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Level design in 3D adventure games.

After figuring out that all my levels looks like different degrees of cubes with the normals flipped, I started to wonder.

What makes good design in adventure games ? and Did graphic adventures ever really made the 3D jump ?
We all know the basic "big, small, corridor, high ceiling, occluded corners" etc, that supposedly give different moods (give or take).

But coming from a genre that the "background" is not only a setpiece where the important stuff happens, but a place off discovery, that should be inspected almost pixel by pixel (in the wrong way in some games, sadly), I don't think that the adventure games of today never really got to "3d", the most famous example of 3D is grim fandango, but it's a 2.5D and the use of static cameras means that the important objects will always be where the designer wants them to.

So this is a thread for examples, tips and ideas about level design in adventure games.

How do you tackle them ? How to make a good enviroment ? How to make the player instinctibly know the path to take ? How to make it visually appealing ? How do you put more importance of certain things above others ? How to catch the attention, etc.

Basically, a level design thread.


  • I think the important thing is to get creative. I believe most things in old/classic adventure games are the way they are due to technical limitations, not because the creators thought it is the perfect way.
    They did not really have a third dimension to play with. Using 3D is mostly a change in content creation workflow, not in gameplay. A pre-rendered 3D background is the same thing as a hand painted one. A 3D character moving is the same thing as a couple of sprites, painted from different sides. So if you take that approach, there are no 3D-specific rules, because you do not really have 3D.

    But why should you stick to these rules? You talk about a background. 3D gives you the opportunity to get rid of the "background to explore" and replace it with a world to explore. Things can be seen from different angles, character movement can be more complicated and interesting, there are new opportunities to hide things and give the player the chance to find/explore them.

    I think you decide if you really want a third dimension or if you just want to use 3D software to create your graphics. If you do want a third dimension, try to make it interesting. Think about the differences to 2D and use these differences to your advantage, turn them into interesting gameplay or story telling elements.

    And if you struggle with your scenes, you can still post screenshots/videos here and ask for feedback. I am sure someone will come up with good ideas to improve them.
  • edited April 2018
    @shredingskin @Klabautermann 2D or 3D assets aren't the issue here, it's the camera style your game is going to be using.

    Games where the designer is mostly in control of the camera typically have a different level design approach to games where the player has full or partial control of the camera. Games like Adventure games, with a very constrained camera styles are better approached with the rules of composition for Drawing, painting and photography. This is because you'll almost always know where the player is going to be, what angle the camera will be in, the center of focus, etc.

    Here are two great videos about 2D composition (from a Blender CG artist):

    (The video about Color applies to both styles)

    Games where the player has full or partial control of the camera are harder to design because you'll rarely ever know what the player will be looking at. Even then some composition techniques from 2D camera still apply. Here's an excellent Gamasutra article regarding composition in level design for 3rd person and first person camera:

    Gamasutra: Composition in Level Design

    Here's a nice video with some more level design techniques for first/3rd person camera:

  • This is another one of my favorite videos about level design:

  • Great resources Alverik, that's what I'm talking about, and how the oldschool graphic adventure didn't really translate to 3D conventional gaming (camera setup).

    Like with the examples provided it's mostly about guiding the player through a level, while in oldSchool AG it was supposed to guide the player trough the screen (and hint at the logic behind puzzles/the world).

    Most adventure games today focus on conversations, enviromental storytelling and little on puzzles (even less on inventory puzzles), it's still hard to create that "pixel hunt" in a 3D enviroment without fixed camera angles.

    One game that kinda tackled it was Shenmue, doing very few indoor settings highly explorable (having a lot of drawers to open, and a various hotspots) that should be "locked on" in a first person view that also let you scroll through other near hotspots. I'd say that the approach worked pretty well, LA noir tried a similar set up, but was mostly based on running around waiting for the rumble to signal a nearby hotspot, so it was mostly about a closed area and randomly running around.

    But yeah, I think the only way to tackle these problems is GIT GOOD, sometimes wanting to do things fast, trying to do a place that "looks good enough" from the start and build from it can be a worst approach than just greybox and fast iteration then replace assets.

    I'll try to change my approach and try to fix some of the problems I'm having with level design.
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