In early 2014, I had the opportunity to author some multiplayer levels for Dungeon Defenders II - the sequel to the sleeper hit tower defense game Dungeon Defenders. This project posed some very unique design challenges; creating levels for a tower defense game in which players control free-roaming characters in the same environment as the enemies required a lot of consideration for things such as monster routes, placement of interactive items such as traps, goals to be defended, and strategic elements like choke points and player-specific shortcuts. While the work was challenging and this is atypical of the genre I usually design levels for, it was also quite fun and I learned a lot about building spaces that were outside my comfort zone of expertise.

Dungeon Defenders II

Dungeon Defenders II
The glorious Dungeon Defenders II logo.

My role was that of world builder and gameplay scripter. The scripted gameplay was extremely complex (the kismet running all gameplay events was in excess of 20MB alone), and required extensive spline paths and node work. Scripting aside, I was primarily responsible for the level geometry and layout of the monster paths to their objective(s). This would begin as a series of concept art images and a creative discussion about how certain elements from the concept could be implemented in the space. Following this step, I would construct a rough block-out of space that defined the crucial elements necessary for the level to play as intended while referencing the concept art as a guide for architectural influence. Then I would place a few temporary pre-made props and key landmark items to ensure that players testing our levels could easily navigate and not become lost, while conveying how specific theme elements might affect gameplay. This would also include a rough lighting pass and some visual communication for monster travel direction and trap functionality. Once the playtesters and the rest of the design team had verified that the level performed as designed, the level would go forward to the art department for its first pass of environment art. As the designer assigned to that particular level I would maintain ownership throughout this process, ensuring that the gameplay did not change and continued to function as designed.

In addition, I frequently built small concept levels to prove out new gameplay ideas. These proof-of-concept levels would range from alternate types of sub-objectives to entirely new game modes. Some ideas worked well, but in having the freedom to fail I was able to learn a lot of very useful information that aided me in building better levels. Alternate sub-objectives included things such as active traps becoming broken/disabled when destroyed, eliminating specific player-only routes, or making sub-objectives a requirement before moving on to the main objective - which opened up a number of interesting strategic choices.

The images below are what these various levels looked like as they progress through the different stages of the development process - from early geometry block-out based on concept to rough first-pass environment art. Unfortunately my contract ended prior to the game launching later in 2014, but the images below will hopefully give you an idea of what each of these levels go through before reaching the final product. It really is a labor of love and dedication, no matter what genre of game you are working on.

Note: These images were taken during production in the UE editor.