As I'm working on the graphic evolution of the levels of High Dragon (formerly Path of Destruction 2), I thought it would be interesting to share the way a level is created from start to finish.
Step #1: "Let's go to the movies!"
I sit on the couch and start either an episode of Star Wars (or another film I know by heart) or an episode of the series Supergirl (because I love Superman/Supergirl but the series is kind of a disappointment so far, so I listen without really looking, hoping for something that will catch my attention).
So anyway, most of the time, the movie or episode starts and finishes and I barely watched 5 minutes.
Step #2: "Let's not watch and work instead"
Once the movie starts, I take my iPad Pro and the pen and I launch ProCreate. And then, I think.
(Actually, I have a method to come up with level ideas quickly on paper but this is my little secret.)
I use my iPad Pro to sketch the levels cause it's like having a piece of paper and photoshop on your lap. Usually, in the span of 2 to 3 hours, I can come up with 4 to 16 level ideas, depending on my inspiration mostly and the attention I pay to the movie. I usually do that in the evening after a hard day's work.
This is what a level will look like at this stage:
Step #3: "Let's test"
When the time comes to prototype some level in a scrum sprint (this is tightly organized as related in a previous article), I start creating the level in Unity with basic forms. Of course, it sometimes requires the creation of assets I don't have. In this instance: trap and triggers.
I may or may not have graphical assets in my library to represent them. If I don't, I use simple boxes. I'm just testing mechanics at this point so, I won't waste time creating good looking assets if I end up throwing them away. The asset might not even match the final mood of the level anyway (like a snowman in the desert...).
Most levels will stay in this state until I have created ALL the levels of the game.
Step #4: "Let's build worlds"
First, I replay every level and give them a difficulty note from 1 (tuto) to 5 (hard).
From here the idea is to alternate a level of difficuty "x" with a level of difficulty "x+1" or "x+2".
However, overall, the difficuty will increase world after world.
For example, inside world 1, you'll have levels with a difficulty of 1, 2 and maybe 3. In world 3, you'll have mostly levels of difficulty 3 and 4. In the final world, you'll have mostly levels of difficulty 5, with a bit of 4 and maybe even 3 to give the player a pause between hard maps.
At this point (roughly 70% of the development of the final game is done), all level are sorted. Some tests will probably make me move the position of a few, but, overall, I can move forward.
I have already given some thoughts as to the mood I want for each worlds too. I usually do that every once in a while, and write ideas in an excel file, with inspiration pictures, movies or games.
For world 2 in High Dragon, I wanted a village or human settlement kind of mood, with grass (a bit like world 1 in Path of Destruction). From here I start by building the terrain in Unity: I select textures, test them, delete, test again until I'm kind of ok with what I get.
Once I have the terrain for all worlds (every mood for each world is set), I replace the cubes I used for the props in step #3 with nice visual assets, mactching the mood of the level.
Step #5: "Let's finish this"
We're almost done.
I need to add atmospheric fx like clouds, rain, and sounds to make thing sexier. Atmospheric fx can really help when you are not a professional graphist.
I play with the main light color, I try variation for clouds color.
(However, it's always the same: I start with a screenshot of Trine 2 or Diablo 3 and end up with... well, not-Trine and not-Diablo.)
So anyway, it's never what I had in mind, but it's always a version that I'm not ashamed to show!
And this is it.
Until the release, some levels will be adjusted: I may add trees, flowers, props etc, but overall, these are the main steps for levels creation.
See you soon!