Smoke and Mirrors: Level One

By April 18, 2017The Flesh

Hey, beautiful people of the internet!

This is a sorta introduction to our Smoke and Mirrors blog series, in which we’ll talk about interesting processes behind game art creation, design, and how it all ties in with other aspects of game development. We’ll do our best to keep a healthy balance between showing and telling. Now, let’s talk about artstyle, readability and level design!

When we first started working on Hatchet, we’ve established a couple of key elements to its setting and tone. It would be a top-down perspective stealth game set in a near-future world, with low key sci-fi elements and just a touch of dystopian cyberpunk. To convey that tone and create a believable sense of place for our players, we’re aiming for simplicity, clarity and relatable design. It’s hard to predict the aesthetics and technology guiding the everyday life of the future, so we root our design in familiar motives, and build up from there to create a plausible world.

Stealth games require precision and awareness of surroundings. A player often needs to juggle with several critical information points in order to move undetected – illumination and sound, cover, patrol routes, camera placements… And it’s imperative for us to provide this information quickly and with as little visual noise as possible in order to give players real control over their actions. Every object, effect or interface element needs to be easily recognizable and unambiguous to the player.

At the same time, we’re building two different worlds, using two different methodologies. One is a gameplay obstacle course, in which we present the players with a range of hurdles and problems they need to overcome. The other is a believable slice of the world, an illusion of reality filled with little stories and details for players to explore. Combining gameplay and narrative in world building is a challenging, but infinitely fun and rewarding process.

Of course, getting it right the first time is almost impossible. World building (like most creative work) is an iterative process which requires constant refinement. Defining the scale, pacing, or difficulty of the zone needs a lot of testing, so it’s usually a good idea to build out a level on a macro scale first to get a sense of the place as a whole, and later worry about populating it with assets, lighting and decor. Planning ahead and accounting for modularity and reusability of building blocks and assets cuts a lot of time in production and allows for greater freedom to play around and experiment.

We’ll cover some specific techniques and tools for rapid world building in the next post. Stay tuned!

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