FACILITY ALPHA-7 Development
The motivation behind this project was to develop an incredibly polished level for a third person adventure game with an interesting twist that would influence the narrative and the gameplay. Facility alpha- 7 was developed using a ground-up approach with these 4 design pillars at its core:
A minimalist approach to every aspect of the game. If any game element can be communicated more elegantly it must be done so.
Zero tolerance for feature creep. If something has any chance to put the milestone delivery at risk, it must be reconsidered or cut.
All entities in the level must have a clear and distinct justification.
Each new area of the level must introduce something new and reinforce previously introduced mechanics.
Inspirations and Research
Inside, Metro, Stalker and Uncharted were used as references and inspirations for the design of the level. Facility Alpha - 7 also uses temporal anti-aliasing solution created by Playdead. At the same time, the atmosphere and the overall visual art style were inspired by how The Witness handles texturing and creation of spaces that are small but packed with interactivity. Metro and Stalker games also inspired the dark atmosphere of the game while Rime, Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons and Humans Fall Flat inspired the way levels are segmented and each area has a distinct purpose. Finally, photographs made by Lana Sator and concept art by Simon Stalenhag inspired the theme and the atmosphere of Facility Alpha - 7. Lana is a Russian urban explorer and photographer who infiltrates private abandoned derelict bunkers and bomb shelters locations left abandoned since the Soviet era where rockets are built and spent nuclear reactors are stored.
LEVEL BUILding PROCESS
The level design and building of the level were done in 5 main stages.
The level was rapidly sketched and in photoshopped and then in a matter of hours was converted to a 3D blockout in Maya.
The technical requirements and potential challenges were tested using the blokout which influenced the structure of the level.
The blockout was then iterated until it covered all the necessary criteria and playtesters could independently complete the game while having fun.
The level was then further iterated and refined using further playtesting and application of various level design principles and architectures.
Finally, the level was set dressed and touched up with additional SFX and VFX.
LEVEL DESIGN ELEMENTS
The level is split into 16 areas. Each area has a very specific purpose in addition to introducing something new and reinforcing a previously taught element of the game.
Each area was designed with careful consideration for shapes, colours/lighting, motions, sounds, topology/composition, pacing, themes, affordances/interactivity. Moreover, each element in the game was carefully placed to subconsciously influence the player. In most cases, this was used to drive them towards objectives or reinforce a specific mood. Alternatively, some composition choices were made to give the game more replayability or to empower the player to progress through the level more effectively and confidently.
Finally, due to the nature of the project the level was designed to showcase as many game features as possible to demonstrate further development potential.
Room 5 BREAKDOWN
The purpose of this room is to teach the player the first way in which one could deliberately interact and influence the world. Everything in this area is focused on targeting the player’s attention towards the point where the player will be interacting with the world. Upon reaching this area, the camera rotates away from a dead end, creating an opportunity to backtrack and discover an audio log. Otherwise, players are forced to acknowledge the diegetic UI hint regarding the button that needs to be pressed within the outlined area for the door to open. The composition also changes to place the door in the top left or right corner of the screen following the golden ratio rule or in the middle of the screen. Blinking light attracts attention and is surrounded with yellow lines designed to draw attention towards the door. The red light on the door and the panel communicate that the door is closed. Upon interacting with it, the door scans the player to communicate that their action has been registered. This also creates a more interesting narrative twist for those who might question why the character who woke up in a capsule is registered by the scanner.
Room 13 BREAKDOWN
The purpose of this room is to expand the player’s understanding of the dynamics between the two characters and the existing game mechanics. The room also expands the player’s understanding of the game mechanics using recursive audio-visual feedback. For this purpose, the player is presented with a safe space to experiment in. The composition shifts to arrange all objects of interest in the corners of the screen following the golden ratio rule. The yellow lines communicate the direction in which the character needs to travel. The shadow and lit areas isolate the entrance to the room from where the new interactive entities are located. Also, the next room is foreshadowed on the right to incentivise the player to progress forward. The player is guided through different stages of interaction using blinking white lights. Pads present a different way of interacting with doors that require both characters, but they use recursive visual language, therefore, players will recognise it. Upon moving over the pads, they highlight green on the rim to communicate positive result and prevent the character from obscuring the visual feedback.