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A Day in the Life of an Agency Intern, Part Two

The Agency Interviews - By Carolyn Koh on November 07, 2008

A Day in the Life of an Agency Intern, Part Two
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Julia Brasil has had four weeks under her belt as a Design Intern at Sony Online Entertainment, working in their Seattle studio on The Agency. MMORPG.com catches up with her to see what she’s learned and what she’s done on the game.

“I’m still working on the same Night Club, Metamorphoza” said Julia. “I’ve learned a lot about using the Unreal Engine and find now that I am able to do everything I did in the first week much faster. It’s basically revising my initial work at this point in time.”

In a typical day, Julia begins with reviewing her work of the previous day and doing revisions in the morning. Sometimes, she gets to make new objects from scratch using Maya, but mostly, it’s using the Unreal Engine to place objects that are already made into the level she is working on.

“There’s already a large library of objects that I can use, such as tables and chairs, and boxes. Lots and lots of boxes.”

MMORPG.com:

What challenges have you come up against in doing design work?

Julia Brasil:

Design work was something I had never come across before this internship and there were some obvious technical difficulties, such as learning the software or constructing some of the shapes required, but once I understood the technical part, most of the challenge has been related to design work itself, like scale and flow of the area I am designing.

MMORPG.com:

What do you get in a design document?

Julia Brasil:

Generally, each area in a game has its own design document, usually written very much like a gameplay walkthrough that explains what happens in the space, what challenges the player will face and how to best overcome it. When I started designing the Metamorphosa club space, the game design document was being written in tandem, so I had to rely heavily on the concept art.

MMORPG.com:

How does the function of the space affect the level design?

Julia Brasil:

That is one of the first questions asked when doing level design. It is important to keep in mind what the player will be doing in the space. Since The Agency is a game set in a modern world, it is also vital that the spaces seem appealing and believable, like something you'd see in a movie or comic book.

In the case of Metamorphosa, it was designed as a social area in the game, which means it must be appealing to the players and able to fit a good number of people without making them feel like they are in an empty room. Were it a combat space, then the amount of enemies in each area and cover objects would have to be considered as well.

While the specifics are still being planned out it is safe to say that, as a nightclub, Metamorphosa will likely be the stage of a few of the game's covert missions and hopefully, social events.

I then asked Julia to describe level design for our readers and how this started for her.

“Level Design is working with the bones of a level,” said Julia. “It’s like an architect designing a space. I work from the concept and within the parameters of the space requirements. This is an old theatre that’s been made into a trendy nightclub, so I made the stage and I have to decide if it’s going to be so high that I have to put a few stairs in and players have to vault onto it or just a couple of feet high and players can simply jump on.”

“It started with a meeting where all the material for the space was presented and discussed by both design and art teams. Some changes were made to the previous layout and once those were approved by both parties I could start working on a very basic 3d version of the space – known, here at least, as a 'whitebox'. I rely heavily on the concept art I was given and also the floorplans to make the space resemble the original idea as closely as possible. As I continued to work on it however, some of the scales had to be altered to improve the space's flow. “

MMORPG.com:

What happens next in the design of this space?

Julia Brasil:

After finishing the ‘whitebox’ I will take screenshots of it and then paint over with Photoshop. It thus becomes the second stage in concept art and goes to the game designers for approval. When it is approved, it will go to the Environment Artists who will create the in game textures.

Wrapping up, I asked Julia what new things she had learned in the past two weeks.

“I’m learning the ins and outs of the Unreal Engine. Navigating and importing, for example, and getting better and faster at it. I’m also learning a lot of small things. Of tips and tricks of the trade in 3-D modeling and I’m working much faster now.”

“And what of the design process itself?” I wanted to know.

“I never knew there was a 2nd stage of concept art! Since this is done after the space is built, it is much more detailed. It helps to make sure the space works and also helps the Environment team.”

So that was Julia’s 3rd and 4th week at SoE. She’s reached a stage that we’ve been provided the blueprint she’s created. With thanks to The Agency for this sneak peek, we’ll report on Julia’s progress again in a couple of weeks

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.