Virginia Feedback

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Contents

By EvilViking

Introduction

As I worked with Massive to get do_Virginia ready for public release, I had the privilege of working with some of the MSV level design team. The following is a transcript of an email that the Lead Level Designer at Massive Entertainment sent me on some of the issues he found with do_Virginia. Hopefully, this email will be helpful to you as well:


The Email

[This is] a short synopsis of my design notes from working with your map, a few pointers if you will regarding what struck me as the key issues concerning Virginia. Some of them are technical, some artistic and some game play related:


Deployment Zones

This would be one of the bigger issues that the Game Design department was concerned about. When we design maps, one of the most basic principles which is practically nailed on a wooden plaque above my head (well, not quite, but you get the picture) is that nothing is allowed to interfere with the Dropping of units – this means the DZ masks have to be extremely clear inside the game. Every tree, objects or impassable piece of terrain will cause a black hole in the mask that generates deployment areas, so it’s always a good idea to have a dedicated area that exists specifically for dropping units, regardless of how weak it looks visually as it may have to be quite clear of props. Otherwise you will end up with a veritable Swiss-cheese to drop units on, which has been the case with Virginia and this is highly confusing to players, not to mention the potential issues with units getting stuck. This is an issue that I’ve only been able to address to a small degree as it would require reworking a large portion of the map.


Its also a great idea to test your drop areas against the available Tactical Aids, if a nuke can cover an entire drop zone and ruin the match then you’d better believe that some player who doesn’t care for fair gaming will figure that out and exploit it every time. Another classic scenario is to have a large DZ, but only a very small portion of it is close to the action so the enemy team will identify where everyone is dropping and literally rain Tactical Aid on that particular area thus causing imbalance in the map.



Forest

I won’t dwell on this because I’m sure that you understand how forests in WiC work, it’s more a matter of planning the placement of them in your map. What you did in Virginia is what we like to call “cozy propping” and what I mean by that is that the forests were placed in small clusters and formations that looked good but didn’t really serve the purpose a forest in WiC is supposed to. If you examine the maps included in WiC you’ll notice that very few of them have small clusters of trees unless it’s a specific area that just has to look right. Instead we always tried to place forests as thick strings because it is easier on the eye and leaves infantry players in no doubt as to where they can find cover and allows troops to move about inside them in numerous strategic ways.





Roads

From a visual standpoint roads are perhaps the hardest element of a WiC map to work with. This has to do with how roads work, both on a mesh level and on a texture level because of the unique shader they use. This also goes hand in hand with Terrain Extensions as there are in fact roads as far as the game engine is concerned. The distinctions are very technical, but roads and terrain extensions have very special properties when they are hit by Tactical Aids and they also have a unique LOD (Level of Detail) system that makes them fade away separately from other types of geometry.

Some examples; roads fade on a Per Vertex level when struck by a Tactical Aid; this means that that all vertexes in the road mesh that are hit by the TA will vanish and some parts will remain. It is a much more controlled form of destruction when a prop or building is hit, as these effects can be custom made. The same thing goes for Terrain Extensions as they aren’t affected by Tactical Aids in the same sense as genuine props; they also fade on a Per Vertex level just any other road mesh.


An example of this was the original large bridge you had in the middle of Virginia, this would have caused numerous issues whenever someone used a Tactical Aid on it and being a central feature in the map it would get hit a lot. If we would have made a similar map we would have made a custom prop with a specific death animation for such a large bridge, however that would have been heavy on resources and I wasn’t given enough time with the map to make such a solution. Instead I used two of the smaller, existing bridge props and elevated a section of the height map to fill it out. I added road on top of these bridges to visually connect them with the rest of the road system, though this has a few issues in itself. The roads will fade and vanish faster than the bridge props due to the road LOD system, which will cause some visual artifacts. And the road segments on the bridge suffer from the TA effects I mentioned with the Per Vertex fading system and numerous visual glitches can appear as a result.


An insider tip on how we build road systems; We set all the roads out as splines on the map and when the game play is set in stone we export them into Modo and begin to merge them. However, we do it in a very specific way as to cleverly “mask” these special rules in the technology caused by the Per Vertex fading and LOD systems. When we build the final road as a terrain extension we model it in 3 sections that become separate TEs with their own textures.


The asphalt section of the road (this includes the asphalt part of any intersections), the pavements (which we separate into 2 parts, the pavements themselves and the small part of the pavement on the corner of an intersection. We give these two parts separate texture space) and finally the road markings which we model as separate mesh planes on top of the road and use alpha texturing. These 3 elements - asphalt, pavement and road paint each become their own terrain extension because no terrain extension can have more than one texture applied to it.


The most fundamental lesson to learn from this is that when making a WiC map we have to think very carefully about what we use – road, prop or terrain extension. This goes doubly when considering multiple GFX settings as roads and terrain extensions don’t even appear in game on the lower settings. But a rule of thumb is that the higher settings are always the priority.






I hope this feedback will be of help to you in future map making!



Sincerely,


M.A.


3D Artist / Level Design, Massive Entertainment, Malmö Sweden.

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