Level: Airship
Level: Blackwall Yard
Level: Embankment
Level: Catacombs

Chapter 9: An Uneasy Alliance

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Specific decisions and challenges

Since my role on this chapter was one of late-in-development support on plans laid by another designer, I thought I'd take a different approach here.  For the pages dedicated to Blackwall, I'm going to focus on several types of challenges, decisions, and unexpected tasks Design Teams are faced with when making a game like this.

The topics covered here are both concrete examples of my experience working on the level and things a watchful player might by looking at the final product.

(Since these sections are grouped by topic, there will be a bit of jumping around in the level.  The timeline on the left should help clarify where each example fits in the level chronologically.)



Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
A Believable & Continuous World

One of the primary development goals on The Order: 1886 was to create in players a feeling that, despite the alternate-history setting, the world we were presenting was both believable and felt continuous.

This sense of presence in a real place comes from a lot of individual elements, from not having loading screens between levels to constructing environments with a real sense of place and existence beyond the boundaries that contain the player.



Mimicking continuity like we see in the real world can be a huge challenge for games, especially one with as much density and variety in "set-dressing" props as The Order.  Each bucket, hammer, and stray brick comes with associated costs.  Draped cloths like the ones in the picture below are made of hundreds or thousands of triangles that need to be rendered every frame.  Each unique material is made up of multiple layers of images that all have to fit into memory.

For this reason, developers have come up with techniques that let distant objects be rendered more simply, and others which allow places the player has left behind to be unloaded from memory so that those yet to be seen can be loaded in. The open environments of this level can stretch the engine to its limits:  from this balcony, the player can not only see ahead, but all the way back to the tunnels at the start of the level as well.



Challenges also arise when committing so fully to believability, such as how player actions can break it.  A certain type of player exists that delights in making player-characters look silly or act out-of-character.

Take this unconscious guard, for example.  Would a respectful Knight step on his fallen body when walking over?  Tech to cause Galahad to walk around or step over would be costly to develop for the small number of cases where this is a problem.  And simply ignoring the problem would mean the characters would "clip into" each otheróbreaking the believability of the world.



In the end, it was decided that fallen bodies (when possible) should have walls of collision placed around them to avoid "clipping" and ensure Galahad's chivalry.

The task of crafting that collision fell to a Designer, who would be able to balance the needs of providing a smooth walk around the body and also fitting tightly enough to avoid the frustrating "invisible collision walls" problem that appears in many games.



Timeline of the level
  • Galahad and Lakshmi arrive via tunnel

  • They use scaffolding to reach street level

  • Lakshmi climbs over a gate; they get separated

  • Galahad takes out the sniper threatening Lakshmi

  • Galahad protects and reunites with Lakshmi

  • They cross through a ship under construction

  • They finally reach the shipping warehouse

  • Lakshmi reveals the vampires in UIC crates

  • They set fire to the warehouse

  • The warehouse burns; they battle UIC and Lycans


 
Gating and Back-Gating

A key technique in achieving the necessary loading / unloading mentioned above is called a "back-gate."  As the name implies, these are often some sort of level geometry that keeps the player from being able to backtrack once past.  Preventing backtracking ensures that areas behind can be safely and permanently unloaded.

Sometimes cinematics or animated sequences can be used to "push" the player out of one space and into another.  If the technique is used correctly, the trick goes unnoticed.





Because of its openness and art density, Blackwall Yard has to use many of these techniques.  It cleverly presents them in a variety of ways, such as this one mid-way through the level, where the animation only occurs when the player chooses to trigger it:  following Lakshmi over this wall leads Galahad to drop down behind her... where the wall's height from the other side makes it impossible to get back up.

Crucially, though, the design of the level does a great job at giving the player reasons to want to continue forward, so little development necessities like these work as nice pace breaks on the way to somewhere interesting.



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