Beyond the black stump
For this project I wanted to build a level that depended heavily on multiple approaches to each obstacle and objectives. The Dishonored games are some of my absolute favourites, so this project takes a ton of inspiration from that series.
The player needs to infiltrate a prison in order to take out the target. If not, there's a huge risk that the inmate will give up sensitive information about the protagonists faction and put his people in grave danger. Take him out before that happens.
I started my in-depth research by playing through parts of Dishonored 2 and the spin off Death of the Outsider the get a feel for the spaces and gather as much references as I needed so I could set proper metrics. I found it quite trick with all the verticality and high ceilings to get parts like stairs and hallways to feel good.
I used PureRef to collect pictures with good angles to calculate heights and distances but also to build a bank of inspiration for the block outs.
First I set a few core pillars for the design I needed to have in place before I started making sketches, such as providing an initial soft reveal of the long term goal, have distinct edges for each districts and enough space to invite multiple approaches to each mid term goal. Once I felt that I had enough material to get a good picture of how I wanted the island to look like, I started doing a few quick sketches for a layout. This is the one that I started blocking the islands shape after.
Player gym and metrics
The first thing I did in Unreal was to set up a player gym with the metrics I gathered. I created dynamic meshes for stairs, frames and hard covers with the correct dimensions. I refined the measures for the hallways to the player could move without them feeling to tight. It's important that I can provide the player with clear affordances.
Blocking out for sense of scale
I started blocking out the factory in the docks. Starting with a complete building with interiors enabled me to get a good feel for the sense of the space and scale. I had too scale everything up from my first attempt to make better room for the gameplay. I used this area to test out the Behaviour Trees for the enemies and civilians I scripted at the same time
Control rig for Unreals first person arms
I wanted to create a good prototype for an Immersive Sim. And since Unreal doesn't provide a control rig for the first person arms I scripted my own including both a forward and a backward solve. With the control rig I could fast and easy make simple animations in a sequencer to better sell the gameplay experience.
Prototyping the blink mechanic
The main mechanic for a Dishonored inspired game is definately the blink. This has fundamental impact on the level design so it was important for me the get a working prototype in place before going further with the blockout.
My version is very barebones but gets the job done. I simply move the root component of the player aimed by a line trace from the camera. To not contantly have it checking for possible locations to blink to I have it bind to the animation created with the control rig to better communicate when the input is happening.
Act 1 - The Docks
Establishing the long term goal
I introduce the long term goal to the player through a soft reveal of the landmark while setting up the narrative on the boat ride from the player strart to the docks.
Letting the player choose
When the player reaches the docks, they get presented with multiple approaches to introduce player agency to the act.
They can go down to the sewers to completely avoid enemies, sneak through the factory or take the more combat heavy path along the docks topside.
Getting past the bridge
The act ends with an hourglass designed portal to act 2. The player can disable the generator and lower the bridge or take the more stealthy approach through the sewer and use their ability blink to get over the bridge whithout activating it.
The flows of each act
Act 2 - The town and the courtyard
Bridge up (stealth)
Combat heavy approach
If the player chooses the more hidden path they will be guided towards a balcony overseeing the Wardens apartment. Inside they can find a key to open the prison gates.
Breaching the courtyard walls
If the player take the more silent approach through the buildings they have a good opportunity to blink their way over the Trawler connecting the town and the courtyard.
If not, the player can choose to find a way to disable the Wall of Light separating the courtyard and the town.
Inside the courtyard
This is where the infiltratrion phase begins. I designed the courtyard to be a more open space with larger no mans land between each cover island than the town before it. The player can still utilize the prefered style of gameplay. But the higher tension and increased amount of guards will punish the player more if mistakes are being made. The player only have one goal here, and that is to deactivate the Bridge of Light in order to get access to the prison.
I try to encourage the player to act with intentionality by providing the necessary information.
Act 3 - The prison
Taking out the target
The player can choose to either shoot their way through the prison or methodically sneak to the target. There's plenty of vantage points inside to observe the scenario, understand the goal and obstables, make a plan and carry that plan out.
Combat heavy playthrough
The levels last meters
The target is at his cell in the upper floor. The encounter with the inmate is designed to give the player a few moments with him without guards patrolling by to set up enough room for immersive sim elements. I've designed the map with exfiltration in mind, so the player can retraverse the space she went through.
Using my own plugin for Unreal
Since the start of the autumn semester of 2022 I've used and continuously improved my own plugin for Unreal called Under Construction. It contains several procedural meshes of primitive shapes that can be manipulated in different ways.
The main reason I started working on it were to make blockouts faster and easier for Level Designers to iterate on.
Here is a quick showcase with my repeater tool used for quickly placing railings with an even spacing between them. It's fast to iterate with and easy to apply to different angles and even height differences.
After blocking out with the dynamic meshes, I've scripted a function in the parent class that bakes the dynamic meshes into static meshes. If needed, the static mesh can be updated while maintining its world position.
Full level playthrough
I had a ton of fun with this piece. This is the kind of level design that's to me the most interesting to create. When I have to take more dimensions due to the amount of verticality in mind. I'm quite content with the map, narrative and tension but I do feel that I could have done more with the enemy AI to let that part of the gameplay experience shine a little bit more. But overall I'm happy with how the project turned out.
The prison (and indoors overall) were the hardest parts to make. I went through a couple of different iterations and mechanics inside before I decided that the probably the most simple out of the iterations were the way to go. There is something about just planning your moves from a good vantage point and waiting for the right moment to move sneak past the guards.
Thank you for reading!