This is the second blog post in the two-part article about the game design process of Elder Goo. In the previous part we discussed the general mechanics of the game. This time, we will go a bit deeper into the level design.
The first step in designing each level was to sketch it out. Drawing the levels, either on paper or a tablet, is a good way to get started and besides it’s faster than building the level in the editor. A sketch would include the basic layout of the level and all the mechanical elements that make the puzzle. The idea was to keep the sketches simple, see how they would play out and then either scrap the design or flesh it out in the editor.
We used a simple notation in the level sketches to point out the connections between certain elements. For example, in the above sketch of level F-13 both the trigger and the corresponding door are both marked with the same Roman numeral. The fire and the spiderweb are easy to spot and the burnable bush is marked with the text “Burn”.
As the objective of each level is to get every Goo to the goal, the level design focussed on what the players need to do in order to reach the goal. To enhance the gaming experience we decided that the Goo would start from their respective corners in each level. This was so that the individual players would have the feeling of “This is my corner, this is my Goo”. The increased consistency actually made it easier to design the levels and the puzzles because they were now more easily comparable in terms of complexity and difficulty. However, the position of the goal would change between the levels for it allowed more variation in puzzle design.
Tweaking and iteration
Creating a good level requires many iterations. Sometimes you spot what’s wrong with the design in the sketching phase, but sometimes it requires you to actually test the level to see how it should be changed. In the image below, the level F-13 had already undergone its first iteration and was now being completely redesigned based on the initial sketch. However, there were still a lot of things that had to be added, changed or left out.
The level was fun to play, but the design wasn’t complete just yet. We added a spider nest and a boulder and made some small alterations to the layout of the level. The level seemed solid enough which meant it was time for another round of testing and commenting.
Polishing the level
During playtesting, we realized that there was still need for some small changes but that the core mechanics and idea of the level were good and should remain unchanged. We made a few adjustments to the layout keeping in mind that it shouldn’t affecting the puzzles too much. For example we made the collectible easier to find but more difficult to obtain. A few more tests and the level passed our quality control. The only thing left was adding the final art assets and polishing the level.
With updated graphics and improved layout it’s easy to see how the level has changed during the development process. The basic design of the puzzle remained the same, but there were some small details that had to be tweaked. The level design cycle is not always as straight forward as it has been with this particular level. Many levels have gone through dramatic changes and even more ideas have been scrapped altogether. To spot possible design problems before it’s too late it is really important that every level is playtested as early as possible and after every single iteration.
While this article is an insight about the level design process for Elder Goo, the same basic principles work in any other game too: sketch – redesign – iterate – polish, and of course, test your levels! We want to ensure that our players have the best possible gaming experience and level design is a critical for achieving our goal. We’ve put a lot of effort into designing the levels and the puzzles for the game, so don’t forget to check out Elder Goo for iOS early next year. Who knows, you might even stumble upon a familiar level somewhere deep in the mystical forest…