Editor note* This blog is split in two parts, the first is Nayors level design write up. The second part is a level design focused A&Q section based on questions we got on twitter/facebook. -David
Hello, and welcome to another dev blog! My name is Nathan Goulden aka “nay0r” I am NMRiH2’s level designer.
I was one of the level designers for the original NMRiH. I first joined the team back in 2008 and it’s been a fantastic journey over the years. A lot of blood sweat and tears went into the creation of the 5 maps I made for NMRiH1: Broadway, Cabin, Toxteth, Cleopas and Arpley but I loved every second of it. I’ve always had a love for level design and mapping in general and I first started back in late 1999 when I was 16. I bought a PC Gamer magazine with worldcraft tutorials on it and it just kicked off from there.
After years of working in the GoldSource Engine (HalfLife 1) and Source Engine (HalfLife 2) we’re now working in Unreal 4. A question I get asked often is how different mapping is in this new engine, and to be honest, its not an easy question to answer. Even though the basic mechanics of designing a map are very similar, the tools we use now are fairly different. The fundamental difference is a Source map was normally a solo effort with maybe the exception of a modeler working alongside you. Now, working in unreal 4, its 100% more a team effort to create the environment.
Enough about my history, lets talk about what we currently have in the works. Right now there are 3 maps all at different stages of development, Night of the Living Dead (notld) the furthest through production, Brooklyn Heights which is currently taking great shape and Palisades Mall which I have just recently blocked out.
Night of the Living Dead (notld) was the first NMRiH2 map I started on. As you may know it’s a remake of a map currently in the mod. Blocking it out was quite an easy process because initially all I did was export it from Hammer and import it directly into 3ds Max then back to Unreal 4. This gave me a great base to work with. I then set a pretty large landscape up in Unreal and started to work the landscape to get the rough feel of how I wanted the map to be scaled. The map itself has the same key landmarks if you broken it down to its bare bones, but at the same time we have greatly increased its size and of course graphical point of view. The thing with source is it does not deal with large open spaces very well and it’s pretty difficult to optimize and this is where Unreal comes into its own. Either way notld is shaping up really nicely.
With Brooklyn Heights we based it off the real world location, pretty much to meter scale as well. My main job on Brooklyn Heights is interior layout and some exterior building work. This is where source and Unreal 4 are slightly different. In source, interiors are built up by BSP brushes and edited where needed, in Unreal 4 we have setup a modular kit system based around 1 meter pieces or more. Once the kit has been made I then go in and construct the interiors which is like putting together lego. Later on these interiors are merged together, it’s quite a long and slow process.
Palisades Mall map is still very much WIP but I’m confident it will end up being a good, big open mall like map. Which we feel we were missing from the original game.
P.S. Here’s a bonus update! I have one last source map for the Mod that is almost complete. Some of you may have heard about it around the forums or on the steam community. nmo_Broadway2, a rebirth of the original broadway I have committed to release for the Mod on Halloween.
Level Design Questions & Answers
A few weeks ago we put out a call for questions on twitter and facebook. It took us a while to go through them all but here they are!
Q: “NMRiH1 had many maps inspired or based on famous movies. Will we be seeing recreations of locations from classic zombie and horror movies again? If so, are there any difficulties (legal, technical) in making maps based on movies?”
A: The short answer: Yes, to both parts. You’ll be seeing homages to some of our favorite zombie and horror movies, but the legalities vary depending. Luckily none of our maps are really a “recreation” but instead are homages, paying tribute without copying. For example our first showcase map is a tribute to Night of the Living Dead, and we recently started work on a large and intricate shopping mall map paying homage to Dawn of the Dead. We won’t really be featuring characters from films as we’re using customizable characters, but we’ll probably have a few clothing items paying tribute to some of our favorite characters from film!
Q: “How will maps be structured in NMRiH2? Will the maps have more dynamic and randomized features like alternative paths and objectives, with more backtracking and exploring compared to the original game?”
A: Right now our maps for nmrih2 are built around a “non-linear black box” design philosophy. The maps themselves are self-contained environments, not necessarily “open world” but almost completely nonlinear in design. This allows us to randomize so many aspects of the nature of the map such as what areas may be blocked or locked, lights, and where items and objects will spawn. Think of the random aspect of nmrih1 on steroids. In certain maps we are even randomizing the rooms that are in a building – the idea being that these unpredictable aspects will add a whole new layer of chaos and excitement to the game.
Q: “How open will maps be? Will players get to explore and work to locate each other?”
A: Our intention with the final version of the maps when playing the standard game mode is that players will start in close proximity to at least one other player, but then have to look for each other, then look for everyone else. We don’t necessarily want everyone to spawn far apart but we do want you to have to work for your own survival, just a bit.
Q: “What parts of the world will maps be set in? Can we expect to see maps in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland?”
A: Right now our focus is on the United States Northeast coast. Our area of focus is New England, New York, Pennsylvania, etc. Focusing on one region allows us to develop a unified collection of art assets, since we only have a small team. Our intention is that in the future as the game grows we’ll be able to make packs of content focused on new regions. This may include maps set in a region with a couple weapons and items unique to that area.
Q: “Will the levels be like in the first game, largely urban cities and countryside? Or will we see other locations such as military facilities, schools, or ancient ruins?”
A: The three maps we’re currently working on are set in the Pennsylvania countryside, Brooklyn Heights NYC, and a large shopping mall in upper New York. We’ve made a big draft list of potential locations we’re considering for other maps, including the National Guard Bureau and Norfolk Naval Base both in Virginia. We’re focusing on the maps that will generate the most props and textures that we can re-use in each subsequent map. As time goes on, we can make more and more maps!
Q: “Will certain maps have advantages or disadvantages like heat, or cold?”
A: This is something we’re actually talked about! We don’t have plans to do this right now but it is one of our “stretch goals” that would be very cool to have. For example if we did a map that paid tribute to “The Thing”, it would be very neat to have the outdoors pose a frigid-cold environmental threat.
Q: “I’d love to see an extremely closed map. Something with long narrow hallways and rooms. Will we be seeing any indoor-centric maps in NMRiH2 such as a school, or a mall?”
A: One of our maps currently in progress is a large multi-storey indoor mall. We have plans to do a few other indoor maps, and our map set in Brooklyn Heights has tons of tight indoor spaces!
Q: “Can you make a level specifically for pot smokers?”
A: We’re pretty sure the whole game as-is will be more than sufficient!
Q: “Will NMRiH2 feature a day/night cycle, or randomized weather?”
A: We currently don’t intend to have a day/night cycle but we are considering having different “time of day” versions of each map. Based on the nature of nmrih gameplay, we found that the average game length wasn’t long enough to warrant an actual day/night transition cycle. We do like the idea of having authored times of day available for each map that would look specific to each map, plus we’ve had a couple of chats about how we could randomly trigger weather events and the kinds of obstacles those would pose. Right now neither of these are a high priority and won’t be for quite some time, but they are things that we’ve thought about and discussed.
Q: “Will NMRiH2 have human NPCs?”
A: They’re planned, designed, and intended. Our focus is on the zombies, since this is a zombie game, but one of the biggest improvements and expansions on the game that we intend to have is the inclusion of human NPCs as both allies and hostiles.
Q: “How will zombies spawn in the game, and will they still spawn infinitely in areas you’ve cleared out?”
A: We’re working on spawning mechanics that have zombies spawning “into” the world in believable ways if you happen to see them, this may include things like crawling out of a building or climbing over a wall. Outdoors we intend to have zombies spawn “infinitely” but they’d trickle into the map in a sort of ebb and flow, you could almost think of them as waves but it’s influenced by how much noise and chaos the players are causing. Indoors, if a volume is cleared, it stays cleared – unless zombies enter from outdoors, of course.
Q: “Are maps going to be larger and more open than in the original game? If so, will you be able to achieve large hordes of zombies?”
A: Maps are indeed going to be larger than in the original game. Not only are they generally larger but they are also more layered and intricate. The advantages of Unreal 4 allow us to build big and spacious environments, and we can construct more full and fleshed out interiors too. Every map varies, but the general premise is that zombies will cull in and out after being “unseen” by players for an extended period of time, and this will free up AI so we can achieve greater density around where players are active.
Q: “How long will a map take to complete compared to the original game?”
A: So far we’re looking at between 15 and 40 minutes but it’s largely dependant on the randomization aspect, map size and player skill.
Q: “Will there be destruction in the environment, like Battlefield?”
A: With the exception of specific props and objects, no. We’re heavily reliant on AI so we have to be picky about where we use things like dynamic lights and destructible stuff, for performance reasons.
Q: “Will NMRiH2 have a story campaign?”
A: It’s something we want to possibly do but it would only be doable after launch if the game does well enough, as it would be an expensive undertaking.