During our first week of development, we decided to create 7 total scenes where each designer would be able to conceptualize, test and implement a play space that would go into the final build. We held weekly meetings to ensure there were no issues with major components of the game and would schedule play test sessions with our instructors if we needed feedback.
Design a level that challenges the players ability to avoid danger.
Prevent players from spending too much time in one area.
Make use of present geometry and mechanics to increase play difficulty for the player.
Get players to understand and interact with cover during the boss battle.
Keep the entire play experience between 5 and 7 minutes.
During the concept phase, I decided to break down the airfield into 6 blocks to help separate content and see where checkpoints, gates, valves and areas of interest to the player should be placed. The minefield and turret area were once two separate blocks, but it felt appropriate to merge them into one due to their close proximity to one another.
Once the block out was done, the next step was to add more detail to show the general layout of the level while including more information such as where combat encounters, checkpoints and intractable items were on the map.
Further into the concept phase, Halo: Spartan Assault was used heavily as a reference to make sure alignment between space and enemy encounters was optimal. A tool called PureRef assisted me further with level design by allowing multiple images to be in clumped together so inspiration could be drawn from them and aiding comparison between current designs and what was on the board. This step allowed me to challenge my own designs and think from a broader perspective.
Tommy Norberg made an interesting tweet regarding the use of cover in games. Although the player is the only one shooting anything, sharing his wisdom with the team made designing our levels a bit easier since it forced us to think from the point of view of a new player and try to interpret what they may feel as they interact with our designs.
We ended up asking ourselves questions like "Is there too much space like the bad example?" and "Does this particular area have enough space to do use the example on the right?" We understood that we wouldn't get everything right the first time around, but information such as this made us more critical of each others designs and brought forth productive questioning during meetings.
Once the conceptualized block-out of the level felt okay, I asked some of the other designers to look at our feature list with me to figure out where certain content should be placed. We ended up deciding that the path from the shipping container area to the staging area was too empty and noticed from play tests that players would just walk through while shooting zombies. While that is how you play the game, we agreed that there needed to be more depth and color present.
The solution was using Tommy Norberg's advice and adding in some barricades that would hinder the players movement and create a choke where the spitting zombies could create hazardous space posing additional risk to players as they went through.
My reasoning for this is by the time most players reach that path they are close to death and since there is a health pickup at the end, the player should have to work for it. The result of this change is shown below.
Further play testing revealed that we had a problem with players spending too much time in one area. We decided to introduced some valves to prevent players from backtracking and encourage progression. The change ended up helping players take note that they need to go forward which also gave us a more accurate measurement of total playtime. While it seems like a minor change, the valves helped us in our understanding of pacing and were placed in multiple levels. Below, the player hits a checkpoint which causes the valve to activate preventing backtracking.
There were several challenges when getting feedback for the boss fight. The biggest issue was players did not understand that the crates protected them from the boss's stomp attack. There was a point where players would face-tank the boss without going for cover. This was the thought process I had for this moment of play prior to the first play test:
If the particle system from the stomp is affected by the crates mesh, the player should be able to see that they can hide behind them.
When all crates are destroyed, more will make themselves available prompting the player to investigate their use.
When the crates are destroyed, pickups are revealed which will draw the player to utilize them more for safety and resources.
The lesson we learned from this issue is while we are aware of what is going on, the player has not had the opportunity to be introduced to this mechanic let alone practice it. The solution was to introduce the player to the mechanic in the warehouse level where they must escape the boss to complete it. With those changes made, players were still avoiding the boxes. The final change that seemed to work was putting visual effects prompting the player to stand close to the box. I ended up coming up with this conclusion about the encounter.
If arrows are visually moving the players eye will be draw to them.
If the arrows are spaced apart, the player can deduce that they can stand there and be safe.
When the player notices more crates fall, they will understand that this mechanic is meant to assist them with this challenge.
We ran into many issues from one of our team members being forced out of their home due to wildfires, to constant uncertainty and schedule changes due to the pandemic.
While the project was challenging through all phases, what made this learning experience unique is it was created by a team of 7 designers in four months from pre-production all the way to release. We resolved conflicts as they arose and treated one another with respect and dignity and showed empathy towards one another when changes needed to be made.