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This was a leveldesign project I did as part of the portfoliocourse at The Game Assembly. My goal with this piece was to showcase a functional gameplay whitebox created mostly from scratch. To help me I used the assetpack "Advanced Locomotion" for the basic gameplay, and "Blocking Starter Pack" to give me a set of blockoutmeshes to start with. I then created a simplistic alarmsystem, some patrolling AI and some simple complementary blockoutmeshes like arches and rocks to help me realise my vision.
A rich inventor recently purchased an old fort sitting on a mediterranian island. Recently the prototype of his latest invetion is currently being displayed in his private flowergarden for guests and potential investors to see. His huebris will be his downfall though. You are a Masterthief who have been hired to break into the fort, find a way into the flowergarden and exchange the prototype for a dud, then make a quick escape! Hopefully nothing goes wrong....
Meet up with your contact.
Find a way into the fort through the old sewersytem.
Deactivate the CCTV covering the prototype and change it with the dud.
Escape! (On the way out the alarm will trigger, forcing the player to make a mad dash for freedom)
Development time: 5 weeks part time
Engine: Unreal Engine
Genre: Thirdperson Stealth
Assetpacks: "Advanced Locomotion V4" "Blocking Starter Pack"
Leveldesign and Blueprint Scripting -
Blocking Starter Pack - Xavier Loux on "Epic Games Launcher" marketplace.
Advanced Locomotion System V4 - LongmireLocomotion on "Epic Games Launcher" marketplace
Overview with text detailing the flow and objectives.
Overview which details cameras, guards and their routes.
Act 1: The Break-in
The player starts on a beach, where they meet up with their contractor, who gives them a recap of the plan. The player is to find a way into the fort, exchange the prototype for a dud, and then make their way out where the contractor will wait with an escapeboat ready. To get into the fort they'll have to get up the bridge. This isn't a difficult task but gives the player some time to get used to the mantling and general movement, as well as give them some establishing views on the fortress itself.
On the bridge, the player is introduced to the first hazard in the level: Human Guards.
The first will walk out from behind the bus when the player reaches a trigger. By quickly ducking behind the cars and moving up on the guard, the player can easily dispatch of them or sneak past. Another guard comes out of the small building on the rightside of the bridge when the players gets close. This one can be dealt with the same way.
The way forward has been closed off, and to continue the player jumps through a one-way in a window. They reach a small walkway that continues up towards the fortress, but ends in a gate. To get in, the player will have to take a route through an old sewersystem. This is where the second type of hazard is introduced: Security Cameras. If a camera spots the player, they're given a short amount of time to quickly hide behind a corner again, otherwise a temporary alarm will trip. If a temporary alarm is tripped, then the player is punished by a Sentry Gun apearing. If the player is within line of sight, the sentrygun shoots. If the player can go into hiding and avoid cameras, sentries and guards for a short while, then the alarm will clear and they can continue onwards.
Exiting the old waterway, they'll come out on the other side of the gate. From here, both cameras and guards will start apearing together. The player comes up on two guards patrolling a window the player can use to get in. By dispatching the two guards when separated, the player can safely climb through the window, and they'll then be inside the fort.
Once indoor, the player arrives at a set of stairs they're unable to pass undetected due to an inconvenient security camera. However here they're introduced to the final gameplay element of the level; security offices where cameras can be deactivated by taking out the guard watching them, and then pulling a switch. With this, the player can pass the staircase into the next area with the knowledge to be on the look out for other security offices.
The camera completely shuts of the staircase. The player will have to take out the guard in the nearby security office and shut it of with a switch.
On the topfloor there are a few guards and cameras the player can make their way around. These can't be avoided entirely, so the players best bet is to disable the cameras before either taking the guards out, or simply slipping by them. Beneath them they can scope out the final area from a safe vantage point before engaging.
The gardenarea where the prototype is heavily guarded, with multiple cameras wathcing the prototype. For the player to reach the final goal, they'll have to find this areas security office and shut down the cameras. Without doing this it'll be impossible without triggering the alarm. On the opposite side of the garden lies a security office, which the player can safely reach by creeping along the right side of the garden, using the archways and the cover they provide, to their advantage.
With only the guards to worry about, it's a fairly quick route from the office to get to the prototype. The challenge is more about making it back towards the staircase they came down and start making their way out.
Once the player makes it up the staircase, they'll escape through a window, where they'll be picked up by boat.
From the get-go I knew I wanted to work with an exotic location for this level. I started by looking at referencephotos of different mediterranian castles and forts to get a feel for the architextural style and how potential areas could look, which I then compiled into a moodboard.
Objectives and Layout
Before I opened up the UE4 editor, I came up with the premise for the level, and the objectives came from that. When I had a general idea of what I wanted the player to do I started sketching up some areas on post-it notes that I felt would make for fun stealth-challenges. After that I sketched out various ideas on post-it notes, which I then used as a base to start blocking out the level.
I started blocking out the general playarea so I had something to run through a few times. After making a bunch of small tweaks to the size and the general paths throughout the level, I discovered a few weakpoints with the design:
-For a lot of the level, the player was just being pushed forward without any clear objectives being presented to them, giving them no investment in the experience, or sense of progression.
-There where a lot of long, uninteresting areas where the player would just walk forward.
-Rotating re-scaled assets seemed to cause massive issues with the mantling-system present in Advanced Locomotion V4, so I had to rethink my blockoutflow and build more carefully.
-The feeling of breaking into somewhere wasn't really there, due to the player being coerced into using the more grand entrances, rather than finding sidepassages or scaling walls.
Act 1: The Break-in
In the first itteration, the player broke into the fort by leaping through the window of a guardtower and walking along the top of the wall until they reached an open door they could use. However I felt that this didn't really catch the feeling of "breaking in." In order to catch that feeling I needed to allow the player to discover a more secluded path that they'd traverse, and keep them outside of the fort a little longer. If they get in to quickly it kind of kills the feeling of this being a tightly guarded fortress with something important inside.
The new direciton had the player sneaking downwards, rather than upwards. I liked the idea of a dungeon of some sort, that was a bit less wellguarded. It was more obvious for the player as a route than just having them walk alongside the cliffside.
As the break-in area went through a bit of playtesting, it was apparent that, while better, it still felt a bit like you just "walked in." While I thought the leap that the player had to do in order to get over to the dungeon area would eliminate this, the area felt forced into the layout to justify the gameplay, and less like a natural obstacle you'd encounter in this type of setting, that you'd overcome.
For the final itteration I removed the gap you had to jump over and added a small building with bars that would prevent unauthorized people to get in this way, which the player had to find a way around.
The underground passage was originally meant as gun-nest, integrated as part of a museum. Canons would stand on display with little plaques next to them, and there where windows to look out at the ocean. However having a gun-nest facing towards the mainland felt a bit weird, and this type of area made for more complex geometry than I felt it needed. As this area was mainly supposed to serve as an introduction to Security Cameras and not as a complex stealthsegment, I changed it into an old sewersystem. It gave me an excuse to remove patrolling guards from this area and make it a little bit more linear. The player quickly goes through this area before once again going outside in order to scale onto a balcony, where they can finally break into the main fort itself, where the general layout was re-used for one of the stealthsegments inside the fort.
It felt awkard to take this path as it felt too "videogame-y" and as a bit of a security oversight
While this one felt more natural, it wasn't very obvious to the player
Final itteration managed to catch players attention, but it wasn't immediatly obvious how to continue forward
It felt awkard to take this path as it felt too "videogame-y" and as a bit of a security oversight
The original direciton was more of a "canon nest," with a middle full of stacks of canonballs and crates that the player would sneak through.
The final version ended up with a more straight-forward design.
Act 2: The Fort
The interior of the fort changed completely throughout the development process. Originally I wanted to layout to be more focused on outdoor areas, like on top of walls and outdoor balconies, but it ended up being more indoor focused due to the amount of time you spend outdoors in the first act.
The final challenge of the level is a larger stealthsegment set in the gardenarea where the prototype is on display. The prototype is heavily guarded by both patrolling guards and cameras. Before going in the player can scope out the area from a vantage point and try and figure out a path to the prototype, however it is being guarded by cameras that never stop watching the prototype. The player will need to find another alarm box and shut it down before they'll be able to have a chance at reaching their goal.
Before I was entirely certain of what type of area I wanted for the final segment, I settled on the idea of a fairly open area to contrast the more linear aproach of the rest of the level. Some of the first quick itterations were centered on the idea of a dinnerhall converted to a showroom, but I figured that an outdoor garden would make for a more visually distinct area.
Layoutwise, the idea how having multiple levels that the player could climb between freely to both gain a vantage point, avoid guards and get around more difficult encounters, was something I really wanted when I started blocking. This itteration had a very standard square-shape, with flowerbeds and hedges to act as the players cover when sneaking around. It had a surrounding elevated walkway supported by multiple archways that the player could hide inbetween. This particular itteration didn't go through much itterative work as I quickly felt the direciton was lacking.
Some issues I found:
-The square shape didn't make for good visual direciton
-The area lacked personality
-The traversal between different elevations had to be achieved with multiple staircases dotted out, and it ended up feeling less like a masterthief using the environment to their advantage, and again like a linear path the player had to follow to reach their destination.
I redid this entire area with a more curved shape in order to better draw attention to the objective. Using some photos of different mansion- and castle gardens I quickly furnished the area with hedges that act as the main cover to hide behind. This layout felt stronger to me so I continued to itterate on it by adding small sidepassages beneath the arches that the player could duck into to get some refuge from the more open area.
After discussing with a fellow leveldesign student who pointed out that he very naturally felt drawn to hide beneath those arches, I first tried to disincentivise this. However after a few attempts I instead decided to use this to my advantage.
Since I'd introduced the Alarm Switches just before this area, it would've been weird to forego using them here. When the player first arrives in the garden area, they're able to spot from their vantagepoint that the prototype is heavily guarded by both guards and cameras. By adding the Alarm Switch I wanted the movement of the player to feel urged by more natural responses and their tactical thinking, rather than simply being pushed forward by the level. They'd avoid the heavyily guarded areas and move towards the more quiet sidepaths, before tipping the odds in their favour by shutting down the cameras in the area, after which they can move up on the main objective, do their work and then start making their way back.
I changed up the shapes somewhat to try and get a more interesting shape on the area.
For the final version I did a bit of cleaning up to avoid visual clutter, and gave the player some more geometry to hide behind.
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