Hey all! One of those late-reports-that-I-move-back-to-the-right-day-deals once again, sorry for those of you who were eagerly anticipating this post (anyone? Hello?)

So, this Friday I started running the tests for the second chamber, uploading the level to my FTP and sending the links to the level and the form to some select testers. So far, seven people have tested the second Chamber. I’m going to try to get a hold of a couple of more testers, then compile the results, probably in the evening tomorrow. Since I expected to have to sit and fiddle with the level over the weekend, this week’s work went a lot faster and smoother than expected, without compromising anything in terms of my goals with the level. Sweet!

Since this block is almost over too, I’d say it’s about time to reflect upon what I’ve learned. Damn, time flies!
What useful lessons hath this block taught me, then?

  • I’ve learned that the Unity community is very helpful and there’s plenty of tips already online. Chances are, if you’re looking for scripting advice for something that’s relatively simple, you’ll find just the piece of code you’re looking for. Either that, or a pointer in the right direction. This was ultimately what made me choose to do the proper builds of Mortal Spire in Unity instead of UDK, as it enabled me to make some simple gameplay-like elements. Let’s face it, just a guidance method showcase would not be as interesting to play, neither would it prove as much in terms of how well the methods work.
  • Playtesting, an aspect of development which I’ve only ever been in contact with once before, is extremely helpful. Especially in the case where you’re aiming to test something specific with your production. Make sure to ask your testers questions directly related to what you want to evaluate. If you’re testing, for instance, how well the implemented guidance methods of your level work, ask the testers if they had issues knowing where to go, or if any part was easier to navigate than others.
  • Leave answers for said form after playtest open for the testers to write down their thoughts. I found that even though I held closed tests with a smaller group of people, I got a lot of useful and detailed feedback from everyone.
  • The psychology of highlighting paths or contrast in lighting, the guidance aspects detailed in the method I named “Light the Way”, are very widely understood. In the rooms where a variation of this method was the sole means of directing the player towards a goal, pretty much every single tester found these visuals cues without issues.
  • As such, if you find that another used method might not be as clear to the players, use lighting cues along with the other method to further ‘frame’ the given goal. Test to see if it works better! You don’t necessarily have to make it super obvious by having a spotlight shining or something like that, but just a slight, additional cue can go a long way!
  • It is very wise to establish a strict workflow when working with level design. After blocking out the basic shapes for the rooms, it might seem like a nice diversion to decorate one of the rooms before finishing up the ‘shell’ of the level. Taking a break from constructing the shell might prove bad for your work though, as you might find yourself spending a lot of time decorating just one single room, because it’s a “lot more fun than building empty rooms and corridors.” So it’s a lot wiser to instead finish one step before starting the next. I’m not saying it’s a universal truth, but I found this approach worked a lot better for me personally.
  • While establishing a pattern or using a known one works well for teaching the player how paths may be presented, you can also use these patterns in a reversed manner, so to speak. For instance, as I mentioned with my summary of the testing of the first Chamber, many of the testers when presented with the typical color coding of green versus red initially assumed that the most obvious answer was not the correct one. They commented that they chose the red path first over the green one, thinking that it was a form of reversed psychology trick. While the green path was the one leading forward in this case, you could very well establish a theming of deception in a level using presentations such as this one, where the red path would be the correct one as opposed to the more safer looking green path.
  • Similar to reversing the expectations of color coding, you can play with the player’s expectations in other ways as well. For instance, a room in the second Chamber (for Mortal Spire) had a set of stairs that were positioned just a bit too low to be able to reach a green-lit path way up on the wall. A series of buttons had to be pressed in order to advance, but none of these buttons moved the stairs so that the path could be reached. Instead, the last button in the room opened a hidden path in the floor. This means of playing with expectations turned out to be successful, as so far, many of the testers have commented on the surprise element of it all.
  • I’ve also learned that I lumpin’ love level design. Seriously, I know it’s not really a life lesson or one that I can share, it’s not even something I learned just now. It’s still worth mentioning though, because I had a lot of fun with the work I’ve done this block and I felt super-productive. Even if the end result, the two levels/Chambers, are not very long or a showcase of excellence in design or visuals, they taught me a lot on the way.
  • Lastly, I’d advice anyone diving into level design with a focus area in mind like I did to still make something gamey out of the experimentation. While the short background story and setting that I wrote for Mortal Spire really don’t show much (yet), it helped me have a better idea of how to construct the levels, how the methods should be presented and how the visuals overall should be presented. It helped guide my vision of my level design and workflow, something that I’ve found invaluable now that I noticed how it helped me. Without this extra aid, I don’t think I would’ve gotten nearly as much done as I did.

How’s that for a list, eh? As it turns out, I learned a lot during this block as well. The only things that remain now are compiling the results of the second playtest, writing a final workbook entry with the results, organizing all the work for result submission to school and the presentation of my work on Friday.

That’s all for now. Until next time!

Marcus out.