How do you design your screens?

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Offline Purple Ink

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How do you design your screens?
« on: April 05, 2018, 12:35:40 »
This topic is very similar to "how do you design your levels" but a bit more specific. I was thinking about this whilst working on my current project. So, how do you design your screens?

For me, I rarely plan ahead for any one screen's layout. I just start making stuff. For instance, in Advena I knew I wanted a vertical area with Hypericum so I knew the screens would connect top to bottom. But I had no ideas for what the middle of the screens would be like. If it's an area that I don't have a concept for I just make screens and put them together until I like how it flows together. Once a screen is done I immediately test it. If I don't like how it looks or feels I'll rework it or delete it and start over.

With Advena I knew what I wanted screens to look like so I made the tilesets to match what I had in mind. With my current project I find myself adding as few as one tile to make a screen look exactly how I want. I've also expanded from having one tileset per area. Not sure why I thought constraining screens in an area to one tileset was a good idea. It's rare that I'll have a background planned for a screen. I tend to just randomly pick a background that matches the tileset and fits with the scene I have in mind. If I can't find one, I try making one.

In a similar vein, I have the scenery in mind so I know what kind of music I'd like to match those screens. I usually don't include music on transitional screens (screens between two areas) or other connective type places. I feel like the music should match every screen for a given area. I actually spend a lot of time searching for music to fit the screens. Ambiance is another thing. Some screens should have silence but that can be boring if overdone. So I try to include some kind of ambiance in every screen. That's part of the reason why I include water or waterfalls or both in a lot of screens. It just makes sense for there to be water in, say, a forest-y area.

Another thing I like to do with nearly every screen is include some kind of animal. That way the level feels alive. This could be bad, however, because there could be too much and it could be distraction from the experience instead of enhancing it. So I tend to limit how many creatures I include: typically two at max. And on the subject of creatures, I try to only use a certain kind in any one area of screens. When I first started Advena I didn't do this. But as I continued I started to favour only one kind of creature per area. To me it helps the screens feel unique beyond music and graphics. In my current project, different areas that use the same tilesets will have unique creatures to help distinguish them.

Enemies are another thing. I now try to design levels that anyone, or nearly anyone, can play and enjoy (hence why the challenges were optional in Advena). Depending on the kind of enemy I'll only put as many as two on one screen. Some enemies I won't use at all, like the green chomper. I hate those guys so why would I use them? Another enemy I refuse to use is 4:14 because I still don't understand how it works. I also try to give an easy way to avoid some enemies. Though, where would the fun be if every enemy was superfluous?

When I'm making a screen I always start with layer 3. Sometimes I have an idea in mind of how I want the shape to be or where I want the screen to go. Often times not. I try to make the ground and ceiling interesting without too much flatness or repetition (thanks Knytt Syndromes). Unless I'm restricting movements based on power-ups or similar I try to make everything readily accessible. That is, it's not a max jump height to grab a ledge and climb up or no corner jumps required unless it's for a secret or something. After layer 3 I fill in the background starting with 0 then 1 then 2. After that's done I put the extra stuff like creatures and other objects. If possible I always put these on layer 4 for consistency's sake. Except water, which always goes on layer 6.

I feel like I rambled a bit there because this was a bit longer than I was intending. Anyway, how do you approach making screens? :)

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Offline canteven

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Re: How do you design your screens?
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2018, 20:48:09 »
For an old level of mine (which is not finished and might remain so forever) I had some interesting design choices.

If there's hard rock, it's made "jagged" by placing vertical or horizontal outlines in the inner corners.


And it gets more jagged the deeper you are underground. You get corners with both vertical and horizontal outlines, and the rock in the background starts to get all vorticist.


But some rock is smooth enough never to leave jags.


Rock in exceptionally clean places (or underwater) has inverted jags.


Man-made structures, depending on how or why they were built, can secede into the rock...

...or poke out of it.


I forget how I handled naturally formed materials. They were either in a "tier list" of hardness, or it depended on how recently the material formed.


As my interest in this level faded, I held on to the techniques, but never used them as much as I thought I would. As of right now, I've only used them with two levels (albeit inconsistently): The Cursed Gallery...

...and Wait.
I use the name "ncrecc" on other forums.

Sometimes I betatest blideo blames:

Re: How do you design your screens?
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2018, 06:13:38 »
Where does wall constructed entirely without reference to corner pieces fit in your level geology?

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Offline canteven

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Re: How do you design your screens?
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2018, 07:03:02 »
Not sure what you mean by that. Do you mean just big chunks of nothing but the same type of rock?
I use the name "ncrecc" on other forums.

Sometimes I betatest blideo blames:

Re: How do you design your screens?
« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2018, 16:12:42 »
Maybe, I dunno. I'd been experimenting with only using side tiles and no corner pieces using the Plastic Buttons tileset (default 219), and wondered whether you'd tried anything similar.

I guess more illuminating would be "Where does only-horizontal-faced wall inset in only vertical-faced wall (or vice-versa) fit in your level geology?"

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Offline Vegetal Gibber

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Re: How do you design your screens?
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2018, 16:15:10 »
When it comes to environmental/easy levels, my general approach is very similar to Purple Ink's. I sometimes make a rough draft of the overall map/layout for the level before I start (by putting empty tiles in the level editor to mark which screens I'm planning to fill later), but I hardly ever plan ahead for each individual screen unless it's a screen with a specific purpose (puzzles, cutscenes...). I just select the next empty cell and start placing tiles in a way that looks good/interesting to me. However, when there are challenges involved, I usually start by trying out different obstacles/puzzles (using placeholder walls) until I find a combination that works, then I start remodeling the screen to make it look nice, while also trying to not break the drafted challenge nor make the enemies/obstacles too hard to see.

I too start most of my screens by placing the solid tiles (layer 3). I first make a draft using only inner wall tiles with no corners. I'm not a fan of using a single set of walls to make one big contiguous block for the floor/ceiling, so I always try to mix at least two different sets of walls instead. Once I'm happy with the layout, I start replacing the filler tiles with borders and inner corners where appropriate. I may also add some irregular borders here and there to make the screen look a bit more detailed and "3D" (for a lack of a better term), as canteven has already described. Also, if I decide that the current screen should have running water and/or pools, I add those as well before moving on to the background tiles. Generally, I place waterfalls in layer 4 and water objects in layer 5, unless I want the waterfall on the foreground.

At this point, I get started on the background. I usually start with a simple gradient as a base and customize it to add some far scenery (for exteriors) or a texture/pattern (interiors), then I start adding elements (grass, trees, pillars...) until the screen feels distinct enough and stops looking empty/monotonous to me. If it's an interior, I may decide to either not use a custom gradient at all (using layer-0 tiles over a black gradient instead) or make one or two custom, more detailed gradients with all the elements I need (which is what I did in Curse of the Catacombs). This is also when I start adding shading tiles (which I use in almost all my levels) where appropriate. Adding shadows below ceilings and floating platforms is simple enough, but placing them between multiple layers of solid walls requires more work, since this involves moving the original wall tile to a non-solid layer and then placing the shadow in layer 3. I make this a bit easier on me by adding an invisible square collision mask to my shading tiles directly in the tilesets, so I don't need to add invisible objects later to cover the "holes". I still mess up from time to time when doing this, though :oops:

Lastly, I proceed to add some extra decorative objects and/or harmless creatures if I deem it appropriate. I generally don't add more than 1-2 creatures per screen... unless these are fireflies/specks, in which case I go nuts with them :nuts:

There's also the matter of using tints and attachments in KS+. When I'm designing a dark area (a cave or a nighttime exterior), I sometimes use a SUB tint set to a very dark shade of yellow. This darkens the screen a bit and gives it a slight bluish tint, which increases the contrast between dark backgrounds and flames/lamps. On the other hand, if the screen has multiple glowing orbs or other bright sources of light, I may use an ADD tint (set to a very dark shade of gray or whatever color matches the overall tone of the room) to enhance the shining effect. I also like to use dark attachments in segments that I think should feel more dark/creepy/claustrophobic than the rest, although I prefer to use custom black gradients with a rather big visible area than the default one (especially in screens that have traps or enemies, since this can cause a lot of cheap deaths).
Some KS levels by me: