News

Level Design Q & A

May 20th, 2011

Every other week until E3, Runic Games is giving you a glimpse of the awesomeness that is Torchlight II! Last time around, we gave you a sneak peek of the music you will hear on your journey.

This week, we have a double feature! Here we have a Level Design Q & A with Art Director Jason Beck and Lead Level Designer Patrick Blank, with questions asked by Runic Forums members! In addition, we have a sneak peek into a few environments of Torchlight II.

Level Design Q & A with Jason Beck and Patrick Blank

Can you give a rough breakdown of steps / people involved from vague concept to completed level? - asked by Paws

Jason: With our team it changes somewhat from origin to completion from one tileset to the next. Going into TL2 we brainstormed some zone types we wanted to tackle and vetted those against our story ideas. Some tilesets shaped the story and others were shaped by the story. But as far as our typical process goes, we discuss in broad terms the region type, the types of creatures that inhabit it, and the general tone and mood of the area. From there we get concepts for a slice of a zone going along with the first prototype of the tileset. We try to define some major landmarks, some variance within a zone (for example a transition from a lush, green subtropical landscape to one dusted with snow in the same zone), and key story elements in that area. It's a very iterative process that really requires a lot of back and forth. Sometimes it's something crazy that one of our level designers did that makes us want to play that particular element up more and other times it's how the environment artists constructed the tileset that allows us to do something awesome we hadn't considered. Occasionally we can manage something that's 'crazy awesome' and then reward ourselves with beer.

Will outdoor terrain have any kind of elevation/sloping to it? I.E. Not just different "cliff levels" with ramps or stairs to go up or down, but actual pathable gentle slopes and grassy hills, sharp diagonal inclines for rocky areas, and such? - asked by Arkham

Jason: Yes! Our outdoors, in particular, are built to have many more steps in elevation. That said, there's a constant balancing act going on between what we want or what looks good with what feels good to play and what serves the gameplay the best. There's a second consideration in that we try to make navigation a pleasant experience, so making it clear what is pathable and what isn't sometimes dictates how a tileset is built or a level is constructed.

How much of the world will we visit in TL2? - asked by Seer

Jason: In Torchlight II you'll be traveling across 3 distinct regions of the continent of Vilderan, one of two major continents in our game world. Those 3 regions make up about 1/5th of the continent. Within each of those 3 regions there are various zones, passes, dungeons, and cities. So, it's a big step up from the single little mining town of Torchlight, but it allows us a great deal of real estate to play with later on in the MMO.

How much variation is there between each tile-set and will there be continuing themes between them, or will they be more dramatic in their changes? - asked by Darker123

Jason: The degree of variation is a bit hard to quantify, but our goal for TL2 differs considerably from Torchlight. With Torchlight we were trying to create as many wildly different themes as we could to maximize our variety and give players a new experience every few levels. To some degree, logic sort of had to take a backseat when you're essentially stacking a crypt on partially submerged ruins, and the ruins on a waterfall-filled cavern, and the cavern over a lava fortress, etc. But Torchlight was all about providing a taste of different regions and a bunch of variety. With Torchlight II, we're still trying to capture the same degree of variety, but we can place those themed tilesets in a region that makes it feel more cohesive and grounded in a sense of place. Opening up the overworld allows us to create tilesets that are less artificial and more thematic, which helps everyone buy into the setting much more.

What kind of different areas will be in the new world, What are your favorites? Can you give us some details of some of them? - asked by eniyis

Jason: Our 3 major regional flavors are the Estherian lands which transition from subtropical green foothills into snowy temples, the desert and Mana Wastes of the Zeraphi and Ezrohir, and the haunted forests, swamps, and remnants of the last Dwarven battlefields. Those are simply the broad stroke flavors. We reserve the right to maintain some surprises :)

I feel really good about not having a clear favorite. I think it's a strong indicator that we're hitting our marks and nothing is slipping behind in quality or something hasn't emerged as clearly superior. That said, from a pure 'personal taste' and artist geekishness standpoint, I've been wanting to do our version of a classic haunted forest since the moment we committed to an overworld. Undead Dwarves, Werewolves, Varkolyn, Witches...oh my.

Patrick: There isn’t one that I immediately favor over the other in any big way. They each have several factors that I love and get excited about. At the moment I'm really digging the desert areas. We try to experiment with every new area and try new techniques to see what we can do differently to improve on from the last area, and desert feels so much different than other deserts in games I have played. There’s a lot of variety in our desert areas, and even though when people here the world “Desert” they think of barren, and desolate boring dunes of sand, the desert areas in TL2 are packed with cool things, and places to explore.

Will the process of creating a custom tileset in TorchED 2 be any different? And in general are there any level-design-related improvements to the editor that you guys are really happy about/proud of? - asked by Arkham

Patrick: The core basics of TorchED 2 are the same as the first one. If you know your way around TorchED, you will be able to hit the ground running for Torchlight 2. There are numerous improvements and additions in the new version of TorchED, which we plan on documenting for people before releasing the tools.

One of the new additions is “level feature tags”. If you wanted your dungeon to have 3-5 rare chests, but the locations to be random, you would put that chest in a folder with a level feature tag on it that might be called “Rare Chest”, then add that into your level via a layout link, and place as many as you want. You could place 100 possible locations for them, then in the ruleset for that dungeon under the level features tag tab, choose from the dropdown the tag "Rare Chest" and enter how many you want. You can say I want 3, or give it a range of 3-5 and it will randomize the number using the locations that you placed.

This is how we implement of our chests, lootables, and interactables in TL2. Chests and breakables are no longer randomly spawned. They are now placed in possible locations where they make sense, and we control how many based what feels best when playing.

We use a lot of theming for different areas of the game. So you can give dungeons a theme that can change several factors to that specific dungeon. If you have 2 separate dungeons that both use the same catacombs level chunks for example, and want different props and monster spawners in each, but don’t want to create new chunks propped differently for each, then you simply use themes. Inside the prop layout links for those actors you would just create multiple folders with different themes on each, then in the ruleset for each dungeon, you add the appropriate theme, and only folders with that corresponding theme will be active.

I think people will love the new paint tool that allows you to paint meshes, layout links, and other actors. For example, we use this to paint foliage meshes onto the environment such as grass and bushes. Of if you had a rubble pile mesh that you wanted everywhere, but don’t want to copy and paste, and place each by hand, you just add a paint brush for it, then hold down the mouse and drag it where ever you want them to be. It’s fully customizable.

Those are just a few new additions. We will cover more later on. :D

Will the over world have dynamic weather and/or day/night cycles? - asked by Lefty

Patrick: Yes, all outdoor areas have full day/night cycles, and random weather. Players will notice this right away when starting Torchlight 2. It really adds a lot to make the world feel dynamic and alive. Everything from hard rain, with lighting and thunder to light drizzle, snow, sand storms and so on will be present in the different environments.

Does the overworld exist out of separate areas split up by teleports of sorts, or are there actual transitions from one kind of terrain to another? - asked by kvdk

Patrick: An over world area is one large area with no loading within it except for if you leave the zone or enter a dungeon. Each act has multiple over worlds that are connected by passes and towns that do require loads to transition between them. Sometimes we show the transitioning from one type of terrain to the next as the player progresses through them. You will play through areas that show the tundra transition to the snowy tundra for example.

Any kind of unique boss or mini-boss rooms? - asked by Webbstre

Patrick: There are several main and mini bosses throughout the game. Rest assured you will run into many named mini bosses. And I’m not talking about champions, we have those too, almost every landmark in the game has at least a mini boss tied to it, and we are putting a lot attention on those to make them feel special, and be a rewarding experience. I think people will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of mini boss encounters.

I heard mention of random "events" occurring in the world. Is this something you still want to do or have done? If so, how do they work? Are they truly random events or scripted to happen once you reach a certain area? And what sort of events can happen? - asked by Lefty

Patrick: We do have random events! A few examples of these are, maybe you run into a injured person on the road with a broken down wagon that asks you to do something for him/her in the immediate area. Or you could be out exploring and find a campfire with bandits that have tied up hostages that you can rescue for a reward. We are still working on these, and coming up with new ideas to keep them exciting for players.

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