MMOFPS & Open World Level Design
Quartz Ridge Camp
10km x 10km
H1Z1's early access launch map, Z1, was originally designed for a zombie survival game. After the addition of the battle royale game mode that quickly grew in popularity, Z2 was planned to create a balanced map that was appropriate for the twitchy, competitive, last-man-standing gameplay. The massive tracts of empty land and limited road connectivity were part of a slower world that pushed for cautious exploration and scavenging in contrast to battle royale's constant action. Z2 intended to give players more options to navigate through playspaces, as well as giving a generalized distribution of POIs.
Development on Z2 started in December 2015/January 2016 while I was finishing work on the the Indar v3 map update for Planetside 2. When I took on lead level design responsibilities for Z2, the world team had gotten together the rough topography and city locations, as well as art leadership having already planned much of the asset list. Starting out on a fresh map and having some of the basic foundation down already was helpful to start defining minimum dimensions, planning layouts, and organizing design information. The heightmap was being iterated on by the world artists at this time, so it was a crucial time to help integrate design requirements as well.
Since the editor was undergoing a significant technical refactoring, there was a good cushion of time to iterate on the planning aspect of the map before we 'broke ground' on it. For instance, the Proposals/Revisions shows some of the experimentation with the major arterial types and layouts. This phase also included defining POI types/map positions, the world tasking pipeline, time estimates, and a lot of info organization. Getting incoming world builders caught up quickly will reap rewards on tight schedules, so smaller details like a usable wiki and intuitive filename conventions will help it feel like the team is ramping up instead of scaling a wall.
By the time the world team was able to move on to the next phase and begin work on the map itself, we had a robust gameplan together and were able to hit the ground running. We had a lot of implementation resources and building groups (instanced arrangements of props) available at this point, so filling in the world went fairly quick. Once the basics had been blocked out, it was a standard iterate/review cycle until the map's launch in September 2016. I went to work on an unannounced project shortly after its debut, and the Z2 team continued iteration and optimization, as well as adding a few additional POIs in empty field dead space.
With the game's popularity steadily increasing the months following the big Sept '16 update, resources were reallocated to H1Z1 and I returned to the team to assist iterating and implementing new features and POIs. From early 2017 until starting on the Z1R update, the team optimized, added and removed POIs, placed new rock/boulder field cover sets, and experimented with new level layouts. Hillside Villas (and later Ponyvale) shows the evolution of breaking out of standard suburb blocks, whereas the Wynn Lake revamp attempts to unite and improve existing game spaces.
- Sporadic POI placement led to spotty loot density on the macro scale
- Exaggerated heightmap and low field
cover compounded high ground advantage
- Long runs of impassable terrain or partitions box players out of gas & navigation unnecessarily difficult
- Tighter spaces originally designed for first person camera before game became de facto third person
- Modular, grid based highway pieces that iterate quickly but require significant unnatural terrain adjustments
- Subdivided & generalized distribution of POIs averages out loot better and keeps a few distant destinations in view at all times
- Heightmap value clamps and extra field cover shifts combat dynamics from terrain to object based, reduces verticality
- Encourages flow from playspace to playspace with wall breaks, crate stacks, etc
- Bigger interior dimensions reduce disorientation, getting stuck and camera-related deaths
- Organic spline-based highways laid on top of existing terrain topography