Hello! My name is Nathan Kellman. I am a passionate game designer specializing in level design.
Introducing a new mechanic in a game can be a bit daunting. Players spend hours trying to master the buttons needed to do a special combo or timing when to hit the R2 button on their favorite gun. Then halfway through the game, a new mechanic is introduced, and they have to figure out how to use it to their advantage. Many games do this but introduce it similarly. They have a cut scene play with an AI telling you what to do, then you provide a small tutorial for the mechanic. Some games do this differently, and one that is a great example is the time-shifting mechanic in TitanFall 2. After playing, I decided to do a case study to comprehend why so many people love time-shifting. I built the study in Unreal Engine 4 to continue my journey on learning Blueprints and used free models online for the enemies.
For research, I replayed the mission “Effect and Cause”. As I played, I took notes on where enemies were placed within the mission and what environmental pieces were used to force the player to use the time shiftier.
I reconstructed the level using BSP brushes in Unreal to understand the scale of this space. Using Blueprints, I was able to create simple interactions, wall running, and the time shifting mechanic.
Time Shift Introduction
With introducing a new mechanic, most games have the player talk to a character in a cut scene, buttons appear on screen then the player can start using it. While there is nothing wrong with this method, TitanFall 2 introduces the time-shifting differently.
In the beginning, Cooper enters a lab facility and as he walks around, he starts jumping back and forth through time in various parts of the level. This introduces the player to time-shifting, where they jump between different levels at random times. This allows them to get used to it before the mechanic is provided to them later on. They also learn that shifting throughout the level will be needed to continue through exploration.
This is a unique introduction because instead of having the player go through a cinematic explaining what will happen, they have to walk around and experience it for the first time. They have no control of the shifting, so they have to prepare themselves for whenever they may encounter enemies.
Shifting provides the player some interesting choices in terms of combat. When shifting in an encounter, a blue light appears where an enemy used to stand and will be there for a couple of seconds. When switching back, enemies will take a couple of seconds to locate the player and attack them. This allows the player to plot an attack or if they feel overwhelmed, they can switch and take a minute to recover.
Some encounters can be avoided, but others cannot be and enemy types are different depending on the timeline the player is in. An example would be the combat zone in the gif above.
At the beginning of this encounter, malfunctioning robots come out of the wall to confront the player. When running down the stairs, they encounter alien-like animals that come from the walls as well. If the player time shifts, they are then greeted by mercenaries, some equipped with energy shields.
This and other parts of the level are examples of the player “picking their poison.” It is a great way to keep the player excited and fight through the game. Since TitanFall 2 is a shooter, you don’t want to avoid the entirety of the main loop by using the shifting. Ultimately, regardless of how many mechanics are included, if the main loop is a shooter then the player is going to have to shoot. Adding on mechanics is supposed to enhance the player’s experiences, not deter them from the main point of the game.
Storytelling and Level Design
While time-shifting gives a fun change in combat, it also presents an interesting take with storytelling. Instead of BT informing the player about the past, the time shifting allows the player to see snippets of the lab’s past and people interacting in the world.
When shifting, entities in both worlds detect your presence. At the beginning of the game, this is shown when walking into a room and shifting to a conference. As you walk, the presenter asks a question before you shift again. This lets the player know they are not a fly on the wall and will interact with AI in both worlds.
The environment around the player completely changes in color palette and lighting as well. This way, players do not get confused while running around the level. When in the past, the lighting is exceptionally bright and the environment has slightly blue hues, showing this place is fully operational and clean.
In the present, the main source of lighting is the fire within the building. This gives a tenser vibe as the player has to be careful where they step. Also, there is foliage and broken pieces to show that this place has been abandoned for a long time.
The environment changes give a chance for some interesting puzzles. The puzzles are not complicated as they may be jumping from wall to wall or getting a door open. However, with the time shifting, players could find themselves in a firefight they were not expecting and shift for safety.
They may be timing the switching between timelines while wall running to carefully avoid falling into a deep abyss.
They may also get an adrenaline rush by falling down a shaft where they have to avoid being hit by fans.
Opening doors with buttons and platforming are simple level puzzles, but adding in mechanics like time shifting offers them an interesting twist. This conveys a sense of familiarity, so players don’t have to overthink their decisions, but the mechanic nevertheless gives a fun challenge. As level designers, it’s our job to figure out how we can make players feel comfortable in spaces but equally give them a challenge.
Of course when talking level design, we cannot leave out all of the visual cues used to guide them through the mission.
After this study, I understand why so many people claim that it is one of the best first-person shooters to have come out. In a genre where many games solely implement the run and gun approach, TitanFall 2 feels like a breath of fresh air. It is a good FPS with extra layers of mechanics that add more fun and excitement game play. I learned that adding in one mechanic can alter the entire dynamic of a game and if done right, will have people talking for years. It’s not a one-man show; it takes other designers, programmers, artists, sound designers, QA, and many more for a level that feels complete and immersive.
I really enjoyed learning from this study and getting out of my comfort zone by creating the mechanics. I know that this experience will only increase my level design knowledge!
Feel free to play games I have worked on by going to my website here. Any comments you have for them or my blogs, my contact information is on my website as well.