Descend Into Stone
Role: Level, Puzzle Design
Duration: Jun 2017 – Apr 2018 (10 months)
3D, third-person, action-adventure game where the player wields a cursed spear. To end the curse, they must find its source within the ruins of an ancient and advanced civilization.
Awards & Honors
After a few team meetings discussing the elements we wanted in the game, I took it upon myself to brainstorm and paper prototype my own version of the hub.
Cataloging Requirements/ Pre-Production
This is what we decided on in order to create the best experience possible with the resources available to us.
Documentation of Flow
A. Players exit from the tutorial and find themselves in a wide-ish area. Before them, they can see light shining through the pillars of the aqueduct. The pillars' shadows fan out on the stairs, standing in sharp contrast to the light through the arch's holes.
Water can be heard (and maybe seen, depending on the camera angle) in the aqueducts.
B. Atop the stairs, they get to their first Narrative moment and their first key. Note, that there is a straight line of sight from the first Key to the first Gate. After they pick up the Key, the Gate should clearly be within view.
B to C to D should read like this to players:
1. Sees/gets Key1
2. Sees Gate1 in the distance.
3. Sees the much closer Gate2.
4. Passes Gate2, giving them a chance to interact with it (confirming their suspicions that the shape of the key is, first of all, important and secondly, meant for the very first door they saw.
C. Players descend the steps, spotting Gate2. To the left, there is a small section of the Hub area that is elevated. Players should not be able to climb this height or otherwise get over it from the right hand side. The player would be able to see over it. They'd see a misaligned staircase with strange fantasy tech lines running over it (or however we want to aesthetically codify Puzzle-able objects)
D. Players use Key1 to enter Gate1 and enter the first SubArea.
-Narrative moment2 happens.
-This area teaches Fantasy Puzzles.
-Key2 is found.
E. Players reach the end of the first SubArea and use their newly learned skill to connect the staircase back to the Hub area.
F. From there, it's a relatively straight path across the Hub area to Gate2.
G. Players arrive in the second SubArea.
-Experience Narrative moment3
-Make it onto the path between the waterways of the aqueduct, somewhow (Witness platform or something).
H. Players continue through this tunnel and come out on top of the Pillars that they walked between just after the tutorial. They continue to Gate3. Water flows from the walls on both of its sides.
I. From there it's a walk through another tunnel to the Pit.
The main intention of this design was to inspire interesting moments/set pieces within the team.
Drafting The Next Level
My next undertaking was designing and building the second half of the tutorial while the other level designer was doing the same with the first half simultaneously. Because my design was so dependent on his, we knew it was better to rely on generalities than set-in-stone specifics. This malleability worked to our benefit when we refactored.
Spear Mechanics Tutorial - Paper Design & Questions
I began by asking myself a series of crucial questions:
-What has the player learned (from the first half of the tutorial)?
Navigation: jump, climb, ledge grab, ledge, shimmy
-What will they learn in my section?
Spear pulling, and 1 puzzle
-How will it be laid out?
After a steep climb downwards so that the Hub destination is now at higher altitude than they are, they will start their climb back up towards it. They will see a vista at the end.
As a means of foreshadowing future content and increasing anticipation as players make their way up to the hub.
-What do we know for sure we want them to experience?
A statue here and there (hinting at a power source and other fantasy elements)
Minimal artificial architecture
A difference in kind from the First Segment
Within span of 2.5-3 minutes
Spear Mechanics Tutorial - Design Analysis
Then, I took into account what was already done and brainstormed how to properly change it up (in terms of altitude, movement, etc).
Notes on First Half of Tutorial
-Ample jumping (5 total), and climbing(4 total), but only one shimmy
-Liberal use of natural fluctuations in terrain making ground height vary a lot
-Relatively thin path
Conclusions/Plan of Action for Second Half
-Relatively fewer jumping/climbing, and at least one more shimmy
-More even-leveled but still natural terrain
-All the previous elements we want them to experience
Documentation of Flow
A. Players exit the First Segment and turn the corner to some stairs downwards. At the bottom of these stairs is a Shimmy-able wall that leads to another set of stairs.
The Shimmyable wall lies above a pit of spikes with 2 Dead Fantasy Tech Blocks (DBs) lying in it (dead blocks have no glow at all and cannot be interacted with using the spear). The blocks are lopsided and should clearly convey that these blocks are in no way to be used as platforms.
The main purpose of these blocks is to world building; to show that at some point, the blocks were used by the Cave Dwellers to make travelling easier and safer. (I don't mind these being removed if we deem them confusing, as here they are meant to be destroyed platforms but. Hopefully, the glow of the Block makes that clear enough)
B. After another two flights down they reach the first Active Fantasy Tech Blocks (FT) in the game. Players are meant to walk across them and jump the gap where the 3rd one should be.
This section should solidify the difference between active and dead blocks in appearance.
Also, if players happen to drop onto the wall blocks and jump, they shouldn't get hurt too, if at all.
C. Players continue downwards and begin to see more FT Blocks on walls and find a checkpoint.
D. Turning the corner, they see a dead block on the ground before them and more importantly, a flickering FT block that draws their eye. This block is tilted slightly, as it is close to falling off the wall and into the spikes under it.
-They then get the text prompt to throw their spear.
Hopefully the fact that there is an active Block in the Pit reads as safe enough
E. After making it across the SpikePit, they come across a wide-ish room with stairs leading up to a light.
A piece of the staircase is missing, however, and there are no FT blocks to pull off the wall to bridge the connection.
What IS there is a Puzzle Pad and a tall Statue or Pillar that is roughly the same height as the missing piece. The Puzzle-able object is coded a certain color, probably with a bright circuitry on it, but a design and color that is sharply distinct from FT blocks.
On the Puzzle Pad is a representation of the Puzzle-able object's Print on the ground.
When players step onto the pad, they get the text prompt and can begin to move the Object into the staircase.
F. From there, the path upwards is narrow and focuses their attention on whatever the shining goal post was that they saw from the vista at the end of Section1.
This is the end of Section2, the long narrow climb up can sets up the Hub to be revealed.
After some feedback, iteration, and building the level out, I settled on the following choices:
-The FT Blocks should be 3x3x3 meters in size. Large enough to be stood on and climbed from ground height if need be. And large enough to be seen from a distance.
-The vista should get more and more out of view as you descend. The player's exposure to it must be limited to prevent distraction and give me more freedom in building the level.
-Above the shimmy, the rocks jut out a bit, making the ceiling kind of low. This is to direct the player's attention downwards into the pit of spikes, so they are aware of the danger and the FT Blocks.
-There's quite a bit of walking from the beginning of Staircase2(Sc) and the end of Sc3. This can be some prime time for environmental interaction.
What I Learned
What I Would Have Changed