Solo Level Design Mod Project
~3 month development time
Created using Source Engine’s Hammer Editor
This level takes place in the high-tech combine citadel. The player’s been captured, and the other captured rebels are trying to fight their way out. They start with nothing but the crowbar as they climb through the winding passageways of the citadel to reach a weapons locker, and then join the fight. The battle will take them along an outside edge of the tower before leading to a Combine hangar that a group of rebels is trying to take control of. With Combine reinforcements arriving by drop-ship, the player must clear out the hangar and disable the locks holding up a captured resistance buggy. Once the buggy is freed the player climbs in to make their escape down a track inside the tower.
I designed this level to combine an atmospheric low-intensity exploration segment in the first half, with a faster paced, more combat-focused second half. I set it in the Combine Citadel from Half Life 2 so that I could easily contextualize the contrast between the confined exploration of the first half with the more spacious outdoor architecture in the second. I wanted to create a strange, alien feeling for the level, through this unusual contrast of space: I sometimes show vast areas beyond the gameplay space to give the player a sense of the scale of this massive Citadel structure, and sometimes keep it claustrophobic and confined to make the player’s path seem like a way the Combine don’t want them to take and make the citadel seem more complex than it is.
Alongside the architecture and feel of the structure, I set up some simple environmental storytelling to give the player some sense of what was going on. Through the use of detail decals on the walls of the prison, rebel allies, and some semi-scripted events outside the directly accessible play-space, I aimed to convey the Combine Citadel prison break scenario without any direct explanation. I found in testing that introducing the fight between rebels and combine you see — but cannot interact with — near the beginning, was particularly effective in contextualizing the scenario when placed right after the empty prison cell area.
Key for maps below:
Part 1: Exploring the Prison Cells and Ventilation
This area is meant to give the player a sense of what their situation is. They wake up in the prison cell, with a dead guard outside and the other cells open. This contextualizes the fight they see from the vents and ensures they know everything they need to about what’s going on in this level.
Part 2: Discovering the Elevator Pods and Weapons Locker
When the player drops down out of the vents, they can see the hallway stretching off into the fog and the area where the fight was happening through force-fields, to give a sense of how big this place is supposed to be. They might spend some time trying all the buttons in the elevator room, but the sparks and cables will eventually lead them to the one that opens the path forward. It took some testing and iteration to make it clear which button to press, while still allowing the player a short moment of experimentation with all the buttons.
Part 3: Advancing Along the Cliffside
Once they grab some weapons and open the door, they’re thrown right into the action. If they react quickly enough they can save the fighting rebels and get some allies for the fight along the cliff side. The cliff side section introduces the dropship and serves as a drastic change of scenery from the earlier sections, with its vast open spaces contrasting the enclosed hallways of the first half of the level.
Part 4: Hangar Brawl
After fighting their way to the end of the cliff side, they reach the hangar, where a few waves of enemies come in. This fight was originally more two-dimensional with a single squad and the dropship, but I found it became a whole lot more interesting for players when I introduced more waves of enemies coming in on the upper level balcony half way through the fight.
Part 5: Accessing the Buggy
Once the hangar fight is done, the player is likely to notice the cables all leading to the suspended buggy, because it contrasts with the combine technology they’ve seen throughout the level so far. Once they find their way to all four buttons, the walkway to the buggy will lower, and it’ll drop down once they get in. The door to the end of the level opens right in front of them once the buggy drops, encouraging players to speed down the ramp at the end and finish the level.