Batman Arkham Origins: Over-Analysis Part 2

By Shamus
on Dec 6, 2013
Filed under:
Batman

Requisite fanboy shield: I’m going to nitpick the game quite a bit here. This does not mean the game is bad or that you shouldn’t like it. This is an exercise in comparing different art teams and design approaches. Rocksteady made the first two games, WBGM made Batman: Origins, and I find it interesting to see a property being handed off like this. Some of my complaints will seem small or trivial, but they’re part of a larger point that I’m making. It pains me to have to waste a paragraph on this, but I can either put this disclaimer here, or put it in the comments when someone freaks out because you’re claerly a hater who just wants to nitpick every little ting b/c this game is hella fun for true fans and besides it scored good on Metacritic so you must be a bad journalist so STFU because you couldnt do any better.

What I’m NOT going to nitpick: I’m not going to fuss over voice acting, continuity, the story, or Bat-Lore. I know that’s usually the kind of stuff I’m on about, but that’s not what I find interesting about this game. Like I said last time: I think the “origins” idea is a result of the requirements created by the previous games. I think Rocksteady kind of painted WBGM into a corner story-wise, and a lot of story-based criticism would wind up as some sort of extended blame game between the two developers.

Instead, let’s focus on mechanical and artistic changes. I have a big list of items that I want to talk about. Some are good, some are bad. I don’t think I’m going to cover them in any particular order. And today’s entry is only one item. Let’s talk about…

Environment Design

You can tell we’re on a ship because there’s a 3.5 meter blade slowly pushing air out of this dead-end metal box and into the corridor, and it’s got a J.J. Abrams brand LENS FLARE™ light behind it. Just like on a real ship!
You can tell we’re on a ship because there’s a 3.5 meter blade slowly pushing air out of this dead-end metal box and into the corridor, and it’s got a J.J. Abrams brand LENS FLARE™ light behind it. Just like on a real ship!

What’s the old saying? “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone because the game was given to another studio who couldn’t quite keep up with the artists that created the original title?” Something like that. I never realized just how spectacular the Rocksteady level designers were until I saw another team attempt the same thing.

I know I’m always yammering on about Half-Life 2, but I only do it because it’s such a good example of environmental flow: You’re drawn through the levels by the shape of them, and you’re always left with the (completely false) impression that there’s more to the environment than what you saw. There was another door back there. There was a thing to crawl under. There was a side-tunnel you passed by. But you choose the most interesting route first, and it’s not until your second play-through that you realize the door is fake, the crawl space is just an alcove, and the side-tunnel just loops back to the main path. And through it all, it feels like this is a space that follows the logic of the gameworld.

Arkham Origins does not achieve this.

A good environment does the Half-Life 2 thing and leads you down one clear path while tricking you into thinking you’re choosing one of many. A lesser environment is obviously linear, but still leads you from one area to the next. The worst environment is both completely linear but also completely muddled so that you have no sense of where you’re going, how to get there, or how the place fits together.

The indoor sections of Arkham Origins are paradoxically both linear and convoluted. Often I would find myself running down a tunnel only to hit a dead end. What? Did I miss something? I’ll look around, find a grate, and spend two minutes fumbling around trying to figure out how to reach it. Then when I do I find the way in, it’s a dead-end with some collectible stored in it. The real door was way back the passage, dimly lit and recessed slightly so it felt like a “scenery” door and not a real door. In the end, the secret hidden item was more straightforward and obvious than the intended route through the level.

A trap door in the floor of the morgue, which leads to the vast underground dungeon / sewer / boiler room that runs under the city. I’ll bet new employees trip over that handle for days before they get used to it.
A trap door in the floor of the morgue, which leads to the vast underground dungeon / sewer / boiler room that runs under the city. I’ll bet new employees trip over that handle for days before they get used to it.

I think most of this confusion is the result of places that just don’t make any sense. I understand why Batman is always sneaking through sewer tunnels, boiler rooms, and ventilation ducts. What I don’t understand is how everyone else in the world gets around. Does everyone enter the casino through the boiler room? Why is there a medieval style trap door in the middle of the modern morgue? Does Penguin climb over all these pipes just to get to his office?

The answer to all of these questions is “Don’t over-think it, it’s a videogame”. And while I agree that some contrivances are needed to make a videogame world work, a good artist can hide these seams instead of drawing attention to them. The environment doesn’t need to make perfect sense, but shouldn’t be obviously ridiculous. Having environments that are intuitive and and sensible adds to that all-important “immersion” thing designers are always searching for. Traversing a place that feels real is just more fun and interesting than muddling through an arbitrary obstacle course of disjointed elements.

Why does the MAIN ENTRANCE of Penguin’s casino ship lead to tightrope-walking over a pit of burning wreckage? Is this really how guests enter? It’s like the level designers forgot what they were supposed to be making and just dropped into “dungeon building” mode. While they weren’t perfect, Rocksteady was much more careful about building their spaces with some basic coherence.
Why does the MAIN ENTRANCE of Penguin’s casino ship lead to tightrope-walking over a pit of burning wreckage? Is this really how guests enter? It’s like the level designers forgot what they were supposed to be making and just dropped into “dungeon building” mode. While they weren’t perfect, Rocksteady was much more careful about building their spaces with some basic coherence.

These contrived environments lead to a lot of player disconnect. Batman will announce he’s heading into [building] and then my map marker gets moved to some nearby area. I fumble around, looking for a way into the nearest building before realizing that the map marker was actually pointing me to a manhole cover. Batman somehow knew that the manhole would lead to the sewers where he could blast open a wall into a boiler room that would lead through a basement and into a tunnel where he could ascend a derelict elevator shaft and climb through a vent into the desired building. Batman somehow knew this, but he never bothered telling me about it. In previous games, I usually understood what Batman was doing and where he was going. In this one I was often just along for the ride, doing as I was told and wondering where we were going to end up.

One hour ago: <em>You boys! Go down and guard the unused platform between the river of ice and the raging fire. I don’t want guests sneaking in there and stealing the baseball bats you’ll be using to guard the… baseball bats. Anyway, I have no idea how you’ll get over the fire. And I doubt you’ll ever escape.  And keep an eye on that fire. You know how flammable steel and ice water are.</em>
One hour ago: You boys! Go down and guard the unused platform between the river of ice and the raging fire. I don’t want guests sneaking in there and stealing the baseball bats you’ll be using to guard the… baseball bats. Anyway, I have no idea how you’ll get over the fire. And I doubt you’ll ever escape. And keep an eye on that fire. You know how flammable steel and ice water are.

You might argue that the “mystery” corridors where you don’t know where you’re going are gameplay, although if that’s true they are never acknowledged and happen at the worst times. At one point Batman needed to defuse some bombs. The game said plainly they were at the base of [structure]. Batman even said that he needed to reach the BASE of the thing. But the real path the game has you take is to head indoors and go UP an elevator. From there you go through hallways, ducts, boiler rooms, open rooms, shafts, and confusing bits of vertical infrastructure. I kept hitting dead ends and running around lost thinking AREN’T WE PRESSED FOR TIME? DON’T WE HAVE BOMBS TO WORRY ABOUT, BRUCE? After running one of these mazes it turned out the bomb was in a public place. So why did we need to crawl through the Tomb of Horrors to get there? There’s even a train car filled with civilians. Did THEY enter through the duct-work too? No? Then why didn’t we use the door they did? And come to think of it, where would that door be? If I was a civilian and I wanted to visit this train station, where would I go in the city? There’s no such place when you’re out in the open world.

Hey look, it’s a sheer wall of naturally occurring vertical ice, because that’s how ice works, right? (In Arkham City there were also ice walls, but that game also had Mr. Freeze to explain them.) This thing isn’t even near flowing water. It’s just a random unexplained hunk of ice because the game designer decided it was time to have the player blow something up.
Hey look, it’s a sheer wall of naturally occurring vertical ice, because that’s how ice works, right? (In Arkham City there were also ice walls, but that game also had Mr. Freeze to explain them.) This thing isn’t even near flowing water. It’s just a random unexplained hunk of ice because the game designer decided it was time to have the player blow something up.

Good level design is more than just connecting hallways and building a habitrail for the player to run through. You have to know where the player is going, where they are looking, and remember that they are probably dragging real-world assumptions into your gamespace. You need to make sure the player knows where their goal is. You use lights and areas of high interest (lots of things to look at) to draw their eye, and darkness and lack of detail to guide them away from the dead ends, invisible walls, and other necessary contrivances.

I don’t want to give the impression that the entire gameworld is a pile of nonsense. The GCPD level looks fantastic and makes about as much sense as anything in the previous games, while Penguin’s Gunshop Fight Club Casino Cargo Ship Headquarters is boring, repetitive, confusing, disjointed, and makes absolutely no damn sense. I’d love to know the cause of this. Was the casino one of the last areas built, and thus rushed for a release date? Or maybe the casino was one of the first places built, back when this new team was still learning the tools and nailing down the specifics of the final game? Or maybe the GCPD and the casino were given to two different art teams, and one of them just produced higher quality work than the other? Maybe the producer just didn’t value verisimilitude, but the GCPD artists did? It’s impossible to know, but I am curious.

These environmental problems were exacerbated by some other design decisions, which I’ll get to in the next entry.

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From the Archives:

  1. Guildenstern says:

    Wow, did I finally get the first post? Awesome, I should read this at work more often.

    Anyway, this is why I love and kinda hate reading these pieces. All of this is stuff that should present a problem to me when I’m playing but all too often I overlook it beause I’m having fun and then I feel like I’m crap at critical thinking. Stil, pieces like this ultimately do help me sharpen my crticism arsenal a little bit more every time, so I’m glad to see another one.

    • Duneyrr says:

      I feel the same way every time.

    • The Schwarz says:

      There’s an Extra Credits episode about this, I think it’s the one called “playing like a designer” but I can’t check now because I’m in a meeting (yay, reading blogs at work).

      The gist of it is that it’s an acquired skill. You can train yourself to critically examine what you’re experiencing *while* you’re experiencing it, without diminishing the value of the experience or what you’re feeling. It took me a couple of years to really sharpen this skill, but it’s really nice when you finally realize you can actually do it.

      • Guildenstern says:

        Yeah, like I said, I’m getting closer with the help of Shamus and guys like MrBtongue (if he ever comes back, the brilliant yet absent jerk). I’ve also noticed that not only can you maintain your enjoyment of the game but you can also really enhance it in a lot of ways. Once you start digging a little deeper you can figure out *why* you love something so much or how it works so well and that’s just a ton of fun. And I’m one of those people that actually loves picking apart games when I can, so I can even get a lot of enjoyment out of a game while I’m giving it a hard time.

        Even so, I still miss a lot of stuff. I did href=”http://www.nerdwatchshow.com/2013/05/talking-points-bioshock-infinite.html”>a piece on Bioshock Infinite a while ago that I was mostly happy with at the time, but in looking back on it now after having had a lot more conversations and thinking about it some more I see a lot of things that make me go “d’oh!” and wonder how the heck I had possibly thought that.

        • Guildenstern says:

          Gah, blasted missing edit function. Please forgive my complete ineptitude at even basic html link embedding.

        • Macfeast says:

          Excellent points. In recent years, I too have grown much more critical in the way I consume games and movies… but that does not at all detract from my enjoyment of them; Au contraire, it helps me recognize what I like, and why I like it so much. Additionally, as someone with a great interest in both game design and storytelling, recognizing what works and what doesn’t (and when), can be very satisfying, and educational (TvTropes, incidentally, is one of my favorite websites; Who would have guessed?); Heck, if I actually was a budding game designer/storyteller, I would spend all my free time nitpicking other products, trying to hone my critical skills.

          Short version, being critical =/= hater-troll looking for faults.

  2. Dev Null says:

    Batman somehow knew this, but he never bothered telling me about it.

    Thats the bit that breaks it for me (in similar situations; haven’t played this specific game yet.) If we had an objective to get the plans to the boat casino, followed by a 10-second cutscene of Bats poring over them and muttering “the front door is too heavily guarded; I’ll have to sneak in the back” then you could have him enter the casino by tightrope-walking over a pit of flaming velociraptors, or whatever. Of course, it would then be nice if the casino also had a front door, even if it was “locked” and just artwork by the time you got there.

    • Tizzy says:

      I also haven’t played this latest game, and it’s been a while since Asylum and City, but I remember them being pretty good at this: encouraging you to sneak around (the front door is heavily guarded), or sometimes simply forcing you to go around by using some obstacle.

      This way, not only did you use those side paths, but you felt smart doing it too! I remember naturally sneaking around a few times, and hen discovering only on the second playthrough that I didn’t have a choice anyway. THAT’s the way to do it…

  3. Mpjama says:

    given two two different art teams

    I think I found a typo O.o

    • ET says:

      Quiet, you!

      But seriously, this type of level design happens far too often in games.
      The various Fallout games have suffered from this at times, although I think they mostly avoided it because of their broken-world setting.
      It’s a lot easier to make twisty corridors which don’t look ridiculous, when you can obviously see the original hallways and doors.
      It’s just that some rubble has dropped from a hole in the ceiling, so you have to take a bit of a circuitous route.
      Oh, and some monsters tunneled a small path in this other area, so that explains this hallway that wouldn’t make sense in the original building, and obviously you’re going to have to shoot the monsters; It’s their nest!

      The worst is levels set in ostensibly not-broken, real-life areas, which end up being stupid ass mazes.
      “Wait, I’m in an office building. Why is their no large main entrance?
      And where’s the emergency exits?
      And why are there three elevators which only go up a third of the building each?
      And why do the hallways form this spiral which would obviously violate OH&S regulations about multiple clear exits for emergencies?!?

      • Ciennas says:

        New, awesomely silly job. The video Game branch of OSHA. All you do is wander the game world with all the cool getting around powers removed, and hand out violations based on what doesn’t work.

        I’m sure you’d be the talk of all parties.

      • Decius says:

        The oddest thing comes from the Crusader: No [Remorse|Regret] games:

        Why are all of the keypads and levers located on the northeast or northwest walls?

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        And why do the hallways form this spiral which would obviously violate OH&S regulations about multiple clear exits for emergencies?!?

        Because you’re working in someplace designed by the same idiot that did the BBC Television Centre? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Television_Centre

        (Continuing my theme of supplying links to Top Gear programming because overlapping them with video games amuses me, they staged a race through the building after BBC moved out of it, between a motorcyclist and a couple of freerunners. Keep in mind while watching that this is nominally all one building… http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01cm16v )

        • Matt Downie says:

          The BBC TV Centre was designed in the shape of a giant question mark, so it’s clear that in all these cases the architect was none other than The Riddler!
          This explains everything.
          “Hey, Eddie, I’m looking over these plans you drew up. I’m trying to figure out exactly how I get to my office?”
          “Tsk. Through the trapdoor in the morgue, of course! Didn’t you read the cryptic rhyme I sent you?”

        • postinternetsyndrome says:

          Haha, fabulous!

          I really do prefer clean parkour without flips and tricks over “freerunning” though…

        • Thomas says:

          In the theme of stupid buildings, there’s an engineering building in Nottingham University that’s a standard concrete rectangle. You know, normal 2 rooms and a central corridor wide business.

          But to walk from one end of the ground floor to the other you have to go outside.

          If you want to get to somewhere on the top floor you can only use particular staircases and at one point it will involve walking along a tiny walkway hanging off the edge of and which was clearly only added on after they finished building the place and discovered they’d forgotten to include a way to get to rooms at the top??

    • Von Krieger says:

      Two, ah ah ah, two art teams!

  4. Corpital says:

    Ha, great post. I was instantly reminded of Deus Ex:HR, the apartment building not reachable by normal means etc.

    Sadly, good examples for this often don’t get the appreciation they deserve.

  5. Ciennas says:

    Yahtzee’s review mentioned that he’s pretty sure they reused environments from City.

    I’ve played that one, but not this one. So is he right? Did they just modify some of the older City maps to work with what they wanted?

    • modus0 says:

      The entire outside area of Arkham City is reprised in the Northern of the two areas of Arkham Origins, though without a giant wall surrounding it and the submerged area being before whatever event caused it to sink.

      So one’s familiarity with navigating around in Arkham City will help in getting around the area in Arkham Origins. The courthouse, church, Monarch Theater, Crime Alley, and Sionis Steel Mill are in the same locations in both games.

      So it does definitely feel like they probably reused a large portion of the game assets from Arkham City in Arkham Origins. But only the WBGM devs could tell for certain (and they likely won’t admit to it).

    • Eruanno says:

      Well, they reused environments in a way. The gameworld is made up of the southern island of Gotham (which is the part that becomes Arkham City) and the northern island (which is completely new).

      The Arkham-City-part looks similar to what Arkham City looked like, except it’s not flooded and smashed to pieces. For me it was less “Boo, they just copy-pasted things from the old game” but more “Oh hey, there’s that building that was in the other game, but it looks less destroyed and shit here”.

      • lucky7 says:

        I had the opposite effect (going from Orignins to City) of “Man, this place really HAS gone to hell” or “Oh, they built something behind the courthouse/expanded the Mill!”

  6. Mintskittle says:

    I don’t know what it is about the images in the article, but they all make Batman look fat. Like he was nearing 300 lbs. and decided to finally get in shape. Beating up bad guys while dressed as a bat is just his idea of a workout.

  7. Klay F. says:

    One thing that really irritated me about the Rocksteady Arkham games was Batman’s insistence on just using the front freaking door to a building. When was the last time Batman EVER used a building’s front door? Yet in the Rocksteady games its the only way to enter a building. WTF? I admit this isn’t a huge game-breaking issue, but still. Here I am feeling like a badass stealth ninja, then I derp through the front door, which conveniently is also never guarded by mooks with guns.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Why would they guard the front door? Batman never comes in that way.

      • Talby says:

        So he always uses the front door because the mooks wouldn’t be guarding it because Batman never uses the front door… makes sense.

        • Paul Spooner says:

          Yeah, but what about, I don’t know, all the other criminals? Isn’t the point of Gotham that it’s overrun with crime? Wouldn’t the criminals need to guard against threats other than the billionaire masked vigilante variety? Or has Batman been the biggest threat to criminals for so long that all the criminals have banded together to oppose him? In that case, wouldn’t the “criminal underworld” count as some sort of ad-hoc government? Is the man dressed as a bat a symbol for the US “war on poverty” and the futility thereof? Should I stop thinking about this so hard?

          • syal says:

            They don’t have to guard the front door against criminals because all the other criminals know what happens to guys who cross [insert villain here]. It’d be a waste of resources.

    • Tizzy says:

      I can’t say that it’s how I remember them.

  8. SlothfulCobra says:

    Arkham City had a considerable amount of these problems too. At some point, Gotham City must’ve underwent some massive environmental disaster, because half of the area is flooded, there are broken streets everywhere, and even of the buildings are slumping at an angle. There’s also that room in the middle of Penguin’s museum that’s filled with water for no discernible reason. Nobody explains anything about any of those.

    • Ciennas says:

      Oh! I know that one! Gotham had a massive and nasty earthquake recently. They apparently figured it was cheaper to dump a bunch of convicted thugs and assorted criminal psychopaths in that section than to waste money repairing it or anything.

      Further, I’m glad they noted that this experiment wouldn’t work on any level without somebody tweaking someone’s arm to make it so.

      As for the Iceberg Lounge’s central room… It’s entirely possible it was completely passable at one point without any gadgetry or shannaniginizing, but then the walkways were torn down because Penguin is terrible at long term planning for some reason. It’s entirely possible that the building’s got a nice logical method of egress that is walled off for the time being- It’s repeatedly implied to be an execution room, after all.

    • Thomas says:

      They do mention that yes a huge natural disasters had hit the city. It’s in a couple of conversations and the codec. If it seems out of place and poorly explained there is a reason for that.

      Arkham City is basically the plot of one of the more famous Batman stories called No-Mans Land where several natural disasters hit Gotham and the conditions get so bad that the government makes the decision with the help of Ra’s and the League of Shadows to abandon the city, leaving only the criminals and a few citizens who refuse to evacuate behind. (The Dark Knight Rises was also copying this story)

      But because they needed Arkham in the title they completely changed the set-up whilst leaving the other details of the set-up the same.

      • Thomas says:

        *Both the Dark Knight Rises and Arkham City both do a lot of different things with the plot, so I guess ‘inspired’ would be a better description than copying. But in both cases I actually think the stories might’ve been better if they’d kept more the same, because it’s a pretty big story by itself, never mind copying more in. The prison-city thing never felt very good in Arkham City and I actually think trying to control/protect districts and protecting citizens would have suited the tone and themes better and changed things up from ‘one difficult day wearing Batman down’*

        *Which is what TDKR needed to include more of. Also get rid of that thing where the Dark Knight rises twice in the same film. So completely change the intro (I still can’t imagine Batman retiring like that)

        • Brandon says:

          The beginning of Dark Knight Rises was basically taken from The Dark Knight Returns, a comic where Batman did indeed retire and the city went to hell without him.

          • Thomas says:

            I’ve watched the animated version of TDKReturns but I think the big difference is Batman is old in that one, whereas in TDKRises he basically didn’t have a career before retiring. I’m pretty sure a huge amount of time didn’t pass before Begins and TDK because TDK is still dealing with the new consequences of Batman existing (and Joker escalation is mentioned in Begins)

            It was a good story to take from, but trying to combine to big stories like that made things messy and unfocused

            • syal says:

              Presumably it’s been at least a year between Begins and TDK. That’s the impression I got from the mayoral interview at the beginning of it.

              But either way, Batman should never retire off-screen. That’ll always feel dumb.

              • Thomas says:

                Oh yeah, but a year is a short time to retire in right? He’s barely started the job. I sort of mean that you’d expect Batman to go on for _20_ years, you know something that really pushes the limits of human endurance. Anything less than five makes it look like a fad he was going through

            • Brandon says:

              Yeah, it didn’t really work for me either. The whole thing with the Dark Knight Returns was that Batman had a long career, and then had been retired long enough that people were already starting to question if he had ever been real. Then he makes his big comeback and rises higher than ever before.

              In Dark Knight Returns, he causes the death of Harvey Dent and then hides in his mansion for a year or something.

              And you’re absolutely right, the reason the Dark Knight Rises was such a clusterduck was because they tried to combine not two, but THREE separate Batman stories: No Man’s Land, Dark Knight Returns, and Knightfall.

              Knightfall is the story centered around Bane “breaking the bat”, Dark Knight Returns is the one where he’s retired and making a comeback against a powerful foe, but rises to the challenge, and No Man’s Land is about Gotham being cut off from the rest of the world and taken over by criminals and such.

    • Drinking with Skeletons says:

      The Pinkney Museum is also an aquarium. The central tank presumably had walkways over it before Penguin tore them down (how people work there afterwards is beyond me). You’ll notice that you can actually see into the tank in various areas, though they sadly didn’t have a huge shark silhouette to foreshadow the great white in the tank.

      Meanwhile, the Riddler Challenges in City explicitly discuss the earthquake, which ties into the plot. Remember what’s going on down beneath Arkham City.

      That game really tries to tie everything together.

  9. harborpirate says:

    I think all game designers should be required to be sticklers for adherence to whatever rules the game presents. The key here is verisimilitude. Its not that the game has to be “realistic”, it just has to obey its own rules.

    Shamus points out a common trap that level designers fall into: when no consideration is given to how a structure is normally used. Sure, it can be fun for the player to have to overcome difficulty in crossing a rickety bridge or trap filled corridor, but if that is the primary means of traversal on a well travelled route, then it will strike observant players as preposterous.

    This made me increasingly incensed when playing the Library level of the first Halo. Endless turning corridors with no distinguishing characteristics. All of the floors look exactly the same. Five separate elevators that each ascend only one floor. I began to wonder what madman had designed this place. Then it slowly dawned on me: this is not the work of a madman; but a lazy, incompetent level designer.

    • Alex says:

      There is a building at the university I went to that is like this. Five different staircases, none of which can reach every floor. The top floor is made up of three separate areas inaccessible from one another. And one one of the staircases ends at a balcony, with a single door to a women’s bathroom. Lecturers and students alike would get lost trying to reach their classrooms.

      The real kicker? It’s the Architecture building.

      • syal says:

        Well, I’ll give it credit, it gets you thinking about what makes a building work, better than a well-built one ever could.

      • Kalil says:

        My school had several buildings like this – most famously the circular Harelson Hall and the non-euclidian Caldwell Hall, which had half-floors and other weirdness. Notably, these were the products of student design projects. Cool ideas that were terrible in reality.

        Dabney Hall, the chemistry building, was logically laid out. Except that the exhausts for the fume hoods were located directly next to the intakes for the A/C system. Fun times…

    • Tim Charters says:

      On the subject of realism versus verisimilitude: When making Oni, Bungie hired actual architects to design the environments. The levels were even built with AutoCAD. The game ended up being criticized for boring and repetitive level design, with floors looking exactly the same, rooms with no distinguishing features, etc. So the kind of repetition that you talk about might not be so out there (but the elevator thing is still inexcusable).

      So I think the goal should be to make the environments feel like they are normally used in a sensible way. Something as simple as providing visible big main entrances and hallways, even if you can’t access them for some reason, can help a lot. You’d think that in this particular game it wouldn’t be that hard to do. Just have a brief cutscene showing a bunch of armed guards watching the front door of the building and have Batman say “I can’t risk alerting them, so I’ll sneak in through the vent on the roof.”

  10. Eruanno says:

    This is one of the biggest peeves I have with Arkham Origins. It’s just ever so slightly infuriating to navigate. Penguin’s boat is especially confusing. It’s even more annoying when the game bugs out and locks off all the doors before you realize the game bugged out and you have to restart it to be able to use the Magical Door that is the only exit out of the area >:C

  11. Tizzy says:

    I guess I am nowhere near as impressed by Half-Life 2. I guess different playstyles, I tend to move very slowly through environments, so I find out very quickly about the fake door, the loop-back passage etc. I guess also because many games have left me with the “off the beaten path = more goodies” reflex.

    But my main beef with the Half-life 2 level design is the way space would be compulsively re-used. You would be progressing some place, and then later, you would be back in the same environment but at a different height or something like that, so that these were effectively two different places (can’t directly reach one from the other) in the same environment.

    Now, it’s a cool idea. It gives a sense of continuity, and the “ha ha” that comes from recognizing a place even though you are seeing it from a totally different angle. But, ALL the time? It means that the very linear path through the game (forward always, from the gameplay perspective) is, spatially, this incredibly convoluted trail that loops over itself over and over.

    Be ause of the lack of moderation in applying this one cool idea, immersion is broken, and it just feels plain lazy. (Which I guess is the point, they want to avoid creating too much game space which would either be crushing amounts of work or miles of look-alike places, but I’m still not convinced that this is any better.)

  12. Fang says:

    My one thing on maps having to make sense, if you can’t basically take your “in-game map files” and turn them into a floor plan that makes sense-ish, you may need to rethink how you are designing it.

    I mean look at these links(http://www.nextdimension.org/bmrf/Black_Mesa_Research_Facility_HL_Map.jpg ; http://imgur.com/a/5l4LR#0). That is the Half-Life 1 maps put together to make sense. Meaning you could theoretically remake Half-Life 1 where you just walk/ride from area to area. (Sorry if this seems brash… maybe it isn’t it just seems that way to me lol)

  13. Rack says:

    The level esign, specifically how it leads you about was my biggest problem with Arkham City. I think it ran into issues with back tracking, you’d go into a place and complete an objective, but rather than quickly being shunted in the main world you had to go through the levels backwards.

    At this point the level design worked against it, as you were constantly being lead away from the exit which was designed to push you further into the level.

    Even beyond that there were several clangers where the geometry just didn’t make sense and you would head into the most interesting section only to discover it was a brick wall.

    For me it was the one wrinkle in an otherwise spectacular game.

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