In this edition of our bi-weekly developer interview, our awesome community team took some time to sit down with Wayne Skorniewski, otherwise known as EpicError– Lead Level Designer for Galaxy in Turmoil.
(Pictured Above: EpicError)
What should we call you? Do you prefer Wayne or Mr. S?
Wayne is fine.
Wayne, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Wayne, the lead level designer at Frontwire Studios. I’ve coded and messed with programming games since I was 14. Video games have been the biggest things in my life beside oxygen. I love video games so much, I just want to make a game worth playing for everyone. That dream has now come true, being the lead level designer at FWS for Galaxy in Turmoil. We are currently working on the campaign mission [for the demo].
What do you feel to be the most important thing you oversee?
The most important is consistency throughout the project. As a level designer, the most important thing is to make sure it’s fun. Being the lead of level design, I ensure you that we are able to achieve our goal: to make our levels the best they can be. I’ve been doing level design for a while now and know a lot about the technical aspects of the development. Thus, I can bring that knowledge to my coworkers and teach them the most important fundamentals, tell them how I see things and believe what the level design should be like. One of the fundamentals being optimisation, another is how they should build blockouts, as well as playing and thinking about how to make sure the level will be fun to play.
Carrying on from that question, what would you consider to be the most challenging aspect to your role?
The most challenging part is probably the teamwork. The one biggest problem in any company/team effort is the conflict and clash of opinions. Opinions are a big part in game development, and everyone’s opinions should be heard. Coming from working on my own with games, tools and assets, to a team project, and making sure everyone can get their two cents in, is probably the most challenging thing about any lead role. One thing I do not want is for someone’s opinion to be disregarded due to someone’s else’s ego. I would fight for my teammates to make sure they get their contribution into the project and be happy they made a difference in the project.
What games do you feel have a good enough level design for you to draw inspiration from? And why?
I would honestly say that the majority of games 10 years ago and before then had rather good level design. System Shock, and its spiritual successor BioShock, are two of my favorite games. They provide an open level design, as if you have total freedom. BioShock is a great example. It truly feels like freedom, despite being in a city deep down under the sea. A place where you would expect the least freedom. The way they made it work is by designing their levels around fun gameplay first, and then brought in the aspects that made it feel like it belonged under the sea. Now, freedom plays an important role in level design. You can go wherever you like and that gives the player a sense of awe. I would love for Galaxy in Turmoil to go down this route, especially with the later levels, and give that sense of freedom back to the players once again.
What do you feel are common mistakes in level design today that you’re determined to avoid?
When you have a game where nothing is thought out, and you just let a computer generate a level. It’s not as fun. Sure you may not have the same exact experience twice but at the cost of what? The game is often no longer fun to explore.
I honestly believe it can be done. You can generate levels and still have it be fun but to a certain extent. Left 4 Dead 2 had a great example of a better way to do it, although it was fairly limited.
One playthrough, everything seems normal. But during the second one, a certain path seems to suddenly be blocked, and another path would have opened, causing you to rethink your plan.
Let’s take for example a map that consists of 5 different parts. A river area, a large building area, etc. You can have someone design those 5 parts of the level multiple times. Get the computer to spit out random selection of those 5 parts and now you have a brand new level each time that is at least thought out and fun. It does create like 5 times the amount work, but it would retain the element of fun that can be found in finely crafted levels and greatly enhances the replayability.
Would you consider achieving a perfect balance between freedom and design to be a challenge?
Player freedom and overall world design is all up the the designer and how creatively they are able to handle it. In this instance, it’s level design. Creative people always have an easier time designing their levels as they can imagine and envision it all in their head. Like how the player will run around and how they interact with the world. All while making sure the player doesn’t get lost. Though, no matter what you think is good, you will have to go back and modify it. It’s very time consuming but I don’t think it’s necessarily a big challenge.
Would you like to quickly sum up why you feel procedural generation should be avoided?
Level generation is random, and we need to control the randomness to an extent. The way I suggested is to have areas of the map well designed, for example a building area with fences and trees that mixes it up, and another area being a river that could have bridges in many different places along the river. So, when you mix all that together it feels random enough but keep the design intact.
Wayne, is there anything in particular you have planned for GiT that you’re excited about?
I’m excited for the crazy amount of [stuff] we have planned, and how I feel like we should tackle the gameplay aspect of the levels. I enjoy the random events that happen in maps. Though, since our game is also third person, I think we can spice things up with even crazier stuff. For example, if we have a windy planet, we could have some kind of shield to protect the level from the wind. But over time, the shield will disappear and will cause the players to be pushed back. We don’t want to make the player feel like they have to wait for it to be over and be stuck in a room. It’ll expand the gameplay due to us having access to [certain] mechanics such as a jetpack, it’ll be interesting to see your friend try use the jetpack only to be flying off into another section of the map to quickly get away as the wind blows his butt off. Wind is just an example of course, but I believe levels should have interaction.
We have heard about a lot of awesome features from you and other interviewees in the past. Do you think the FWS Team can pull it off?
We will pull it off if we stick to it and stay motivated. As long as management can consistently reassure [other] team members what they’re doing truly does matter, keeping up the morale, then we can be pull this off without a doubt. We got a lot of amazingly talented people. We just need those people at the top to keep us together.
Do you have any plans to accommodate for the destruction of the levels? Like the Battlefield type of destruction in the game?
Actually Unreal engine includes a built in tool to fracture a static mesh. So, there are ways for us to do it. Though the important thing is the performance, Unreal [lacks] performance when it comes to lots of fractured static mesh so I don’t believe we will be doing that.
One user asked if there will be hazardous objects within maps that could kill you other than fall damage?
I think I kind of answered that already with the random events in the levels, such as the wind. So yes, we will have hazards in our levels in Galaxy in Turmoil. It may not always be hurtful to the player, but we will have those types of events.
Do you feel space to ground is overall a good or bad thing level design wise, and what have you had to do different because of it?
I believe it’s an extra layer of freedom, and I believe that’s a good thing. Though, the downside of this is that you have to make sure everyone who is on that spaceship has a way to get off it. It needs a lot of balance. But so far, it works very well. So, level design wise it’s fantastic. It just needs lots of balancing.
Will all maps have space to ground functionality or is it only planned for some?
Tony already explained in earlier public interviews that we will be having a majority of space to ground levels. Some will not [be space to ground] but more close combat for people who enjoy that type of gameplay.
Tell us more about yourself, how did you find yourself doing this?
Well, I’ve enjoyed video games for as long as I remember. I found myself interested in how games are made at an early age and started designing them in GameMaker. I honestly just made a red blocky character with black eyes like Super Meat Boy in GameMaker when I 10 or so. I didn’t start to learn coding until I was 14 though. That’s where it really kicked off.