Early on we wanted to nail down the story. When we made Freeze-E Frosty's we were able to figure out just what areas the player would explore and what assets, vfx and sfx we would need.
When It came to level design the first thing I was thinking about was the pacing. We had to start off with a good tutorial that brings the player straight into the action. I was playing a lot of games for reference. What games had a truly engaging tutorial? What games had a bad tutorial? I was looking to design something that would instantly teach the player the fundamentals of our game. The fundamentals at this time was gun play, puzzles and cover.
While the player explored the destroyed camp we would be teaching the player how to interact with the environment and how to walk and move throughout the world. Once we get inside the temple we would teach the player some simple puzzle solving and than we would teach them how to use a gun and take cover as they first encounter enemies. The player would be driven forward to find the survivors by a walkie talkie that keeps them in contact with the survivors. We used this mechanic in Freeze-E Frosty's as well.
The layout to the level was something I was constantly thinking about. I wanted to give the player options. They player should be able to move around the battlefield and engage enemies at different ranges and angles. The encounter should be fairly random with enemies laying down covering fire and trying to out flank the plater. These were all things I was thinking about.
Some early Ideas I had was using ropes to swing across gaps and clinging to walls to avoid crumbling floors. The first puzzle room would be devoid of areas that would kill the player. One thing I thought about was making the first puzzle room really easy. The idea was to make death in this tutorial real impossible and keep the punishment level low. When the player is unable to complete a task such as crossing a gap they would fall into a pit. To keep the puzzle from punishing the player we make the fall a short one. We also make it very easy for the player to get back up to the rope and try again. If the player was to fall into a pit and die they would be a bit deterred. If they are having trouble learning the rope swing mechanic and they die over and over again they will just simply quit the game. The tutorial level is meant to maximize learning and minimize punishment.
If there is one tutorial that sticks out in my mind as a good one it is the tutorial from Red Dead Redemption. When you are on Bonnie's ranch it teaches you everything you need to know about how to play the game while still working in the confines of the story. The tutorial teaches the player how to ride a horse, use the lasso, lock onto enemies, fire/reload a gun and use the map.
The main hub area was going to contain a giant hour glass that would control all of the rooms in the temple. The player would need to scale the giant hour glass to activate it, revealing rooms and different paths in the process.
Just about every puzzle room would be based around the use of hourglasses. Combat rooms would also be a part of the exploration as well. The player would need to back track to different rooms to unlock more areas inside of the main hub area.
I based this element of the game around games like Legend of Zelda and Metroid Prime. What I loved about Legend of Zelda was that the temples were built around the item you find in that level. Once you find that item the rest of the temple is an exercise is learning how to use it. This is important because the item is than used to defeat the boss battle at the end of the temple.
The quicksand room had the player constantly moving in an attempt not to get sucked into the sand. Sand would be pouring into the room from a hole in the ceiling. The floor would be constantly shifting making it very unstable and unsafe for the player to stand on. The puzzle here was fairly simple, all the player had to was scale a wall while avoiding parts of the wall that would continuously try to knock the player off the wall. Once the player reaches the hourglass that is controlling the puzzle and deactivate it a hidden door would appear for the player to escape the room.
On the technical side of the quicksand room I was experimenting with different volumes inside of UDK to get that sinking feeling quicksand would produce. I came close by mixing a water and a gravity volume together but ultimately it was decided that Juan could just program a quicksand volume. Later on in development we decided to drop the temple idea and to drop the Tomb Raider style exploration. We decided to focus on the shooter aspect of the game.
As we stepped away from the indoor temple feel of the game we kept the hour glass aspect. I began to make a level that was something that would come after the tutorial. At this point in the game Juan had programmed a new volume into the game that allowed for the player to climb walls. I designed a map where the player would climb up a cliff, fight some enemies and then once again climb over a waterfall where they would engage a small group of enemies.
The main idea behind this map design was to get the player ascending, to get them climbing up toward there goal. The player started at the bottom of this map but as they moved forward they followed the path they would begin to ascend the mountain until the reached the top. This was supposed to be something that was more action oriented.
This is one of the first areas I made inside of UDK. It was here were we first started testing out enemy ai and cover placement. Very early on the enemies were very rudimentary. The layout worked and served to move the game forward but the AI had a lot of shortcomings.
This lead to a team meeting about programing in behaviors for enemy units. I picked enemy types (Pistol guy, shotgun guy etc) and Juan did some simple programing that changed their behavior and attack patterns. At this stage the enemy types were still being picked out. We decided that focusing on the level layout was something that was more feasible. Programming the enemies was not top priority but it was something that was on the top of our list of fixes.
- Danny Q