Before starting the design of any levels, we had to really understand the type of experience we wanted to create, as well as the features and mechanics that were core to the game. So we wrote a really high level description of what we saw the game as at that point in time.
Fragmental – What is it?
Fragmental is a top down competitive multiplayer twin stick shooter. Imagine Bomberman meets Hotline Miami!
Fragmental is fast paced, very fast. How fast? Well the fastest round we’ve had to date clocks in at a blistering 0.435 seconds. So, if you stand still, you’re dead, however you won’t have long to wait before the next round starts!
Its one shot kills, with the first to 20 frags winning the match. All weapons spawned are random, with players sometimes spawning with weapons, sometimes not. Get a kill you get a frag, kill yourself you lose a frag. A round lasts until there is only one man left standing, or someone has reached the frag limit, in turn winning the match.
With all of this in mind, we could start thinking about the types of levels that we would need to create, in order to deliver the experience we wanted the player to have.
Level Shown: Abstract Bridge (WIP)
On top of all of this, before designing any levels it’s important to do a bit of research! (sounds fancy but it’s basically searching through Google images and YouTube!)
So I made a list covering what we want from Fragmental, based on group meetings and chats with fellow Ruffians. (Note: Lists are good!)
What we want for Fragmental
Super Fast rounds: Rounds need to be quick (less than 30 seconds). This means if you’re like me you’ll be killed pretty quick!
Top Down Camera Angle: This has a very retro feel, top down with all players visible on the one screen at all times.
Twin Stick Shooter Controls: Old school arcade feel ala Smash TV or Robotron 2084. One stick controls movement, the other independently controls aiming direction.
Level Switching: Levels swap out every three rounds. This mean just as the player starts to get a feel for a level, we change it (yeah it’s evil, but fun!).
80’s Vision of the Future, with a modern twist!: Everyone loves the 80’s, especially it’s take on the future. Movies like Tron, The Running Man, Blade Runner. Recently the amazing Kung Fury and Far Cry Blood Dragon have taken this 80’s futurism, with an added twist. This is the kind of feel we want for Fragmental.
Believe it or not, trying to find a top down local competitive multiplayer game for reference was difficult, there isn’t all that many out there, so I started to look at various games that might have a similar feel to what we’re looking to create with Fragmental.
Some of these games include:
TowerFall Ascension – Fantastic 2d retro multiplayer game, fast paced arrow shooting action, easily one of the best local multiplayer games on Steam.
Arena Gods – Still in Alpha but looks so much fun (from videos). Love the simple and clear art direction, can’t wait to play it.
Duck Game – Pick a Duck, choose a hat, grab a gun and shoot. This game is exactly the kind of pace we want to have in Fragmental, one shot kills, fast rounds and level swapping.
Bomberman Series (Snes) – An old classic, more of a slower pace than what we’re going for, however this game has a similar camera angle and all players on one screen. Still plays as well today as it did in the early 90’s.
Hotline Miami – Amazing single player game. Hard as nails but so much fun. Full of gore, and a ton of weapons at your disposal. Easily one of the best soundtracks in any video game ever.
Starting from Sketch
So the first step to creating a playable level is to grab the old sketchbook and pen and doodle some layouts. It’s easy enough to scribble down boxes to represent rooms, corridors, doorways and windows, this doesn’t have to be pretty, just give you a general layout as to what you’ll later create in Unreal.
Here’s my attempt …
So the thinking behind this was to create a simple layout, giving each player a starting position where they can see the other players, then plan their attack. I wanted to ensure that each player has a route to at least two other players in the level.
Players each have a weapon spawn in their starting area. The plan is to have a least one weapon spawn they can get to safely (without been shot in the face) then add more weapon spawns in more risky positions (along the bridge areas).
The level needs plenty of cover without any surrounding bordering walls along each of the bridged sections. I figured this layout would allow for some nice cross level shootouts plus allow for players to take a risk and run across each bridge to get closer to their opponent. Melee attacks will also make unarmed combat a bit of a laugh, landing a perfect punch will send your opponent flying off the edge.
So from the above sketch we have enough to start blocking in a playable level. Most of the maps for the game are built using simple shapes. Players need to be able to read the overall map flow without any issues. One thing we learnt early on is the more detail we add to a map, either with the geometry or textures, the less the player can distinguish between whats a wall, window or floor.
and here it is…
Using Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, I started to block in the sketched level using BSP Brushes, Additive (Blue) and Subtractive (Red). This is great way to quickly mockup and test levels to see if they’re fun, then quickly make a few tweaks here and there based on feedback from playtesting. Rinse and repeat.
One of the features we had early in development were blood decal splatters that emit from killed players. These were persistent so remained throughout each round, serving as a makeshift heat map showing where all the action took place….but with blood!
This is an earlier level layout. It’s a tricky one to navigate due to the fact that there are no surrounding walls, and there have been more than a few deaths by falling! It was still work in progress at this point, so there were a few tweaks made here and there since then.
You’ll notice that there are four half height cover areas within this level (marked in blue). These are set to stand out from the grey areas.
It’s important that anything different stands out to the player. Due to the top down camera angle of Fragmental we need to show a clear distinction between what’s safe for cover and what’s not.
This way players can instantly see any areas they can shoot over, but also get shot while standing behind.
In the final game we plan to have all half height cover the same (or similar) colour/texture. This will be consistent across all levels.
So that’s just one single map creation walkthrough, time for some caffeine!