David Antognoli is a game developer and professor of game design at Columbia College Chicago. A game industry veteran with experience in both programming and game design roles, David has worked on projects with companies like Microsoft, Sega, 2K Games, and Nickelodeon. Now he finds creative refuge in independent game development and teaching others how to create amazing games.
It’s critical to share your work in order to demonstrate your skills, get feedback, and be part of the larger community. This is also how you could one day make money from your work! These videos will explain one way to do this using the site itch.io.
Congratulations on completing your immersive town! 👏
In the next series of videos we’ll explore how to use cinematography and scripting concepts to enhance the presentation value, immersion, and clarity of our scene. These skills are in high demand for game designers, so they’re great to practice.
We’ll also show how to change to a new dialog UI prefab, since by default it blocks a lot of our game camera’s view of the action.
Optional: If you would like more info on using Timeline and Cinemachine with Dialogue System, consult the resources below.
Now that we have our layout and NPCs in place, it’s time to give the player some objectives. We’ll use quests to direct the player as well as to help the player feel like they have accomplished goals. We can also use quest names and description text to help establish the tone, backstory and lore of our immersive town experience.
Finally, we’ll set up collectible items for use in quests.
Now it’s time to start creating our custom town layout!
In the following three videos, I work through setting up my basic layout. You can feel free to skip these and head to the next section about adding NPCs to the scene. Or, if you’re interested in seeing my approach, give them a watch!
Now that we have a bit of inspiration and a bit of our vision for our immersive “town” identified, it’s time to flesh things out in a vision document.
Sometimes, in practice, I might skip this step and get straight to prototyping, especially on a personal project where no one else needs to understand “the plan.” But when you have a team involved, this kind of document is an essential communication tool, plus it will help you organize your thoughts.
For a portfolio piece, a design document like this can help show your written communication skills and helps tell the story of your design process, two vital things employers will look for.
Unlike screenwriting or other disciplines, there is no singular official way to document game concepts. My advice is to keep it short and simple. If you get carried away with a giant “design document as bible” approach, you become less agile and may resist the essential iteration and adaptability that game design requires. Until you are playtesting, you are just guessing! So no need to get too carried away with our guesses about what’s fun.
We just need a starting point that clarifies the initial vision. It’s natural that we will come up with new ideas as we work.
Come up with a name for your project. It can be a working title. It can be a codename. But don’t pick something that sounds like a school project like “Immersive Town Tutorial” or “Week 10 Assignment.”
Describe the camera perspective and genre. Don’t make up stuff you’re not going to execute. This is a third person narrative adventure game.
Focus on the project as an immersive environment designed to convey a specific atmosphere, as opposed to trying to weave a complex plot or create compelling gameplay systems.
What type of atmosphere? What is the theme? How do you want the player to feel?
Scared or vulnerable?
Heroic or like a leader?
Wealthy or poor?
Anxious or tense?
A lot of this will be conveyed by the setting and characters, try not to duplicate too much info.
Try to come up with an overarching drama that is surrounding the town, something that would have happened even if the player never showed up on the scene!
Describe the setting. What is the time period? The geographic location? Add images from the assets you liked in your research. You can use the Unity scene camera to arrange good views and take screenshots.
Research and preproduction is essential to level design, which is essentially what our immersive town scene is: a game level.
In a real AAA type game studio environment, where I have artists and other developers to work with, I would approach research and preproduction similarly to the advice in these resources (written by AAA game designers):
But in our case, we don’t have any artists or other content creators on staff. So it’s essential that we approach research from a “what do we have access to” perspective.
When designing a real game level, I would ALWAYS start with a greybox (aka whitebox) designed around the intended gameplay and playtest and iterate.
Since our goal is immersion, it’s more important to find assets that will help sell the atmosphere we attempt to evoke rather than focusing on the gameplay purpose of the playable space. Then we will have to plan our gameplay content (quests, NPCs, key items, etc.) around what we find.
THIS IS TOTALLY BACKWARDS from how I would typically design, but it makes sense in this situation.
As an aspiring designer, you want to create both types of portfolio pieces: levels that show you can create an original layout perfectly suited to your intended gameplay starting with a 2D map and then a graybox; AND beautifully crafted scenes based on assets you have sourced or been given. In this tutorial we are focusing on the latter.
Why to research first and what to look for
Since the focus of our project is narrative and immersion, it depends on compelling assets. Rather than starting with whatever scenario I can dream up, it’s much smarter to browse what’s out there and let that inspire you and jumpstart your creative juices.
Look for assets that will work well together. We want the pieces of our game to feel coherent and consistent. As a result, it can be useful to find a kit or asset pack that includes several environmental pieces and or characters that all fit together.
If you can’t find something integral to your idea, you need to switch ideas.
Let the assets you find guide your creative vision.
Where to find assets
There are an amazing amount of great free game assets to find online. Here is a compilation of links to help:
As you peruse these sites, be sure to check the license agreements for any work you plan to use. Do not steal work that you don’t have permission to use.
Bookmark the assets you might want to use. This way we can find them later and credit the authors for their work.
If you want to spend money you can, but I think it’s worth seeing what you can build for free before you invest in paid assets on later projects.
Video: finding character art
I’m going to find character art first, because I think it’s more scarce and it depends on animations. The best resource I know for this is Mixamo.
Video: finding environment art
“Modular” asset packs mean the assets are built as pieces that can be snapped together like Legos to create your own custom layouts. This can be useful but might also make things slightly more complicated.
Be sure to consider if you can find characters that fit this world as well!
Video: testing environment art
Once you’ve picked out some environment art, it’s time to see what’s actually included and how it works in Unity.