My role: Level designer and Gameplay designer
Team size: 9
Project duration: 4 weeks
Tools: Unreal Engine, Perforce and Miro
Project type: School project
Designed six levels
Designed three puzzle features
Created prototypes of the same features
Tempus is a slow-paced puzzle game, in which the player needs to use magical projectiles and logical skills. The goal is to solve puzzles before time runs out. When the player stands still, time stops. When the player starts moving, the countdown resumes. Each level has a limited amount of projectiles, this forces the player to plan many steps ahead in order to succeed.
Encourage the players to think ahead and plan their next move.
Focus the game around thinking, instead of around reaction based skills.
Trial and error
Encourage players to restart the level if they get stuck.
Level Design Goals
Allow the player to, without moving, figure out how to beat the level
Creating a challenge that revolves around thinking. The plan itself should be easy to execute.
Having a work process that focuses on iteration and playtests
For players to be able to plan their moves they need knowledge on how the mechanics work and interact with each other. To achieve this we used color coding on the different interactables in the level. We also introduced the player to the mechanics by using Introduction, Development and Twist. This allowed us to easier convey information to the player and give them time to learn new mechanics.
The player simply needs to hit the door switch with their projectile to progress.
The element of timing is introduced. The player needs to make it through door one before hitting the switch.
The player needs to time three different shots to move past each door. Now there is a risk of getting stuck between door one and two, enforcing the idea of trial and error.
Brains over brawn
Since the game revolves around thinking ahead we made the levels fit on one screen and the camera to be stationary. In this way the player is able to plan their route while standing still. I designed my levels so that it’s always obvious where you’re supposed to go, the challenge being how to get there. To further move focus away from agility I made the levels involve as little jumping as possible.
The path to the goal is clear and feels intuitive for the player. The challenge is purely based on thinking and timing.
A personal goal of mine during this project was to work on my ability to iterate and quickly toss out bad ideas. I wanted this way of creating to tie into both my level design and my game design. To do this I carried out playtests after every major rework of the level. I then compared the results of the play test to the design pillars, keeping anything that worked and fit the game, reworking the things that did not. We had a ten minute time limit for the game so I needed to optimize my level layout. Before iteration this level took around twelve minutes to complete for first time players, after this was reduced to about four minutes.
This was my iteration process for the Twist part of the level, introducing the mechanic of time dilation fields:
The twist part of the level needs to contain a curveball thrown at the player. I made it so that the red button needs to be shot with a projectile right at the start. This puts a timer on the player to shoot the other buttons in the right order before the red one is hit. Having a timer didn’t fully fit the idea of brains over brawn, so I gave the player some flexibility with the timer, adding a few seconds to it.
The core mechanics of the game is to manipulate time and to shoot projectiles to interact with the world. Therefore I had to design features that would encourage and strengthen these mechanics. I came up with three different mechanics, time dilation fields, switches/doors and teleporters.
Doors & switches
The switches and doors are color coded to help guide the player and increase readability. After the player has activated a switch with a projectile, there is a short delay before the corresponding door opens.
What I learned
Overall I’m happy with the project. I reached my goal of continuously iterating and I learned a lot by doing it. Some parts of the process could have been improved. For example:
Us designers failed to communicate the importance of readability of the art assets to the artists, which led to unnecessary confusion for players. We should have had WIP assets earlier in the process, trying them out. This to make sure that they both fit the theme,are easy to understand and pops out from the background.
A more focused playtesting aimed towards problem areas would have saved us a lot of time and allowed for faster and more efficient iterations, resulting in a better end product.