Hi there, my name is Sean Edwards and I’m a Senior Game Designer at Krome Studios Australia. In this Blog update I hope to give some interesting and candid insights into the process the team went through to build the levels for Blade Kitten.
Building the World – Level Design for Blade Kitten
Initially we went through several approaches to building the levels, but with a small team we needed a method that allowed fast experimentation and changes. Rather than model large areas of the levels which would require going back into 3DS Max and re-exporting to make changes, the method chosen was to build lots of smaller objects to allow for fast changes and experimentation. This required all the pieces to be built to very specific dimensions so that everything would snap together nicely. The final levels were assembled using those pieces in Krome’s in-house level editor ‘Merktools’ which allowed quick iteration and real time editing of the level as the game is running!
The actual process of taking the level from concept through to completion involved several steps. First the Creative Director, Steve Stamatiadis, would conceptualize the level in a very high level “mud map” format. This map included locations for all the key story elements and a basic layout.
From here the Level Designer would go through several phases of building the level and filling in the blanks. First a rough block out using simple objects with no enemies, then a gameplay pass to add enemies, triggers for doors, checkpoints, secrets and collectibles. When the levels were almost complete, the Level Design team and Steve had play test reviews to refine the final layout. This was a great time to see what each of the Level Designers were doing in their respective levels, that then inspired new ideas and provided an opportunity for constructive feedback.
The levels would not be complete without mentioning the amazing job our Cinematics, Sound, Visual Effects, Lighting and Environment artists did to make the levels look and feel consistent with the Blade Kitten universe. With so many people working on the same level at the same time, effective communication and coordination was critical and despite some difficulties we pulled it off.
Scripting – Making stuff happen!
Our Programmers provided a very flexible Scripting and Event system for making all of the puzzles and other interactive elements in the levels. Giving the Level Designers more control allowed the Programmers to focus on writing more code and fixing bugs rather than implementing content. Through various events happening in the game we could trigger off a variety of different things, from moving objects, animations, effects and sounds as well as controlling very specific AI behaviors.
QA Testing and Bug fixing
As with any game project our QA department is an indispensable part of our team and it’s through their diligence and hard work all of the bugs were found, reported and squashed! I was always impressed with their ability to reproduce a problem and remember the sequence of steps to do so. There were some very tricky things to solve often as a result of the player continuing from a save point which would often show up some very strange events due to the way our games state was saved and restored.
Combat, Movement and Pacing.
Kit has a cool range of abilities brought to life by our talented Animators. We designed the levels to compliment them. As you play through the levels you will encounter Traps, Puzzles and Enemy combinations designed to allow kit to fully exploit her full range of skills. In the hands of an experienced player watching Kit Jump, Slide, Slice and Impale her way through the level, demonstrates her dynamic flexibility. Our simple and accessible controls make it possible for anyone to have fun as well. We consciously designed the levels to also have a nice balance of Combat and Exploration to pace the player’s experience.
The spectacular scene in the Trailer where the huge alien creature called Acland is destroying a bridge as Kit flees the destruction, is a great example of all our skills and technology coming together to deliver and exciting experience for gamers. There are several Boss encounters throughout Episode 1 and they are all fun and unique.
Thanks to our flexible scripting system and some ingenuity, we were able to build these encounters without the need for heavy code support. The Acland Boss level required some unique features that did not exist in any of the other levels. For example, the camera scrolls along with the Boss, and Kit is prevented from running off screen, this was implemented by attaching the camera and some collision to an object moving along a path at the same speed as the Boss. This is how the pacing and intensity of the experience is controlled by giving the player just enough space to keep moving forward with a couple obstacles along the path to mix things up.