"I am creating a level for a single player, third-person shooter game. I need to design combat/battle areas where the player encounters enemies and fights his way through. How should I approach this? What type of combat design should I incorporate? How should I design the playable space to make combat fun, one doesn't suck or gets boring?"
In single player level design you don't have to worry about timing, balance or choke points as you would in multiplayer level design.
However, you have whole other set of rules to follow.
Important Note: Following tutorial (like all tutorials on WoLD) is based on my own experience, opinions and conclusions as I was playing the game. Nothing here reflects what the developer or the publisher might have intended or did not intend as they were creating the game. These are opinions and conclusions I reached.
There are 2 things you have to do prior to creating level design for single-player, third-person action adventure game.
Know Your Game and Its Story
First step is to know your game and follow its story. This is essential.
Each level has to fulfill a specific plot point or a story beat.
Each level has to take place at a specific location and the player will be moving forward, progressing through the level. There has to be a constant push for progression.
Sometimes the player may circle around or come back to the area they previously been to, but overall, the player will always be going to a new area and leaving previous area.
Create a Naming Standard for Combat Areas
Create a naming standard for different combat scenarios you will have in various parts of the level and within the entire game.
Each name will describe a combat area the player will have to deal within that space.
Left 4 Dead series used this extensively such as Close Quarters (close proximity), Narrow Flow (linear parts of the level) and Capillaries (small spaces off the main path that lead to dead ends). Read this for full "12 Terms from the Left 4 Dictionary".
Crytek did the same thing with Crysis as explained by Helder P.
"Yeah, we used similar lingo when making Crysis. Verbal standards helps teams stick to a coherent vision. Most games have 4 or 5 of these pillars. Doom 2016 had platforming only sections for example."
Coming up with your own naming convention will help to bring clarity and what to implement for each part of the level where there will be combat. This is especially important when working on a team, so everyone is on the same page.
Alan Wake is a great example of this. Especially if you are creating a third-person, action adventure, narrative focused level.
As I was playing the game I began to notice a recurring pattern of combat scenarios. I couldn't find a naming standard used by Remedy Games so I came up with the names myself. So this is in no way reflects the names Remedy Games actually used.
In "Alan Wake" there are 6 combat areas you will encounter that are used over and over again throughout the game.
Let's break them down what they are so you can use them in your own level designs and start thinking more deliberately about your work.
Run and Gun is the most common combat scenarios where 1 or more enemies spawn. You can fight them or run to avoid them. Most of these scenarios are scripted as you enter into a specific area of the level or they are triggered by a button press.
Run and Gun is something you use throughout all your levels as the most frequent combat setup.
Gateway Boss is 1 or more enemies who bust through a closed barrier (door, fense etc) opening up the path of the level to go through in the process.
This happens a few times in Alan Wake.
Such as after fighting Rusty at the Elderwood Visitor Center:
The chainsaw taken busting through the gates:
Emil Hartman at Cauldron Lake Lodge:
Assaults are very similar to a Gateway Boss. Except in Assault you are constrained to a specific area, an arena where you have to battle many enemies at once. You can't run away and you are forced to fight and defeat them all.
After you win, a path opens up.
This happens a lot in "Alan Wake".
Going to the Gas Station and reaching the Lumber Mill:
With Ben Mott in the woods:
On the way to Cauldron Lake towards end of the game:
Survive and Thrive are similar to Assault but are far more complex, more elaborate and usually timed Assaults. Survive and Thrive only happens a few times in the game.
During Survive and Thrive, you have to protect and defend yourself from constant attack from everywhere. Each Survive and Thrive are kept within certain physical boundaries.
In "Alan Wake" these include at the Fire Station Helicopter pad:
And at the Music Stage:
VIPs (Very Important Person) are scenarios where you either protect or follow an AI character in the game.
Helping Ben Mott with flares as he shots the Taken:
Going through the town with Sherriff Sarah:
Going to Anderson's Farm with Barry:
In "Alan Wake" VIPs are usually fun because you get to interact with other characters instead being alone as you do in most of the game.
Vehicle Manslaughter offers a break from on foot combat by allowing you to drive a vehicle to your next destination, running over any enemies on the way.
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