Return to Kaas City
Return to Kaas City is an action adventure level designed as a spec for Jedi: Fallen Order. Dromuund Kaas, once the capital of the Old Sith Empire, has been abandoned for millennia That is until recently. A former Inquisitor turned true Sith has taken a small regiment of those loyal to retake the city, building a castle beneath the shadow of the once great Citadel. Fight your way through the overgrown remains of the city on your mission to thwart this Sith Cult.
Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine 4
Developed over six weeks, this level blockout was meant to push my skills in linear level design. I wanted to produce a level that could be featured in Respawn's Jedi: Fallen Order, while capitalizing on lore from the extended universe. In particular, this level is set on a planet established in Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic. I always really enjoyed this planet, and wanted to imagine what it might look like thousands of years later, ravaged by time.
Dromuund Kaas is a marshy forest planet mired in the dark side of the force. The sith capital of Kaas City was always but a small bastion against the great trees and flooding waters even in its height. Now, thousands of years later, the city has yielded to the forces of nature, sinkholes causing the great skyscrapers to topple and warp. This linear level can be broken up into four parts: The approach, the fallen tower, the city center, and the sith castle.
I knew that I had to be particular about how I built this map, and so I drew directly from the source material for Dromuund Kaas as well as a number of other tertiary sources. Additionally, I created a very rough map and outline for the experience that I wanted. I wanted to move from the forest, cross a gorge to the ruined city, and lastly siege up towards a Sith Castle
The Forest Leadup
Dromuund Kaas is a particularly lush planet, I knew that I wanted the player to start hidden away within the natural terrain. The player then works their way up to a vista overlooking the ruined capitol. They can see many of the major landmarks right off the bat, which will serve to guide them throughout the rest of the level. Initially I wanted the player to then traverse around the perilous ridge of a great waterfall, but found myself enjoying the more enclosed look of the forest over it.
The Fallen Scraper
Initially I had only wanted some method of crossing the great gorge I'd placed into the center of the map. As I placed a number of primitives around the map as representations of skyscrapers, I got the idea to simply topple one of them over. This segment became the most complex and intricate endeavor of the map. The trick was making it actually feel like a sideways building, which I employed a number of techniques in order to accomplish. Firstly, I had to size the actual skyscraper to make it fit its purpose of crossing the gorge.
You can see the stages of its creation above, with the solid block being its initial sizing pass, followed by a sculpt in order to give it the feel of a genuine Dromuund Kaas skyscraper. Once I had that general shape I worked further into the details, creating a a floorplan for the segments of the building. This floorplan would end up being the vertical architecture of my level, but it was better to build it up right first before knocking it down so to speak. These slices of the building were then stitched together across the gorge to fit its purpose, before being cut into as I moved through it. I imagined the building as a sort of residential carcass, and wanted it to hold a gory feeling -- thus the exposed rib like section of the buildings middle, and the hanging elevator in the decaying guts of the building. The central elevator shaft would be the player's method of ingress and exit.
The Sunken City
The third section of the map is my personal favorite. The player emerges from the guts of the building into its foundation -- and out finally into the city. The city is flooded, and what once were streets of commerce are only marshes for strange alien life to call their home. In contrast to the two previous zones which were much more contained, I wanted a feeling of grandeur to the space, endeavoring to recreate the cityscape as haunting monoliths to a once time.
One of the more important things to me in this area was to genuinely represent Dromuund Kaas as it was designed in SWTOR. I gathered a lot of reference and made a lot of lightweight blockouts using the same form language. Even on the micro I tried to emulate bits of the environment from Dromuund Kaas, albeit adapted to better suite action gameplay. Additionally, I had to make sure that this section looked good not only up close, but from afar as it was a key part of the opening vista.
The red glow of the Sith Castle compels the player to continue trekking towards it, as it is their goal for the level to reach it. The final area is the leadup to it, which is supposed to be a steep departure from the feel of the rest of the level. While everything else is ruinous, this is the one area of the map that is maintained and kept up to date with running tech. I wanted it to feel like a proper base, creating encampments, artillery, and landing pads for Tie Fighters to refuel at. I referenced the shape and vibe of Vader's castle and used it as the basis for the entire area.
When I was growing up, I loved nothing more than Star Wars. I would hyperfocus and meticulously build massive lego kits, I played all the games, and when the time came that SWTOR was launching, I built my first gaming PC just to play it. Suffice it to say I felt blessed to work on an idea like this and write it off as a school assignment. I think that my passion found its way into the level itself, and the thematic richness of the environment should surely put a smile on any fan's face. As I tend to do with level design, I overscoped it a bit -- which meant that certain areas didn't get the polishing pass or perhaps even the amount of thought they deserved. The forest and the sith castle are substantially weaker areas than the others, and I think its mainly due to their sizing. This level should probably be bigger than it actually is if it wants to be successful, though I crammed it in to fit the sizing requirements. This stressed to me the importance of building of metrics, something that I force into the forefront of my mind every time I hit a level blockout now.
Oh and here! A fun top down image, from my first pass of the rough layout to the final copy.