Part Two: World Building & Suspense
Welcome to part two of my Level Design Research: Third Person Stealth series. In this part we will be looking at the next section of the level; the build up. Elements will include setting up memorable moments and locations, providing narrative beats between encounters, and concepting sequences that make the level feel a little more reactive.
Not much was said about the narrative for this level as the previous post focused on encounters and player choice. The synopsis is that the city was attacked by a viral weapon and a small portion of the population survived. Most turned into ghoulish beings, or so the character had heard from the rumours. This is the city the character had grown up in, so they have a personal attachment to it.
Last we saw of our hero, they either just fought their way through / sneaked past a group of dangerous enemies. The next step is to climb up from the alley, and onto the street above. Typically a better way to do this would be to add a one-way drop; this is to ensure that players can't turn back. Other reasons include being able to stream the next section of the level, and when they enter, unload the previous.
For this example, we want to make sure the level provides a way to backtrack. At least until a little later.
The next step is to enter the shop. In this example, I have created a small coffee house. The purpose for this is to setup a small story beat. Imagine the character walking through the place they used to meet their friends and socialise.
This supports both a personal and a world narrative. The coffee house provides a personal story beat, having the player experience it through the character's eyes. The shop would also be wrecked and decrepid, showing the player the effects of the destroyed city.
Another use for a section like this is to let the player restock on ammunition and other items, foreshadowing what is next to come.
After we've dived into the character's narrative and the world narrative, we can then do a small payoff in the method of an encounter.
The player exits the back of the coffee house into a small alleyway. The other side of the gate is a large public park, one familiar to the character. Surrounded by large walls, the park is held by a force of enemies loading hazardous materials into a van. The narrative payoff here would be that the character recognises one of them as an old friend (personal) and they are loading the substance that had wiped out the humans (world).
The end of the level (the landmark) is in sight once more, behind a uniquely built setpiece.
After some dialog attempting to convince the character's friend to stop, a canister falls and releases a gas. The character retreats and then the enemies come back to life as savage ghouls.
Now the player and the character know that it isn't just a rumour. And they had to see first hand that one of their old friends succumb to the virus.