Vivid Blog 6 – Stage Design Process
Today I’m going to be talking about how I start crafting levels in Vivid. There are many ways to draw out and plan levels, but I’m very straight-forward. I either get a piece of paper or an art program on my computer and throw up ideas. For Vivid, all the levels are divided into rooms. Each room containing an idea.
The levels try to theme around something; whether it’s something physical or decorative (like say a desert theme) or something related to the mechanics (like a particular attack). Using these, I base the levels design around them. But more importantly, I build off them from room to room if I can help it. You want to make sure that if you’re introducing something a little more complex that the player isn’t confused and has a clear idea when confronting new things.
The first rooms in my levels are there to get the player into the mood. The only exception is if a very important mechanic is needed to be introduced, something that could play over multiple levels. Otherwise, start small. Then the next room or so, I either re-explore an older mechanic to be used in tandem with a new one later down, or just introduce a new one altogether.
I try to make sure the player understands what’s happening, how to do it, and what it can lead to. Give them room to experiment. Make the room easy while also making the player confident that they understand the objective before proceeding. That way they’re ready for more difficult variations of the new mechanics in future rooms.
But the areas afterwards are not an ascension of difficulty every single time. I may throw in a room (or a section of a room) that calms things down or get you ready for what’s ahead. Especially if another mechanic is going to be introduced or layered on top of the new mechanics. We then move on to the last few rooms where the game really tries to push your understanding of the new elements… to a certain limit. It varies on how far you are in the game, don’t want an early level to challenge you to the extreme with a mechanic quite yet! In fact if you balance it out right you can reuse harder versions for later levels. Once finished, you face a boss or are rewarded with a victory.
Now this is all fine and dandy, but I actually want to show an early rough version of a level currently being constructed for further analysis. A lot of what I just said is basic stuff and more so has to do with pacing your levels than the actual designs. In that case, let’s take a look at T2-2 (Toadster Level 2 – Room 2).
Use the above link for a better image!
A lot of stuff going on here! To be honest, since I tend to work alone on this, these are normally for my eyes only. But I’m going to try and make sense of it for you folks at home or at work. Even drew a little guide to show what’s what, hopefully the blog doesn’t squeeze it too much. Regardless, I’ll get to talking.
First off, this is Vivid. If you don’t know what it is, go play the demo:
If you just can’t be bothered, I’ll give a brief explanation: Vivid is a game where you play as said character. Besides the normal platforming business, Vivid can change color by holding jump while landing on Colored Blocks or on colored enemies. What color she is affects many things. Platforming, attacking, powers, etc. You may occasionally need a certain color to proceed or be effective at attacking. For instance, the Red Sword may not be effective on a flying enemy. But if you use the Azure Ax, which is an aerial arcing weapon, you’ll have a better time.
But in addition to Vivid, there’s Spirit, her dog. She too is playable, and even has different attacks and advantages/disadvantages to Vivid. This is very important for this particular level design because of the circumstances surrounding the characters and the story.
The Antagonist for this part of the adventure is know as the Toadster. In this story, he curses Vivid and Spirit for a night and are stuck in his tower. This causes Spirit to be trapped inside a Swap Block. When Vivid tries to free her by bopping the block with her head, Spirit is freed!… but now Vivid is stuck. The quest now becomes stopping Toadster and undoing this curse. And you will have to use these Swap Blocks to switch characters from time to time.
So let’s show what’s introduced in this room:
We have some new hazards and a new mechanic. I also have Swap Blocks noted here because the new mechanic is heavily tied to these. That being the Character Blocks. Depending on who you play as, one set will be solid. The other will be transparent and allow you to move through them. Just like Colored Blocks, but character dependent.
Let’s refer back to the Level Design image(may want to put the image in another tab for quick reference!). On the bottom right side of the level is a white square; Vivid… or Spirit if you entered as her. This is where you start, inside a small section with a Swap Block and a Color Balloon (these change color every second, and can be popped to grab a color). Up above you…is the exit. Except you can’t get in there because of the new mechanic, Character Blocks. In fact, you can’t get out of this small area unless you change to Vivid. You also can’t get to the door on top unless you’re Spirit! Looks like your goal will be to find another Swap Block outside with Vivid!
Not too far ahead, a new enemy is introduced in the form of Chef Krustoph, aka the toasters. They’re grumpy, march back in forth in anger, just all around mad. If you touch, jump on, or attack them is when they get really bad. They’ll stop and toss super heated toast all around within a certain range. Getting close may not be the best idea, but it’s up to the players discretion on how to deal with them. The Character Blocks are set up in a way for this first one so that you can jump over it easily.
The next one may not be easy to deal with because of the ceiling above and the fact another obstacle is introduced with Furnaces. Peaceful for one second, then ablaze for another. You have to be quick when going over them. You do have time to think before moving to it and dealing with other Chefs.
You’ll reach the center of the room which has many Vivid Blocks over furnaces which makes them seemingly pointless. Also a Chef on top, marching between the other Character Blocks in the center. There’s also a Heart! The main collectible which is…impossible to reach?! It’s stuck inside a wall! Well don’t worry, Spirit the dog has a teleport ability that can easily reach it… or perhaps not. After all, there’s a furnace underneath the Heart! If you can get Spirit with her yellow teleport ability, you’ll have to go in and teleport out very fast. But it’s a completely optional challenge for the player.
The other half of the room mostly mirrors the first but now, Vivid and Spirit’s Character Blocks are mostly swapped. This makes dealing with the other toasters a bit different. You won’t be able to avoid them quite as well… nor the last hazard! Cauldro! He’s a big flying cauldron who occasionally flies on top of the screen before spilling boiling water from above. He’s a constant hazard throughout most of the room but only appears every so often. So long as you don’t wait in one spot, he’s nothing more than a small nuisance.
Now to the last part. There isn’t a Swap Block here but there is a two way door. Considering the entire room has been explored at this point, it’s a safe bet the Swap Block is in there. I won’t talk about that room, but it’s a small area with a quick challenge before reaching the Swap Block. To reach the two-way door, you’ll need to go through a few furnaces in an enclosed space. It’ll require some quick platforming in a few spots. Not to mention, Cauldro will cause some problems while waiting for the furnaces, so be weary!
Afterwards you’ll reach the door, do that room, and get Spirit! But now, you’ll have to redo this room. Normally, backtracking isn’t a good design philosophy. Here though, is where Vivid’s level design shines brightest. Depending on the character, color, or circumstance there are practically levels within levels in this game!
Besides playing as a new character (and perhaps choosing a new color from the last room), the room now changes because of the Character Blocks. The center area especially. All those furnaces you passed as Vivid are now an actual threat to Spirit. The right and left sides of the room switch sides in due to the blocks as well; the right now being harder to avoid the Chefs.
You now go through a slightly harder version of the room with a new character while also now getting a chance to collect the Heart from earlier if you took note of it. Make it to the other side and you can finally make it out of this kitchen (which is the theme of this area, if toasters and furnaces didn’t give it away).
…And that’s just one room! An early untested one at that. When this area is made, I’ll likely need to test to see how much the actually room needs to be stretched out, and balance the difficulty of the hazards. A lot of times, it doesn’t quite work out exactly as predicted. It’s entirely possible the Cauldro hazard could be removed if I felt it too much for the players.
Then I have to have others test it to see how well they do. Make sure the mechanic is fully realized before anything about it is made official. There are many, many variables that need to be applied before I finalize it. Even now, the demo for Vivid is just the second stage of the game and I feel many of the elements in it are unfinished (not including art).
But… that’s how I go about making my levels. Try to throw in some mechanics, and if possible, add an extra layer to it so if you chose a different character of color, it plays a bit differently. Leads to a lot of interesting ways you can play the game. In fact, note the lack of Color Blocks in the room? That’s so the player focuses on the new Character Blocks instead. I imagine a future room would use both Color Blocks AND Character Blocks to really shake things up!