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.
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.