Level Design – Kevin Wong

Dear Future (2021) – Landmarks & Procedural Generation

Dear Future was my UCSC Thesis Project. It is a multiplayer wandering game where players photograph a procedurally generated city. I served as the game director, a role that I’d characterize as 70% design and 30% production.

I directed the tone and texture of the procedural generation by setting rules for how streets and islands worked. Most of the procedural generation was the work of Ruonan Chen and Ana Love, but working with Sihao Zhou, I built out street layouts, defined procgen rules to lend spaces character, and placed spawners and triggers for props, NPCs, and story items.

I built out a number of handcrafted buildings that would serve as landmarks that contained vital story information. Each landmark is a small, story-rich space which contains a simple platforming challenge or puzzle, culminating in the discovery of an artifact that reveals cutscenes when photographed. I laid out the general themes and plot of the game, but the specific narratives for each of these areas were assigned to a number of writers that I admired and wanted to work with.

Working from reference images, I sketched out the designs for the Pantheon, Temple, and Pillar landmarks on paper. Working in Probuilder, I greyboxed general level geometry in order to define the general flow and architecture of the level, and any challenges that the player would encounter. This would include the placement of interactables like ladders, bridges, story props, and narrative trigger volumes.

After testing and iteration, I would pass the greybox on to an environment artist, who would build more detailed 3D models of the buildings. Finally, story props would be modeled or purchased, and placed in the level to suit the narrative of each area.

In addition to the procgen, I also handled other aspects of game direction, including prototyping core systems, assembling the team, overseeing our development schedule, and developing and pitching the game’s concept.

You can play Dear Future here.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners (2020) – Via Carolla LEVEL

On The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, I worked with design leadership to flesh out the Via Carolla level with content. I scripted three AI enemy encounters in the Tower House and two in the Mafia House, and handled loot and NPC placement. Additionally, I placed line-of-sight blockers on the roads to enable stealth gameplay and handled a major redesign to section off areas of the world to be more playable and performant.

My main role on The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners was mainly targeted towards building interactable items. This included consumables, melee weapons, explosives, and physics-based doors, all of which were sophisticated UE4 blueprints that intersected with other game systems in emergent ways. I appreciated this opportunity to be involved in iterating and polishing existing levels since I got the opportunity to understand better how my items were used in practice.

GAME201 – LEVEL DESIGN (2020) – Level Design Sprints

UCSC Games Professor Michael John is best known for his work on the Spyro and God of War franchises. His Level Design Class is a major highlight of the program, which focuses on the theory and practice of level design and architecture. I immensely enjoyed it. It included detailed analyses of game levels where we were required to label the and describe the purpose of every object.

For this class, I collaborated with other students to build a 2D Platformer Level in Game Maker, and a 3D platformer level in Unity using asset store materials. Each project required us to transform a well-considered paper design into a fully-fleshed out and playable environment with fun challenges, goals, and layouts.

Unfortunately, a hard drive failure destroyed my access to materials that I made in this class, but the lessons I learned carried over to other projects successfully.

OpenAI Sonic Project (2018) – 2D Levels for Bots

In Spring of 2018, I did a freelance project for OpenAI where I had to build 2D levels for the first three Sonic games as part of a machine learning research competition. You can learn about the contest and its findings here.

Level design involved using a custom toolkit to modify emulator ROMs to feature new levels using existing tile sets. After an extensive research and design phase, I built, tested, and iterated new levels over the span of a week each.

I enjoyed this project because it was interesting to create levels for non-human players. This allowed me to challenge the particular rules about Sonic level design to create experiences that could not be had in the base game.

CHAMBARA (2016) – GAME Direction

Chambara is a competitive multiplayer stealth game for PS4, PC, and macOS. While my role on Chambara was 80% production and 20% design, I enjoyed the opportunity to direct and support much of the level design. This manifested as me supporting communication between the art and design departments, and overseeing playtesting and user research at festivals.

I also directed the theming of the Mansion, Radio Tower, and Festival level. I optimized the level geometry for performance to reduce draw calls, and tuned certain areas for competitive balance after studying heat maps and trends. This was done by moving cover and adjusting the colors of certain props to provide better hiding places.

You can play Chambara here.

VANISHING POINT (2014) – Meadow Hills LEVEL DESIGN

Vanishing Point is a student project from my junior year at USC. It is a 3D Puzzle Platformer where I served as the principal level designer. It uses principles of forced perspective to create puzzles centered around manipulating the physical properties of objects to solve physics puzzles.

Building off from paper designs that explored the core mechanics, I worked with engineering to build a tile-based workflow that made level creation simple and straightforward. I also built a number of objects and items for level design such as the stasis field, elevator, and force button. Working with a junior designer, I ended up building the game’s setting, the Meadow Hills Complex, over the course of two semesters.

You can learn more about Vanishing Point in this postmortem and play it here.

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