Level design

Personal Projects

These are levels created in my spare time between freelancing and work.

Hard Driven (Quake single player)

Summary: A single player level for Quake, with solid ramps and brutalist podiums reminiscent of the forerunner architecture of Halo. The layout for this was inspired by an old hard drive I removed from my PC. Here are some screenshots of how the shape of this object inspired the design process. Created using the Trenchbroom editor, with textures by Ben “Makkon” Hale. (Thanks to playtesters Bal and Tim).

Goals: My intention here was to make the player feel they are intruding on the surface of a machine and messing with its routines. To that end, guards follow patrol patterns at key high points, there are opportunities for the player to use over-hanging “plugs” to crush enemies, and there is a small “vista” set piece in which they sabotage a critical component.

Play it: You can download this map from Quaddicted, a huge repository maintained with great care by the Quake mapping community.

Video: A playthrough by QuakeFreak (11 mins, YouTube)

Under A Stone Blanket (Quake SP)

Summary: A short single player tomb, with a central altar room and evidence of grim necromancy. Contained within a box of 1024 x 1024 x 1024 Quake units, as a self-imposed limitation. Textures once again by Makkon. It features breakable surfaces, falling debris, corpse models, candles, and lots of other useful features made possible by the progs_dump modding devkit. Thanks to the whole progs_dump team for that. (Extra thanks to David “dumptruck_ds” Spell, Zaratzara, and The Solipsist for playtesting).

Goals: Thematically, I wanted the player to feel they had arrived in a crypt as it was being disturbed by other enemies. I placed corpses of enemy soldiers around, and scripted light “storytelling” beats to suggest in-fighting. I also wanted to “tool up” the player. In this case they get a rocket launcher as a means to destroy bricked-up walls. This was hard to implement, since Quake does not traditionally use tools (not counting the jump boots and grappling hooks of complex mods). I eventually hacked together an imperfect workaround, explained in depth here.

Play it: You can find it on Quaddicted

Video: Crypt map design breakdown (42 mins, Youtube)

Overcast alleyway (Unreal Engine 4)

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Summary: A rainy concrete alleyway nestled in a large urban sprawl, with neon lights, derelict shopfronts, and wires suspended overhead.

Goals/process: An exercise in blocking out, set-dressing and basic lighting. I gathered some reference photos and planned a small city environment using common assets from the Soul City pack. Simplicity was the aim, as I didn’t want to spend too long on this. It’s really one 30-degree turn with a few stairs and dead ends. I blocked it out with geometry brushes then gradually replaced these with static meshes. The overcast sky is a HDRI projected onto a sphere with inverse normals. There’s a lot of Mie scattering to dissipate the light, and rain particle effects. Overall the goal was simply to practice Unreal Engine 4 and deepen my understanding of various features. The final scene is bare in terms of set-dressing, and lighting isn’t great, but I had to move on and call this done.

Video: A straightforward wander up and down the alleyway (2 mins, YouTube)

Mansion (Halo 5 Forge multiplayer)

Summary: A multiplayer arena for Halo 5, set in a mansion of exposed stairs and glass walkways, with a lobby that can be crossed using hanging platforms, and a zen garden with elevator access to upper floors and the roof.

Goals: One goal was to make the manor feel “derelict”. Parts of it are therefore crumbling and open to the exterior. This also allowed me to use vines and overgrowth as clear markers for mountable ledges (traversal being important in nu-Halo). Thick bushels of hanging ivy also worked as soft cover to break critical sight lines. However, the main goal of this project was to simply learn the fundamentals of Forge, the level editing tool for Halo 5. It’s a limited tool, with budget restrictions (especially in terms of lighting) and a workflow that requires the use of lots of pre-fabs. As a result this remains rough, has not been playtested by others, and would need a lot more work to be viable.

Video: Short tour (6 mins, YouTube)

Big Boy’s Birthday Party (Quake SP)

A large single player Quake map designed with retro “vanilla” textures. The player infiltrates a castle of crude ramparts, bulky crenelations and nasty traps. Yes, it is ugly, but the focus is on layout and encounter design. One player described the level as “low on artistry… but high on craftsmanship”. Which doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it is! There are many things I would change today, but it met my design goals at the time. (Thanks to playtesters Greenwood and Mista Heita).

Goals: My main goal here was to encourage exploration. So I included a large number of secrets and unlockable shortcuts. I also wanted to toy with the seasoned Quake player’s expectations. So there is liberal use of traps, including traps which, once cleared, are simply followed up with another “gotcha”. You can see an example of this in a playthrough by Jag Taggart. I wanted the player to feel like a hapless gatecrasher, which resulted in a set piece in which they are served up at a monster’s birthday party. I didn’t want this to be a complete surprise, so players who explore are rewarded with an overlooking window through which they can see the “party” before they are “invited” into it.

Play it: You can download this from Quaddicted.

Video: A playthrough by zigi (21 mins, YouTube)