Warcelona: Design notes

note: some of the pictures below have been taken from angles that would be impossible without using cheats such as "flying" or "god mode". Also, some schematic pictures may take a little bit to load.

Environmental narrative

· Landmarks

To guide the player through the campaign and also provide him with a visual reference to his progress through the levels, I used various landmarks in cohesion with the level design. The most important landmarks are two Venetian towers and the palace at the end of the campaign.

The towers are two impressive sharp structures that can be seen in the middle of the chaos once the player arrives at Plaza España. They symbolize stability and integrity, so the player perceives them as a symbol of resistance and fortification: two huge guards defending the entrance to a big avenue. Because of the chaos, the player can’t cross the Square, so he goes through the subway. At this point the player loses sight of the towers. Later on, at the end of the subway zone, the towers are visible again through the destroyer ceiling (progress). When the player leaves the second checkpoint and reaches the street level, he realizes that the safe house was in fact in the towers’ basement. Therefore, the player unconsciously achieves his goal of reaching the tower. This is where the second act of the campaign begins. From now on, the Venetian towers become unimportant (the player starts heading up the avenue), since another landmark emerges at other ending of the avenue: the palace.

The palace is a sharp silhouette in the horizon with various rotating spotlights lighting up the sky. By instinct, we tend to associate high positions with defense and safety; at this point the player’s unconscious goal becomes to reach the palace. The palace therefore acts as a visual reference for the player to know how close he is to the end.

- Venezian Towers landmark scheme
- Palace landmark scheme

· Storytelling 1: Scenes

To stimulate the player’s emotional bond with the environment, in some areas there are little scenes that work on a local level and serve the purpose of showing small stories or situations that give cohesion and context, besides giving to the player something interesting to look at. An example is the scene at the second checkpoint (Example Scene 1). Besides the graffiti on the wall being written in Spanish, the layout of the rest of elements is done in a purposeful way so that anybody can understand the scene. Also, when the next level loads (we are still in the same room, a couple of hours later), the scene has changed a little, meaning the player himself has interacted with the scene, but without the amount of work necessary for animation or dialogue.

In addition, some players will feel curious and will want to obtain a translation for the Spanish text. They will ask in the fan communities about it, and with that little trick, some free advertising is obtained.

- Example Scene 1
- Example Scene 2
- Example Scene 3

· Storytelling 2: Macro Narrative

Warcelona is a campaign with small areas at the beginning which increase in size as the player progresses to the rescue vehicle event. To give cohesion to these big areas that can be seen up until de horizon, the whole campaign had to have a global implicit structure with big narrative elements that join all the elements.

That said, in the first map, when the player goes out of the church, he sees the destruction of a neighborhood from a high vantage point. The player goes through this neighborhood without knowing what really happened; he just sees signs and graffiti saying that in Plaza Espala there’s a big rescue camp. Once the player arrives at Plaza España, he finds that the reality is quite different. There is a sea of chaotic cars, rubble and small fires that stretch out to the horizon. The cars are placed randomly. In fact, to give this zone a more chaotic look that better serves a game play purpose, I made this zone a “search for provisions” zone and I also made the limit of the playable area barely recognizable and quite diffused. That way the player gets the feeling of searching for items in an endless sea of chaos, while the actual playable zone is much smaller than he thinks.

After going through the subway and reaching the other side of Plaza España, the player finds the rescue sanitary camp (abandoned). Here the cars are arranged in a row the length of the entire avenue, indicating to the player that he is in a more controlled zone. As the player goes through the end of the camp (it’s a big uphill avenue), this can bee seen due to the disposition of the assets; the Spanish army tries to contain the mob by shooting at approaching vehicles. From now on, the end of the campaign is found ascending through exteriors full of army stuff. Besides that, in the last level, as the player goes up, the epic skybox becomes more visible, acting like an “eye-candy” reward for the player as ascends, and becoming 100% visible in the last minute of the campaign.

- Overall Campaign storytelling scheme
- Visibility of the skybox scheme

· Contrast

For me, a very effective way to impact the player is by creating contrast between the different areas the player visits. In other words, the player proceeds quickly from a zone with a certain set of features to another zone with very different features. This kind of contrast can be obtained using a lot of different techniques and combining them; chromatics, shapes, distribution of the space, etc. In Warcelona, I created a lot of areas contrasting orange and blue tones, as can be seen frequently in the borders between exterior and interior spaces.

At the beginning of the campaign, the player is inside a fortified, claustrophobic, dark and decrepit church, with predominantly blue tones. Just after leaving the church by the tower, the environment does a 180º change. Suddenly the player finds himself in a very wide open space (visually), with a lot of orange, which allows him to see the destruction and the old architecture of Barcelona. Besides this first contrast zone, after crossing the fallen church’s tower, there’s a second zone that also creates a big contrast between the church and the exterior. The interior is a penthouse building, designed as a modern loft, with a variety of saturated colors and soft, clean and new surfaces, which contrasts inevitably with the ugly and dirty interior of the church where the player was just 20 seconds before. Also, at the beginning of a campaign there’s always a big amount of zombies coming, and the player fights the horde inside this interior. That’s why it’s the player who messes up this “virgin” environment, giving it the look of a zombie apocalypse.

The subway area of Plaza España is another zone of formal contrast. At the beginning of the stages, the hallways are tiny and dark, and they are fairly intact. Seconds after leaving the zone by falling through a hole, the player finds something very different. The walk of the subway is big, with a destroyed curved ceiling, and a lot of rubble everywhere. The predominant colors are white and red, quite different from the overall tone in the hallways.

- Church/exterior/loft contrast scheme
- Swimming pool contrast scheme
- Subway contrast scheme


Achieving a good flow is my main goal when I design levels. Apart from everything previously stated, there are a lot of specific gameplay-related techniques in Warcelona I used to create an interesting and re-playable flow, such strategic light positioning, unique elements, etc. Here is a description of some specific elements that can be found.

·King of the hill.

I took the artistic freedom of creating an elevator in the center of the biggest fountain in Spain. This served a specific purpose: to create an epic introduction to the last level. Over time, I’ve discovered that in FPS one of my favorite moments in this kind of game is when I’m defending a higher position with hordes of enemies coming and climbing up, trying to reach me.

I made this stage like a big “King of the hill”, taking advantage of the awesome views. The infected never stop climbing from all angles, and it is the player who decides when to leave the position and start climbing the big hill up to the palace. The chopper that comes gives the visual key telling the player where to go.

- King of the hill gameplay scheme


The subway is one of the most complex zones in the campaign and it took a lot of time for me to provide a good gameplay with visual keys. When the player reaches the tracks, he can’t keep on going because there’s a big hole splitting the zone in two parts. The other side of the cleft, however, is well lit (that’s the way the player knows this is the path). To get to the other side of the hole, the player has to activate an alarm opening an emergency door. Besides that, before reaching the door, the player has to go through a zone with a very unstable ceiling, so cars fall through at random. A plane’s wing falls through once when the player is approaching the zone, and a little conversation between the survivors warns the player of the danger of the falling cars mini-event. Also, to make this interesting, in the impact zone of the cars there are supplies, so the player has to choose whether or not to risk a car falling on him to get the supplies.

Once the emergency door is opened (the alarm sounds and a panic event begins) a rush begins and after leaving a never before seen zone (a tunnel) the player goes back to the station but this time on the other side of the hole. Then, the player runs up a staircase (these stairs can be seen from the first part of the stage) and disables the alarm at the top the stairs.

- Panic Event on subway scheme

· Street in first level

One way to make a good level flow and gameplay is to impose limitations on ourselves (the designers). That was what I did in the first level. I thought that it would be nice if the player doesn’t reach the street until he’s passed 85% of the level, only seeing the city from inside the buildings and high exteriors like rooftops and such . That way, I achieved a good vertical gameplay and I also introduced gameplay elements like points of no return, that are good for team gameplay. So there are 3 ways of entering in the pool area; going all the way and jumping into the skylight (the player falls into the water), going through the air conduct, or jumping from a high spot, falling through the skylight and into the water. This last one is very dangerous, with 100% probability of death if the players crash into the skylight’s walls. In addition, while playing in versus mode, this method is a very interesting way of getting points by traveling a great distance in a short period of time if the survivor’s team is about to die.

- Vertical gameplay scheme

· Church

The church stage is the introduction stage of the campaign. While the player is inside the church with bots and npc’s there’s no danger. But I didn’t want the church to just be something contemplative. If it was, the church would only have a purpose the first time around, the later become completely useless. In multiplayer games, levels have to be very re-playable. That’s why in the church, the player can find supplies by searching in the corners or furniture, but the supplies never spawn in the same places and they are never the same. There are never enough supplies to go around, so if the player wants them them, he will have to search the entire church.

- Church minigame examples