o Dynamic Missions o Damage Model Goal Completion

65 Systemic Level Design Grand Theft Auto 3 Mostly systemic: o Drive off roof Sometimes special case: o Play it our way Suffered when Systemic and Special Case contrasted

66 Systemic Level Design GTA3 Cartel Example Goal Completion Methodology o Sniper Rifle Only o Must Wait For 8-ball o MISSION FAILED Contrasts w/ Goal Completion

67 Systemic Level Design Platform Games Games like Mario64, Sonic Made up almost entirely of systemic elements LDs create gameplay patterns by combining elements

68 Systemic Level Design Summation: High Concept Level designers can establish gameplay systemically or on a special case basis. Systemic implementation enables o More intentional, less scripted play o Decreases the learning curve o Makes bug fixing easier

69 Systemic Level Design Summation: Last Thoughts Design object behaviors by type, rather than by instance. This is central to designing a behavior system rather than a set of puzzles.

70 Systemic Level Design Goodbye and Good Luck Special Thanks: Ion Storm Austin, Marc LeBlanc, Warren Spector, Tim Stellmach, Ricardo Bare, Brian Sharp, Kent Hudson, Clay Hoffman and Doug Church

71 Systemic Level Design Systemic Level Design Harvey Smith


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