A viral Twitter thread from a Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond designer will give you a new appreciation for how each perfectly placed cover crate comes to life.
Alexa Kim, senior gameplay designer on the World War 2 virtual reality shooter that came out last month, shared a series of images that placed her in-development versions of several game levels next to the final product. She designed the maps on the left herself, then they were sent off to an external studio to create immersive environments that would make players feel like they're in World War 2 battlefields instead of that CGI episode of The Simpsons from 1996.
Be nice to your environment artists (1/5) pic.twitter.com/2MSpdItZf3January 2, 2021
..and make your boxes mean something (3/5) pic.twitter.com/3p6kODw5v8January 2, 2021
..all while making it look DAMN GOOD (5/5)Thank you env devs \o/ pic.twitter.com/KbINWGOktYJanuary 2, 2021
While they look odd, the "blockout" maps are playable. They contain all the key parts of the levels that make the action work. Then the environment artists at Virtuos - an international developer that has done all kinds of work on a dizzying number of series, from Assassin's Creed to XCOM - took Kim's guide versions and used them to create the kinds of beautiful maps you're used to exploring in modern triple-A games.
Starting with these simple prototype maps (themselves inspired by concept art and other references) lets designers get their ideas out quickly, then iterate on the concepts that are important for how the game plays: "In my case, this was a shooting game so it was about player movement vs AI movement, sightlines, cover, etc." Kim explained. Once Respawn Entertainment got the maps back, the studios would collaborate to make any changes that were needed to get the final version just right.
If you want to learn more about the finer points of designing levels for a game like Medal of Honor: Above and beyond, you can check out the commentary videos Kim has uploaded on her YouTube channel.
You can find even more to play in our guide to the best VR games.