Hi, I’m TuesdayTastic and today I am going to walk you through how to design a dungeon as if it were a Hitman level. For those of you who don’t know, Hitman is a video game where the assassin Agent 47 must explore a location, learn the habits of his targets, and execute them all while remaining undercover. Recently, Game Makers Toolkit just released a video titled “The Making of Hitman’s 2 Miami Level” in which he talks with the developers and asks them how they designed this level for their game. What I learned from watching this video was that the game design principles they apply to their version of Miami are also something that can be applied to Dungeons and Dragons.
Disclaimer: I have not played a Hitman game, but after watching the GMTK video about it I was inspired to write this. If you have any insights to share about Hitman’s level design in relation to Dnd please let me know in the comments below!
Give the NPC’s a Schedule
One of the many ways the Hitman series make their worlds feel more alive is by giving all of the characters in the game a schedule that they follow. The target that you are intended to assassinate will follow a simple schedule where they will look out a window for a while, explore their office building, talk to some scientists, and maybe put some eye drops in the bathroom. Giving NPC’s a predictable schedule achieves 2 important goals which I will get into below.
The first goal that this achieves is it makes the world feel more alive. By giving the NPC’s schedules that are independent of the players, it helps to give off the feeling that the world wasn’t created for the players but is instead it’s own living and breathing entity. Then when the players disrupt the schedule it lets the players know that their actions do have an impact on the world. This creates this wonderful feeling where the world is both independent and dependent on the players and gives them empowerment without having to spoonfeed it to them.
The other reason to give NPC’s schedules is to make them predictable enough that the players can formulate plans around these schedules. If they know that their target is going to go to the bank once a week on Tuesday at 3:30 PM they can create plans based off of this. Without this schedule in place, it is much more difficult for the players to plan, and instead of going for a much more elegant solution that they all agree is fun, they may have to try and murder their target as soon as they see him due to not knowing where he might go. If you want to learn more about creating NPC schedules /u/FamousHippopotamus post about NPC Life is a good place to start.
Make NPC Conversations Relevant
Hitman is interesting in how it strives so hard for the game to feel realistic but has a very gamey element in the fact that whenever you are in earshot of NPC’s having a conversation, the conversation will almost always be relevant to what you are doing. For example, if you overhear an engineer they will mention how the stage could potentially blow up, which is intended to give the players the idea of using that for a future assassination.
People in real life don’t always say the exact thing you need to hear right as you get into earshot of them. But Hitman chooses to do this anyway because it allows the developers of the game to communicate ideas to the players in a much more natural way than something like a popup that directly tells the players what to do. It allows the player to feel intelligent and that they came up with the idea to rig the stage to explode when really it was the developer’s intention all along.
Taking this concept to Dnd is as simple as making sure that the details you give the players are relevant. When you sit down to play a session of Dnd there is only so much time for you guys to play. By keeping the details relevant to what the players are doing, you can speed up the game, and still keep it interesting and engaging. Give the players details that they can act upon, rather than details that are pointless.
Snail House and Swiss Cheese
Another concept that the video talked about was the Snail House and Swiss Cheese method of level design. The basic idea is that you design your level like you would design Ikea. The goal of this kind of level design is that there is a scripted path throughout the entire level that will slowly snake its way through everything that you want your audience to see. The Swiss Cheese portion of this design comes through when you introduce shortcuts, that allow experienced people to go exactly where they want to go, without having to follow the main path. Mark Brown talks more about the Snail House Swiss Cheese design in his video at 11:20.
Applying this to dungeons is something that can help the players feel like they have gained mastery over a certain level. When the players first travel through the dungeon, they may encounter everything in its predetermined order without going off track. However, when they have to backtrack through the area, they might remember a shortcut that will save them precious time and make them feel like they have mastered the encounter.
Another technique that can be derived from this design method is to never have a dead end. The developers of Hitman do their best to make every location have at least 2 exits. Every exit is also an entrance, which gives the players the freedom to explore however they choose. With no dead ends, they will choose to keep on walking forwards and discovering new things. This only gives the players more options and helps to create that swiss cheese effect that can create unique and memorable dungeons.
Hitman does an excellent job of designing its locations both for the players and for the world itself. Everything has a place and a purpose, and the developers make sure that the world does it’s own thing, while also giving the player enough stability that they can execute their own plans. They also make sure that the details that the player discovers are relevant to what they are doing, keeping them on task, and even communicate ideas in a natural and organic way. Finally, through the use of the Snail House, they can design levels that allow the player to see everything, and then use the Swiss Cheese method to make the player feel like they have mastered the level. All of these concepts can be applied to Dnd and provide a lot for our games. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!