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  • How Level Flow Works In Uncharted 4 And The Last Of Us

    - Trinh Nguyen

  • 3.1 - Examples: Movement in a Static World

    In a static scene, movement will catch the players eyes. When characters or objects move from one position to another position, they create a line. (See example 2.1) As I mentioned previously, a line indicates direction. We can use a dynamic element to guide the player through the level, creating flow.

    In this example, Nathan breaks out of prison with two of his comrades. In this action packed scene, your goal is to escape the prison. The player can experience this scene as stressful and rushed. You aren't prepared for this. You don't even know the layout of the prison and now you have to make a break for it!

    During this moment, the player doesn't want to constantly think about where they need to go and accidently get lost. This is where the two side characters take it over and guide you through the scene.

    3.2 - Examples: Movement, Following the Crowd

    This scene (specifically, between 10:30 and 13:30) is another example of movement being used. Similar to the previous example, the player is confronted with a high intensive experience. Where "yet again" the goal is to escape from the mess you're in.

    In all the chaos you don't know where to go, so you follow the crowd. Where ever they go, you will follow. Your only goal is to get out and keep Sarah safe.

    The crowd is moved by "seemingly" uncontrollable events in the scene. An exploding car would drive the crowd to the opposite direction, towards safety.

    3.3 - Examples: Movement, Subtle environmental hints

    It doesn't have to be complicated. The previous two examples requires the developers to create AI with a behavior system. Although that could be really cool, it's also complicated.

    A subtle tumble weed rolling in a certain direction or in this example (between 42:18 and 42:30), a swan flying away into the distance. It tells you to keep moving in "that" direction.

    4.1 - Examples: Flow through Storytelling elements

    The easiest noticeable storytelling elements are: 

    • Text, signs
    • Decals
    • Meshes placed in a deliberate order

    You can make patterns or create contrast to highlight an object.

    Due to how the tank is angled 45 degrees, it naturally guides the player towards the left side. The tank is used as a physical barrier/obstacle to guide the player to the left.

    Signs will tell you where to go. The left billboard reads: "Medical Evacuation, Use Tunnel" while the right billboard reads "Salt Lake City, Military Zone Ahead". Given that the theme of the game is about survival, the player wants to avoid danger.

    Another example is to use breadcrumbs to assist your player through the level. It can be a way to indicate the player that they are on the right path.

    5.1 - Why everything I mentioned about composition is wrong (kind of...)

    Well, 3D levels are created in...3D.

    Cool 2D -> 3D street art from talented artist: Julian Beever

    It is easier to make a 2D picture look nice from one view. But in games where the player can freely roam around and explore, they usually have multiple views on an object.

    You and the environment artists can make everything look nice, but you probably don't have all the time of the world to make it perfect.

    However, as a level designer you can plan ahead and make sure to get the most out of the level, by setting up rules for yourself.

    • Limit the views the player can have.
    • Pay detail to the more important aspects. What do you want the player to see?
    • Try out different lighting setups.

    Guide the player through the map with use of flow elements! Make the chances that the player wants to go off-track unlikely! Don't place landmarks at spots where you don't want the player to go to. Uncharted 4 levels feel very open. But secretly their levels are linear, with a golden path.

    There is no point in going off road, there is nothing there anyway... oh look a cool mountain! (road 66)

    5.2 - How Naughty Dog makes sure you still see their cool views!

    A dedicated button!

    With a press on a button (L3), they allow the camera to momentarily reposition itself, aiming at the focal point. Using this method, the developers have total control on what they want the player to see.


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