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Evasive Maneuvers

Online Multiplayer Spaceship Arcade Arena Game

Level Design, Environment Design, Programming, UI Design, Production

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Evasive Maneuvers

Evasive Maneuvers (EM) is a multiplayer online space ship arcade game. Two teams are pitted against each other, the runners trying to collect the required orbs to open a warp gate to escape in time, the hunters doing everything they can to stop them from escaping.

Mechanically playing out like a cat and mouse game, where runners are more maneuverable, and are equipped with evasive tools like cloak and flares, while hunters are outfitted with faster speed and more offensive tools like missiles, EMPs, and sonar pings.

The game started as a Global Game Jam entry for 2021, but we felt like it was a winning idea and wanted to flesh it out and take it to market.

My role for this project largely surrounded level design and environment art. I was tasked with creating a compelling set of maps for the game that each felt mechanically and aesthetically cohesive. In addition, I aided in the UI and HUD design process, and scripted the game’s performance settings and the interactive tutorial section. Finally, I was also filling the role of producer, managing our backlog of tasks and keeping the project on schedule and well playtested.


Designing for 360°

EM is not a traditional arena game, because of this I had to devise a few ways to make the maps compelling and fun without disorienting the player or trivializing the mechanics. Below are a few of the most important design choices I made as a consistent pillar of the level design.

  • Sky Gradients: Since there is no up in space, the player having 360* of freedom could have been extremely disorienting. To combat this, I use what I call a sky gradient, the general ‘sun’ direction of the level. This helps the player ground themselves a little, knowing there is a light and dark side of the map.

  • Thick Fog: Thick fog was a staple of the environment design, giving the spaces the player moves through an abstract sensation - but it also played a role mechanically. The thick volumetric fog forces the player to only see what is immediately around them. This makes the maps feel labyrinthian overall, but on a moment to moment basis, relieves the player of complex future decision making - since they can only make decisions a few turns at a time. Thus, the player is pushed into EM’s fun zone, where they have to adjust their flight on the.. well on the fly.

  • Y Turns: Every junction in EM is at least a Y turn. Basic arena level design knowledge, never corner your player. In an FPS it might be somewhat excusable since everyone is armed, but in EM the runners have no defense but escape, so it was critical they always had a route to move.

  • Cutting Up Maps: Levels were cut up into several key area types I call Courtyards, Coral, Crevasses, and Caves. Yes, I did in fact name them like that on purpose.

    • Courtyards are large open spaces favoring the hunters, since there is little cover and clear sight lines. These also contain the most orb spawners, incentivizing the runners to risk-reward dive into the open to get orbs.

    • Corals are large open spaces that are crisscrossed with cover and obstacles. These favor the runner since they can duck and weave through the geometry to escape their pursuers. Corals also hold less orbs, so while safe, they won’t help the runner win the game.

    • Crevasses are shallow but specifically placed doors between two Courtyards, acting as pinch points where a hunter can ambush a runner if they have good map awareness.

    • Caves are tunnels, halls or other fully enclosed routes through the map. These are a double edged sword for both teams. Runners can make use of the tight space to evade hunters and lose them in a chase, but hunters can also use them to cut off or ambush runners if they know they’re in there. Caves also hold the least orbs.

  • Collision: A tight control on collision handling was also absolutely critical. In early versions of the maps, I used the meshes’ basic collision as the player collision but this produced agonizing snag effects. So to fix this, and ensure the player can smoothly navigate the map, I used Unreal’s BSP to create all the collision geo. After greyboxing was done, I would either turn the BSP into a static mesh and use its simpler collision, or I would turn it into a blocking volume, and cover more detailed or complex geo with the smooth volume.


Multiplayer Maps

In this section I want to showcase the 13 maps I created for the core multiplayer mode, and what mechanically makes them stand out.

  • Protana Station: The first map for EM, first created during the game jam period, it was definitely a design exploration, and was built by the seat of my pants. However, because of its looseness, it would go on to be the staple map for the project and inform many of the aforementioned design pillars.

  • Orion’s Curse: Orion doesn’t feature any key element, but is a further divided map between the many C’s of EM’s level design. With a massive courtyard in front of the gate, coral the runners spawn in, and caves tucked around the side.

  • Upper Vale: Features foliage for the runners to hide in, unusual level of clarity, and an emphasis on crevasses between large courtyards. The last of which being the massive open space between all cover and the gate.

  • Structica: The first map in the roster to have a special feature, moving storage containers that can hit and block ships. The gate location is at the nose of a large cargo ship, itself surrounded by static containers acting as a coral area, and filling the courtyard with moving cover and obstacles.

  • Reyliant: This map is largely divided between a large central courtyard centered on a kill ball, and walls of foliage cover and coral arenas on the sides.

  • Kauthen Expanse: Features a rolling sandstorm that comes in and out a few times per match severely limiting vision, even more so than normal. It also has small light sources that are meant to distract runners and trick them, compensated by the fact the gate is in the center of the map, a challenging position to defend for the hunters.

  • Hideout: A jungle base divided between a foggy, foliage filled outer courtyard arena, and a tighter interior bunker environment with many small nooks and crannies but clearer sight lines. The division between the two being defined by a small selection of entry and exit points.

  • Graveyard: The special feature of this map is the use of runner ship carcasses, which a runner player can use to distract or trick a hunter. Either by bumping a floating one and making a moving target, or by nesting amongst the dead to blend in. This is balanced by having the majority of the map a large open courtyard favoring the hunters.

  • Artemis: This map is a large U shaped courtyard edged by coral and caves, but has as it is a hunter carrier ship, has one advantage for them. The red shields permit hunters to pass through, but block runners, giving hunters a movement advantage for a change.

  • Zehil Divide: Features an absolute acid trip of a design. Seriously, I don’t know where this came from, but now people are asking me for some. It’s a pair of oceans on the floor and ceiling of the map, dotted around with many large rock formations for cover. Forgoing the games traditional fog, instead a thick blurring post-processing pass is applied to any player in the water, obscuring vision in a similar way. However, what makes this different, is that glowing from engines or trails is amplified, encouraging a boost and float style of play. Almost all orbs are in the central air pocket, pushing runners to dive into the water, sneak along below the waves, and dash between the two oceans to snag orbs.

  • Breacher: Divided between a large open air courtyard with some caves in the structure, and the winding ice caves below. The ice material has a reflective quality, which can tip either team off to the position of their enemies.

  • Undercity: Thick fog and heavy use of coral makes this a more runner favored map during play, but the gate is located at a choke point, favoring the hunters for end game. This forces the runners to plan their escape precisely, extending the game, and pushes the hunters to constantly be ready to guard the gate. I like to refer to this style as a “knife fight”, since both teams are trying to hedge their bets on when the best time to start the end game is.

  • Elder Fate: The final map in the game, Elder Fate is meant to be a challenge to both teams, with the predominant design of the level being a large scale coral arena, interwoven with ancient space tree branches. No caves, no courtyards, just a constant open space with equidistant cover. This produces a sort of bare knuckle brawl of attrition for both teams, fitting for what is canonically the final battle.


Tutorial Design

Another level design task I implemented into the game was the tutorial system. This was done in the 11th hour of the game’s development, and as such had to be done on a slim resource budget. I created a basic map that had a spawn, open area, clear atmosphere, and a gate to exit through.

While I could have used Unreal Blueprints to program a dozen bespoke interactions, that would have been a massive waste of time given the tight timeframe. Instead, I created a dynamic ‘level scripting’ system that acts like an input-output tracker. This would wait for one of a number of trigger types; "player at location", "player input", "item acquired", "enemy killed", or "time elapsed". This would then execute an output, such as spawning, opening the gate, moving obstacles, etc. This system was instrumental in being able to create and troubleshoot the tutorials in a few days pre-release.

It is, however, not perfect, and I fully acknowledge that. Given more time, I would create a more robust tutorial system, and use full dialogue or video reference rather than just rely on UI pop ups.