- Analyzed similar games (Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted)
- Researched European towns and villages
- Planned out three-act structure of level to figure out set pieces and pacing
- Collected visual reference based on European castles and towns
- Created level design document
- Created 2D layouts
BLOCKOUT AND ITERATION
- Blocked out rough shapes of level to test scale
- Imported climbing system from Unreal store
- Modeled assets, created pickups, and scripted cinematic and gameplay events
- Tested and iterated throughout
Scroll down to see each of these steps in more detail in my DEEP DIVE
DESIGN DEEP DIVE
Research and Planning
Visually, I was inspired by old European castles, especially the castle at San Marino in Italy, and the cathedral Notre Dame in Paris. I love the sense of history that these places have, and I thought they paired well with a mystic feel like the Temple of Time from Breath of the Wild and the ancient magic of the movie Brave.
I came up with a narrative idea for the level. In this case, a thief searching ruins for a magical artifact.
Once I'd settled on a visual and narrative idea for the level, I found references and did layout sketches
You’re a thief in search of magic. You’ve heard about a place called the Tower of Souls—a tower said to hold a magical artifact.
Act I - Formidable Fortress
The player starts the level facing a formidable fortress wall, with a series of handholds that allow the player to climb, hop, and wall run vertically. I used mostly box shapes to create a feeling of stability, but also made the castle wall stretch wide and high to create a strong physical presence.
I set the scene at night to increase the sense of stealth, and added rain particles at this point to create a somber mood and increase the feeling of danger. As the player climbs, they are introduced to the mechanics of running vertically up walls, hopping to ledges, turning corners while climbing, and the dangers of crumbling handholds.
I also introduced the player to the blue flames—which I am calling “Souls” that will eventually open up the bridge to the tower in Act III. There are strange symbols on the final tower that light up when the player gets a flame to provide feedback for the player and let them know that these pickups are important.
Act II - Curiosity in the Cathedral Courtyard
When the player reaches the top of this broken castle wall, the camera frames their next objective through a break in the wall—the cathedral. By using warmer tones for the rose window that contrast with the blues and grays of the world, I push the player toward that goal.
The player can also now see the physical part of the tower behind the church, and can see that the cathedral is a short-term goal that will help them reach their long-term goal of reaching the tower. My goal with this act was to allow the player some freedom to explore and to get more comfortable with their mechanics, while introducing the rest of the mechanics—wall running and wall jumping.
I tried to create interesting places for the player to go in this courtyard, and used the light from those blue flames to guide them to collect all the flames.
This section presented an interesting challenge because I had to figure out how to make the space one-directional at first, but then easy to backtrack into in case the player missed any Souls. To do this, I made use of vertical space that allows the player to drop into a space, but then climb back up or take unidirectional shortcuts to earlier areas in the level.
Act III - Challenges at the Cathedral and Tower
This is the first act where real danger starts to present itself. As the player reaches the burning cathedral, they are met with dangers of fire and death by falling. I used sharp shapes like jagged glass and bright orange fire to tell the player that they are now in danger. I also used that soft pink light from the rose window to light up the broken rose window on the back of the church, which is their next milestone to get to the tower. I placed generous checkpoints throughout this stage to encourage risk-taking.
Once the player reaches the glass steps to the Tower of Souls, If the player is still unsure about the goal of the level, I placed Souls along the first half of the bridge and left a large void and no Souls. As the player gets Souls, they start to fill in and complete the bridge, allowing the player to move forward.
Once the player gets all the Souls, the bridge section opens up, but since the bridge is in sections and pieces, this also presents a challenging mastery section with harsh consequences for any misstep. If the player is successful, they reach the Chalice of Souls, full of blue fire and untold power.