Cooking with Gas - Level building with CounterSpy’s Procedural Generation System
Hello, C.O.U.N.T.E.R agents in waiting!
I’m Grace Morales Lingad, a Designer at Dynamighty. My duties around the studio involve wearing many hats: designing gameplay spaces, scripting, setting up interactive props, and creating the “recipes” for our procedurally generated levels. I’ve also been known to literally wear hats!
As Bob mentioned in his previous post, levels in CounterSpy are composed of individually handcrafted rooms, picked out and stuck together according to defined rules. Since we like food so much at Dynamighty, we call these rulesets “recipes”.
I didn’t write the code for the procedural system – credit goes to the engineering crew, particularly John Elliot, Pete Demoreuille, and Devin Kelly-Sneed.
As a designer, it is my job to use the procedural system to define the player experience. Just as a chef designs a multicourse menu – picking which dishes go in what order – part of my job is to define the progression of rooms that make a meal, er, level.
First off, all the rooms in the game are tagged. Tags like “Start”, “End”, were obvious starting points. There are bite-sized combat spaces (“Snack” rooms), and larger rooms with multiple stories to navigate up or down (“Nav” rooms). There are also rooms that serve as a breather between combat encounters: connecting corridors (“Conn” rooms, for short), sometimes with elevators (“Elev”) that lead to optional areas.
With all the rooms tagged, it’s time to make a recipe!
Now we’re cooking with gas!
Using this recipe as a base, the randomly selected rooms are attached to each other via “portals”, simple markers placed along a room’s left and right borders that tell the game where to connect to its neighbors.
Since there are multiple rooms tagged with the same tags, the combination of rooms that the procedural level system puts together is varied. And with multiple missions – each with their own unique recipes – the levels are always different.
The level below was also created with the same recipe:
And that’s not all!
While each room in a level is individually crafted, these unique spaces also have their own bits of randomized content. Some of the randomly occurring things in rooms include:
- First Aid Kits
- Rare Unlockables
These are governed by their own systems, according to the difficulty level, what the player has unlocked, and so on.
Building and testing a game with so many random, interchangeable pieces is technically challenging, but, one of its greatest upsides is the unpredictability it provides the player.
I hope that this has whet your appetite for procedurally generated, retro-inspired espionage action!
Until next time…
Building Worlds in CounterSpy
My name is Bob Archibald, and i’m a Senior 3D Artist at Dynamighty.
I’ve been responsible for building and lighting all of CounterSpy’s levels in which you’ll soon be covertly neutralizing enemy threats. My job puts me right at the nexus of art and design… where the magic happens. I work closely with designers to create spaces that serve as a stage for exciting gameplay opportunities, while ensuring that the setting also tells a story, and maintains consistency with the established art direction.
Most of my day has me pushing polygons around in Maya (our 3d modeling package), arranging spaces in Unity (our level editor), and painting textures in Photoshop. It’s really fun stuff!
So, today I wanted talk you through a bit of our process for creating these spaces, and also some challenges we’ve faced when creating levels.
CounterSpy’s levels are composed of procedurally assembled rooms, each with their own rules of how and when they connect to neighboring rooms. With procedural levels being a key feature of CounterSpy, we really had to figure out a good way to create rooms that give you quick bite-sized bits of story and setting, but also create a larger narrative when randomly assembled.
The foundation of building levels, starts with having your player metrics defined - How tall is a door? How high can the player jump? How much space does a standard combat scenario require? etc.
Before we entered production on CounterSpy, we’d already had a pretty good idea as to the basic sizes of what our rooms needed to be in order to facilitate interesting gameplay spaces. At a certain point, right after our big E3 2013 reveal, i was able to get a little bit ahead of the design team schedule-wise, and took that opportunity to start on what i called “the shell pass” for the game.
We had created a set of metrics for small, medium and large rooms (ranging from 15 meters wide, all the way up to 60 meters), and “the shell pass” was all about going wide and getting coverage in the game - essentially, creating as many unique themed rooms as possible. A “shell” is basically the walls, floor, and ceiling of a gameplay room.
For each “shell”, I focused on just the room’s theme and shape, trying to convey the room’s identity without worrying much about the specifics of set dressing. Most days resulted in 3-6 shells getting modeled, textured, lit, and hooked up in the game for the design team to then start getting inspired by, and filling up with gameplay.
This point in production was really a lot of fun for me, as i was able to get playable “sketches” of some really cool spaces into the game, without being slowed down by details.
As I was getting these spaces set up, I would constantly be updating the design team as to what new shells they had at their disposal. It was really interesting to see how they would get inspired by the rooms, and what they would do with the spaces to accommodate cool enemy encounters. At one point in production, there were three level designers cranking away on these rooms, and they really caught up to me fast!
Once design was able to do a gameplay pass on the shells, the rooms would come back to me to make basic structural adjustments (fill in any holes in the backdrop, move some walls around to be load-bearing, do a more targeted lighting pass, etc) and we would then start thinking about set dressing and more specific context for the rooms.
Generally, these rooms would also get play tested by the team, and good feedback would come out of those sessions which would result in further refinement of the game spaces.
Most of the large art challenges came in the form of abating visual repetition - as a player would progress through the game, they would begin seeing rooms that were a bit too similar to previously traversed rooms.
This was actually a great point to be at in the game’s development for me, as now we had the broad palette of rooms created, and I was then able to go in and push the look of each room to be a bit more unique.
I’ll likely go in to more detail about this part of process in my next blog post.
Thanks for reading!
We have been operating fairly deep undercover on the Dynamighty front recently and we thought it past due that we share an update on what we have been doing.
Well the good news is, we are starting to emerge from the covert phase of the game’s development and you will start to see a steady flow of information, starting with a weekly blog post update from the team here.
Every week, a different person on the team will be sharing a bit about their part of the project, so you can get a taste of what it takes for a small team like us to make a game like CounterSpy.
When John and I started Dynamighty, one of the most important values we held dear for the studio, was to build a sustainable, awesome place where everyone who was part of the team, loved what they do, looked forward to coming to work every day, and felt like true collaborators on the project.
When we signed the partnership deal with Sony back at the beginning of 2013, Dynamighty was still just David Nottingham (Creative Director), John Elliot (Tech Director), Mark Holmes (Art Director) & Mark Erman (BizMarkie because he handles the business side).
It’s crazy to look back and see how far we’ve come since then. We are now a team of 10 full-time people and some amazing key contractors that have all come together to help us make our first game.
We want to give a little roll-call shoutout here to some of the amazing people that you will be hearing more from in the weeks ahead. These are the people that make it all work and its thanks to them that we are starting to get close to releasing CounterSpy.
Bob Archibald/Environment Artist - Bob was someone at LucasArts that John and Dave had not worked with, but was so talented & passionate yet with such a sweet disposition, We were determined to one day work with him. Bob is our 3D Environment Artist and as such has been responsible for taking all the grey box level design from us designers, and the amazing visual development from Mark, and turning it into the levels you see in the game.
Grace Morales-Lingad/Designer - Grace was another former LucasArts alum. She came to us as a designer that had worked most recently on the Sly Cooper game that came out last year. Grace is a multi-purpose designer that does level design, systems, scripting and helped me keep my sanity on the project when things seem like they are about to tip over.
Chris MaGovern/Animator - All the kick ass moves of our spy, all the enemy moves, as well as the various humorous animations we have ‘hidden’ in the game, all thanks to Chris!
Devin Kelly-Sneed/Lead Gameplay Engineer - John and I had worked with Devin at LucasArts and was one of the people that I had always hoped to work with again. What engineers do in coding is like a mystical art to me. Devin has been a major force on the coding side and along with David Swift has been largely responsible for all the gameplay systems and code that supports the game.
David Swift/Gameplay Programmer (Japan Division) - David was another member of the old LucasArts family. David is based in Japan and spends his time rewriting animation systems when we break them.
We’ve also made a few key more recent hires to round out our crack squad here at Dynamighty.
One that has really helped me, was Ed Kay, who joined us as Lead Designer. Ed filled a huge gap in my own design background. My strength is being a big vision guy. I’m super optimistic and excited about the possibilities of what a game can be. Someone like me needs the balance of a design partner that loves the details and compliments those big ideas with the technical and system design chops to go right to the metal of the games design. That person is Ed. I love working with him because we can really balance each other out. Just the right amount of ambition paired with the rational implementation for how to make something work.
If you are at GDC this year Ed will be giving a talk on the design process for CounterSpy (which he joined midway) called ‘Designing within Constraints on CounterSpy’
We have also brought on Jeff Morris as a Producer. Jeff is a shipaholic. He loves the challenge of getting games through that final few months to finish! He has brought structure, detail and taken over a lot of the day to day responsibilities that John and I had been grappling with in addition to our own project tasks. If there is one lesson I would pass on to any other developer of 10 people or above, definitely hire a good Producer! Because you need to free up your own time as much as possible to be doing what you are best at, which is whatever your core speciality is. You know, the thing you loved to do that got you into games in the first place!
We’ve also added some coding heavyweights in Ryan Medeiros, Jamie Culpon, Chris Georges, who have all joined us more recently and we are excited for what their future contributions will bring to the project.
Finally I have to give mad shoutout to some of the various contractors that have helped bring the game to life.
Jesse Harlin, for all the incredible music composed for the game. We wanted CounterSpy to have the feel of a 60s espionage TV show and the music is SUCH a signature part of that. I had worked with Jesse at LucasArts where he created the beautiful music for Lucidity. I knew he was the person to nail that cool espionage vibe we wanted. Watch this space for a future post from Jesse on his process composing for CounterSpy.
Jean Moreno, who has created all the VFX for the game. Jean was someone we found via him selling his own VFX assets in the Unity Store. Jean has been kicking ass on the project, its his first major commercial project to be involved in but he has the work ethic and talent of an experienced pro (without the grizzled curmudgeonly of the rest of us!)
Thanks for your support! Going forward, we will be updating here with a series of weekly posts. Next week Mark Holmes is going to share a bit about his process on the Art side, and how he brought 16 years of experience from Pixar to the visual development process at Dynamighty.
In the mean-time, we hope you enjoy this new screenshot of the game just to show you we have not been sitting idle! Making this game is a life’s dream for all of us at Dynamighty. Lots more info will be coming soon and we can’t wait to start sharing more :)
Creative Director (CounterSpy)
Every holiday season the Cold War foes would gather around a tree and hold hands, and then with great anticipation unwrap the glorious red gift wrapped presents from C.O.U.N.T.E.R….
Happy Holidays all. We’ve been pretty quiet around here lately but 2014 is going to be an exciting year as we reveal more on CounterSpy. Stay tuned :)
Have a great holiday from all of us at Dynamighty!
E3 week is in full swing with all its craziness. We’ve been sharing the game with press folks via our friends at Sony. More stuff to come soon in the meantime, our first bit of video with gameplay and a trailer. Enjoy!
Figured we’d repost the CounterSpy screenshots featured on the Sony Blog Post from last week.
Stay tuned we hope to be able to post some new tidbits soon!
CounterSpy - Dynamighty first game revealed!
This blog post being brought to you by David Nottingham, Co-Founder of Dynamighty.
Hey friends! Today is an awesomely exciting day for us at Dynamighty as we are proud to finally announce our first game!
For those of you coming here from this months issue of Game Informer, welcome! For those of you that haven’t caught the issue, it reveals details about our game and we gave them a Q&A that you can find here. You can also check out a blog post we wrote for our fine friends at Sony.
CounterSpy (still a working title) is a game that we have been developing for some months now. The game is being published by SCEA and will be launched later this year on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and mobile platforms.
Dynamighty was originally founded by myself & my buddy John Elliot. We previously worked together at LucasArts, where I was Lead Creative & John was Technical Lead for a big AAA new IP that never saw light of day, and then we founded LucasLabs, in which we got to work on a bunch of cool experimental small games. Some of which even got released! (Monkey Island Special Edition and a quirky little game called Lucidity).
Today, the studio is 10 super passionate human beings. We have a few more ex-LucasArts folks so, although we have been super-saddened by the closure of that studio, we are one of what we hope will be many other friends & former-colleagues putting their skills to work in starting small, indie-spirited studios with friends creating works of passion to bring to the world!
Now that the game has been announced, we are going to use this tumblr to showcase bits and pieces of the development process as we get CounterSpy ready for launch. If you want to see a bit more of the people behind the game, we have a facebook page that we use to share team photos & activities. For formal announcements and links to any press, we’ll be on twitter.
Keep checking back for more exciting news and developments soon!
Some of our favorite artists are involved in a James Bond tribute show at Q-Pop gallery in Los Angeles that opens TOMORROW! If you are in LA go see!
BACK FROM THE DEAD (A JAMES BOND TRIBUTE)
- 3-color, hand-pulled screenprint
- Edition size of 20
For the James Bond tribute show at Q-Pop. Can you figure out which movie this is from?
Prints available at the opening and online soon after.