|Level Designer||December 2013 – May 2014||11|
About The Project
Quetz is a First Person Puzzle Platformer where the player (a young archaeologist) stumbles upon an ancient temple. Among the rubble of the decaying temple the player uncovers Quetz, an powerful god contained in a golden gauntlet. Quetz gives the player the ability to grow or shrink various objects found around the temple. The player must use this new found power to solve puzzles while avoiding the dangers left behind by the mysterious civilization.
As a puzzle heavy game, level design plays a crucial large part in Quetz. Each puzzle needs to present a unique challenge to the player while building off the mechanics taught to the player, combining them in new and interesting ways. I was brought onto the project to as a level designer to teach the player the puzzle mechanics of Quetz and test the player on their mastery over these mechanics.
Introductory Level – Conceptualization
My design goals when concepting the initial layout for the intro level were to gently introduce the player to the Quetz world and mechanics, while assuring that the player has a solid grasp on the growing and shrinking mechanics before allowing them to progress onto more complex levels. This is the first time the player is introduced to our gameplay so I did not want to overwhelm the player with a complicated puzzle early on.
The initial concept shown above involved the player awaking in the Quetz temple. Players would walk down a long, narrow hallway. I used this hallway to deliver some narrative through wall carvings left behind by the ancient civilization. This room allowed the player to explore at their own pace. They could take their time, learning about the civilization through the wall carvings, or they could make their way to the main chamber. After the hallway, the temple opens up to a decaying but once ornate chamber. Here presented on a pedestal is Quetz – a powerful god contained in an elaborate gauntlet. Upon obtaining Quetz, the player gains control over her power to grow or shrink various objects.
Introductory Level – First Pass
While iterating upon the original concept, we found through testing that players were overwhelmed by the amount of mechanics presented to them at the same time. The level was structured so that the players were first introduced to the mechanics of picking up and moving blocks while at the same time being given the ability to grow and shrink these blocks. To remedy this situation, I expanded upon the level adding small simple puzzles that only involve the mechanics of picking up and moving blocks. This way, the players are introduced to these two large mechanics at separate times.
Introductory Level – Final Pass
Shown above is an example of a simple obstacle that players much overcome before obtaining the ability to grow and shrink objects. To progress through the room, players need to walk on top of a collapsed column. As the player walks over it, the pillar collapses and breaks into several blocks. The player must stack these blocks and jump over the ledge in order to move forward. This short simple puzzle makes sure the players are able to move and arrange blocks as well as making sure they understand the basic platforming mechanics such as moving and jumping.
I also expanded the wall carving area inwards so that the carvings were more noticeable. Before they were flush with the main hallway wall and it was difficult to actually notice there were wall carvings. I also brought in some light to capture the player’s attention. At the end of the long hallway, Quetz awaits on a pedestal bathed in sunlight. A message from Quetz appears above the gauntlet prompting the player to pick it up.
With Quetz, the player has the ability to grow and shrink certain objects in the game. This includes large stone blocks. The player finds themselves in a closed room with a pressure plate. The only block in the room is too large to move. In order to solve the puzzle, players must use their newly obtained power to shrink the block to a moveable size and use it to activate the pressure plate. Another quick puzzle that verifies the player has learned the mechanic before moving on.
I also wanted to provide some additional areas to the level to make the level a little less linear. Shown above is an optional puzzle that requires the player to grow a block so that it’s large enough to activate two pressure plates. This puzzle allows players to explore around the temple while rewarding them with a collectable if they are able to solve the puzzle.
I learned a lot about the level design process while working on Quetz. As a level designer, I often had to be agile and quickly implement new mechanics or assets into my levels.
As I created more levels, it became clear how important QA testing was for a game like Quetz. Each room is a challenge, or series of challenges. This means that the learning curve throughout the entire game needs to be carefully balanced. This requires the level designers to coordinate closely with each other in order to make sure the levels are harmonious. With feedback from playtesting, we were able to balance our learning curve so new players were not overwhelmed, while also providing a formidable challenge.
Iteration was also largely important. We were wise in getting QA feedback early on so we could make necessary changes and improve on the level design as much as possible. Levels were constantly changing, some changes being good and others not. Fortunately, we were able to pinpoint the issues and quickly correct them.