Level design / TEAM LEAD

Engine: Unreal Engine 4

Platforms: PC

Super Neon Drifter is a two player co-op car action game set in a retro futuristic 1980's world developed for PC in two weeks using Unreal Engine 4. The game was made by a team of three designers and four artists. This project was part of my education at Futuregames where the goal was to make a vehicle based game in four weeks. I worked as a level designer and team lead on the project.

In Super Neon Drifter two players work together to control an ever evolving vehicle. One player takes on the role of the driver, controlling the acceleration and steering of the vehicle whilst one player becomes the gunner, commanding an array of weapons. Together they blast through a looping track whilst they try to achieve the highest score and compete with their friends on the local leaderboards. 

Super Neon Drifter was nominated for and won "Best Execution in Art" at the 2016 Swedish Game Awards. 

For the short four week project we decided to scope small and make one single track that we could polish and make fun. Focusing on quality before quantity. The track needed to be looping and not have an endpoint to allow for the score chaser game mode. In a full version of the game there could be tracks that are not looping to allow for other type of game modes. 

Since the track is looping it was very important that the level felt large and varied so that players would not feel like they were driving around in the same place all the time, seeing the same things.

 

Above you can see an overview of the level in the game. The different themes that run throughout the level are highlighted with their respective names. We used this method of splitting up the map into very different areas visually to guide the player and make it feel varied and fun to drive through. We also wanted players to be able to remember the different areas and tie gameplay to them so that they could make their own decision about where to go next. In this way the level could be very large without being repetitive or boring to look at. We also felt that this Las Vegas-approach to level art fit very well with the 80's retro theme. 

The track is the most important part of the level design in Super Neon Drifter and thus it was the aspect of the level that I spent the most time on. I worked very closely with the vehicle scripter to make sure that the track was customized to fit the car we used. 

Above you can see the only meshes that were used to make up the actual track that the players will drive on in the game. To create the track I decided early on that we should use landscape splines in UE4 to create the track. This allowed me to be very flexible when building the track. Using splines meant we could create a lot of road without our environment artist having to make very many meshes. The straight road mesh was used with the spline tool whilst the crossing was its own individual mesh. I then matched in the splines with the static mesh crossing. 

 

Besides just theming areas visually we wanted to help players even more so that they could make their own decisions about where they want to go. Seeing for instance the city in the distance might not tell players exactly how to get there, just that there is a city somewhere. So, to help players we put road signs up in places where going left or right will take players to a different area. We could use the themes that we had established earlier (see Overview) and make a sign for each area. Then I could dot them out across the track to make players understand the track even more. 

 

In addition to the road signs I placed arrows like the ones you can see above to further guide players as to where there is a sharp turn or where the road splits and so on. 

Throughout the level there are various obstacles that the gunner needs to shoot down in order for the driver to have a clear track ahead. These obstacles will also yield score and this is the way in which the gunner contributes to the high score.

The most basic of these obstacles are the tetris blocks. These are placed throughout the level in various patterns and once destroyed they will yield a small amount of score. These blocks will respawn after a set time. As a level designer I used these blocks as the most basic form of obstacles as they are very easy to take down.

 

Above you can see the turrets. The turrets are the only offensive obstacle in the game and they fire against the players if they come within a certain range. The stationary turrets are the most basic form of turret as they are easier to both spot and hit. There are also flying turrets that are harder to hit since they are a moving target. As a level designer I made different areas more or less intense by filling them with more or less turrets. It could have been very easy to just place turrets everywhere but it was very important to me that each area was different in terms of difficulty. In this way players can remember different areas and their difficulty and go to one area or another depending on how much health they have left. 

 

The target pads are not offensive and move from one point to another. Once they are destroyed they yield a great amount of score. I used the target pads in areas where I wanted the pacing to be less intense. So, instead of filling an area up with turrets I placed some targets pads. This means that the player who is playing the gunner will still have something to do even if the players are not in mortal danger. 

 

The gates are located at each crossing where the track splits. The gates have a crosshair in the middle that is specifying which of the two weapons (laser/gatling gun) that the gunner will need to use to open the gate. I used these gates so that the two players would need to communicate with each other and enforce the co-op aspect of the game. This also forces players to think about where they are going and prevents a lot of players from just going around in the same loop, not seeing the rest of the world. It is an efficient way of connecting the driver and the gunner in a choice and an action that they are both a part of.