Red Steel: The making of the level Russian Waste

I worked on the first level we play when we go to Japan, the waste processing plant. And I wanted to explain myself on the choices I made that resulted in what can be found in the game.
First of all here are the links to the walkthrough videos I made myself:

Genesis and intentions
Originally this level was supposed to take place in a japanese waste processing plant where the boss organize a chemical traffic with a russian mafia. Finally, this story of Russian Mafia disappeared and there remained only the factory where the player had to find Ryuishi who owns the factory.
At the beginning of my work, I was only aware of the location (a waste treatment plant based on a Tokyo Bay island) and the script requirements (The hero must find Ryuishi and make him speak to deliver an important character of the story). Other than that, I had carte blanche.
So my first task was to list the elements that I could use in a waste treatment plant to make it a nice level. The first elements were the conveyor belts carrying waste and incineration furnaces. The idea was to give a mechanical dimension to this level, to use a maximum of machines and if possible to use them as gameplay elements. The idea was to reproduce the schema of the combat of the man against the machine. That is why I wanted to give a gigantic dimension to the factory and to ensure that the mechanical elements become incontrolable after a while.
I also wanted to play on the contrasts: the dark and noisy interiors opposite to the clear and calm exteriors and the technology of the factory in contrast with the nature of the bay of Tokyo. I could also add the size of the player to the gigantism of the factory.
Besides that, I tried to play on certain emotions: fear, by making this factory a modern labyrinth to lose the player, the stress when the oven is about to explode, the surprise with the Explosion of the second furnace.

In a macro way, the level is divided into two parts ended by two climaxes: the first climax comes at the end of the player's first objective, which is to go across the factory, the second is the end boss.
In the first part the rhythm goes up gradually: it starts with some stealth (sniping), then the mechanical elements of the factory are introduced one by one, and it ends with the explosion of the furnace.
Then I introduced a calm sequence with a puzzle (the boats) to buffer with the two trying sequences of the oven and the boss.
The sequence of the final boss is designed as a chase, and also recalls the chase that the player had earlier in the level by crossing the famous truck several times.

The vertical path
The vertical movement that the player undergoes throughout the level is not insignificant. To symbolize the fact that the player penetrates into the complexity of the factory, it goes down. Then it goes up as soon as its objective is near: to leave the factory by the ovens. And finally, the light at the end of the tunnel

Now let's move on to the different sequences of the game:

The docks
The beginning of the map had to focus on infiltration. I had two ideas: the first one was to make an infiltration sequence, the second one to make a long range shooting sequence with a snipe rifle. The first orientation was not possible because the game mechanisms did not take into account the conditions where the player was no longer seen (As soon as an enemy has located the player, he knows where he is forever even if he is hidden.
The snipe sequence was therefore the best decision. The only change made after was about the snipers posted on the opposite crane. Originally there was a sniper on the crane from the beginning of the sequence. Yet 90% of the players lost a life because they had not seen him. And because I'm not a fan of vicious level design, the sniper was removed and only appears later when the player gets closer to the crane.

The hangars
At first there was only an open road with pillars on the left. Then I enlarged the room to the right to add some covers in the form of boxes and make the situation more interesting for gunfight. Then we had to give a visual identity to the sequence, so I replaced the boxes with garbage trucks and the artist had the idea of a much more interesting shed graphically speaking.
The aim of this sequence was also to introduce the first explosive elements of the level in the form of explosive barrels.

The buckets
This is one of the first sequences performed at the modeling stage. The idea was to have a vertical sequence with mechanical elements crossing at the center. At first it was a conveyor belt, then came the idea of ​​buckets.
In the end, it is necessary to climb in the buckets to leave the room, but this was not the case at the beginning. And we thought it would be a shame not to impose the player a shooting sequence hidden in a bucket. The player had to climb into a bucket at the top of the room and stay there until he came out.
The funny thing is that the entrance of the room was on top, and most of the players during playtests went downstairs to realize that you had to go up to take the buckets. It made a round trip not very necessary. So I moved the entrance down, in front of the place where the buckets came out of the room, hoping that the players understood that the player needs to grab a bucket to exit the room.

The treadmills
This sequence has changed a lot. Originally I wanted to make an impressive sequence where the player embarked on a treadmill moving very quickly in tunnels from where arise enemies. I tested this and it didn't work: if it goes too fast, we do not have time to aim and kill the enemies, which is necessarily frustrating. But if we set the speed so that we can kill the enemy, it goes way too slow to do something impressive. So I changed the situation by adding jets of acids to make the sequence a little more interesting. The jets of acid were first set as in the platform games: activating and deactivating at regular intervals. But it did not work because there was too much information for the player to understand:
  • Jets of acids are deadly,
  • They are activated and deactivated at regular intervals,
  • Enemies are coming,
  • The floor is moving (the treadmill).

So finally, I deleted the activation at regular intervals of the jets. When the player arrives, they are activated forming a wall whereby the player can not pass through. The player has only to deal with enemies and the treadmill. Then he can interact with a switch to disable the jets and go on.

The Engine Room
This is the first room designed. I wanted to create a sequence where the player ended up in a small room with a low ceiling and many pillars. Finally, the room is less dark than what I wanted but the sequence still works as well, even if the player can see easier the position of the enemies.
The aim of this sequence was to introduce for the first time to the player the explosive elements useful for the gameplay. There is indeed the sequence of the shed which was rather conceived as a mouthing. Here the machines explode and the pillars break! This also marks the beginning of trouble for the player.

The Pass
This sequence of the pass to recover was inspired by my graphic designer. "What if the exit door was blocked and several enemies came out of the exit by knocking down the tables?"
Then I got the idea of the radio, because I thought it was a good way to make the player understand that something was going to happen.

The pipes
Here we are beginning to approach the ovens. The furnace is the most important element of the level and it had to be much more present at the origin than it is at the end. Indeed, this room of pipes comes from numerous iteration of another sequence where the player had to climb around the chimney of the furnace by gangways lined with pipes. The sequence was impressive because it was dizzying, but it would have been impossible to realize with the graphic constraints we had. So I started to cut it out and then add less linearity to finally end up keeping only one of the parts that matches the room as it appears in the game.
The idea of ​​this room was to make the player understand that he is in a dangerous place where it is not good to use firearms. Thus, the majority of the pipes explode when they are fired, which makes the place unstable.
The two enemies that arrive when the player moves on the balanced bar have been added at the end. Moreover, for the anecdote, the game had to include an equilibrium gameplay using the wiimote. This gameplay disappeared, but I figured I could keep this sequence.
At the end of the sequence, a countdown starts: the oven will explode. The countdown is only there to make the player stress, because it is wide enough to get out of the oven. It is in this same line of thought that I put in end of situation that exit door that opens very slowly.

The Oven
And then we thought, as to put a furnace, as much to make the player pass in! And why not a fight against a samurai just above the embers, in order to slow down the player in his escape obviously! To slow down a little bit more, I also thought about the old and rusty hoist. So old that one wonders if he will get to the end.
In short, the idea here was to stress the player in relation to the impending explosion of the oven. Everything has therefore been conceived in this purpose.
I think we can find in the fight against the samurai a certain wink to the Star Wars saga.

The exit tunnel
Finally, the player must take a tunnel leading to the exit.
This sequence was not quite like that earlier in the development, since we had to escape by ladders of fifty meters high. Then we replaced it by an oblique tunnel rising upwards (the ladders was not sexy enough). Finally the tunnel is horizontal for practical reasons for me and my artist. So I took the opportunity to add enemies that break some parts of the tunnel.

The docks
After the hell of the factory, it was necessary to set up a quiet passage both in sound and visuals. The beach, the sea and the wind in the hair, it was perfect.
I added an explosion for the second tunnel, however, to surprise the player. Initially there must have been several ones, but smaller.
The puzzle with the boats is there because it hurts me to put a sequence without any gameplay. At first, the puzzle had to be more complex: it was necessary to drop the boats but also to raise the water with a system of valve. But it was technically impossible so it has been simplified.
Otherwise the legend says that these boats looks like giant mussels.

The port
This is probably the sequence that has undergone the most changes. Since it was a boss sequence, we wanted to do something really spectacular. So we had several ideas:
  • Destroy the pillars of a heliport platform positioned above the water
  • Approach the heliport, operate a crane to smash the container it holds against the helicopter

In the end, these sequences were complex and not necessarily functional. So we started on something much simpler: a port with a heliport that corresponds to the sequence found in the game. However, the passage on the boat was not planned. One had only to move on the quays towards the heliport positioned also on the quays. But, we really wanted this sequence to be impressive. This is the final boss for goodness sake! So a port without a boat is no longer a port. And so my artist told me "Banco, I can make a boat right in time!", and voila!

The sequence of the boss had to be more complex. A bit like Metal Gear Solid bosses, we had to see his gauge of life on the screen and it was only vulnerable in freeze shot. Finally, the game designer has decided otherwise, and he takes damage like all the other enemies of the game, it has only a greater life gauge and is particularly sensitive to the freeze shot which makes him lose twice as much life. So now you know the technique if you want to eliminate it quickly ;)

From his finished life gauge, he flies to the helicopter where the player must join him in a timed sequence. I'm not sure that this sequence works. If we had the opportunity to put a cinematic from another point of view than the player, it would have worked better. There we were forced to use only cinematic with the player point of view, and if the player is hidden behind a crate, he will not see anything from the flee of the boss to the helicopter :(

Note added in July 2017: Recently I played The Uncharted collection on PS4 and just discovered that the final sequence of the first Uncharted is very very close to what I have done in Red Steel. An hommage to my work by Naughty Dog? I like to think of it ;)

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