Landmark (also called a dominant, point of interest, focal point, motive or accent) is a unique element of level architecture that stands out from the composition. The purpose of that kind of element is to catch the player’s eye and give the player a general idea on level directions, help the player navigate through the level, show an important place or the player’s objective or create a scene that is more characteristic and moody. Landmarks are crucial in scenes that the player will revisit a few times. Directional landmarks can help players determin their position in regard to the rest of the scene or game world. Scenes without any landmarks can get unattractive and boring, the player can encounter problems with finding their way to the objective or exploration target to progress with the adventure.
Examples of Landmarks
You can use landmarks to mark the player’s objective or just to show an important place where gameplay events will take place. Don’t be afraid to use this method just to invite the player to explore the level a bit but make sure to reward the player for the exploration.
Very unique landscape with height differences and industrial buildings dominating the scene. Notice the bright radio tower (objective) and the rusty tank on the left. It is hard to get lost here because there are no other constructions like these.
Example 1 – Rage
Highlight and landscape composition used to show the player’s objective.
Example 2 – Alan Wake
This room would look like many other rooms in the game if not for the presence of the organic growth in the corner. Notice that the same scene can be seen from upstairs and from the second room. That characteristic growth made that room very unique and easy to recognize.
Decide what the purpose of your landmark is and think about non-artificial landmarks for your scene. Most frequently I will use objects that stand out from the rest of the scene with form, color and scale. You can also apply any other composition rules like highlighting, proportions, height differences or braking patterns just to make sure that the player will definitely see the difference.
- Avoid using many landmarks in single place.
- Avoid using landmarks that look the same from every direction.
- Use small and subtle landmarks to navigate through narrow spaces and corridors.
- Make sure that the player can understand your scene by separating background objects from landmarks and quickly plan their exploration path.
- Small environments could have only one landmark in the middle. That eye catcher should be visible from most of places in the scene.
- Large open world levels use a “from landmark to landmark” navigation method. When the player reaches a certain dominant he should be able to see a few new dominants on the horizon. This will keep him interested in continuing the exploration.
- Remember that there’s no need to show landmarks all the time. Let the player think and look for the way by himself but make sure he won’t get lost and get frustrated.