Games Design Project – “Heart of Cygnus” – Intro & Pre-Production


Welcome to my development blog for my games design project, “Heart of Cygnus”. This blog will be updated weekly for the next 12 weeks and will showcase the development process for my project.


For this project I will be creating a Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) era Zombies map in Unreal Engine 4. “Heart of Cygnus” takes place upon the eponymous research vessel, investigating strange activity emanating from the black hole Cygnus X-1. As the ship is drawn into its event horizon, all but one member of the crew falls dead before being reanimated as zombies, forcing the sole survivor, the player, to fight their way through hordes of the undead.

As an aspiring level designer who’s previously created multiplayer style maps in UE4
inspired by Call of Duty & Halo, I was eager to focus my project towards designing a level based around an existing IP in UE4. I also wanted to recreate some existing mechanics as to show off my level & mechanic design and implementation abilities while putting my own spin on a game that I have great respect and passion for. The decision to focus on the Call of Duty: Zombies gamemode, in particular the World at War (2008) & Black Ops (2010) iterations, was made as I feel that these games were the peak of the Call of Duty Zombies gamemode, with maps big enough to provide an enjoyable and challenging experience without feeling over the top or like a chore to play like in later iterations of the gamemode. For me it provides a good basis with reasonable scope as to what I could realistically build over the next 12 weeks.

Despite being quite well acquainted with the zombies maps of World at War (2008) and Black Ops (2010) I will be going back to play and analyse them to gain a better
understanding of their flow, critical paths, use of lighting and use of space, as well as
researching the development cycle of both games to see & understand how they were made. I’ll also be analysing other games that have levels/maps of a similar design and style, such as Metro, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Dead Space and Left 4 Dead to gain a better understanding of how these games build a world around their critical paths, and look to take influence & understanding from their methods environmental story telling. I’ll also be looking for literature regarding this topic to aid my research, as well as sci-fi movies & TV series such as Futurama, Star Wars, Alien, Event Horizon & Star Trek for inspiration with regards to architecture & environment building in space ships.


Before discussing any of this projects pre-production & development it must be noted that this project is in collaboration with another designer, who will be creating the fully functional gamemode/gameplay mechanics such as enemy waves, round counter & powerups, and player mechanics such as the guns/ammo system, melee attack, zombie AI and points system. To ensure that neither of us are dependent on the work of the other however, we have split the project in half with myself creating a level that function independently of the core gameplay mechanics that the other designer is developing, while said core gameplay mechanics can function independently regardless of the level they are in.

The first port of call before beginning development properly was to compile a list of all the assets I would need to fully create a Call of Duty: Zombies level. This was done in a spreadsheet as to be easily editable. It’s pictured below as of the 12/2/2020 along with a key.

Another point of urgency before development could properly begin was the need to source a free to use modular kit from the Unreal Marketplace. Fortunately one of the few free ones available was Modular Sci-Fi Season 2 Starter Bundle, which fit the bill perfectly.