Broken tooth cove
My role: Level designer
Team size: Solo
Project duration: 3 weeks
Tools: Unreal Engine 4
Project type: School project
Designed the level
Set dressed the level
This level was made during a level design course at FutureGames and the first level I ever created. We had the chance to create challenge map levels for the action platformer game Skylar & Plux.
Two things stood out to me as important and unique for the game:
The dash jump - the player launches themself forward gaining a large amount of momentum.
The bouncy mushroom - if the player lands on the mushroom they bounce up and receive forward momentum.
The player can combine these two elements to gain extra momentum and speed, travelling further by using the two features in combination. This creates an interesting gameplay experience where timing is key.
Showing the combination of dash jump and bouncy mushroom.
The assignment was to create a challenge map where players can test their skills after completing the main part of the game. I choose this combination of mechanics to be the basis of my challenge map as it allowed for great traversal options.
Level design goals
Design multiple paths for different skill levels
Guide the player through the use of props, landmarks and lighting
Create a map with nice flow and pacing for the player
I love going on hikes and I love verticality in games, so naturally for my first level I wanted to create something that implemented both of these things. Therefore I based my level around climbing a mountain and giving the player different paths to choose. The mountain allowed me to use verticality and contributed to that adventurous feeling of going on a hike. To further emphasize the feeling of adventure I made the player start in a swamp which transitions into a pirate cove that leads to the foot of the mountain.
Here is an overview of the final level with the different areas:
The player starts out in the swamp, I designed this area to be the easiest to teach the player what the level is all about: timing. They then progress into the Pirate cave where I slowly raise the difficulty by introducing new mechanics in a safe way.
Depending on the players actions in the lower section they will either start on the red path or on the purple secret path. Regardless of where they start they are instantly thrown into the most difficult area of the map, the mountain climb. The level ends with the player making their way into the skull in the mountain. The teal path is an alternative route that is tricky to navigate but saves the player a lot of time if they manage to complete it.
Guiding the player
I used landmarks, guiding lines and negative/positive space to guide the player through the level and help them subconsciously to keep their momentum alive and moving forward.
I use the tower as a landmark, lamps to create guiding lines, whale ribs to create a negative space that shows the player where to go and vegetation/props to frame the main path.
Secret path adjustment
This is before and after I made adjustments to hint the player of the alternative path. Before this change almost no playtesters were able to find the hidden path until much further on in the map, when the path is visible from above.
adjusting for camera
A lot of the testers had issues with moving the camera in the game, especially when moving upwards. I tried to combat this problem by removing drastic vertical changes that interfered with the camera, and by making platforms slowly lead upwards so that the player only has to move their camera a little at once.
Flow and pacing
The challenge maps in Skylar & Plux are all about speed and being as fast as possible. Therefore I didn’t want to slow down the player by creating story beats or moments that take control away from the player or force them to slow down. Instead I focused on creating an “ebb and flow” pattern for the level that feels dynamic, moving between safety/danger and speeding up/slowing down. I wanted more experienced players to be able to keep their momentum up through the whole level, not having to stop.
Main path, safer
As I wanted the main path to be the easiest and playable by everyone, I used plenty of safety platforms and put them in between the mushrooms. This was to enable beginners to try out the level at their own pace but at the same time hint at the possibility of completely skipping them by just using the mushrooms.
secret path, dangerous
For the secret path I reduced the amount of safety platforms and placed them away from the intended path, telling the player that this is not the optimal playstyle. I varied the jump timings between mushrooms to increase difficulty and engagement. This turned out to have the effect of allowing the player to completely skip mushrooms if timed correctly, which I liked.
What i learned
As this was one of my first levels I ever designed, the whole process was new and very interesting to me. Since then I’ve designed levels using different approaches, but I am still satisfied with the way I approached designing this level. It involved a bit of pre-planning with topdowns, but mostly the design process revolved around playtesting, keeping what felt right and throwing away what felt wrong. I also learned the importance of being precise with placements of platforms in these types of games.