Case Study: Research – London Underground

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In this article I am going to do something a bit different; I am going to show you a sample of the sort of research that you should do when researching a level design idea. This will show the basic process I follow when i am planning a level. I will start with the idea, expand it and research the topic. Once I have some general research, I will begin researching some of the key details of the environment I am creating.

The Idea:

Taking inspiration from the disused station of the London underground, I am going to create a level based upon York road station, a London underground station from 1906 until 1932.

The player has found themselves stuck in the remains of the old station and must find a way out of the level, by exploring the station and eventually progressing to the next open station on the line; Caledonian Road. The level will be set at soon after closure and be in the estimated state and look the stations where in at the time.

York Road Basic Information:

The following information was found from the following reference: Jim E Connor, 2001. London’s Disused Underground Stations. Edition. Capital Transport Publishing

York Road Station circa 2010

York Road Station as it appears now.

  • Opened 15th of December 1906 by Great northern Piccadilly & Brompton Railway between Kings cross and Caledonian Stations.
  • A Street Level Building on the corner of York Road (now York Way) and Bingfield Street; Clad in ruby-red tiling, with raised lettering signs.
  • Booking hall was connected to the platforms by emergency stairs and a single 23ft lift shaft containing two electric lifts supplied by Otis Elevator Company, with a rise of 89.49ft. The Lifts descend directly to the platform level.
  • Westbound Platform length of 351.9 foot, with the east bound was 350ft exactly. Both platforms are constructed from concrete with a width of 10ft.
  • The Parallel tunnels had a diameter of 21ft 2.5 ins and where tiled white with patterns of red.
  • Ventilation by a fan.
  • The street level building occupied by ‘The Victor Printing company’ after closure until 1989.
  • Street level building featured arched windows, ornate metal light fixtures, metal shutters and striped tiles
  • Platforms featured tiled walls, wiring, standard underground signage, painted ‘York Road’ and a signal box at the Finsbury Park end.
York Road Station plan

The plans for York road station

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Level Layout Types

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In this article I am going to tell you about some of the types of layouts you will see in level designs regularly and now they are used to benefit game play.

I am going to discuss different ‘Flow Types’ in level design so you can learn how to examine your own levels to see if you have made the correct decisions about how to control player movement.

Linear

A Linear flow model is the most commonly seen type of level flow model.

The Player starts at one end of the level, progress through a single linear route and finishes at the opposite end of the level. Along the route, the designer will have created specific interactions that the player is required to do, to continue progressing through the level, such as kill the enemies, unlock doors, solve puzzles and more.

Linear Game Glow Diagram

The Linear level design is often seen as a negative when the game is being reviewed, however linear level design does still have its place in the current generation of games; used correctly it can show some real strengths over other flow models.

Linear flow means that the designer will know where the player will be and where they will be coming from; This allows the designer to build a strong narrative and exciting set-pieces for the player to witness. Some games rely on the linear design to create very powerful, story driven game play. An few example of this would be the Call of duty games, Half life Series or SOCOM: US Navy Seals.

Bottlenecking

Bottlenecking flow model works very much like a linear level, however the designer can build multiple paths throughout the level, giving the player a few options as to which route they take. Each path will lead the player towards the end of the level, but each path gives the player different challenges and experiences.

At certain points in the level, where the player is required to complete an objective or action, the paths will converge into a linear path again. After the required action is completed, the path can split again.

This gives the player a feeling of choice and gives them an incentive to play through the level more than once to experience the different challenges of each path.

Bottleneck Game Glow Diagram

While this Flow model allows the player to feel like they have more choice, it is not without its drawbacks; if it is poorly designed, it can create a level which is confusing to players. The branches need to be a clear choice and you must make sure the player doesn’t get turned around and mistake a previous path as a new branch, otherwise they will end up returning to the start and getting annoyed with the confusing layout.

One choice is to make sure the entrances to the bottleneck area are one way; don’t allow the player to back track, but this can be irritating to players, if they left a health pick up in-case they needed it later.

A great example of bottleneck design is Deus Ex.

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UE3 101: Your First Level

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In this tutorial i am going to show you the basic skills that you will need to create the most basic of levels in Unreal Engine.

You will need a unreal engine 3 game for this tutorial; I will be using Unreal Tournament 3 as an example. You can also use the Free UDK Epic has released.

Opening Unreal Editor

Depending on your UT3 installation, you may or may not already have a shortcut to run the unreal editor program. If you don’t we first need to give you access to the program. If you already have a short cut for ‘Unreal Tournament 3 editor’ then you can jump to the next section.

Navigate to your binaries folder, located in the UT3 installation folder, By default this is in the program files folder.

Locate the UT3.exe folder and right click on it. choose ‘create short cut’, this creates a link you can place anywhere (Desktop is a good place) that will open up UT3. Now we just need to to the link instructions to open the editor instead of the game.

Right click the short cut and choose properties and look for the field labeled ‘Target’. It should currently read something like:

“C:\Program Files\Unreal Tournament 3\Binaries\UT3.exe”

To enable the editor add the word editor to the end so it reads:

“C:\Program Files\Unreal Tournament 3\Binaries\UT3.exe” editor

Now when you use the Short cut, unreal editor for Unreal tournament 3 will start-up rather than the unreal tournament 3 game. Don’t worry if it takes quite a while, it has a slow start-up, especially on the first time you open it! So just be patient.

Unreal Editor

Unreal Editor

The Look of unreal editor for unreal tournament 3 when you first open it.

Now that You have unreal editor open, its time to build your first level. We are going to make a simple box room, texture it, add a few static meshes, light it and make it ready to use.

I am going to assume you have no knowledge of unreal editor for this tutorial and this is your first time trying to make a level.

Navigating Unreal Editor

Unreal Editor is made up of 4 views of your level (In clockwise order from top left – Top, Side, Front and Perspective). Top, front and side are all wireframe viewpoints. Perspective view is a 3D view which is textured and lit as it would be in game.

Top, Side and Front Controls:

  • Both mouse buttons + Dragging forward or backward: Zoom in or out
  • Mouse wheel forward or backward: Zoom in or out
  • Left mouse button OR right mouse button + Dragging in any direction: Pan the view

Perspective Controls:

  • Both mouse buttons + Drag froward or backward: Move view up or down
  • Both mouse buttons + Drag left or right: Pan view Left or right
  • Left mouse button + Drag Forward or backward: Move view forward or backward
  • Left Mouse button + Drag Left or right: Turn view left or right
  • Right mouse button + Drag in any direction: Rotate view left, right, up or down.

Try moving around in each of the views and get used to the view controls, you will quickly get used to it as you will be almost constantly moving around each view port.

As we progress through the Tutorials I will discuss what each button and menu  does and its function in context.
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1.2: Ideas

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Coming up with a good idea for your map can be very difficult; Especially when you are trying to be a bit original and not make the same sort of maps that everybody else is making.

In this article I am going to cover some of the ways to get inspiration for level designs and how to develop your idea’s fully.

Inspiration:

Inspiration can be hard to find sometimes, it would be easy to fall into the trap of just making another level like your last one, set on the same idea. But to many similar levels will end up becoming very boring, very quickly. Variation is the spice of life, and that stands true of video games.

In reality, Inspiration can be found anywhere. If you take a walk, you will probably pass many possible inspirations for a really fun and original level design, and you won’t even notice. A great technique I have found is to take a camera out on a walk around a town or city; Even without taking pictures, just look through the viewfinder and keep an eye out for any interesting details, architecture or even colours. This can be enough to create some interesting designs.

Inspiration can come from Anywhere

Inspiration Can come from anywhere, even places you visit on a daily basis.

Another great source we have available to us now is the internet. There is a wealth of inspiring images on the internet which you can use to find an idea you like. Check out architecture photos, travel blogs, Flickr, Youtube and much more. just look out for any detail or places that grabs your attention.

You can also take a look at current video games and try to figure out where they are getting their inspiration from. Portal 1, for example, had a very clean and efficient style about it. Set inside clean and sterile environments makes sense for ‘Science test chambers’. but the really inspiring part comes when you escape and are exploring behind the scenes. It had this dirty, industrial feeling.

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Chapter 1.1: Introduction

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Before we jump into any level design software, we need to look at some basic information which, while it may seem a little pointless, it is always useful to keep in mind. We need to define what we are actually doing here, what any of this means and why you might want to learn it.

What is Level Design?

Level Design is the process of creating a virtual environment for the purpose of playing a game in. It is typically made up of multiple stages and assets to build interesting and exciting environments that will interest the player and make their gameplay experience even better.

What is a level made up of?

A video game level is made up of a mixture of different assets, which will need to be imported into a game engine and then place using a piece of level design software such as unreal editor or source Hammer.

The main components of a level are:

  • CSG – Constructive Solid Geometry, Also known as BSP (Binary space partition), CSG are the primitive shapes that make up the basic shape of the level.
  • Materials / Textures – Materials are what the player see’s in the game. they are the look and design of every single surface in the game. typically made in a image editor such as Photoshop.
  • Static Mesh – 3D models built in a 3D modelling program. Static Meshes populate the level and are much more detailed and visually impressive than CSG.
  • Lighting – Created using the level editor tools, light objects are typically placed and the lighting for the environment is calculated based on the settings you give each light.
  • Sound – A level will have a whole range of sounds to make it seem alive. You can give it specific music track, place location based sounds (for example: drips, electrical noises, rushing water)

What software is required to make levels?

This depends on the game you want to develop for. Some games don’t have level editors provided for them, but some developers do release the tools you require.

some of the best and most current  examples are:

  • Epic Games – Unreal Tournament, Gears of war (PC)
  • Valve Software – Source Engine games such as Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress and portal
  • id Software – Quake Games, Doom

Aside from the actual level editor you don’t ‘Need’ to have any other software. most level editors come with a library of assets from the game you are using, so you can start to build levels with the current game assets and create some nice results.

If however, you want to have a more customised level, you will also do well to have:

  • 3D modelling software – 3Ds max, Maya, Blender
  • Image editing software – Photoshop, GIMP
  • Sound / music editor

With this additional tools you can then create your own static / skeletal meshes, textures, music, sound effects, weapon models and even characters.

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