Step into a level designer’s shoes and try your hand at modding Dying Light 2 Stay Human
Rafał Polito, Technology Producer, has been associated with Techland for 10 years. He worked as a level designer for 5 years, building the world of Dying Light, and spent the next 5 years creating tools for level designers. As he says, "For the first 5 years, he was a customer of the technology, and then he spent the next 5 on improving it as a producer, because he had become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses well."
In December, thanks to cooperation with mod.io, we released an editor that allows you to create your own maps in DL2SH. Rafał, who supervised this project, talks about what possibilities it opens up and whether we will see Harran rebuilt by fans.
How did you land in Techland? Apparently, it's a story worth hearing, isn't it?
When I was 18-19 I started making games with my friends. Together we created, for example, an RPG called Daemoneth. I felt this was the industry I wanted to be involved with, so I sent an email to Techland. However, it is a story worth listening to because at the time of applying to Techland, my level of emotions was so high that I sent my application without a CV. I just got totally inspired and sent a message. The result was a one-of-a-kind cover letter. I got a reply stating that my message indicates I can be suitable for the company, but my CV would likewise be useful. And here I am :) It turned out that in this industry, studies are not the most important thing, while the parts that count most in a CV are your skills and portfolio. That's how I ended up at the Techland Academy, where we learned how to make maps for one of the company's productions using its game engine, and it appeared that level design is what allows you to combine the artistic and technological worlds. Then came Dying Light and there, I was responsible for the Old Town map.
What skills do you need in order to become a level designer?
In fact, you need to know a little bit of everything - coding, scripting, having an artistic sense, but also a sense of narrative and action. A level designer is a person who spends a lot of time talking to programmers, game designers, concept artists and the narrative team to get a given effect and emotions in the game.
Do you remember any revolutionary ideas from that period?
I remember it took us quite some time to figure out how the player could quickly climb tall, vertical buildings. On the streets, you're in danger all the time, so you need to be able to escape, also upwards - especially in Old Town, due to the construction of this district. As a result, we added numerous horizontal elements to the walls, including window sills. They turned out to form a pretty cool ladder to the rooftops. Another time we were puzzled over how to make the player move between buildings without touching the ground or falling. We were inspired by Wrocław and its everyday appearance - we hung cables between building blocks and placed additional street lamps nearby. Thanks to this, we greatly improved the gameplay.
Your current position - technology producer, may sound enigmatic to our players, could you explain what exactly it is you do?
First of all, as a producer, I organize the work of the development team. When new ideas or a need to solve a problem appear in the teams creating the game, people come to me and I prioritize tasks as well as plan the work. The team consists of C++ programmers, a technical director, a lead and testers.
It seems simple, but in practice, it can be surprisingly hard. A game is a system of connected vessels and sometimes, it turns out that a small change can have far-reaching effects on gameplay. In part, it is also analytical work, because we have to trace and try to predict how a given element will affect others.
For years I have used the tools that my team is now creating themselves - so when receiving them, I assess whether they will be well suited for work. I also try to stay up to date with other engines, such as Unreal and Unity, to have a comparison and, of course, to test what works better or worse than our own tools.
That sounds interesting. Can you tell us what these tools are then?
Our tools are desktop applications that allow you to build worlds, more or less like in Sims or Minecraft - except that our "inventory" and mechanics are much more advanced and extensive. Thanks to them, our level designers can build, paint and arrange the world that players find in the game. Using a metaphor, I would say that we create hammers and screwdrivers, brushes for artists who put the game together into a coherent whole. Virtually every person related to game content uses them on a daily basis.
But a hammer is created once and then it serves for as long as you like, while your work seems to be continuous. Isn't it enough to create such a tool once?
We work with our own technology that is over 20 years old, so we just need to update some tools, improve them, replace shovels with excavators, etc. When we want to introduce something new to the game, we have to create a new tool from scratch.
The important thing is that we build very large maps and it takes a long time to generate them. Therefore, one of our tasks is optimization - we want people working with tools to load them faster, for example, because it speeds up work and reduces the production costs of the game.
And I understand that thanks to the cooperation with mod.io, players now also have these tools at their disposal?
Basically, yes! It's a big event for us, because it's the first AAA game that can be edited and uploaded to mod.io. In theory, players can make anything we have created in Dying Light 2 Stay Human. Simply put, it is our development engine with which we have built the game. Several elements are unavailable, but this does not prevent you from creating your own campaign or your own story with dialogues, choices and their consequences. You can, for example, build a map without the infected or create a corridor full of the turned - anything you can think of. At a pinch, you can also create a world of blocks like in Minecraft.
Wow, what does one need to be able to achieve this?
A game and and a computer that meets the proper system requirements. The editor requires data - assets that are in the game and which it will use, so you need to have the game installed. In the future, we also plan to make these maps playable on consoles, which is why we have decided to partner with mod.io.
Isn't that the data companies protect?
We want to be transparent in contact with players and we have no concerns about theft of technology. The players have shown us many times that they can discover and do a lot without us - we want to support this enthusiasm. We also have something to boast about compared to other technologies. In other game engines, it's not as easy and quick to make a map with parkour and Aiden as it is in ours - it's something that requires its own implementation, it’s not built into Unreal or Unity. In Techland, it is the basis of technology.
They say Techland employs people who started as modders. Is that true?
Yes, that's right, and it's not only a good way to get into gamedev, but also to see if a given person likes the industry at all.
Although today there are certainly more schools offering gamedev education, there are still relatively few of them. I'm self-taught and, what's more, when I started, there weren't many tutorials, creation kits or other dev tools, and the games were made with our own engines. Therefore, I would recommend anyone who is interested in this industry to make a map and test their skills. The technology is available, you can touch it, make a portfolio for yourself, and have a much easier entry into the industry. Also, because you work with our technology, you can bypass the whole process of learning it and create a game right away. Additionally, I won’t deny that we observe our community and find talents on our own too, so it's worth creating and sharing your projects in public.
Making a game translates into work to you, but is it also fun?
Of course! Mainly because it's very creative! Making such maps is like building your own worlds. You can share your ideas with others by writing books or making movies, but also by creating games - and honestly, it's much easier. Writing a book is not always simple, while here, you can create your own narrative, you don't need a film crew, and you can make something visual, but most importantly - it's an interactive world where we can invite guests to join in. Good maps are highly valued by the community, and with the help of their votes, they get pushed to the top.
Developer tools were also available in Dying Light, how many maps were created there?
Within 7 years, over 700 of them were created, but the tools were much more modest. In the meantime, our technology has advanced a lot, so the editing tools of Dying Light 2 Stay Human are much better quality, and so we're counting heavily on the creativity of our community! The players have already announced a lot of interesting projects - some swear that, for instance, they will try to transfer Harran from the first game to the sequel. Let's see if it works.
Are there any limitations in creating content?
The content must be safe - and to make it so, we use moderation. In addition, of course, the computing power of PCs and consoles as well as time count, because our contest lasts until January 20th, 2023. You have to remember that players theoretically have less limitations than us, because they don't look at the game from our perspective and don't know that "it's impossible" to do this or that. We look at our titles in a certain way, while players have a wonderful, fresh perspective. I must also admit that we love the content they create and we can't wait to see what they generate with the new tools. Obviously, we’re going to promote these maps in our community.
What if I would like to start working in the industry, but I don't know how?
It's simple - you go to our discord, where you can meet the moderators we work with. They help new users and it's easy to find answers to questions there, while me and other people from Techland often drop in too.
To sum up, why is it worth taking part in our contest?
First of all, you can try your hand at it - the contest lasts a month, but it's only the beginning! This functionality allows you to learn, develop your skills, and maybe even look for a job in gamedev. About 50 people have worked on this project and it's one of the biggest contests we've organized, while Asus along with AMD have joined us as partners. To conclude, we have great prizes, but in this competition you can also win the adventure of a lifetime :)
For more information on the ‘Shape your City’ contest and entry requirements visit: https://techlandgg.com/goodies/shapeyourcity