Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dungeon Design in 'Shadow Complex'

Via MTV Multiplayer, some discussion of how a drawn side-view map of the subterranean complex of a game was crucial to its development:

For [Donald] Mustard, the map was one of his proudest achievements. "We always considered the main character in 'Shadow Complex' to be the world itself. The idea that it's this massively unfolding, layered world, and the more you get the power-ups, the more the world opens up to you."

Clearly it wasn't as simple as just designing as they went. For a game like this it requires a huge amount of planning. Said Mustard, "Even before we started making the game at all, we designed the entire game on paper first. We knew where every power-up was going to be, where every secret was. And that planning phase took a long, long time."

Before you start building, it pays to spend a long time in the design phase. I also like that to the developers, the map is the protagonist. How true that is sometimes for those of us in the subterranean design and construction business. Sure, delvers and denizens come and they fight, but the map itself often sticks more strongly in my mind. More from Donald Mustard:

"We created these little grid blocks and lines. We did a lot of it by hand at first, but then we went and transcribed it all into [Adobe] Illustrator…you could literally see a side view of the map, it was all just gray, with lines and stuff. And we had a stick figure that represented the player, and we'd say, 'Ok, the player can jump this many units high.' And we had a little graph that showed how high you could jump and how long it would take to build up to a speed run and stuff like that. So we'd 'play through' the entire game with this little stick figure guy."

Say, that's not a bad idea - maybe we could take some of the maps of subterranean complexes we've designed and, before committing to building schedules and excavation subcontractors and all the other headaches of production, maybe we could, like, pretend to have imaginary delvers visit the dungeons, but do it all on paper! Oh man, this is going to save me so much trouble. But where am I going to find people willing to pretend to be imaginary dungeon delvers?

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