Category: Video Game Industry

#InternationalMenDay

Depressed man sitting in the tunnel

(Image from :https://personalexcellence.co/blog/depressed-progress/)

#InternationalMenDay

Premise

More than two years ago I wrote a blog post about mental illness here. I was not at my best during that period, to say the least, and I felt like, writing about the simple thing that I found could help people. I started having anxiety crisis and panic attacks for the first time in my life and I didn’t really understood why.

I wrote in that article that it was important to do something before it was too late. I didn’t and I fell in that big black hole that so many men end up in.

So, this blog post will diverge to what I usually write about because it’s not really related to the gaming industry but can be, to some extent.

International Men Day looks like by definition that it’s about men but it’s not exactly. International Men Day about mental illness, depression, suicide and other nasty things that men, sadly, seems to be really good at in our society.

Sadly though, it’s not really popular. I mean, I was not aware that it was a thing before today. There was no special Google logo. The twitter hashtag was not on the trends page either. There is a lot of work to be done for sure. It’s still so hard for men to talk about their emotion. Most of the time, we are being told to “man up”, that men don’t cry, that men are strong, that “real men this” and “real men that”. Men need to be able to fix a car,  carry everything that weight more than five kilos, go get the car when it’s raining, open doors, provide, etc, etc.

I felt like talking about my story. I haven’t really talked about it publicly and International Men Day is there to help men talk about their problem. Brace yourself, serious wall of text incoming.

My Story

Like I said above, two years ago, I started having anxiety crisis. I was not aware it was that really. I had dizziness and vertigo randomly at work and only at work. I wondered if it was my nutrition or anything with my body. I was doing a lot of sports. Playing Spikeball twice a week and bouldering two or three time a week so I knew it was not really because of lack of physical activities.

Never I thought it would be related to stress or that I was having mental illness.

Men are stronger than that.

One night. I woke up with a pretty big pain if my left arm. It was hurting a lot for no apparent reason. I stood up to go get some ice in my freezer. I remember walking to the kitchen and then after that I remember that when I opened my eyes I was laying on the floor. I didn’t what happened. I took the ice and when back to my bed. Then, I started to wonder if I had a stroke.

Left arm pain? Falling unconscious? Vertigo?

The morning after, I went to work. Told my boss about what happened and he told me to go the fuck to the hospital. I’m a men. I don’t like hospital and talk about my problems so I was just like “Heh, it’s ok”. After some talk with him, I called my doctor. She told me, in a professional way, to go the fuck to the hospital.

So I went.

I explained my problem at the front desk. It took 2 minutes and I was laying down in a bed plugged in at like 10 different spots. They ran a ton of tests and everything. I stayed at the hospital for almost 9 hours.

The result? NOTHING. Everything was perfectly fine. Literally no, problem, at, all.

Great.

Went back to work the day after and kept on with my life. Still, I had vertigo and dizziness from time to time. One day, I was at my desk and at some point, I looked at the ceiling and it started moving really badly. So I left work and when home to lay down. I knew something bad was going on but I didn’t really knew what so I booked an appointment with my private doctor to see what was going on.

Blood pressure, ear checks and whatnot, all the things. Everything was all good again!

She told me it was strongly related to stress. I didn’t wanted to believe it. How could me, a strong minded man, be stressed to the point of falling unconscious?

I also found out that I was having a lot of memory loss. Forgetting really important thing at work. I was having a pretty hard time with my deadlines and the quality of my work. My obvious reaction was to work harder, taking the burden on myself and keep in going, over and over.

The saying goes like this right, “Depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you were strong for too long.”

Heh.

Then one day I was at work, it was one week before shipping the game. I was talking with a coworker on Slack and I realized that I fucked up something I had to do like, 2 months earlier. Something I totally forgot. The feeling I got at that specific moment was just unbearable. The amount of stress my brain decided to inject through my whole body was so big I never felt that way before. I sat there, looking at my screen for probably 25 minutes, doing nothing. Then, I stood up, when to a meeting room and called my doctor because I knew something was wrong. We booked an appointment 1 hour later then I went to my boss and said to him I didn’t felt well and was going to see my doc.

I didn’t knew what to tell her (my doctor) but after like, five minutes, she said, “Ok, you’re off work for at least three weeks.”

I then got probably 100 different mixed emotions at the same time and the only thing I said was, “I just want to cry right now.” I really wanted to cry, for real, but still, completely broken, I didn’t.

Men don’t cry in front of people.

She gave me some sort of little form to fill with bullet point. Rating different situations from 0 to 3 I think or something like that. My score was 22. She then told me that above something like 13 you’re in depression/burnout and above 20 it’s really severe. The only thing that was not a 3 was a question about suicidal thoughts, luckily for me.

She then game me anti-depressant and we booked bi-weekly appointment to check up how I was doing.

I went back to work after and game a paper to my boss telling him that I would be off work for illness for an unknown amount of time.

I never came back.

My doc strongly suggested me to consult a psychologist. It took me a month to call one and see what I could do.

I didn’t wanted too. I felt ashamed. I’m was a strong minded man. I could fix my problem myself without the help of anyone. I never asked for help in my life to anyone. That how I am. I hate asking for help. I always see it as a failure. Well, I felt like this.

Seeing a professional really helped me. It’s still so taboo to consult but it was so god damn useful. I learned so much about myself and how brain works and reacts to a lot of different things emotion-wise.

This was my story.

Conclusion

It’s been over a year now and I am kind of back to be a proper unbroken person but when you went into depression once, it leaves a mark forever. That’s how it is. I restarted having self confidence at work not so long ago. I speak more about my emotions and I even ask for helps sometimes. I still have a long way to go on that matter but baby steps are better than nothing at all.

I wrote it in my last post, cited above and I will say it again for those of you who went all the way down here reading.

DON’T. WAIT. UNTIL. IT’S. TOO. LATE.

Seriously. You’re not alone. There are a ton of people who wants to help and that were in your exact position before.

On that note, there is now a brand new group about gamer men helping other gamer men here called Men’s Mental Health Gamer (MMHG). It’s new and small but I hope it’ll grow to a big helping community.

Seek help if you need it brothers. Really. It’s important.

I’m also here to help. Poke me at anytime.

So then, what is your story?


 

Leave a comment if you have any opinions on this or have any questions!
Don’t hesitate to click on the little blue follow button on the top right of this page.
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A Normal Day as a Level Designer

A Normal Day as a Level Designer

Related image

Premise

So, for whatever reason (working at DICE obviously) my twitter account got a lot of followers in the last month. With that, came a lot of awesome questions (most of them I could not answered sadly) and it also came to my attention that people really think that everybody working in the video game industry are owner of every single thing that exist in a game. I may write something about that later. I don’t know. A lot of people also asked me, “What are you doing exactly at work?” or “What does a Level Designer (LD) do?” or “What is a typical day of work for you?”.
The last question was pretty interesting for me so I told myself, “Hey, why not writing something about it?”

I’ll divide that into some sections because depending on first, the company, then the project you work on, the state/phase of the project you work on and so on, a typical day can be pretty different. There are way more stages than that but I’ll divide my blog with Conception/Pre-Production, Production and Debug.

Also, the example I’ll give bellow is not related to DICE specifically. I’ve been doing that for 13 years now and it’s just how I would represent my work with the experience I have. Like I said above, there are a lot of variables that can change the job I have to do during a day but, here it goes anyway.

Conception/Pre-Prod Day as a LD

Conception

During Conception, normally, teams are pretty small. Depending on the size of the project it can be 3 people or 40. This is usually when you have the core-team talking about what the game could be, the mechanics and stuff. You also usually have a lot of technical people who can prototype all kind of cool things.

Being a Level Designer during that period is pretty hectic. Everyday, you prototype something and you mostly throw 99% of what you do away. Everything that you do during this stage of production is thrown away in the end, nothing done here will see the light of day when you ship the game. This is prototyping after all. You’re not building the game you’re just trying stuff and see what feels right.

During that stage it’s important to note that obviously, everything look like shit and you can even just work with boxes as character.

So in conception, when a LD comes in the morning, after reading potential emails and whatever like this, then the goal is to prototype whatever the Game Director (or whoever else) want to see then, throw it away somewhere and work on a new prototype.

Pre-Production

During Pre-Prod, job is a bit different. You may start building part of the world or you may even plan the whole game in a big document like what will go where, what will be the challenges and the gameplay mechanics introduced in which part of the game.

The team will grow a lot more and people will start working on specific areas. It’s normally when Level Designers got assigned a piece of the game to work for the next year (or more). Depending on the company working process you will probably work closely with your assigned Level Artist to make the best level possible.

Once again everything will change, 99% of the stuff will go to the trash, you will then take the 1% and work from it and the game will probably move forward. Some days you trash 100% of what you’ve done. Some days you just have the blank page problem and nothing comes out. Brains can’t just work perfectly all the time.

Everyday you’ll change pretty much everything and it’s also because designing something is never, ever, ever good from the start. Never.

So, you’ll throw stuff away, you’ll take the best and you’ll work from it. Then you’ll throw another chunk away and you’ll work from it. Rinse and repeat until one of your idea will get approved by the directors and you’ll move forward into Production with it.

Production

This is my favorite part of making a game. I’m a production guy and this is where I’m really good. I’m not that much of a Conception/Pre-Prod guy because it’s all so blurry and chaotic.
Anyway

Production is the meat of the project. This is when the team is fully staffed and everything happen. A couple hundreds people on a AAA game normally. It can even go close to a thousand depending on the game.

During that part you move forward with what you’ve done during Pre-Prod and you push it until it’s perfect (no design is ever perfect but, yeah).
During that stage you go from making big chunk of maps and levels to moving a spawner 1m to the left because it feels better.
You can literally spend a whole day of work just working on the same small gameplay section of 5 enemies patrolling to make it just perfect.

At this stage you will probably stop throwing 99% of your job away but you will still redo the majority of your work during half (or more) of the Production phase. Like I love to say, the Level Designer job is to thrown away 95% of his job and make it better.
The artists will also start working with you in the editor. Making stuff beautiful. In a magic world they would make stuff beautiful when everything is set in stone on LD part but it’s never really like that since it’s pretty rare that something is set in stone more than 6 months before the game is shipped (and I’m generous).

In production, when I arrive in the morning I usually get all the latest data (it can take some times so I read my emails during that) and then I play my stuff. Every. Single. Day. This is the best way to see if something is broken because you’re not the only one working on the level now.

So, in Production you always go more and more micro in your day to day job. When you start, you spend your day moving mountains and cities around (some figure of thoughts) and in the end you spend your day moving spawners a bit to the left or a bit to the right. You delete one, you add one. You change the enemy type. You break something, you fix it. You mess around with your script. You break it. You refine your script. You make sure the game plays well. You add a new explosion there. You remove a tree there because it’s in the way. You add a secret path there because why not! You add move collectibles and rewards. You check if it’s ok. You decide to change a small section because it’s not really what you think was good enough. You then make compromise with your artist because he/she has some needs too. Then the cinematic comes by, you may have to integrate something new that may change your gameplay areas. You tweak everything related to the new constraints. A director may come by and ask you to change something. The story may change and then you have to change a whole section. Maybe a feature or an ingredient you were using will get cut because of time or budget so you won’t be able to use it anymore. You tweak your stuff again. You test, test, test, test, test, and re-test your level over and over. You do that until it’s perfect (it’s not, but you have to ship the game at some point).
You never thought about all those little things you added, removed and re-added when you planned your stuff during Pre-Prod. It’s how it is. Your design, when you start, is shit.

Always shit.

Debug

Debug is at the end of the project. It may last 2 months or six. It may even last one. During that time, the team will already be back to a way smaller pool of people. Lots of people were already sent to a new project during the last part of Production.

This stage of production is black or white. You love it or you hate it.
It’s cool, because the game is done and you just make it better by fixing the majority of the issues.
On the other side it’s bad because that’s what you do all day. You just fix stuff. You’re usually not creating anything anymore. You’re not supposed to. The game is “done”. You just have to make sure it’s not a bug fest.

So a typical day is pretty simple. You get in the morning, you check your bug database personal stack and you fix the most bugs you can. Some day you may fix 20 of them and some day you may barely fix one. Then you get some more. You fix more and get more but just a bit less than the day before, maybe. Then at some point there are just a few tidbits of small unimportant bugs. You fix as much as you can and you may even spend the whole day without getting anything new. So you check your fellow LDs bug stacks and check if you can help them.

Then, it’s over.

You realize you spent 2-4 years of your life making that game. You take some vacations, there’s a big party, you get shitface and you drink your life away and try to forget all the bad shit that happen during the project and just remember the cool stuff.

Then, you start this process all over again.

Conclusion

So, this sums-up my day to day job.

Sort of.

Nothing is ever the same and that’s probably why it’s cool. Some days are complete crap because you just feel you’ve done nothing. Some days are amazing because it looks like you had one crazy awesome idea and your level is 10000% time better.

In the end it’s a job. You make a small part of a big thing and you just hope that the part you made will be loved and that the spawner you moved back then really made a difference.


Leave a comment if you have any opinions on this or whatever!
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Jeff in Sweden – Part 0

Jeff in Sweden – Part 0

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Swedish flag"

So I moved to Sweden.

Pretty crazy isn’t it?

Spent 32 years of my like living in cold Quebec then I decided to move to cold Sweden. Even though it’s not really cold here. At least not in Stockholm.

I worked at Massive, in Malmö 5 years ago and since I came back, there’s a part of me that always wanted to go back to Sweden. I fell in love with the country. I didn’t knew when or how I would be back but I knew I would, at some point, go back.

I was not really thinking about working there though. But here I am. Moved to Sweden and starting to work for EA DICE tomorrow.

But this is PART 0 of I don’t know many parts. I’ll write about this crazy adventure as I see fit.
Before moving, I had to say farewell to a lot of people and good bye to close ones.

So I threw a party. One hell of an evening at my favorite medieval restaurant in Quebec, La Chope Gobeline. Lots of people came. People always told me that others like me. But you never know. I threw a party without really knowing who would come. I even invited some people I haven’t seen for years.
The vast majority of them came.

People I love.

Here you can see a part of the people who came.
Long time friends, coworker and ex-coworker from the video game industry.

20180303_211720

It was really awesome to be surrounded by so many people I care about and care about me.

Lots of emotion, amplified by booze, was in the air. Saying farewell to so many people was not easy.

Then, a few days later I got my visa so everything was set.

I was in this process since October.
Phone interviews.
On site interviews.
Dozens and dozens of emails.

It took five months of intense stress for me to get here in Sweden but thanks to EA DICE. Many people helped me.
When you think about it, it costs thousands and thousands of dollars for a company to bring someone over.

They paid for my visa.
They paid for my on site interview.
They paid for my move.
They are paying for my 2 months temporary gorgeous appartment.
They are paying people to help me with every details.

Adding to that is the crazy good conditions DICE is giving me as an employee too!

So here I am, in the beautiful capital of Sweden surrounded by this old and new Swedish architecture and dozens of islands covered in a bit of snow as I write this.

What’s next?
My first day at DICE.
I’m looking forward to this.

After that, we’ll see!


Leave a comment if you have any opinions on this or whatever!
Don’t hesitate to click on the little blue follow button on the top right of this page.
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Flow

Flow

waterflow

– Premise –

Once again, every time I write a new blog it feels like there’s 3 life time that has past since the last one. I guess that you have to be in the mood to do that.

Anyway,

Look at the image above. Isn’t it great? Perfectly looping gif of a river flowing. Would be even better with sound. Right? So relaxing.

For some times now I wanted to write about something that is really important to me, probably the 2nd most important thing when I design stuff. The first one being consistency in video games. I’ll probably write about it at some point. Maybe.

You probably have guessed it with the title, I wanted to write about Flow.

Flow is SO important in video games and in life in general. We all have our moments when we are in the flow. You know, when time flies so fast because you’re having fun or when a day at work feels like it lasted 30 minutes. We all know what it is and damn it’s great.

It’s the same thing in video games.

So, let’s talk about it.

– Flow in Games-

– Guitar Hero –

guitarflow

I will assume that, we ALL have played guitar hero when it was like THE thing to do in every party. I wanted to kick that blog with this game because being in the flow in that game was so good and rewarding. When you were doing that expert white notes solo during Freebird looking at the notes combo going up, tilting that guitar to activate the star power and still going up and up.

You were in the flow.

Games can be created in order to help keeping the flow, and even more, rewarding players when they keep it. That’s how pretty much everything was designed in Guitar Hero.

– Mario Bros –

marioflow

Mario games in general are pretty good for this. I will boldly say that ­~99% of the time you can start a level running and if your timing in good enough you’ll be able to get to the end without stopping even once. The exception being auto-scrolling levels and such.

Sometimes (often) even, they place goombas, koopas and other enemies in such a way that you can jump on all of them in consequences to gain a 1up.

Rewarding the player when they are in the flow.

– Rayman Legends –

rayman

The new Rayman games are pretty good for that. The way they place the enemies and the collectibles. It’s a really well done Level Design job for that. I’ll write about Level Design and flow in a few minutes. Platformers in general are really good for flow.

They also even make the music flow to your play. Which is also a nice reward for players.

– Flow (the game) –

Flow_logo

Last example is Flow. I had to write about the game with the same name right? I could have also wrote about Flowers and other great “experiences” games like that but that’s not the goal of this blog post. I want to get to Level Design at some point.

In flow, you started as a small entity, eating smaller entities to get bigger to eat bigger entities and so on. It was the perfect example of flow because you had your reward straight in your face, getting bigger and bigger.

So I guess you get the point now. I’ll write about a few of my own experience with Flow in Level Design and how I was (we were) handling it.

– Flow in Level Design –

– Assassin’s Creed Navigation –

I’ll start with that, since, well, I worked on 6 or 7 of them, I don’t remember. Navigation in Assassin’s Creed is all about flow.

That’s a 1 button press game. Navigation in AC is not about challenging the player, it’s about letting the player go for A to B easily and to let him be in short burst of flow during that. Enjoying the smoothness of it.

There are a ton (and when I say a ton it’s a ton) of different metrics in AC games. Obviously, when you press the right trigger to run and the character starts running and jumping on pole and flags by itself, yes, the animations and all is handled by the engine, but each ingredients had to be placed by hand by a Level Designer (almost) to ensure a smooth navigation from A to B.

At least, for navigation, metrics and rules were pretty straight forward.
Every navigation sequences in AC begin with, what we called, a starter. Then after that, if we wanted to keep the flow it was a simple set of metrics.
To keep the character on his feet and running we could either put the next ingredient 5 meters ahead at the same height (5-0), 4 meters ahead and 1 meter higher (4-1) or 3 meters ahead and 2 meters higher (3-2). Nothing less, nothing more.
Like this:

ACnav.png

Ingredients could be whatever from a pole, to a tree branch to an awning and such. The only important thing was to place ingredients at the write spot.
We could also had an ingredient at (if I recall correctly) 4 meters higher and 3-4 meters farther to make the character grab the ingredient and keep going. It was good to change the pace. Instead of having a jump, jump, jump, jump sequence we could had jump, grad, jump grab, and so on.
Nobody likes seeing the same thing over and over.

The important thing was (and I talked about it at the beginning) to be consistent. It helps keep the flow on something like navigation in AC. Always respect your metrics.

– Divinity: Original Sin –

Divinity: Original Sin (or DoS), in a top down isometric CRPG.
It’s really slow paced.
There was still a strong importance of Flow in Level Design even in that game and what I’m about to write can be applied to every single Level Design.

Rule #1: We hate dead ends*.
Rule #2: We hate corridors.

Yeah, that’s it.
Seriously.

In DoS, you walk a lot, you can fast travel from location to location but most of the time you walk/run. How annoying is it in a game when you get at the end of a freaking long dead end and the only thing you can do is walk back?
That’s annoying, damn that’s annoying.

*(Small dead ends leading to collectibles/reward/secret is strongly suggested though)

DoS navigation was all about loops.
Bellow is the map of the first act (may contain spoilers and whatnot). You can easily see the loops there.

(There are few dead ends, long ones, I know. I hate them, you can’t oversee everything. At least they lead to combat zones and big rewards. You have to ship a game at some point right?)

FortJoyMap

Having loops helped for two things:
The flow,
The sense of open exploration.

Obviously, in a open map like this, you’ll have to get back at some point but with loops, it happened a lot that people where going one way and coming back by another so even though they were backtracking, they were still, in their mind, moving forward because it was still unexplored area.
Then, when the loops lead to some sort of dead ends, well, that’s where you put a fast travel ingredient/location to go back quickly. MAGIC!

So the important thing here is to always keep the player engaged. When there is always something new, it keeps him in the flow of exploration. They are both (flow/exploration) linked with each other.

– Ending Notes –

Flow is a really important thing, as said above. We all love that.

Can we keep the player in the flow 100% of the time? No.
They will either get stuck in a challenge, die, or anything like that.

Everything is good with moderation.

Remember that Prince of Persia made in 2008? The cell shading one? You were not able to die in this game. Elika (I think that was her name) was always getting you out of trouble. You know, it was really good for the flow. You were always engaged. It was also super exhausting and even boring to some extend.

BUT,

Players should never get stuck exploring/navigating. If a player is stuck, it’s out fault, seriously. And if they get stuck, it breaks the flow hard but not for the good reason.

Keep your players engaged during exploration in your levels.
Create as few dead ends as possible and if you do, make them small and put rewards. It’ll keep the player engaged during exploration (see above, heh).
If you have metrics for your game, respect them, always. Creating false calls for your players will create frustration and break the flow.

Alright, that’s enough text. I think I’ll talk about Shapes next.
EDIT: I could have wrote a whole book about this. Live everything in fact but the goal was to how a thing or two about Flow. Not to write a thesis or anything.


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Radial Level Design

Radial Level Design

1

– Premise –

I wanted to write something like for a long time now. Talking about some of the process I’ve used in my career. This time, I’ll write about Radial Level Design. Most specifically the process I used to create London on Assassins Creed: Syndicate at the start of the project when we were only me as Lead Level Design and the Level Design Director Jo.

“What’s Radial Level Design?”, you’ll say. Or even, “What is this weird term?”

Well, this is what I’ll explain in the lines bellow. The goal is to share what I’ve learned on creating a city that exist in real life with all it’s landmarks and personalities in a video game.

Disclaimer: I’m not working at Ubisoft anymore so no image whatsoever will be taken from the actual game and I’ll even take a completely different city for the purpose of this explanation.

– The Process –

The first thing you have to keep in mind while doing a real city in a video game is that obviously, you won’t (well, most of the time I guess) be able to recreate that city as is. The goal though, is still to give a really good feeling of “I know this part!” to the player if they have already visited that city and to respect the city itself.

AC Syndicate was set in the Victorian London era during the Industrial Revolution. One thing that was really interesting and useful for us is that it’s during that time that a lot of stuff that we are still doing today came to be. Like, photography. That was so good for references purpose, even though most of the pictures were pretty much take 20-30 years later than our period in the game, points of interest in a city barely ever change though the years.

So, since I’m from Quebec, I’ll take the beautiful Quebec City as an example throughout this blog post and refer to the process we were doing.

Here is a google satellite view of a part of Quebec.

Untitled

– Step 1: The Landmarks –

The first step is to take a map and identify the landmarks and/or all the points of interest.

Landmarks are the spots where every tourists go visit when they are travelling.
Points of interests (PoI) are less important part of a city that still attracts a lot of people.
One last thing that is also a point of interest in itself is a park. Nature/vegetation in a city is always something that creates a wow.

These areas are the pillars of the city. This is where the majority of the production time will be spent. These areas can’t really be bent or altered.
This is also the areas that the player will remember in a game and help him/her navigate in the city remembering where he/she is.

In the map bellow I marked the Landmaks with blue dots, the PoI in orange and parks in yellow.

Untitled

– Step 2: The Main Roads and Water –

The 2nd step is to identify the main roads of a city and where the important water flows. I’m not talking about a tiny river here, I’m talking about a nice river or a lake.

Identifying where the main roads are will help you structure the city. The landmarks are where the attention will be gathered but the roads are the back bones, the spine of the city.

The rivers, on the other hands are good mainly to create guidelines to the players. How many times in your life as a gamer have you followed a river? That’s super easy to follow right? Also, sometimes, they are really useful as path blockers or end of map. How many game world end into the ocean at some point?

Another thing that can give a nice guideline to the players are railroads.
We don’t have a lot of important railroads in Quebec so I’ll skip that in the example.
On a side note, in London, on AC, it was on the contrary, really important.

In the image bellow, in blue are the rivers (not a lot!), in red, the main road.
There is also something pretty interesting in Quebec, the city is made on plateaus. The upper city and lower city are separated by a pretty big cliff. There is also another (even bigger) cliff going down the St-Lawrence river.
So, in this specific example, it’s pretty important to take that in consideration.
I represented that with the yellow lines.

Untitled2.png

– Step 3: The Districts/Neighborhoods –

Normally this part should be easy. You basically have to split the city into districts. If you are recreating a real city, this should be pretty straight forward.
The goal here is to create zones, not too much, not too little.

Note: This is related to the game you’re doing. Maybe you need 50 different zones, maybe you need 5. So either way, don’t hesitate to merge some or split some if needs be. Back on AC, splitting London into districts, we ended up with 11 at first. (I’ll talk about that later because you always end up with less.).

You can see in the image bellow that I ended up with 9 districts in white.

Untitled3

First interesting obvious point, just following the river/roads creates districts by itself.
Second interesting point I found that the game would probably be big enough cutting it after that big road to the left. There was just a park after that anyway!

Note: Even in conception, it’s important to think about the production of the game. What is useless now, will also be useless later. So don’t hesitate to cut stuff already.

We had the same thing happening on AC. There was one super cool landmark that was so off of the city that even if that was a really good one, we decided to cut it already at that state of conception.

– Step 4: The Cropping –

Alright, this is the most important part of the process and the hardest. This is also where the whole purpose of this process takes place.

Designing in Radial around the landmark areas after the cropping.

Right now, we have all that we need to create the city but obviously, it’s way too big for a game. Well at least, London was way too big as is, for an AC game. We had to cramp 50 square kilometers into 2×3 kilometers. That was a constraint we had for a lot of different reasons that I won’t explain here.

Note: Again, think about production here but it’s ok to think bigger. You’ll end up, I can assure you, cutting more and more during the production of the game.

So, what you do here is that you take the software that you want and you draw the global layout of the city taking every single landmark/PoI you’ve tagged above related to your main roads, rivers and other important thing you pointed out.
It’s time to go a little bit more micro and it’s time to bend reality.

Note: It’s important to remember that this is conception and that this step is strongly going to change for different reason in production. But this is just an example.

Untitlasded-1

This is what I came with.
I left the step 3 map under to show the difference in size.
Everything that was on step 3 is still in but is also way closer.
If you see, there’s now a green line (I forgot that on purpose for the sake of the example). Sometimes, you’ll find new interesting things to add as you discover the city more and more.
Around Old Quebec there’s a huge wall, remnant of the construction of the fort, around the city. It’s pretty important! This is the green line.
You can also see that I went from 9 districts to 7.
Cropping everything forced some districts to disappear since they were not needed anymore.
Another point here is that district 5 has no landmark or PoI at all. I like the shape of it since it completes the global layout of the map but if cuts are needed in production, I would kick that one out or bend it to merge with 4 and/or 6. Could also do the same thing with 7.

– Step 5: Radial and Micro –

Now, it’s time to go micro and crop again, on a micro scale, if possible.
For the sake of the example I’ll take the part of the map at the top-right with a bunch of blue points (landmarks).

At this step, the radial design finally comes to life.
There I take a closer look at the map, mark the exact landmark (blue in the image bellow) and make some kind of circular shapes around them.
I usually make a tiny shape around the landmark itself (orange) so the facade around the landmark looks exactly how it’s in real life. It’s important.
Then, I draw another shape around the last one, a bit bigger (yellow), this is the back of the facades and it should respect shapes, since it’s still pretty close to the landmarks.

Sometimes, really often in fact, landmarks are really close to each other so it’s pretty important to create shapes around them all in one. You can see that on the left of the image. There are 4 landmarks really close to each other.

After doing this for all the landmarks in an area, you can chop in the meat. Everything between landmarks are filler. Something that is not important to do as is. It’s shown in the second part of the image bellow.

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You can see here that, the right landmark is way closer. I chopped in the meat. Then, I draw the roads on a micro scale, leaving the mains roads that we had earlier in step 2 becasue they are still the back bones of the city and adding some more to make small areas, thinking about flow and other level design principles.

Then you rinse and repeat for all the landmarks, PoI and other marked areas of your city.

– Step 6: Finishing Up –

So at this stage, you’ll have a pretty detailed first draft of your city. For this step I won’t put an image because it’ll just look like a spider web with all the lines and circles but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now it’s time to put that in the game!

What I do normally is that I put the image I created in photoshop and export that so I can use it as a texture in a 3D software. I put that on a plane, scale it so it makes sense for the size of the main character and then I just create 3D shapes out of the image. Respecting everything that was made above.

Then you put that in the game editor, check the flow and the size, and tweak and check again and tweak again until it feels good enough.
At this point, it’s normal game development. Creating the vistas, the beauty shots, thinking about the flow again, going micro on the filler areas and so on. Then testing again and tweaking again.

– Ending notes –

So, like every single design process, this can be bent and changed, useful or useless. Everyone has his own way of designing things. I found that method was pretty good for planning ahead. It’s pretty straight forward and easy to do.

This is also a a method that can be used to create any kind of map in general. Obviously you will start from blank but building in radial around landmark is one pretty usual thing to do. With that, your layout, your world, will be structured.

Hope that gave you, readers, ideas for some future projects.

I would like to thank Jo Dumont, he’s the one that showed me this method back then.


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Speed “Level Design”

Speed “Level Design”

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Image from worldofleveldesign.com.

I discovered not so long ago, the existence of Speed “Level Design” on youtube.

It’s pretty much the same thing as speed drawing but it’s someone creating a scene in an editor.

It’s fun to watch and most of the time really relaxing thanks to their taste in music. Most of them ending up to be really good looking!

It’s like looking at someone doing a 3D painting.

Well, that’s my problem.

In my opinion, from the dozens of videos I’ve watched, this has almost nothing to do with level design. That’s why the title of this blog is quoted.

I could even dare to say that Speed Level Design is, yep, complete bullshit.

By definition, if we take the words Level and Design, I guess we could say that this trend is, yes, indeed, Level Design because there’s a level and there’s a design process behind it. More of an art/visual process though. That’s pretty much the only thing it has to do with Level Design.

All the videos are pretty much the same. They put a static camera in an angle and create a scene from that single point of view.
So how is it supposed to relate to any Level Design of a game? If someone, who has no clue about what Level Design is supposed to be, they will get a really wrong idea of what it’s indeed supposed to be.

Level Design is about gameplay, flow, difficulty curves, rhythm, emotions and yes composition. Calling something Level Design when the only process shown is composition is really more relevant to Level Art than anything else. Level Designers take the gameplay ingredients available to them and create fun out of it.
Creating a scene, yes beautiful, but filled with trees and rocks with a small pond and a boat has obviously nothing to do with what was written above.

Those video should be about taking an actual setup, a game, then creating a map for it. Creating paths, creating flows, then showing how do they approach their setup from different angle. Showing potential difficulty and especially explain why it’s supposed to be difficult and so on. Then in the end, making it beautiful.

But that defies the purpose of speed isn’t it? Obviously.

I know that watching a video about something that is not really good looking would be pretty pointless or really niche. People in general want to see beautiful things come to life. But yet, this is not the main goal of the Level Designer.

They should just call that Speed Scene Creation, Speed Environment Design maybe or even Speed 3D Art, something like this. At least it would not be giving a wrong idea of what Level Design is.


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PAX SOUTH

paxsouth

PAX SOUTH

– Premise –

Last year I went to PAX East. It was one hell of an experience and this time I was also able to go to PAX South in San Antonio.

It was probably as exhausting than last time but in some way, smoother. PAX South is pretty new so it’s really smaller than East and Prime/West.

Let’s write about this.

– Same but not the same –

I thought I would live the same thing again when I accepted to go to PAX South but luckily enough for me, it was pretty different.

Yes, the booth was the same but a bit better.

The computers were a hassle to plug and making sure everything was working was also pretty annoying every morning because, thanks to computer science, there’s always something that breaks. One day it was an HDMI cable, the other was a USB port, the other day the Ethernet, etc…

This time, since Early Access of the game came out in September, we were showing the campaign instead of the arena mode. I went really smoothly. People were enjoying the character creation and then the main campaign. They had 20 minutes and I’m pretty sure that the appreciation was like 99.9% positive.

Obviously, if you wait one hour to play a game, you’re there because you want to play that game.

I was still pretty surprised by the amount of player who never played the game nor the first one.

Anyway, everybody had a blast.

me
(Mathiew and me with my poker face)

– Shout out to the volunteers –

This time, there was no Lady Killer (even if Sarah and Kelsey were there <3). Instead, we had five volunteers with us.

Needless to say, they were all amazingly good.

James, Lori, Kyle, Mathew and Shawn. Five people from Texas. Five complete fan of the game. I think if I add all the time they played just the early access I probably bust 600 hours easily.

It was awesome to work with them. They helped us A LOT.

– I played the Switch –

YES.

Yes, I’ve played the Switch. When I saw that Nintendo was two booths away from our I was really excited. The first day, Thomas (the video guy) and me waited for 45 minutes before the convention started and we barely made it to play 10-15 minutes of Breath of the Wild.

It felt really good.

The controller, the graphics, the switch itself.

Yeah, day one buy for me!

– Still no time for anything –

Yeah, like last time, everybody start to work at the same time and end at the same time. So I didn’t had the chance to try anything except the Switch because they were open earlier for the press.

There was still a huge part dedicated to board games and table top games which I totally missed. I saw a lot of really interesting games and all but, obviously, had no time to play.

This is seriously some kind of torture. All the great stuff but you can just look when you take a 10 minutes break to walk around.

– Ending notes –

Like last time, it was an exhaustingly amazing experience. I wanted to go to another convention last time and I still want to go to another. Next one is PAX East in one month in Boston. Crossing my fingers so I can go there.

I also really want to go to PAX Prime/West.

There is still a lot of work to do with the game but we’re getting there.

us
Our amazing team: Kyle, Lori, James, Mathiew, Shawn, Sarah, me, Swen, Thomas, Michael, Kieron, Kiril

The Good old Days

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The Good old Days

Fuck new technology.

Yeah, that’s a harsh start isn’t it?

I decided to buy Final Fantasy XV on Xbone today (this article has no relation to FF whatsoever except to start the story). My Xbone is taking some dust here and there. I play a game and then my console goes to sleep for months. Last game I played was Darksouls III.

Whatever.

Seriously, every, single, time, I open my Xbone I have the same message, “It’s time to update!” and there we go. Four, five, six gigabytes of whatever to download. It takes forever, it’s not that my connection is bad or anything but I don’t download 1 GB per sec.

Then after the update is downloaded, the console installs it. At least, this part is pretty quick.

Then, hurray, you get in and also pop that CD in to… well, you know it, start another update. It obviously depends on the game, but it can takes a shit ton of time.

Tonight I had the chance, also, to fuck up my login so I was not able get into my account. You then have to change password, enter a few codes here and there, get some mails, reset other stuff and so on. It took me ages to understand that I had to go on the web and reset the account I was NOT logged in because for whatever reason, I was logged, on my laptop to another microsoft account that was not the one I was using for my xbone.

OK, that part, I think, is on me. But you know, when the only error message you get is “There is a problem on your account, go on the Internet to fix it”… well, fuck that.

Remember the good ol’ days? When you bought a game and it tooks you MORE time to get the cartridges from the Box that starting the game? You were putting the cartridge in, you were pressing power and BOOM you were able to play by pressing START. Yeah, sometimes you had to wait for a logo or 2, but that was it.

Even the freaking television now have fucking loading screens.

Maybe I’m being impatient or maybe it’s just fucking bullshit.

Back in the days, people had to do things without any big flaws because you were not able to update anything. Not the firmware of the console. Not the game. Nothing.

Fuck technology. Seriously.

PS: I opened my Xbone at 9pm. It’s 11:30pm now and FF update is at 49%. Fuck this.


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Pause Please

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Pause Please

I hate meetings.

I. HATE. Meetings. Seriously.

From every single bit of work I had to do in my career, I must say that meetings are probably the part I hated (and still hate) the most.

For me this is amazing how much time and money we lose in meetings. It’s rare, from what I experienced, that meetings were straight forward, to the point without any sliding whatsoever.

During the years, I’ve learned two things:

  • You don’t have to stay in a meeting where you strongly think you don’t belong
  • As an analytic person, I need time to give proper answer to problems

I’ve never checked if I had some kind of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or just that I’m a hyperactive guy (the second option may be more accurate) but I’m really hard for me to just stay at a table around a bunch of people arguing with each other for hours.

The people who know me all know that “I have to click”. Standing still for me is really hard. Weirdly enough, I lose focus after a short period. I start thinking about whatever else and I’m just gone mentally. So being in the meeting or not, at some point, doesn’t change anything because my mind is still gone.

Luckily for me, at Larian, I don’t have meetings. I think I had like 4 in one and a half year. Compared to the number of meetings I had at Ubisoft, especially when I was a lead (sic). I learned that I just had to leave the meetings at some point. It was just useless for me, most of the time, to be in some meetings and I was honestly thinking I was better used in front of my computer.

Going back to the second point I wrote above, I’m not an impulsive person in the sense that most of the time if I get in front of a situation or a problem, as an analytic person I must analyze every single possibility, every single outcome (to some extend) and then, I can say what I must say about a subject.

It is not because I’m a slow thinker, it’s mostly the opposite. I’m a really fast thinker but I need to think about everything.

When I’m in a situation where I have to give an answer quickly without analyzing outcomes I often struggle and I say things that I didn’t wanted to simply because I didn’t had time to think about them.

For me, going to a meeting is, most of the time, putting myself in a situation where I won’t have any control on the outcome because I won’t be able to give enough time to analyze all the possibilities. Obviously meaning that I would be better used anywhere else than there.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried different approaches like preparing myself to a meeting, learning about the subjects and all. It’s good. For real. I still have the same problem though. I come prepare, I explain my point, we argue and at some point, I’m back on square one. I need to analyze to give proper answers.

I know that I’m not alone having this issue but either we are not a lot or a lot of people are just not considering this as important as me to be able to properly think before answering.

So yeah, all in all, after 11 years, I still hate meetings!

 


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Being Healthy – A MUST

Mind-and-Body-Balancing

BEING HEALTHY – A MUST

– Premise –

Not so long ago, I wrote about teaching (or not) level design. In that post I said that I was going to give a workshop in Ireland. A really awesome trip for sure. But I had to cancel it.

I sadly canceled (read reported) it for the sake of my health.

I’m starting to get older it seems.

You know, there are stuff that I can’t do anymore like getting shitfaced one day and being perfectly fine the day after for example. I can’t eat a whole pound of poutine before going to sleep either. I’ll throw up for sure.

I almost passed out when I was at PAX in Boston. Probably a mix of not enough sleep, ending of a cold and the fact that adrenaline and redbull went out at the same time. Well at least, this is what I was thinking back then.

I canceled my trip to Ireland because I had A LOT of vertigo/dizziness for a couple of weeks. I didn’t felt great about it and I went to pass a lot of tests. Blood samples, electrocardiogram, ears, you name it. What I realized is that everything was A1. Heart is good, ears are good, blood is good, etc.

So? You guessed it. It was all due to stress and mostly anxiety. I had a hard time believing this, as a really down to earth guy myself but after thinking a lot about it I realized that it was probably true.

– Anxiety – The Cancer of the Century –

Funny enough (it isn’t really) I realized that a bunch of close friends of mine are all having anxiety to a certain degree. All of them consulted related to this. Lots of ex-colleagues also have the same problem.

I’m writing about this because this is probably the crap that affect most game developer. Anxiety is a nasty stress related problem and stress, you know it, leads to nothing good at all. Stress is the most evil thing these days and depression is more than often caused by it.

I know 5 people working in the industry who are not working right now because of this and know probably as much who had to stop working for a long period of time in the past for the same reason.

Luckily enough, I was able to figure that out before it was too late. Seeing how broken my friends are, I didn’t really wanted to end up like them.

The thing about a problem in the mind compared to a problem on your body is that it takes so much time to fix and that there’s no magical formula. When you break a leg, there is a specific solution to that and it works. When you are chemically unbalanced in your head only time and proper behavior will fix that. For some people it takes a month, for other it takes years.

– The Three Eights –

This is how I called them. The Three Eights. You have 24 hours in a day separated in three parts.

In a perfect world, your days should look like this:

  • 8 hours of sleep
  • 8 hours of work
  • 8 hours of something else (and it should be FUN)

Most humans, like myself, can’t really cut the working part. Some people work 7 hours a day but most people work 8.

Since you have to go to work and come back to work. Most of the time, you can easily add one more hour to that. You either cut on the sleep part or the fun part. I myself, for years, was cutting on the sleep part.

Getting back on the part that I’m getting older means that I need sleep to be able to work properly. We all know that not enough sleeps leads also to a lot of bad things and mostly to stress.

The thing that I realized when I was talking to my doc’ is that she really emphasized on the 8 hours of something else fun. I also discovered that my vertigo/dizziness was never happening when I was doing activities that I liked.

When I was coming back from work, I was thinking about work. I was reading stuff about work on the internet, going on forums and such. It was still strongly related to work. A big chunk of my something else was still work.

I had to cut that out and that’s what I made. I’m really trying hard to make sure that the 8 hours of fun I have each day is really 8 hours of fun and enjoyable activities.

You should do the same for sure.

– Don’t Wait Before it’s to Late –

So, to be short here. Listen to your body.

Your body is talking to you every day so is your brain.

As the saying,

“Being in a depression is not being weak, it’s because one was strong for too long”

People I know that are mind sick all told me that their body were sending them messages but they were not listening. We all know that in the industry, we’ll do, at some point, crunches. Seriously, don’t kill yourself for someone who doesn’t even know your name so he/she can make millions of bucks. Even if that person know your name.

Do overtime when it’s needed and that’s it. And even if it’s needed, you should not stick to it. I’ve had weeks of 70-80 hours of work in the past. I was young. I was fool and passionate. I’m still passionate but I don’t do this anymore. No one should do this. It’s plain bad.

Don’t push your body and especially your mind to a state you won’t be able to recover.

– Ending Notes –

The video game industry is one of a kind. It’s a competitive industry no doubt about it and what I mean by this is that you are always needed to push yourself to the limit. If also happen a lot of time that the limit needed is over your personal limits. Short deadlines, under-staffing, crazy mandate, etc, lead to bad planning and overtime, crazy overtime.

It saddens me to see so many cool people around me being mentally sick right now. All because some crazy producers pushed them way over their limits but they were too kind and said yes every single time without listening to their body.

Remember, work 8 hours, sleep well and enjoy the rest of your day with a happy mindset. Killing yourself at work gives you nothing.

“Oh it gives me bonuses” you may say.

Well, sorry to tell you that a few thousands buck won’t do any good if you can’t even go out without crying for no reason.

Peace.

 


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