The best and crudest designed levels of D1

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The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Mon May 26, 2014 1:38 am

Seeing as Descent 1 was the developers' first adventure with level designing, most of the levels themselves were rather rudimentary and didn't use many of the more advanced techniques that later levels became known for. Most glaring faults seem to be :

- Bad cube economy
- Glaring overuse of the default cube dimensions, be it width, height or both
- Difficulty with keeping the level aligned with a single plane (where lower levels are completely parallel to upper ones)

With that in mind, I have noticed that some of the levels are just well-designed - managing to set themselves free of these restrictions or even to be good IN SPITE of them.

From my perspective: the crappiest level as far as pure design technique goes is Level 13 (Europa mining colony), while levels that really stand out in a good way would be level 12 (Callisto tower colony) and Secret Level 3 (Asteroid robot factory).

What's your take on this?
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by vision » Mon May 26, 2014 4:11 am

Xfing wrote:- Difficulty with keeping the level aligned with a single plane, lower levels completely parallel to upper ones
Can you clarify? Is it better to have levels parallel or not?
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by ThugsRook » Mon May 26, 2014 9:37 am

i always thought of it as:

the bots made the mines, the bots are insane.
later levels are only more detailed because the bots had more time.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Mon May 26, 2014 10:20 am

vision wrote:
Xfing wrote:- Difficulty with keeping the level aligned with a single plane, lower levels completely parallel to upper ones
Can you clarify? Is it better to have levels parallel or not?
I expressed myself wrong. Corrected the post already.

Of course I meant that all tunnels in a good level will be completely parallel. The D2 levels, even with their wild cube shapes, still retain that parallel orientation, as do Vertigo levels. Only levels from D1 struggle with that.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by vision » Mon May 26, 2014 1:10 pm

I don't agree that parallel geometry makes a good level, but rather, does the geometry make sense for the level theme? This also goes along with the overuse of the default cube. I have always viewed levels as a having "human" areas (metallic textures and rooms that look like offices or laboratories) and "mech" areas where bots follow the rock veins in an organic fashion. Naturally the more human areas would have more default cubes and parallel geometry, but I don't think human constructs should follow in areas where mechs are free to do their work.

Of course, this is all part of my own Descent interpretation and these are things I think of when designing levels (which all have parallel geometry, by they way) :wink:

To me, a good level make use of atmosphere and suspense, regardless of the things you listed above. Atmosphere being lighting & color and suspense being spacial contrast and bot placement.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Mon May 26, 2014 2:26 pm

Well, obviously: the engine does allow for making "naturalistic" areas like excavation sites, but that has been only explored in fan-made levels to any considerable degree. The stock levels of Descent, be it 1, 2 or Vertigo, are rather keen on using well-defined and regular shapes.

But in some levels you could see that the guys from Parallax simply tried too hard. Like level 16. So weird. Not to say that it played bad - as I said, that something looks good on the automap doesn't guarantee that it'll play well and vice versa.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by MegaDescent » Tue May 27, 2014 6:07 am

All I know is D1's designs are indeed less 'advanced' but I prefer the original campaign to D2 (can't say Vertigo, because I haven't properly played it yet).
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Duper » Tue May 27, 2014 11:16 am

I've always enjoyed the level layouts. Not being the inside of a building it makes sense that nothing (or little) is planular. I think Rook hit it right. The bots were nuts. Also, if you ARE mining then mineral veins don't follow symmetrical geometry. I did a level for D3 called COD, it was a remake of Thumb's D1 level. I made some tunnels that I tried to simulate rough huen rock. It was a serious pita. I think it's on one of the level sites. iirc, I rigged it for coop. Mind you, there's no scripting with it as I didn't/don't know scripting.

"Advanced" it relative. If you mean by tools, then sure. 3D Max as a new tool and wasn't used until the Vertigo series. The actual layout in D1 is anything but primitive. It's quite excellent. Cube construction (portal tech) was cutting edge as developed by these guys. And looking down our noses at a game that's 20 years old is laughable.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Wed Jun 04, 2014 3:42 am

I have to add level 17 to my list of favorites. It shows some really forward-thinking cube geometry and ideas, much of which we would later see in D2.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Alter-Fox » Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:44 am

I agree with Duper and Rook about symmetry... I agree with Xfing about level 17 :D.
I loved level 16 even more, but if I'm remembering it right that might have been partly for the BGM.

The crudest level has to be 5.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Thu Jun 05, 2014 3:39 am

Level 23 is pretty crude but at the same time has pretty texturing and that quaint feel of the earlier levels of the game - all the while being difficult as hell.

Levels 24 and 26 also have a very "tidy" layout, with everything aligned to the same plane etc.

Level 25 shows some forward thinking cube geometry but it's still rather poorly implemented. Still, a fun level to play.

Having just finished Descent 1 again, I'm starting to really appreciate the new possibilities that Descent 2 gave us, especially as far as puzzles are concerned. Closing and opening walls were also great additions which Descent 1 definitely could use.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by ThugsRook » Thu Jun 05, 2014 11:31 am

Descent 1 has the walls, it just wasnt used very much. (Level10)

switches were a nice addition to D2, but they are wayyyyyy overused.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Alter-Fox » Thu Jun 05, 2014 12:09 pm

I'm pretty sure Descent 1 didn't support open/closing walls.
There's no trigger for it in the editor -- and I don't remember ever seeing it in the campaign.

But Descent did pretty much the same things with secret doors as Descent 2 did with walls.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Fri Jun 06, 2014 6:30 am

Yeah, the functionality can easily be replicated using secret doors. Using walls gives us a bit more creative freedom, though, as you can use any texture you please and the walls can be grated and have different shape and height than doors - - doors need to have fixed height and can only have variable width like the corridor in D1 Lvl 10. And it will only work with the ones that open horizontally, or can be rotated to look as though they do - many doors introduced in D2 don't qualify.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by vision » Fri Jun 06, 2014 1:45 pm

One thing I definitely do not like is symmetrical levels. It always feels like the designer cheated to make the level bigger. Of course, some symmetrical areas make sense and an occasional symmetric level is acceptable if done well, but overall those levels are boring unless you are playing co-op an each take a side.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Sat Jun 07, 2014 2:56 am

vision wrote:One thing I definitely do not like is symmetrical levels. It always feels like the designer cheated to make the level bigger. Of course, some symmetrical areas make sense and an occasional symmetric level is acceptable if done well, but overall those levels are boring unless you are playing co-op an each take a side.
I know what you mean. Symmetric levels seem lazy and unnatural. Of course making a symmetric level, depending on the complexity, can amount to more than just making a block, copying it and pasting it rotated, but still I think it requires less creative thinking than actually making a naturalistically laid-out level.

A good example would be level 2 of Entropy Experiment. The painstaking effort Luke put into making this level perfectly symmetrical (even so much as to not include hidden doors which would spoil the symmetry on the automap) makes me think he had some personality issues :D Too perfect is just what it sounds like - TOO perfect.

On the other hand, I have always enjoyed Parallax's unexaggerated approach to symmetry. They made some stuff symmetric, but not all of it, and often mixed it up so that the whole picture remained quite unsymmetric. That's definitely more natural.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by MegaDescent » Sat Jun 07, 2014 8:34 pm

D1 levels: If crudest means worst, I'd have to agree about Level 5. It isn't 'bad', but (75% of) it really takes the term 'corridor shooter' to the extreme most literal possible iteration. Yes there are entire corridor only areas in other levels but in those cases, it's fine in moderation.

About largely symmetric, Parallax was clearly no big fan of it, as I can think of only a few levels in D1, D2, or Vertigo that even might come close. About custom levels, I consider some degree of asymmetry is always a plus but it isn't a deal-breaker either - Entropy, Entropy 2, and Mandril for instance are all great missions despite each having only one or two asymmetric levels, and even those asymmetric levels sometimes had large symmetrical parts. Obsidian has lots of symmetric levels, too, aside from the beautiful asymmetry that dominates the entire Icicle Cluster. Thinking about Mandrill again, I'm wondering if Luke started to influence Solrazor, for Chasm was completely asymmetric (short & quick boss level aside), then Phobos had symmetry in the first, last, and part of the third level, while Mandrill is largely symmetric except in the fourth level. Not that it matters too much, since these two authors definitely knew how to make a good game. :)

On the other hand, other prominent campaign authors such as Kruel, DFW, and just about any designer who contributed to TEW (even Sirius and Darkhorse, who moved away from symmetry after Obsidian) never focused too much on symmetry except in particular areas or levels where it would clearly fit. And the missions are certainly no less interesting because of these approaches, in fact I'd envision it's more enjoyable to explore and traverse the levels the whole way through. So in short - I don't mind symmetry too much, but I do give a small extra nod to asymmetry as well.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Xfing » Mon Jun 09, 2014 4:02 am

MegaDescent wrote:D1 levels: If crudest means worst, I'd have to agree about Level 5. It isn't 'bad', but (75% of) it really takes the term 'corridor shooter' to the extreme most literal possible iteration. Yes there are entire corridor only areas in other levels but in those cases, it's fine in moderation.

About largely symmetric, Parallax was clearly no big fan of it, as I can think of only a few levels in D1, D2, or Vertigo that even might come close. About custom levels, I consider some degree of asymmetry is always a plus but it isn't a deal-breaker either - Entropy, Entropy 2, and Mandril for instance are all great missions despite each having only one or two asymmetric levels, and even those asymmetric levels sometimes had large symmetrical parts. Obsidian has lots of symmetric levels, too, aside from the beautiful asymmetry that dominates the entire Icicle Cluster. Thinking about Mandrill again, I'm wondering if Luke started to influence Solrazor, for Chasm was completely asymmetric (short & quick boss level aside), then Phobos had symmetry in the first, last, and part of the third level, while Mandrill is largely symmetric except in the fourth level. Not that it matters too much, since these two authors definitely knew how to make a good game. :)

On the other hand, other prominent campaign authors such as Kruel, DFW, and just about any designer who contributed to TEW (even Sirius and Darkhorse, who moved away from symmetry after Obsidian) never focused too much on symmetry except in particular areas or levels where it would clearly fit. And the missions are certainly no less interesting because of these approaches, in fact I'd envision it's more enjoyable to explore and traverse the levels the whole way through. So in short - I don't mind symmetry too much, but I do give a small extra nod to asymmetry as well.
IMO asymmetry is much more difficult to pull of well, you need to be more creative and you have more thinking to do. Asymmetrical levels aren't necessarily creative or innovative, but they feel like the basic. Parallax for example started playing with symmetry much more in Vertigo, but it was mostly portions rather than entire levels. A framework of the level or a single hub area is quite often symmetric (to 1 axis most of the time), but the stuff behind the doors is different. But take levels such as Brimspark and you've got to admit they had to do a lot of thinking to make these levels have such advanced layouts as they did without succumbing to lazy cube copypasta.
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Re: The best and crudest designed levels of D1

Post by Firewheel » Mon Jun 23, 2014 8:30 pm

I like the third Mars level a lot. The large caverns are a lot more fun for fighting compared to the awful tunnel-based ambushes of the first two Mars levels. Callisto Tower Colony is hard as nails but a really enjoyable and well-designed level. I like all of the Neptune levels as well. Generally, I'd say the level designs got better and better as the game went on.
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