Kingsmen Level Design

By June 13, 2017Kingsmen

Hail future rulers,

I realize it has been a while, long while since the last dev update here on the blog but be assured, we are still hard at work on our tactical turn-based game here at SMG.  Lots of stuff working in the background and we hope to be able to share it with you soon.  Today I am turning over the blog to our Lead level designer, Curtis so that he can share with you what he does around here.

Hi, my name is Curtis Rochelle, and I’ve been designing the tactical maps for Kingsmen. Before working at Stealth Mode, I was a Level Design student at The Guildhall at SMU. I’ve made levels for first-person shooters, role-playing games, and horror games. Kingsmen was my first experience designing for turn-based tactics games, though I’ve been a devotee of the genre for many years. I’d like to take a few paragraphs to share some insights into my process for designing Kingsmen maps.

Incorporating vertical play space is an important element of our design philosophy for Kingsmen. We want to give the players plenty of interesting spaces to interact with on the tactical maps. Ideally, a good Kingsmen level should invite the player to think about the battlefield in three dimensions, and to discover ways to take the high ground from their adversaries. Because of this, I try to avoid creating flat play spaces as much as possible. Medieval villages and countrysides aren’t as well known for multi-story structures. With a little creativity, however, we were able to come up with believable options for vertical gameplay.

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Another important factor for the Kingsmen maps is designing with an eye to the unit movement constraints inherent in tactical games. In any given turn, the player can move no more than 12 grid spaces in any direction. If the player wants to take an action with a unit, that distance gets cut in half. Because of this, I tried to think of the level in intervals of 6 and 12 squares. Whenever possible, I made sure to include points of interest, such as cover, verticality, and chokepoints every 5-8 squares. This became a useful metric for avoiding too much dead space in a level area.

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One of the most critical elements of any successful level design is correctly determining the scale and proportions of a level’s playable space. This has proven especially true for Kingsmen maps. Because of the way our system handles unit navigation, any game object that affects the geometry of the level has to fit within specific proportions to prevent pathing errors. This means that even in the prototype phase of a map, I need to have a clear understanding of the “footprint” for any building, wall, fence, or other feature that could block unit movement.

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To keep up with these strict requirements, I have to communicate clearly with the art team during the whitebox and prototype phases. Since the art team relied on my prototypes to determine their workload for the level, I had to be very systematic and intentional about the size and location of each BSP brush I placed. To give the artists a convenient reference, I created asset spreadsheets for my levels. These spreadsheets included reference shots, dimensions in Unreal Units, and detailed diagrams of each asset’s footprint. The documentation has proven to be quite useful in determining the size and shape of each major asset.

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Thus far, designing Kingsmen tactical maps has been both challenging and rewarding. There’s still plenty of work to be done before the game ships. I look forward to creating many more levels for Kingsmen, and I hope the results are as satisfying to play as they have been to create.

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