Summary

So this Map spawned from the idee of making a Level that played out in the branch work of a bunch of trees. I was excited in seeing if one could adapt a design to a space and the elements and restrictions that comes with it. 

And as a Design I decided to go for a more open exploration map. With a destinct main goal and small sub goals that could be taken in eny order. While still keeping a flow and guiding a player towards the End. 

Specifications

Third Person exploration Level

Exploration, Composition and interesting Environoment

5 weeks (part time)

Unreal Engine and Maya

Game:

Focus:

Time:

Tools:

PreProduction

To start off I usually want to develop a strong mental image of the space. And to do so I look at and collect a lot of references. And when I have a good picture of the space. I try to sketch it down on some paper. To see and decide on a good flow thru the map. While keeping in mind the ideas of a strong main goal and exploration. 

 

And I came up with a map divided in half with a ravine and river. Where the Main goal is on the other side and two clear branches connecting the two sides. And there for dividing the map into two areas making it easier to mentally map. 
 

I then sat down in Maya to make some simple building blocks that I would need to Blockout the space with. 

Tree_ref.png
Maya_Ref.png

Map and flow

With that, I sat down and started the process of creating the space.

Scale

First I wanted to set the scale and make a quick layout to get a feel for the map. And after running around in it I realized that it needed to become a bit smaller. And at this stage it's was super easy to fix.

Tree_Flow_ref01.png

Flow

I still whanted the map to push the player forwars. So I designed it with a flow that natrualy pushed them towards the main goal when exploring. 

Blockout

Staring the more refined phase of blocking out. I started from where the player starts and build out from there. Moving along the flow path and composing them as I go from the mental image I built up. Creating and iterating on it as I go.

Treelvl_Progression01.gif

Design Theory

When I was going to create the space I Had a few Theories I wanted to have in there. 

Exploration. What makes it fun to explore?

To make the simple act just navigate and exploring the level fun and interesting.

Something they do very good in games like Uncharted series. Is that the simple act of navigating and moving thru an area is fun. It's a lot of things that go into making it so. But after doing my own analysis of the game. I have come to these conclusions for exploration. 

And to do so focused on making that the areas thru out them map hidden from the player at first sight. And when they find them you get a nice reveal and small puzzle/challenge on how to navigate the area. And making each area have a different feel and visual experience. 

 

Like an epic sense of scale. Because I like to have a few big and overarching elements in my Levels. Since it usually leaves you with a sense of Epicness and also acts as a great landmark to help with navigation. 


And since I Whanted the level to be in and have a lot of elements of trees and branches in it. I whanted to make sure it wouldent get really messy and hard to read the area. Since the nature of this elements it really easie that is doses. 

Main goal

Even tho it was an exploration map I still wanted there to always be a clear Goal. To make sure that the player never feels lost or confused. And the way I would do that is to establish the main goal very strongly in the beginning. With a bottlenecked entry and reveal of the area. 

So if the player Decided to go a different route and explore it would be a conscious choice to go of the beaten path.

Tree_forst area.png
Tree_Orb_Paths.png

Side Goals

Something I felt was missing when I made the different hideaway areas to explore was a reason and a goal of why to go there. So what I came up with was a small orb that flew away into the area and landed to give the goal of getting it. And that way the reward of exploration was to find a new area and then get a clear goal to a little navigation puzzle.
 

To do that I made a simple visual script. Where I had an orb that followed a spline, triggered by a trigger box and then collected and visually represented on the player once collected. Which I thought was sweet little feedback for compleating the puzzle. 
 

The collected orbs could perhaps later be used to unlock some hidden path or reward. feeding back into the sense of exploration.

Landmarks...

To again make sure the player never gets lost or confused. I made use of landmarks and area identities. 

I already had too prominent landmarks. The two Giant trees which you could say are the main once. But then made some smaller medium sized landmarks. Such as the waterfall. 

Landmark_Photo.png

and Area identity

Another thing I made to make the space easier to mentally map is to have areas that are very different in both layouts and feel. To give each area a kind of Area identity. The common and very powerful way to do this is by utilizing a strong color language. But I consciously did not because I wanted to try to do it in a more subtle way. So I used things like shape language and positive and negative space to achieve this instead. Because I thinck it works equally well if you do it well. So you then can use the more noticeable things like color in the following areas to build a more impactful effect on the player. 

Tree_watefall.png
Orb_Alcove.png

Composition

And I used the composition shoots both as a reward and a way of showing the goal when the player discovers the different areas hidden away. 

Occlusion

Something I tried to keep in mind when designing the space was to use Occlusion a lot. Because it's good for both hiding areas and allowing for "what's around the next corner" feeling when exploring. Because what's behind there could be anything. And the player wants to push on and find out what that might be.
 

Another benefit of using Occlusion in the map was to allow for culling and optimization. Since the more of that you have. The more epic and spectacular view you can afford to do. Allowing me to make more awesome stuff

Occlusion Overview.png

Closing thoughts

As a small Demo level, I'm quite happy with came out of it. It provided a sense of epicness and mystery moving thru out the area. I wanted to see if you could make a level where the simple act of navigating and moving thru a level can be rewarding and interesting. 
 

I feel I learned a lot from this project. I could already come up with a lot of things to improve on in this area. So if I had time to iterate and polish the map I feel confident I could have taken it to a level where it's twice as good as it's now. For example, The Areas identities could be strengthened up a lot more. Perhaps adding on and expand the rockslide area. So that it becomes more prominent and define the area much more. 
 

And I think that the idea of using leting a space define and dictate a Design could very much so work. Since I'm quite happy with how it turned out. And with a talented environment artist, I think this area could turn out really well. 

Buildig Blocks