The Labyrinth of Azula
The Labyrinth will react to your actions
Time spent on Project: Two Weeks
This project was meant for as a system test rather than a full fledged game.
The system it was testing was the usability of a maze-morphing system within a top-down narrative game.
Credit for Unity Art Assets: Goldmetal
Guiding through motion
As stated above, The Labyrinth of Azula was never meant to be a fully fledge game, rather testing a collection of different systems I wanted to work on. Furthermore, this project was used a means of practice for my level design logic and flow as to not only better my level design philosophies, but to test what it meant to express them. Of course the overall level within The Labyrinth of Azula is not the complicated at the first glance, but quite a bit of small level design aspects went into its creation.
With that little disclaimer intro out of the way, what were those systems that I was testing with in the project? For some time I have wondered about the games and worlds that integrate interactive systems that went used or interacted with change the world in some manner. Of course many games fain this is to create an element of importance for the player like they are truly affecting the world.
Yet, there are very few games that truly have this level of interactivity within their worlds. Since I was working on this alone and only had two weeks I didn't quite have the time or man power to create a full fledged world to test my version of these systems. Which was fine for me since I only needed a small little space to test want I wanted to build.
Speaking of which what did I want to create? Well, I have played many a game with mazes and or puzzles that I had to traverse for some end goal. I was curious to see what would happen if I could create a system that had an interactive element that somehow affected the world around the player.
Thus the idea came to me, what if I used motion, cutscenes, and level breaks to guide a player through a small labyrinth? For through their own actions they truly were affecting the world around. They would soon realize this as paths that were once open were now closed off to them, yet paths that were once blocked off were now open.
Of course this inevitably would lead to a more linear path of progression, but given the time I had to work on this project, that wasn't too much of a concern. With all of this in mind I began to buildout a little project to test my little system out on.
Interaction Design: Keys to the Labyrinth
With what I wanted to build overall in my mind, there was once question that I desperately needed to answer, how? Not only how would I guide the player/tester through the labyrinth, despite its overall simplicity, but how could I create a system of motion guidance? After a couple of faulty ideas, one idea stuck out to me, key items. These items would be used to unlock, but also lock certain areas of the maze and would act as the means of measuring the players progression through the maze. Given that that maze wasn't all that large and I didn't have all that much time I went with the rule of three, three unique key items, each visually related to the area that they unlock. Now with my key items in mind, how could I guide the player to find these items?
After a couple of faulty ideas, one idea stuck out to me, key items. These items would be used to unlock, but also lock certain areas of the maze and would act as the means of measuring the players progression through the maze. Given that that maze wasn't all that large and I didn't have all that much time I went with the rule of three, three unique key items, each visually related to the area that they unlock. Now with my key items in mind, how could I guide the player to find these items?
I came up with two different methods. The first method was if the player went to a locked area and went within a certain range of the path block, a pop-up would appear above their character as if they were reminding themselves they needed this item to keep moving forward. This was the more direct manner of telling the player what item they needed. The other method was a little less obvious.
For this method used the unique locations and objects to hint at that a key item might be around somewhere. A good example of this is the fire flower. The fire flower is the first key item and is required to open the path into the grove. This flower is located in the south western portion of the map within the garden. Thus using the notion of plants and flowers, the player would enter this area either through exploration of the labyrinth or via the hint at the entrance of the grove. For where better place to find a flower than in a garden?
Yet, as a just in case I use a scene before the game to hint at the location of the three key items to avoid the player aimlessly walking around the labyrinth not knowing what to do. This of course is a little more tell than show, which is never good, but it was just a catch to help testers and would be removed if this were ever made into an actual game. With all of this in, I had my system, and how I might implement it within my project. Yet, I lacked something quite vital, the actual labyrinth.
Leading the player home
With most of the difficult stuff out of the way I still had one last hurdle to jump before being to fully test the system. This of course was the actual creation of the labyrinth. Given that I also wanted to use this project as level design practice and an expression of what I have learned, I wanted to make the labyrinth interesting to navigate, but still keep it simple considering my time frame. To assist me in this I did some research on how people create mazes and labyrinths and some general rules of design they follow. Now armed with these rules I began to build. I first started out with the overall length and width of the maze. Not wanting to confuse the player more than necessary I decided to do a partial match of the dimensions as to keep that rectangular shape.
From there I began to block off certain areas that would act as the unique locations for the key items, the start area, and the end area. The start in north western side, the garden in the south west, the grove in the center, the pond in the north east, and finally the end in the center northern section. I wanted the start in the north west for it feels more natural for the player to be moving from the left to right went, especially when it comes to starting off in a new area.
Furthermore, I could use this left to right movement then to my advantage when it comes to showing the player their goal. Using camera size I enabled the player to see their goal as the reached the end of the first passageway. Once the player left the first area, after a couple of steps the camera shoots out and reveals the whole map, but only for a couple of seconds. This camera shoot out was recommend to me by once of the testers saying that despite the mazes, simplicity they still got lost a little bit and didn't quite know where to go. With this addition of this zoom out the testers reported being able to better find unique locations and key items. I was okay with this little addition given that it didn't really affect the system I was building and testing.
After I was finally done building and testing everything, for the most part many people reported that they enjoyed the system of an ever-shifting maze that reflects their actions within the world in a more visual manner and furthermore how this changes and through the use of cutscenes guided them through the maze.