Level Design Objectives
1. Adhere to the realistic style and gameplay of The Last of Us.
2. Create lanes that provide players opportunities for different play styles, combat, sneaking, and near impossible.
3. Create "flank routes" so players can travel between these lanes for a hybrid experience.
4. Combine story objectives with gameplay.
5. A rural setting, fewer people, more desperation.
5. Focus on creating the "inciting incident" for the level, working towards a level climax.
Mission Overview​
The evening patrol has just missed their second scheduled radio check-in. The player (Ellie-like character) and their partner (Joel-esque) volunteer to cross the bridge and check in on the silent patrol team who should be in the tower.
Quick Summary
The Mill is a mix between a sneaking mission and frantic, desperate combat. The mission begins at the edge of the empty town near a military bunker. Brick buildings line the main street possessed by infected. Fighting is an option, but the safer choice is to search for an alternate path. Ellie reaches the compound and climbs a makeshift bridge to the tower. She finds a dead patrolman and another wounded. An oncoming group of enemy survivors threatens the tower with long-range rifles. After finishing off the snipers with the dead patrolman’s rifle, Ellie and her partner help the wounded out of the tower. The bridge collapses as the three try to cross attracting a horde of infected. The trio scrambles through the compound towards the town. Ellie breaks off and fights multiple infected, protecting the other two. The level ends when Ellie and the team reach the military bunker.
Opening position overlooking the middle lane.
Opening position overlooking the middle lane.
Beginning cover, player has multiple lanes to choose from.
Beginning cover, player has multiple lanes to choose from.
The lane to the left leads to a parking lot, the first combat encounter.
The lane to the left leads to a parking lot, the first combat encounter.
After battling, the player comes to a clearing.
After battling, the player comes to a clearing.
Jumping down reveals an overgrown park patrolled by clickers.
Jumping down reveals an overgrown park patrolled by clickers.
Back to the parking lot, if the player doesn't want to fight, they can escape through the old furniture store.
Back to the parking lot, if the player doesn't want to fight, they can escape through the old furniture store.
Collectibles and bits of history are scattered throughout the store.
Collectibles and bits of history are scattered throughout the store.
This path leads to the middle lane, clickers block the direct path.
This path leads to the middle lane, clickers block the direct path.
At the beginning of the level, players can choose to take the right path.
At the beginning of the level, players can choose to take the right path.
Past the wrecked car is a small playground patrolled by infected.
Past the wrecked car is a small playground patrolled by infected.
There is ample cover to sneak or fight.
There is ample cover to sneak or fight.
Turning the corner, the player reaches a staircase.
Turning the corner, the player reaches a staircase.
Climbing the staircase reveals an open window and a make shift bridge.
Climbing the staircase reveals an open window and a make shift bridge.
Moving forward reveals a fallen ladder. Once the player hops down, they can't return.
Moving forward reveals a fallen ladder. Once the player hops down, they can't return.
The player crosses the bridge into an old community theater.
The player crosses the bridge into an old community theater.
Walking through reveals the large smoke stack from earlier.
Walking through reveals the large smoke stack from earlier.
And the player can see the goal.
And the player can see the goal.
Clickers patrol this area, sneaking is crucial.
Clickers patrol this area, sneaking is crucial.
Exit.
Exit.
Map Layout and Design
As a player, I really enjoy choice. Whether it's responding to a dialogue scenario or choosing how I can explore the game world. In this case, I wanted to provide the player with ample space to tackle the objective of reaching the plant in several ways. By taking the top route, the player is forced to be more aggressive. Two infected block the way to the factory and there is little cover to hide behind. These few pieces of cover are still useful, however. The player can plan their attack and take out the infected. From there the player navigates an overgrown park to reach the compound's entrance.
The lower route is longer but much safer. Players hide behind cars and playground equipment, sneaking past all enemies. To keep this route interesting, players must jump off of a balcony and set the ladder against an open window, a simple puzzle to break up the monotony of sneaking. Players cross a plank and go through an old theater before sneaking past the final infected to reach the entrance to the compound.
Between these two main routes exist alternate routes as a way to bridge the two together for players that enjoy exploring. The risk of infected is great, but players can find collectibles throughout the buildings as well as crafting supplies. For the more ambitious players, they can try running through the main avenue to reach their goal, but it is occupied by clickers. It's possible to pass, but extremely difficult.
Credits and Thanks
Shoutout to Ryan Smith and the Mentor Coalition. This level wouldn't be possible without them. Another shoutout to Naughty Dog, Neil Druckman, and the rest of the Last of Us team for creating such an inspiring game.
All narrative and design ideas are my own, Bruce Evans. Valuable critiques were provided by Ryan Smith. For a detailed design document please CLICK HERE.
And thanks to you for checking out my work. Long live interactive stories.

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