The Iterative Level Design Process of Bethesda Game Studios

Back in March of this year, BGS senior designer Joel Burgess made the trek out to San Francisco to be apart of the 2014 Game Developers Conference. During the week, Joel presented the following presentation to industry peers focused on level design.

For the prospective game designers out there, Joel was nice enough to bring his presentation, “The Iterative Level Design Process of Bethesda Game Studios”  to Bethesda Blog. Here’s Joel…

A note about author voice in this article: As per the usual disclaimers, the views and opinions expressed within are my own, and may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bethesda or Zenimax.  Those views and opinions are intertwined with the interests, history and objectives of Bethesda Game Studios, however.  While I am reporting on the practices of the studio, some of the particular reasons behind these practices are my own opinions, which only have partial impact on the actual adoption and implementation thereof.  For this reason, I will try to use “I” to express my opinions, where “we” will usually express a fact about the studio.

Iteration, as it’s generally known within game development, is the progressive process of planning, creating and testing content.  This is typically expressed as a cycle, where a process is repeated, with each repetition applying lessons learned from the prior.  This cycle is progressive, with each iteration building upon and refining the last.  This concept is widely embraced: many game developers have espoused iteration when discussing the design process.

There’s good reason for this.  Iteration works.  Studies such as this one from J. Nielsen show that when developing interfaces for software such as a banking application, polling users on the UI experience can provide designers with findings which then inform their next UI iteration.  The result is that early iterations see major gains in usability.  These finding are echoed in other studies, as well as being supported by observing everything from how an artist develops a painting to the scientific process.

Like any broadly-referenced term, there are many interpretations, scopes, and applications of iteration. An annual game franchise such as Madden Football, for example, can be seen as a very long-form iteration, where each game sees entire features added, removed, and improved upon.  Spelunky, which originally came into existence as a fairly low-fidelityGamemaker game would later be released as a commercial title with entirely new art and codebase which largely mimicked and refined that seen in the original release.

Individual assets within a game are frequently iterated upon, too.  The look of the original Team Fortress Spy is a far cry from his modern TF2 incarnation.  The gameplay design of the Spy has also been iterated upon over the years, even though the core class role has remained fairly consistent.  The visual design of the spy also demonstrates that elements, such as his balaclava, can stand the test of time over many iterations, while other aspects change radically.  TF2 is also a game which has seen a great deal of publicly-observable iteration over the years, as Valve has introduced many new gameplay-altering items and game types.

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Weekend Update: Polygon previews The Evil Within

We’re only two weeks away from E3, but there’s already plenty of folks sharing their hands-on experience with The Evil Within. This weekend Polygon has a new video preview featuring Griffin McElroy and Mike McWhertor discussing the latter’s hands-on experience with the game. Watch it above, and check out more previews from our Tuesday roundup.

As a reminder, The Evil Within is arriving this October – releasing on October 21st in North America, October 23rd in Australia, and throughout Europe on October 24th, 2014. With your pre-order of the game, you’ll receive The Fighting Chance Pack. 

Friday Fan Art

Alftand by DeviantArtist, Tellur123

Here is where reality melts into fantasy. More of your amazing cosplay and artwork featuring a flame atronach, an NCR ranger, and illustrations of your favorite DOOM creatures. Check out the album below to see them all.

If you can do it better send us your artwork! Email us at bethblog@bethsoft.com or tweeting to @BethBlog (add #BethesdArt to make it easy on us).

On the Store Front – Daggerfall t-shirt & more!

By popular demand, we’ve got into the archives and created this Daggerfall t-shirt  — inspired by the game’s iconic box art. And if it’s school pride you want to show, we’ve also released a new College of Winterhold tee.

Looking for more awesome tees? Check out the imgur slideshow for some of the newest threads for TES, Fallout, and Wolfenstein — all available at store.bethsoft.com.

QuakeCon and AT&T Come Together to Provide Ultimate Gaming Experience

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QUAKECON AND AT&T COME TOGETHER TO PROVIDE
ULTIMATE GAMING EXPERIENCE

AT&T Returns to QuakeCon 2014 to Provide Fast Content Streaming and Fan Interactivity

May 30, 2014 (Rockville, MD) — id® Software and Bethesda Softworks® are pleased to announce that AT&T is returning for the fourth consecutive year as an official sponsor of QuakeCon® 2014, North America’s largest Bring-Your-Own-Computer (BYOC) LAN party and gaming festival. AT&T’s powerful network and U-verse® High Speed Internet will once again provide optimal bandwidth speed and connectivity to bring together thousands of gamers for an amazing gaming experience.

In addition to providing attendees with an excellent networked gaming experience in QuakeCon’s BYOC, AT&T’s presence helps open up the event to gamers around the world by providing the opportunity for Quakecon to present live and on-demand video streams of tournaments and presentations.

“Once again, AT&T was instrumental in the success of QuakeCon 2013 thanks to the speed and accessibility their network resources provide attendees and fans watching from home,” said Tim Willits, studio director of id Software. “Thanks to their support and enthusiasm, we’re excited to make this year’s event the best and most connected QuakeCon yet.”

“We’re proud to return to QuakeCon with U-verse High Speed Internet to help connect the thousands of BYOC attendees,” said Tasos Kaiafas, Director of AT&T U-verse Game Product Development, AT&T Home Solutions. “We know how important fast, reliable speeds are to the gaming community, and AT&T U-verse is thrilled to offer the connectivity they need.”

QuakeCon 2014, the ultimate video game festival, will take place on-site at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, TX on Thursday, July 17 through Sunday, July 20. Doors to QuakeCon will open on Thursday, July 17 at 10:00am and will remain open through 12:00pm on Sunday, July 20.

QuakeCon Exhibit Hall Hours are:

Dead End Thrills for Wolfenstein: The New Order

We’ve seen our fair share of the video game eye candy that is Dead End Thrills. Back in October, we were happy to showcase their Dishonored artwork. It seems the that release of Wolfenstein: The New Order has inspired more gorgeous imagery.

And in case you missed them, have a look at the other incredible galleries Dead End Thrills has to offer.

Announcing BATTLECRY! (Updated)

Welcome to the WarZone! BATTLECRY, a 32-player online team action game, is the first project from our Austin-based team, BattleCry Studios.

In the reveal trailer above, get a first look at the world envisioned by Viktor Antonov (Half-Life 2, Dishonored) — where gun powder has been banned following a cataclysmic world war at the dawn of the 20th century. Traditional warfare is now a relic of the past and all conflicts are settled head-on by elite teams of chosen warriors in sanctioned WarZones. Trained and bred for battle they face off for the glory of their nations.

To learn more on BATTLECRY – planned to be in Beta in 2015, visit the game’s official website — featuring an introduction blog post from Rich Vogel — and the BATTLECRY social media channels:

Official Website – http://www.battlecrythegame.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BATTLECRYTheGame
Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/battlecry_game

UPDATE: Recently, various gaming sites had a chance to participate in 32-players matches of the game. Learn more about their experience in the links below.

The Escapist – “The scenery of the level we played on did feel like as if you were playing in well-crafted anime painting.”

Polygon – “BattleCry’s positive community aspirations are certainly encouraging. The game’s bright, gorgeous atmosphere, clearly influenced by Antonov’s stylized work, may help foster that warm, cheery feeling of camaraderie.”

The Verge – “Its alternate take on a post-WWI world features a slick steampunk look, complete with strange technology and classy looking soldiers.”

GameSpot – Antonov’s distinct touch was immediately apparent in the map I played on, an alternate-history take on an industrial English city that manages to feel both grimy and oddly beautiful at the same time.

Eurogamer – “What these brief glimpses do illustrate is intent, and BattleCry’s team seems absolutely genuine in its desire to do something different in the F2P multiplayer market, and clearly very aware of the hurdles it faces in getting there. With a handful of intriguing ideas, and a surplus of ambition, if nothing else BattleCry will be one to watch for in 2015.”

GameFront – “The PC-based multiplayer title is easy to pick up and offers a lot of potential for depth, but at its heart, it’s a melee game that handles similarly to titles like God of War.”

Destructoid – “From the five (or so) matches that we got to see, BattleCry looks like it’ll be the perfect title to scratch an itch that a sizable portion of players have. It’s easy to jump into, and it’s very fast-paced.”

GamesRadar – “Like a classic game of Quake or Unreal Tournament, Battlecry delivers a steady stream of twitchy excitement. Whenever I wasn’t charging sword-end first into the fray, I was speeding to the nearest clash with dodge-rolls and gap-crossing swings on grappling hooks.”

PC Gamer – “…after Antonov’s work on Half-Life 2 and Dishonored, I’ve got strong hopes that it will look distinct.”

GameZone – “… Battlecry has the core to be a really fun and entertaining online battle arena game. ”

Rock, Paper, Shotgun – “BattleCry’s a melee-focused third-person multiplayer game, with up to 32 stylish soldiers murdering each other. And they are quite stylish, as the art direction is by Dishonored visual designer Viktor Antonov.”

GameReactor – “It’s visceral. Mere seconds into our first session our head was separated from the rest of our body and the blood kept being spillt with decapitations and flying limbs being the rule rather than the exception.”

CVG – New preview plus an interview with studio head Rich Vogel.

Still not sure what BATTLECRY is? Hear nearly 30 minutes of discussion on the game courtesy of Polygon’s Brian Crecente and Mike McWhertor.

 

Terrified by ‘The Evil Within’ + Hands-On Impressions!

Thanks to play testers we learn a lot about our games that help us make a better project. Specifically with The Evil Within, we’ve also received plenty of entertainment value. In our latest trailer for the game, watch actual reactions from playtesters as they get their hands on the game for the first time.

The Evil Within will now terrify players right in the thick of Halloween season – releasing on October 21st in North America, October 23rd in Australia, and throughout Europe on October 24th, 2014. With your pre-order of the game, you’ll receive The Fighting Chance Pack, which includes:

  • Medical Kit – A vital health enhancement to enable Sebastian to fight on.
  • Green Gel – Used to upgrade Sebastian’s attributes.
  • Double Barrel Shotgun and Three Shells – A larger and more formidable shotgun than the regular shotgun, it’s useful for tight situations with multiple encroaching enemies.
  • An Incendiary Agony Bolt – Capable of showering nearby enemies with damaging fire sparks.
  • A Poison Agony Bolt – Will draw enemies towards it and poison them, allowing Sebastian time for a quick escape.

For more on the game, check out these fresh hands-on impressions that went up today…

Gameplanet –“The Evil Within looks set to herald a frightening and exhilarating new dawn for survival horror.”

Joystiq — “The game is trying to unsettle me, and it’s doing a pretty good job of it. Just as I catch my breath, Spider-Girl bursts out of what was a harmless looking corpse, and now I have to run.”

MMGN –“The Evil Within is survival horror in its truest form, and the return of a once great genre I feared was lost to the mass market addicted to relentless action.”

Shacknews — “The Evil Within’s approach to survival horror feels vintage, in a good way. Limited resources help add to the tension and there are also some genuinely scary moments. The combat also helps add to the horror environments, with firearms meant to subdue, not dominate.”

Videogamer — “Having played it for a couple of hours it’s become clear that he’s close to achieving his goal: namely, returning to the horror staples he helped define in 1996 with Resi, and obliterate in 2005 with Resi 4.”

PC Gamer — “As someone who counts Resident Evil 4 among their all-time favourite games, The Evil Within has an extra layer of significance for me. ”

Polygon — “It feels like a game that builds upon what Mikami is best known for — survival horror — while taking the genre into a new direction, one without the restrictions a legacy franchise like Resident Evil carries with it. ”

Telegraph UK — “The Evil Within is shaping up to be the terrifying and triumphant horror comeback for Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami.”

GameReactor —  “It’s the Japanese survival horror evolved.”

GameCrate — ” I was wearing a Gear Fit when I played, and had it record my heart rate right after I left the demo. My normal resting heart rate is 75 beats per minute…and after an hour and a half with The Evil Within, it was 117.”

Expert Reviews — “After 2 hours it felt like we were only just scratching the surface and were left wanting more.”

Neoseeker — “The time I spent with The Evil Within might very well be the longest two hours of my life, and that’s okay. As the survival horror genre makes its comeback, Shinji Mikami appears to have taken the opportunity to show he’s still a master at his craft.”

Bloody-Disgusting — “The Evil Within is a great horror game.”

AusGamers — ” Lights out, volume up and all alone — I may be white-haired and frail once the experience is over, but to be taken back to that place Mikami created oh-so long ago…”

The Sydney Morning Herald — “Fans of old school horror should be looking forward to this one.”

The Escapist — Watch Andrea Rene’s reaction to playing the game in the video embed below…

 

Roundup: The Wolfen-wide Web

It’s only been a week since Wolfenstein: The New Order’s, but there’s already plenty of web highlights from around the web. On top of our initial review roundup, there’s plenty of must-read coverage to catch up on.

To start, recently we had the opportunity to send Wolfenstein’s collection of awesome goodies, The Panzerhund Edition, to MachineGames’ office so they could do a proper unboxing video. Watch their video, featuring Jens Matthies and Jerk Gustafsson, in the embed above. To purchase this collection, visit the Official Bethesda Store.

Elsewhere, catch these articles, features, and videos…

  • Polygon – As a story-driven experience, Polygon’s Ben Kuchera discusses how Wolfenstein manages to handle sexual situations the right way — unlike most pop-culture affairs. Elsewhere on the site, watch a 2-minute primer for playing the game.
  • Prima Games — Known for their prowess on gameplay strategy, Prima tackles beginner’s tips, Easter eggs, and throwback surprises.
  • Who is more imposing than B.J. Blaskowicz? Perhaps UFC middleweight/TUF Nations champ Elias Theodorou and UFC welterweight Sean Pierson. Watch them play Wolfenstein here.

Continuing our review roundup, read and watch full reviews after the break…
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