Rise, Darth Freeman
Single-Player Half-Life 2 Level || Source Engine, Half-Life 2 Hammer Editor || 8 Weeks || 250 Hours
The Level Design of Rise, Darth Freeman went through several stages, ultimately evolving into a smooth progression of Player empowerment and challenge. The environment was designed and modeled after a Supermax Prison, sporting massive exterior walls and claustrophobic interior coridoors. Each area contains a large amount of physics Entities that the player can throw around with their Force Powers, leaving each area looking fairly different after the Player has torn through.
Aesthetically, the level uses light and color to guide and inform the player. The color palette, in theme with the greater Half-Life 2 universe, is desaturated and worn, using bright but subtle colors to draw attention towards interactable objects. The primary "Force Push-able" material in this level was a rusted yellow metal that looked at home in the prison but stood out against the white walls and bricks. The level also uses a juxtoposition in lighting temperature to show the Player the critical path, with the Combine technology creating cool lights that stand out against the warmer prison ambience. 80% of the playable space and architecture is composed of BSP, using actual static meshes for the latter exterior sections.
The level design for Rise, Darth Freeman (after the re-designs) followed a funnel-esque pattern in both form and function. As the Player progresses and becomes more familiar with their new Jedi Powers and Weapons, the level becomes more open and versitle. The last two areas, the largest in the level, offer multiple approaches to both combat and vertical traversal. This pattern follows the sensation of escaping a prison, initially feeling trapped, restricted, and claustrophobic and, as the prisoner escapes, feeling open, free, and powerful. Mixing this evolving sensation with powerful mechanics that are slowly introduced in the right situations created a good flow throughout the level, both in terms of Player narrative and gameplay.
Below is a gallery of each level Area
Hover over each Area for the name, description, and specific goals
A-1: The Interrogation Room
This room is where the player begins the level, waking up in a dark area bound to a blood-soaked chair. The room is dark, and the player sees G-Man looming over the room from a viewing area, and upon his disappearance, the lights come on, the turrets trapping the player explode and they are released from their shackles.
A-1: The Interrogation Room (cont.)
After being released, the player must climb out of the room. A stack of boxes offers a way to climb out, but upon pressing the jump button, the player discovers that they can jump much higher than normal.
A-2: The Transfer Rooms
In this area, directly after the player jumps out of the Interrogation Room, they can see G-Man on the other side of a large window. Upon approaching, G-Man monologues about awakening Gordon's power, and disappears in a Force Explosion, leaving behind the Lightsaber. The player now has both the Weapon and all Force Abilities.
A-3: The Prison Basement Lobby
This is the first area where the Player encounters enemies to defeat with their new mechanics, primarily the Lightsaber weapon. This area, being a Lobby, naturally pulls the Player towards the Elevator, which is how they progress to the upper levels of the Prison.
B-1: The Elevator Corridor
The Elevator, which slowly opens as the player approaches it and reveals two reinforcement soldiers, introduces the Force Push mechanic. The cramped space lets them apply a large force into a small room filled with physics objects and enemies, showing them how it affects the environment.
B-2: The Elevator
Inside the basement elevator, the Player presses a button to bring it up to the surface. The elevator never actually moves, using func_movelinear Entities seen through slots in the walls and lighting to create the illusion of ascension. Once it reaches the surface level, it jams while trying to open, creating a perfect opportunity to require that Players use the Force Push to escape in such a way that they see enemies can be killed by hitting them with large objects.
B-3: Elevator Exit area
This is the small room that immediately follow the Elevator sequence. It contains a group of enemies that the Player can either accidentally or purposefully kill when blowing out the jammed elevator doors. It connects to the corridor where the level introduces deflecting bullets with the Lightsaber.
B-4: The Cell Block Parallel Hallway
This long hallway is filled with turrets, soldiers, and fuel barrels at the far end. Turning into this hallway immediately puts the Player in a vulnerable state, assaulting them with a wave of bullets. In this moment of chaos, the Saber Block and bullet deflecting tutorial pops on screen. This prompts Players to deflect bullets into the explosive barrels, creating a chain of satisfying explosions that wipe out all of the enemies and blow a hole in the wall through which they can progress.
C-1: The Cell Block
After using the Force to blow a hole through the wall that was weakened by the Saber Block tutorial, the Player emerges into a large Cell Block. The room is long, filled with clutter, and has a lot of enemies down at the far end. This room has long lines of sight, but offers cover and the potential for vertical mobility.
C-1: The Cell Block (cont.)
The act of breaking through the rock releases a few physics Entities that the player can launch down the room to 'bowl' the soldiers down. This helps thin the ranks and shows the Player how powerful and useful the Force Push can be when fully charged.
C-1: The Cell Block (cont.)
At the far end where the enemies originated, the critical path branches into three different options. One way is directly in the Players movement direction, but leads directly into a hail of turret fire. The other two, one through a hallway and one through a window, are lesser used side paths that offer unique advantages and approaches to the next room.
C-2: The Engine Room
This room, filled with turrets that have the high ground advantage, can be approached in several ways.
C-2: The Engine Room (cont.)
There are explosive barrels that can knock out the catwalks the turrets are sitting on, there are side paths with more cover the Player can use to close the distance and Force Push, and even a direct route to the exit that requires a well-timed use of the yet-to-be-taught Force Dash mechanic. Either way, this room leads to a cramped maintenance corridor into the next area.
C-3: The Maintenance Corridor
This corridor, oddly cramped and restrictive compared to the previous areas, sets up an impending cinematic moment that acts as a turning point in the level design. This corridor signifies the linear and claustrophobic areas that have filled the prison up until now. This creates a satisfying juxtaposition with the rest of the level following the next area's events.
C-4: The Pipe Room
This small room at the end of the Maintenance Corridor has a weak ceiling. This ceiling is lined with the special texture used to indicate objects that can be affected by the Force. Upon hitting the ceiling with a fully charged Force Push, it explodes violently upwards, killing several soldiers and launching rubble into the next room.
D-1: The Prison Entrance
After blowing out the previous area's ceiling, the Player can jump into this large Hallway filled with pillars and soldiers. This room sets up a turning point in the level design, as all areas following this one are exterior, open environments that are approachable in multiple ways.
D-1: The Prison Entrance (cont.)
At the end of the Entrance area, there is a large set of metal doors that mark the transition to the exterior Prison yards. The Player can unhinge them with a fully charged Force Push, marking their escape from the interior prison and breaking them free from the claustrophobic and linear corridors in the level's previous half.
D-2: The Prisoner Transfer Yard
This is the first large open area of the level that gives the player multiple different approaches to combat and traversal. Directly after blowing out the Prison Doors, a large Combine gate starts to close. If the Player reacts fast enough, they can get through it before it seals. Otherwise, they can fight up to doorways on either side or demolish a small metal wall section in the center of the wall. Every option takes the player into a corridor leading to the final yard.
D-3: Inside the Prison Walls
If the Player does not make it through the gate in the Transfer Yard, they must move through the corridors built into the Prison Walls. Inside, they encounter several enemies and a short catwalk that they can destroy, sending the soldiers on top of it to their deaths.
D-3: Inside the Prison Walls (cont.)
There are two ways out of these corridors, one through the destroyed catwalk and the other through a breakable window at the far end of the catwalk hallway. Either way leads to the final area.
D-4: The Transfer Tunnel
This tunnel sits under the Prison walls, and is the primary way to reach the final area. The tunnel is filled with soldiers and Combine APCs, and opens up into a wide-shot view of the final areas vertical design.
E-1: The Final Yard
This is the largest and most diverse area of the level, giving the player both no cover and no restrictions on their options for combat and traversal. Because of how the Player sees this area initially and the formation of the area's natural lines, the eye is immediately drawn to the large windowed room at the top of the catwalks. Every Player has quickly understood that the windowed room is their destination.
E-1: The Final Yard (cont.)
The catwalk layout on both sides of the yard is symmetrical, giving the player the same advantages and movement options on either side. However, combining the double jump with the Force Dash allows the Player to switch sides mid-climb, creating a sense of agility and speed found nowhere else in the level. The challenge is fairly balanced despite a lack of cover, since most enemies are so far away that their accuracy is fairly diminished.
E-1: The Final Yard (cont.)
This area also is the most accessible for the enemy soldiers as well. Previous areas in this level have used broken-up sections of AI Path Nodes to keep groups of enemies leaving key areas. In the Final Yard however, enemies can run from the lower yard up to the Security Center, following the player and challenging them as they progress. This means that if the player rushes past the Combine, the soldiers will eventually catch up to them in a smaller area where their shots are more accurate.
E-2: The Security Center
This is the last room of the level, bringing the wide-open feeling of the previous Yards into a focused point of closure. The windows are all breakable, which is not required for entry but allows the Player to blast into the center rather than use the front door.
E-2: The Security Center (cont.)
This area houses a large console array that signifies the Combine's control over the Prison, and is built directly into the Prison Walls. The view from the room and its position in the Prison Wall suggest that this room was the Combine's last and best defense to keep Gordon trapped in the prison.
E-2: The Security Center (cont.)
The Player's final obstacle is a small, thin wall built into the back of the Security Center. This area is protected by a few soldiers and turrets, obviously drained by the reinforcements sent out to the nearby Yards. The Player can easily dispatch the enemies, as well as accidentally (or purposefully) blow a hole in the Prison Wall. This creates a sense of power and accomplishment upon escaping, rather than simply leaving through a door.
Force-Focused Setpieces (Spoiler Alert)
Several areas of the Level were designed to require or coax the player into using their Force Powers in satisfying and cinematic ways. These are some of the most interesting scripted moments in the level, so if you don't want spoilers, download and play it first!
The Elevator Doors
The Elevator serves as the player's introduction to using Force Push to remove large obstacles in their path. This is also the first time players are exposed to the rusted yellow metal texture that indicates which large objects can be specifically affected by the Force.
The Cell Block Wall
This event, occuring just after the player uses Saber Block to deflect bullets into a pile of explosive barrels that blow a hole in the wall, shows the player that certain obvious weak points in the prison's foundation can be shattered with a full Force Push. It also reinforces the correlation between rusted yellow metal and large breakable Entities.
The Pipe Room Ceiling
This event marks the player's transition from interior claustrophobic rooms and corridors to the more open areas of the prison. The player, after escaping a large Cell Block by running through a maintenence tunnel, finds a small room with a damaged ceiling lined with the interactable yellow metal material. Shattering this ceiling demolishes both the solid rock and the Combine soldiers that were standing above it, making the player feel powerful and allowing them to continue through the level.
The Main Prison Doors
This was the first Force-Powered event I designed for this level, as the sensation of breaking through a giant set of metal doors was intrisicly very satisfying. This is the moment when the player truly feels they have broken out of the prison, and combining it with the introduction of the double jump and Force Dash mechanics proved to be very empowering.
The Prison Wall
This event concludes the level, allowing the player to literally blast open and escape through the massive prison walls that have surrounded them since they began. The final area is completely open and surrounded by a sprawling 3D Skybox depicting an island, giving the player a sense of freedom and accomplishment.