This level was originally created for a TGA assignment regarding level loops. I took what I had from that assignment and expanded upon it.
My personal goal and main focus was to create a level layout inspired by ‘Resident Evil 2 Remake but on a much smaller scale. That includes layout, environment and game mechanics.
Any zombie you might see popping out of nowhere is supposed to be a "sleeping zombie" that stands up and begins to attack the player
The player needs to expose the secret evil corporation, the player grabs a code from a computer. Once the player has the code, they have to escape the secret facility all while avoiding and/or killing the zombies that are pesent.
The level itself is linear and designed for experienced players, players that know what to expect in terms of puzzles and enemy types. The goal is to find the secret lab area, grab the special code and then flee the facility.
The level's liniarity is owed to the time constraint I had when woeking on this. To conpensate for this, the player will not always be able to rush through the level, tactical enemy placements and a minor puzzle will force the player to stop and think before turning a corner. The player will be forced to take one way but needs to discover what route that is since exploration and resource management is a staple of the horror survival genre. Pistol ammunition, medicinal herbs and clues are scarcely scattered throughout the level to help the player find the correct way.
The first challenge for the player is to get through the first locked door. In the center of this image is a T-intersection with locked doors that can be opened from the other side.
There are no clear indications to where the player should go from the start, just a story implication.
Enemies are positioned slow down player momentum. Any corpse lying around is a potential sleeping enemy, getting too close to a sleeping zombie will make it chase the player.
Leading the player
Taking the path to the left
The path to the left is more lit up in order to give a sense of safety, I lit it up this way to purposely mislead the player.
Taking this path leads the player to a messy lounge area where two zombies are waitiing, one being "asleep". After the lounge area the player will find the locked door to the library.
The player will also have access to a shortcut intended for backtracking if they do not have the library key when arriving to this area.
Going straight forward from the start
If the player chooses to go straight forward from the starting corridor they will enter the T-intersection, where they will be met with a dead end, 2 "sleeping" zombies and some extra ammo.
Taking the path to the right
Going down this path leads the player to a dark corridor, here the player can walk down the corridor and find and entrance to the T-intersection to the left and an optional room to the right. The optional room holds a medicinal herb and one zombie.
At the end of this corridor is the key to the library that the player needs to progress.
Getting close enough will make the key item glow up and when really close, the player will get an indicator telling the player about the objects importance.
A zombie lies in wait to ambush the player aswell.
The second challenge is to solve the puzzle in the large library area with the 4 red exclamation marks and to discover the (not so) well hidden door behind the suspicious looking pair of bookshelves.
Each exclamation mark in the top-down view is a puzzle element in the shape of a statue that the player needs to rotate X amout of times. Two clues are positioned on the second flor of the library area. Solving the puzzle spawns the key in the middle of the room.
Between finding the clues, finding the door and solving the puzzle, the player is never forced to follow these steps in a specific order.
However, finding the hidden door behind the bookshelves is the clearest indicator of where the player should go next, interacting with the door shows a change in theme since this door needs a key card rather than a regular key.
This second half of the overall level is a lot more straight forward, no more puzzles here. The challenge comes with the ammount of zombies hiding in every corner or hiding in plain sight.
The player now has to collect a key card, open the path to the test/experiment ward, get the code and then escape the lab through the same elevator they took down. That ends the level.
The first room the player enters is a reception/lobby.
From here the player can either delve deeper into the facility or search the back room for extra ammo where a zombie also lurks. There is another door that's locked from the other side aswell in this lobby.
Venturing deeper leads the player to a corridor. From here, there is a door to the left and a busted door to the right. Walking in a bit further will trigger a zombie to come out from the right, forcing the plyer to combat. In that room lies a clue that talks about their missing keycard.
The owner mentiones that they would
"Check sector AA".
To the left of this corridor lies an observation room, chairs lie all around as if people inside the room panicked, in here the player can find extra ammo.
The blinking yellow door is locked and can be unlocked with a key card. Both the other paths (straight forward and left) leads to the key inside the morgue.
After the corridor the player finds a crossroads along with 1 aggressive zombie, forcing another encounter.
From here the player can choose beween 2 ways forward, one more sinister looking with red flashing lights and one a bit more lit up. Both paths have about the same amount of action but the red path to the left is a bit more tricky since a sleeping zombie activates when the player passes that dead end, ending up with a backstab to the player if they're not careful enough.
Going forward: Left
Flashing lights and a dark corner with a sleeping zombie awaits the player down this route. The dark corner is also the other side of the operation room that can be seen from the observation room.
The zombie will wake up when the player passes by the dead end, not when getting too close, a deviation from the usual rule for the sake of gameplay variety.
The player is forced into the morgue.
Going forward: Straight forward
This route is more straight forward than the other and a bit less punishing, one zombie will attack the player from around the corner. going around that corner reveals a blocked passage and some extra ammo.
The player is forced into the morgue.
The morgue consists of 2 standard zombies, a medpack
and a key card that the player needs.
The fridges in the middle of the room are placed in such fashion to create a simple 8 figure, this way, the player won't risk getting cornered too easily, potentially letting the player enter and exit without harm.
Experimental ward and head office
One of the final areas the player has to go through before clearing the level. The player may explore feely before getting the code.
Picking up the code and exiting the office will trigger the final event. Zombies will spawn from left and right.
This forces the player to exit through the second entrance,
opposite of the head office.
From here the player needs to rush to the lobby through a different road ending up opening the door that was locked from the other side.
Entering the elevator ends the level.
I believe in giving the player as much freedom as possible to make their own mistakes and overcome challenges on their own terms. Of course I don’t plan on leaving players without a single clue on where to go, these are the methods I use to lead the player throughout this level.
Important items will have a pulsating light source on it to indicate that the player can interact with it. When the player does, they'll find out through a widget on screen regarding its status (pickup, clues etc.)
Doors will display a widget if they're locked along with aditional information
This specific example combines the above example with "lighting/mood". The flashing yellow light supposed to get the player's attention and will later tell the player that a keycard is needed when they try to open it.
This is a good way to break up stand stills for the player. A game like this will have the player find comfort in more lit areas rather dark dank corners where you can't see potential threats.
In this case I also added a sign that's lit up, which is also referred in a clue the player can find before entering this room.
Additionally, there's an enemy standing at the end of the red flashing corridor.
The first example shows a single zombie, easy to handle.
This second example shows a larger ammount of zombies at once from different directions, better to run in this situation.
In the simplest of scenarios, an enemy that's present means that the player hasn't been in this area which in turn means that the player is progressing in one way or other.
Depending on scenario, it can mean "this way" or "stand back, danger here".
"Sleeping zombies" play dead untill the player gets close enough, that's when they "wake up".
(that's why the zombie spawns in almost on top of the corpse)
My work process is quite straight forward: sketch, scripting, blockout, set dressing and then finally lighting. Scripting and sketching phase are interchangable in what order I choose to work in. I firmly believe in designing a level after what type of mechanics that are present.
Things that I had from before were functionality regarding enemy HP system and player gun line tracing. The zombies were redone so that they had a range from which they could detect the player.
Leading the player
Before starting to sketch I already have an idea of what game mechanics will be included in the project.
The sketching phase for me is to get the ball rolling. I might end up with something that I think is suitable for my concept until I start the actual blockout phase. My concept was to create an environment suitable for exploration and resource management, to force the player to think twice before engaging in combat. Considering the time frame at the time, I feel like I accomplished this with the initial sketch.
When starting this phase I heavily use the sketch as a reference point, any drastic changes are later added to the sketch after the blockout stage is done.
In this project I had planed for a room that serves as a 4 way cross roads in the masnion area but that would have made it too easy for the player to move around so I removed one of the entry ways.
The zombie had a straightforward design to convey my point of this project. I included minor value tweaking just enough for a level designer in my position.
Some zombies are weaker while others are stronger, there are no graphical indicators of this but that is by design.
When placed or spawned into the scene, they will always randomize their max HP value between 2-7 and randomize their max walk speed between 120-170.
With this said, there are instances where more than one zombie at the time will appear, a small change in size is also made when a zombie appears, this is to avoid monotone encounters.
Click image for details
Zombies that are placed in the scene before hand have a detection range that can be tweaked in the inspector (aggro range variable), zombies that are spawned with a spawner have a pre determined range that is quite high, it's reserved for hostile scenarios like the end event.
I used 2 different methods when handling the zombie encounters in this project. The first method is to place them in manually in the scene like the in-game example gif above. The second is to use zombie spawners.
The spawner consists of a box collider, ammount of zombies to spawn and an invisible spawn point marked with a billboard, very easy to use. The "has key" boolean is used at the end of the level before picking up the final key item so that the player doesn't trigger two spawners too early. (spawner image above)
Each spawn made this way communicates with a spawn director that’s placed in the scene. This way I can keep an eye on how many zombies are in the level at the same time and not overload the level with too many zombies, even if the player doesn’t see them.
This wasn't something that I necessarilly needed but I figured early on that it could be good practice to include and also use as a safety net if I ever was inspired to make an event on a larger scale than what I already had in mind.
Like the zombie, I kept the complexity of the gun to a minimum.
I opted to make only one weapon and have it be functioning with a line tracing system rather than the default projectile. The player can shoot and reload the gun.
The gun won't shoot when out of ammo and won't reload when out of extra ammo.
Set dressing is where I rescaled and made som changes to the level layout. Mainly room size and prop placement. The most important rooms where kept as truthful to the blockout to not compromize any major beats of course.
All for the better, of course, and it was something I already knew was going to change to some degree before I started this phase of the project.
Sometimes when I do the initial blockout I either change my mind during the set dressing process or I implement changes according to different feedback I've gained during the project.
One of the examples where during the initial blockout stage that the corridors in the lab were too long, I chose to tighten them by adding rooms or by moving the objective rooms closer to each other.
The reason for changing the grand kitchen was because I changed the layout to a T-intersection and felt that keeping the mansion aesthetic for the whole first half uniform was important.
Leading the player
This project was a lot of fun and very challenging. Like every project I've worked on, I only wish I had more time to polish it. With that said, I am very happy with how it turned out.
Familiarising myself with the asset packs on the fly led to some time struggles since I wasn’t always 100% sure how some modular pieces were meant to be used. My only experience from modular pieces were from group projects where I could directly ask a graphic student what they had in mind when creating the model. It took me a while to realise it but the solution was to check with the asset packs demonstrations online, with that done, I had no more worries regarding the asset packs and building went a lot smoother.
Designing even more “obvious” routes. By this I mean to design more dangerous looking paths. That way a player can make a quicker decision and avoid being paralyzed by choice. This way I as a Level Designer can manipulate the players pathing. The reason for not doing this was frankly because I was blinded by my own design, doing a retake and amplifying what I already had would have been the solution.
A major improvement is to scale up the design more, include an extra puzzle, verticality, make room for more story beats etc. The reason I didn’t do this was because I knew that this would increase my workload more than necessary considering the amount of time that I had.