Level Design and Mission Design

Map Design

  • Oversaw creation of over 20 PvE and multiplayer maps using mission editor, C#, and triggers
  • Remixed classic Age of Empires maps for AOEO and tuned player base allocation, starting units, resource allocation and important geographical features such as bodies of water, mountains, hills, islands, and valleys
  • The terrain features, resource pools, and sizes of these maps scaled appropriately for 2 to 8 players, in all manner of skirmish configurations.
  • Highlights of several maps I implemented:
    • Black Forest: All bases are nestled in nooks of a large forest. Narrow tree-lined pathways lead to each base as well as resources.
    • Oasis: The center of the map features a rich water source, lots of trees, and plenty of mines and food. Resources around the rest of the map are sparse, requiring players to expand towards the middle.
    • Arabia: Bases are protected by cliffs allowing resources to be harvested safely. The terrain is rugged and so are the wild animals roaming the map. Several mini-oasis fishing ponds are scattered all over the map, allowing access to additional food and wood resources.
    • Big Island: Players begin on opposite sides of a large island rich in resources. A large body of water surrounding the island allows for interesting naval and fishing options.
    • Dueling Islands: Players begin on small resource rich islands, which are surrounded by a large body of water and additional smaller islands containing more resources.
    • Mountain Crossing: Four large cliff walls form an X across the entire map. At the center is a large open area. Resources are condensed at the top and bottom parts of the map.
    • Sheltered Pass: Two parallel cliffs separate players and create narrow choke points into each base. A small number of cliff ramps can also be used to launch suprise attacks along the walls.

Quest Design

Skirmish mode includes a set of 15-20 quests tied to completing specific game mode objectives, such as defeating specific AI opponents, winning on all maps, winning 1 on 4 matches or 4 on 4 matches, winning a match in each of the 3 game mode types, and reaching specific milestones such as winning 100 skirmish matches. For each of these quests, I created the starting conditions, objective text, objective triggers, NPC quest givers, and reward tables.

The end game of Age of Empires Online is targeted at players who have hit the level cap. It focuses on challenging repeatable content aimed at PvP players, co-op players, and solo players. Each player must choose one of 3 factions to ally themselves with. Successfully completing hard PvE game modes or winning PvP matches earns players alliance points. At the end of each time frame (daily, weekly, monthly), faction points are tallied and rewards are given out to players on the winning team.

  • Co-designed the framework and structure of the repeatable end game experience to improve player retention
  • Designed 3 of the repeatable game modes that earn faction points
  • Created quests associated with each end game mode type

World and Mission Design

The world of The Agency was split into 2 distinct types of gameplay spaces, combat and non-combat zones. I was responsible for directing the experience of the non-combat zones.

Images of the design sketch for Kiev, an overhead in game map of Kiev, and a design sketch for Venice. These 2 cities are examples of public spaces where I was responsible for directing the gameplay experience.

In game images of the Venice public space. I placed initial spawns, properties, and animation sets of all NPCs, vendors, and mission givers in this space and was responsible for delivering a high quality public space experience for our alpha milestone.

  • Created all intel events used in non-combat public cities and set up all spawner settings for missions, vendors, alias zones, and intel events.
  • Co-designed alias zones with public space level designer.
  • Implemented several public space missions in conjunction with public space level designer and writer.
  • Populated one entire city with mission givers, vendors, alias NPCs, bystanders, and intel events and terated several times on their placement.
  • Designed a number of vignettes for bystanders to act out in groups with the goal of making a city feel alive.
    • Worked closely with animation team to define a full list of animations and vignettes appropriate for Venice.
  • Whiteboxed a large test environment for creating and iterating on over 20 unique intel event spawners and settings.
    • Playtested the intel whitebox play space over several weeks with a number of unique players to refine the level setups and the intel system.
    • Implemented the best intel events in Venice, our first major public social hub.
  • Managed designers, tracked tasks, and reviewed progress of missions for 2 milestones.

Level Design and Mission Scripting

One of the invasion sites, which is the size of an island in Grand Theft Auto, did not have a level designer assigned to it when I started at Sandblast. During a period where boss design lacked support resources to iterate, I took the initiative to implement several missions in Unreal and build out Belleville, a city based loosely on Paris. When I started, the level had a rough lay out and very basic mission block in.

  • Implemented several missions using Unreal’s visual scripting language, Kismet, and iterated on them with feedback from the team.
  • Placed hundreds of path nodes for sidewalks, pathways, and intersections for both pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Created whitebox environments for indoor level and directed concept artist on previsualization.
  • Created whitebox environment and iterated on boss arena located underneath Eiffel tower.
  • Built layout in greater detail and revised central landmarks of the city along with primary environment artist.
  • Defined unique districts and improved level flow by iterating on placement of mission critical objectives.
  • Created several side missions.

The following images are final renderings of Belleville. I was responsible for laying out districts, major landmarks, and key battle locations. I inherited a rough lay out of this level and added path nodes, implemented mission scripts, placed mission givers and triggers, and built the boss arena located at the Eiffel Tower.

Interiors and Boss Arena Design

  • Built whitebox geometry for all 3 boss arenas and one interior combat mission.
  • Created prototype scripts and matinees to mimic the scale and behavior of the dragon boss as it moved through environment.
  • Directed concept artist on desired theme and look of environments based on playtest results of rough block-ins.
  • Placed gameplay assets such as props, spawners, platforms, triggers, scripts, dialogue cues, and mission related objects.

Whitebox and final renderings of the chateau.

This chateau is owned by an elite French business man. It is used in the second mission of Belleville to host a party, light investigation gameplay, and a battle. I created this geometry and worked with concept and environment artists to define the look of the space. Being European born, I wanted to create a space that invoked the sense of awe one gets from visiting historical palaces. I also wanted to create an interior space with vertical gameplay to make the battle more interesting.

Dragon Environment Concept Drawings Jet pack gameplay version of dragon battle

Initially, the dragon boss battle was supposed to take place inside a warehouse. Once I prototyped the battle with an appropriately sized dragon, the warehouse didn't fit the combat design. When getting feedback from the team, everyone agreed that next-gen bosses should be larger and more animated than those of years past, so the size of the dragon continued to increase. A large flying creature needed a more open space to roam around in. I defined the gameplay space we wanted to develop with a concept artist and settled on a mystical themed series of rock formations off the shore of the city. These were the concept sketches she made.

In the process of defining the look, I wanted to test out another gameplay idea. In order to integrate jet pack gameplay and to add a heightened sense of drama into the battle, I created a ring structure where the bridges in between the platforms would be destroyed by the dragon during the battle. The rocks would then collapse, narrowing the number of places the player could stand on. In addition, the glowing tops of the platforms would light on fire when the dragon performed a special attack under the ring structure. While this idea made the battle unique, playtesting revealed that a long flying enemy was too difficult to hit with the player camera settings we had settled on. The battle and level were simplified to make the dragon a fixed target.

The Destroy All Humans! series is also recognized for spoofing pop culture in each decade. DAH!:Path of the Furon is set in the 70s. The emperor boss arena is a spoof of a very popular sci-fi movie released around that time. I created a whitebox version of this boss arena that featured a collapsing floor so that the second part of the battle could feature aerial jetpack fighting. Time and resources did not allow for jetpack play to be developed, so the battle was constrained to being on foot and the room was adjusted to reflect that.

These are images of the final dragon and emperor boss environments. For the dragon envrionment, the look of the stones was maintained and a city skyline was added, but the player now stands on a single platform that features several rocks for taking cover behind when getting shot. This environment set up was better received by players.

Spawner and LOD Tuning

  • One important gameplay goal for Path of the Furon was next-gen density of objects, vehicles, and people.
  • Defined spawn parameters for optimal gameplay and visuals under performance constraints.
  • Iterated on several versions of spawn systems to create one that felt just right.
  • Tuned settings for LOD thresholds on visibility of pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Created a specification for the environment artists and level designers to follow when adding these spawn points to the world.

Images depicting vehicle density from the saucer and pedestrian density on foot.

Notice that you can see cars in almost all directions. I was responsible for optimizing spawning algorithms alongside the AI engineer and tuning data sets for each of the five invasion sites to create maximize density while minimizing pop in for vehicles, both on foot and in the saucer.

These images represent a range of circumstances under which the spawner settings had to hold up. We had a combination of long streets with very long sight lines and a character who could jetpack, as well as streets that featured junctions of much shorter streets. I iterated on each invasion site with many different data sets to produce results that worked best for each city.

Level design

During development of the game, it was necessary to test Mario’s move set constantly in different environments. Mario had over 300 states and setting jump parameters incorrectly could easily break many puzzles. I created test maps throughout the development process to verify that the move set behaved in a consistent way across different puzzle configurations. In addition, the company had an open call for level submissions and I created several levels for consideration in the shipping game. One of the levels I created was used and modified slightly for final release.

Double Monkiki Puzzle Drop Level

  • The premise behind this level is to use the Monkikis as a portable rope to cross a long pit of spikes in the lower right quadrant of the map.
    • In order to do this, the player must make use of several color switches which turn world geometry on and off, and allow the Monkikis to walk across the map and fall down.
  • My initial concept featured a single Monkiki that you had to lead via the switches to the position you needed him.
  • The colored blocks in the picture represent pieces of geometry that can be turned on and off depending on which switch you have active in the level.
  • In this picture, the yellow switch is currently active. If the player hit the red switch, then the Monkiki Mario is hanging onto in the picture would drop, allowing the player to have a portable rope in a different part of the level.
  • A second Monkiki was added for pacing reasons since they walk relatively slow (which was necessary to allow players to easily grab their tail).