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Stargate: Timekeeper - Stealth Talks: Episode 4 "Level desing in stealth"

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Published on June 21, 2024

Hello, my name is Eryk Przepiórzyński, I work as a Level Designer for Stargate: Timekeepers.
Today I wanted to tell you about the Level Design in Stargate: Timekeepers, and more specifically about the two main topics. The process of prototyping levels and designing the puzzle arenas.

Before we start building a new episode, we analyze what it will be about, what its goals will be, its course, and what additional content it might contain.
Afterwards we are gathering the references of the environment, objects and events from the series or the real world.

Knowing what the goals of the mission will be, and the overall flow of the mission, I can proceed to what is most important, and most rewarding for me in Stargate, as well as in the work of a Level Designer, which is level blockmeshing.

There is no clear term for the process of creating the map, it can be blockout, blockmeshing, whiteboxing or greyboxing.
In each situation it will mean the same thing, that is, a level built from simple blocks, so that as soon as possible we can start testing the mechanics, the difficulty level or, most importantly for our game, the puzzles.

When starting the level construction stage, I plan how many arenas must be included in it. An arena is a location on the map, which is a component of the whole and contains enemies and puzzles.
Depending on the complexity and specifications of the episode, the map may consist of 5, 10 or even more arenas.
The most common structure of our arenas is a situation in which there are two puzzles to solve per arena.

Having a plan of the whole level and knowing how many arenas will be in it, I proceed to build the first arena and lay out all the environmental objects such as walls, rocks, vehicles. As aforementioned, all the environment objects are composed of primitive blocks, however, sometimes I like to dedicate slightly more time to build more complex blockmesh to present my vision of the location or the object more precisely and facilitate the work of other departments.

I don't limit myself to finalizing only one process at the time, rather I try to make the blockmeshing and the puzzle design go hand in hand, so once I have the initial blockmesh of the environment done, I proceed to lay out the objects that serve as cover for our characters.

These are the objects that have a direct impact on gameplay because they are the ones that allow the player to progress through the arena and effectively hide from enemies' viewcones.

While designing the puzzles we do not want to make it with only one solution, hence, in order to deliver the arena to the initial testing stage, we must have at least two interesting and engaging completion ways.
During this stage of work we get the help from our hard-working programmers, through whom we have access to very useful tools which significantly accelerate the process.

One of these tools is the Skill Visibility Tool, which allows us to have a visualization of the ranges and noises of each skill and each character in a few quick clicks.
Placing the pointer of this tool on the terrain, we can check for example if our character can be spotted in this location while using this skill, or if the character can simply use this skill from that spot.

Once the blockmesh and puzzles are designed I accede to setting up the placeholder lights.
These are the most ordinary lights that allow sufficient visibility on the map when testing an episode, or that have a specific purpose, such as when I want to direct the player to a certain place in some way.

When finishing the design of each arena, we begin the early process of iterations. Early process of iterations means nothing more than tests of another Level Designer.
After the initial testing, I proceed to review the feedback and based on it, make changes or improvements.
If all the arenas have passed the internal testing and iteration process, the initial effect is satisfactory and gameplay of the episode is interesting; the level can be delivered to the main testing pass.

After the main testing pass begins, Level Design focus is directed towards the iteration and bug fixing. In some cases, after a few iterations of the map, some of the areas may be completely different from the initial state.
This can be due to all sorts of things, from changing the environment, the idea of the arena itself, noticing something we didn't see before, changing the positioning of one opponent, which will entail changing more, bugs, all the way to completely changing the mission course.

Once the blockmesh on the map is completed, all the arenas are designed and tested, another departments take care of the map.
However, the Level Designer's work is not over until the release and even after that, support continues.

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