Look at all those boxes

Today we'd like to give you a quick look at how we are doing with our game levels. We are far from complete but even at this early stage it is interesting to see how things are being put together. Right now, we are in the middle of the so called white-boxing stage for many of the levels.
White-boxing, sometimes also called grey-boxing, is a common process in game development which is used to put together and test game environments quickly. Essentially what white-boxing means is that you put together your whole environment just using placeholder assets instead of the final art pieces. Usually white boxes are being used, hence the term white-boxing.

Writing it down

White-boxing is usually the second step in level creation. The first one being the basic design and idea finding for the level. This simply means sitting down and gathering all the ideas and design requirements for the respective level. Let's look at one of our early campaign levels as an example. Eventually the level will be playable with shiny graphics, sound, enemy AI, etc.

However the first step is just nailing down the design. In real life this can look like this.

Design on paper

Everything starts on a piece of paper

Although this step looks pretty basic it is quite important. Once you start putting your ideas into writing the first problems and challenges with the design will become obvious. This is when the biggest kings and issues get sorted out be solving the problem 'on the paper.'

White-boxing

Once this step is done and you are happy with your design it is time to bring it to life. As mentioned before, instead of building everything using final art assets, white-box assets are being used. Usually the geometry is limited to basic shapes and objects such as spheres, cubes or cylinders. But even with simple and un-textured assets the level flow can be tested quickly.
This is how our level looks like once we transferred it into the engine.

Whitebox in Unity

The white-box level in Unity

White-box level in game view

The white-box level as the player sees it

The first image shows the level inside Unity's editor while the second one is the world through the actual game camera and shows what the player in the level will see.
The great thing here is that changes in this state are really easy. You can just move objects around and add or remove them without messing up textures, lighting or any other part of the level.
What usually happens during this white-boxing state is that you discover that...

  • ...the level is too big/small
  • ...the gameplay pacing doesn't fit
  • ...more art assets will be required than you initially thought
  • ... a certain gameplay element is too boring/hard/easy/confusing

All those issues are easy to fix however when you are able to move things around quickly. Making big changes to a level which is packed with AI, particle effects, cut-scenes and tweaked light sources however wouldn't be very much fun.

Gamplay Placeholders

In an empty and white level it can be difficult to see which gameplay elements are supposed to happen at which time.
To deal with this problem we are using placeholder objects inside the levels. We have gameplay placeholder objects for every kind of player interaction or game element. For example: In a white-boxed level there are no cut-scenes set up or finished. So instead of putting in a finished cut-scene we just place a so called game placeholder. This placeholder visualizes the gameplay that can be found at this place in the final game. Those placeholders are pretty much just a simple object with a short description of what is supposed to happen at this point in the level.

This is what our gameplay placeholders look like.

Placeholder Objects

Placeholder Objects

Each placeholder objects can tell you quickly what you will be finding here in the final game. In early versions of the game you might walk past a puzzle placeholder object and will know that there will be a puzzle waiting for you later.

Replacing the white-box objects

The final step, once the level is completely white-boxed and all design elements nailed down is to replace all objects. What this means is that all the white boxes and cylinders are being replaced with actual proper objects. Then terrain textures are added, along with many light sources and particle effects to really bring things to life.

Obviously this step can only be done once all the art assets are finished. Hence we do not have any screenshots to show here 🙂
We hope you liked this little peak behind the scenes. There will be plenty more to show soon when the first environment sets are being finished.

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