Shifted to the Left - design and a narrative
It is a little lyrics before we pass to especially practical material. Creation of levels is closely connected with a narrative. In other words, practically everything that you do, tells a story. If the ray of light makes the way in a dark vault through slots in stones, you hint these at existence of the world outside a cave. If under a dome of a gloomy hall there is a massive statue of lavkraftovsky god, you create the oppressive atmosphere, bring up questions of what for a being is imprinted in a stone? Who and why worships it?
I want to tell these that even being in regime of the technician and carrying out especially technical tasks, the level designer has to aim at the purpose — by an optimum method to tell the player a story and to submerge it in the world of game. Someone can tell that it is not important for PvP of levels, but remember the classical card "Warsong Gulch" from "World of Warcraft" where all fight turns around opposition of Orks and Elves for resources and the territory. Nevertheless, even working with something absolutely grounded like setup of colliders, you are convinced that the user will get that play experience which you want to create for it.
Good level maintains interest of the player, periodically changing feelings from surrounding space. We have a number of tools, including:
- Visual row. If at the beginning you had a dry dead vault, and at the end — the underground rivers, falls and bioluminescent plants, then the player will be carried away by visual novelty and change of the atmosphere.
- Isolation of space. Typical acceptance from "Lara Croft": you hardly squeeze through a crack in the rock; having selected, you lift up eyes and find yourself in foundation of the temple from which enormous sizes intercepts breath.
- Form. Any space is subordinated to certain forms. Parts and color are secondary. On the picture below you can determine only by one silhouette that is on the horizon.
How forms to use in shifted to the Left - design? The excellent example can be found in the Dreadnaught spaceship in "Destiny" where diagonal elements of architecture create very peculiar feelings from an interior up to hardly distinguishable discomfort in subconsciousness.
Without the aid of flowers, the text, the movement, sounds, etc. only one change of forms in process of passing of level can open new edges of history. Here you look: at the beginning of level you are surrounded by pure smooth forms, and then roughnesses appear. Even on abstraction to the following picture you can understand approximately what occurred! Possibly, in your imagination the fragment of some history already flew.
By the way, the set of interesting ideas can be gathered, studying the postmodernism aiming at originality in architecture. I strongly recommend. At "modern art" not really good reputation, but architecture, as a rule, too expensive piece that with it complete untalented persons were played.
"Vista" is the type opening to the player and such that takes the breath away. In games with the open world of "vista" most often is a highest point on some tower or a grief from where you examine neighborhoods. All of us remember the known process of "synchronization" in "Assassin’s Creed". For other games epic types are created specially, but not just allow us to look down.
As separate subspecies of "vista" it is possible to consider "hero assets". As a rule, it is especially remarkable objects of an environment often used only once for all game. Pay attention to them, remember them, are guided by them while run on level. In principle, the known Citadel towering over City-17 can be a quite good example.
"Vista" and "hero assets" can help you to make more memorable levels, to add it a highlight, but know when to stop. You can get to a trap and pay to them too much attention instead of those asset which will be used hundreds or thousands of times. Here the picture from article of children from Bethesda working on levels for Skyrim is pertinent:
Ten times think whether precisely you need this unique content, and whether you have forces on its creation. It is especially important to evaluate soberly the forces to the indi-developers having extremely limited production resources.
Interactive and dynamics
Unlike the previous point, this is rather simple in creation and application. Whatever moved at you on a location - it is cool! In other words, any dynamic objects inhale life in game. Try to add the burning torches waving on wind flags, the water flowing from pipes, falls, the shaking lianas, flocks of birds over the head and so on. It is difficult to describe words — it should be experienced when on static level you add dynamics, and it changes in the eyes.
Here it is possible to add interactive objects with which the user can interact. They become important part of a play experience, but not just a statics against. The door can be opened — to click the lever — to break a wall — to blow up a barrel — to dump a column. In "Diablo III" it was used rather often. For example, a classical example with the lever allowing to bring down on the head to enemies a massive chandelier. Or the stone wall collapsing when the hero passes nearby and accidentally touches it.
It is possible to add to dynamic objects also NPC. In "the White Garden", a small village at the very beginning of "Witcher", life boils — women wash clothes, children rush after the district and play with each other, old men light up tubes on a bench, men beat muzzles in a tavern. It is, certainly, already absolutely other level of a dynamic environment demanding considerable attachment of forces.
Fog as color correction
Very interesting trick: fog not just has significant effect on the atmosphere and plausibility of level, but also is the excellent instrument of color correction. Moreover, on mobile devices it is the cheapest method of color correction (" about 3-5 fps weigh").
In our game we implemented the elementary tool which is smoothly changing fog when the hero enters the trigger. The elementary example: the player runs on a cozy solar canyon with blue fog. When it enters a cave where bandits arranged a den, fog becomes blood-red, supporting the uncomfortable atmosphere of danger.
Finally to convince you of force of this tool, compare screenshots from India games on which I work. Because of fog the first looks as slightly cloudy day, and the second is similar to a sandy storm.
On the following two screenshots you can see very much a gaze, scarcely noticeable. But even at such approach the difference in a shade is obvious.
There is a reef: it is necessary to pick up correctly fog type (for example, exponentional squared in Unity usually is suitable for this task best of all) and density so that fog did not hackney texture, and they did not lose contrast.
Returning to the atmosphere. There are screenshots from Crysis 3 further. As you can see, on upper space compressed. It seems that houses stand absolutely near the player. On the lower picture accurately picked up fog visually expands space, removing houses in depth.
Lighting is love, lighting is life
Lighting is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. I strongly recommend to give it enough forces and time. Instead of one thousand words:
Even the simple geometry with the elementary textures takes an adequate form when goes lighting into action. We transmit not just technical information like time of day and weather through light, but also mood. Accurate work with light allows to configure the atmosphere thinly. Here provide: bright sunlight. On one end of a range you will have a tough, ruthless sun of the dead desert. On other end — the happy soft summer sun, as in an anime about the first love of the Tokyo school students.
How to achieve the necessary effect of lighting? Art and experience, of course. I have no ready recipe. But it is lyrics, I want to share one more practical trick: to crucially have variations in color of lighting. Follow logic, but do not forget about a creative. If you put light sources only where there are lamps, then the result will be stale and boring. At the same time even a small color variety from light does level visually more attractive.
One of interesting acceptances: at first only logical lighting (that is where there is a lamp, there will be a light source), but a little muffled, not final brightness is put. After that still additional color light sources are added. They lift the general illumination, at the same time expanding a color palette.
There are exceptions, of course. For example, level with a bright sunlight can consist mainly only of it, and will look perfectly. In this case you will be helped the verified ambient light doing color shadows, and also different post-effects on the camera to support sun brightness (notorious bloom, for example).
Light Blending with an environment
Creating lighting, initially you have only a light source and the environment accepting light. They are as if in a separation from each other. And in reality between them there would be an air, dust, the atmosphere.
There are several methods helping to imitate impact of light on "empty" space:
- Spetseffkta: motes fly or light fog curls near a light source.
- Light shafts, god rays, sun rays. Effect of visible rays of light. Stylization as a rule does not allow to use it in realistic games unless by means of very thin setup.
- Volumetric light. Effect, rather expensive in respect of performance, but devilishly beautiful and plausible. On the picture lower volumetric light from "Fallout 4" is represented.
- Post-effects. First of all bloom, of course. With it zasveta extend around bright elements of a scene.
- Fake glow. Somewhat imitates bloom around a bright light source. Becomes simple Quade with texture on which the translucent circle with diffuse edges is represented.
Post-effects had a bad reputation because of their excessive use. Legends of tasteless application of effect of Lens Flare pass from father to son. Actually well balanced post-effects are hardly noticeable and do not draw attention to themselves.
Post-effects and lighting are inseparably linked. On the picture you are lower you see how light fog (post-effect of Global Fog from the standard Unity set) is added to dark lighting over which Bloom is imposed.
In other words, working on lighting, always you remember about fog and post-effects. Idea of the level represented on the picture that you are in a dark-dark cave and the silhouettes bared by light fog allow you to be guided in space.
The strongest post-effect color correction by right is considered. With its help you can make changes in a color palette with a jeweler accuracy. This tool came to us from cinema, and now any AAA game does not do without it. By the way, color correction is used at cinema even during the work with a normal film without application of computer graphics. If look at frames of "Fight club" of David Ffincher, then at once pay attention to a characteristic green shade. Such result was achieved by means of special composition of the chemicals used at development of a film.
Other post-effects which can seem to you useful: tone mapping, bloom, antialiasing, vignette, chromatic aberration. Especially I want to note tone mapping which imitates HDR the picture on the basis of LDR (low dynamic range) of data. On the following picture I completely accepted light brightness, but some objects turned out excessively overexposed.
Pay attention what changes happened on the small blue monitor to the right of pass. It is also result of work of post-effect of tone mapping. Summing up, caution: try to be careful during the work with post-effects. It is easy to be deceived, having made poor level with mediocre lighting, and having hardly strewed it with "sugar", to decide that you have all abruptly.
I hope this selection will give you couple of new ideas for your projects. I am going to write one more article on the same subject. In it I will tell about prototyping, skeyl the hero and environments, the speed of run of the character, colliders, a pleytesting and many other things. It has to be even more grounded, with the smaller number of pictures, but well packed by my experience.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in a render of lighting in Unity, I already have technical article on Habrakhabr. Frankly speaking, having saved up more experience, I see that in article there are some inaccuracies, but in general it is close to reality. Therefore if you only study a lighting subject in Unity, material has to you be useful.
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