What is 神謎? (Part II)

by kaminazo

After some thought and a much needed vacation, I’ve streamlined my ideas for this blog a bit. In the future, you can expect posts on some of my favorite level designs. Also, I’d like to expand my own and other’s inspiration for environments and spaces. You’ll definitely get to see some of my past projects and current ones (pending me finding my old .wad .pud .usx and .int files and trying to load them into the respective games and take screenshots). The finer points of level design (as I research them) such as the importance of hidden rooms, triggers/teleports/and trampolines (oh my!), heavy-z-axis layouts, deathmatch norms/taboos, rewards and treasure, and geometric vs. organic designing will also be explored. Finally, I’ll be doing some postulating and reporting on career-related opportunities that pop up.

The 謎 (nazo • なぞ) portion of the title will be the main focus of this blog, as there is no perfect level design that I’m aware of, nor will I or anyone else ever author the perfect level (which the 神 portion of the title might suggest). Rather, I can strive for perfection, while analyzing the successes and failures of various level designs.

Level design to me is like creating a complex interactive maze, even if the physical space is linear and easy to navigate. Getting from point A to point B can create a web of emotional responses. I design levels around this idea. If you’ve played a game from the Resident Evil or Silent Hill series’ did fear or indecision drive you through those levels? How often did you stand behind a corner, or at the edge of complete darkness hesitating? Not by mistake, the designers were forcing you to crawl through the environment and observe everything. They’ve made us almost methodical at spotting objects whose mesh was glowing a bit brighter, surfaces that look out of place, and opportunities for a rabid zombie dog to crash through a window (you know the hallway I’m speaking of). With that said, other levels made us want to attempt a “LEROY JENKINS!” speedrun. I think there’s always a happy medium between puzzling/tedious and boring/simple.

But nobody’s perfect. I tend to over-do my own levels. So much so, that sometimes my designs fall short, or never make it to completion. I often have to scrap a file because I bit off more than I could chew. Recently, I wanted to make Hogwarts castle in the Creation Kit (Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim). I went so far as to find blueprints and J.K.’s original sketch and figure out where in the world it would fit best (the glacial bay Southeast of Winterhold). I even placed a few objects in the world. But unfortunately, Hogwarts is a magical place with moving staircases and rooms that only exist when you need them: a little too magical for my limited knowledge. Not to mention, it’s an architectural enigma. Also the theme kits of Skyrim don’t really fit the look. I would require Dumbledore’s army of programmers/designers to re-mesh and skin new building pieces and objects, and write new scripts. The happy outcome is that I am currently working on a new player home based on the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter, instead. Specifically, the Room of Hidden Things which is a magnificent junk pile of dangerous and curious trinkets.

Kaminazo will continue to be a work in progress as I get used to the tools available to me and learn new tricks from the community or by trial-and-error. I’m largely self-taught but I’d like to thank some influential people. Above all, my wife, Sada, whose skepticism and driven attitude continues to push me. Friends who give me inspiration to carry on doing what I want to, like Nat-chan (Clavis Cryptica). My deathmatch buddies from back home: Kyle, Chris, Steve, and Rob, who fragged me so often that I had to start making levels to impress them instead. The programmers who made programs like DCK, UnrealEd, War2Edit, and Creation Kit available to newbs like me, so I could keep up with level design as it gets intensely more complicated. And the modding community at Skyrim nexus who continue to amaze me with new possibilities from the Creation Kit.

I’ve piqued some interest with my initial post, and I encourage readers to leave comments, questions, links, and feedback as I stumble along. You don’t have to know anything about game design to leave a comment. So, please, don’t be shy!

End Part II.

End “What is 神謎?”.