Good level design is harder than you’d think, Bioware is discovering.
You can say a lot of good things about Bioware’s Mass Effect games, but praising the level design doesn’t usually make that list. Mass Effect games have had trivialized and banal level design in each entry, and the issue has only gotten worse with each subsequent entry in the franchise. This is something that Bioware is looking to change in the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda, at least if Bioware’s level & tech designer Jos Hendriks is to be believed.
“I have found that it’s actually pretty handy to try and draw out a mission in top-down rough layout sketch to break down story beats,” Hendricks said on his Twitter, tagging this, and all subsequent tweets with the hashtag #space, possibly to indicate the space setting of Mass Effect Andromeda- or to indicate the growing awareness of natural space and how it organically and spatially flows together in Andromeda, perhaps?
“Not only does it help me actively visualize what spaces the player will be going through, but also everyone working with me,” he continued. “What if you need to be in a type A environment for scene 1 to work, but scene 2 requires a different kind of space? How do you connect them? What kind of location is it? Does that dictate the general shape of how layouts work? (yes it does) Does the space connect naturally? The connective tissue of a mission or level is almost just as important as the “setpiece” moments and scenes. It needs to be convincing.
“That is also to say, I spent my day today poring over mission notes, and constructing a layout on a whiteboard to put it together,” Hendricks continued. “And now that layout is a picture in an email shared with all the people working on the mission, and we can use it as a point of reference. Because my artist needs to get a cool moment to really make something awesome, and the writing needs to be supported, and cinematics.”
Mass Effect: Andromeda is due out on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC some time next year. We don’t yet know a lot about the game, and apart from one pre-rendered concept trailer last E3, we haven’t seen a lot of it yet either.