BUILDING VIRTUAL WORLDS
Building Virtual Worlds is a rapid prototyping class at Carnegie Mellon where students work in teams of five to build five playable engaging games in two week cycles. My goal throughout the course was exploring how to architect interest curves through level design. Below is my design thinking for a couple of prototypes that we built.
In First Flight, guests "become" an aeroplane (yes become not fly). Three guests form a human chain and orient the chain in the direction they want to fly. As the aeroplane you must help Ben, a ten year old boy who has always dreamed of flying. The level was designed to have three types of birds which fly in different directions and need to be avoided. Considering the weirdness of the premise, the tutorial phase was important and was built into game play rather than simply front loading directions. Next each bird type was introduced individually so that players would associate the
visual with the movement. This was extremely important as the core mechanic of the game was cooperation. We couldn't begin architecting a level where players would cooperate if they were unsure on the movement patters of the obstacles. Once that phase is complete, the game starts to throw different types of birds in conjunction. Since it simply isn't feasible for three people to be agreeing on flying patterns in real time, this phase was designed such that a specific part of the screen where the plane would be safe must be identified. Hereby, the player behavior we were engaging was strategy through observation rather than real time skill. In the final phase, the game throws a complete curve ball. By this juncture we expect players to have mastered navigation. To shatter this feeling, the entire world rotates 180 degrees and the plane starts to fly in the opposite direction, forcing the player to relearn the movement mechanic.
RACE TO TREEHOUSE
In Race to Treehouse, you play as a "dandelion fairy" having a friendly race with your companion fairies. One of the goals for the prototypes was to ensure that the input mechanism translated directly into the world to retain immersion. The high level concept for the game actually stemmed directly from using the PS move controller, ie "dandelion stick" as a navigational method to fly in 3D space. The level was designed such that it expands the world view as the game proceeds. It starts with a very narrow range of movement. You see all your companion (AI) fairies flying
through a narrow gap between a spiderweb and a boulder. This gap is intentionally narrow as we wanted this phase to serve as negative reinforcement for colliding with objects. A trail of collectible coins are also placed to highlight a route that successfully leads through the gap without collision. Once this phase is complete the world opens up and the player can fly as she pleases. The player can potentially finish the game in an infinite number of routes but the trail of coins persist indicating a "suggested" route. The thinking was that the positive reinforcement of the coins in the previous phase would guide the player through the indicated route, even though the coins yield no real outcome in the game. Most of the art effort was also dedicated to the trail the coins lead through.