We have a special holiday edition of On the Level where I had a chance to talk with not one but two former Game Design graduates, Elliott Walton of GD14 and Braden Bahen of GD09. Both of whom recently released Assassin’s Creed: Rogue working as Level Designers at Ubisoft Quebec.
Is it nerve-racking to be working on an existing franchise with such a large established fan base?
Elliott Walton: Absolutely! That being said I don’t personally tend to concentrate too much on those aspects during production and instead just focus on creating interesting gameplay and situations to put the player into. We usually have an overarching storyline to pay attention to that spans multiple titles, but one thing I love about working on the franchise is the excitement of presenting the next location and characters. For me it keeps things fresh and interesting. Of course we will always have to work with constraints but that can really be said about any title whether it is a new IP or a very established franchise such as Assassin’s Creed. That being said, announcement dates and release dates are always exciting and nerve racking for me.
Braden Bahen: Yes and no. You certainly can feel the pressure online from the fans to provide them with the best Assassin’s Creed game possible. AC fans are an intelligent bunch who want to experience great stories and interesting historic periods inside a rewarding game. They are also vocal about what they love and what they hate in games. The pressure can sometimes get to you and you can get frustrated but its part of the job, frankly.
I frequently check out /r/assassinscreed and read through it to get a sense of what the really passionate fans have to say at the moment. There are often lots of good points I agree with and lots of good points I disagree with but you can’t please everyone. At the end of the day we all want to make the best game possible and that’s what keeps us pushing on. Read More
The whole idea about creating a level from scratch, is to always gather reference, design on paper and begin white boxing. So let’s say you are a level designer that wants their vision fully fleshed out once it gets passed onto the world art team. It’s really up to you to lead them to ensure that all the ideas you had from the beginning come across in the game.
What I’m going to show you is my progression in creating a scene in UDK (the image above). Before set dressing an entire world, it’s wise to create a “visual target.” In this case I will be using a small section of what would be part of a larger world and fully build it from the ground up with custom models, textures, lighting and finishing things off with a touch of post-fx and screen overlays, to get the unique look I am going for.
I had this idea that I wanted the player to traverse through a roman castle hidden up in the mountain tops. I am a big fan of Cecil Kim and his work on the God of War series, and I really wanted to capture the feeling of being in an epic environment, after all, level designers want players to feel immersed as if they are part of a living world that extends the gameplay space. Other than that I did not really have any solid ideas for the level, so it was really up to me to experiment and try different things with size, scale and lighting to convey what I wanted the player to feel.
Every Game Design class has a special day that they look forward to, it’s called Pitch & Play. It’s the night that the whole year builds up to, it is the culmination of 8 weeks of planning and design, and 12 weeks of development.
Pitch & Play is the event where student teams show off their games, first with a formal 5-10 minute presentation, followed by a social mingler where invited industry guests have a chance to sit down and play their games, ask questions, provide feedback and get to know the students better before they graduate.
When planning any level out, we usually think of pacing out our gameplay moments and intensity over time. While both are vital, we can also do the same by pacing our scenery.
What I mean by this is creating visual contrast in the space outside of the gameplay area, so let’s focus on creating the vista point in our level and see what we can do to maximize it’s impact. Keep in mind, any time you do the same thing over and over it will lose its effectiveness over time. So we have to create this contrast, or in this case, a narrow space going to a vista back to a narrow space.
Uncharted is great example of this, here we see Drake standing admiring the view which is quite breathtaking to look at. For the most part of the level you are traversing in a forest with no clear sightlines, and then as you turn the corner you get treated to this great shot of the world only to return back within the trees.
Dave Warfield introduces the 29th pitch and play, excited again to see what VFS students can do with 4-5 months of creative control.
VFS recently hosted the Pitch & Play event for GD 29 and we were fortunate enough to be invited in order to write this article. The games that were presented tonight were The Banishing, Draka, Sneakpunk, Infinite Spectrum, and Nuts for Gems. As members of student teams currently in pre-production on our final projects, it was really interesting and inspiring to see the final result of these five months of work.
Sean Smillie acts as master of ceremonies and gives a personal introduction for each team and their game and explains that student teams get an industry mentor.
We’re certainly proud of the many VFS grads from different departments who worked on the project, including Game Design alumni Armando Troisi (Narrative Director), who we featured recently, and Cory Hasselbach, who we are featuring today.
Cory Hasselbach graduated from VFS back in 2005, winning the award for Best Multiplayer Game (for First Light), and now works as Mission Designer for 343 Industries, the producers of Halo 4. Cory talked to us about his experience at VFS, his role as Mission Designer and what makes Halo 4 such a great game.