Designer Diary by Level Designer Paul Pettross.

I’m responsible for the paper design and scripting of several levels in The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, as well as some general design duties. This covers everything from early level design and planning to actually assembling the levels in the game environment.

Paper design is an early stage of level design in which we map out the general game space and plan the player’s experience in various sections of the level. We’ll go so far as to specify enemy types, special props, and combat setups. This stage of level design is really exciting because in our heads we start to see the levels and the surprises they’ll hold.

Scripting involves actually implementing the things we call for in paper design. We use an in-house tool that works in conjunction with a 3D authoring tool to place elements in the level. We’ll place enemies and plan their movements as well as placing animated doors, bridges, catapults and other objects the player can interact with.

One really exciting aspect of The Return of the King is the co-operative multiplayer (co-op) gameplay, which I’ve been working on. I wrote the documentation for co-op play, and I’ve been testing new co-op features as they come online. We built a special level just to show off the multiplayer action, and that level was featured in the demo at E3.

Players will be able to fight co-operatively against hordes of enemies as they make their way through the game. They’ll have the ability to choose characters that complement each other’s fighting styles, and we’re even discussing the possibility of offensive combo moves and defensive back-to-back positions that players can deploy together. Players will also be able to help each other out by picking up power-ups that boost the other player.

We’d also like to have certain props in the game that both players need to work together to activate, such as large gate winches and powerful projectile devices like ballistae or catapults. However, since we know a lot of siblings are going to play the game, we decided that some objects that are activated by one player should be able to inflict damage on another player. This will lead to some good “gotcha” moments and slightly competitive gameplay.

I think co-op gameplay will have a tremendous impact on the game’s “fun factor.” It will allow players to truly immerse themselves in the experience—because they will not only “live the movie” themselves, but also share those moments with friends. It’s certainly a hit with our team. It’s been a treat to see other team members shouting and laughing as they play co-operatively and fight off swarms of Uruk-Hai. They’re obviously having a good time, and the experience is only going to get better and better as development continues.

I hope you found this informative. It’s always a pleasure to share my work with the people who love it, and to generate some excitement for a great project like this.
Stay tuned for next month’s design diary!