I started off today by drawing this artist’s impression of the outside of my Ryokan for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to work out what the landscape around the building looked like, and secondly I wanted to try to practice a slightly neater style of drawing that I can use for tidy, accurate level design! As it turned out, the building took up most of the page and I didn’t manage to get many surrounding objects in! But I think my tidy lines worked out much better. I have a tendency to scribble, and my designs are often indecipherable except by me!
I watched the Japanese Ring last night by coincidence. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, half of the story of Ring takes place in a holiday resort in the country called Hakone Pacific Land, which I always imagined was similar to Centre Parcs! In the Japanese film version, there is a big wooden sign at the entrance to the resort, which inspired the wooden sign next to my Ryokan. A little homage to one of my favourite Japanese novels! Whilst watching the film, I couldn’t help but analyse building structures. The film constantly moves about from city apartments to country inns, so there’s a variety of sources to go by. One notable feature of the Hakone Pacific Land cabins were that they were raised from the ground, with steps leading up to the entrance. I’m not sure if this is just a reason to hide a well under one of the buildings or whether this is a typical Japanese feature, but kind of reminded me of the part in My Neighbour Totoro where Mei peers underneath her large country house to look for a small spirit being who is hiding there. Personally, I’ve never had a house that I could look under! And I would be very worried if I could…
The house was actually recreated for the Expo 2005, which will be a really great model to design from for future buildings!
If anything, this morning’s Ryokan sketch got me thinking about the difference between the playable level background and the inactive, distant background. This will probably be mountainous, which is a backdrop which came up in Ring a few times, and makes a good background because it takes up a lot of space, is huge and consists of dull colours which won’t detract from the playable level. There may be a little sky and some clouds too.
To give myself another starting point, I started to think about level shapes. Personally, I think it’s easy to work inside a set space than design random pathways with no real structure. Just as an experiment, I looked at the shapes of some Japanese colour Kanji, as each of my levels will have their own distinct colour schemes.
The colour scheme for the first level is pink, or rose-coloured– “momoiro” in Japanese! I double checked all the kana in case the internet was playing practical jokes, I’ve heard stories of people accidentally getting “soup” tattooed onto themselves when they wanted “dragon” for example! Pink is also sometimes referred to as peach-coloured, but apart from that I think I’m safe to use this symbol.
From this, I tried to build rocky structures with buildings and other features, although I still found it difficult to arrange an entire level off the top of my head. I think my safest bet for now is to keep drawing it and adapting it until it becomes clear. I’ve also found that it’s easier to concentrate on a smaller area at once, so I may split the map into four and work on a corner at a time, starting with the top-left corner where the Ryokan is situated. Here are some of my very early scribbles, you’ll see what I mean about them being fairly difficult to read! I know what they mean though.
This is the first step in level design, according to Peter McClory who posted his really great insight into his design technique on his Blog. This was his initial level design for a game currently in development:
I’m glad to read that he favours the scrap paper approach to initial design! My original Ryokan interior design was drawn on the back of an envelope! I think it’s important to get an idea down on paper before it fades or changes, so sometimes it’s necessary to grab whatever is closest and draw.
With this design down, McClory moved onto squared paper to get a scale and accurate version of the level. He explains how important this is, because it must be designed to the constraints of the character who will be moving through the level.
Once this was complete, McClory moved into tracing paper and drew in the small details of the level, traced from the basic structure on the squared paper. The result is a wonderful pencil sketch, which I could only hope to equal! Tracing paper is currently top of my shopping list.