Building a City: Level Design and an Open World

Building a City: Level Design and an Open World

Superman has Metropolis, Batman has Gotham, the X-Men have New York and Luke Cage has Harlem. In any good superhero story, there’s a city that exists where all the tragic events unfold that lead to the citizens searching for a beacon of hope. The city also goes beyond providing the opportunities for our men and women in capes to truly shine, it also represents the pinnacle of their humanity. It is the city that tells the story of our heroes ‘home’. After all, Superman would not be himself if he hadn’t grown up in Smallville and moved to the big city of Metropolis. Likewise, players of First Impact: Rise of a Hero would not care about the story as much unless they understood their character’s resolve to protect their island.

This week we catch up with Emily Van Lingen aka Dr. EVL, one of our game designers, as she talks about her experience developing the city that players will be immersed in.

So, tell me how it feels to do game design for First Impact: Rise of a Hero

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this game develop from its infancy to now when it’s almost a finished product. This is my first project as a game designer which is both thrilling and nerve-wracking.

Screen Capture from Unity

Where was your design inspiration from and how has it changed or evolved over time?

Our starting design inspiration was initially 1950s comics. Cell-shaded and thick line art such as Borderlands 2 were considered for the art style of the game with bright, saturated colours like Sunset Overdrive. Comic style speech and explosion bubbles were an essential. The game took on its own style as we continued. It’s cartoony still but it has become less vibrant and more subtle.

Image of Sunset Overdrive & Borderlands 2

What’s it like designing a game for virtual reality as opposed to just PC/console?

Designing for VR means the player will pay a lot more attention to their surroundings and the environment plays a larger part of the narrative. Things like menu screens need careful thought as 3D spaces are more appropriate for VR and show what the medium is capable of.

What are some of the aspects that you love and hate about using Unity?

Something I love about Unity is how much is possible within the engine. I created the terrain for the islands using Unity, creating different biomes like beaches, swamps, and forming mountains and cliffs. We are also able to create missions with dialogue and pedestrians that wander the streets. The medium has endless possibilities and continues to grow.

The glitches and crashes can be annoying in Unity and saving often to avoid losing progress is essential. There is a lot of fixes required in an open world as there are so many objects in the environment and sometimes that leads to repetitive or tedious tasks.

Screen from Unity 1

Is it challenging getting your vision of the game to match up with the art and programming constraints?

Being a designer requires a lot of collaboration and compromise. Artists and programmers create the vision from ideas set forth from the designers and others. As the artists create models, it is often our job to find creative ways to use them creating a world that is believable and tells a story while avoiding repetition. The programmers can create tools that make designers jobs easier and less repetitive. There are always constraints a game must fit under such as time. A designer must think within the box of what we already have in terms of programming and artistry and try to work within that box while still being innovative.

Players can throw objects in the game, what’s your favourite one to throw?

I think my favourite object to throw is the beach ball. It has some bounce to it and is satisfying to throw. You can also use it as a bowling ball throughout the city too.

Can players expect to find some Easter eggs in First Impact?

I tried to create a world that feels full, in that everywhere you look has a place to explore. One fun Easter egg I created is T-bone Island. The player has no reason to travel to this island that is off the coast of the main city but if they fly over it, they might notice it looks suspiciously like our red meat logo from above. 😉

Well, there you have it! Dr. EVL has spoken and she is hoping to make a really great place for you to fly, run and jump around in. Thanks for reading this week and stay tuned for more updates.

To be continued…