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Sick of comments on level design docs?

May 10, 2009

Me, too. Here’s some more.

  • Hold off on your murder: I’ve noticed a trend in having NPCs flee, die or otherwise spontaneously need to leave the game for reasons that feel forced just after they’ve provided the player with a key piece of information. Think through whether or not this is necessary, and have a heart for the NPCs (yes, I know this sounds foolish, but bear with me).  Wouldn’t it be hip to have a cool relationship build with this NPC first? Maybe your character comes back to her again and again and gets great kudos from her? Then, maybe you return one day to find she’s passed away of old age or something. That would be touching. Here, it just feels like a convenient way to remove a book from the game. If you want your NPC to take off right away, you don’t have a need for the NPC in the first place.
  • Murder, part 2: If you kill off someone in a game before I spend any time with them, I won’t care, and your attempt at motivating me will fail.
  • Description: Most level designers know what they want their level to look like. In the event you are not both artist, designer and builder as one, be sure to provide plenty of reference images. These are typically located in a folder separate to the main document. You’re welcome to include a few in the main doc for clarity. In general, don’t assume that everyone know what neo-expressionist architecture looks like.
  • Introducing Skills/Usage Effects: When you first introduce something in a game, expect your player to be a total clownshoes about it. Don’t expect game-affecting knowledge here. This thing you need the player to do should have been considered/used before this without consequence. Don’t introduce it when I need it and expect me to have some idea about it or be able to perform well.
  • I just got here; I don’t need your 70gigs: Resist the urge to unload everything you think the players needs to know the second they show up in your world. No matter what you think, they really don’t need to know all of this, particularly if you’re delivering it via mass quantities of NPC talk. Relax and let the player discover. Think of the last time you moved. Hopefully no one showed up at your house to let you now about the neighborhood, the neighbors, the political scene, the basic lay of the city, the places to shop, and key people to avoid. If they had, you would have moved or called the cops.

I’ve finished the last one, so this is really it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2009 1:55 am

    The first one is related to something that’s always bugged me, where an NPC that you *have* developed a good relationship with will, after the end of their mission string, vanish from the face of the earth. By all logic they should still be there and be able to help you out, but are simply absent because the quest designers expect you to progress onto the next area/mission. Or they will still be there, but they won’t do anything useful. This happens a lot at the end of certain class quests in Oblivion.

    The last point in your post reminds me of the massive entries that would be added to your codex every time you look at something remotely interesting in Mass Effect, though looking through it is completely optional.

  2. May 12, 2009 7:39 pm

    Moira in fallout 3! Your so perky and we worked so well through the survival guide together and now it’s done, say, there’s this nice place to go eat and…oh, you just want to trade. You wont talk about anything but trade. That’s the only topic you’ll raise with me now. I thought…I thought…oh, Moira…

    On murder, part 2, you wont necessarily care about them after spending time with them, either.

    I think designers should indeed quit trying to pull the heart strings in five seconds. But at the same time I don’t think that means it should be taken that there is a ‘correct’ way to pull the heartstrings. I think the better lesson is, just have the NPC around as long as you feel they should, in terms of story. If the player gets it/feels it, good. But you can’t force anyone to feel it, so don’t bother trying (peh, as if that’s going to be heard over the number of $$$ riding on any project)

  3. May 12, 2009 10:41 pm

    @James, good examples. A lot of times, NPCs are removed once their job is done. In ye olde days of the text parser, it was easier to fill NPCs full of all kinds of info. And we didn’t have to record it either.

    @Callan, lol on Moira. Good points, too. Pulling at people’s heartstrings is always an arduous task. I’ve only successfully done it once, judging by players’ responses.

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