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Please Note There is a ton of useful information in the notes of these presentations. Please download these presentations and enjoy them in MS PowerPoint locally. Thanks!
Production The thrilling world of workflow
When is production? When you’ve got: A plan/GDD A budget A prototype/VS A timeline Tools Fun!
Level Design
Workflow/Pipeline Image courtesy of  rickz
Why Bother? Who wants red tape? Save time Avoid frustration Control iteration Manage budget Avoid crunch, delays
The Frontlines Pipeline
The Handoff
The phases Phase 0: it exists Phase 1: it’s got stuff in it Phase 2: even more stuff! Phase 3: The GM says it’s done Not all bad: as a designer, it’s kind of fun!
Why did it happen?
Our current process
Stages Contain steps Time boxed Clear deliverables Approvers Responsibilities
What is locked?
The Process Research & Concept Blockout & test Iteration & Vetting Refinement & Playtesting Optimization, Art content, bug fixing
A less crazy document
How’s it going? - Time estimates off + collaboration improved + No cut maps
Key Ingredients Unambiguous goals Defined stages Established approvers “ The courage to be clear” It’s not about feelings
Single player process Image courtesy of  max_westby
Process breakdown
The Swarm
Positives Focus Team work Coherency Specialization
How do we do it? Unreal – architected for sharing
Submaps
The tangled web
Map Lead Produces known-good builds Insures seamless linking between sections Handles save/load issues
Drawbacks Loss of mission ownership Technically challenging
Will it work for you? Does it fit your game? Can your tools support it? Will it work for the developers?
How’s about Fallout 3? Take it Joel
55 Ayleid Ruins 57 Imperial Forts 24 Mines 0 9 Sewers 19 Oblivion Realms 91 Caves  . 255 Dungeons What Came Before? Oblivion Staff  1 Dungeon Art Lead 4 Dungeon Artists 3 Level Designers (late) 8 Busy Individuals Oblivion Dungeons
How do 8 people build 255 dungeons/levels? Build Kits in 3ds Max   Clutter/Light/FX “Warehouse”   Layout & Populate   Ship it!* * Some exceptions may apply Major Locations Got More Love
13 Metro Tunnels 12 DC Neighborhoods 26 Office Buildings 0 6 Vaults 15 Other 8 Caves 68 “Z” Cells  . 148 LD Locations What Now? Fallout3 Staff  6 Level Designers (peak) 4 Environment Artists Fallout 3 Spaces
Fallout 3 LD Workflow Iterative Passes, Formal Collaboration Pass 1:  Basic Layout Pass 2:  Refine, Populate, Script Art Pass:  Lighting, Detail Clutter Pass 3:  Polish for Ship Pass 4:  Bonus Polish Time 1-5 Days per pass, depending on Size Passes Scheduled to match dependency Shared ownership, one party accountable
In Conclusion Production is hard Develop a pipeline Communicate concrete goals Stay flexible
Contact [email_address] @stuckbug

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GDC 2010 - Level Design in a Day Part 5. Production - The Thrilling World of Workflow: Forrest Dowling, Lead Multiplayer Level Designer, Kaos Studios | THQ Inc.

Editor's Notes

  1. Notes! Woohoo!
  2. Define production When you make the game Prepro Figure out what you’re making I’m going to discuss HOW you build levels
  3. Before production begins, you’ve got GDD Budget Prototype Timeline Tools fun
  4. Level design during production This is where the LD needs to really shine Very collaborative time Lots of demands to juggle Serve as gatekeeper Responsible for making everyone look good How do you insure all this goes smoothly?
  5. Workflow Workflow/pipeline The steps or method by which you create your levels
  6. Why does it matter? Why not just build levels? Process reads as bureaucracy, often frustrating for developers Who needs the red tape? It’s important because so many people need to work together Helps avoid problems Reworking for different parties Frustrated developers Endless iteration Eventually Crunch Overbudget delays
  7. Frontlines pipeline Not the strongest part of the development Designer brickout
  8. The handoff Art was given a map to “art up” Often stylistically difficult to understand Designers worried about how it played Artist couldn’t make sense of how it looked Rework Content often reworked drastically Interfered with FX, audio in maps Costs Scrapped maps that design had invested weeks or months in Developers frustrated Difficult for production to track Done-ness determined by schedule and necessity
  9. Phase system in FFOW Definitions fuzzy
  10. Modders mentality Team went from 12 on DC to 80 1 st major product shipped 1 st console title Scrappy “get it done” mentality that works for a small mod team doesn’t scale well to a large dev team
  11. Current workflow Needed to define our process Needed to patch up some cross department tensions Currently, working fairly well Still areas for improvement, there always are Have remained flexible, modified the process on the fly This is what it looks like Absurd visio chart Way too huge, probably an overreaction Have simplified
  12. Stage breakdown Stages typically 1 month chunks Contain a # of steps Time box for task defined Deliverables defined Approvers listed Responsibilities detailed
  13. Locked Each stage ends with a definition of what is locked at the end Locked things can change Need approval from lead stakeholders Typically lead LD, art director Helps define fair game for iteration Reduces surprises and lost work And artist doing detail placement before structure lock shouldn’t be surprised when work is lost
  14. Here are our main stages: Thematic research, concepting, paper design Initial brickout This takes 4 weeks Playable in MP test at this point Iteration & cross dept vetting – tech/art eval of content Large scale frequent playtesting Game mode play testing Optimization, art content added/finalized Bug fixing
  15. Here’s an easier to read checklist This is basically how we’re tracking our maps right now Blacked out areas are secrets 
  16. So far Initial estimates a bit off Better sense of collaboration Nothing cut
  17. For this to work, the following ingredients are needed Unambiguous goals Defined stages Approvers Process breaks down without these things You need “the courage to be clear” Discussions about levels can be fuzzy, focus on feelings Feelings are an outcome, not an actionable thing Cannot define a feeling, or put it into a process Approvers A lot of work can be lost when a director sees something late Give the people who have the greatest ability to disrupt the process plenty of opportunity to do so Get approvals, save time
  18. Our SP process Novel, unique, intertwined with capabilities of unreal
  19. Why didn’t MP process work in SP? Lacked sufficient feedback Work lost, as directors couldn’t follow everything that was happening More systems needed at any given time than engineering effort available All missions hit done at once Bottlenecks the art team New approach: SWARM Assign a team to a single mission
  20. Breakdown 1 LD, 9 encounters 5 LDs, 1-2 each Time to finish, 6-8 weeks vs. 6-8 months
  21. What have we gained? Collaboration within the LD team Designers always focusing on one another’s work Drive each other to improve More coherent across the game Greater specialization Matinee wizard Encounter type experts Builders Scripters We can play to people’s strengths Not without drawbacks, will get to them
  22. Sharing a map is a logistical nightmare Tech has been invested into making it work Still some workflow issues
  23. Relies on a rigid adherence to submap organization Persistent handles Checkpointing Submap loading Player spawning Nothing else Each beat has its’ own set of submaps Geo, Design, Animation, FX, Audio Most extreme version: 3 encounters, 1 location 3 designers, artist, animator, FX artist all working at once Lost of high quality work done in days, not weeks Streamlined the interface Shrunk vertical height of each map Be willing to rework your tools to fit your needs
  24. Has allowed greater complexity Small focus means the roof gets blown off each area Major shift from FFOW, which was very simple Here’s the 1 st mission in FFOW Our old ways would not have been sustainable
  25. Each LD unit has a lead Responsible for nightly build Seamless flow between sections Polices standards Drawback : single point of failure Path data needs to be in sync Not as bullet proof as a single owner approach Working on tools to reduce that risk
  26. What are the drawbacks? Loss of a sense of mission ownership In practice, not a huge deal People still own their part, laser like focus Good investment in the whole mission Group focus on pace, storytelling I like annoying designers by handing missions around Sharing a mission gets everyone’s best ideas into it Allows designers to ‘jam’ like musicians, riff off each other’s work Real main issue: technical FFOW: known-good check-ins worked well Broken check-ins were a big deal, swarmed by Aps Swarming often makes a known good check-in technically impossible
  27. Would I recommend it? Depends on project Heavily scripted encounters that can be tied off? It makes sense Depends on your tools Not every engine could work this way Depends on the team We’re trying a new approach For us, the tools, design, & people are such that this approach is helping us achieve the quality we want
  28. Here’s Joel Burgess, on Fallout 3