The Sandbox level in ENDI Tank Battle is the first map experienced by the player. It is primarily the most iconic out of all the levels, having been spawned almost immediately during the first moments of production and having gone through several iterations to get to its current state. It embodies a lot of the ideas about childhood and exaggerated imagination the team and I wanted to include from the onset of the project.
I wanted to share the design ideas to better demonstrate the process behind the map and different areas encompassing it.
Overview & process
After having shaped other core design elements (controls, combat, player/enemy abilities, mission types, power-ups, etc), I started tackling the creation of the first maps. What would they look like? Where would they take place? What sort of props and other elements would the player see? At the very least, I knew I had these constraints to follow:
- No vertical movement
- Low-poly environment
- Medium sized locale
- Easily identifiable surroundings
- Must reference imagination and silliness
- Must be polyvalent enough to allow different mission types
- Easy navigation and visibility
The first few versions were very stale and dry. They were too much focused on horizontality and having simple areas to navigate to keep the complexity and poly count low. Objects were placed too carefully close to one another and seemed artificial. Nothing meshed really well until around the third iteration.
Maps were originally blocked in 3D Studio Max. After opinions and feedback the blocking, it was rapidly integrated in Unity Game Engine to play with primitive colliders. The second helped identify any problem regarding problems with the volume and scale of objects. After another round of final adjustments and comments, the 3D Studio Max file was handed to the artists so they could build the levels.
The final version showcased more vertical structures that helped mask visually the horizontal movement constraint. The small sand gap was especially helpful in delimiting the map into two subzones, one for each stronghold.
One of the apparent concepts that seemingly started to click very fast for the team and I was that the “kid” had built different areas out of anything he could find around his house or backyard to create a battleground for his toys. This would go on to be the master idea for the other maps we would create.
The “kid” was imagined as being around 6 to 10 years old, where children often develop an unambiguous view of conflicts. This is the reason behind the separating his sandbox into two areas.
An important aspect was that enemies and power-ups would always need to be easily visible at almost any time. Therefore the environment as no high walls and the player’s vision is almost never impaired.
The sandcastle is the most impenetrable and more logical of the two areas. The player can only enter from the front, albeit from two entrances. This was designed to add tension if the player entered the area, since his view would be momentarily blocked by the high walls and couldn’t rapidly notice if an opponent would come from the sides or behind.
Fixed enemies needing to be destroyed or power-ups would often be situated inside the sandcastle to incite the player to enter it. Since the player cannot escape through the sides, I felt it was important that no other major obstacle would impede on navigation when he left the castle.
The blocks area, in general, is bit more difficult to navigate. The small fort is the highlight of the area. It is bigger than the sandcastle and features 5 different ways to quickly enter or exit. This allows creative enemy and power-up positioning that can be different depending on the selected mission. Rocks are placed a bit more carefully to complicate maneuvering a bit more difficult during combat moments.
Both bridges are the same length and offer straightforward way to both sides of the level. One interesting feature to notice about the area is the low fence created out popsicle sticks. It keeps the player from falling into the ravine, but still allows him to see the enemies all around him. It is possible to fire at opponents from the other side of the map with careful aim.
The books’ size allow for two vehicles (player or enemy) to pass through simultaneously. The player and enemies frequently start skirmishes on them. They act as a helpful trigger to start conflict during missions.
The Sandbox is overall the simplest map created for ENDI Tank battle. It helps introduce the basic gameplay mechanics to the player and is easily accessible. It helped stylize and set trends for the entire project. You can take a look at a short video displaying the level right here.
Thank you for reading!