Level building is a very organic process. I start by sorting through online and print reference, and doing some drawings to get a feel for the architecture, and how it might work for our game. I'm not interested in accurately re-creating historical places. I want the space to be recognizable, but the last thing we want in this game is to be bound by the facts.
Once I have a basic idea what the architectural vibe of the level is going to be, it's time to consider the larger picture. Is it going to be primarily interiors or exteriors? Will it be hilly, or flat? Doors? Fences? There are all kinds of ways to shape spaces to create tactical interest, as well as all kinds of ways to visually represent what those spaces are.
For this level, inspired by the 1657 Great Fire of Meireki, I wanted to create smooth transitions between interior and exterior spaces. I'm often struggling with the boring, but handy conventions of traditional dungeon-crawling. Turning hallways into bridges over water, and walls into trees is one way to make the space more engaging.
The level map serves multiple functions. It's a freeform way to develop a decorative object vocabulary for the level, show scale, show how spaces are interconnected, and as a visual concept that can give me a real feel for what the level is supposed to look like. I used this sprawling drawing as a basis for drawing all of the world’s textures, like stony paths, grass, fences, walls, and trees. Even as I’m working in 3d, I’m constantly referring back to the original drawings. They keep the level feeling fresh, as I’m forced to find ways to reconcile what’s going on in a drawing with how I can really make it work in 3d space.
It’s always incredibly gratifying when it goes into our engine for the first time, and I get to run our little monsters all around, and explore it from that fresh perspective. It’s even better once it’s filled with hapless humans to kick around.
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