The Frozen Chasm
The Frozen Chasm is the second part of a multi-level campaign I am designing/building within the Doom(2016) level editor. After the events of Escape the Ward via the player's supposed escape using the old elevator, they find themselves once again being whispered to by a demonic voice. In front of them lies a portal to the coldest location in all of hell, The Frozen Chasms. The voice taunts them, for it believes traversing this frigid plane is impossible for a mortal. Can the player navigate The Frozen Chasms or will they become but another victim of the icy wastes?
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While designing the structure of The Frozen Chasms, I wanted to create a more direct level than that of the Ward, given its tendency to loop back to where it all began. This didn't mean the player would have to cross through the same room more than once, but rather the end goal wasn't where the player spawned in. Furthermore, I wanted to design more exciting engagements with bosses and horde encounters by using chosen chambers' structure to accentuate the interactions and the knowledge I had gained from designing and building Escape the Ward.
I began constructing a blueprint for possible level designs using the various hallways/chambers to accomplish this desire. During this process, I switched from UAC-based sections to those resembling a bitterly cold hellish landscape. This environment created a unique level design, given how the hell chambers/hallways connected while generating a different feel while traversing the level. Although choosing these rooms and hallway segments came at the cost of the length of the level, given how much space they required to function.
Like the Ward, a room was chosen based on its architecture to generate a unique experience for the player by how encounters and item placement would operate within. Thus, I continued using the three categories from before, essential item, boss, and connector rooms. However, I also added a fourth category, the horde encounter room. These rooms were selected to house various challenging encounters using wave and survival events. Thus each chosen room placed within this category had to have a structure that enabled an interaction of this sort to function correctly. Meaning the layout would allow for an engaging and enjoyable encounter by being easily traversable and spacious.
Furthermore, during the generation of this level, I followed a similar structuring rule to the Ward's; all central chambers/unique locations would be interconnected through various shorter hallways and non-unique locations. Identical to the reasoning of the rule for Ward's structuring, this would space out crucial areas and encounters. However, given the difference in encounters within the Chasm, these connecting hallways gave the player small breaks from the action and were stocked with pick-ups such as health or ammunition. Although these weren't complete breaks for the player. As such, these hallways were comprised of more minor engagements. All this was done to keep the player interested in continuing rather than have them run down an empty, boring hallway.
Boss and Horde Enemy Encounters
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With structuring the Chasm complete, I began designing various boss encounters. Unlike the interactions with bosses found within the Ward, I designed those in the Chasm slightly differently. The one difference was the creation of the bosses in a more dynamic manner. This method enabled more customization of the encounter, such as customizable stats or enabling killed enemies to alter a boss's stats. These are just two examples, but using this method I was able to design and create more engagement interactions between the player that were also more dynamic and changing as the player battled through them.
Furthermore, while generating these engagements, I designed more around the space in which they occur. Although this was also done during the boss designing phase of the Ward, I took it a bit further for the Chasms fights. The reason being the previously mentioned customizable manner of the bosses created more opportunities for captivating interactions. Thus, considering how the room structure might affect the encounter, such as changes in elevation and the base structure of a given, boss encounters were designed accordingly. Using this process, I placed the designed and customized boss encounters based on their stats, attack types, and traversal methods around the Chasm. To check balance, long testing periods were done with the base loadout to ensure it was possible to win/get far enough in these fights given the planned addition of pick-ups such as buffs or health within boss encounter chambers. Thus, in the end, I designed and created a variety of boss fights of varying difficulty for the player to enjoy.
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As mentioned previously, during the encounter design process of the Chasm, I wanted to create more unique horde encounters using the various tools I had learned during the Ward's creation period. As such, I began using the wave and survival events within the level editor in combination with other horde generation methods. Using these events, I designed how long each event would last, either in time or wave amount, based on the current situation the player would typically find themselves in at that given point. On average, I wanted the fights to last a couple of minutes to generate that feeling of fighting through a horde of demons, but not too long that it became tedious.
However, I wanted to add more spice to the engagements and thus began altering the difficulty of these encounters in other manners. I did this by changing the enemy spawn rate, the starting base difficulty, and the difficulty curve of a meeting by spawning more challenging foes as time/waves passed. During this process I was designing and taking into account the architecture of rooms in which these interactions were located. It did take some time to obtain a general balance for these engagements by using various testing runs. Although in the end, I found a sweet spot between hectic fun and tedium.
Environmental Interaction, Pick-ups, and Weaponry
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While designing the location of critical items, pick-ups, and weaponry, I had to consider one significant change. This shift in design is the enabling of resource drops on glory kills. This alteration of interaction is substantial because it drastically modifies the resource economy within a level. Previously within the Ward the positioning of pick-ups was designed around desired difficult increases as the progressed throughout the level and the general circumstance the player on average would find themselves in at a given moment.
Yet, suppose the player can quickly obtain ammunition, armor, and health, albeit in small quantities, through the constant use of these glory kills. In that case, it alters the desired difficulty curve and how, on average, the level is played. Thus the placement of pick-ups as a method of balance is no longer as viable. Therefore the process of pick-up placement followed a different pattern than that used in the Ward's design process. As such, I switched to other methods and pick-up types that were unobtainable through the use of a glory kill as a balancing measure. Of course, this didn't mean standard pick-ups like ammunition or armor weren't still placed through balancing means, but their placement wasn't the primary source of balancing against encounters the player would face.
Although what were these new pick-ups, and how would they alter the process of balancing an encounter? These pick-ups included equipment such as grenades and health stations, which are found within the Ward, but in more niche and not used as a primary balancing method. Furthermore, the introduction of player buffs such as regeneration(the player gains health and armor over a couple minute duration), haste(the player movement, attack, and reload speed are all significantly increased), and berserk(the player pulls out their fists and now all attacks either glory kill or one hit kill all enemies).
Yet, I had to be careful with the usage and placement of these buffs considering how potent they are in combination with some planned weapons. In the case of berserk I had to be extra careful because it would enable the player to one-hit-kill bosses and as such was only ever placed within locations housing horde encounters or mob-based enemies. Using all of this gain information I tested, again only using the base loadout of the combat shotgun. Through this testing period I found numerous locations and the amount of these buffs allowed to be placed within the level to allowed for enjoyable experience, but were also balanced.