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Modular Level Design for Skyrim

Originally presented as part of GDC 2013 Level Design in a Day bootcamp. Co-talk between level designer and artist about the how and why of building massive games with modular art kits.

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Modular Level Design for Skyrim

  1. 1. Modular Level Design for SkyrimJoel BurgessNathan PurkeypileBethesda Game Studios
  2. 2. Where We’re Coming From ●Bethesda Games are Big
  3. 3. Where We’re Coming From ●Bethesda Games are Big ●We value high-mileage
  4. 4. Where We’re Coming From ●Bethesda Games are Big ●We value high-mileage ● In our systems, art, team - everything ●Beliefs + Circumstance + Experience = Culture ●How can our culture benefit yours?
  5. 5. Case Study: Modular Level Design
  6. 6. What is a kit? ●Kits are Systems
  7. 7. What is a kit? ●Kits are Systems ●Typically snapped to a grid ●More than the sum of parts
  8. 8. What is a kit? ●Kits are Systems ●Typically snapped to a grid ●More than the sum of parts ●In this context: architectural
  9. 9. “Modular Level and Component Design”Lee Perry – Game Developer Nov. 2002
  10. 10. Terminator: Future Shock (1995)Elder Scrolls 2:Daggerfall (1996)
  11. 11. Modular Level Design: The Pros & Cons
  12. 12. Pro - Reusable Art is… Reusable ●Reusable Art Mitigates Scope
  13. 13. Pro - Reusable Art is… Reusable ●Reusable Art Mitigates Scope ●Skyrim Environment Includes: ●16 sq.mile Overworld ● 300+ Dungeons ●5 Major Cities ● 140+ Points of Interest ●2 Hidden Worldspaces ● 37 Towns, Farms & Villages
  14. 14. Pro - Reusable Art is… Reusable ●Reusable Art Mitigates Scope ●Skyrim Environment Includes: ●16 sq.mile Overworld ● 300+ Dungeons ●5 Major Cities ● 140+ Points of Interest ●2 Hidden Worldspaces ● 37 Towns, Farms & Villages ●400+ cells of traditional “level” gameplay
  15. 15. Pro - Reusable Art Mitigates Scope ●Skyrim: 400+ cells, 8 Level Designers ●Scope as Restrictive?
  16. 16. Beliefs+ Circumstance+ Experience . Culture
  17. 17. Con - Art Fatigue ●Abolish copy/pasting
  18. 18. Con - Art Fatigue ●Abolish copy/pasting ●Disassociate setting from inhabitants & gameplay ●Encourage Asset Mix-n-Match
  19. 19. Pro - Low Artist:Designer Ratio TESV: Skyrim 2 Kit Artists 8 Level Designers 7 Kits 400+ Unique Cells 30 Months
  20. 20. Con - High Complexity ●Requires Art Talent & Technical Understanding Aesthetics Composition Design Art Workflow Workflow Modeling Kit LogicSnapping Rules Grid Multiples
  21. 21. Con - High Complexity ●Requires Art Talent & Technical Understanding ● Basically: Unicorn Artist ●Bug-Fixing can be delicate
  22. 22. Pro – Instant, Game-wide Art Deployment ●Art changes propagate automatically
  23. 23. New Art Incoming! Yay!kthx. Whatever.
  24. 24. Pro – Instant, Game-wide Art Deployment ●Art changes propagate automatically ●Artwork viewable in “real” context ●Zero impact on Design workflow ●Keeps Cosmetic Control w/Art ●Aesthetic Process Not Rushed
  25. 25. Pro - Iteration Speed ●High flexibility & agility ●Fastest Workflow Ever? ●No Turnaround Time ●1:1 Correlation w/Final Layout
  26. 26. Con - Total Dependence on Art ●Design empowered only if kits available and good ●Art/Design Relationship is Imperative
  27. 27. Common LD – Art Relationship● Level Designers Build early version of level ● In-Editor: BSP, Graybox ● External Tools: Sketchup, 3ds Max, etc ● Abstract: Documents, Paper Maps● Then: Hand off to art
  29. 29. Common LD – Art Relationship● Art does a visual pass on the level● Sends back to Design for markup, scripting, etc
  30. 30. ART
  31. 31. Art & Design Collaboration● Can we improve relations?● Kits May seem impersonal● Process is collaborative in dev
  32. 32. How Kits Are Born
  33. 33. Main Steps For Kit Building●Concept●Proof Piece●Graybox/Functional Core●Build-Out●Ongoing Polish
  34. 34. A Note on Scale●Abstract Units (Commonplace)●128 units ~ 6 feet ~ 2 meter●This talk assumes Z as “up” axis 1 2 8 32
  35. 35. Global Standards●Establish Global Standards ● Doorframe Dimensions ● Minimum Width ● Valid Incline Grading ● Gameplay-relevant metrics ●Jump heights ●Cover heights
  36. 36. Concept Phase
  37. 37. Where Do Kits Come From? ●Concept ● Visual Theme, Gameplay Goals, Scope & Sub-Kits
  38. 38. Concept Phase~1 week} Level DesignerConcept Kit ArtistConcept
  39. 39. Before You Begin●ArtConcerns: ●Visual theme? Visual goals?●DesignConcerns: ●Expected usage? Gameplay role of kit? Story?
  40. 40. Before You Begin●How widely-used? Skyrim Kit Usage Cave Mines Ice Cave Nordic Fort Dwarven Ratway
  41. 41. Skyrim Kit Usage Cave Mines Ice Cave Nordic Fort Dwarven Ratway
  42. 42. Before You Begin●What “Sub-kits” will be made? Cave – Used 200 times Ratway – Used Twice Nordic – Used 150 times Small Hall Hall Small Hall Large Hall Circular Room Large Hall Small Room Square Room Small Room Large Room Large Room Epic Room Temple Room Shaft Stairwell Balcony
  43. 43. Proof Phase
  44. 44. Where Do Kits Come From? ●Concept ● Visual Theme, Gameplay Goals, Scope, Sub-Kits, etc ●Proof ● Build out prototype pieces, test major concepts
  45. 45. Concept Proof Phase Phase 1-3 weeks } Level DesignerConcept Stress Test Kit ArtistConcept Proof
  46. 46. Pick Your Grid Footprint●Grid Size is the Foundation of your Kit
  47. 47. Footprint Sizes●Equilateral Sizes are common: ●512x512x512
  48. 48. 2 5 6256
  49. 49. Footprint Sizes●Equilateral Sizes are common: ●512x512x512●Play with Proportions ●256x256x768
  50. 50. 7 6 8256
  51. 51. Footprint Sizes● Equilateral Sizes are common: ● 512x512x512● Play with Proportions ● 256x256x1024● Sub-Kits on same grid size or multiples of it. ● 256X256x256 can match 512x512x512 ● 256x256x256 cannot match 384x384x384
  52. 52. Keep Your Grid Snaps Large (unhappy LD)(happy LD) Grid Snap Size
  53. 53. Common Footprint Problems●Non-uniform XY sizes can be problematic Kit Kit Kit Piece Piece Piece Kit Piece Piece Piece Piece Piece Piece Piece Kit Kit Kit Kit Kit Kit Kit Piece
  54. 54. Common Footprint Problems●Non-uniform XY sizes – use sparingly.●Dont tile on all six axes. ●Huge Increase in Complexity
  55. 55. Understanding Footprint●Footprint = full bounds of a piece ●Including Negative space●Pieces should exist within the footprint ● Footprintis not the traversable space ● Avoid temptation to build outside footprint
  56. 56. Stay Inside the Footprint
  57. 57. Stay Inside the FootprintOutside Footprint!
  58. 58. Stay Inside the Footprint
  59. 59. Stay Inside the FootprintOverlapping Parts
  60. 60. Stay Inside the Footprint
  61. 61. Graybox/Core Phase
  62. 62. Where Do Kits Come From? ●Concept ● Visual Theme, Gameplay Goals, Scope, Sub-Kits, etc ●Proof ● Build out one or a small number of prototype pieces ●Core Pieces ● “Graybox” versions of high-use pieces in all sub-kits
  63. 63. Concept Proof Graybox Phase Phase Phase 1-4 weeksConcept } Stress TestConcept Proof Core
  64. 64. “Graybox” Core Pieces
  65. 65. “Graybox” Core Pieces●Create a graybox of your primary sub-kit●Figure out problems early on●Focus on function, not aesthetics
  66. 66. Naming Conventions●Be Consistent w/other Kits●Balance Brevity & Meaning ●Avoid over-abbreviation ●But keep names recognizable●Decide early - Difficult tochange●Use “01” as a suffix to allow for variants
  67. 67. ● Utility Kit ● Bay Sub-Kit ● Corner (Inner) ● Mid/Tiling Piece ● WTF?Utl BayCorInMid PRTT01L01
  68. 68. UtlBayCorInMidRRRT01RL01 UtlBayGirderMountL01 UtlBayCorInBot01UtlBayCorInMidRRTR01L UtlBayGirderMountR01 UtlBayCorInExSmL01UtlBayCorInMidRRTR01R UtlBayGirderStraightReg01 UtlBayCorInExSmR01UtlBayCorInMidRTPT01L UtlBayGirderStraightReg02 UtlBayCorInMid01UtlBayCorInMidRTPT01R UtlBayGirderStraightSht01 UtlBayCorInMid01LRUtlBayCorInMidRTRT01L UtlBayGirderStraightSht02 UtlBayCorInMidDbl01UtlBayCorInMidRTRT01LR UtlBayGirderStrutSingle01 UtlBayCorInMidFull01UtlBayCorInMidRTRT01R UtlBayGirderStrutSingle02 UtlBayCorInMidPRPR01UtlBayCorInMidRTTT01L UtlBayGirderStrutSingle03 UtlBayCorInMidPRPR01FUtlBayCorInMidRTTT01R UtlBayMidBot01 UtlBayCorInMidPRPT01FLUtlBayCorInMidTRTR01L UtlBayMidTop01 UtlBayCorInMidPRPT01FRUtlBayCorInMidTRTR01R UtlBayWallBot01 UtlBayCorInMidPRPT01LUtlBayCorInMidTRTT01L UtlBayWallExSm01 UtlBayCorInMidPRPT01RUtlBayCorInMidTRTT01R UtlBayWallMid01 UtlBayCorInMidPRTR01L01UtlBayCorInTallBotL01 UtlBayWallMid02 UtlBayCorInMidPRTT01L01UtlBayCorInTallBotR01 UtlBayWallMidL01 UtlBayCorInMidPRTT01R01UtlBayCorInTallMidL01 UtlBayWallMidPR01 UtlBayCorInMidPTPT01UtlBayCorInTallMidL02 UtlBayWallMidPR01L UtlBayCorInMidPTPT01FUtlBayCorInTallMidR01 UtlBayWallMidPR01R UtlBayCorInMidPTTT01L01UtlBayCorInTallMidR02 UtlBayWallMidPT01 UtlBayCorInMidPTTT01R01UtlBayCorInTallTopL01 UtlBayWallMidPT01L UtlBayCorInMidRRPR01LUtlBayCorInTallTopR01 UtlBayWallMidPT01R UtlBayCorInMidRRPR01RUtlBayCorInTop01 UtlBayWallMidR01 UtlBayCorInMidRRPT01LUtlBayCorInTopLR01 UtlBayWallMidRT01 UtlBayCorInMidRRPT01RUtlBayCorOutBot01 UtlBayWallMidRTL01 UtlBayCorInMidRRRT01LUtlBayCorOutEdge01 UtlBayWallMidRTR01 UtlBayCorInMidRRRT01LR01UtlBayCorOutEdgeL01 UtlBayWallMidTR01 UtlBayCorInMidRRRT01RUtlBayCorOutEdgeL02 UtlBayWallTallBot01UtlBayCorOutEdgeR01 UtlBayWallTallCorInBot01UtlBayCorOutEdgeR02 UtlBayWallTallCorInExSmL01UtlBayCorOutEdgeSm01 UtlBayWallTallCorInExSmR01UtlBayCorOutMid01 UtlBayWallTallCorInMid01UtlBayCorOutPR01 UtlBayWallTallCorInTop01UtlBayCorOutPT01 UtlBayWallTallCorOutBot01UtlBayCorOutTop01 UtlBayWallTallCorOutMid01UtlBayGirder3wayReg01 UtlBayWallTallCorOutTop01UtlBayGirder3wayReg02 UtlBayWallTallExSm01UtlBayGirder3wayRegFree01 UtlBayWallTallMid01UtlBayGirder3wayRegFree02 UtlBayWallTallMid02UtlBayGirder4wayReg01 UtlBayWallTallMid03UtlBayGirder4wayReg02 UtlBayWallTallMid04UtlBayGirder4wayRegFree01 UtlBayWallTallMid05UtlBayGirder4wayRegFree02 UtlBayWallTallTop01UtlBayGirderBaseFreeWall01 UtlBayWallTop01UtlBayGirderBaseFreeWall02UtlBayGirderBaseReg01UtlBayGirderBaseReg02UtlBayGirderBaseSht01UtlBayGirderBaseSht02
  69. 69. Common Naming ConventionsHallways Rooms Platform1Way01 Corner01 Mid012Way01 Mid01 Corner013Way01 Wall01 ICorner014Way01 WallDoor01DeadEnd01 ICorner011WayDoorL01 CornerDoorL011WayDoorR01 CornerDoorR011WayDoorB01 CornerDoorB01DeadEndDoor01
  70. 70. Pivot Placement● Consider designer workflow & usage of the kit● Pivots at bottom-center are most common● Exceptions exist, such as: ● Platform Kit (bottom of platform) ● Pipe Kit (hinge pivot) ● Alcove (edge of alcove) Pivot
  71. 71. Sidebar: Stress Testing & LD Role
  72. 72. Stress Testing Kits● Don’t test in ideal conditions – this proves nothing● Consider all possible use cases, likely and otherwise ● Then decide which to support ● Have answers for later
  73. 73. Common Problems: Loopback Issues • Double Kit on itself • Look for Gaps • Avoid Patch Pieces • Find Footprint Issues
  74. 74. Common Problems: Loopback IssuesBad! Good!
  75. 75. Common Problems: Unable to Stack• Uses full Vertical Footprint• Floor/Ceiling Co-Planar
  76. 76. Common Problems: Unable to Stack• Leave A Gap • Space for holes, gaps, partitions, triggers
  77. 77. Common Problems: The “Hall Room” Hall “3-way” Pieces Hall Corner Pieces Unintended Pillars!
  78. 78. Common Problems – The Hall Room● Somebody tries it eventually ● Like, every time. ● Sometimes it’s ugly● Decide – support it or no?
  79. 79. Stress Testing Is Teamwork
  80. 80. Building Out the Kit
  81. 81. Where Do Kits Come From? ●Concept ● Visual Theme, Gameplay Goals, Scope, Sub-Kits, etc ●Proof ● Build out one or a small number of prototype pieces ●Core Pieces ● “Graybox” versions of high-use pieces in all sub-kits● Building Out ● Push for Functionally-Final, Begin Sharing w/Team
  82. 82. Concept Proof Graybox Build Out Phase Phase Phase 4-8 weeks Additional Level DesignersConcept Stress Test EducateConcept Proof Core Build Out
  83. 83. Start Making It Real Art●Art worries about this part - Design can start building ●Doesnt impact the flow/design of the level. ●Can be swapped out seamlessly.●One “Visually Final” piece before building whole kit.
  84. 84. Building Out the Kit
  85. 85. Avoid Hero Pieces Which Matters more?
  86. 86. Helper Markers
  87. 87. Polish Phase
  88. 88. “Ongoing Polish” ●Review Usage Cases in Real Levels ●Respond to bugs, usability, special requests ●Continual visual refinement & development
  89. 89. Establishing The Kit Build Levels 2-5 Months Build Levels Build LevelsConcept Stress Test Educate Build LevelsConcept Proof Core Build Out Polish
  90. 90. Establish Building Real Content With Kit1 2 3 4 Ongoing Polish
  91. 91. Going Off the Grid:Advanced Kit Building
  92. 92. What You Can Do So Far
  93. 93. Always Looks Like A Kit
  94. 94. Learn the Rules, Break the Rules●With Fallout3, we begin bending our own rules●Always keeping in mind the ideas behind them ● Choose and acknowledge logic quirks. ● “This one tiles vertically.” ● “These floors are placed independently.” ● “The halls in this one are curved.”
  95. 95. Rule-Bending: Always Remember the Cost●Art/Design compromises ●Art –Looks better, takes longer ●LD – Harder to work with●Worth it? Case by case
  96. 96. Snap-to-Reference●Key technology●Select any object, editor treats as origin
  97. 97. WorldGrid New Snap Reference
  98. 98. SnapRef’sGrid
  99. 99. Snap-toReference
  100. 100. Pivot and Flange●Used for the Ratway in Skyrim●Pivot actsas a hinge●Allows for organic flow
  101. 101. Pivot and Flange - Organic Flow
  102. 102. Pivot and Flange - Archway
  103. 103. Pivot and Flange - Downsides●LD build process is more linear●Introduces non-obvious errors ● Be aware and communicate this to LDs●Bad for Highly Specific Architecture
  104. 104. Looks fine...
  105. 105. …Holes!
  106. 106. Shell-Based Building: Skyrim Cave “Rooms”
  107. 107. Shell-Based Building: Skyrim Cave “Rooms”●Organic Space + Orthogonal Kit = Problem●Skyrim Caves used large “shells”●Inset with tiling wall sub-kits●Adds very few pieces
  108. 108. Directionally Restricted Kits●Snap together only in certain rotations●Some Examples: ● Unique in every direction ● “Front/Side” pieces ● Asymmetrical halls
  109. 109. Asymmetrical HallA B A A
  110. 110. Asymmetrical Hall A B B AA B A B
  111. 111. Asymmetrical Hall “De-twist”
  112. 112. Platform Kits● Add “Planes of Play”● Low Piece Count● Bite-sized “LD art”● Works with all sub-kits.
  113. 113. Kit Mashups● Remember: Encourage Mix-n-Matching Kits● “Glue Kits” – small kits made for blending● Multiplier on visual variety options● Requires compromise on art & design
  114. 114. Wrap Up
  115. 115. Compromise versus Choice
  116. 116. Games Are Made By People
  117. 117. Thanks For Listening!joel@joelburgess.comlplasma@gmail.comAdditional Reading:● Modular Level and Component Design -Lee Perry●