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Adding Theme to Your Level
Author: Steve "SoulSaver" Maisch
Last Updated: May 22, 2001 at 12:37:06 PM

This time Iíve decided to do a tutorial on something rarely covered in this venue. Creating a theme to your Rune level. While this isnít exactly a tutorial (more an essay really), I feel this is something that is lacking in the Rune community and would like to see more of.

Now I know what some people will say, "Theme? Simply create an arena and have people bash each other to death. We are Vikings after all!"

But let me ask you this, in all of the history books youíve read, when was the last time you heard about Vikings fighting in an arena? Romans yes, but Vikings? I have no idea where this trend got started, but I for one am kind of sick of arenaís. They take very little imagination (unless done correctly), and normally all of them look the same.

In this article I will try to cover several possible theme maps, and a few variations that could be made to the arena style of play.

First off, theme heavy maps convey a much greater impact than one that is simply thrown together without any thought. Most people would much rather fight in "The Arena of the Lich King", than they would "Bobís Arena". If the mood is set correctly, you can suck the player into the map, and make them feel like they are part of the experience.

I will break this tutorial down into several sections, and try to cover these individual sections as concisely as possible.

Section I: The Idea!
When was the last time you, as a level designer, had an epiphany? You were sitting there and you said out loud "Wouldnít it be cool to make a level that was an eerie graveyard, wolves howling in the distance, moon shining full, and zombies everywhere. Maybe even have a thin layer of swampy water all over the ground. Ohh, and fog, gotta have fog!"

Ideas for Rune levels can come from anywhere. Seen a good movie lately? Maybe read a book that inspired you? All good game levels start from a basic idea, and are then fleshed out.

All levels, no matter how simple the idea, should have, at least, a basic story behind it. This story should be reflected in the readme.txt file for all to see.

So you want to stick with a Viking theme? How about a village raid? Vikings were notorious for raiding villages up and down coastlines. What about a level based on a temple to one of their gods? Get your idea ready before you even touch the editor.

Section II: Research
Every person reading this has access to the largest source of information available since the dawn of time, the Internet. Yes, this massive resource can be used for other things than game sites and dirty pictures.

Have an idea for a Viking burial pyre level? Look it up. Research what they actually looked like. Download pictures, read articles, immerse yourself into it. Weigh what would be fun in a level, with what would not, and use it. This is also a great way to get custom textures for your levels, but thatís another tutorial entirely.

Section III: The Sketch
Everyone doodles. Whether you have an ounce of artistic talent or not, you doodle. Put your ideas down on paper. Go grab a scrap sheet of paper for this section. That cocktail napkin that youíre setting your margarita on will do nicely.

It is always a great idea to get a rough diagram of what you want to accomplish with your level ahead of time. This first design will change of course before the level is completed, but it gives you a template to follow.

Section IV: Playability
Ok, youíve gotten your idea, done the research, and sketched out a rough design. All right people, it's time to build your dream level. I won't go into any of the particulars of geometry or cover how to build levels here. This is a concept tutorial, not an application tutorial. Go read the other tutorials on the site for all that. Iíll wait...

Cool, your level is looking great, but now we have to look at another very important area of design, playability.

Sure that tower that houses the evil wizard Fireballus is cool looking, but does it run on the common system? It is true that computers are constantly getting more powerful, and that sometime in the near future things like poly counts, and node counts wonít even matter. But for now they are very important.

Learning to use the editor to your advantage is essential if you want your creation to be played by the masses.

Learn to use semi-solid objects, masked textures, sheets, invisible collision hulls, among other things to lower the poly count of the level, and increase its overall speed.

Learn to use zone fog, and clipping planes. Learn that sometimes geometry isnít the answer, and that some things can be accomplished by letting the texture work for you.

There are a lot of very interesting things you can do to speed up your level. Make sure you have done all of these things. Speed is the key in a game like Rune. If someone is lagging because the level is rendering too much information, they will invariably stop playing your level.

Section V: Setting the mood
In my opinion there are three crucial things to worry about when trying to set the mood for your level. Those are Lighting, textures, and sounds.

I put lighting on the top of the list. Nothing sets the mood for a level more than lighting. Take my advice, find every tutorial you can on lighting and absorb them. Learn about zone lighting, special lit, colored lights, triggered lights, and light placement.

You have a creepy old dungeon? What in this world would be scarier than having a room totally covered in darkness, with nothing except a shaft of light coming through a barred window?

Lighting is the key to a successful level, and it is widely overlooked. Become a lighting guru, and youíll become a level designing god.

Textures are next.

The proper use of textures is essential in a good level. Misaligned textures, out of place textures, or textures that arenít sized correctly can seriously detract from the overall level feel. There should be a reason a texture is there (unless of course your making a level that the theme is everything is out of wack).

Using the same or similar textures in all areas will make the level bland and uninteresting. Take a second to look around you. Look at the carpet, the ceiling, and the wallpaper. They are all different arenít they? Of course they are.

The world would be a really drab place if every wall of a building were exactly the same.

And finally sound.

Try to watch a scary movie with the volume turned off. Not so scary now huh? Sound is pivotal to the theme of a level.

Imagine a level where you are inside of a carís engine. Now just use the default sounds that come with Rune. BORING!

Learn to use things like ambient sounds, triggered sounds, and sound players. Use the right sound for the right occasion. Donít feel intimidated to learn adding custom sounds.

Imagine your friends surprise when they open a door and hear your voice shout, "Close that damn door I'm taking a bath!" LOL. Experiment, and above all else, have fun.

On a final note, letís talk about Non-Viking like themes.

Now the fence is kind of split on this one, but I very much approve of Non-Viking themes. Do not feel strange if you create a level that has nothing to do with Vikings what so ever.

Human Head created this game, and gave us the tools to spring board our imaginations. Donít limit your creativity just because a few narrow-minded people donít like it.

My first map I put out was called DM-HauntedManor (shameless plug). It was a huge haunted house. Not a single thing about it was Viking like. After sending it into the various sites, I was pleasantly surprised to see everyoneís reaction. It was downloaded en masse from the get go. To this day I still get emails thanking me for being original.

Just remember, as long as you donít offend anyone, the skies the limit.

[ Click here for printable version ]


Current Comments on this article:

December 15th, 2001

It offends me that you have made the measure of action offense--or rather a wifish and negative non-offense. Therefore, you have already overstepped your own bounds and have furthermore abandoned the manly virtues of inequality and unilateralism.

December 15th, 2001

Else, thought out and very partisan: which are good things under essayists.

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