The Afflicted

This is The Afflicted, an independently developed multiplayer shooter that focuses on incorporating real time strategy into a shooter framework. I designed and ran this project from January 2011 to the middle of 2013. I developed the core design, as well as serving as the lead level designer. We developed two levels, and the one i'm demonstrating here is a layout that I designed, based an original concept by Estevan Lopez.

Here is a video of the gameplay version that we demonstrated at GDC Play in 2013.

The core gameplay plays like a shooter, but the objectives and available actions are much more strategic, allowing players to build barricades, collect resources to unlock upgrades, and complete objectives through levels with multiple phases. I started with the idea of attempting to create a riot-like environment, and this gradually emerged as a bit of a hybrid between shooter and real time strategy, with each player fulfilling a role of defense building, resource gathering or combat, based on their choices.

The Afflicted is not about class or role assignment. The game allows all players on a team to function at an equal capacity, and any option that is available to one player is available to the others. To promote teamplay, weapons and items unlocked become permanently available for the entire team during that round, which allows a great deal of flexibility while making any player who contributes valuable. You don't have to score kills to help your team win, as long as you can find and collect resources to help the team's arsenal.

The Afflicted presents a specific set of challenges when designing levels. It has three-team combat, meaning that balance is immediately an issue. To resolve this, I formulated a set of "Rules" that could be used to guide level creation. Because the game also involves level expansion, I formulated a plan for two basic types of expansion that could produce balanced results. One was "Radial" Expansion, where the new phases of gameplay are opened evenly around the previous playable space, giving players equal opportunity to reach each objective. The other, more flexible style of expansion is "choked." SinglePoint, the level in this example, follows the "Choked" rule.

The concept of "choking" the expansion of the environment is simple. The three teams are funneled into a specific, high confrontation gameplay area that they are all evenly spaced from. When the level expands into the new phase, players must essentially move through a small "choked" route that connects them to the new area. The reason this works is that the teams must fight over the route to the next phase. The team that wins this battle can proceed to the next phase first. This means that the next gameplay area does not have to be completely symmetrical or balanced, as the winning team is rewarded with the opportunity to take effective defensive positions.

As we iterated on the levels, we found it was important to reduce the size of gameplay areas multiple times. Sometimes, this would mean taking 256 units out to slightly condense. Other times, this meant gutting entire areas, using rubble and collapsed floors to change the visibility, or removing sections entirely. Most of the 3rd floor GPAs were ultimately removed to keep combat centered on the main conflict zones. By keeping the areas open, we were able to limit the number of effective GPAs to the ones that provided the most value, and limited the amount of isolated combat that was likely to occur on the fringes.

In The Afflicted, we wanted to use dynamicbarricade placement to create a combination of of effects. Players can vault over objects and utilize a free-running mechanic to run resources quicker, but barricades can be placed to restrict this movement strategically. Barricades can also be used to create cover and restrict sight-lines, which gives them strategic value for both aggressive and defensive strategies.

The Afflicted uses a few unique objects that we programmed into Unreal Development Kit. These unique volumes allow players to place barricades or climb objects. We spent a lot of time designing spaces, making sure that these elements could be utilized intuitively by players but were not exploitable. The original design had players able to place barricades anywhere, which was actually quite fun but far to easy to exploit. We settled on the idea of fixed barricade locations, but placed them liberally throughout the map to ensure that if you wanted to place a barricade in a given location, you probably could.

We experimented with many different concepts before arriving at the levels and designs that went into the finished project. We went through about six revisions of SinglePoint, and countless gameplay balance changes. We found out very early that the combination of mechanics in The Afflicted made the levels challenging to design. As the mechanics solidified, many changes had to be made across the board to accommodate, but the result was a far superior product than if we had insisted on pursuing the initial design without changes.

Description

Positions held on The Afflicted:

-Creative Director
-Game Designer
-Level Designer
-3D environment artist

The Afflicted was developed from the beginning around the concept of player control. First glances might give the impression of a typical third person shooter, but a few concepts set it apart. The Afflicted isn’t really a game about shooting the other guy. It’s a game of cooperative team-building. Players are scored on the collection of resources that allow them to shape the growth of their team. A vital element of success is the creation of structures and barricades that can be placed at the whims of the players. A free-form movement system allows for creative navigation and evasion. The goal is to provide a refined, current-generation shooter that still manages to implement the kind of player choice that our inner designers crave.

We have been hard at work since The Afflicted began production in January. It is still in a pre-alpha state, but many of the game’s mechanics are starting to emerge. There is still a long road ahead, but with any luck, the game will be completed by the end of the year, with a full set of levels and features.

To view the game’s web presence, take a look at www.indiedb.com/games/the-afflicted. It includes our most up-to-date content, videos and downloads.

Type

Game Development, Level Design