Dynasty Feud is a 2D action fighting game developed by Kaia Studios for PlayStation 4 and Steam. Working as environment artist and junior level designer in this 6 people team, I was responsible for building and dimensioning the stage layouts provided by the lead designer and elaborating the visual assets for the stages.
Through regular play testing, we found that the cartoony art style of the game made difficult for the players to differentiate between playable platforms and decoration. We needed a way to separate the gameplay areas from the rest of the background elements.
The problem was simple to identify, yet complex to fix. At first, I tried to desaturate the non-playable areas, resulting in a bigger separation of foreground and background.
This change solved the problem for the platforms on top of the props, but the ones inside foreground elements kept presenting the same problem. After that, I tried to stablish a visual connection between all the platforms, so once players identified the first platform, they would assign the same role to similar elements.
For this purpose, I chose a color to represent the playable areas of the game: dark saturated red. This color would be present in all the stages of the game with tone variations to adapt to the color pallet of the stage, coloring any playable area and differentiating it from the decorative elements of the background.
At the end of the original play testing sessions, roughly 40% of the players were able to understand the real layout of the level. After the improvement, all players were able to identify the transitable areas of the stages.
Monuel’s Quest is a 3D platformer game I created as an assignment during my Master in Game Design.
Working as the only developer, I created a prototype in Unreal engine 4 that allows users to experiment the core mechanics of the game.
In Monuel’s Quest everything is depicted as colorful elements over a dark background. Every playable element is bright and saturated, creating a neon-like environment. The problem comes when different elements have different functions and their patterns and shapes are not enough to differentiate them, confusing players.
To solve this problem I established a color pattern, where each color represents a different function:
- BLUE = GOOD. When Monuel uses his light to interact with certain objects they take this color and can be used as platforms. If Monuel’s light hits an enemy, they turn blue, becoming inoffensive.
- PINK = BAD. Destroys Monuel on contact. Some of the harmful objects can be transformed into blue.
- ORANGE = CHANGE. This color represents elements that disappear and reappear by interacting with them or as the time advances.
- YELLOW = GOAL. Objectives like checkpoints and signs that guide players to their next objective.
- GREEN = DECORATION. Environment elements of the stage that do not affect gameplay and serve to mark borders and walls.
- WHITE = PLATFORM. Platforms that Monuel can use to navigate the level. Can be static or be in movement.
The classification that these elements created, allowed players to understand their global function and group the different playable elements according to their color allowing to introduce new obstacles with variations as the game advanced without the necessity of deeper explanation.
LEVEL DESIGN DOCUMENTS
Leaning to create proper level design documents is a refinement process where designers need a lot of practice and time to develop the skill to create complete, yet clear documents. Here I summarize the evolution process I have followed during my education and professional carrier while creating level designs documents.
1st phase, education:
- The first designs I made had me working both as a designer and as an artist at the same time, so during the creation process I liked to merge the level design document inside the metaphor of the game usually leading to very colorful and overloaded designs.
- The previous point also affected the representation of icons in the map. They were very complex, and as a result, confusing for the reader.
- Explanations made an appearance inside these designs explaining how the map worked, but they were ,in general, quite loose on details.
- As I have mentioned, this was a learning process moment where I was combining my two profiles resulting in level designs that looked more like concepts than proper designs documents.
2nd phase, experience:
- When I started to work in more professional projects, the visual aspect got relegated to the back and colors started to fill a more functional duty.
- Each color started to represent one type of element or function, and the tone of the color and shape of the icons would serve as subcategories.
- The mentioned icons were simplified for a better reading.
- Explanations evolved to be more accurate and mark specific areas of the map to explain every event and situation of the gameplay.
- As the rest of the elements improve, so did the picture of the map. Using grid or other measurement system to achieve a more accurate depiction of the space.
- Overload of information was a still a problem, so the next step was to leave more white space between the elements for a clearer organization.
- For a better explanation of the spaces of the map, photos and sketches where added.
3rd phase, conclusions:
- The level design works as a one page document were with a single view, the reader can understand all the important information of the map.
- The map is placed in the center of the composition, in order to allow for a better display of the remaining descriptive elements.
- These descriptive elements are placed around the map leaving always enough white space around the map to keep an organized and clear structure.
- Photos or sketched are placed pointing towards the parts of the map they reference by using icons or arrows for a better understanding of the environment.
- Measurements or scale references for accuracy.
- The visual aspect is an auxiliary feature to make the map more appealing, but never interfere with the clarity of the document. The map can be displayed with a monochromatic palette and use complementary colors for points of interest o highlighting elements.
- Icons and colors must be easily identifiable and differentiable for guiding the reader.
- The document must have enough size and resolution for it to be properly displayed.
As an example, here is an adapted version of a document I created .