Scrapbot Dev Diary #1 - Level Design and Early Choices

Hello and welcome to the first non-forced blog in quite a while! This one is all about a personal project of mine, that I have been working on to and from for a few weeks now (trying to relax on a break and still work is a bit hard for me still). In this blog I will be discussing the main idea, then talk a bit about some design choices i’ve made, and then finally talk a bunch about the level design, as that has been the main focus these last few weeks.

So let’s start talking about the idea itself. What I wanted to go for when making the game was a Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie feel. Kind of an open world platformer where you collect items in order to progress. I wanted to make something that didn’t use many difficult programming elements, as I had decided to make the game in Unreal Engine 4, rather than Unity which I am used to working in. My game had two characters. Two different robots that the player could switch between in order to complete puzzles and challenges. The original idea was that the player could collect three different types of currencies that would be used to construct different tools (like launch-pads) to assist the player further. The main goal of the game was to help a third robot (NPC) to go to space in a massive rocket that is located in the middle of the map. As for the map itself, it was split up into four different areas that I would lock off and release over time as I developed this project. This was the original Idea for the game, however below I will talk about some design choices and issues I encountered that changed the game slightly.

First off is my choice to remove character swapping and two characters. In a game world as “open” as mine, it would be tedious to only move one character at a time to move across the map. It is probably countered through the level design itself by moving the characters in small increments, but it didn’t correspond with what I wanted for the game.

First iteration on level. one part of several massive quadrants that would progressively be released after game release by me.

First iteration on level. one part of several massive quadrants that would progressively be released after game release by me.

The second issue was the map size. I liked the thought of having different zones, but I eventually realized that I probably won’t want to work on this for another few months to fill out all areas with unique ideas and content, so I removed the zones and decreased the overall map size. Because of that I also had to decide what activities I wanted to include in the game. I started off with trying to come up with four different activities, one for each quadrant. However I ended up changing it to four jumping puzzles instead, as I wanted to focus on the level design and platforming aspects of the game, rather than amount of mechanics. So the final decision became four jumping puzzles starting in or being located in, the different quadrants.

New iteration on the level design. This iteration features a significantly smaller level with objectives all around.

New iteration on the level design. This iteration features a significantly smaller level with objectives all around.

Upper Left Quadrant of the new level. Here I have mapped out a jumping puzzle and all it's possible paths as well as locations of bolts.

Upper Left Quadrant of the new level. Here I have mapped out a jumping puzzle and all it's possible paths as well as locations of bolts.

Next up was some smaller changes that I had implemented, but then decided to remove completely. One of them being the three currencies. I had nuts, bolts and springs that all were made for the player to collect. However, none of them had any specific purpose at all, so I removed two of them, keeping the bolts. The reason for keeping the bolts was partially because I feel like bolts do more good than nuts, but also because the internet has ruined me and I didn’t want to keep writing nuts in my documentation. The second issue I had was the mechanic to carry items. Originally in a very early idea I wanted the player to be able to have to place boxes on pressure plates to move through puzzles, but since this became a jumping puzzle based game instead, I decided to remove the functionality completely.

Since I have one of the quadrants ready for grey-boxing, I wanted to dive in to unreal engine and start mapping out the area and test the size of the level, as well as get used to exporting from maya to UE4. The first step was to create a cylinder that would cover the size of the level. Since I had made the level smaller from the start, I decided to make the radius of the level 50 metres, rather than 80. This however, was incredibly far, and it could take me as much as 3 minutes to reach the end of the level, which was way too far. I tried changing it over and over again, and eventually ended up at 15 meters. It's around this point that I figured out that since 1 unreal unit is equal to 1 centimeter, that means that 10 unreal units is 1 meter, meaning that my "50" meters actually were around 500 meters. So my 15 meter radius made more sense as a 150 meter radius. This 150 meter radius was a pretty good size since it didn't feel too long nor too short. I played around as well with the size of the crater the map is in, and the size of the rocket in the middle. I wanted the rocket to be a very clear center-point so I needed it to be visible from everywhere.

Level design test, with final size iteration of 150 meter radius

Level design test, with final size iteration of 150 meter radius

Previously in my degree one of my weaknesses was to ask “why” questions. Why do I implement X, what purpose does it have? Does it add to the game experience? If the questions were no, then there is no reason to have it in the game. For this project I think I have evolved in that field significantly, and I believe my game will turn out better for that.

Darkness Dwells 2 - Studio 3

A big part of studio 3 has been and is the marketing. Which is understandable, as marketing is so incredibly important to get your product out into the world. The long-term assessment for the marketing side of studio 3 is that we gather all previously created games, pick some that are suitable for marketing, and then carry out marketing processes for that game along with adding/removing features that makes it more/less marketable.

The team I am a part of (team name yet to be determined), consists of me, Paul Frame, Nicholas Duxbury, and the game's owner himself, Scott "Penguin" Anastasi. As I mentioned, Penguin is the owner of the game Darkness Dwells, and we are setting out to make the sequel, Darkness Dwells 2.

A little information about the game before we dive into the marketing side of things. Darkness Dwells was a first person game where you play as a child, laying in a bed trying to sleep while monsters and horrible beings apparate all around you. If you wait long enough, you will hear your parents comforting voice through the walls talk to each other and you'll finally be able to rest, free from monsters.

What we noticed in horror games, is that jumpscares always sells. Especially in the streaming/youtuber market, as it gives both the game and the youtuber views. Youtubers gained a lot of views (and money) from sitting and screaming at jumpscares coming at them (that may or may not be scary). We wanted to try and reach that goal of having a very youtuber friendly game. So what we mainly are looking to changing/adding to the game is the following:

  • Walking
  • Monsters with purpose
  • Blanket Mechanic

 

Walking

What previously wasn't possible in Darkness Dwells was walking. We wanted the player to have more input on where they go and what to do, so we added a purpose. You wake up in the middle of the night, and have to try and find your parents room before the monsters catch you. Because the game is set within a house, there will be short play sessions, which are optimal for youtubers and streamers as they can play a quick game or a couple of games per streaming session.

Monsters With Purpose

A lot of horror games (nearly all of them) have at least one distinguishable threat that is recognizable for that game. Examples are the Five Nights at Freddy's (FNAF) animatronics or the good old classic Slender man. We want the player to know what Is chasing them, so that the face of the monster can be tied to the game, in order to spread. For example you might see a monster you recognize, but you're not sure where it is from so you look it up. That's how they find Darkness Dwells 2.

slendy.jpg

What we mean with purpose as well is that they all have a purpose for haunting the character. However it can be debatable why. Slender man for example kidnaps children while the FNAF characters seek revenge for their unfair deaths (also debatable). A lot of the characters have stories that you read between the lines to figure out, and that appeals to us, and to youtubers as well. It also allows a type of audience participation that is very intriguing.

The character we chose for Darkness Dwells 2 is Longtooth. We have some early concept arts of the character, and so far no backstory has been written. But I figured that the image itself can haunt you until a purpose is fully made.

Cutie.jpg

Blanket Mechanic

A lot of horror games have at least one mechanic that let's them avoid the threat haunting them. Sometimes at the cost of something else. This would for example be the golden mask in the FNAF franchise. We added a blanket mechanic to Darkness Dwells 2. This means that the player walks around constantly wrapped in a blanket that they can hide in for a certain amount of time. We are also discussing ways of making this a curse, much like the blinking mechanic of SCP containment breach or the weeping angels from doctor who.

We strongly believe that all the above mentioned mechanics will allow for a strong game that can be played within 10 minutes and give the player a good scare. The game will be suitable to youtubers mainly for the short game time and plentiful of varied jumpscares that the player can try and avoid. Only time will tell what gets added and removed.

Thanks for reading this first blog post on my new website, I appreciate it!

Until next time, take care.