Level Breakdown: Red Desert

For this project, I wanted to try something very different from what I’ve done in the past. I decided to experiment with world design, creating a small piece of the environment that the game takes place in. Rather than building a level which is exists by itself, this area would be a part of the entire game world. This area was made for exploration/adventure focused gameplay like that in the Elder Scrolls series. I also looked at Xenoblade Chronicles and the Zelda series for inspiration on what is important to world design.

Screenshot 1

This area is meant to be the cutout of a larger desert-themed environment. I was thinking of a planet similar to Mars when I started this, which is why it’s primarily reddish in color. I started by applying a difference cloud effect in GIMP and using this as a heightmap in Unity. Next, a I smoothed out the terrain a tiny bit, and altered a few sections that I would be using for specific game elements. The lighting was achieved by using four directional lights. Each one has a different angle, color, and intensity. The primary light, the one representing the sun, is the only one casting shadows into the world. Big thanks to Dan, Maddy, and Tristan for the advice and feedback on this part.

Screenshot 2

This is the point where the players spawns into the area. It is in the southeast section of the environment, one of the emptiest parts of world. The player does not have full grasp of world around them, but does have some clues to suggest where they should go next. First, there is the planet seen over the horizon between two hills. I was hoping that this image would suggest that there is more on the other side of the hill, drawing them forward to investigate. Second, there are a few rocks that lead up to the top of hill, almost like a line for the player to follow. A direct line would have been obvious and unnatural, so I only used a few scattered around. Only one can be seen in this shot, but the others are visible if the player pans left.

Screenshot 3

On the right, the mountains in the background give some idea of the vastness of the environment. Even though they can’t see it yet, I was trying to use the backdrop to suggest what this world is like to the player.

Screenshot 5

As soon as they get to the top of the hill, this is the view the player sees. I think that this image best captures what the environment is like. Creating a scene where the player steps out to see the entirety of the world is a technique I’m a big fan, so I enjoyed incorporating it into this environment.

Screenshot 4

This image gives a better view of the world space the player exists in. The player will never see the environment from this perspective; this is just an example shot meant to demonstrate how big the area is and where things are located.

Screenshot 6

Since this environment is supposed to be a desert, I wanted to include a sort of sandstorm effect as the player travels across the area. Unity provides a DustStorm particle system by default that I modified until it gave off the look I was hoping for. I initially tried to implement a sort of fog across the level, but I decided that this effect was a better bit for the environment.

Screenshot 7

This shot from the player’s perspective does a good job of showing how the particles look in-game.

Screenshot 8

In world design, it’s important for the player to have some perspective on where they are in the game space. Even if the player has a map, I think it’s a good idea give them to have some idea of where they are. Since this environment is meant to be a barren desert, small towns or bodies of water  would be out of place here. I instead decided to make structures out of the assets I found in the Asset Store. By stacking the rocks in unique patterns, I was able to create a formation that stands out to the player as they travel around. This image shows the rock formation on the eastern edge of the map.

Screenshot 12

This rock formation is found in the western side of the environment. Because this area isn’t that big, the player can see to the end of the world from any point in the level. In a larger desert environment, these piles would be helpful in giving the player a sense of location.

Screenshot 9

In addition to the rock formations, I went back over the level and altered parts of the environment by hand. In the center of the desert is a giant pit, which the player is currently overlooking from a nearby hill. These additions make the level more memorable, both in terms of geography and gameplay experience. The player can learn from these aspects of the world, using the guides to find their way around. These features also make the level more interesting to the player than it would if the world was just procedurally generated.

Screenshot 13

This is an aerial shot of the valley, giving a better idea of what this part of the level looks like in the grand scheme of things.

Screenshot 10

This sword is the item of interest in this environment. They need to retrieve the weapon and bring it to the altar near the cliffside in order to proceed. I tried to give the sword a glow effect that stands out from the rock and sand around it so that it stands out to the player more easily.

Screenshot 11

This is the player’s perspective farther away from the sword. It is difficult to see, but in the blown up image, you can faintly see this glow effect. The idea is to give the player a visual aid to help them locate the weapon rather than force them to search the entire desert and hope they stumble across it.

Screenshot 14

For the cliffside, I created it using a single asset I found in the Asset Store. To keep it from looking too repetitive and unnatural, I adjusted the scale of the cliff asset each time I placed it into the level. By playing with the size and overlaying the cliff in different ways, I was able to make it look a bit more organic.

Screenshot 15

This image focuses on the altar at the foot of the cliffside. I flattened out the ground around it and tried to leave some space between the altar and the cliffside so it would stand out better. The statue on the altar felt like a great way of symbolizing the importance of this area to the player.

Screenshot 16

This is the player’s view while standing directly in front of the altar.

Screenshot 17

This is the player’s view of the desert while standing at the altar. Both rock formations can be seen in the distance, as well as a bit of the valley in the center.

Screenshot 18

Finally, I used these black boxes as stand-ins for enemy encounters in this area. How these encounters play out would vary wildly based on the specifics of the combat system, but I believe the basic locations chosen still work. An example of an appropriate encounter for a Zelda-styled game would be a scorpion-like creature reveals itself when the player draws close.

Screenshot 19

In this zoomed out image, you can several of enemy encounter points highlighted across the level. Altogether, there are 11 points spaced out across the level.

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