The Dark Catacombs Level Design

The Dark Catacombs Area Objective

As this was the final area in the game, it didn’t end up having some form of area objective – instead the player’s goal was to get to the final Fire Monument and beat the game.

Like every area in the final version of Broken World, The Dark Catacombs was reworked when I first started work on it, so we were able to utilise mechanics in the game that were not in the original demo – especially combat.

Top Down

After not creating top downs multiple different times in Broken World’s level design, I finally fully reflected on my mistakes and went into making one. Firstly, I got some inspiration from two different areas:

  • Corona Mountain (Super Mario Sunshine)
  • Fire Temple (Ocarina of Time)

I wanted to try and keep the same style as these areas.

Another important note is that I didn’t end up transferring this to a digital top-down.

A Split Path

For the major area, what I wanted to have was a split path for the player. The idea being shown on the right was 4 buttons connected to 4 doors that blocked the player’s path. The player would have to go down each of the 4 corridors to retrieve an item that opens the doors.

But this changes after realising that we were running out of time (The work on the Catacombs being started and in fact completed over 2 weeks) so I shortened this down to 2 corridors to open up 2 doors.

Path #1

I wanted to split each path into using different gameplay mechanics, starting with the path on the left being puzzle and platforming related. This area was set up into 3 different rooms the first two being platforming puzzles where the player would have to grab an object to open a door while jumping over lava and avoiding hazards. The final room was set up to be a more traditional Portal-esque puzzle room.

Path #2

For path #2, I made this into a combat section with a few rooms offering different combat challenges. To mix-up the gameplay a little bit though I made sure to add the final unlockable ability for the player, the Levitate ability. I believe it fit well here as it is a combat focused ability for the player so it would change up the gameplay.

Final Section

Once again, the final section was initially intended to have some form of boss for the player to fight in an epic final showdown, but unfortunately the scope of that was just too high for the time we had left in the project – we were already way too close to the final deadline and weren’t playtesting the full build yet.

In this final section instead, I tried to make it more interesting by having there be combat and platforming challenges while trying to figure out a solution to an overarching puzzle – This also was going to take too long so we decided to substitute it for a different final puzzle – a form of sequence that the player would have to find the combination to.

The Combination

Scattered throughout the area were “icons” for the player to find, each tied to a number for the player to plug into the sequence and open the final gate.

Creating the Blockout

By this point we were really running out of time. It wasn’t necessary to have the Dark Catacombs in the final game, but we did really want it. As a result, I decided to once again forgo any Whiteboxing and jump straight into using the different art assets to save time – Still would not recommend this to my future self but I did plan around this a little bit. In the top down, I used graph paper with a 1:1 scale for each floor tile so I was able to fully plan out each area anyway – I knew there was going to be changes after playing but this did save a lot of time.

Keeping it unique

An important part of this location was that it needed to stay unique to all the other areas – At this point there were already 2 different dungeons for the player to explore but we were out of unique art assets so I needed to create my own solution. I firstly tried changing around materials on the prefabs, but that didn’t really work at all so instead I looked towards creating my own prefabs – similar to what I did in the Flooded City.

Shown above are the 2 different prefabs I created. On image 1, I used quite a lot of different prefabs so if I were to use this on repeat, it would create thousands of different game objects most likely causing frame rate issues. As a fix to this, I used a lot less of the skull object and I thought this worked really well as a way to distinguish the different areas.

Outside the Dark Catacombs

Starting the Blockout

The Block-Out definitely was a little tedious but thanks to my planning while creating the Top Down, this section was much quicker than on previous sections.

Starting the Blockout

As previously mentioned, the location had quite a lot of inspiration from Mario Sunshine and Ocarina of Time, which was reflected in the amount of times the player encounters lava in this location.

Designing the puzzle

The Puzzle Blockout

I began by blocking out the puzzle for the player. To escape the room, the player has to activate 3 different buttons with the catch that certain buttons block the player’s path to the other buttons.

When researching into puzzle design, I came across a video discussing the way the author felt puzzles are designed (“What Makes a Good Puzzle?by Game Maker’s Toolkit). This gave a few pointers to how a puzzle should challenge the player:

The Catch

Starting off with the “Catch”, this being something that traps the player – a “gotcha” moment. In this puzzle, the catch is that the player locks themselves out of different buttons when activating certain ones – shown below.

The Revelation

The “Revelation” is the player figuring out how to avoid this catch – in the case of this puzzle it is activating the buttons in a certain order.

The Assumption

The first step of this puzzle design is the “Assumption” – however I put this last on the list as the assumption changed how I designed this puzzle. The “Assumption” is showcasing something simple to the player, making them assume an obvious solution. This then leads onto the Catch as prevously mentioned.

However, in this puzzle the assumption didn’t actually fit as the player would most likely activate the first button they saw (which is the one that gets blocked off). So this set-up needed to change so that the player would block off a different button – showcased below.

Polishing the map

There’s ultimately too much to discuss with each and every room in the Blockout of the area – so I’ve skipped out on a few different areas but if you wish to see more about them then check out the final gameplay video at the bottom of the page.

My next goal was to start polishing the area – such as adding in props, and making balancing adjustments when necessary. I’ve showcased some of the different areas below with gifs of a “before” and “after” adding props.

The Catacombs needed an entrance, so I created this snowy landscape for the player with giant statues to try and set the scene for them when they first arrive – another area I had made while being hugely inspired by Dark Souls 3.

The platforming rooms left a considerable challenge when trying to populate with props – I wanted to make sure nothing was every blocking the player’s path, but it felt difficult trying to stop it from feeling empty – I eventually ended on this design of chains hanging from the roof

Combat rooms where another big challenge because I needed to make sure the player or enemies wouldn’t get blocked by obstacles.

I also wanted to end off the area with a peaceful section, as this was the final part of the game.

Post Processing

Like all the other areas, some post processing was necessary to make the location feel alive. This coupled with some snow particles in the exterior really changed the mood of the Dark Catacombs.

Final Gameplay

There was way too much to showcase in this page so if you’re curious about the gameplay of this location, check out the full gameplay below!

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