Designing Levels

Posted in: Electric Shocktopus, Wednesday Update | August 22, 2013 | No Comments

I’ve been working a lot recently on a little piece of the Electric Shocktopus called ‘Level Design.’  And by little piece, I mean a tremendous one that makes or breaks games.

It’s Alive

In the case of the Electric Shocktopus, it is comically easy to just make levels.  The game already has a level editor, so I load up a blank level and use the mouse to add or remove tiles.  I get to play through the level constantly as I make it — making sure the ledges are at the right height, the jumps are jump-able, and the level is fun.  Simple.

Back when I was working on Agent Higgs, I took this to an extreme, and created *random* levels.  I just made a whole bunch of them, and trashed the boring ones — saving maybe one out of a hundred that was actually fun and challenging.  (Speaking of this, to give the same treatment to Velocity Raptor, check out this python code ARP created.)

And as easy as that, we’ve got a great level!  Right?

Testing the Level

Wrong!  Turns out, at least for me, designing levels is less of an art than a science.  I do my best to make a good level on my own (the art), but it all comes down to testing (the science).  Which is why I’ve had so many people play the Electric Shocktopus.  Playtesters, forum-goers, other developers, anyone.  I see what works — and more importantly what doesn’t — and tweak the levels accordingly.

It takes a *lot* of trials to figure this all out.  The game, mind you, is currently on version 0.87.

There was a great example of this process this past Monday.  I brought my game to a meetup of local developers so they could try it out.  Overall, they quite enjoyed the game.  Great to know, but the most useful piece was watching them play.

How’d it Go?

In general, I’m always surprised by how *hard* the game is.  With any of my games.  This is a common issue — because I’m exceptionally good at it.  (Not to brag)  I know the systems backwards and forwards.  I’ve played it more than anyone else.  And I know what the ‘trick’ is to each level — since I added the trick.  So when I watch other people play, I can get a much better sense for what the game is like for a ‘regular’ person.

The result?  They died a lot.  A lot.  One guy destroyed well over 300 Shocktopuses before beating a certain level.  It was like watching him play Super Meat Boy.  Players would get so frustrated, and yet they kept coming back for more.  They were driven to beat it, refusing to give up, demanding to get all three stars in a level.  It was amazing.

And while I stood there and laughed (because frustration is *very* fun to watch, especially when you’re the one causing it), I made mental notes about things I needed to change.  After all, I’ve gotta start working on version 0.88.


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