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GDC 2010 - Level Design in a Day Part 6. Level designer, Storyteller: Joel Burgess, Senior Designer, Bethesda Game Studios


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Please note: There is a ton of good information in the notes sections of these presentations. Please download locally and view in PowerPoint to experience all the juicy details.

In this intense day-long tutorial, attendees will gain deep insights from some of the most experienced level designers in the industry into every aspect of the level design process, from basic navigation and object manipulation tips and tricks to best practices for encounter design and level flow. As the development discipline responsible for crafting the vastly important moment-to-moment player experience, a deep understanding of core level design principles becomes essential for level designers, game designers and design managers alike. Likewise, an intimate familiarity with the level creation process can be a massive advantage to producers, testers or artists in frequent collaboration with level designers. This year’s session will focus on the Unreal Engine, while subsequent years will focus on Source, Quake, and other popular engines.

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GDC 2010 - Level Design in a Day Part 6. Level designer, Storyteller: Joel Burgess, Senior Designer, Bethesda Game Studios

  1. 2. Building and supporting Narrative Through Level Design Level Designer, Storyteller Joel Burgess, Senior Designer, Bethesda Game Studios
  2. 3. Please Note <ul><li>There is a ton of useful information in the notes of these presentations. </li></ul><ul><li>Please download these presentations and enjoy them in MS PowerPoint locally. </li></ul><ul><li>Thanks! </li></ul>
  3. 4. What’s This, Then? <ul><li>Not Platform/Unreal Specific </li></ul><ul><li>Just My Thoughts </li></ul><ul><li>There Will Be… Jargon. </li></ul>
  4. 5. A Brief Overview <ul><li>LD/Player Relationship </li></ul><ul><li>LD role in storytelling </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cross-medium Techniques </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unique tools & methods </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Doing a lot with little </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Accepting Chaos </li></ul></ul>
  5. 6. The Storyteller’s Tools <ul><li>Language </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dialogue, Text, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Visual Information </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Layout, Clutter, Effects, et </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. Quick Writing Exercise <ul><li>Player is a space Marine. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lands at forward base. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Commander, Colonel (radio), Sarge </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Convey Objective & Reward </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Account for Budget </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sarge is Cut </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>12 Lines, 85 Char/Line </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Re-Write! Active Storytelling </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lands Behind Enemy Lines </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>One Character Delivers Lines </li></ul></ul>
  7. 8. What Did We Learn? <ul><li>Game Development is Chaotic </li></ul><ul><li>Things outside your control change </li></ul><ul><li>Drafts Are a Good Thing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They expose what’s important </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Function before Form </li></ul></ul>
  8. 9. Using Language <ul><li>Why use language? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Familiar </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Direct </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Unambiguous </li></ul></ul>
  9. 10. Using Language <ul><li>Traps of Language? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tired Techniques </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Localization Concerns </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Verbosity </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Vigorous writing is concise.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>William Strunk Jr. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.“ </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Elmore Leonard </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Brevity is the soul of wit” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Shakespeare </li></ul></ul>
  10. 11. Using Language <ul><li>Best Practice: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Brevity & Content Quality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gameplay Info Before Style </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In their own Words </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Optional Static Text </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dialogue During Action </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Left 4 Dead </li></ul></ul>
  11. 12. Visual Storytelling <ul><li>Older than Language, after all… </li></ul>
  12. 13. Visual Information <ul><li>Huge Array of Visual Tools: </li></ul><ul><li>Layout </li></ul><ul><li>Lighting </li></ul><ul><li>AI Behavior </li></ul><ul><li>Small Clutter </li></ul><ul><li>Particle FX </li></ul><ul><li>State Changes </li></ul><ul><li>Full Screen FX </li></ul><ul><li>Etc, etc… </li></ul><ul><li>Covering any of them in detail is beyond the scope of this conversation </li></ul>
  13. 14. Gestalt & the Player <ul><li>Hard-Wired to Draw Conclusions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We crave order in what we see </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Familiar Shapes most Recognizable </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Lots of Gamer Demographics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But we’re all Humans. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Look for opportunities to use Gestalt </li></ul></ul>
  14. 15. Gestalt & Level Design <ul><li>Environments Tell Story Inherently </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They Just Cannot Help Doing So! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>So You Might As Well Use That </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Collaborate with Art Often </li></ul><ul><li>Enable Team To Contribute </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Your game will be richer </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>All that’s required is Oversight </li></ul></ul>
  15. 16. Snapshot Story
  16. 17. Exercise: Snapshot Story <ul><li>View Unreal Room & Objects </li></ul><ul><li>On Paper, arrange objects in Room </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Goal is to provide an interesting snapshot story using these elements </li></ul></ul>
  17. 18. Putting It Together <ul><li>Fallout 3 Radio Tower Example </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Language (CB Radio Dialogue) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gameplay Information (Static Ratio) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Snapshot Story (Small Clutter) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gestalt (Player Story) </li></ul></ul>
  18. 19. Accepting Chaos <ul><li>Interactivity & The Medium </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To exploit it, we must accept Chaos </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Set Up Dominoes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Let the Player scatter them </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Letting the Player Own Story </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t De-mystify </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We are not those other guys </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Player is our Partner </li></ul></ul>
  19. 20. Thanks For Listening <ul><ul><li>Some further reading suggestions: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ On Writing” Stephen King </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Designing Disney” John Hench </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Understanding Comics” Scott McCloud </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Kluge” Gary Marcus </li></ul></ul>