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DXHR Dev Vault: Level Design Philoshophy (Part Two)

Posted by René-Martin Pauzé

Game Theme


We took considerable time to analyze and understand the cyberpunk theme, which would heavily influence the level layout creation and mission structure.

This theme is set in the near-future and heavily focuses on high technology and dystopian society. The locations characterizing this theme are generally based on:

 High Technology Environments :

o   Multinational corporations HQ

o   Scientific Laboratories

o   Secret Compounds

Dystopian Environments :

o   Urban environments (Rooftop, Street, Alley, etc.)

o   Underground environments (Sewers, Catacombs, etc.)

o   Industrial Complex



We did extensive research about the kind of innovations being pushed in those three main spheres of interest: architecture, transportation, and furniture design. This helped us creating moodboards and brainstorming on near-future interactions with the game’s world.



The amount of movies and animes which already touched on the cyberpunk thematic really helped us get immersed in this kind of universe, to notice the main traits, and guide us on the creative aspects of level design. So, we watched a lot of movies, such as:

 o  Blade Runner

o  Robocop

o  Appleseed

o Ghost in the Shell

o I, Robot

o Minority Report

o  Johnny Mnemonic

After much research and analysis, which gave us so much inspiring material (including games mentioned earlier), we started the brainstorming sessions to create the blueprint of the game. This very important milestone would then help us plan and organize the levels' production, based on the level design propositions.

Now, we had to prove to ourselves that we were able to recreate the Deus Ex experience through a First Playable.

First Playable 

For the first playable version of the game, we decided to create a City Hub level, because such environments are complex to create and have plenty of challenges on their own, such as:

 o   Technical complexity to properly stream all the different environments which are part of a City Hub (buildings with different architectures, moving elements like tram, helicopters), amount of characters, etc.

 o  Pacing & navigation issues where players must travel through space between points while retaining actual interest (meaning, not get bored).

 o  Balancing all those areas of exploration, either "pure" or sidequests-related, so they can be evenly crafted around the mission’s objectives.

City Hubs are the largest map type, delivering a wide variety of content and locations that players can explore. They are meant to simulate the feeling of actually being in a real city, complete with city streets, shops, buildings and people.

We took the time to study other games offering City Hubs from a First-Person perspective, like “The Darkness” and “Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodline”.

City Hubs contain a lot of content presented in many different ways. Our City Hubs needed to contain and support the following.

- Cyberbunk Theme: City Hubs require more effort to create a living and breathing world, which adds to the cyberpunk theme.

    Architecture. Mix of near-futuristic style with modern / contemporary architecture.

    Mood. Creating dynamic advertising supported by a wide range of lighting and fog effects.

   Filling the space. NPCs going about their business, clutter in every corner of the area.

- Exploration: The player can explore around the map and its various secrets areas.

   Pure basic navigation. The player can explore his surroundings simply by walking around, jumping over / crouching under obstables and moving objects.

   Augmentations. The use of Augmentations adds a lot more layers to exploration, allowing players to reach new and hidden areas by using those which are at their disposal or that they needs to acquire later in the game.

 Goodies. Players can find items, weapons, ammo, consumables and readables.

- Social Aspect: This plays a huge part in the core gameplay. It translates into talking and listening to NPCs who can give important information on the current objective, giving hints on alternate options, backstory on events, the world itself, important characters and so on.

Action-Reaction. Certain NPCs or social events would change depending on players’ actions, such as completing a mission in a certain way, completing secondary objectives, neutralizing a specific character, or simply creating chaos.


 Side quests. The social aspect in City Hubs also provides players with side quests which can be obtained throughout the environment and add more motivation for players to explore. 

- Visit local shops: Players have access to shops, where they can purchase new weapons and augmentations (selling items and weapons is also an option).

- Connections to other maps: City Hubs also serve as connectors to interior environments as well as compounds.



Detroit was heavily influenced by Deus Ex’s level “Hell's Kitchen”, so we took time to study the layout and all the elements which composed the hub.

Deus Ex - Hell's Kitchen

City Hub

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Detroit City Hub

Free Clinic

L.I.M.B. Clinic

Subway Station

Metro Station

Underworld Tavern

Police Station

Basketball Court

Basketball Court

‘Ton Hotel

Chiron Building (Adam's Apartement)

West Alley


Smuggler’s Lair

Seurat's Apartement & Grayson’s Gas Station



Osgood & Sons Imports

Delerict Row

NSF Base Rooftop

DRB territory

Here is a flowchart we created based on our analysis of Hell's Kitchen, which demonstrates the open-ended gameplay and every single possibility.



 This deep analysis, plus the guidelines listed above, clearly helped us on focusing on a variety and different gameplay experiences per area, such as:

Social Interactions & Economic System for LIMB Clinic

Fully-multipathing and multi-options for the Police Station

Exploration-heavy and primary locations for Sidequests, as for the Backalley & Apartments & Sewers

Infiltration-inclined and support of different tactical approaches taking advantage of augmentations for the Industrial Zone

 Critical Events & Backstory Information as for the Chiron Building, where Adam’s own apartment is located.



In the picture below, we can see the early prototype of the final re-design of Detroit City Hub (there were multiple iterations), where we applied what we learned during our pre-production.

Interesting Fact #1: We thoughtfully designed the locations of main landmarks of the City Hub at different “corners” of the Hub, so that the player would feel actually being “inside” the City Hub and also, always have in sight any of those landmarks.

Sarif Industries Headquarters

L.I.M.B. Clinic

Chiron Building

 Police Station

Interesting Fact #2: Each of the main locations can be accessed by basic navigation at all times, without forcing the use of Augmentations of technical hardloading.

Interesting Fact #3: The two main missions of the City Hub, “Police Station” + “Industrial Zone”, have multiple entry points directly linked to the City Hub portion, meaning that the player can find those entrances by himself or by finding clues linking to them.


Final Conclusion

After many hours of analyzing other games (including the previous Deus Ex games), defining our required guidelines, and producing multiple iterations of the City Hub, we were now able to apply such rules and guidelines to all other locations we planned, so they can all have that Deus Ex “vibe” we were aiming for.

Credit goes to alphagravy for all the gifs!


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