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Leicester, United Kingdom
Studying BA (Hons) Game Art Design at De Montfort University. It continues to be challenging as much as rewarding. Primary outcomes include 2D and 3D projects and 2am coffees.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Environments of Game Art

When an opening cutscene is concluded and I first take control of the character, the first things I tend to do is observe the surroundings and see what navigational paths there are, since I flicked through the manual beforehand, I kinda know how to play.

Navigation through the game can be assisted by designers using a number of tools. They can include props and exit points in the environment design. These could include doors, windows etc in the case of exit points and a range of useable items such as weapons, vehicles as well as stationary items which are part of the game context, such as barrels, crates or furniture.

Along with the playable character/s, the scenes in a video game environment are the first pieces of information revealed by the designers to the public. When potential buyers see this they will tend to make their first impressions about the game and get an idea of what the game play would be like. Environments are required to support whatever genre and storyline that has been set for it. If the genre involves an element of horror to it, it would be expected for the levels to be laid out as a labyrinth so that there is no straight forward path and that there's no telling what's around the corner. When it comes to working my way around a level, I constantly refer to the maps, or markers so I'm aware how far away I am from the next objective. Looking back on my games, I never really thought that the environments gave any help with getting around. I usually associate navigation with sounds and NPC reactions -  or unless someone mentions to look out for certain observations to get to the next stage.

Regardless of the genre/storyline they are supporting, the developments of levels begins in sketchbooks and paper rather than on computer screens - but even before that begins the ideas are explored through discussion by the members of the team. One of the first things that have to be established are what it is they want to achieve and in which areas are flexibility allowed and which are fixed.

The levels of any game are required to immerse the playable character into the environment and to allow interaction with it. However, before considering how to add elements of interaction the designs begin at a basic level and need to be created to work with the future game play. One of the helpful ways of designing a level is to consider the plot/genre and using flow diagrams. I can see this as an extremely helpful process; I frequently used these in Design Technology back in secondary school to break down production and the creation of our projects. So, in a typical action game level you wouldn't find your objective in a straight path, there would be enemies coming at you, obstacles to overcome, pathways to clear, traversing the environment and so on. Break a campaign level down into the key fragments, such as main events, mini bosses, locked passages and the means of opening them. They are connected to each other and to access the next part you must overcome the preceding factor. Off the top of my head for example: ''You've come across a looked door, and the camera pans over to where the key is or it will be indicated on a map etc, however there's a tougher-than-average enemy that guards it/steals it. Defeat the boss and acquire the key to progress further into the level.

The atmosphere of a game can be set and influenced by a range of things within the environment – colour and lighting, scale and perspective, the dress of the characters, game soundtrack and music – the mood of the game is usually set in the first level by a combination of all of these features.

Looking back at the Assassin's Creed levels, I can understand how the layout is appropriate to the plot, it allows you to utilise the layout in the manner that an assassin would. Many of the district streets resemble a rabbit warren or labyrinth, so when you're on the run, the pursuers line of sight is broken and in connection with this, common props like the benches and hay carts allow you to hide from sight. Furthermore every building is adorned with windows, ledges and other features to allow free-climbing, which is the most featured means of access and navigation in the game, I mean there's no stealth in going through the main gates!

 The Basilica de San Marco, Venice
Above: As it is in life
Below: As it appears in AC II

Since the series genre is based on historical events and people, the designers will have had to constantly refer to their historical reference, I mean the central characters involved in the plots, I wasn't aware half of them were actual people until I saw paintings of them on Wikipedia! Buildings that rose to prominence during the Crusades and the Renaissance still exist today, so whilst photographic reference is ideal, the designers would get a better understanding of the environmental atmosphere by going there and seeing it for themselves. Furthermore Assassin’s Creed strikes a genuine balance between realism and stylisation, having part of it based on real buildings and people whilst the other parts are fictional.

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