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The Iterative Level Design Process for BioWare’s MASS EFFECT 2. Game Developer Conference 2009. Corey Andruko – Project Manager, Mass Effect 2 Dusty Everman – Lead Level Designer, Mass Effect 2. MASS EFFECT 2: Level Design. Do only the work that answers the right questions in the right order.

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the iterative level design process for bioware s mass effect 2

The Iterative Level Design Process for BioWare’sMASS EFFECT 2

Game Developer Conference 2009

Corey Andruko – Project Manager, Mass Effect 2Dusty Everman – Lead Level Designer, Mass Effect 2

mass effect 2 level design
MASS EFFECT2: Level Design
  • Do only the work that answers the right questions in the right order
agenda
Agenda
  • Level Design on MASS EFFECT (ME)
    • Review process, assess problems, identify source
  • Theory – MASS EFFECT 2 Level Design
    • Examine the phases & the questions they answer
  • Application – How is it going?
    • How are we implementing it (Agile, Lean)
    • What’s working well (and what’s not)
  • Conclusion
  • Q&A
me2 level design
ME2 Level Design
  • ME2 Iterative Design Process
    • Evolution from lessons learned during ME1
me1 level creation teams
ME1: Level Creation Teams
  • Writers
    • plots, characters, dialog, journals
  • Level Artists
    • layout, modeling, texturing, lighting
  • Cinematic Animators
    • animator cutscenes
  • Cinematic Designers
    • cinematic dialogs, designer cutscenes
  • Technical Designers
    • scripting, integration of level content
me1 level creation
ME1: Level Creation

Plots

(Writer)

2D Map

(Writer/

Level Artist)

Block Level

(Level Artist)

Combats,

Plots

(Tech Design)

Level

Art

(Level Artist)

Dialogs

(Writers/

Cine Design)

Cutscenes

(Cine Anim)

Performance Optimized

(Everyone)

me1 level creation problems
ME1: Level Creation Problems
  • “Silo Mentality”: Focus on disciplines, not levels
    • Assumes pieces will just fit together
    • Deliverables not always judged in game
  • Iterations within one silo have hidden costs in other silos
    • Narrative changes affect geometry
    • Geometry changes affect scripting
    • Scripting changes affect cinematics
    • Etc.
  • A rippling “rework” effect occurs.
me1 level creation problems1
ME1: Level Creation Problems
  • Impact of Silo Mentality
    • Costly and unplanned iterations
    • Cross department communication isn’t encouraged
    • Intractable performance issues
    • Levels rarely playable
      • Difficult to evaluate new game mechanics or creatures
      • QA testing hindered
      • Late review of content
    • Cut content (e.g. Caleston)
me2 the phased level creation approach
ME2: The Phased Level Creation Approach
  • Purpose: Get answers to critical questions early, and only do the work that is required to get those answers

Basic Premise:

      • Always playable
      • Always a foundation
      • Always at performance
me2 level creation phases
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 0: Narrative Overview
  • Phase 1: Narrative Playable
  • Phase 2: White Box
  • Phase 3: Orange Box
  • Phase 4: Hardening
  • Phase 5: Finaling
me2 level creation phases1
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 0: Narrative Overview
    • What is the story?
    • Deliverable: Documentation
      • Narrative
      • Characters
      • 2-D Layout
      • Art Themes
      • Cutscene Descriptions
me2 level creation phases2
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 1: Narrative Playable
    • Is the pacing and spacing good?
    • Deliverable: First Playable
      • Box Level Geometry
      • Concept Art
      • Placeholder Set Pieces
      • “Box Level” Dialogs
      • Pop-up Cutscenes
      • Prototyped Level Mechanics
    • “Level Blasting Site”
me2 level creation phases3
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 2: White Box
    • Can you see the fun?
    • Deliverable: Representative Collision
      • Box Level Geometry -> First Pass Static Mesh
      • First Pass Dialog
      • Bronze Combats, (basic cover placement)
      • Animatic Cutscenes
      • Placeholder Music
me2 level creation phases4
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 3: Orange Box
    • Is it fun?
    • Deliverable: Actual Collision
      • Untextured Static Mesh
      • Dialog Ready for VO
      • Dialogs Cinematically Blocked Out
      • Silver Combats(full cover placement)
      • Basic MoCap Cutscenes
me2 level creation phases5
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 4: Hardening
    • Could this be shipped?
    • Deliverable: “Finished” Level
      • Textured and Lit Level Art
      • VO’d Dialog
      • Cinematic Dialog
      • Gold Combats(fully scripted)
      • Smooth Motion Cutscenes
      • Actual Music and Audio
me2 level creation phases6
ME2: Level Creation Phases
  • Phase 5: Finaling
    • Can you feel the awesome?
    • Deliverable: Final Level
      • Everything tweaked, balanced, and polished.
me2 level creation phases7
ME2: Level Creation Phases

Example Videos

Combat

me2 level creation phases8
ME2: Level Creation Phases

Example Videos

Dialog and Cutscenes

me2 level creation our production process
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • What we borrow from Lean Manufacturing
    • Focus on the elimination of waste
      • Muda: “waste” from non-value added work
        • Only do the work we are willing to iterate upon
      • Muri: “overburden”
        • Time boxes & load balancing
      • Mura: “variation”
        • Established deliverables at each phase
me2 level creation our production process1
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • What we borrow from Lean (cont’d)
    • Kaizen (wisdom through learning)
      • Continuous improvement plan
        • Level Reviews … at each phase (can “raise the bar”)
        • Peer Reviews … 1 time events
        • Level Design “Mindshare” meetings … weekly
me2 level creation our production process2
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • Agile & Scrum - Terminology
    • Backlog:
      • List of prioritized functionality you want added to your game
    • Sprint:
      • Fixed period of time in which a team’s goals do not change
    • Sprint Review:
      • Formal review of a team’s Sprint goals
    • Time Box:
      • Time value for how much you are willing to invest in a specific amount of content
me2 level creation our production process3
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • Agile & Scrum
    • ME2 Project overall uses Scrum
      • Sprint planning initially worked well for Level Design
        • Established Time Boxes, called out technical complexity
      • Level Design has shifted away from Scrum
        • Retained principles - playable levels, communication
    • We don’t always live in the ideal world
      • Hitting Time Boxes over completing specific levels
me2 level creation our production process4
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • Agile & Scrum (cont’d)
    • Team Size & Composition
      • “Dogpiles”
      • Stick to the core
    • Product Owner & Reviews
      • At-desk previews
      • Creative signoff
      • Are the next steps clear?
me2 level creation our production process5
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • What Works
    • Pairing Level Art & Level Design
    • Co-locating Teams
    • Time-boxing
    • Going deep with some levels
me2 level creation our production process6
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • What Works (cont’d)
    • Proving out content and systems in-game
    • Evaluating levels in sections (as necessary)
    • Being agile with your Agile process
    • Stopping to assess the big picture
me2 level creation our production process7
ME2 Level Creation: Our Production Process
  • What Doesn’t Work (Pitfalls)
    • Missing a step can hurt (e.g. Concept Art, Writing)
    • “Special Snowflakes” - every level wants to be one
    • Level teams getting too big
    • Creatures need to be “representative” early
me2 level creation conclusion
ME2 Level Creation: Conclusion
  • Reflection
    • Would this have worked on ME1?
      • YES … the “questions” may have been different
      • Caleston would have been reviewed earlier
      • Less integration work (Level Art & Level Design)
      • Caught performance issues earlier
        • Hitching or long load elevators on the Citadel
me2 level creation conclusion1
ME2 Level Creation: Conclusion
  • Do only the work that answers the right questions in the right order
questions
Questions?

Corey Andruko – corey@bioware.com

Dusty Everman – dusty@bioware.com