the parts of levels

The initial idea for the game was a multiplayer one constructed like this:

The red player runs on the red ground, jumps on the red walls — the red player collides only with red things. Likewise, the yellow player runs on the yellow ground, jumps on the yellow walls — it collides only with yellow things. But these environments would be visually overlapped — and the characters could interact with each other in this overlapped space.

Here, the yellow character (yellow circle) is trapped on the right side. But the red character can move freely through the yellow vertical line. Also, say if it was a shooting game: The red character would have a clear shot at the yellow character but the yellow character’s shot would be blocked by the yellow level geometry. (note: definitely not claiming that this example is good level design 🙂 )

There is something interesting about that concept — having to reason about positioning in 2 environments.. but, in practice, my implementation of the idea didn’t seem to be that much fun (I think the reason might fall along the lines of too-hard-to-achieve-any-sense-of-ever-potentially-maybe-just-maybe-eventually-gaining-mastery-at-the-task). So…

Attempt 2: players could press a controller button to switch between red/yellow

This was an idea that we stuck with for quite awhile. One of the early test levels looked vaguely like:

At a glance, it looks fairly chaotic and cramped (and the actual level was worse). For new players, navigating levels felt puzzle-like and.. slow. In early playtests, we’d commonly see beginners pause and plan out their next movements before attempting to execute them — traveling just a little bit further on their goal path before pausing to plan the next movement sequence. But, there was a trick to more fluid motion: shifting your perception and noticing that the level actually had a fair amount of open space.

That is, when you’re yellow, you can ignore all the red platforms. And when you’re red, you can ignore all the yellow platforms. The act of filtering out the “non-important” stuff and learning to switch this attention-filter as your character went between red and yellow phases was a skill that got better with time.

And it was kinda a cool feeling — learning to decode something that was previously opaque to fluency.

But.. it took awhile to learn that skill and, in the meantime, players were finding themselves isolated in their puzzle-solving pursuits instead of moving more freely, interacting more often with the other players — which, of course, minimized the primary benefit of a game being multiplayer. So..

Attempt 3: Get rid of the yellow bricks.

The characters could still switch between red and yellow, but with the omission of yellow bricks the two character phases gained a clear differentiation:

  • Red: collide with stuff
  • Yellow: don’t collide with stuff

Then black bricks were introduced — bricks that you’d collide with regardless of red/yellow character phase.

And lastly, a few wording changes:

  • “red character phase” –> “regular phase”
  • “yellow character phase” –> “ghost phase”
  • “red bricks” –> “regular bricks”

And a few final design changes — to improve readability and allow more flexible level aesthetics:

  • regular bricks: dotted thin line (any bright/saturated color)
  • black bricks: thick structure (any dark color)

These are the current ingredients of the levels (plus a few minor roles: lava, moving platforms). Conceptually, it represents a simplification of earlier ideas regarding level construction, but it also represents an effort to clear space to make room for mechanisms that encourage more player-to-player interaction.

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