JULY 28, 2022

We recently published a teaser for our game Legacy 1917, where we showed the first gameplay footage of the "Prologue" level. In this article, we will talk about the basic principles of level design, techniques and tricks that were used to create this location.
Preparatory work

The starting point was the work on the general synopsis. At the first stage, the team and I created gameplay situations, connected them with the narrative and tried to achieve the desired gaming experience. This is how the first drafts of the location design document, level schemes, descriptions of gameplay situations appeared.
Board with references
The next step was extremely important to work with references. This often helps to form the general appearance of the location, to understand the topology of the area, its main features. We did not strive for historical authenticity, but we needed to convey the spirit of the city, its specific features.

Monotonous locations will quickly bore the player, and working with references helps to add variety and highlight those features that characterize the space.

Having prepared the design document and having come up with a sketch of the level, we proceeded to the long stage of creation. After many iterations, we finally came to the desired result, which we are ready to present to you.
Introductory scene

According to the synopsis, the first scene of the level is the station. This is traditionally the place from which the study of the city begins. Similar moments were, for example, in Half-Life 2 or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The player can get acquainted with the area at the same time as the main character and their emotions from what is happening will coincide. In our case, the Brestsky railway station was taken as the basis.
Opening scene
At the very beginning, the player enters a large area and sees a large number of people in front of the station. Here he has the opportunity to look around, communicate with people, form an idea of ​​what is happening around him. The entire first part of the level is an acquaintance with the city that survived the revolution. The main character arrived here without a clear idea of ​​what is happening, and our task is to bring him up to date. This part of the level does not contain any threats and the player is free to explore it, but already at the exit the soldier warns that it can be dangerous outside the station. This is how we prepare the player for the upcoming challenges.
Further Dive

Here is a section of the level where we go into more detail about what's going on. The player sees littered streets, abandoned wagons, trams, a broken power line, etc. The culmination here is the street, which is completely blocked by makeshift barricades. Throughout this section, we show the player that this place can still be dangerous and gradually escalate the situation. If the station created the impression of a peaceful location, then further down the level, the player more and more often stumbles upon traces of armed conflicts.
Blocked Street
Here, the attentive player encounters a small branch, which he can explore to find resources and one of the first secrets (collectible item). It is important to note that almost always in our game the character moves diagonally from the bottom to the top corner, but here we deliberately shifted the movements to a horizontal plane. This makes it possible to place a visible passage into the building on the central part of the screen. Also in this place, the player can notice a ladder, which further motivates to explore this area.
Area for exploration
Even if the player ignores these signs, moving on, he will see a platform from which he can obviously jump down, and to the side he will notice the secret already familiar to him from the training level. This will stimulate him to still find a passage upstairs.
Another Hint
First Blood

Of course, as part of the tutorial levels, the player encountered enemies. He has learned the basic mechanics: he knows how to sneak, stealthily kill, distract enemies with debris, hide in the bushes. But it is this level that presents the first real test for the player. However, we didn't want to make the player suffer too much. Our task was to create such a test, which was primarily interesting for the player. Here are some tricks that helped us with this.

  • The number of enemies. This is the most banal method of facilitating or complicating gameplay segments. It is used in almost all games that involve collision.

  • Structure of the arena. When your task is to sneak past a group of enemies, it is critical to know exactly where you need to go. The specifics of our camera does not imply that the player can see the exit from the arena, being at the very beginning of it. For this reason, we tried to keep the arena simple enough to make it easy for players to navigate at first. The main thing here is not to make it too simple, since creating an interesting landscape directly affects the quality of the gameplay.
The structure of the arena
  • Space for maneuvers. Even a small number of enemies can create problems for the player if the arena forces him to constantly be near them. This is a great way to increase the tension as the player gets the feeling that they are constantly on the verge of detection, but this only works if they have mastered the basics well enough. That is why the first arenas suggest that it is possible to maintain a comfortable distance from enemies.

  • A large number of high and wide shelters. The accumulation of boxes that closes Peter to his full height is instinctively perceived by him as a more reliable shelter than a small fence. In order to make the player feel more confident, we tried to use these covers more often.
Distance to Enemies and Covers
This segment has two arenas connected by a connector, in which the player can take a breather. Such elements allow you to connect several arenas together to create long-lasting stealth sections, with the opportunity for the player to take a short break. In addition, checkpoints are usually located in such places so that in case of death the player does not replay the entire segment, but continues where he had problems.

After the stealth section, you need to give the player a break from this type of gameplay, and as you know, the best rest is a change of activity. But more on that in the second part...