Our designer Loan Verneau discusses the design-art relationship on Outer Wilds!
With a game like Outer Wilds, it has been critical for us, the designers, to work closely with the art team when it comes to the creation of the levels. First, because a large part of the game is told through environmental storytelling. Secondly, with a game about player-driven exploration, visually guiding the player towards points of interest is vital.
One of our biggest challenges is to ensure players never end up lost in an environment for a few minutes before finding what they are looking for. As there are no markers on the screen or minimap as to where things are, the content needs to be immediately identifiable when arriving in a new area. The last thing we want is to make the players feel like they need to check every corner in case we hid something there.
The start of that collaboration comes with us using the concept art our art team created as a visual reference for our graybox. When I start designing a place, I like to reproduce a crude version of the concept art look. It keeps me within the visual constraints of the game and often inspires new level design ideas.
Following that first pass, comes a long phase of level design, placing of content, playtesting, and continual iteration until we are comfortable with the level flow and the way information is communicated. After that we lock the design, meaning we are turning the greybox over to the art team.
To facilitate that transition, we need to communicate all the design constraints as well as important details playtest has shown were necessary. Luckily, Avimaan helped us create a way to annotate our Maya scene.
Once each marker is documented correctly, I am ready to meet with the 3D modeller in charge of that level. First we play through the area in Unity and discuss the general feel of each area. Then we switch to Maya and I explain each marker and its significance before leaving that baby level in their expert hands.
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