Role: Level Designer
Dev team size: 14 people
Time spent on Project: Four Months
Link to Steam Page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1964000/Sunline/
Level Design: Building the Tutorial
Given that I was one of the level designers for Sunline I was tasked with the creation of the tutorial level. Due to the large number of mechanics and movement systems within the game I most certainly had my work cut out for me. Not only did I have to teach the player the basics of these systems such as wall running, mantling, sliding, vaulting, and more, but I had to teach them how to compound them into more advanced parkour actions. An example of this is a wall run vault or a slide clamber where the player has to slide into a clamber. Yet, as stated before, I can't truly test the players' skills till I teach them the basics.
Although before I can truly build out this level I need some form of mapping so I am not going into the grey box process completely blind. Thus I drew out a basic level layout in illustrator via a LDD visual. From there I molded and shaped the architecture based on what the environment of the tutorial level was supposed to be, aka a sewer. Since I was not that familiar with how most sewers are designed I did some research into the architecture and base layout of standard sewer systems. Using this newfound information I began to restructure the original drawn-out layout.
From there I began to design the first section of the level when it comes to the actual environment not just base structure. While building out this section I had to keep in mind what I wanted to teach the player within this space. Not wanting to scare players away, I started out with the more simple parkour movements. First off was the vault or basic jumping within game. I then paired this with another simple movement, the slide. Yet, given the base speed of the game I made sure to space the obstacles out in a manner that would ready the player for future levels were at times fast reactions would be required. Thus the slide obstacle was placed close, but not to close to the vault/jump obstacle.
After those two obstacles, was another vault/jump obstacle as a quick test to see if the player learned the basic parkour movement. If the player was able to get passed this obstacle they then entered a large room with a couple of pipes and fences. Within this room, the player is taught the basics of mantling.
The height of the mantle obstacles was quite vital as it was used to teach the player when an obstacle might be is able to be mantled or vaulted. The player would have to mantle twice as a quick test of them being able to mantle. From there they would have to jump over a fence as a quick test of their jumping skills.
Once hopping the fence, the player was greeted with the next section of the level. This section mainly acted as more skill tests for the sliding and vaulting movement systems. This was done due how much they were used in later levels and thus it was vital for the player to learn the in and outs of these systems; not only how they functioned, but how they felt to use as well.
After the skill checks for sliding and vaulting the player would then encounter the next movement system, wall running. This is taught to the player in the manner where if the wish to progress they would have to wall run over a pit of obstacles. Although with this said, due to it being a tutorial, if the player failed the wall run, the pit was designed to allow them to easily get out. Yet, it would be easy to get out on the side they just came from so they couldn't just skip the wall run section.
Upon passing the first wall run the player must perform a couple more slides/vaults until they run into one of the first more complicated moves. This first complicated move is a slide into a wall run. If miss timed the player would wall into the wall run pit and have to climb out to try again. This was built as a reaction time test to see if the player is able to quickly switch from performing one parkour movement to the next. Furthermore, it was a test to see if the player learned how to wall run.
This skill check lead them into the next room. This room acted as a test for all the skills other than slide that the player just learned. These skill checks were meant to be more advanced as a test to see if the player truly had learned the parkour skills.
With this said, the first obstacle is a basic jump or vault, but this then leads into a wall run vault movement. All of this combined created a quick three movement check as to test the players' ability not only to switch between two movements, but three back to back to back.
If the player was successful they would loop around the room following the catwalk until they reached a vault. Upon reaching this vault they would have to quickly mantle and vault again. This, like the section before, is a three-system and a reaction time skill check. Although this time it was not only faster, but with combing the vault and the mantle movement systems. This was done to prepare the players' for many quick mantle/vaults to come in later levels.
From there the player followed the catwalk into the last section of the level. The last section of the level, as of now, is rather straightforward. This section combines more slides, vaults, and wall runs. Although it combines them in a manner that act as two-system skill checks as a final test to see if the players' are ready for what is to come in the later levels.
Having completed the tutorial the player learned how to use many of the basic systems within the game. Furthermore, they learned how to deal environments that require the use of combination movements to progress through such as wall run slides. Although they were not taught everything, for there are many challenges and environments they themselves, using the baseline knowledge taught to them in the tutorial will have to overcome on their own.
Level Design: Building the Wind Tunnel
After the tutorial's creation I was chosen to design, build, test, and update the fourth level, or the wind tunnel. This level would be the level where one of our newer systems would be used. That system being the wind movement system. Although with this said, the Wind Tunnel level wouldn't be the first place where the players' would encounter this new system. Yet, it was the level where the wind would be used as the main method of traversal other than the base parkour movement systems. Thus I had the pleasure of not only designing all possible methods of using the wind system, but how it would affect the traversal of somewhat claustrophobic level.
Now, where to start with the process of creating this level? Well, for this level, considering it was far more complicated in structure, mechanics being used, length, and overall scope I created a full LDD as well as LDD visuals. I used these documents as the baseline of what I might create in terms to the baseline structure and flow of the level.
Given the designed size of this level I used the baseline structure break the level down into five massive sections each with multiple subsections. This was done to make the creation of the level more streamlined and mentally digestible for now I could focus on building out certain rather than get overwhelmed by the creation of the whole level at once.
With all of these different sections planned I began to work and where better to start building a level, then the start or the first section. The first section contained four subsections, two of which being rooms, the other two being connector sub-sections. The connector sections being hallways that connect rooms to each other as well as to the one of the wind tunnels that the player would cross through over and over as they progressed throughout the level.
The first two sections I mainly created back to back and thus followed a similar pattern in their overall design. These sections are used as a base level test of the players' proficiency in each of the learned skills, but unlike previous levels, in a more high-skill manner, which means that players would have to not only use these skills in combination with each other but do so at a more rapid pace than other levels.
The first section mainly tested the player's fundamental skills such as mantling, sliding, and basic vaulting. Although as stated above, these were tested in a more high-skill environment. The second section was used to add to the basics and add wall running and wall run jumping into the mix. The reasoning behind all of this is that I had to make sure players were ready for the more difficult later sections. Thus if they hadn't acquired the skill level needed to pass these two sections they were forced to improve if they wish to continue.
The third section was where things started getting interesting, for this was when I threw in the wind system at the players. Unlike earlier levels, except in some rare examples, players never had to combine the use of wind and parkour simultaneously. Thus, section 3 shined for most of section three is built around the idea of the player using both the wind system and the parkour skills they have mastered at this point to traverse. This is another reason I created sections 1 and 2 to make sure the players were good enough to continue to section 3.
After building the rest of the level, I wanted to spice things up with the final two sections. The fourth section asked the player to forgo normal parkour movement and use the wind turbines to propel themselves ever upward. Whereas, the fifth section had the player traverse downwards through a maze of pipes and obstacles to find the Wind Tunnel's exit.
Although I didn't just make these end sections unique to just to spice things up, but to fix an issue that the team encounter at the time. This issue was we wanted to connect the Wind Tunnels and the final level in the same scene, but the Wind Tunnels ended at a point that was too far away from the connector to level 5.
Thus to fix this issue I had created the fourth section. Which had the player traverse the distance needed to reach that connector point. Although another problem arose. Given that I wanted to make such a large scale area that sent the player upwards, the player was now too high in the world space to reach the connector. Not wanting to remove the section, given it was quite popular among testers. I decided to create another section to fix this issue. Following the in the footsteps of section 4 via of breaking up the normal parkour pathing, the fifth section fixed the elevation problem by having the player traverse downwards. Yet, in the end given the scale of both level 4 and 5, we decided to keep them two separate levels as to better optimize performance.
Furthermore, section 3 comprises multiple wind tunnels the player must traverse through the use of wind and parkour and more difficult wall run areas. These wall run sections are more complex for, unlike all other wall runs until this point, the player can use the wall run jump to overcome that challenges. Yet, given section 3's purpose, the only way to complete this wall run is to use the wind system. This, of course, is one of the most challenging parkour wall runs in the game, which was backed by some less experienced testers having trouble with the area, whereas the more experienced still had some trouble but were able to overcome it in the end.