I started the design by looking at the player's journey up until this point to create a theme for the level.
To emphasize that the player ventures deeper into the Marsan base I wanted an industrial environment where the Marsans are developing and powering up their laser technology. I used blue and red lasers to create visual cues for the player to guide them through the map. The red laser represents the combat scenarios while the blue laser indicates the puzzles sections.
The colors are tied to the generators as well to provide easily understandable objectives with immediate feedback upon completion.
The original 2D Design for Level 4
Level 4 Whitebox
During production however new mechanics have been added to the game so the level had to be redesigned. I spaced out the encounters for better pacing by adding corridors and hallways for the player to traverse and background elements to the walking sections to make them visually more appealing.
Level 4 During Production
At the beginning of the level, the player is greeted with a darker metallic environment in contrast to level 3's high-tech clean design. Instead of walls, I used pipes and a custom-made fog effect on the right side of the area to get away from the "boxed in" feeling of the room. At the first encounter, crates are placed to give the player an opportunity to get into cover from enemies who spawn on both sides of the room. At the end of the hallway, the player encounters the shadow door that requires 3 chargers to be opened. The player is presented with a concurrent objective to activate the 2 generators that they can do in any order.
Two indicate this I used Shadow to inform the player of the current objective along with visual markers on the floor and through each section to guide the player to the correct path.
Beginning of Level 4
Markers on the ground show the possible paths for the player.
Choosing the blue path the player arrives at the laser puzzle section. In order to create a more believable environment, I added a stairway on the top side of the room that the Martians would use in normal circumstances. The stairway served to minimize backtracking by granting the player a shortcut on the way back.
Broken Stairway to the shortcut
The laser section is designed in a way that allows players with skill and careful timing to be able to cross without using any additional abilities. It consists of 3 types of lasers: Moving between 2 points, rotating, and lasers on a timer that turns on and off every few seconds.
After playtesting we realized that this challenge is easier than the ones presented in level 3 so in order to increase the complexity, I added an additional section to the area.
This new challenge adds verticality to the existing feature and consists of two parts. In the first part, it teaches the player the new mechanics while the second part increases the difficulty by asking the player to navigate through two lines of laser hazards at the same time.
Old laser Puzzle
Final version of the laser Puzzle
On the red path, the player travels through a long corridor before arriving at the red laser area. While designing this room I used a scene from the Phantom Menace as a visual guide. For the background, I added a red fog to create an ominous presence that looms over the unknown depth.
Red Generator Room
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace fight scene
In order to guide the player to the correct path, after activating the red generator the path going back disappears, and a shortcut opens up that leads back to the hallway.
Figure 12. After activation, a path opens up to guide the player
After the player activated both generators the third and final generator can be used to open the shadow door. Mixing the two colors a new laser type (purple) is activated that immediately kills the player on contact.
In the original design, the player would cross a bridge that hangs over a dark void before arriving at the final battle. I changed the bridge to a more visually interesting corridor that is placed in a massive hangar bay with multiple paths as background elements to create a sense of a larger world.
Background elements are added to the scene to make it more interesting.
The last encounter triggers after a cutscene that activates the moving lasers and spawns enemy units. The player has to survive 60 seconds while the combat arena continuously shrinks before the door opens up. As this is the final encounter of the game I wanted to create an epic finale combining all our gameplay elements.
After the timer runs out the door opens up and the player can advance to the mainframe. Initially, to display the mainframe I used a terminal that was placed on a rounded pad that hung in the dark.
However, this was changed to create an impressive machine with hanging wires and a large tube combining meshes and assets.
Figure 14. Old MainFrame
Mainframe presented in the final version
We decided to add voice-acted narrative elements and meta-texts to our existing levels. With the narrative designer we wrote and recorded the lines for the story panels that then were implemented into the game.
These messages either help the player to point out secrets and incoming encounters or a funny reference commenting on the environment.
Narrative Elements in Level 4
In order to create the atmosphere of an industrial complex, I created an ambient sound for the level.
I mixed together submarine crash sound bites with a hovering aircraft effect to add depth to the area.
The level has 3 soundtracks that the game randomizes after each loop. The tracks are themed around exploration, suspense, and dark fantasy to enhance the experience.
Ambient sound example
Level 4 Alpha Version
Level 4 Final Version with updated layout and finished lightning
Initially, level 2 was the first level I created for the game that was cut when we reassigned work in the team. The goal of the level was to activate a laser cannon that would be able to penetrate through an energy barrier to open up the door to the exit.
This is the first time the player would encounter enemy units and also serve as a tutorial for interacting with the world environment by activating switches and terminals. The laser hazards were carried over from level 1 with increased complexity and mixed with combat scenarios.
2D Map Design for Level 2
Level 2 Whitebox
While transitioning from the Whitebox version several changes were required. Room sizes and the layout had to be changed in order to feel less claustrophobic and give a larger space for the combat encounters. Wall height has been adjusted and props have been placed to not allow the player to move to certain areas where the camera view would be blocked.
Additional level elements such as a corridor in the second room that is blocked by containers were added to create a sense of a larger world.
It took me 3 days to create this map and during this time I learned a lot about level design that I was able to put into practice to develop Level 4. By looking at both levels side by side I see how much I improved over the course of the module and I am extremely happy with the progress I made.
Level 2 playable version