Washed Ashore: Example Level Design Process
When I started this map I wanted to use it as an opportunity to document my own personal process for map creation.
While I may not follow this process strictly on all my levels, it is what I would class as my “ideal” process at the time.
Since this was a personal project, I also wanted to use the opportunity to refine some of my level design skills in certain areas.
With this in mind, I started with my “blueprint” of goals for the map, which is a pretty standard process:
A FarCry 3 multiplayer map with several game modes, set on an island with its own unique story.
- Investigation of scene composition.
- Learn how to use the FarCry 3 map editor.
- Improve terrain sculpting process.
I set myself a goal of four weeks to take the map from concept to published, working in the evenings. I spent a week on the first pass, another week on iteration based on feedback, and the final two weeks combining iteration, polish and playtesting.
Shoreline and a confined area inland of a remote island.
A pirate ship has crashed on a remote island and the crew have attempted to search further inland.
Evidence of WW2 bunkers on the shoreline give glimpses of a violent history, but further inland strangely well preserved gardens and an ominous temple indicate that someone or something strange still inhabits the island.
- Team Death Match
Key Focal Points
- Distant snow capped mountains (lack of “snow” textures reduced this to “distant mountains”)
- Crashed ship resting on the shore line
- Temple in the jungle
- Chinese garden gates
Because I was building this map with assets already in the editor I did not create an asset list. However, I did spec out the key areas that I would be creating and their themes:
- Chinese Garden
- WW2 Bunker
- Shore Wreck
- Ancient Temple
Top down sketches are something I have recently started to re-employ in my level design process. Having worked with CryEngine for a number of years, and software such as Sketchup and Maya prior to that, I am used to just jumping straight in to blocking out levels with minimal documentation. I do find, however, that sketching a map concurrently with this quick blockout development helps me keep track of the initial goals I had and ensures I don’t “iterate out” the key principles and themes of the map.
Once I have my blueprint I begin scanning the internet for reference images that will help steer the level development. Since the setting of the map is based on a real world location, it makes reference imagery easier to source. If I’m making a map with a more abstract or fantasy setting, I might collect more “inspirational” images and establish a mood board.
I wanted to define some key themes for the main combat areas of the map. To create a really strong map, I try and focus around one or two definitive themes that will help set it apart from others. I find strong themes can also help guide development, presenting solutions to layout problems based solely on their themes. Players also need to be able to identify parts of the map easily to help signposting and team communication.
So, in the absence of any “blockout” tools in the public FarCry 3 editor, or any way to import meshes, I started by placing my “hero buildings” from the assets list as landmarks to define the general scope and layout of the map. “Hero buildings” are the key structures that I can use to define an area or a theme.
This helped me gain a quick sense of scale and roughly judge the distances between the main combat areas (Domination requires three camps to fight over in a balanced layout).
These landmarks also come in handy when terrain sculpting as I blend from one area to the next, I need to be aware of how realistically the terrain geometry is behaving throughout the map and how it will affect the layout.
As an example, I knew I was going to have a base located on the beach and two further inland. This would give the entire map a natural slope as the gradient from inland to shoreline progresses. I used this to my advantage as raised land would help create “weenies” for both the inland bases when viewed from the beach. I also wanted to set up a vista of a distant mountain to frame the level against and to help players with easy orientation.
With my landmarks placed, I focused on taking a single area to what I would consider “detailed whitebox”. i.e. the key layout of a combat space is defined but no dressing or detailed geometry yet placed.
The first area I focused on was the Chinese Garden. I wanted this area to be difficult to defend and quite open compared to the other two areas. To achieve the goal of making it difficult to defend, I lowered the capture area and added lots of vertical approaching routes. Defenders will need to be aware of attackers flanking them through the jungle as well as scaling the rocks surrounding them. The pool itself was a bit of a nightmare, since I didn’t want players to suddenly start swimming in the middle of a firefight. I found this hard to achieve in the FarCry editor and it took a lot of tweaking terrain to get right and still have a realistic “pool” in the garden.
Once I was happy with the size of the capture area and was comfortable with the layout I began to evaluate the routes around the space. First, analysing the direct routes from the directions of the other camps (which were due to change as I iterated on the level) and then the more complex routes players might find by scaling the rocks bounding the garden.
The next area I focused on was the shoreline. This had a very definitive “hero building/prop” in the wrecked ship. I’ve learned to focus on establishing a single object or building and building outward from that to develop the rest of the space, as was the case here with the ship.
By deciding what kinds of props were going to make up the wreck, I realised there was going to be a benefit to reducing the distance between the ship and a WW2 bunker I was planning. This would result in a stronger single combat area with two different themes. I worked to reduce the confusion of “kit bashing” these two asset categories together for the rest of the maps development, constantly coming back to rebalance the themes.
The shoreline area is also designed to be difficult to defend but through a different methodology to the Chinese garden. Multiple flanking routes are cut through the bunker and vantage points can be reached by scaling the walls from outside. Players must always be on their toes when defending. In early playtests I found this was slightly more frustrating for defending players than I intended and I worked to make sure flanking routes were fairer in newer versions. Players now regularly have a chance to notice a flanking player (if they are paying attention!).
The final area, the temple, proved to be the most time consuming area as I worked to blend the area in between what I had already sculpted. I wanted the temple to be totally overgrown like my reference and later did a lot of dressing work to achieve that look. Crafting the routes out of pre-made temple assets required more knowledge of the asset library, but once I was comfortable with that I started making better headway. The temple is the best representation of a “power” acquisition for players. Spawning here offers players a good vantage point looking out across the rest of the map as well as quick routes down to the garden and beach. It is also easy to defend for these reasons, and it took a lot of playtesting and iteration to balance so that players who owned the temple capture point didn’t go on to swiftly dominate the map.
By keeping each area as simple as possible to begin with, I tried to get to a point where the level can be played and reasonable judgments about its flow can be made. This is easier, admittedly, when working with basic solid shapes and less reliance on detailed meshes, but it was not impossible in the FarCry editor by sticking to simple initial layouts.
Through this process, I was able to determine the beach bunker was too difficult to defend and it impacted the flow of action around the map. Ideally action will flow around the map constantly, much like the best FarCry 3 multiplayer maps, such as “Beach Head”. Being made up of mostly natural terrain, it was initially missing a sense of verticality or covered routes that interiors can give. To remedy this, I made the center of the map more interesting by increasing the coverage of the vegetation (or “soft cover”) and flanked it with a large ridge for more concealed movement.
As I playtested the map with community members I changed the layout based around their feedback and how I felt the map was playing. As I iterated and became happier with the layout I started to add more detail and dressing to each area to further contextualise the map. I think the best maps out there make good use of environmental storytelling and I wanted to incorporate some kind of subtle story into the background of the map. I started to add more elements to the map that conveyed the story of the pirate crash, and their misadventures further inland.
Overall I am happy with the finished map, and have received good feedback from community members who have played it. If I was going to make any further changes, I’d probably look to separate the temple and the garden with a more defined route, such as a cave system, in order to block some line of sight issues.
“Washed Ashore” is a custom, published, Multiplayer map for Far Cry 3.
It supports the Domination, Team Death Match and Firestorm game modes.