Ghost Town is a new level for Painkiller: Black Edition. The geometry was made by Miling, and I set up gameplay for it.
My design goal for this level was to make something memorable that would stand out, not just another Painkiller level. In order to achieve that, I did some thought about Painkiller gameplay. What can I add to it?
Breaking the Monotony
There is certain monotony in Painkiller game - periods of battle take turns with periods when player catches their breath and looks around. Not much else happens. It's not possible to backtrack until the level is completed as the path is blocked.
In order to bring variety to this formula, I introduced another period - intense battle. During that period, taut music plays, and the player is facing particularly dangerous enemy with minions. Also, for memorable first impression, very first fight is something that was never seen in Painkiller before - player has to run around without weapons, evading attacks of the enemies, until they're able to pick up the Demon Mode powerup and vaporize them.
The way back gets blocked only upon entering a new area, and it gets opened after the fight, so if the player desires to do a 5 star playthrough (destroying all objects, collecting all ammo and armor, finding all secrets), they can start doing so any time, and, unlike other levels, they don't need to wait for the end, or worse, do it right from the start - in Painkiller Overdose at some levels it's impossible to backtrack even when the level is completed. And it's impossible to backtrack in all campaign levels of Painkiller: Hell and Damnation.
Picking the Skydome
Creation of Painkiller level begins with choosing sky textures for it. When doing so, I took two things into account: level has brown-ish lighting, and lightmaps clearly show that light is directly above. So I picked brown sky that harmonises with brown-ish lighting, and placed texture of the sun on top of it. Dynamic lighting on the level was also set to be emitted directly from above to match the lightmaps.
This way, the scenery started to look better than the level made for the same map in "Fear Factor" mod and the one made by Miling himself which was never released but can be seen on his YouTube channel. In those versions the authors used gray sky and gray fog which made the brown-ish lighting look awkward because it was coming from nowhere.
Choosing the Music
I have looked at the Painkiller's music folder for ambient and battle music. My choice for ambient music is Asylum Music. I feel that it fits the location very well, this music seem to speak about some mysterious events, some normal life, some sounds similar to child's music box toy, and then scary crescendo telling that the normal life is disrupted. All these details compliment the map's story about town populated by undead which appears and disappears in the fog.
Choice for battle music is Oriental Castle Fight. This music stands out in the soundtrack, and I feel that it really supplements the feel that's given by the ambient music. It seem to speak about disrupted life, battle that should have never been...
Intense battle: Forest Fight. Works really well in making an intense battle memorable and fun.
I also included a pleasant surprise - break of the monotony in ambient music. After the player completes the fight in the Executions Square, different ambient music starts to play there to underline what a horrible place it is. This music is Forest Ambient.
I walked around the level and got ideas on how to interestingly use the layout for gameplay.
I decided to follow the idea of the player being a traveller who suddenly found oneself inside the Ghost Town walls, and now has to find a way out. Level starts in Area 1, which I found to be one of the most atmospheric parts of the map, so it makes a great first impression.
The place is empty, which produces false sense of it being a safe haven. To further aid the mood, autumn snow falls, the kind which melts as soon as it touches the ground. From here, player has to move to area 2. To fix repetitive texturing on the ground, I edited the texture to decrease repetitiveness' noticeability and placed static meshes of hills and rocks to make the scene interesting to look at.
Area 2 is another very impressive area which has beautiful buildings, especially the hospital. There was the same problem as in Area 1 - terrain consisted of ground with repetitive texturing. Small black bushes didn't help much in terms of becoming interesting to look at. To fix that, I edited the texture to make its repetitiveness less noticeable, made few photosourced grass textures and placed the grass here and there. A lot of the grass was mowed by locals and put into piles. For further immersion, grass plays a sound when the player touches it. Same improvements were done to Areas 3 and 4. As the player enters this place, they see insane patients on the ground, so they have to run from them to area 3.
Here, in the graveyard, the aforementioned first fight happens, where the player has to run around from the enemies, evading their attacks. To make things more interesting, some of them run particularly fast. I understand that it can be hard to notice every flaw, so I carefully listen to players' feedback. One of them was confused because compass was pointing at monsters and he had no weapons to defeat them, so I digged into game's LUA scripts and tweaked them to make compass point at powerup which puts the player into Demon Morph mode.
After the player leaves Area 3, they see that slabs to previously inaccessible part of Area 2 behind the barn are opening. There they find hidden Stake Gun.
Now the player's path lies through Area 4, completing which opens path to Area 5. During this time they have a choice - they can complete Area 2 by killing all the insane patients now or postpone it for later. Path back to Area 1 will open when all Areas from 2 to 5 are completed.
Giving player such small choice makes the level more enjoyable and replayable than if the progression was just a simple linear corridor. At the same time, since it's only about order of doing things, player would never feel like they have to miss a part of the level.
Area 4 is another graveyard, but now the player is armed with Stake Gun. This fight involves strategy - DevilMonk with the scythe has to be killed first as he is able to instantly hit the player from the distance using the lightning. Next ones are DevilMonks with staffs that emanate poisonous gas - they are second most dangerous here.
Area 5 brings more variety to the level as it's a closed quarters fight. All enemies here are vamps, they look big and scary and their amount is overwhelming. But the twist here is that they themselves are afraid of the player, they move slowly due to fear and the only fast move they capable of is running backwards when the player is near. It won't take long to gib them with Painkiller that was just acquired.
It's harder to destroy the vamps with the Stake Gun (and that's an optional challenge - to unlock Black Tarot card player has to finish the level using Stakes only), but doable with some patience and evasive skills. Vamps will even gib themselves after some time, because they throw parts of their own bodies at the player.
Finally, it's time to return to Area 1. Here, checkpoint saves the progress, and then a sudden change of tone happens as the player gets to first intense battle, which I call "Love Hexagon". A girl appears in the center of the area, and crowd of boys quickly gets formed. Their amount is overwhelming and they all move overwhelmingly fast. But there is a twist that is going to make the player happy - killing the girl leads to instant deaths of all boys, because they are unable to live without her. To give thoughtful players a hint that would help understand the idea, I placed few particles around the fountain, they form an image of broken heart.
The fact that the girl burns really comes in handy here as the player is able to easily see their main target. And it feels really good to eventually destroy the whole crowd of enemies with one well-placed shot.
Most challenging and enjoyable way to complete this fight is to use a stake gun, which is another reason why the particular Black Tarot condition was picked.
A passage to Area 7 opens and closes behind the player to make them focus on exploring this part only and prepare to the next challenge. Checkpoint appears at the gallows hatch to point the player where they should go after they're ready.
Player takes HellGun and falls under the scaffolding to Area 6, which becomes enclosed by wooden planks. Remains of people who were executed here come to life and attack. This is another closed quartes fight that brings more variety. It's possible to shoot them down with the hellgun, explode with grenades, but most hard and satisfying challenge is to make them gather around a barrel and then quickly explode it with the stake gun. To point the player at this challenge, condition of unlocking the Black Tarot card is to finish the level using only the Stake Gun.
Time to get back to Area 7. Different enemies appear around the place. Monks come from the church, nuns - from nearby house, more executed people arrive on the scaffolding. Here it's also possible to use barrels to destroy multiple enemies at once and save stakes to overcome the Black Tarot challenge. Variety of dangers is present here. Apart from melee attacks, enemies have ranged ones - monks throw axes and bombs, nuns launch projectiles that make player unable to fire for few seconds, executed people throw parts of their flesh. And the most dangerous one is female monk who can't be killed and throws seeking fireballs which are hard to evade. Player has to be extra responsive and mobile around her or avoid any contact altogether.
After they're defeated, executioner and his minions appear. It's not hard to complete this fight without losing any health at all as long as the player moves quickly enough. One of enemies can throw an exploding barrel, which is very dangerous, but the player can hide behind the church and/or destroy all barrels to prevent that from happening. When this company is done for, different ambient music plays in Area 7 from now on, and passage to Area 8 opens.
Here the player gets the shotgun in the house at top right corner. Very dangerous fight happens here - among children and undead who wouldn't be able to do much hurt alone, executioners who're able to place temporary booby traps appear, and banshees whose screams darken the player's sight.
Should this danger be too challenging for the player, there's an easy way to overcome it - shotgun's freezing blast helps to destroy executioners very quickly, and throwing explosives at banshees takes care of the sight darkening too.
Area 9 provides rest for the player. Only eight vamps appear, and the player already knows how to deal with them from Area 5.
Area 10 contains the final, most difficult intense fight where the player finally breaks out of Ghost Town. It becomes closed only during the fight, and not upon entry, so if the player has to return for additional supplies, they can do it. To further aid the mood of this event, some trees start to burn - a return of some historical event when they burned during siege of this Town.
Checkpoint appears at pergola, and player already knows from previous experience with this level that touching it will start a battle, so it's wise to prepare first - walk around, pick up additional weapons, ammo, and armor.
The fight against Big Templar and his minions requires thoughtful tactical approach. Since it's very hard to avoid attacks of dogs and templars, they should be killed first, and as soon as possible. Understanding that is not enough, though. Player also has to find a weapon that works best against them. Shuriken Thrower and HellGun are such weapons against the dogs, and templars can be quickly killed with HellGun's grenade or Shuriken Thrower's lightning.
Since it's otherwise going to be pretty hard to complete the Black Tarot card challenge, another allowable weapon can be found in the area - Bolt Gun. It is similar to Stake Gun, but quickly shoots five bolts one after another, and these bolts move faster than stakes.
Work Done: setting up the skydome, additional textures, placement of additional decorative props, ambient sounds, monsters and secrets.