I have been working on creating sounds for Space Dunk recently, when designing sound for a game you have to make sounds for every interaction the player will encounter. Sounds are one of the ways that players receive feedback from the game, and good feedback can be the difference between a average game and an amazing game. Feedback does not only have to be visual, sounds can also be used to provide the player with feedback as long as you don’t throw too many sounds at the player at once.
Examples of Excellent Sound Feedback:
There have been several games with great sound design recently one of the best examples is Alien Isolation. This horror game uses sound to help raise the tension of being chased through a spaceship by an alien. The game relies on the sound to help set the mood of being hunted without the game having to show you the monster. The Halo series is another example of games with phenomenal sound design. The weapons that the enemies use against you all have very unique sounds so the player can tell what weapons the enemies are using without even seeing the enemies, this is also true for the enemy types the player can tell what enemies are around based on their dialog. When the player is in critical health a very subtle beeping sound warns the player that they can’t take much more damage, this sound is not too loud so that the player can hear all the other important sounds. This is one of the hardest parts of sound deign, making sure that the sounds don’t overpower each other. In any game there are certain sounds you want the player to hear every time however, you don’t want other feedback sounds to get drowned out. If a sound you are using to give the player feedback can’t be heard then the player is not getting the feedback they need.
Space Dunk Audio Feedback:
While working on the auditory feedback for Space Dunk I have been using QA testing to find out if any of my sounds are too loud or too soft. The first time I created a sound for the ball being thrown it was so quiet that if there was any other sound being played when a ball was thrown the players could not hear the throw sound. This is one of the first projects I have worked on where the sound wasn’t designed as an afterthought this has allowed me to get feedback on the sounds from QA and this has resulted in sounds that work together much better.
When designing a multiplayer level one of the things that needs to be taken into consideration is where the players spawn. This is something that people think is simple however player spawns can make or break a level. If a player is constantly spawning too far away from the action they have to spend time getting to the action, if they are constantly respawning this can be very frustrating. On the other hand it can be just as frustrating to the player to spawn too close to the action, if they respawn too close to the action they have a chance to be killed right as they spawn which is (in my opinion) one of the most frustrating experiences in gaming.
Space Dunk Spawns:
When designing levels for Space Dunk the spawns constantly get moved, the players can’t die so respawning is restricted to after a team scores and the game resets. This poses its own set of problems, since the players respawn after a goal is scored so all the player have to respawn at the same time. When I was creating the half-court level I originally had the spawns on the opposite side of the map from the hoop. The problem with this method was the player would respawn and then immediately be able to grab the ball and easily make a shot. This turned the level into a race to see who can get the ball first and which ever team reached the ball first was almost guaranteed to score. After testing the map we decided to move the spawns to the same side as the hoop, this had the players initially running away from the hoop to get the ball then having to run back to the hoop to score.
When deciding where to place the spawns remember that QA testing is the best way to find out if the spawn locations are good. The nice thing about spawn locations is that they are easy to move and test in different locations.
One of the biggest challenges in level design is create an environment that is easy for the player to navigate. When creating a level you know what the layout is so it can be very easy to think that a level is easy to navigate but when it goes to testing players get lost easily. This not only shows the importance of QA testing it also presents the question: How does one lead a player through a level? There are several ways to give a player hints about where to go in a level without blatantly telling them such as: lighting, enemy placement, and items. Now lets explore each of these ways to lead the player through a level.
Lighting is important in any game, lighting can be used to generate a certain mood and it can be used to aid in player navigation. Horror games often use lighting to build mood and also lead player through an area. The eye is naturally drawn to lights and when a player is in a dark area they will move toward a lit area. A great example of this is in the Half-life 2 level Ravenholm. This area is a horror themed level where the player has to fight through a zombie infested town.
Half-life 2 Ravenholm- The player first meets Father Grigori
The picture above shows the first time the player meets Father Grigori, a survivor who helps the player through the town. The player is drawn to this area due to the huge bright fire in front of the building. Above the fire there is a very bright light coming out of the open door where Father Grigori appears. This is intended to draw the players eye to where Grigori shows up, this is important because the level designer uses this scene to teach the player that there are traps in the town that the player can use against the zombies.
The placement of enemies can be used to guide players as well, however since the enemies are going to move towards the player this method does not always work. An amazing example of this being used well is also in Ravenholm. Immediately after the player meets Father Grigori (shown in the picture above) the player walks past a boarded up room. As the player walks by two zombies start breaking through the boards and attacking the player. This draws the player to the room where the zombies just came from, and in that room the game teaches the player that they can turn on gas in certain areas to create fire. This is important later in the level, when the player has to turn off some gas to move on.
The placement of items in a level can help lead a player through an environment. A rule of thumb I use in games is that if I think I am getting turned around I start to scan the area of pick-ups, if an environment is picked clean I assume I have been there already. The Unreal Tournament series used very small heath pickups to show players different paths they can take through a level. Another example is in Bioshock, when the player acquires the shotgun. The weapon is placed in the middle of the room where the player can easily see it from the doorway. This causes the player to go into that room and get the weapon (although they are ambushed immediately after).
There are many different ways to give the players hints on how to navigate the level or area. There are many ways that I didn’t get to discuss such as sound effects and environment clues. The biggest problem with levels that are not fun to play is that they are frustrating to navigate. A great level shows the player where to go without directly telling them, an amazing level subtly tells the player where to go without them realizing it.