Based on what we've learned from designing levels for Aaaaa! (our 13th title), we've come up with 18 tenets of level design for our next title. It's currently unnamed, but is a sequel of our 2004 title, Inago Rage.
#1 - Level Design Since Aaaaa!
Before we begin, do you know the unceasing excitement that is the upcoming level editor? Check it out:
That's totally a screenshot of a webpage. Weird, right? Well, if you want to get your hands on a copy of the alpha test Aaaaa! level editor, check out Dejobaan.com. But that's not what we're really here for. Based on what we've learned from designing levels for Aaaaa! (our 13th title), we've come up with 18 tenets of level design for our next title. It's currently unnamed, but is a sequel of our 2004 title, Inago Rage.
- Break any and all of these rules.
- Create levels where it's possible to achieve all goals within thirty seconds. For development, we will set the time limits on individual levels to sixty seconds; we can then fine-tune things by listening for the "THIRTY SECONDS LEFT" warning.
- The player shouldn't have to spend more than a few seconds getting from place to place. Avoid broad, featureless floors; the player will be more interested if he has to hop over or onto things, or move around them, than if he just has to run across an area.
- Yet, the player should usually be able to see a goal and aim towards it, both at the beginning of a round and throughout.
- You can place enemies can be placed much farther apart than non-moving goals. They tend to come to the player on their own, and the player can act upon them from any distance.
- Keep enemy and powerup delay times low to reflect the short level length, especially if working from an existing source level.
- If you want a "second wave" of enemies to appear, a 15 second delay seems like a natural choice. Consider, though, that on this scale, 15 seconds is a very long time. 10 seconds may work better, with a "third wave" at 20 seconds.
- At lower difficulty levels, try to avoid "micro-challenges." A micro-challenge might be placing a gem high off the floor so the player has to aim for it in the air; consider that if the player misses that gem, it can cost several seconds to turn around and jump.
- Most powerups should appear with no initial delay at all, such that the player's able to spend the first few seconds of play sizing up the level. Pair this up with a period of something between 6 and 15 seconds. 6 seconds means the same powerup will respawn up to four times before the thirty-second mark, and will almost always be present if the player goes back for a new one. 15 seconds means the powerup will respawn once, halfway through the level.
- Players should have a visible mini-goal as soon as the level starts -- they should see a useful powerup, a gem, MacGuffin, or enemy right off the bat giving them a way to identify the their first step.
- Change the goals as the level sequence develops. Rather than using the same type of goal twice in a row ("get 10 gems," then "get 15 gems"), mix it up ("get 10 gems," then "kill 50 enemies" -- or even "get 10 gems," then "get 10 gems and kill 50 enemies"). We'll still need to experiment with this, and it's an element that's usually easy to tweak, so play with different varieties.
- Lead players through a merry (but clear) chase to level completion. When going for a MacGuffin or a gem, they should be able to visually locate it without too much trouble. Then: "I see it -- now, how am I going to get there?"
- Players rarely look far up or down. If your static goals are perched high atop towers or in hidden pits, include visual cues to suggest that.
- Enemies should also appear mostly in the same plane at the player -- about sixteen meters above or below the zone where the static goals are. One or two enemy generators above or below the zone, at most, seems to work best.
- Err on the side of "too easy" rather than "too hard." As with Aaaaa!, we'll probably come up with some extremely difficult levels later in development. The first level in a sequence shouldn't tax the player's skill. Difficulty can and should increase through a set of levels, but gradually.
- Avoid tempting the player with useless things. If a level isn't about killing enemies and there's no huge swarm of foes to cut through, don't include weapon powerups. If you do include a red herring, stick to a few rather than a bunch -- so players don't waste all their time gathering them and feel tricked. We will try to trick the players in other ways.
- Change both the level structure and the level aesthetics (especially skycube) with each successive level in a sequence. Change them gradually, so that there's a sense of continuity between levels. Blue things become purple rather than red, for example.
- Break any and all of these rules. Be aware of it when you do. And if you want to go crazy, go crazy -- it'll make the game better.
Will this work? Time will tell!
#2 - The Game's Name
Naming a game is like naming a baby. Once you do it, someone has to live with it for the rest of their life. For Aaaaa!, we started with these:
- Screaming and Falling
- Low Altitude
- Deploy Parachute for Hot Chicks
- Jumping to Earth From Tall Buildings
- Bridge. Antenna. Span. Earth.
- Falling Toward Earth
- Your Personal Crater
- Free Fall
- The Feeling of Freedom
- The Freedom of Free-fall
- Forget Freeman (I: Wait, forget that one.)
- Don't Forget Your Parachute
- Remember Your Parachute
- Spicy Mountain Lion
- Freedom, Free-Fall, Freedom
- I Fell From a Building
I like Spicy Mountain Lion the best. But as the story goes, our PR/Marketing director, Bengaloro "RoRo" Wednesday, wouldn't let us release the game until we came up with a good variation of AaaAaaAaa!. So, then, we riffed on that:
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Building. Antenna. Span. Earth. Awesome!)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Building. Antenna. Span. Excellent!)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Pull the Ripcord!)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (A Reckless Disregard for Gravity)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (A Life of Falling Dangerously)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Falling the Rest of your Life)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Man vs. Gravity)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Us vs. Gravity)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Long Way Down)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Oh #@!& I'm Going to Die!)
- AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Gravity Falls)
Finally, we picked "AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity" out of the bunch. I still think "AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!)" would have worked, but we didn't want to annoy the press too much.
So, to, will be the process for our next game.
#3 - A First Screenshot?
That's what the prototype looks like. Actually, it's a prototype with a bloom effect on it. Our objective? Soon to come!