Black Ops 3
Falzen is the first level of a series of BO3 zombie maps I am designing/building within the Radiant level editor. As the player enters Falzen, they find themselves within a partly destroyed suburbia. Fires coat the corpses of cars that belonged to the town's once thriving people. In a vain attempt to stop the horde, the military, and police set up barricades armed with turrets and robotic soldiers. Yet, looking at the aftermath, it would appear the horde overcame their defenses. Due to mistrust growing within the residents of Falzen, in the end, it wasn't just the horde the military was fighting but the people they were sworn to protect. All it took was one misunderstanding and a well-placed shot for chaos to ensue. The military tried to control the mess, but the community's resentment had boiled over for who could blame them? They lost two good friends, seemly gunned down in their kitchen for no reason. All of this strife would ring the dinner bell for the rampaging horde eagerly awaiting their chance to strike, and strike they did.
Structure VDDs and Base Zones
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During the first steps of designing Falzen, I detailed an overall goal for creating the level. This goal was to create a small, straightforward level split into different sections through various means. These sections would become accessible the longer the player or players survived the zombie hordes.
From the overall goal, then went designing into the general mood of the level. Considering the level's size and purpose, I concluded that a general suburban theme would fit perfectly. This would enable me to set a specific ruleset for the future structuring/grey-boxing of the level and create an already preset mood based on the location and basic layouts of personally designed or vista buildings. Yet, the suburban-themed level only partially completed the mood. Thus more was needed to finish the baseline feel for the level. As such, I created a simple backstory regarding the level that would affect later additions, such as environment art. I could make a more well-defined mood for the level through this simple backstory. This story also influenced the choice of time of day in which the level was set. In the end, I decided to make the level a night map. Although this story is never directly told to the player, specific locations inside the map might give them a clue to what happened in this small suburban town. Thus, the desired experience for this level was jumping from house to house through the ruined streets of a suburban once-prosperous city, fighting hordes of zombies while slowly unlocking the level piece by piece and becoming a mighty horde slayer.
Now with the base structural guidelines and mood set in stone, the process of designing the structure and zones of the map began. From here, I limited the number of zones within the level to maintain the guideline of a small/straightforward map. The limitation I set was seven zones that depending on the structure of the level, would be allowed to vary in size and layout. With the zone limit set, I began designing the first zone of the level.
Given that the localized feel of the level was suburban, I began designing a basic suburban layout such as a road, alley, and two houses. Since I didn't want to stress the players out initially, I decided the spawn points should be located outside to give the feel of breathing room and space to maneuver when needed. Furthermore, I wanted the spawn point to be more of a starting area than one you would generally return to when fighting the horde. Thus I designed this area as an alley next to one of the first buildings. Given an alley's linear nature and no path behind them, it would also act as a natural guide/course into the main play space of the level. Although not wanting to cut player choice off, I decided not to add a level break that would stop the player from returning to the alley.
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After the design of the alley was finished, I moved on to designing the first house and an area I marked around to be located within the first zone. This mainly created basic obstacles and fences around the house to give it's exterior a unique feel. From there, I started designing the structural interior of the first house. Following along with goal simplicity, before creating anything, I listed out certain rooms that a suburban home would generally have and, if lacking, might feel somewhat strange to play through. To name a few rooms, these would include a kitchen, bathroom, living room/larger, more open room, bedrooms, and laundry room/area.
Now taking these rooms, I began to assemble the first house modularly, placing in rooms within the home in locations that would make logical sense given the location of other rooms. However, this meant the first "placed" room had the whole house designed around it. This could lead to issues regarding the feel of the house being just placed rather than intended for someone to live in. As such, I had to research how architects generally designed suburban homes to ensure the building felt like a real suburban house. This led me to learn that houses were designed around several main principles. One the most important being the general size of the house and how many bedrooms/bathrooms the house would have. Furthermore, the design, size, and location of the kitchen, dining, and living rooms were also vital to the home's overall design.
Knowing this, I began redesigning the first house while considering these suburban house guidelines. After some time, I finished the design of the first house, and from there, it was time to move on to the second building within the first zone. Although for this building, I wanted to create something a little different regarding its structure. Instead of a house, it would be designed more around being a building used more for storage. Furthermore, I had the wreckage of a plane partially destroy the building. All of this was done to play more into the level's backstory and amplify the mood. Although there was another reason for this decision, and it was regarding the many vending machine upgrades and pick-ups the player could interact with when the level was completed; more on this design process later.
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Once the structure of this partially destroyed building was complete, the first zone, in terms of general design, was done. Now I moved on to the second zone. Initially, I would make zone two encompass a house like the starting zone. Still, during earlier testing, I learned that having zones between the houses was more efficient regarding zombie spawn placement and correct spawn timing. As such, zone two became the street area between the starting and third zones' homes. Knowing this, I also wanted things to be a tad simple regarding the site within the second zone but still make it different from the starting area regarding its open portion. This desire then shaped what obstacles and later additions I would implement to shape this small but essential break zone between the main play spaces of the first and third zones. This then affected the exterior placement of obstacles around the main area three's house.
Regarding constructing the third zone house, I desired to create a key structural difference between it and the first house. Thus I added a balcony to the third zone house to make one vital difference regarding the homes' interior and exterior. Now adding a balcony might sound like a minor alteration, but it creates a more dynamic and flexible traversal and fighting space for the players to experience. After designing the balcony placement, I modularly developed the home around the other vital rooms, ensuring that the interior structure varied from the first house to create a different play experience.
Furthermore, I wanted most homes/buildings to have a unique feature other than the first to not complicate things for the player that early into a run. As such, the idea for an underground section or basement for the second house was born. Yet, there was a problem with having it just be a basement. That problem would be that it would simply become a death trap later in the run. This realization meant that it would be avoided by the players in the long run and rendering its creation pointless. Therefore, I switched it from just a basement to an underground section of the map to remedy this issue. I planned to connect it with other buildings and areas to ensure it didn't become this death zone once entered. Although I wanted to focus on finishing the main area above, I planned to return to the underground section later. Thus, after completing the exterior and interior design of the zone three house, I moved to the fourth zone.
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Much like the zone two area and a portion of the starting zone, zone four was an open play space. Although, unlike the previous open areas, I wanted this zone to be unique in size and its planned connections to other zones. Going back to the main structural goal of the level being an interconnected area that would unlock and open up throughout the run, the fourth section would prove, as one of the main points of interconnection, how this interconnection would be achieved through the debris system within Radiant. Using this system, I planned certain obstacles that, if interacted with, would be removed and connect zone four to the first and second zones, thus creating this loop for the player to traverse around while playing. Although these objects could only be removed if interacted while in zone four.
Furthermore, I wanted some risk assessment for the players before removing these blockades. Removing them would allow them to loop back to other zones and pick up weapons or upgrades they couldn't do beforehand. Still, it drew some vital chokepoints, and thus, an easier time dealing with the hordes would have their effectiveness reduced by a large margin. Therefore this added some choice for players that had learned the map and the more effective spots to engage the zombie horde.
Although having zone four be an entirely open street/sidewalk section creates space for the player, it lacks cover and LOS breaks for the players to use against the zombie horde if they need to recover for a second. Thus I added a small building to create this break. After adding this building, I realized it would be a perfect connection point for the underground section. This meant it would lead the player or players from the third house under the open and past part fourth zone, which could be used for significant horde evasion later in a run. Noticing this made me alter the small building to understand why it might connect to an underground network of paths. Thus it became an electrical/sewer station, and I placed barbed wire fences around it to sell this aspect of the small building more. Yet, putting these fences meant the original purpose of the building being covered for the players to rest behind for a second was lost even after adding a door that could pay to move. As such, I added a variety of minor obstacles around the open area to create these small breaks or dodge points for the players to use against the horde. Now, with the designs of the fourth zone, I moved on to the fifth and final house zone.