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

Chapter 9: An Uneasy Alliance

Section  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |  7  | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11


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


 
Physics vs. Framerate

I want to step back a ways in the timeline to use a fight we've already seen to talk about some other challenges designers face that players may not be aware of.

For example, the fight before the Thermite Rifle enemy shows up actually takes place inside a pottery shop.  It's super-fun to be able to have a gunfight with clay vessels breaking left and right!  And since our weapons are still physical when in the character's hands, you can knock or sweep vases off onto the floor while aiming out of cover.



Each of those breakables comes with a hidden cost, however.  Every physics object in a scene has to be calculated against whatever else it may be in contact with:  bullets, live characters, dead bodies, and even the dozens of other pots in the scene.

The worst-case scenario would be breaking all of the pots at once.  However, as a player, that's also really fun!

We discussed the problem a bit, but even barring any weapons that could cause mass, instantaneous destruction (grenades, shotguns), we would still have to account for the possibility that the player would break all the pots individually, then push the pieces around with his feet.  (Players have done much, much weirder things.)

So, since we had to account for the maximum possible phyics chaos possible, I took the liberty of addressing the problem head-on... by providing players who search the environment a grenade right before this fight starts.



Why not let them have fun?



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


 
Combustion of another sort

Many of the coolest ideas have unforseen complications or costs when the time comes to fully develop and polish them in preparation for shipping the game.

The basis for this whole level is a reveal that the United India Company is secretly shipping vampires to America in crates.  The crates are discovered while stored in this warehouse.

Naturally, the designer decided to let the player burn the whole place down.


Gameplay Video

Issues start to arise the moment the fire is lit.  The flames have to start and spread quickly (because The Order isn't a game about simulating realistic fire propagation; if you want to see the whole place go up, it needs to not take forever).

Because there's "no fire" one moment, then "fire" the next, the player could be standing up against a box when it starts to burn.  In reality, this would quickly get hot enough that a person would need to back away.

Since we're creating A Believable and Continuous World (see Section 1 ) and a character not reacting to a large fire beside him would strain believability, we added a system that causes Galahad to recoil from the flames as they catch.



Once Galahad is away from the flames, collision appears around them—an intelligent Knight wouldn't willingly walk into a fire.  That would look silly and wouldn't be in-character.


The other unfortunate complication with the "burn it all down" idea is that nothing comes free in game development.  When filming a movie, you could conceivably put an entire set to the torch and simply keep the cameras rolling as it burned.

In a game, every asset has to be created by someone.  The lines on characters' faces when they frown, the way their legs move when they start to run, the sound of distant birds, the burst of stuff thrown into the air when a bullet hits, a light coming on in a window—some person was responsible for creating, triggering, and polishing each of these.

Doing version after version to get just the right one.  Ensuring they happen as intended every time.



In this case, when one person says "I want there to be a lot of fire," at least seven (probably much more) other people have to get involved before the game can reach store shelves.

  • An FX artist creates the fire, puts it where he wants it, iterates on the look it, and authors how it spreads

  • The Art Director oversees and reviews that work over the course of months

  • A Sound Engineer life and tension to the fire by giving it a distinctive crackle

  • The Level Designer needs to figure out what the fire means for playability

    • How does it affect the player character?  Can it damage him?

    • How does it affect the A.I. ally, Lakshmi? Will she appear to act appropriately to the fire all around her?

    • How does it affect enemies?  Can the player use it against them in some way?

    • What happens if the player stands and watches it?  Will it break "realism" if the fire never spreads beyond the boxes?  Never gets too hot or smoky, to encourage the player to move along?

  • A programmer has to create tools for the Level Designer to use to achieve his goals

  • Project Director reviews the entire process repeatedly to ensure it's on track

  • A Tester has to look for what everyone else missed and find ways it doesn't work properly



I think the end result is a compelling, exceptional, memorable sequence—but it is a little noticeable that not all the boxes start on fire.  It was simply too big a job for those working on it to completely finish the way we would have liked.

We chose our battles.  We put the most fire in the places that players were most likely to see it.

We used certain transitions to our advantage, adding more fire in easier ways than the system we developed for the blaze that's up-close to the player.

It's an incredible experience to see the fire spread across from the previous room while a multi-floor gun battle takes place.



Taking stock of the situation near the end of the battle, you really feel like you (the player) as Galahad have had a significant and lasting effect on the world your character inhabits.  It's pretty spectacular.



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