Planning the Level Design for Rebirth Facility – A Destiny 2 Strike

Introduction

In this blog, I will be breaking down the process I underwent to created the Level Design Document and Metric work for my Destiny 2 Strike; Rebirth Facility.

Before I dive in to this blog, I’d like to give a shout out Max Pears, who’s mentorship has really supported me with this project so far, and to Tonic U, a programme set up by Mediatonic to help up and coming game developers to network, collaborate and show off their work, for sharing my videos of this project on their Flex Fridays via Twitter.

What is the Rebirth Facility?

The Rebirth Facility is a 3-player co-operative level, intended to fit within the Destiny universe. This level aims to act as an additional strike on the frozen moon of Europa, home of the Exos (a race of robots with human sentience and intelligence) and the main location for the Beyond Light campaign. From a narrative perspective, this level shows the player what was once a Hospital for Exos. From a gameplay perspective, this level intends to make heavy use of mechanics based on debuffing enemies and opening locked doors while also including elements of exploration and platforming sequences.

Documentation

Click here to download/view the Level Design Document in PDF format

Brief and Narrative

Before starting detailed design, I created a Brief for what I wanted to achieve for the level design and the narrative I wanted the level to convey.

Location Breakdown

With the bigger picture defined in the brief, I moved on to defining the environments the player would go through when playing the level.

Visual Research

To help with the level idea, I needed to carry out some visual research and create mood boards. For the Ice Mound environment, I researched lots of pictures of icy environments, including images of Antarctica and Ice Caves. For the other environments, I researched a artwork of sci-fi factory and hospital settings. I also took a lot of screenshots of the Europa location in Destiny 2, however, I relied very heavily on the in-game screenshots which put a great risk on the how the Rebirth Facility will be unique to other levels within the locations and environments added in Destiny 2 – Beyond Light.

Gameplay and Flow

For the gameplay elements I wanted to achieve for Rebirth Facility, I split the mechanics into two sections. Those being Common, which consists of the core gameplay mechanics in Destiny 2, and Specific, which are intended to be the focus of the level. For Rebirth Facility, it’s mostly about debuffing a specific kind of enemy by removing their shield and taking the key it drops to be able to progress to the next part of the level.

I decided that the Rebirth Facility would follow a linear level flow so I could make sure that the player got to see every part of the level and really soak in the environmental storytelling I was planning on doing, in this case being the exploration of a ruined, abandoned hospital for Exos.

Level Beats

The Level Beats overall had a strong focus on exploration and combat while keeping the central mechanics of debuffing and defeating special enemies to progress as the centre of the level design.

Pacing

While the Pacing graph is somewhat unclear, it intends to communicate the amount of player engagement with each of the Level Beats (represented by the numbers in the vertical axis on the graph).

Metrics

Designing the scale for the following elements meant taking into account things like the player’s scale (in this case, the default height of the Unreal Engine 4 Mannequin) as well as making sure that units in Unreal Engine 4 (that being each 1 unit is 1 centimetre) translate well. This was all drawn up in theory here and put to the test whne making the Gym environment (covered later).

First off, the doors followed a rule where they would all be the same height while the width would increase by 2 metres (each 2 metres representing room for one player character). This resulted in three different types of doors which can accomodate up to three players for the largest door.

When designing the wall height, the player’s default jump height, in addition to the additional abilities granted by the player’s class in Destiny 2 (i.e. the Hunter Class’ ability to triple jump) had to be taken into account.

The cover height and rules was more straightforward as it takes factors such as the player’s crouching height into account, in addition to setting a guideline for minimum distance between cover blocks.

2D Maps

Ice Mound

For the Ice Mound environment, it was required to be an organic environment, so Inkscape was used to allow for easy drawing of more organic, non-uniform, natural 2D plan. This intended to be a brief moment out in the icy environment of Europa with a path for the players to follow to reach the entrance of the Rebirth Facility. This 2D map will present a challenge much later into the level design process due to not taking factors such as scale and props into account would could lead this particular 2D map to be changed dramatically while making the level in Unreal Engine 4.

Facility Entrance

The Facility Entrance, which intends to be like a Reception/Waiting Area for the Exo Hospital, was designed using Dungeon Scrawler, a tool that can design spaces using a grid, with the Legend and item/enemy placements added in with GIMP. As part of the Rebirth Facility level, this is where the player is first introduced to the central mechanics of the level to give them a safe space to learn how the mechanic works while also providing a light combat challenge.

Facility Underground

This part of the Rebirth Facility is the main area of the level. This is where the player faces increasingly difficult challenges and explores the Rebirth Facility in full here. From a narrative point of view, the player meets the enemy leader who will run into a room and lock the door behind them. This forces the player to take a long way around which takes them through a series of platforming challenges while witnessing the decaying medical bays, relying on large fans to get across gigantic chasms while repeating the main mechanic of the level to eventually reach the boss and defeat her using the same mechanic.

In-Engine Metric Work

Gym Environment

After completing the Level Design documentation, the designed metrics were placed into a gym environment in Unreal Engine 4 to see how they worked and making any needed tweaks before proceeding. One major tweak that was made at this point was the height and width of the doors because the original height and width felt too cramped and small, so height and width was increased by 1 metre from the original design to make the doorways seem less claustrophobic. In addition to this, cylinders that used different heights/lengths were used to help with measuring jumps and so on later in the project.

Proof of Concept

The video below shows the use of measuring tools and the metrics from the Gym environment, such as the cylinders used for measuring jump height and distance, to prove how they can be used in the actual level later on in the project. These metrics continued to be tweaked and refined while building the proof of concept level.

Level Specific Mechanics

The video below shows the main mechanic that will be repeated throughout the level. The player has to use a terminal to gain the ability to take down an enemy’s shield and then finish the enemy off. Once the shielded enemy is dead, it will drop a kep which the player will have to take to a locked door to permenantly unlock it.