Block 2 – Day 15

Hey hey hey! The weekend approacheth, but first, we have some workbooking to tackle, so let’s get to it!

First off, let’s summarize what I’ve done today in relation to my work this block. I started the day by going through my screenshots of Dishonored. I didn’t really take them to use in the guide but since I needed a sample shot for an entry, might as well look through them and see what I’ve got! Ever since Steam integrated the screenshot feature into their game overlay feature, I’ve been taking screenshots like crazy in almost every game I’ve played. Turns out that I do have some use for my strange habit!

Anyhow, I found a nice sample picture for my entry on floating waypoints, as I called them, so that entry is all finished up. As such, it marked the tenth entry in the guide and the page count is fast approaching forty! Don’t worry though, there’s a lot of picture examples in there, so it’s not overwhelming to read. The same can’t be said for some of my workbook entries though, ahem.

After that, I got my trusty notepad and pen out and flicked on the TV to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I mentioned previously, my tutor recommended that I should watch a couple of movies and look at how they’re directing the attention of the observer. By studying other media, my studies will have more depth and perhaps even be interesting to more people. It’ll also give me a larger perspective on the whole thing, finding possible methods in more than just games.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a fantastic movie, that’s my purely subjective observation that I thought I’d share first. The filming, the visual effects, the mystique of the whole story is very intriguing. As a whole, it promotes thought, shaping an interpretation of the elements less clear in the tale. As for the film from a viewpoint related to guidance in level design, I found that there are a few things to make use of from its distinct style and presentation. A lot of the things I noted have already been employed in games in some manner, but there’s still a greater width to its use by observing how it’s used in the film.

I won’t get into intricate detail just yet, as I plan to process and write down my notes later on. I will say that the film makes great use of establishing contrast in color, brightness and motion to draw the attention. There’s also a couple of points in the film where they present contrast/irregularity by using shape, such as the first time the infamous monolith is seen, buried in the rocky ground.

Let’s wrap up this week with a little reflection list. Haven’t done one of those in a while! What have I learned from these weeks of studying guidance in level design?

  • I’ve learned that a lot of methods are very common, such as the entry on highlighting paths that I posted previously. Although they’re commonly used and well established in video games, I’ve found that they’re seldom documented or given a common name. This was partly the reason why I chose to write a guide on my findings, so that I could share my observations. Perhaps a common terminology could be established sometime, to make things easier for aspiring and professional level designers.
  • I’ve found that a lot of these methods work in ways that involve establishing a contrast. This can be through lighting, coloring, movement, shape, etc. Or, to put it even more abstractly, a lot of methods establish a form of irregularity in order to draw attention.
  • The thought struck me, from observations mentioned in the previous point, that this means of drawing attention might have something to do with our reflexes, an instinctive response in our brains. I found an interesting research paper, titled The Encoding of Temporally Irregular and Regular Visual Patterns in the Human Brain. The paper was of a very scientific nature, most of which requires understanding of specific terminology to fully understand. From what I gathered though, the gist of it was that they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity that they then outputted a visual representation of in the form of a voxel image. Instead of trying to translate the article to layman’s terms (there’s a very high risk that I’d get something wrong), here’s an interesting quote from the abstract of the document:

“The results show that there is an abstractive system in the brain for detecting temporal irregularity, regardless of the source producing it.”

  • By putting my “level designer goggles” on while playing, I’ve taken note of even more things than before. This is best employed with a game that one has already played before, as being too analytical might take away from the initial impressions of a game. My recommendation is; play Bioshock. Just do it, it’s awesome! Then, play it with level designer goggles on, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. You’ll notice that some of the guidance elements in the level design are simply ingenious and so well incorporated into the game’s environment and style that you hardly notice them the first time around.
  • Studying games by playing them is a lot of fun in general. There’s no better way to learn than to make your own observations, in my opinion. Of course, it does help to have a foundation for learning first, so before trying to analytically decompile the levels of your favorite game, take some time to learn the basics. Books and online resources are great for the basics!

That’s about all I can think of right now. Hope that all these words are of some interest or use to some of you. It certainly helps for me to reflect upon what I’ve learned, so that’s an exercise that I recommend to everyone. I think I might’ve recommended it before already, in the previous block, but it’s worth mentioning again.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend!

Marcus out.