I worked on Dino Delivery as a level designer and scripter. I guided the player through the first half of the game using puzzles and interactions that helped flesh out the players' skills and understanding of the world. In order to create a fun and involved gameplay experience, I followed this 6-step process.
This map shows the 4 areas of the game that I designed encounters for. These are:
- The Ridge
- The Riverbank
- The Council
- The Market
I had to consider my design process for each of these areas when designing minor encounters,
1. Pacing, Player Skills, and Intent
The first thing I consider when designing an encounter is the pacing of the experience for the player and the skill level I expect them to be at.
Players need to be taught new mechanics at a good pace so that they aren't bored or fatigued.
Once they're taught, mechanics need to be reinforced to ensure the player has mastery and retention. I design with this in mind before creating anything.
In this example, in the Ridge, the player was very new to the game, so the encounters were enforcing basic mechanics such as movement, interacting with static objects, and using their slingshot.
2. Map out
Once I've considered the pacing of the interactions in terms of skill and retention, I plan them out physically on the world map.
Players need to be entertained at regular intervals. Just like how the difficulty of encounters can't be too easy or too difficult, the encounters themselves need to be spaced out so that the player is finding new, interesting encounters with space to breathe.
After mapping out the encounters, I used the project's modular puzzle design tools in Unreal to test out different encounter designs. These tools, made by the game's Design Lead, Jeremy McCarty, allowed me to connect props in the environment to tell environmental stories and give the player diegetic puzzles to solve.
For example, this minor encounter in the Council Map was started simply because the area around it was very bare. It's used to enforce the Stay or Go To commands for Parcel. When Parcel stands on the orange pressure plate the water spout turns on, showering on some flowers that sprout and give the player a trinket.
After I implemented the prototypes for the encounters, I took quick notes while playtesters played the game. Often I would take notes on trouble areas and confusion, such as if certain encounters were difficult or were being passed by playtesters too often.
This puzzle was originally a puzzle involving two ropes that the player would shoot, dropping the letter down from a piece of the wood. The design of the level around it didn't afford this kind of puzzle, however, so it was reworked to involve moving up a piece of debris and shooting the letter down itself.
Once an encounter is tested, I review the testing notes and incorporate any actionable items or observations into the design.
One of the puzzles in the Ridge, pictured here, was a trinket that the player would find above a rope between two houses. The player shoots the rope to collect the trinket below. The prototype for this encounter was difficult to see at first, so during set dressing the houses were moved further away from one another and more negative space was used to call out the trinket's silhouette.
Once an encounter has been tested and iterated on enough that players are routinely finding and enjoying the encounter, the encounter is moved on to a polish state. That's when set dressing can be done around the encounter and sound effects designed specifically for each one.
This video shows a walkthrough of the Ridge map, going through each encounter.