“ROCKWELL” – a science fiction first person exploration game with light puzzle solving elements. The player is a lone worker on a nameless moon, tasked with bringing a battery to the far end of a quarry. The goal is a mysterious monolith.
The project, a vertical slice, was meant to be an excercise in level composition and guidance principles. In addition I wanted to learn the fundamentals of a proprietary 3D editor to create detailed building blocks, conveying not only gameplay but tone and atmosphere for the level.
Genre First Person Puzzler
Engine Unreal Engine 4
Role Level Designer
Team Size 2
Time 5 weeks
3D asset creation / Whiteboxing / Level design
When the perspective, genre and narrative of "Rockwell" were set I began sketching out the early ideas for the level design of the game ( 1 ). A mood board was put together as well to identify and highlight shape language that could support the gameplay but also accomodate the atmosphere of the game. The moodboard was used as a reference throughout development ( 2 ).
SETTING UP THE SCENE
Production started with metrics tests to find the optimal heights for walls and width of paths, but also too find the slope angles and general size to convey the otherwordly and vast feeling of the setting in "Rockwell" ( 3 ).
A scene in Blender was used as an "asset zoo" containing all the 3D elements of the game drawn from the established metrics ( 4 ). Coming from Unity's ProBuilder and Unreal Engine's BSP geometry learning and using Blender proved interesting - While the former options provide simplicity in some areas, they can lack the finer details to give "character" to the created assets.
The rock quarry environment for the level was purposefully chosen to facilitate asset building – hard surfaces and cubic shapes would make a good starting point for a Blender-beginner.
RULE OF THIRDS
With a debug-interface in Unreal to incorporate “the rule of thirds” ( 5 ) – a visual image term where the photographer mentally divides the images using two horizontal lines and two vertical ones. Important elements of specific shots were placed along or at the points where these lines meet. By pressing TAB during gameplay, I could bring up the grid and align assets to complement these lines and compose shots.
As the quarry of "Rockwell" is a big place I wanted to segment it for the player, making it pop in and out of view between the boulders – in part to generate excitement but also to make it easier to navigate.
"Pinching" points, where the environment frames certain views are littered throughout the level. I treated these views as rewards, showing the player the next stage of the level when completing a certain objective.
As “Rockwell” is a video game in the first-person perspective the player is always in control of the camera angle and position of the player character. The afformentioned "pinching moments" presented sections of greater control over the player by limiting the space of movement. In other spaces of the level I used other guidance principles to lure the player in - landmarks, affordances, breadcrumbs and openings.
Colors and contrast where used extensively to guide the player. To differentiate from the rocky and angular environment man-made structures as bridges, walkways, wires and rounded boxes where placed with care. The artificial bright orange color creates contrast against the earthy tones of the quarry, making it into a workplace and cementing the player character as a worker.