Sunday, January 6, 2013

Demo level design (the non-pretty version)

I've been noodling on a level design, and I think I have enough for a blog update...

I want to do a cave level, for a few reasons:

1. They can look amazing and magical and lovely, with glowing mushrooms and dust motes and light shafts and water falls. They can also be dark and horrible and cold and windy and full of scary eyes and shadows.

2. I went here during Christmas and it was really cool! You had to wear a hard hat and you got to go down in a little boat and on the sides of the narrow, cramped boat tunnel you could see the little safety holes that the miners had dug. Eventually we reached a big cavern with stalactites and wooden beams and a "bottomless" pit with water constantly pouring down it from above. It was so cold it took me the rest of the day and many, many blankets to warm up, but it was totally worth it!

3. A cave is a nice little contained, themed environment that people recognise. "Reach the cave exit" is an easy enough mission.

4. Fawn and Otis could wear hard hats.

First up are two little sketches:

I then decided that Photoshop is a bad, bad place to do a level design, and moved over to Illustrator to make a grid-based version. I also wrote a little list of nice/neutral/not nice things you can find in a cave or mine:

Not nice
Mushrooms - glowing

Mining carts




Light shining down


Light shining down (isolated)

Dust motes

Wooden beams

Eyes in darkness

Lit candles/lanterns
Buckets (lines)

Strange blind creatures

Plants (nice)


Plants (not nice)
Nice glowing things
Mining tools

Strange glowing things


Cave tentacles (?)



Mining cart rails

Rail switches


I wanted to do some simple light/darkness based puzzles (caves being the perfect location for pitch black places) and make the player assemble a little lantern that can be used by the characters.

Before building the level I gave myself some distance rules. 
I've been wanting to give Otis and Fawn different abilities, to force the player to separate them, and decided to keep it as simple as possible: they can jump in different ways. Otis, being a little chubby blob with wings, can flap upwards and reach ledges above. Fawn can make long horizontal leaps.

I've also been thinking about the light/dark change...
  • Should the entire level change when the characters are close, or just the area around them?
  • Should the player see the whole level at a time or just a zoomed in version?
  • If they can see the entire level, and if the whole level changes when the characters are near each other, does the game become too easy?

Hopefully the demo will answer those questions. For now, I'm going with the concept of the entire level being shown to the player at all times (like Machinarium) and that it all changes if the characters are close to each other. Whether or not this is fun or too easy will have to be decided later. The joy of prototyping!

Here's the level layout:
...I told you it wasn't pretty! However, it is enough for me to start building the level. But I'll probably paint over it in Photoshop and storyboard the entire thing just for the sake of my portfolio.

The mine 
This level is set in an old, derelict mine. The ground surrounding the tunnels has collapsed and the couple must venture into the caves in hope of finding another way forward. 
Sunlight shines in through the top parts and a river runs along the bottom. Forgotten mining equipment, strange plants, glowing mushrooms and old wiring systems can be found throughout the mine. Some areas are permanently dark, regardless of how close Otis and Fawn are to each other, and full of shadows and staring eyes... 

A.        Flower cave 
Light, first visit
This cavern is full of strange, pretty cave flowers . They are all closed. Otis and Fawn can hug to make them open, revealing a key in one of them. However, the flowers close as soon as the hug has ended and the key can't be picked up; a permanent light is needed. Cracks in the ceiling can be seen.
Dark, second visit
The flowers have turned to creepy tentacles! No interaction.

Light, second visit, with dynamite and lit lantern in inventory
Place the dynamite in the wall cracks and light the fuse with the lit candle from the lantern. This blasts a hole in the cave roof and light shines in. The flower holding the key opens permanently. Fawn can jump across the gap to grab it.
Dark, second visit, with dynamite and lit lantern in inventory
The cracks in ceiling can’t be seen, and the dynamite can’t be placed. 

B.        Cavern with light switch and glowing mushrooms 
Use the light switch on the wall to turn on the lights at B and C.
Hug to make the mushrooms glow brighter. (Bonus interaction; no impact.)
Pitch black, with a low glow from the mushrooms. No interactions.

C.        Dark cavern
Only accessible by Otis. Completely dark until light has been turned on at B. 
The lantern is revealed and can be picked up. It lacks a candle. 
Eyes in the darkness - Otis is scared. No interactions. 

D.        Candle
Visible in both light and darkness, but is harder to spot in darkness. An unlit candle lies on the floor behind some rocks. It can be picked up. The candle can be combined with the lantern from C. 

E.         Gate
Visible in both light and darkness. Locked. Requires key from A. 

F.         Burning torches 
Visible in both light and darkness. Use them to light the candle from D and get a lit lantern. 

G.        Dynamite cave 
Only accessible by Fawn. Always dark without lantern.

 Light (requires lit lantern) 
A few sticks of dynamite can be seen in the corner of the room. They can be picked up. Use it at A (light) to obtain the key for E. 
This cave is pitch black without a lantern. Nothing can be seen.

I have started painting over the grid-based level in Illustrator, but I'll probably finish it off in Photoshop. There will be a light and a dark version of the level design. For now, here's the base, looking a bit less...square:

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