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  • Writer's pictureAlan Isaac

Visual Language

Over the last few years, I have taken up multiple roles throughout production, even though I'm primarily a Level Design. One of my main responsibilities is to design, create level layouts and rough blockouts to define spaces. After handing that off to environment artists, I work with them to make sure the design intention of the level is maintained throughout production.


A big part of that is getting to a shippable Level to be as readable to the player as possible. Achieving that requires both the artist and me to work together closely in what we want the player to understand and what they can do with the environment we create. We need to be deliberate and consistent in how our visual language implies the possibility of gameplay.

Modern games have very rich environments filled with immense detail. Especially with the power of Next gen hardware, worlds will only get bigger and more detailed. In a world filled with beautiful art, how do you guide the player to the objective?


This is where visual language is applied.





Games are filled with bread crumbs that keep helping you to move forward in the game space. Here are some of the techniques used to help the player read the world better;

  • Landmarks

  • Leading Lines

  • Affordance

  • Light & God Rays

  • Color

  • Textures/ Decals

  • Foliage

There are many more but for now, let's focus on these.



 

Landmarks



Naughty dog is famous for explicitly showing you the destination. Whereas open-world games like Ghost of Tsushima or Spiderman have very unique sections in the world that stand out. Landmarks could be anything from a weirdly shaped mountain, a park to a famous building. Landmarks help you read the environment and orient yourself to the correct path.

In most cases the player should be able to see these landmarks from several vantage points easily.




 

Leading Lines



 

Affordances

Different objects in the environment can be used to guide the players around.

Affordances communicate to the player what to play with or where to go.

It's very important to have affordances stay consistent throughout the game or it can break immersion.

For example; objects like a ramp, the player subconsciously are expected to jump off it. Other ways of affordances can be ledges in which the player can interact.




 

Light & God Rays


Players are naturally attracted to light. Using this light to your advantage can help in directing the player through a level.

Also, who doesn't love some God rays?





 

Color



 

Textures/ Decals


You can use these in many ways. For example, you can be explicit and have a texture pointing to where the player needs to go but on the flip side, it can be used to subtly tell the player what is interactable.



 

Foliage


Games use foliage to direct the player to a location. They act like guiding lines while being diegetic.



Foliage can be a very useful tool. It can be used as Guiding lines or on the flip side it can be used to deny affordances or it can also be used to block the line of sight. A very good example of it can be seen used twice in The Last of Us Part 2.



These all techniques are used to help the play navigate through the levels.

This does not mean me spoon feeding the player throughout the entire game.

Part of the game is to figure out your way through these levels.




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