Level Design, Level Design Theory

Aftercharge and Negative Space

Every now and again an indie game comes out of the woodwork that shocks the world with its bold innovative take on their chosen genre, one such game in my eyes is Chainsawesome Games’ Aftercharge which released in January of 2019 to Xbox 1 and Steam/PC.

THE GAME

The game is very easily simplied to this statement: “3v3 hero shooter where one team is invisible the other is invincible”. The premise of the game is that one team is invisible punching robots that share “charges” with each other by giving a bit of their HP in exchange for a one time use of that characters ability.

The other team are unkillable guards who defend extractors or giant cylenders around each map (6 per map) who depend on the extractors for ammo and energy to charge their abilities. (Abilities cost energy and shooting your weapon also costs energy, which can only be refilled at these extractors).

The objective of the game is to either destroy or protect the extractors (team depending), the defenders win by knocking out all the attackers at the same time, and the attackers win by destroying all the extractors on the map. It turns what would normally be a typical hero shooter on its head with innovative ways of using your abilities and playstyles with a unique gamemode to boot.

LETS LOOK AT THE LEVEL DESIGN

In Aftercharge there are currently 4 maps, each with 6 extractor locations and wide open spaces with stunning aesthetics. I’m going to make a case study around the first map Quarry as pictured below:

Arial Analytical View of Quarry
File:Quarry Arial View.jpg

In Aftercharge your always on high alert no matter what team your on, and due to the nature of the stealthy attackers camping will get you a loss real quick. Negative space in these maps is essential for both teams to operate in.

There are 3 ways to get to every extractor on this map, some from below and some from above. This gives alot of breathing room for the attackers to work with, and the use of seemingly unused space in the map or negative space gives the attackers a combat advantage.

The defenders have no clue where the attackers could come from, and have to rely on their abilities to figure out where the attackers are coming from or risk losing the match.

USE OF NEGATIVE SPACE

The use of negative space in a 3d game such as Aftercharge is amazing, there are so many places you can go and hide as an attacker that you are really put to the test as a defender which creates a lopsided dynamic thats “frantic fun” according to one reviewer of the game.

The large open area where the attackers spawn (the right side of the first image) has 3 extractors close by that could be attacked head on, or the attackers could sneak by and attack the extractors in the back, or even more confusing for the defenders would be a combination of both attack strategies.

The attackers could be hiding anywhere on the map at anytime, and in order for the game to not end in a guaranteed loss for the attackers there are many ways to approach each situation. The level design here allows for so many tactics for both attackers and defenders.

As an example of how negative space is used in Aftercharge, you can see there is a very large red crane in the 2nd image, that can be used by attackers or defenders as the highground or a route to sneak past defenders as you can climb on top of it and get behind it. Something that would normally be discarded as a backdrop prop has been turned into a key location for both teams.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS

How we use positive and negative space within our levels affects gameplay, every passageway and every door. Every game is different and has different level design needs, so keep these things in mind when your building out your levels within your game.

Level Design, Level Design Theory, Old vs New, Team Fortress 2

2007 vs Today, How much have TF2 levels changed?

As a long time Team Fortress 2 player and community member, I’ve always felt that certain maps rise well above the others. That the newer a map is, the better it gets. Is this a tried and true trend of TF2 maps or something we assume is happening?

For this blog post I will only be looking at Valve made maps and not community additions to see if the game’s creators have improved over time or repeat age old mistakes.

Case Study: Dustbowl

Image result for tf2 dustbowl

Dustbowl, one of the first maps to launch with the game and created from the remnants of a map from the first Team Fortress sharing more than a name. The layout of TF2’s Dustbowl shares a lot with its 90s predecessor.

Sharing the layout (and basically being a 2007 remaster of the old map) meant that it also shared its many flaws in gameplay. For starters the way that Team Fortress Classic and TF2 played was different, certain classes had different mobility options and capabilities (but some did remain the same).

The updated Dustbowl in 2007’s Team Fortress 2 played worse than it does today, with many map exploits and chocky level design leading to a somewhat poor gameplay experience.

Engineers couldn’t pick up buildings, so the map had a few solid sentry spots that gave engineers a significant advantage if they placed it in a specific spot.

It also took significantly longer to setup buildings, so its understandable that the level design at the time would make up for a seemingly under powered character.

The map itself plays very badly today (sorry red robot that means its still a bad map for anyone to play on), but as the game improves visually and gameplay wise, do old levels become better with age? In this case not so much.

The map still suffers from being very chocky with bad flank routes with small and narrow hallways leading to singular open areas with no option of attack but forward.

This map is simply a relic of 90s level design ported over to a newer game, that is sadly outlived its lifespan but continues to be played anyway.

Case Study: Mercenary Park

Image result for mercenary park 1920x1080

The newest shiny thing in terms of TF2 updates has been the Mercenary Park map from the long awaited Jungle Inferno update of 2017 right after the 10 year anniversary of the game. (Impeccable timing as always)

This map is all new content for the game and showcases the various improvements that valve has learned in making Team Fortress 2 maps. Firstly the map isnt based on previous work and is entirely original, from the layout to the jungle theme that came with it.

Now the million dollar question, how does this map stack up against its ancestors? Very well actually and here’s why.

Mercenary Park is not only visually appealing but also fun to play on as any class, it caters to the strengths of all classes ranging from stealth classes to damage heavy classes like soldier and demoman.

It has perfectly lengthed sight lines (the mapping community will hate me for saying that watch) for snipers to play with without being forced to their melee or handy jar of unmentionable fluid.

The map is in almost every single way a better map and it showcases how far the tf team has come in developing unique and fun content for the game (now how fast they do it is an entirely different matter)

Though the map isnt without flaw, some old issues even from Dustbowl persist on this map. Namely the final control point, where red team’s spawn has 2 doors (both being very small) and only 1 is really used. Attackers have 2 ways of entry, the main hallway which is easily a spamfest among the likes of Dustbowl last with sentry spots dominating the majorty of the area.

The alternate route takes attackers above the hallway into a small room above the point where attackers can in some areas outrange most sentry spots, a lesson learned from Dustbowl’s incredibly hard to flank sentry nests.

In Conclusion, things change

I’m sure even with age this map will slowly be less and less viable and fun to play on for skilled players as the game changes, but that is the nature of multiplayer games like Team Fortress, they change.

Hopefully valve continues to learn and produce better and better maps for an ever evolving game that has become a timeless classic among players.