Part 5: Flatland

By Paul O’Connor, Senior Game Designer

Movies aren’t games, and games aren’t movies, but the interactive industry can profit by borrowing a few of the old Hollywood standbys. One studio standard employed by Oddworld Inhabitants is the treatment.

A treatment is a brief written pitch of a story. Writers use treatments to outline, explain, and sell a story that is more thoroughly detailed in a full script. Treatments are important because they reveal problems and weaknesses that might not otherwise appear until the more extensive work of the full script is completed.

This approach is ideal for video games, especially for level design. Building games, just like filming a movie, is expensive. You wouldn’t go in front of the cameras without a pat understanding of your characters, plot, and resolution. Why start building a game level without an equally sound understanding of your goals, events, elements, and pace? It’s tempting to dive straight into your level editor and start slamming geometry together to build your levels, but doing so without a plan is a fool’s game.

That’s why we do treatments before we do levels.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the treatment I wrote for the Slog Kennel:

Summary: Munch infiltrates the Slog Kennel, evades Slig guards, determines function of the Facility, and rescues several Mudokon captives including his friend, Abe.

Emotional Reaction: The expected emotional reaction for the player is fear at seeing all those Slogs, apprehension and time pressure when racing to solve the situation before Mudokons are killed, mastery and revenge when in control of the crane, and triumph when the Mudokons are rescued.

End Product: Play environment layout for use as proof-of-concept; as subject of visualization movie; as an indoor component of the pending outdoor test layout; for use as a marketing demo level; and for possible inclusion in release version of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee.

With an overview in place, I then go on to describe:

  • Lead-in/Lead-out: What game events or movies precede and follow this venue?
  • Setting: What is the purpose and look and feel of the venue?
  • Description of 3D Space: How big is the venue? How many rooms/floors/areas? What happens in each of those areas?
  • Story: A narrative description of the optimum path through the level.
  • All Solutions: List all anticipated means of completing the venue.
  • Quarmic (Karmic, to non-Oddworld types) Paths: Because moral choices are important in our games, we also outline the opportunities for good and evil, and their implications.
  • Cameras: Describe any establishing shots, character shots, or reaction shots required by the venue.
  • Actors: What characters are found here?
  • Objects: What game elements are found here?

You’ll notice that the list of required characters and elements is the last thing in the treatment. If you’re creating a level by the seat of your pants, characters and elements are probably the first (and maybe only) things you’d consider….

And after you’d put your level together, you’d wonder why it didn’t seem to be more than a loosely themed collection of creatures and rooms. That’s why we do treatments.

NEXT: Play Time