"Dropping In" is a level prototype, made for the "Level Design Weekend" challenge hosted by the Level Design Lobby. Aspiring level designers were tasked with grey-boxing a playable space over the course of 48 hours that would fit into the cyber-punk world of "Deus Ex: Human Revolution". I took this opportunity to learn some of the basics of Unreal Engine 4 and designing from a first-person perspective, while simultaneously applying lessons I had learned in my own previous level design experiences.
Participants were prompted with the following scenario: Adam Jensen (the player) must break into a nightclub and steal data from the club owner's computer. Designers were free to work with the skills and abilities established in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but we were not to add any new mechanics or skills for the player to use. Players needed to also have options; there should be several ways to get into the club to access the data Jensen needed, accounting for the different tools at Jensen's disposal: speech, hacking, stealth, and combat.
Player Options & Freedom
In an attempt to provide an opportunity to use each of the aforementioned game mechanics, I designed the nightclub to have 3 different entrances:
The Main Entrance, in which players may talk or fight their way past the club's bouncers.
The Staff Entrance at the back of the building, which players can hack their way into.
The Ventilation System entrance on the roof, which players will need to use stealth to access.
Each route offers a different experience for the player, but each one ultimately leads to the exact same objective: the central office inside the establishment.
By taking the Main Entrance, and by successfully talking their way into the club, the player has the most peaceful option. The can walk freely through the dining and dance floor areas of the nightclub, looking for a way into the VIP area that contains the entrance to the main office. If speech fails the player, however, they can attempt to sneak across the nightclub's rooftop into a broken Ventilation System shaft, using their stealth skill set to avoid detection by the patrolling guards. If the player simply prefers to hack their way in, they have the option to do so through the Staff Entrance at the rear of the building, and will be met with little resistance as they enter the staff and kitchen area. It should be noted, however, that combat is indeed an option at all times. Once inside, the player has a limited amount of freedom to explore the club's interior.
I opted to design this space through the perspective of the club's owner: a mob boss with expensive taste, who might be over-protective of his property, but loves to mingle and socialize with individuals of a high social status.
The club's exterior is sleek and inspired by modern architecture, a stark contrast to it's dingy surroundings. Likewise, the club's interior is sleek and clean, with colorful lights illuminating the space. The VIP, Dining, And Dance Floor spaces of the club suggests that the club's owner likes to accommodate for his guests; large, open spaces with both calming and energizing atmospheres encourage the club's patrons to socialize and indulge themselves in what the club has to offer.
As previously mentioned, however, the club owner is protective of both himself and his property. His central office stands atop a circular support structure, surrounded by one way glass that allows him to observe the club's activities. His desk faces directly across from the main entrance, where he can keep track of patrons who enter the building.
A rather different mood is established in the staff and kitchen spaces, however, located beneath the feet of the VIP staff and patrons. Cramped spaces and dull lighting suggest that the club's owner cares little for the individuals who keep the establishment running, and open windows into all working spaces suggest that there is even a sense of distrust between the owner and his employees.
The most challenging aspect of this project was utilizing the most appropriate project pipeline to develop a deliverable product by the deadline. While my work during the pre-production, production, and post-production phases of the development cycle ultimately resulted in a level demo and design document I was happy with, there were several mistakes I made during the process that hindered my progress overall. A detailed write-up will be posted soon on my blog.
In particular, where my efforts fell short was in the pre-production phase of the project. I took the 48-hour deadline as an excuse to forgo detailed planning of the playable space and jumped into the blockmesh phase as quickly as I could. I started with some very simple basics:
A handful of reference images of "nightclubs" (interior and exterior).
Rough shapes for the building architecture and placement of "zones" (dancing, dining, VIP, staff).
3 Possible entrances into the building (main entrance, rooftop, staff entrance).
What ultimately resulted was a foundation I could build and iterate upon rather quickly, but the lack of detail I had placed into the initial plans resulted in periods of confusion and uncertainty when trying to figure out where certain assets and set pieces should be placed. I had also received feedback of the initial blockmesh after the deadline, where it was pointed out that I had not considered all of the possible game mechanics available to the player in the source material, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In particular, I had not provided any opportunities for players to use their "hacking" skill set. Spending some time adjusting the level based on this and other minor recommendations resulted in the final playable product found on this page.
Player flowchart, from the Level Design Document.
In the future, I plan on utilizing the "Preproduction Blueprint" framework, established by Alex Galuzin of worldofleveldesign.com. This framework will require me to spend much more time in the pre-production phase of my next project before I even consider "blocking out" a level, focusing on aspects like setting, key locations, more detailed 2D maps, story beats, obstacles and set pieces, and many others. By following this framework, I should not only have a more efficient production cycle for future projects, but also a higher quality final product.