Levels with Larry

This week our level designer Larry Charles Jr gives us some insight into his creative process. Larry has worked on games like Call of Duty, and Triple A studios like Obsidian. He’s a rockstar and owns our level design, and we are very excited to have him on our team. 

Going into building a new project for any game I try and absorb as much content as I can similar to the type of game or level I’ll be working on. Given that Conjure Strike its roots in MOBA, I had a lot of resources available for this process. I play a ton of Heroes of the Storm and have also put some time into League of Legends before getting started on this project. The key isn’t to try and find things to steal, but to just jumpstart my creativity. Maybe there’s a problem in MOBA games that I may experience, or a design choice I experience that I may have done differently. These are the key moments that can really help me get some good ideas going.
Next,  before I started cutting or modifying any of the ideas from my first phase, I go back and reinforce my understanding of the current project and its needs. Conjure Strike currently is being designed to be a 2v2 moba lite experience. We want player progression through RPG elements and abilities that are easy to learn, but offer enough variety in the experience that masters can emerge over time. I also knew that I myself, have trouble using VR for long periods of time and I don’t imagine the majority of the market is any different as of now. Our experiences should run short so players can get a few games in before they get VR fatigue. Keeping all of these things in mind I then began starting to lay out my plan for a map.

The thematic inspiration for my first map for our game was based on a single memory of playing sim city 2000 and seeing an Archology building. It’s tech meets nature meets space age design with incredible details (for the time). In homage to that memory I pitched the idea of building a Bio-Dome esque level where you trapped inside of a dome that limits the play space since you can fly, but also has a nice touch of natural elements in your surroundings. After getting signoff from Tony and Andy on the idea I was able to dive in.

Planning out the space, I went straight to Unity and began dropping in blocks and blocks and more blocks. The initial design idea was to put two bases across from each other separated by a single lane. The need for a three lane design isn’t as necessary for us since players can fly anywhere they want inside of the dome. The first iteration did a good job of creating a fun fighting environment with some hidden alleys inside of the same single lane, but the initial problem we found after playtesting was…

“IT’S TOO DAMN BIG”

I built the first environment with a scale man reference, but even still the time it took to move through the space, end to end was too long. We felt too small and it wasn’t a fast and fun experience like I set out to build. I had some changes to make.

  • Too large
  • Too open
  • Not focused enough

 

With the second game jam meetup for our team, where all three of us gather under one roof to develop our game underway, I proposed a new design based off of the original with some improvements. I shrunk the entire play space by about 55% and reduced the idea of a middle lane down to a single fight space. The new layout was base, fight space, and base mashed together. I added two auxiliary paths that are still directly connected to the main lane, so the idea of a single lane experience wasn’t lost. And to break up the issue of being visible all the time since you can fly anywhere and more or less be completely exposed, I added an underground access to both bases.

The second playtest of the map was fantastic. The flow was there, the fun and speed of the game were right on target with the hopes for the design. All feedback said this version of our experience was indeed an improvement and we are headed in the right direction. Though everything was still in a block or simplified state, I did enough work to add color and basic shape versions of the final assets so that the silhouette and the composition of the map were pretty solid and easy to read. With a few more tweaks to size, I believe we’ll be ready to go to full on art production.

Conjure Strike is going to be fast, fun and surprising because we’re making it that way.

-Larry