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Sunny Start Burnt Village Burnt Village Broken Bridge

"... what the game achieves more than anything is a critical mass of opponents and AI finally worthy of the muscle-suit. Its first encounter, a showdown with dozens of soldiers in a beach resort full of popping glass and spiraling debris, demands more power-juggling than Crysis did over a dozen hours." - Edge Magazine, Oct 7, 2008

The opening level of Warhead was designed to be a game play experience similar to the map 'Assault' from Crysis while set against a familiar jungle and beach background. I was given responsibility for the map from the beginning of the project and was involved in most aspects of the art and design process as the level was shaped by the game play.

The first part of the level was designed to teach the player the basic controls of the game and show how the suit could be used to enhance game play. Once the first valley was completed the tutorial flowgraph switched to a context sensitive setup and only displayed information based on what the player was doing.

The burnt village was rebuilt several times from scratch as new art styles were requested by different people. The final design was setup to bring the player close up through the back of the village past burning buildings and then focus on the opening story event. The up close personal style was chosen to bring more immersion to the situation, as the whole scene unfolded at player height and not from a great distance.

The map required plenty of background ambience and events to be happening around the player all the time. This involved a lot of flowgraphs linked to trackview sequences with flying jets, bombs dropping and explosions blowing up around the player. Later on this was further complicated by whether the player was on foot, in a vehicle or standing in certain locations around the map.

Hillside Viewpoint Hillside Patrols Radio Station Shattered Housing
The first 'watch and plan' vantage point in the map is standing at the top of the hill looking down towards the beach bar. This is a classic Crysis VVV moment with the mountains to the left, the bay in the middle and ground-shaking explosions from jets flying across the sky to the right.

The design for this viewpoint was difficult because the central area needed to be sparse so that the beach could clearly be seen, but also have cover for AI combat. I spent a long time trying various ideas with rock and vegetation, but eventually created indents in the hillside similar to how often Italian roads are setup. This offered combat cover, points of interest and left the long view to the bay clear so that the player could watch and plan their next move.

The hillside was initially shaped by the road layout because the burnt village needed to be connected in some realistic way via vehicle transport. Early on in development the player had the opportunity to use a vehicle at the top of the hill and a special bumpy ride was created. This was removed later on because of game play issues, but all the detail was left intact and provided a good living history of the location.

The beach bar at the bottom of the hillside was setup to be the first real combat situation in the map with various foot and vehicle patrols trying to catch the player. The journey down the hillside offered several routes for the player to try, and hopefully discover various MG nests conveniently pointing towards oncoming AI targets as well. Each area was setup to be guarded by certain groups of AI so that the player was not overwhelmed by too many targets all at once.

The beach bay area was originally setup with a few small islands dotted around the water, but I always felt like it was a missed opportunity for somewhere to explore. I really loved the radio station in the map 'Island' from Crysis because it was an optional objective with an interesting visual landmark on the horizon.

The initial radio station layout was defined by the road which nicely extended the beach area outwards so the player had more space to drive vehicles around and have fun by the waters edge. The station had secondary foot routes at the back for stealthy players and was loaded up with lots of game play goodies making it a worthwhile place to find.

The road block was designed to be combat closure for the beach area and a vehicle trap to prevent the player dominating the beach resort too easily with an APC. I setup the location to have two vehicle routes, several jungle access points and tucked away at the back was a section of forest with shattered buildings designed for flanking the AI.

Several scripted sequences were setup around the road block area and they had multiple triggers which worked out whether the player was on foot or in a vehicle. This system was setup for most of the beach area because there was no way of telling how the player would travel and where. Some triggers were done for timing reasons while others were done so that different types of enemies would be spawned to give the player a better game play experience.

Beach Resort Beach Resort Reinforcements Beach Resort
The beach resort was originally setup with a huge hotel building, swimming pool and a large beach bungalow complex stretching out across the water on stilts. A single main road divided the beach from the encroaching greenery and a small network of dirt roads were connected to more holiday homes consumed by the jungle. The resort was way too big, the game play was too slow and the player would often lose the AI wondering what to do next.

The final location of the map needed to be more action packed and less wandering around lost. The background mountains were moved closer to keep the player near the resort and a small strip of greenery wide enough for cover was left next to the road. The water bungalows were grounded on the beach and a central bar complex was created instead, while the beach was made a lot wider so that the AI had space to move around with vehicles.

The primary objective for the beach resort was easy; eliminate all the AI as they arrive in several waves. A simple task on paper but something when implemented lead to many players being frustrated hunting down blips on the radar. To compound this problem further additional AI were flown in via helicopters which often left the player waiting around twiddling thumbs.

To help fix the fragmented game play issues, the AI quantity was reduced and then deployed all at once in one specially scripted sequence that could be viewed from above the resort on the hill. Once the combat had started all of the AI were setup to gradually move towards one central location, so that the player did not need to run around trying to find them.

The golden rule of games design should be 'Never rely on AI' and the beach resort proved this countless times. The troop trucks would sometimes never arrive at the resort and the helicopters would often drop off a random amount of troops for no apparent reason. As new mission conditions were added and the complexity of the flowgraphs increased, the chance of AI doing something weird increased. Sometimes the simplist mission ideas work the best, because they have the best chance of succeeding everytime!

During the assault of the beach resort, jets were setup to constantly fly over the sky and some would even bomb specific targets to create the illusion that the player was not alone in the battle. The whole area was split up into many sectors and based on where the player was located the flowgraph would pick a location furthest away to bomb. The flowgraph even adapted when helicopters were landing and always tried to pick an area where AI were located.

Stone Circle Private Garden Oren Rock Frog Island
Publishers have always been nervous about any hidden content in their released games and after the Hot Coffee Mod fiasco, the whole subject has become sensitive and confusing. Personally I believe that hidden areas or extra content in games should be within the bounds of the game rating and something that is not deliberately trying to be offensive to anyone.

Throughout the map ambush there are special areas that were created as fun places to find, but are not essential for the completion of the level. These range from stone circles high up on rocky palm tree islands to small gardens at the back of forest shacks. Every area was created for exploration reasons and some places even give the player minor game play rewards.

The frog secret started out with me and a friend joking around with a frozen throwable frog in the aircraft carrier mess hall. After a while we added various particle effects and turned the frog into a throwable hand grenade for fun. Eventually we decided it would be cool to hide one of these in every level and set about finding secret locations to put them.

When the player found the frogs we wanted something special to play and luckily during voice pickups we got a few silly lines recorded. The first line to be played is 'Look, it's Kálmán! I found him!' when a frog is picked up for the first time. This refers to a joke objective that was briefly included in the cave map and named after the level designer who originally worked on the map.

The second line is played when all of the frogs have been found and says 'Get back to work lopod!' which is based on the Hungarian saying 'naplopó' which roughly means 'Day stealer' or 'Someone who is lazy'. This was a popular word joke amongst the English speakers in the office and was eventually shortened to the single word 'Lopod'.

One final secret worth mentioning was the Oren rock at the beginning of the map. With Ambush being the first map of the game, all secrets had to be well hidden and this can only be viewed easily from a certain angle. It was setup as a joke for the QA manager who often found my extra detailing highly amusing!

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