Design of Elder Goo, Part 1 – Puzzle & Goo

Design of Elder Goo, Part 1 – Puzzle & Goo

Many people have been asking us how we came up with the idea for Elder Goo and what the development process has been like. In this two-part article, we are going to introduce the Game Designer’s point of view on how the game has evolved from the original concept to its current state. The first part of the article focuses on core mechanics and character design for Elder Goo.

 

Core mechanics and flow

Before starting the level design process, we had to establish what kind of a game we were going to make. The initial game concept was basically a “multiplayer game in which the players control lumps of slime”. We have come a long way from that, but the main idea hasn’t changed much during the development process. The characters have evolved into the cute and slimy Goo we have grown to love, and their unique characteristics have had an influence on the game mechanics.

The first prototype version of Elder Goo didn't have any of the characters

The first prototype focused on the core gameplay with simple characters

The first level designs served more or less as proof-of-concept for the game, testing out the flow and the core mechanics. Initially the characters were just four identical green balls with eyes. At this point, the most important thing was to find out whether or not multitouch controls would work as the basis for the game.

 

Unique Characters and Abilities

The core mechanics soon felt solid enough, but in order to make the game more appealing, we figured it needed something more; something that would make it stand out from other puzzle adventure games. Since we had decided to make a co-operative multiplayer game, we thought it would be interesting if each of the characters had different abilities. This way, each player would have a separate, yet equally important, role in the game. So the next step was to come up with four different sets of abilities – one of each Goo.

The most important factor in designing the Goo and their abilities was maximizing the positive user experience. Hence, it was crucial that the characters and their corresponding skills feel intuitive to the player. At that point, we focused on personalizing each Goo, so that their appearance and the way they move would reflect what each Goo is able to do.

It didn’t take us long to agree on the initial set of Goo features and abilities. They were also heavily influenced by our artists’ sketches:

  • Bouncy – fast and energetic, can zip through spiderwebs and walls of slime
  • Gooey – slimy and cunning, can squeeze through small gaps and put out fires
  • Sticky – simple and silly, sticks to all surfaces and can pass through steam
  • Sturdy – big and strong, can push heavy boulders and break walls

These core abilities haven’t changed since the beginning, but some new abilities have been introduced later. The most significant addition was making Sticky highly flammable in contrast toGooey’s ability to put out fires. This change had a great impact on level design, as we could now create obstacles that could be burnt down. Each new ability underwent a thorough evaluation process that determined whether it was developed further or scrapped entirely. Like all the previous abilities, the new ones also had to feel intuitive and fit the game world thematically.

"Who goes where?" - A level for testing each character and their abilities

“Who goes where?” – An old level for testing each character and their abilities

As I’m writing this, the character design is nearly complete with all the Goo having distinctive personalities, abilities and behavior. Ever since the first playable prototype, we’ve been showingElder Goo to other developers, enthusiastic players and some random people we know. Based on their feedback, it’s safe to say we’ve managed to improve the different areas of the game. We’re happy to see that people can name abilities of a certain Goo by simply looking at the way it moves. For example, people often guess that Sturdy can break down walls, even before this ability has been introduced in the game! This is something we’re very proud of, because it shows that we have really nailed the character design and visualization!

 

Worlds and levels

The biggest design choice was no doubt the way we started creating the levels for Elder Goo. We could’ve chosen to generate the levels procedurally so that we would have had practically infinite amout of content, but instead we decided to design the levels one by one. We couldn’t have called it a story-driven puzzle adventure game if all the levels had been more or less clones of each other. What this decision meant for us, was that we needed to create a huge number of levels and loads of graphic assets, in order to have enough content to maintain player interest. Even though we knew that the decision would make the project’s scope wider, it wasn’t until later that we were able to see just how much influence it had on the entire process.

We held a creative brainstorming session, during which we came up with a huge variety of different worlds. Afterwards, we settled on four worlds that would function as the setting for the game and its story.

  • Forest would serve as the starting point of the game, giving the player a neutral world in which to learn the basic mechanics and become familiar with the controls.
  • The steampunk Castle would introduce a bunch of new mechanics. It would also be more difficult than the first world.
  • Space would alter the deal by changing the way the levels are cleared – there would be separate goal teleports which must be activated simultaneously.
  • The last world, Inferno, would be the final frontier with an even higher difficulty level. It would also mix the mechanics from the other worlds in new ways.

We’ve done a lot of iteration on the worlds and – cycle by cycle – they are getting closer to their final forms. There is still work to be done, but the latest build of the game has received satisfactory feedback from the players. Some have even gone as far as saying that the game could already be released as it is. However, we plan to polish it to perfection – because that’s the Zaibatsu way!

The current Forest levels have a lot of variety in the puzzle mechanics and art assets

This concludes the first part of the article. In the second part we’ll delve deeper into what needs to be considered when designing levels for a puzzle game. Stay tuned for The Design of Elder Goo Pt. 2!

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