Level designers construct and decorate the environment in ways so that the audience can enjoy and understand the game. Good navigation is key to having an enjoyable game. We have all been there, running around a level and passing the same rock 20 times, we wonder if we’re just running in circles or whether there are several rocks using the same texture sheet. Either way, it’s really frustrating to the audience. We don’t play games to make us agitated (unless your into that sort of thing in a weird sexual way) we like to be able to know what we are doing and where we need to go.
So it’s the job of the level designers to make navigation easy for everyone. They do this by using items and backgrounds to tell us where we need to go. This might be as simple as a “Go this way” sign or arrow, but mostly, the use of inanimate objects block different pathways off so that we follow the one directional route that we are supposed to take. Things like buildings or bushes may also be used to blockade an area off. These construction methods will make the game easily navigated, causing less stress and confusion in the audience. The level designers may also use the decoration to suggest routes to take, like for example, they may use lighting sources to show a correct route, or brighter colours or symbolic colours such as red to suggest danger in a certain area.
The environment influences the atmosphere of a game a lot. Certain tactics can be used to create a specific feel to a game. Pathetic fallacy is used most games and films to create atmospheric values. For example, a horror game may be set mostly in the dark with rain, this will signify to the audience that something bad is likely to happen resulting in a sad ending. Pathetic fallacy is used all the time to help persuade the audience to feel a certain emotion. How an object is created can also help display certain emotions in the audience, for example, a tree in a horror game is likely to be shown as dead, with lots of branches spiking out. If this tree was to be placed in “happier” game that it would seem out of place. A fantasy game would usually use a lustful tree with bright leaves shimmering in the sunlight to create a more positive influence.
Colour theory is highly important and must be understood by the level designers. They need to be able to add certain symbolic colours to items to provoke a needed emotion in the audience. This will help the narrative and the overall gaming experience. Colours such as yellow and orange stimulate positive thoughts. Colours such as blue and red will provoke negative emotions. This is because the audience will be used to seeing such things as warning signs, which are red and blood, which is also red and will therefore recognise that red most will be most likely to occur in dangerous situations.
The amount of realism and stylisation needs to be carefully decided so that the audience can believe what is going on in the game. Realism can be used to make the audience believe that the game is real. Games like modern warfare will need to relate to reality. It is no use having unicorns in the sky if they want to create a realistic effect. With stylisation it is much harder to get a convincing environment, as it isn’t real. The stylisation needs to have a realistic base structure, so that the audience can believe that it may be true. We have to be able to realise when something is real and when something is fake, but imagination will allow us to decide whether the environment is plausible or not. This will have to be given a lot of thought about by the level designers. There needs to be a good balance of both of these things otherwise the game will not be convincing.
For me, I believe a really good environment I have seen is from a game called Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Designed by Thomas Grip, Jens Nilsson and Mikael Hedberg. Throughout the game you automatically get a sense of foreboding and evil. The environment is constructing mostly within a large house. The creators used a lot of unsaturated greys, blues and browns to provoke a frightening response to the audience. Mist is a common feature scene in the environment and light plays a key part spotlighting specific gruesome areas. Most of the rooms have very little natural light and keep the character and therefore the audience, in the dark. This will show the audience that this is a horror game, as most horror stories take place in darkness, because humans fear what they cannot physically see. It also plays on Nyctophobia, Lygophobia and Achluophobia all being related to having a fear of the dark. It pays homage to any generic haunted buildings in the world, the dark rooms and scary environment is commonly scene in horror films and games and can be related to most of the haunted houses that are well known. It is a general horror-based environment, but does very well to provoke the correct fear response and emotion in the audience.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent screenshots of the enviroment.