reflection levels

  • Overview

    For the Level Design theme of this game, I decided to play in on the already existing horror-survival theme in the game. The whole interactive game-scene exists of dark corners where the unknown is lurking and ready to attack at any moment (at least that is the feeling I want to play at). To emphasize on this, I figured that the player should have the feeling that he is trapped in that anxious environment and has to rationally think before he can leave the scene. Thus, on top of the zombie survival part of the game, the main focus should be in solving puzzles and escape. In order for the game to work on the players fear, these puzzle challenges should be done in real-time (if the game pauses when such task starts, it wouldn't add anything to this feeling. If anything, it would be stagnated). Neither should the rest of the game be blocked in any way. The sound and graphics of the surrounding remain accessible, even when the player's attention is distracted by those puzzles, so that he can never escape the feeling that something is watching over his shoulders and that 'that something' might attack at any moment. This was a challenge, to come up with puzzles that fit the signature of the game, that are hard enough to cause the player to actually having to mentally leave the rest of the game but never really being able to do so.

    What went wrong?

    What was really hard to do was to create a balance between the first part of the game, which was to avoid zombies and stay alive and the second part of the game, which was to decipher the puzzles and get to save havens. If the puzzles were too hard to solve, the game would have revolved around solving puzzles alone, rather than adding to the gloomy atmosphere. If the zombies where to much on the foreground, lurking everywhere, the game would have the tendency to become a third-person zombie-shooter which was the opposite of what I wanted to reach with my game. It took me a very long time to come up with puzzles that fit the bill (so long in fact that I didn't have much time to put them in my game). This is why most puzzles only exist on paper rather than in the game.

    What went well?

    My prior art is the zombie survival/ horror/ puzzle game Resident Evil (to be more precise: the GameCube remake of the first Resident Evil to come out on PS1 that I played as a kid). I got a lot of inspiration from this game. The setting for example was easier to come up with, when I looked at what the designers of RE had thought of. After I had spent a long time coming up with the demands that these puzzles would have to fulfill, the process sped up. I thought of a couple of puzzles that would be interconnected with each other. I thought of some of the puzzles that RE came up with and even though some of them, if not most, were not very realistic, it kept me on the edge of my seat, because it all served the same purpose: to add to the setting of the game. Most puzzles were shrouded in mystery so that the game started to play as much in the players head as it did on screen. This was exactly what I wanted in my game.

  • Lock and Key Mechanisms

    As already stated, not all puzzles made it to the big screen. Most ideas never left the design table but are definitely worth mentioning.

    Locked doors
    One idea that has been added to the game is the concept of locked doors. Doors that can only be opened with the right key. This of course, is a very literal interpretation of the lock/key mechanism with little creativity involved but it fits the theme, story and setting of the game flawlessly. On top of that comes the story behind getting the key that's important. How does the player acquire the key? What steps does he have to take in order to open that door? Furthermore, a locked door is unmistakable: there are few things as easy to understand as a door that will not open without the correct key. Lastly, the locked door represents something more than just a puzzle that needs a solution to solve. The door leads somewhere, it's like a portal to a new level, new gameplay, new challenges. When it is locked, the current level has to be rediscovered because somewhere the player has left something unexplored, otherwise he would have found the key already. This can force the player into moving to places he's rather not go to (that eerie basement, for example). This really adds up to the horror theme I wanted to accomplish.

    Painting and clocks
    One idea that never left the design table is a painting, with a piece of cloth missing. In a later level, the player finds the missing piece of cloth and when he returns to the painting and more or less restores the painting to it's original, it shows two clocks. Both clocks in the painting are at a certain time. When the player progresses further into the game, he finds the two clocks, one after another. He has to set the clocks to the same time as shown on the painting to open a secret door and progress further into the game.

    Another idea that made the game is a statue in the middle of the first level. It is pretty intense (a man chopping off the head of another man). When the player interacts with the statue, a dialog appears, stating “Did the beheaded man just look at me?”. There is also a description near the statue. When the player interacts with it, a dialog appears saying: “When I look into my attackers eyes, the doors to the underworld will open”. Later, the player enters a control room and the player can see a camera that shows the courtyard where he entered the game. The camera is positioned at the very same location as the statue and it becomes clear (at least it should become clear to the player at some point) that the camera was in fact in the eyes of the beheaded man. When the player interacts with the monitor, he is able to turn the camera. When the camera faces the eyes of the attacker, the ground near the statue opens up, making room for a stairs going down.

    These are a few of the ideas I had for the lock and key mechanisms that add to the bizarre, horrifying and mysterious theme of the game.

  • Play-Tests

    After implementing the first mechanism (two types of locked doors: one with a normal key and one with an electronic key (key card), there was little time left before the game was due, so after that I started play-testing.
    I thought I would see many frightened faces but this was sadly not the case. The emotion of frustration was more close than that of fear or anxiety. The people I tested my game with had their hands full of dealing with the zombies to also be dealing with the puzzles I implemented.
    I spent the remainder of this theme trying to balance the zombie part of the game so that the atmosphere was much more on the foreground than the actual zombies themselves. Sadly, this meant that most of the lock and key mechanisms that took me so much time to design would never leave the design table.

    So What now?

    Zombie Appocalypse is a good example of a game where I bit off more than I could chew. On paper, the game is pretty cool and has lots of potential. Sadly however, the little time that I had to create this game was too little to realize all of these ideas and only a fraction made it to the actual game. After this course is done, however, I want to continue working on this game until my vision is complete and I can be proud of the work I did and I can put it on my portfolio.