Forward Ops: En Passant
This time around, I was determined to flesh out significantly more of the rooftop geometry, focusing on interesting gameplay spaces with a focus on jetpack movement. I went through much faster, blocking out geometry that would be interesting to pursue enemies through, laying out a general gameplay path that would start the player out avoiding fire from snipers on the same level as the raised highway, working their way up from building to building, traversing horizontally along the tops of these buildings, and eventually raining fire down on unsuspecting enemies below, progressing from a state of vulnerability to a state of power over the enemy AI. The trick that I ran into here was figuring out how to guide player movement through the area without building walls or basic U-shaped passages everywhere that would limit freedom of movement using the jetpack. I’ve illustrated the general path that players will be directed to take by the level geometry in the second image below, although the whole area is certainly open enough to make room for a less linear path through the area.
As I saw it, gameplay on the rooftops would progress something like this. The player begins on the elevated highway and can immediately move to the closest building with a larger roof blocking most incoming sniper fire from above. This gives them an easy place to begin their ascent, allowing them to focus their attention on the enemies on the same horizontal plane as them (in the image, most enemies would be on the rooftops immediately to the right).
To provide a proper risk-reward scenario right off the bat, I decided to leave the smaller rooftops to the left clear. These would make for perfect areas to supply the players with weapon drops from Infinity, so that they can choose to progress with their starting weapons, or risk coming under fire again for the reward of retrieving a more powerful weapon. The buildings are also ideally located closer to one another so that as the player is scrambling to retrieve the weapons, their is a more urgent focus purely on movement, getting from one roof to the next, and finally grabbing the weapon. The details of these rooftops will of course be filled in at a later point.
Focusing towards enemies on the right, the geometry I laid out last time provides enough cover from fire at this early point in progressing through the level to mitigate any challenges that might have been present too early (allowing for longer, more complex engagements that the player can focus on in smaller segments). The small window through the geometry provides player with a view of the enemies moving on the other side, but easy escape from their fire through strafing. Additionally, the small window should invite the player to charge through to the other side if they’re feeling like engaging the enemy in a head-on fashion.
If they do choose to go through to the other side, water towers provide cover and an interesting encounter area, with a wide open space on the left and an area with close-quarters on the right. Additionally, if the player wishes to start their progression through the rooftops further down, this building functions as a second entry point within jetpack range.
Below is the view enemy units might have of the player, or vice-versa depending on which entry point the player chooses (which triggers they hit first).
From there, player find themselves in a more open space, requiring them to rush to the nearest cover (more cover will be added at a later point). The geometry that I place here later will serve to frame the building ahead, which provides them with an interesting play space, as well as lots of cover from enemy fire. In building this space out, I went back to a lot of the rooftop references I had pulled over the last couple of weeks, focusing on the vertical development exhibited below. The shapes will be further refined as the level develops.
If the player chooses to jetpack to the left (from the perspective in the above image), they’ll find a ledge to ease their vertical movement.
From there, another rooftop opens up. Its back side is entirely closed off, allowing players to focus their attention and fire at the rooftops which have just come into view across the gap in the roofs.
One of the hydroponics buildings is visible immediately across the gap, allowing an exchange of quick sniper fire. If enemies are cleared, the player can jetpack across the gap.
Once across, the water tower provides makeshift cover from any fire that may be raining down on them from above. The centralized tower draws players towards engagements in the center, where enemies will be located.
From there, a quick jetpack up and to the right will enable the player to reach the passage that will allow them to traverse to the end of the rooftop area.
If players chose not to jetpack across to the hydroponics facility, their other option is to move to a courtyard immediately up and to their left.
From there, their focus is untended to be drawn towards the open structure on the building next to theirs, pulling them in the proper direction. Once inside, three options present themselves, although all lead to the same outcome.
Each passage to the left and the right opens onto a secluded area of the rooftop, allowing for player choice in each subsequent playthrough or a full exploration of all available areas. The large open area directly ahead leads straight to the next rooftop, which can be seen straight through. I’ve tried to constantly keep player goals visible, as well as the routes needed to get to them easy to understand, in spite of the vertical focus of this portion of the level.
A lot of inspiration came from one of my favorite games for traversing urban environments, Mirror’s Edge. Using environments like the one illustrated below, I tried to create interesting geometry and fun-to-navigate areas using the most basic of shapes.
Using that same concept, the following rooftop was built off the idea that once you’ve reached this point in your climb, you can start to take the fight to the unsuspecting enemies below you. I tried to provide many platforms that would allow for a great vantage point if the player wants to get up close and maintain their height advantage, without sacrificing any areas that could result in interesting encounter spaces.
After following this path through to the far side of the rooftop section, a few greenhouses suffice to funnel the player around what would otherwise be a straight path, taking a simple area and making its navigation revelation of enemies much more interesting from an emotional standpoint.
Narrow lines of vision like this help to accentuate the silhouettes of enemies as they’re running at or from the player. In either case, the person should have an immediately gut reaction based on whatever course of action the AI takes: the “fight-or-flight” emotion prompted by an enemy unexpectedly charging at the player around a corner, or the thrill of pursuing a helpless target if they start in the open and choose to run away. Either way, each scenario has a chance to cascade into an endless number of possibilities based on how the AI and the player navigate this area in relation to one another.
After clearing that area, the player comes around and finds one last rooftop to clear. With the player on the high ground, a little bit of cover in the form of shading structures helps to ensure that the player isn’t likely to eliminate all the enemies from a stationary position, as they’re required to jump down into this marketplace area to engage in one last battle before this section is cleared.
Even when just filling out basic geometry for the sake of gameplay, it’s easy to see how certain areas can just naturally fall together and make sense in the context of the larger world. Sometimes worldbuilding is a process which completes itself.
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