Deep Dive: World & Level Design


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Hi everyone!

Since I missed last week's roundup I wanted to write a juicier piece for this week's update! What started out as a regular roundup about how we make the levels right now turned into a longer post going much deeper into the process. Enjoy!

We're in the thick of producing new levels and this week I wanted to take some time to give you all a peek behind the scenes on how we’re approaching world design from idea to finished room in-engine.

Short Recap: Why are we doing this again?

When we made the original levels we were still in the process of developing the core mechanics of the game.

That means all content we created was based around what was being worked on at the time, including all the abilities Kincaid can acquire, the enemies, NPCs and all that.

So you could say, the game we’ve built up to now was more like a showroom, designed to give you content to enjoy based on what we were developing.

Now that we have the whole story fleshed out and figured out the proper order in which we want the player to acquire new abilities, all the old world is now outdated. Not to mention we have to distribute them across multiple planets and not have the player find them all on one. ^w~

We also learned a lot since the start of the project and had a growing list of gripes and changes with the original design.

From a game design standpoint, the biggest change we have since introduced in our Experimental Builds was a change in the game’s resolution. The game is quite fast paced and there is a lot of platforming and the camera was pretty close to the action for that, making parts of the levels and some combat moments very frustrating.

We have increased the base game resolution from 640x360 to 960x540, which results in a visible screen area much more in line with typical platformers.

We’ll still be using the old resolution for cutscenes and calmer areas, like the village and other settlements.

Basic World Layout

We started out by listing out all the areas we’d want in the game, including optional and secret areas. The old levels didn’t have a lot of secrets or meaningful secrets, so we wanted to make sure to include a lot more.

After a few iterations and discussions we arrived at a basic world overview.

I censored some areas because they are surprises! ^w~

We talked generally about the journey the player would go through if they followed the “critical path”(ie. The shortest route to beat the area) and discussed which abilities they’d acquire at which point in the game and how we’d make backing through older areas fun and worthwhile.

Developing world-, area- and level-ideas

We brought the rough overview into Milanote where we could scribble further details and throw in ideas we had for the different sub areas before organizing them further into level sketches.

Each of the colored icons are sub-boards within Milanote where we throw ideas for the specific area.

There were a lot of things we wanted to consider before actually going in and working on the levels:

  • How are we going to differentiate the sub-biomes from each other with the limited graphics assets we have?
  • Which rooms definitely need unique setpieces and what should they be?
  • How are we going to transition from biome to biome (we really like how Hollow Knight makes the different biomes blend into each other).
  • Where are we going to place story beats?
  • Where are we going to put secrets and what kind of collectibles should they have?
  • What is the basic philosophy in terms of geometry and shapes for each of the areas?
  • In which pace are we going to introduce new enemies and increase the difficulty?
  • Where will we put save rooms?
  • Where do we put unlockable shortcuts to make backtracking less annoying?
  • How will each ability you acquire on this planet change how you are going to traverse the room?
  • What changes in mood and lighting do we want from area to area?
  • Given the story that is going on on this planet, how can we incorporate foreshadowing and environmental storytelling?
  • How are we going to blend the local culture with the relics and culture of the Gardeners, the ancient civilization that lived on the planet long before the kobolds and how and where are we going to unravel their mysteries slowly for players interested in the lore?
  • Where to place arena battles and mini-bosses and what are the rewards?
  • And so on…

I printed a two page checklist with questions we wanted to loosely keep in mind while designing the world to avoid having to redo a bunch of stuff again if we notice that we forgot about an element of the game. ^w^;

Sketching Levels

Next I just roughed out some of the rooms in clipstudio.

When working on levels I prefer to first come up with ideas on paper (or in this case, in the painting program). The reason is that my ideas aren't limited by the grid and available objects in the game. Instead I just draw whatever I want the game to be and then figure out how to make it work in the editor. Also there are no bugs or loading times to deal with… it's just pure idea flow!

When I actually get to the editor I already have an idea of what I want to make so the production goes much quicker.

Greyboxing Workflow

The next step is a process called greyboxing. Basically you build the world without any bells and whistles to see if the player can move around in it and if it's interesting enough.

This step requires a lot of trial and error to get the distances and everything right.

To make iteration fast, Null recently installed a tool called GMLive ( https://yellowafterlife.itch.io/gamemaker-live ).

Normally when you make a change to the game you'd have to recompile the game and walk back to the spot you were working on.

With GMLive all you have to do is save the project after you made some changes and they instantly reflect in the running game.

This way you can build the world around the player as you traverse it!

This is so much faster and more efficient compared to the way we used to work.

Adding mechanics and decorations

Once you're happy with the greyboxed world the next step is to dress it up and add the content.

Most of the heavy lifting has already been done so this step is mostly just manual labor. Painting over the sketched out world, adding little details, setting the right music and placing enemies and interactable objects.

Upcoming Build & Roadmap

I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the overhaul process! Very soon we should have a new build ready that will give you a first look at the overhaul. Don’t expect much new content - on the contrary. Until we’ve caught up with where the old version left off you’ll encounter less enemies and stuff, unfortunately, but our plan is to release new updates at a quicker pace as the new levels get finished! ^w^

Once the overhaul version is all caught up, we’ll also update the public version, but I can’t give an estimated release date for that just yet.

Until next time,
Cookie & Bunny



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Comments

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I don't know if this was asked already, but is there a way to pre-purchase this game? IT'S SO GOOD!!!

This is going to be awesone once it gets fully released

Cool

can you make a browser version so that way I can play it as well

(+3)

This makes me so fucking hyped for the full release