Level Up: Planning the Vista

Level Up with Victor Kam — Banner

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.

These points in the level are not done unintentionally, they are always planned ahead of time so your artists can focus their efforts on decorating the vista point.  From my time working on the Need For Speed series, this “reveal” was a concept that the art directors really pushed on the level designers to incorporate into our layouts and is rampant in Need For Speed Carbon’s downhill battles.

So where are some ideal locations for the reveal?  Usually these are going have the greatest affect around corners while the player is traveling downhill into them.  This gives you the best sightlines to maximize the impact of your vista shot.  And if you’re clever, you can create a vista that shows an area of the map that the player travels to later in the game, how cool is that?

This, like many other features comes with technical concerns, like how far can I stream content in if I open a section of the map up?  Keep in mind that the player will never travel or go close to the vista, in many cases these are simply matte paintings with some very low resolution models in the foreground floating in space. And the point of planning these out earlier is to only have them in contained areas as outlined above.

Give it a try next time you white box a map, plan some enclosed areas that lead to an open area and close it back up.  Your interiors/exteriors will have much more of a visual impact when paced out correctly.

Victor Kam teaches Level Design and Mission Design at VFS Game Design