The Burial Passage: Moving Towards Art

The second level is shaping up to be mechanically complete. More peer testing sessions of the block-out are being arranged, and are more important than ever, given that a very basic lighting pass has been completed. This pass can play a large part in how coherent the player’s objectives are. This basic compositional pass can make or break the player’s informed navigation of the level, the artistic cohesiveness, and most importantly: its enjoyability.

Approaching The Art Pass.

While the level was designed, it was always done so with art in mind. I started each level with a few mood boards, each with interesting shapes, themes, and spaces. I feel this plays a large part in how the level will be experienced. In each image, I am looking for a combination of how lighting is used, how the shapes could be traversed, and also how the spaces could frame a particular piece of game-play.

With this method, every single space in my level has a significant purpose, be it to contribute to the player’s game-play experience, or to set a mood, but usually both. Instead of creating a purely functional space and putting art in at the end “Because it needs art in it”.

My next Move.

Before too ambitiously advancing on to the art pass stage of the level, I am going to start looking towards the bigger picture visually. Using large amounts of reference and my blueprints for the base of the level, I am slowly building a picture that I feel will compliment the world.

I want every corner of the map to have its own identity, whilst still remaining consistent with the theme, as to not stray too far from the original idea, or worse; be ill put together, and be a messy conglomeration of too many different ideas.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself and dive into set dressing too quickly, as I want to make sure the level is properly tested and adjusted to feedback. Otherwise the level will be at conflict with itself, while art and game-play fight for dominance when both elements need to come together in harmony to achieve the game’s goal.

Design by Subtraction; and the Big Level Rewrite

As explained by my last entry, WILDBORN underwent a big scrutinising analysis so ensure that my final product was what I wanted it to be.

I learned a huge deal about my project during this period, and it was a real eye opener, showing me how to develop for WILDBORN, adopting my own design philosophy  of ‘Designing through the discovery of what my project asks to be, not what I assume it should be’.

The Impact.

The most noteworthy thing about discovering what makes my game fun, was that it called for a big rewrite on the level design side of things.

I maintained the aesthetic design of my environments. The beat map, the mood boards, the emotional intention, the bigger picture, and general shape of the environment has undergone minimal adjustments. But the shape, spacing, placing, and utilizations of many physical surfaces and problem solving elements has been completely adjusted from the original white-box.

This all followed the philosophy of Design by Subtraction. Instead of presenting the player with a mechanically rich game, with countless elements to master, many combinations of abilities, and an impressive roster of character potential, i stripped back everything that didn’t reflect the core of WILDBORN.

As a result, the Level seems a lot more fun, more testing is expected to take place in the near future to further define what should be adjusted.

Making WILDBORN More Fun

Teaching myself from Prototypes.

After getting stuck in the with the prototyping stage of WILDBORN’s second level, I am starting to really realize the potential of the game’s current puzzle mechanics.

Players’ impressions.

Testing has taken place in the plain new level, and I am starting to understand what makes WILDBORN fun. Moving the Tablets (WILDBORN’s key game mechanic) feel “satisfying” to players. The ability to shift huge heavy structures around to advance your progress is enjoyable, but reportedly loses a lot of that sensation when difficult challenges or surgical precision is required. Here I begin to understand what makes WILDBORN fun.

What really makes it fun?

I am starting to really understand what kind of game WILDBORN wants to be. And it isn’t a puzzle game. Players report their satisfaction from effortlessly leaping around a busy environment, and shifting huge stone structures with their minds. But they don’t reportedly enjoy traversal that challenges their reflexes, or puzzles that make them scratch their heads as much.

So what is the purpose of WILDBORN? My current impression is as follows: WILDBORN is not a game that is asking to challenge players and to encourage them to slow down and think about in game problems that need solutions. It’s a game that asks to give players effortless satisfaction, to put them in the shoes of the character; a springy, wise, and athletic creature that moves through the environment how we could never hope to.

During this project I really don’t want to harshly integrate my mechanics, I want to show players how good it feels to move through and observe my environments. Using mechanics to enable that, as opposed to creating problems that hinder the player’s desire to move forward.

What am I going to change?

For a start I’m glad I tested these things early on, because I have decided to add a new, but simple mechanic. A timed one. As well as reduce the surgical precision, timing, and problem solving required to progress.

A simple puzzle that a player activates, causing a timed event to occur, giving a player a window to complete a simple challenge.

This mechanic will push the player to do the things that WILDBORN does best; showing them how seamless movement is, and pushing them to use it to its full advantage. This is giving the player a reason to speed up and soar across the terrain, as opposed to slowing them down to think about what they need to do next.

This will still need testing, but I will try to integrate this with my level.

Wildborn: “The Burial Passage” and “The World Depths”

My focus is currently on devising and integrating the main mechanics driven levels; The Burial Passage and The World Depths.

Originally I have plans to develop both levels, however, in the interest of time and quality I have decided to side with only fully building The Burial Passage level, and offering players a tense cinematic buildup to The World Depths.

With this in mind, I have extracted them both from Wildborn’s timeline and am investigating and planning a single full level.

Since I am now only making one of them, the cut content will be converted into a potential, short, more cinematic experience for the player as a Sprint goal.

The Burial Passage.

In the world of Wildborn, the burial passage is the only known place where a distant generation of the player’s character practised burying their dead; it has not since been done. But the eerily quiet and beautiful scenery should fill the player with graveyard vibes while they solve the puzzles.

The World Depths.

This deadly environment that will now only briefly be shown, contains the various horrifying creatures that adapted to life in the world’s dark underbelly to survive many of the planets cycles, rather than just a single cycle like most of the world’s life. As a result, it is swarming with oversized invertebrates, capable of snatching creatures from the surface at night, and scavenging their corpses by day. The player would have to use quick reflexes to overcome this challenge, as well as intimately understand the game’s puzzling mechanics.

Finalizing The “Highlands” Art Pass

The ambitious introductory sequence for Wildborn has seen many Art Passes and fine tuning, and has grown  alongside the initial concept, framework, and prototype.

In its purest form, it has been designed to emulate the mysterious vision of the world of Wildborn as it grew from its infancy, to a working concept. It represents a very organic development of ideas and inspiration since development on the level was first planned months ago. It now exists as a strong mental blueprint on how I am going to capture a sense of wonderment in the next, more mechanically involved, level.

The Highlands is very cinematic in nature, but aims to teach the players the games core mechanics while they enjoy an introduction to the world. With the next level (“The Burial Passage”) I intend to encourage the player to build upon their understanding of the game’s mechanics, so that they may learn to solve more intricate puzzles.

A Character to Match

In the near future, the original character; and protagonist, is going to be introduced to the project.

The Concept Visualization stage was supported by a couple of artists/illustrators, and I spent some time on the side to realize the game’s main character in 3D.

It is supported with original texture work and materials that I procedurally designed.

The character was 3D modelled in Blender, taking advantage of the program’s quick iterative nature, to rapidly design the character from concept to mesh, high and low poly baked, over the course of two days. The original materials were introduced to the mesh, and it is currently going through various iterations to refine the overall appearance.

I didn’t want to spend too much on this subject, since I am not experienced with character design and modelling, but wanted to make sure there wasn’t a void in the world I am building. Luckily, due to the way the game plays (from a distance to the character, in a dark world) I was able to focus on larger details of the character, such as the frame, silhouette , and larger forms, as to not sacrifice any visible quality, and not wasted time on fine details.

It is being imported into the project to test the visuals, as well as starting work on a technical material that will handle various texture animations, visual effects; like a chameleon style fresnel effect on the scales, as well as pulsing glow effect present in various parts of the game.

The Engine Material will be heavily parameterized, to allow UX and dynamic visuals, to be modified on the character with code, as to make it feel cohesive to the world and alive in the players’ control.

Wild Processes; and Resolve

After a challenging brush with some fundamental physics problems that acted as a barrier for further progress, resolve was finally met today, following a comprehensive investigation and adjustment of confronting issues with the base mechanics.

In the aftermath, I am left with some tight and functional puzzle mechanics that are waiting to be refined and applied, in the form of challenges for my players. Development on the main level, featuring various puzzles, will start next week.

Tweaking the feel of Wildborn

A desperate requirement for me, right now, is making sure there are no huge issues with the current systems in game. I have spent time on each mechanic I know is going to be in place, so that is ticked off. But now I need to make sure they work well enough to be alpha tested properly.

Various passes were made this week to ensure that benchmark was made. Fixes to large bugs were sorted, a proper death system is in play to allow for seamless testing, the only obstacle left is the glitchy physics with the Tablets (The Game’s main mechanic).

This hasn’t worked well so far. I reached out to users and specialists on-line, but haven’t found anyway to repair them in their current state. Thus, next week I am going to make a push to a system rework. Changing the way in which physics are calculated.

I fear that the way that Unreal handles physics calculations between physics objects, force, and the player character isn’t entirely coherent. Thus, I am looking into workarounds and new methods for making this feature flow well.