En Garde!

En Garde! is my 5th year of school graduating project. This is a 3rd person action game in which you play a swashbuckler fighting for her family’s honour with style and eloquence. The game is developped on Unreal Engine 4 and I’ve taken on the roles of Level Designer and Level Builder in a team of 8 students. We have been working full time on this project since october 2017, you can also find below a video showing what we achieved during our preproduction (3 months).

As you can see in En Garde! you fight a lot of ennemies with an agile character capable of doing acrobatics while interacting with the environment. Our core gameplay is centered around hit and run strategies where the player is outnumbered and has to improvise with his surroundings to overcome his opponents. The game takes place in Spain, in Andalusia, inside a palace inspired by Mudejar achitecture, typical of this part of Spain. One of the first things I did before starting to think about level design was to do research work on this architectural style and it’s specificities (Gathering references such as photographs and books).

Our level design intentions for this game are to have an open level with no dead ends and many unusual traversal possibilities (such as jumping from one balcony to another). We also want to have a coherent architecture which still offers a fun environment to play in. Each room of the palace must have it’s own identity so that the player can instantly recognize it but also allow him to experience diffrent environmental interactions depending on the room he is playing in.

I adopted an iterative process for level design on this project. The goal of each iteration is to validate a part of the game that is in development and iterate on it to see if it fit in the game and if we must change things about it. At each iteration I used the knowledge that the previous one gave us to improve the level and try to reach the highest quality possible when it will be finished at the end of the year. For now I’ve been able to complete 3 iterations :

  • The first one was used to determine the scale of the environment and the characters movements (run speed, jump distances …). This iteration was done in one week at the beginning of the production.
  • The goal of the second iteration was to validate the environmental interactions at the player’s disposal, since interacting with the elements of the environment is one of the core features of our game and that it has a huge impact on the sword fighting, we wanted to be sure that we had enough elements for the player to interact with in the environment and that this part of the game was fun on it’s own.

    Since there is a party going on inside the palace where the game take place, we wanted to know what to do with the guests present inside the palace. We couldn’t let them inside the level where the player could interact with them, this would have a production cost that we would rather use to polish the main gameplay than spend on creating crowd behaviour and reaction. That’s why we used this iteration to experiment with some solutions to keep them inside the game without being accessible to the player. We are currently keeping them in places that the player can’t access like balconies. This iteration was also used by our graphists to do paintovers of the environment, this way we were able to see in which direction we were going for the envionment art and what we had to produce to achieve it. This iteration was done in one month.

  • In the third iteration we wanted to test if we had the combat right and how it was working with the environmental interactions. We tested important combat elements for level design such as combat distances, number of ennemies in the level etc… We also used this iteration to implement architectural elements that were risky for the gameplay such as columns and arches (Which are typical of the mudejar architectural style). This helped us to find solutions on how to implement them without disturbing the navigation and visibility within the level. We use a shader that make the columns and archs fade when the camera is too close to them, this way we are sure that they never bother the player.

Improved skills:
– 3D Level Design.
– UE4 use.
– Architectural Knowledge (mudejar architectural style).
– Environmental gameplay and Level Design.
– Greyblocking.
– Player movements with acrobaties within levels.