While completing my Master’s degree I undertook a research project into telling a story through a game’s level and environment design. To build on that research I decided to use the techniques that I had learned in a playable game level. Having recently brought Far Cry 5 I decided to give the map editor a try to create my own level. My aim when creating this map was to use the world and lore of Far Cry to create a level that hot the following purposed of storytelling through level design:
- The history of what happened in a place
- Who inhabits the world and their living conditions
- What might happen next
- The overall mood or theme
- Where the player should head next:
- Influencing and restraining a player’s movements through the physical properties and ecology
- Using a player’s own experiences to communicate boundaries and affordance
The map starts after the player has crash-landed in the mountains and has to take control of the outpost to survive. With no weapons, the player must sneak up on the soldiers guarding the entrance to the outpost and take out the two guards to gain valuable weapons. Doing this though will alert the rest of the guards to your present and the player must work their way through the level to clear the hostiles. As the level is set at night the player is able to hide in the darkness and is guided by the light. The level is set within the world of Far Cry 5 and I have chosen to build on the narrative of Far Cry 5 by including 3 of the game’s main enemies, Joseph Seed, and his brothers Jacob and John.
The History of What Happened in a Place
When deciding on the setting for the environment I decided to choose an abandoned chalet set in the mountains, that has been converted into a private militia base and lab area. This fits in with the theme of the Far Cry games of placing the player in a wilderness environment where they must help fight against one or more tyrants that control the region as well as surviving against wild animals that roam the open spaces.
In terms of staging and the positioning of props I used them to specifically tell the history of the area, both historic and immediately before the player begins the level. When starting the level, the player has little information on where they are or how they got there. From a quick glance around the environment at the very beginning of the level the player is able to quickly understand that they have crash landed in a hostile, snowy, and mountainous landscape from the placement of the props. The ruined plane remains scattered around the immediate environment at the beginning of the level allows the player to quickly and clearly understand how they got to there.
The chalet that is the setting for the final show down provides the player with the history of the place before the not only the player got there, but also before the private militia took up residency there. The corpses found throughout the level suggest that the chalet was a function and lively place before Joseph and his brothers took over. The bodies and cages found in and around the helicopter pad suggest that when Joseph took over the chalet they rounded up all the guests and employees and gave them to John while the rest of Josephs follow’s tore the place apart looking for valuable items and then later items to use for surviving the frozen environment.
Who Inhabits the World and Their Living Conditions
The props found throughout the rest of the level tell the player about who inhabits the world and their living conditions. The gun stash at the beginning of the level, coupled with ammo stores and barracks area suggest a heavy military presence that has been there for some time. As to the why the enemy characters are there, the wolf research lab that the play encounters towards the start of the level, combined with the Jude wolves found in the cages suggest that they are there to carry out experiments. From the sheer amount dead wolves in the lab area, and the only two alive Judge wolves out back, it can be assumed that the experiments aren’t going well and that is why their stay has been extended. As to why this particular spot in the mountains, the wolves that the player first hears at the start of the level suggest that this location was chosen due to it’s proximity to the test subjects.
The lab also provides context for the player as to why the private militia are there, they have been hired to protect the research lab and Joseph and his brothers. The primitive nature of the tents and the dirty and dishevelled living conditions suggests that the set up was only meant to be a temporary one that has become permanent. This dishevelled state of living is shown throughout the level through the rubbish piling up and scattered throughout the living areas of the level.
The many beer bottles and empty food packets discarded around the level, such as the barracks area of the level gives the player insight into the mindset of the characters that inhabit the world. It is a mindset of discard and carelessness; a statement back up by the uncared for sleeping area which consists of dirty mattress and basic bedding. The many empty beer bottles and scattered card games found through out the level also suggest that the militia have become comfortable and a dropped their guard. The player is able to use this information to their advantage if they are approaching the level with stealth to creep up on the enemy as they are not expecting to meet any resistance. A dead soldier found by a part finished card game in the chalet suggest that tensions among the militia are running high and that they are fighting among themselves. Though these area do little to effect the physical game play of the level, other than to suggest a stealthy approach, they do help to build a more believable and lived-in world that leads to higher player immersion, engagement and enjoyment.
What Might Happen Next
When the player first starts the level, they are unsure of what will happen next, the level’s environment helps give the player clues to what they will happen later in the level and what they might find. Sound is used to alert the player to the actions the enemy might make next. Though the dialogue is predetermined by the Far Cry Editor, I deliberately group the enemy together so that none of them are alone. Placing the enemies together causes them to have small conversations together and to react to each other’s actions. I used this in the level to alert the player to the presence of enemies even if they aren’t visible at the time, as well as to provide the player with valuable intel into what the enemy might do next.
Blood, bodies, and the resources found through out the environment serve as clues as to what might happen next. Players are very familiar with the concept of having areas containing valuable resource immediately before a large fight. I have used this pre existing knowledge of games and use ammo caches as warnings to conflict areas ahead. This is scene at the start of the level where the player is able to pick what weapons they will use, as well as later on in the level when the player is in areas containing one of the 3 main enemies; Joseph, Jacob, and John Seed.
The blood and bodies found though out the level, warns the player to the presence of the large number of enemies that they must kill. This is most apparent during the helicopter pad area and the derelict hotel which feature large amounts of blood and dead bodies. By indicating to the player what might happen next the player is able to prepare ahead of time and choose how they will approach the upcoming conflict – either going all guns blazing or the stealthie approach.
The Overall Mood or Theme
The colour pallet used for this level is a cool, dark one to reflect the cold and harsh mountain environment that the player has found themselves stuck in. The only exception is the bright red flares that guide the player around the environment. The brightness of the flares offer hope to the player that they are not the only person out in the hostile, mountain environment; the colour red however warns the player of danger ahead, signalling to the player that they should be cautious. Like the use of the colour red, the lighting is used to portray the tone of a hostile and unforgiving environment and is done so through the use of darkness contrasted against areas of cold, intense brightness of the artificial lights used by the enemy. Light fog is also used to portray the mood of despair and unease; encouraging the player to be cautious and thoughtful in their actions.
I also use sound to establish the overall mood and tone of the level. I deliberately choose not to include music in the level design, choosing instead to leave the player with just the sounds of the world. I did this deliberately to build the tension and feeling of hostility in the landscape. When the player first starts the level, they are met with the sounds of the burning plane wreck and the eerie sounds of wolves howling. As they progress through the level they will be able to hear the enemy characters, either idle and going about their jobs, searching for the player or in active conflict with the player. Having no music in the level also means that the moment when the enemies trigger the alarm to call the reinforcements, that much more dramatic as it shatters the quite of the mountain environment.
When the player is not engaging the enemy, the player is left alone, with only the sound sounds of nature, their footsteps in the snow, and the sound of their character breathing. I felt that going this route, with no in level music led to higher tension as the player is constantly listening out for any small sound that might indicate what the next threat will be, if there was music in level I think that the quieter sounds might have been lost and the tension of the overall level lessoned.
Where the Player Should Head Next:
- Influencing and Restraining a Player’s Movements Through the Physical Properties and Ecology
- Using a Player’s Own Experiences to Communicate Boundaries and Affordance
Light is used throughout the level to direct and guide the player through the level as to where the player should head next. I deliberately set the level at night with the intention of using light to guide the player around the level. To make sure the player is traveling in the right direct at the start of the level I used red flares and the glow of the campfire to draw the player forwards. I use red flares as a method to guide the player throughout the level. When the player first starts the level, they are unsure of what their objective is; they only know that they have to clear the map of enemies. To help the play know where they should headfirst I use the light of red flare, illuminating the rocks and foliage around it, to guide the forwards. As they get close the light is intensified as they are able to first see the campfire and then the floodlights of the check point ahead; throughout the level light acts as a beacon – drawing the player though the darkness of the environment.
Once the player has taken out the guards at the check point area they are guided to the next points on the map by light. After passing though the gates the play has the choice of going straight up the hill, following the tire tracks in the snow; or up the right following a gravel footpath. To help the player decide which way to go the path to the right has a flare highlighting a broken fence that the player can go though. The player is further to encouraged to travel up the right hand path as it offers the play cover, both in the form of trees and darkness. The path forward, following the tire tracks on the other hand is very exposed; it’s bathed in light from the flood lights of the check point and offers no ground cover for the player to hide in. The lighting section for this part of the map encourages the player to take the right hand path as it offers the most advantages to the player.
Later on, in the level, the light of the church and the flood lights gives the player multiple choices of which area of the map to tackle next. The choice the player makes though is influenced further by the spawning order of the enemy AI in the level. By having the enemy visible to the player on the map, and then having them spawn in a specific order, the player has beacons to help guide them through the environment and encourages the player to travel around the map in a specific order.
Once the player has cleared the ground level of the map the way up to the helicopter pad is indicated to the player through the use of a campfire. The warm flickering glow of the lights guides the player up to the next couple of enemies as well as a valuable ammo stash for the player to loot.
Sound is also used through the level to guide the player. At the start of the level to influence the player’s movements and push them forward through the level. In case the player misses the red light of the flares I also decided to add a pack of wolves in the wooded area behind the burning plane. The sound of the wolves howling acts as a deterrent to the player to head in that direction. However, if the player does decide to go and explore that area they are unable to progress in that direction due to their lack of weapons to kill the wolves with. The wolves act as a way to guide the player forward through the level as they create a barrier that the player is unable to cross and it forces the player to head forwards towards the weapon stash and the enemy.
I use the player’s own experience of playing Far Cry 5 to help them to understand where to go next. From playing Far Cry 5 the player is familiar with the grappling and zipline mechanics; I decide to use this player pre-existing knowledge of the far cry games to guide the player through the helicopter part of the level and then down to the chalet section. As the player understands the purpose of the grappling points and the zipline they are able to use them to take the stealthier route through the helicopter pad and then the quickest route down to the chalet without having the double back on themselves. This not only helps guide the player to their next area of conflict but also provided some variation for the player in how they are able to travel through the level.
Mountain Outpost Level Playthrough.
Built using the Far Cry 5 Arcade Editor on PC.
Available to play via the Far Cry 5 Arcade: