Escape the Ward
Escape the ward is the first part of a multi-level campaign I am designing/building within the Doom(2016) level editor. It takes place in a location known only as the Ward. This maze of hallways and massive mechanical chambers was once controlled by Humanity, yet like many locations during the invasion has fallen to hellish corruption. The player has been sent here against their will and must battle against the hordes of hell and its Barons if they wish to escape the Ward and save humanity.
Click to Maximize
While designing the overall architecture of the Ward, I wanted to create a level that loops back in on itself. This generated a feeling within the player akin to traversing/getting lost in a maze, albeit with a more linear structuring. Thus despite going to great lengths to escape via battling through the Ward, it all leads back to the starting point. As if it all was some hellish joke played out for the amusement of another, which for future levels will tie into the overall narrative of the five-level campaign.
I selected multiple pre-created areas based on their structure to assist in creating this feeling for the players. Then, spacing out each of the unique rooms, I began formulating how best to interconnect them in a semi-linear maze-like fashion. Speaking of the different chambers and their encounters, each one was chosen to generate a unique experience for the player by using the room's structure, early plans for enemy/item placement, and the overall player goal of entering the room. As such, the unique rooms were divided into three main categories. The first is a room holding an essential item, such as a key or power core, the second is a room with a boss encounter, and the third is a hub/connector room where the player would have to return after completing other rooms. The first two types could be combined to generate more unique encounters. Although I refrained from adding bosses or critical items to the hub/connector rooms to avoid confusing the player.
Furthermore, I created a rule for this structuring of the Ward: all prominent chambers/unique locations would be interconnected through various hallways and non-unique locations. This was to not only space out crucial areas, whether they were boss encounters or rooms that held essential items, but to maintain that feeling of traversing a maze.
With each room or hallway, I designed minor structuring methods through prop placement. This included small walls, barriers, or larger props such as crates. These were placed in manners that might assist the player in breaking line of sight with the AI if they were getting overwhelmed or needed some basic cover.
Click to Maximize
Now with the base structuring of the level complete, I began to populate it with different enemy encounters, such as boss fights. For these interactions, I created a set of rules. Rules for encounters coded in hallways versus those in the various unique chambers. One of these basic rules was banning certain enemies within hallways as they would create too much of a challenge for the player, given their size, health, damage, and movement. As such, these units were reserved for use only within rooms that could enable them to be used to their full potential. Whereas more mob/horde like enemies were perfect for hallway engagements given that despite just being mobs, if used well they could create a just as enjoyable experience encountering than that of a boss fight.
Thus, using various horde/mob-type enemies, I began coding different interactions that the player could encounter within the many connecting hallways of the Ward. Although I would always stop before the next unique chamber and test what I had just created to ensure it was balanced based on the given loadout and enjoyable to experience. After testing each newly populated section, I would start designing the unique encounter within the larger chamber. Thus my process of creating encounters followed the pattern of design interaction within connecting hallways, test/basic balancing, develop the enemy interaction within the larger room, test/basic balancing, and repeat. Following this process, I populated the entire level with encounters with horde-type enemies, elite enemies, and boss fights. However, I would soon alter this testing process by adding pick-ups and new weapons.
Designing the Ward:
Environmental Interactions, Pickups, and Weaponry
Click to Maximize
With all of the boss and enemy encounters complete, I began coding the different environmental interactions players would encounter as they traversed the level. Given that this was my first level within the engine, I wanted to keep things relatively simple and expand in later levels. As such, I decided to stick with the interaction between keys and doors. Thus, the player is guided throughout the level by obtaining these different keys, fighting through hordes of enemies, and slaying bosses along their way to escape the Ward.
Now that I had a goal and a method of achieving it, I began testing the level to see how difficult it was or wasn't and balance accordingly. During this period of testing I noted down several issues that I encountered. The most prominent being how quickly I ran out of ammunition and had no method of replenishing it. Thus I began placing different ammo pickup locations based on noted problem areas in which I most commonly ran out of ammunition. I made sure each of these placed locations where evident to the player and weren't hidden or challenging to traverse. Furthermore, during this ammunition placement phase I also began selecting health pickup areas. These locations were based on the different enemy types(boss, elite, or mob) that players would encounter and the danger posed by these various demons. Although I had to be careful with all this adding of health and ammunition as it might make escape the Ward to easy for the player. As such, I spent a good portion of time finding the balance between enemy encounters, location of those encounters via structuring and terrain, and the available health and ammunition pick ups.
Click to Maximize
After I had balanced out the encounters with health/ammunition pick-ups, I wanted to add more flavor to the level and its interactions. Sure, it felt good to plow through the hordes of demons with the combat shotgun, but it got a bit boring after a while of testing and constant playthroughs. Thus I decided to add different weapons to add that extra spice. Although the addition of new weapons did implement that needed seasoning, it also came with some concerns. Some of these concerns were: what weapons were being added, when they became available for use, how powerful they were when compared to the enemy encounters they are being used against, and how all of this then affects the balanced of these interactions.
In terms of the weapons being added and when their addition occurred, were all designed according to the enemy interaction and what players would have to overcome to proceed further into the ward at a given stage within the level. Thus weapons were placed via their given role within the game. For example if the player was about to encounter a large group of weaker enemies a weapon they would encounter might be a machinegun, really good for hordes, not so much in terms of dealing with elites or bosses.
Although there was a problem, many encounters were both a combination of horde type enemies with some elites sprinkled in as well. Thus I also added weapons who primary purpose was to assist the player in dealing with more elite type enemies in addition to the horde-based weapons already added. Of course the player could use either weapon to deal with the horde or elite/boss. However, using weapons in a manner in which they weren't design for wouldn't be as cost effective, but that was up for the player to decide. Using this doctrine of balance I placed numerous weapons through the level always testing a new addition to make sure it made sense various ways required to create a balanced and gratifying experience for the player.