In the 2nd of our 3 part developer diary series from Battlezone developers Rebellion, Game Designer Grant Stewart writes on making levels that don’t just use VR, but also welcome you into the game world.
Guest Article by Grant Stewart
Grant designs games at Rebellion. Nobody seems to have stopped him yet.
At its heart, Battlezone is an arcade game. It’s designed for frantic, quick bursts of tank-combat gameplay. Some developers have opted for shorter experiences or a more laconic pace, but we want to get your pulse racing and your trigger finger itching. Every facet of Battlezone leads into providing this feeling and accentuating it with VR. Enemies swoop and careen around you, explosions light up your view and the battlefield feels alive with action.
Creating the levels to house this action in VR has been a unique experience. We built Battlezone in Rebellion’s in-house engine, Asura. Our tech team crafted a selection of tools for the project that enabled us to rapidly prototype. Every level supports every mission, and they each work a number of ways in each level.
Our first attempts at crafting environments for tank warfare were inspired by the original 80s and 90s Battlezone games. We cautiously attempted undulating terrain that stretched across vast areas, though some on the team weren’t convinced. The glowing vector mountains of the arcade cabinet became faceted rock formations, polygonal trees dispersed around them. The extraterrestrial landscapes of the Activision strategy games allowed us to zip across levels, flowing under and over rolling hillocks. You can see some of these environments in one of our earliest trailers (along with the old cockpit!)
These all seemed like strong ideas at first, but the longer we played in VR the more we saw the problems. We kept snagging on those polygonal trees and the undulations were beginning to make us feel uncomfortable. So, as ever with this project, we experimented and iterated.
We knew combat had to happen at a variety of ranges and heights; what’s the point of having full freedom of movement if it doesn’t translate into variable gameplay? So we flattened out the hills and tied the plateaus together with easily navigable ramps. We also swapped out the smaller objects for rocks, vents and snow drifts, each offering cover in a fight. We kept some of the speed and all of the freedom, but we still circumvented problems.
After extensive playtesting and iteration, we started to apply more dressing to the levels. The campaign in Battlezone sees you perpetually work your way towards The Corporation AI Core’s volcano lair, a nod to the original Battlezone. Across that journey you fight in five distinct settings: Frozen Wastes, Robotic Metropolis, Neon Cities, Industrial Complexes and Volcanic Ridges. Each theme has its own unique palette and style, and all of them are calibrated to complement the enemy designs.
In addition to the traditional aspects of environmental design, VR gave us something new: Scale. Being wowed not just by the world you see, but the world you are in.
So we ensured each level features a unique landmark, a structure towering above you. In VR they are frankly awe-inspiring – you gaze up and appreciate the size of your surroundings. We embrace this with a moment at the start of every mission. Before the action begins you watch as your cockpit comes online. The shutters around your tank gradually come up and the world slowly comes into focus. It’s an opportunity to marvel before plunging into the action.
As well as being stunning, these structures provide an anchor point for orienting yourself. Knowing where you are helps you get into the action that must faster. As you switch targets from close to long range, ground to air, and so on, you’ll always be able to find the horizon, that landmark and your bearings.
This was especially important to use because each level can play out missions in a variety of ways. Our procedurally generated campaign algorithmically connects missions and maps, so you never know exactly what you’re going to get in each level. We wanted to ensure that any combination offers a unique scenario. Even the placement of structures and enemies is chosen by chance! So with all that in mind, having n imposing landmark enhances the readability of this exotic world, which is something you really need in the heady swell of VR.
Battlezone and VR provided us with a lot of unique challenges and opportunities. It’s been
It’s been so exciting to be a part of this VR journey, and a real joy to carve out our gameplay niche on unfamiliar ground. Every aspect of development has been influenced by it. So the whole team and I are proud of what Battlezone has shaped up to be. We can’t wait for you to play it!
Our thanks to Grant for penning this diary entry. Battlezone is a PSVR launch title, available to buy now on PlayStation VR.