This video showcases the final level of Spirits. Continue reading to find out the considerations, and iterations my team and I went through on our way up to this point.
In Spirits, the level design is influenced by the game's pillars:
The main driver being Retro Nostalgia and Dynamic Combat. Here I will talk about the level's overall design, as well as some of the technical considerations.
Early on in development, it was decided to make the level itself simple in terms of technical elements. The biggest factors were:
To simplify the creation of the character controller and save on time, it was decided that the level wouldn't have any elevation or slopes.
To account for affordances and freedom with creating prop assets, if anything wasn't physically part of the level, it was able to be pulled by the player.
With these in mind, the rest of the level was split into researching the aesthetics of malls built in the 80s to lend toward the Retro Nostalgia pillar, and then actually construct the layout of the level to support the gameplay and the Dynamic Combat pillar. I will be speaking on the latter.
Because the level featured no verticality, it was easy to think of it as a footprint. As a third person shooter and boss fight - it was also initially designed to be very open, with the intention of being able to place things like kiosks full of pullable props. This approach was attractive because the openness of the level was forgiving towards people who were unfamiliar with third person shooters, and the amount of pullable props the player could use was easily tunable by simply increasing or decreasing the number of kiosks in the level.
From playtests, there were multiple issues concerning this layout:
The boss hogged the player's attention; conflicting with Retro Nostalgia
The boss attacked via projectiles and the level lacked line of sight blockers
It was difficult to find pullables, even with it tuned to a large amount
With this feedback, we started to plan out a second version of the level. This new level influenced other aspects of the design such as the Boss Behaviour.
The biggest changes to the level were "pockets" and the fact that the boss chases you in this level.
"Pockets" in Spirits were defined as areas where the player could take refuge from the boss. This helped those less used to playing third-person shooters not to feel overwhelmed, but also gave us a good opportunity to drive home the retro nostalgia pillar.
Pockets took the form of several stores around the map that the player could enter. They all had backdoors connecting them, so the player could go safely between stores, and they were dense with pullable assets - giving the game a flow of entering the main space to do combat, then ducking into the pockets to reorient yourself and restock.
We made the boss chase you in a way that while the player is in the middle of the level, the boss is aware of which direction you're facing and positions itself in front of you. This is described in depth in another blogpost. This yielded better results in playtests, as players didn't have to constantly run away from danger and kept them focused - as they could look for pullables while also keeping the boss in view.