Unexplored

Summary

An adventure level based around platforming with a large puzzle at its core. Wonder and riches awaits around the corner for those that succeed.

Specification

* Individual project

* 5 weeks half-time

* Unreal Engine 4

* Assets from Multistory Dungeons, Modular Cliffs and Ancient Treasures (UE4 Marketplace)

Inspiration

Even though this is a first person level my main inspirations were games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider. I was heavily inspired by these kind of adventure games not just in the aesthetics but also in the type of puzzles these games tend to have. I wanted to create a level that is linear but still triggers the feeling of exploration and wonder about whats to come around the next corner.

First steps

I started with creating an overview. I had a very clear idea that I wanted the level to start on the side of a cliff and trigger some vertigo. I also knew I wanted a cave and a larger space with a platform in the middle that pulls the players attention. After some iterations I landed on what you can see to your right. 

Then I started on the blockout process. The process was quite quick since I had spent a little extra time on the overview. That gave me alot more time to spend on iterating on these early ideas.

Iterations and change of ideas

In my first version of the level I had an idea of making a portal in the middle that took you to another place where you needed to find an object that you would bring back and use within this level. I cut that idea and wanted to work with creating a proper puzzle within the level itself. That meant that I had to expand parts of the level.

 

I decided to add another section of the level. First you encounter a platform that is controlled by the orbs on the pedestals then a larger ledge with a ruined passage and finally a small platforming section followed by a ledge that overlooks the entire area. This area loops back since you can easily jump down from the upper ledge down to the middle section again. 

Another section I iterated alot on where the first platforming section you face after you have entered the cave. In the beginning this section was very simple. It was basically two simple jumps and quite boring. I wanted the jumps to become harder step by step and then end with a jump that is longer and scarier than the other ones. Creating smaller and smaller platforms to land on was important with achieving this. I also played around alot with height  and distance to make the jumps feel good and somewhat challenging. The last jump is actually not the hardest of the jumps since you land on a larger platform but because of the length and drop in height it feels harder than it actually is. This is what I tried to achieve. I did not want players to die on the last jump.

In the earlier versions of the level there was no hole in the large circular platform and the four pedestals was there from the begining. On the upper ledge was just a orb that you needed to gather. This felt abit stale so I added the large hole and a lever that controls the platform within.

Feedback

Since the level has relatively simple mechanics I wanted the feedback of these mechanics to feel good. That includes the movement on the orb when it is placed and the color change that occurs. The color change is also different depending on which pedestal you place the orb on. I also worked on making the movement of the platforms feel heavy by creating screenshake when they move.

Vistas

Working with the vistas of the level was very important in order to create the sense of wonder and the wow factor I was going for. There were three moments of the level that I worked extra hard on. The first is when you see the cave entrance. In the first iteration the ledge the player is standing on was lower and after raising this ledge I got the effect I was looking for.

The second moment I worked alot on was the first reveal of the area within the cave where I wanted to the player to focus their eyes on the large circular platform in the middle. Since the entire puzzle you later reach is based around making this platform move I found it very important to immediately catch the players attention and focus on this. I even created a hole in the top of the cave where lightrays come from and hit the platform. I also angled the rocks in the entrance to force the player to look in right direction.

The third moment is when you have moved out of a tight cave passage and you once again come out to the large cave area. It was important for me to not just present the circular platform again but to also highlight the section of the level that comes after. I also wanted to create a Crazy Ivan (a look back) to where you just came from. I worked alot on making the entrance pop out with both lighting and the angle of the passage so the outside of the cave is visible.

Puzzle design

The puzzle of the level is based around a simple concept. You have orbs that can be placed on pedestals. These pedestals control the vertical movement of three platforms. The main goal is to first reach the lever on the high ledge. This lever controlls a platform that fills the hole of the large circular platform with four new pedestals. When the lever is pulled the goal is now to gather all the orbs in the level to these four pedestals. When that is done the large circular platform moves down and you can progress. 

Level Progression

Closing reflections

I achieved alot of what I set up to do with the level. The level has a sense of wonder and the puzzle is easy to understand but still relatively challenging. There are a few thing I world have liked to spend more time on though. I wanted to create more moments where the level feel alive. A bird that fly away when you are walking along the cliffedge or perhaps a ledge that breaks off in the platforming sections of the level. I also wanted to include more storytelling aspects in the level. My plan originally was to create notes left by two adventurers. The skeletons of these adventurers survived the cutting board though. Unfortunately the notes was scrapped due to time constraints. 

But in the end I was happy with the results and I learned alot while making this level.