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Basics of Game Design by Michael Moore

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293
CHAPTER 11
DESIGNING
PLAYFIELDS
Most commercial console and computer games are set in three-di-
mensional settings inside large worlds for players to explore. However,
a number of games, especially those designed for less powerful plat-
forms or as casual games, still use two dimensional playelds where
gures are at and animate against at backgrounds almost like car-
toons. ree-dimensional games are much more interesting visually,
but they are also much more challenging to design and build. While
most designers can quickly learn to use 2D map editors to build at
playelds, it takes additional skills and artistic talent to build 3D lev-
els in a graphics program like Autodesks 3ds Max or Maya or us-
ing commercial game engines like Epic GamesUnreal Engine or id
Sowares Tech 5.
Whether in 2D or 3D, the playeld for a game has to be appro-
priate for the game world and enjoyable to explore. ere should
be surprises for players to stumble upon as well as dangers to face.
ere should also be logic to the way the playeld is constructed so
the players can gure out how to get through the map without get-
ting completely lost or having to retrace their steps in search of some
unobvious path to a new area. Secret paths, of course, can lead to
hidden areas with extra goodies, but the main pathway through an
area should always be obvious. Good map/level design can make or
break a game, so designers must understand the basics of what goes
into building a playeld.
For purposes of clarity, the term map will be used to refer to
two-dimensional playelds, whether shown top-down or from the
side. e term level will refer to three-dimensional playelds, both
inside buildings and other structures as well as external environ-
ments. Playeld will refer to the type of map used in a game, be it 2D
Designing Playfields
294
or 3D. ese terms are oen used interchangeably, but their usage
is restricted in this chapter to dierentiate 2D maps from 3D levels
under the rubric of playelds.
2D Maps
Two-dimensional at maps come in a number of avors. ere are
games that use top-down perspective in their maps, so that it seems
the player is hovering over the playeld watching the action. is
perspective was used in such games as the early versions of Maxis
SimCity and BMG Interactives Grand e Auto. Depending on
how the art for the map is created, the map either looks totally at
or it can have a pseudo-3D look to it by using forced perspective. All
objects in the game world are basically on the same level, and terrain
objects form barriers that moving objects must go around.
Side-scrolling games also use at maps, this time with the player
viewing the action from one side of the setting as though watching a
play or movie. ese games allow a character to move le and right
as well as jump up and down on levels or platforms. ey have been
a staple of games from Atari’s Pong in 1975 to the latest version of
Nintendos New Super Mario Bros. Wii in 2009. e artwork can ei-
ther be completely at or it can contain elements made in 3D graph-
ics programs to give a sense of depth to the playeld.
Another approach to two-dimensional maps is to show them
tilted at an angle and viewed from above the ground plane. is view
uses isometric projection to give a sense of pseudo-3D to the play-
eld and dates back in games to 1982 with the release of Gottliebs
Q*bert and Segas Zaxxon. Sometimes the terrain features are solid,
and moving objects are forced to go completely around them to get
to the other side. More recent games, such as Ensemble StudiosAge
of Empires: e Age of Kings, use transparency when moving objects
go behind terrain features, so the paths are shorter and more real-
istic. Using isometric projection gives games a sensation of being
three-dimensional but without all the extra math computation in-
volved in showing overlapping 3D objects moving around in real
space with realistic lighting eects.
2D Map Editors
To create the background for a 2D game, an artist could create a
large piece of artwork that extends beyond the screen and then have
the characters move around in front on it. However, the background

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