Update 8: Level re-designs and updates, UI implementation and meteor counter implementation.

Level Developments:
This week I have been making huge changes to my level to make it more visually appealing, more cohesive and most importantly more fun for the players. I have re vamped the ruins area, adding more platforming and a new box puzzle that requires the player to use a white stone box to help them reach specific ledges (Indicated with a white slab on the ground). I also looked at Petra for inspiration on how I could re make the temple as I never really liked how it looked. I decided that digging the temple into the rock would offer a much more unique and memorable environment than what I had before.

I also added more meteorites and a bunch of small ones that help lean the player in certain directions and reward exploration with a satisfying sound and controller vibration on every pick up. I feel these make gameplay more focused and help the player understand where they are supposed to be going.

I have added more puzzles and platforming elements throughout the level to keep it feeling more diverse and full of content for the player to be completing. The level no longer feels sparse and instead feels even better to traverse and explore. A physics puzzle that wasn’t in the game before has been added where the player grows to weigh down lift like platforms, while simple I feel this adds a lot to the game and utilises my mechanic in a new way.


I updated the crash site area by adding large rock plates, I feel this change makes each area feel separate from each other and unique in the games world. I also feel the plates make the environment look damaged, which is something i wanted to try and do since the start.


I have also finished the secret area and the rest of the level using a range of plant and tree asset packs, bringing more colour and life to what was a pretty sterile environment. I feel the secret area looks great and is satisfying to for the player to discover and explore, while only small I feel players will get a great sense of completion and satisfaction when they discover it.

UI:
This week I also added two new UI elements that pop up to give the player information. One being a simple text box at the start of the level, explaining why the character is there, what they are doing and how they do it. This simple element may not be necessary but I feel it is a simple and clear way to explain to new players what mechanics they have at their disposal and how they can use them, without holding their hands too much.

The other is a satisfying counter that comes up when the player gets a meteor fragment. I feel this simple UI element adds a lot to the game and looks perfect for the role that it fills of notifying the player of their progress.

Other: 
Other than what has been stated i have been making plans for what I need to complete after Easter, as well as developing my sounds and making music to be implemented when I am back at uni.

 

 

Update 7: Three weeks of level developments, animation, sound development, mechanics updates and UI

Having missed the last few weeks updates due to focusing more on my work and sticking to personal deadlines, I will use this post to go over the past three weeks of development and everything I have done in them.

Level Developments:
I have slowly been developing and and re arranging my level to include more varied puzzles and more interesting architecture and environments while also focusing on making the level as clear to navigate and attractive as possible. I have moved the see saw puzzle as, based on tester feedback,  it feels a bit complicated to give to the player right of the bat, while also taking up too much room in what should be a clear and open area. I think this will make the game much nicer for new players while also making it much easier to navigate which is exactly what I was wanting to achieve.

I have also made a few changes to the ruins area to make it more clear how to solve puzzles and which routes can be taken by the player, it feels much more like an enclosed and free area now and includes lots of physics based puzzles that utilise my mechanics nicely. I will try and fit the see saw puzzle in here as I want each individual area to have a unique puzzle composition (Canyon=Platforming, Ruins=Physics). Aside from actual changes I have made a few assets in Maya to make the area feel more real and thematic. I made a tiled floor and pillars which I feel make the ruins feel like a much more distinct area that will stand out to players.

Finally I made the basic version of my secret area, that is now going to be a small wooded area full of plants, to give the player a sense of discovery and a bit of diversity to the level.

 

I also made a new material that allows me to highlight the walk-able surfaces the player can use. I think this simple material will make it much clearer to players where they can and cant go and which directions they are supposed to go in. To make this even clearer I will use special colours and plants once I start my final set dressing pass.

Finally I also developed the pickups by making a simple pulsing emmisive material, adding a point light, making them spin slowly and using a rock mesh instead of a boring sphere.  I feel the pick ups look really striking now and definitely entice the player into picking them up when they see them.

Animations:
I have finally put in a handful of animations that make the game feel much more whole and compliment the gameplay very nicely. This is not an area I am going to focus on in the future so I dont mind them not being perfect but I am definitely glad they are there and add a certain level of polish and professionalism to the game.

Sound Developments: 
I started making sounds with audacity and freesound.com and implementing them into my project. So far I have my sand footsteps, subtle wind, a pick-up sound and a small whir for the characters idle animation.  feel just the implementation of these simple sounds has improved how the game feels dramatically and gives me a great idea of how the game will be when its finished.

I made the footsteps, pick up and whir sounds modulate so they sound slightly different each time, making them feel much nicer than just exactly the same sound over and over.

I made the footstep and whir sounds fit by adding play sound notifys to the animations so that the sounds only play at certain times.

The pick up sound is something I’m really proud of because coupled with the subtle controller vibration I added on pickup makes it feel really good to collect the meteorites. It has the perfect Spyro sound that I was trying to emulate, with my own earthy and satisfying twist.

I have also experimented with sound attenuation to make the huge meteor hum mysteriously. Though this was done very quickly I feel this adds a lot to the game and can be used in many ways.

Mechanics Updates: 
I also spent some time tweaking my characters controller, making the character feel heavier and the jump a little more satisfying. While I don’t think I have it perfect yet it is getting there and definitely feels better than it did before the changes.

I also made a complete overhaul on the pick up and throw mechanic. I started from the ground up with help and created a whole new way of doing it that works so much better than before with little to no bugs. Instead of having the character fire a ray trace to any physics object of the right weight I now tag certain objects “grab”. This lets me choose the specific physics objects that the player can interact with. I also made sure that the rocks you pick up react as you’d expect, in stead of moving with the players rotation they are separate and look and feel much better than how they were before.

UI: 
I have also spent some time making and implementing a simple main menu. It was really easy having just finished a UI module but I think it looks and works great and I feel a game of this style doesn’t require a complex UI or too much extra content added on to the main game.

Other:
I have been making paths the player can follow much more clear by using grass and colour to visually tell the player where puzzles start, what surfaces they can walk on and what directions they can go to find something new. I feel these subtle and attractive hints will help guide the player in a none invasive way, letting me keep the sense of exploration central and allow players to discover their own ways through the level.

 

Update 6: Character implementation and movement and the start of sound development

This week I took a step away from level design as I wanted to make sure my characters movement and mechanics worked perfectly before finalising platforming and puzzle areas. This would be useful because while I want the environment to be the stand out feature of the game I don’t want to leave the feel of the game to last minute and not end up not giving the player a satisfying and fun experience.

Character Implementation and Movement:
The first thing I looked into was importing a character and adding animations to it. I found a small low poly robot online that I could use for free, so I downloaded it and its attached animations and implemented them into my project. After this I recoloured the character and started looking into state machines and animation blueprints. After a lot of trial and error I managed to get the running animation working in a blend space so that it goes from walking to running really nicely (As seen below). However the method I used uses velocity to play the animations, because of this I haven’t been able to get a jump in to my game just yet. Another problem with the jump animation is that it contains root motion, so I will have to alter the animation to make it suitable for use in game, this is another thing I have no experience with and will have to look into in the following weeks.

Sound Development:
I also started planning how sound will be used in my game and will focus on this area in the following weeks along with character feel. These two areas combined will hopefully lead to my game feeling amazing to control and satisfying to play and listen to.

Update 5: Further level developments and Character implimentation

Level Developments:
This week I have been further developing my level, adding more interesting platforming sections and adding details and hidden meteorites for the player to find.
While development has been going slow I feel the area I have almost finished looks really nice and when the whole environment is done I think the game will be really special to explore.

Aside from set dressing existing areas I finalised the whitebox of my maze like canyon area. This area may prove to be a hassle to set dress and could possibly be cut down by the final hand in.

Character Implementation:
I am also, as writing, working on implementing my character. I have downloaded this robot from the author Quaternius on OpenGameArt.org (https://opengameart.org/content/animated-lowpoly-robot).
I think this robot would be perfect for the role and style of the game and already has satisfying and well made animations that will add a layer of polish to my gameplay.

Update 4: Level developments

Level Developments:
This week I have just been slowly adding to and developing my level, slightly changing colours and adding a low poly landscape around the canyon.

However I found a problem with a few of my free asset packs that has set me back a bit. The rocks I had used to make my canyon walls hadn’t been unwrapped and didn’t react well when lighting was built, they just turned black. This is obviously a huge issue and I decided that replacing them with different meshes would be easier than trying to fix all the meshes I had already used.
Even with this setback I am already ahead of where I was before and I think the new, more angular rocks looks just as good, if not better.

Update 3: Further Idea Development, Level Whiteboxing, Final Map, Pick Up and Throwing Mechanic

Further Idea Development:
I have decided to take my idea back to my initial plan and strip it back into a classic and refined platformer like I wanted it to be at the start. The game now takes place in a canyon, which was an idea I was considering before I started development, I feel the canyon is perfect for a game of this type because it allows me to make a natural feeling level that has lots of obvious paths and intentionally designed areas while still retaining that realistic feel. It also allows me to expand my ideas and opens up opportunities for everything I wanted to do, puzzles, platforming and exploring are all totally available to me with this environment in mind.

I drew up a map on Photoshop with details on each area and what they will contain, Its interesting to see how my past map designs have melded with new ideas to form this final design (As seen below). The start area that allows the player to practice has carried over from my very first map, plus the winding path down to the main area has come from there too. I also still have a bit of green from my second design but cut down dramatically. I also used my idea of having multiple split areas (Ruins, Forest, Desert) and transferred that into a believable environment with flow and understandable terrain.

Pick Up and Throwing Mechanic:
I decided that I wanted to add the ability to pick up and throw objects to unblock your path, reach higher ledges and weigh down platforms. I think this very simple addition adds a lot to the game and opens up a huge range of possibilities for more complicated puzzles and environmental challenges.
The ultimate version of this will only be able to be used when you are using the ability to make you larger. I feel it makes sense that the character is stronger when he is in this state. I also want to make the character slower when he is larger too but that is a development I haven’t looked into as of yet.
As you can see in the gif below the mechanic isn’t polished perfectly as the physics objects you grab rotate with the player in a strange way, however i feel this will be a simple fix as I already know this is caused by the third person camera.

Level Whiteboxing:
Once I had my idea nailed down and stripped back I started developing my level in UE4. I decided to develop each area one after the other in a basic form before I started adding detail, assets and set dressing, meaning that I can flesh out each area really nicely at my own pace instead of just working on the whole environment completely randomly.
To make the whole canyon I used simple cubes and cylinders and used Subtractive cubes to carve out the terrain.

When it comes to furnishing the level and adding the real assets and details I will mostly be using free or paid for asset packs that are totally open for me to use. I will source every asset pack I use in my final design document.
I have had fun using the assets to set dress the starting area as it is very small and bare and is a perfect test for how the game could eventually look.

See screenshots of the whole map (As it is right now), the start, the ruins, and a set dressing test area below:

Other:
Along with all of this development this week I have been developing puzzles and platforming areas in the level. Below are a few gifs showing a range of puzzles and how the mechanics I have now can be utilised to solve them.

Update 2: Mechanic Tweaks, Test Level Updates and New Ideas

New Ideas:
First of all I have been wrestling with new ideas and concepts for my game and level design. At first I was planning on keeping the game as a simple platformer with puzzle elements, I wanted to have the game take place in a simple environment like Banjo-Kazooie. However I think turning the game into a full blown puzzle game would allow me to explore different areas and give me the best possible outcome for this project.
I have been looking at games like The Witness and Shadow of the Colossus for inspiration and feel that a large but enclosed map with puzzles scattered throughout for the player to discover and explore would suit my game perfectly. I also feel like this is more my type of game, a game that I would enjoy playing.

Below are two simple maps that I made in Photoshop to represent my ideas and the level I wanted to make. The top one was made when I wanted the game to simply be a platformer. This environment was meant to be inside a cave, with the player having a small area outside to experiment with mechanics before they delve in. The second is a more a Shadow of the Colossus inspired environment, meant to be explored and realistic instead of linear and intrinsically designed. I also want to add a secondary forested area to make the environment more varied and unique, this was inspired by the multiple biomes of The Witness, a puzzle game I really enjoyed and inspired me a lot. These ideas may end up being too much for me to handle in a solo project so they are definitely open to changes.

Shrink and Grow Development:
I have made the size changing much smoother and nicer feeling by adding an incremental size change instead of just popping to different scales as it was before. it is also now mapped to the triggers of a controller which feels much more tactile and satisfying than the keys on a keyboard.

I had a lot of help with this part as I couldn’t find any help online, It also required a lot of custom nodes that I cant fully explain because I don’t know exactly how they work.
First we attached the Trigger nodes into custom change size nodes, this node added a lerp to the shrinking and growing making it an incremental size change as seen in the gif below. After this I attached new nodes that connected the trigger actions and shrinking and growing with the downward force changing nodes, making the mechanics work together exactly how i was wanting.

I also made floating platforms for platforming sections. I wanted the platforms to wobble and fall when they player walked on them and I think the outcome is really nice looking and feeling while also working perfectly.


Test Level Updates:

Other than these key developments I have been messing around in my test area to see what is possible with the simple mechanics I already have at my disposal.
You can see a few examples of what I have been experimenting with below:

Update 1: Weight Mechanic, Test Level Development

Gravity Mechanic:
Today I created my “Gravity” mechanic, it was much easier than expected and works really nicely already. I will be getting help from other students a lot when it comes to Blueprinting for the majority of the project as it is not the area that I specialise in, nor an area I am very experienced with. I am instead focusing my efforts primarily on overall design, level design, audio and the visuals and feel of the game, all of these are areas I enjoy and have a good amount of experience with.

I decided altering the weight of the player would be easier than altering the gravity affecting them, and would ultimately achieve the results that I wanted anyway. I also wanted to have the character shrink and grow depending on his weight to show visually that the characters state is altered. All of this was much easier than I imagined and with a bit of help from fellow students I got it working pretty quickly.

First I set up that 1, 2 and 3 would control the players scale, 1 being the smallest and 3 being the largest. Then I hooked them up to a node that sets the actors scale, this is really easy to go back and alter later if I need to. Finally I used a custom node that effected the downwards force of the character while holding the keys. This is a very simple way of effectively simulate the changing “weight” of the character.
The blueprint is shown below:

 

Test Level:
After I had my basic mechanics working I started making a small test level (Above). I will  keep adding to this with new ideas utilising my mechanics so that I can learn what is possible and develop ideas that I can add to a level when the time comes. So far I have a series of seesaws that are used in different ways such as reaching higher areas and launching blocks. The seesaw was made using a physics constraint and a cube locked on one axis.
this area is already proving useful for developing new ideas and testing.


Other:
I built everything from the UE4 third person preset to give me a solid backbone for all the developments I am going to make. I also slightly changed the character controller by increasing the control you have in the air, as I found the preset to be quite unwieldy.

 

The Start

Hi and welcome to my Blog about the production of my Final Year Project, TROUBLE IN ZEMANDIA.

The game will be a retro style platformer with simple to learn and utilize mechanics, the challenge coming from traversing the stunning environment and solving puzzles using your gravity altering abilities.
The game takes place on a beautiful planet desert, based on rock formations found in Americas Deserts and the vast sprawling dunes of the Sahara, combined I feel this could be an incredibly striking land to explore.

You can see my first design document Here